I hear Victor’s motorcycle come to a stop and I say a quick prayer that he will be in a good mood and open the door before he knocks.
“Should I serve your food?”
“What did you cook?”
“Rice and beans.”
As he eats I decide to start a light conversation that I hope will lighten his mood.
“I saw my old friend today.”
“We attended the same secondary school. She’s now thrice her former size!” I laugh self-consciously. “I didn’t even recognize her. I don’t blame her though, I think her husband is rich. She lives in this big house with big mango trees. She must be eating so much!” I laugh again.
“When will you go and join them?” He asks coldly.
“I don’t understand…” I am genuinely confused.
“Since her husband is better than me, I’m asking you when you want to go and live with them.”
“Shut up and let me eat this tasteless food in peace!”
It is not until he’s snoring beside me that I realize that I haven’t told him that the landlord came calling for his money. Victor’s earnings as a commercial biker is not sufficient, I make up my mind to talk to him about starting a business.
Three days later as we walk back home from a friend’s party, I decide to bring up the subject. He’s in a relatively good mood and I hope that he takes my suggestion well.
“Where do you want me to get the money from?” he asks.
“It doesn’t have to be so much. Just a little to start something small, I’ll work hard to make sure that it is profitable.”
“So you think that I’m not hardworking?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“You think that I don’t know what you’re not saying?”
“I’m not saying anything other than what I’ve said. I just think that I should assist in bringing home some money instead of wishing for things to get better.”
He stops walking and looks at me. “Caro, am I complaining?”
“You’re not but…”
“You’re being greedy and this all started after you saw your rich friend.”
For a while I don’t understand that he’s talking about Eno. “The landlord has been coming to harass me for the rent. That’s what made me think of helping…”
“Don’t help me! I don’t need you to prostitute yourself because we want to eat…”
“I’m not prostituting myself, I just think that…”
“This greediness is exactly how my mother began to stray away from my father. I won’t let you follow in her footsteps.”
I stare at him open-mouthed, he never talks about his mother. I know that it’s a forbidden topic, she left his father when he was ten and remarried a rich man a few months later.
“I just want to sell a few provisions…”
“This is the last time we’re talking about this!” He says and walks away.
“He just won’t let me work, I can’t continue like this.” I lament to Eno the next day as we pick melon seeds together.
“Why do you want to work if he says you shouldn’t?”
“We need the money! Didn’t you hear what I just said about the landlord harassing us for the rent?”
“But he’s the man, why are you arguing with him about his responsibility?”
“My husband is not rich, he’s a commercial biker, not a businessman like yours.”
“But if he says you shouldn’t work, what can you do?”
“How can he tell me not to work when he cannot meet my needs? I have to find an alternative.”
She sighs. “Caro, you’re still as stubborn as you used to be in St Mary’s. You can’t disobey your husband.”
“And if I’m suffering?”
She sighs, stretches her back and adjusts herself. “Caro, your life is no longer yours now that you’re married. The sooner you accept this, the better for you.”
I look at her unbelievingly. “You haven’t changed too. You’re as docile as you’ve always been.”
Victor beat me later that night after I brought up the subject again. He held me down and whipped my buttocks with his belt, like a little child.
“I won’t let you be like my mother. I will not tolerate it!”
I begged but he didn’t let me go until he was satisfied that I had learnt the lesson. Crying miserably, I eventually fell asleep with my buttocks in the air.
“I told you not to argue with him! See how swollen your body is.” Eno said to me the following day, I was in her house.
“I just want to do something. He is not my father, and it’s my life. Why can’t I decide what I want to do with it? He doesn’t even appreciate the fact that I want to contribute to the progress of our home. I’m not one of those lazy women who are happy to sit at home and do nothing but eat and get fat!”
I had said the words before I realized that Eno had stopped touching my arms with the warm towel she had been using.
“Eno…! I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to insult you. I’m sorry.”
She put down the towel and looked at me sullenly. “Caro, I may not be as vocal as you are but I know what I want and that is peace of mind. So I will do whatever my husband tells me to do as long as there is peace in my home. It is this attitude that has kept me in this house. Do you think that other women aren’t envious of my position? I don’t make trouble for my husband and he takes care of me. If you don’t learn to keep your mouth shut, your husband will kill you one of these days and it will be your fault.” She sits up. “I have made a pot of pepper soup, do you want some?”
I nod in the affirmative and watch her waddle away.
I can barely sit down because of the pain in my groin but the pain doesn’t affect me as much as the presence of the crying, dark girl who my mother-in-law has just placed on the bed. She has barely said a word to me. As soon as I alighted from the taxi and she saw the face of the child, she turned and walked back into the house.
What will Peter say? I have failed him again.
My mother-in-law cleans up the wet floor with a rag and leaves the room. The child is still crying but I don’t carry her, I don’t want to. I cannot look into the face of a child who will bring me much misery.