I don’t understand Eno’s depression. She has just safely given birth to a child, what is so sorrowful about that?
“It’s not a boy. My husband needs a boy. I have failed him again!”
“Eno, is it your fault that you gave birth to a girl? Did you create the child in your womb?”
“Other women have given their husbands sons, why can’t I? What’s wrong with me?”
“Other women would kill to have children, what’s wrong with you?”
“You don’t understand Caro!”
“You’re right, I don’t understand why you’re so ungrateful! I have been looking to God for the fruit of the womb and here you are crying because you didn’t have a son…”
“He’s going to be so disappointed and angry…”
I look away in disgust. “So what happens next? You keep giving birth until you give him a boy?”
“What can I do? Should I just give up and allow another woman to take my place? Do you understand the kind of life I will have to live if my husband marries another woman?”
“So you prefer to kill yourself for him?”
“I’m not killing myself for him, I’m only doing my duty!”
“Your duty is not to give birth to children every year because he wants a son. Take care of these ones you have.”
“It’s easy for you to tell me what to do when you’re not married to a rich man.” She says softly. “I don’t mean to insult you but you would understand me better if your husband has a car and gives you everything you want. You will do whatever your husband tells you to do if your children attend the best schools and have an opportunity to go to the university.”
I stare at her sadly, she’s too comfortable to face her reality.
“Don’t judge my husband, at least, he doesn’t beat me…”
Now I’m angry, I get up and leave her house.
Victor is home when I get there, he’s not drinking but I can tell that he’s angry about something.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Victor… I didn’t know that you’d be home…”
“You’ve not answered my question.”
“I’m coming from my friend’s house… she just gave birth…”
He laughs and shakes his head pitifully. “You friend just gave birth and you of all people went there? What for?”
I know he doesn’t expect me to answer his question, so I bow my head as a sign of submission and hope that he sees that I’m trying to calm the storm that we both know is coming.
“What are you apologizing for?” he asks as he gets up.
“I have made you angry and I didn’t mean to…”
He scoffs. “You’re just like my mother, mysterious and rebellious until the day she left and never came back. But like I’ve said countless times, I will not let you do to me what my mother did to my father because I’m not weak like my father. A woman only leaves a weak man.”
“Shut up!” he yells and slaps my face.
I hold my face in shock and pain, Eno told me to be meek and that’s what I’ve been. How have I done wrong? Victor is removing his belt and looking at me with pure hatred and as he moves closer to me, I realize that this man will beat me no matter what. The demons in his mind will always be at war with me.
The first lash hits my eye and I scream in vain.
I’ve just finished taking my sitz bath when Peter comes into the bedroom. My eyes are blurry with the stinging pain I’m feeling and I walk weakly to the bed. Peter doesn’t acknowledge my discomfort, he merely sits down and begins to take off his shoes. My mother-in-law comes into our room without knocking.
“What will you eat?” She asks him.
“Pounded yam and bitter leaf soup.”
“I’ve already made it, come and eat your food.” She replies with a proud smile.
“Mama, you never cease to amaze me. You really know how to make me happy.”
“That’s why I’m your mother.” She replies and shuffles out.
Peter gets up to take off his clothes and I look at him, hoping to get some attention from him, a word of acknowledgement that he sees and recognizes my pain, that he knows I’ve done a wonderful thing giving birth to another child. He changes into his pajamas and walks out.
On his way out he finally speaks. “Wash those clothes now.”
I feel excruciating pain as I wash his clothes and I know that it’s his punishment to me. It’s more than that, it’s a statement of how he feels about me. I’m nothing to him, as inconsequential as a servant.
I’m squeezing his trousers when I feel something in the pockets. It’s an opened pack of condoms. It is then that I begin to cry, because I know he left it there for me to find.
Victor is snoring beside me. I can’t sleep, I feel pain all over my body. I can’t even cry, there’s a cut under my left eye and my tears will only make them sting. Perhaps because I can’t cry my mind is clear, it is now obvious to me that I must get out of this marriage.
But where do I go? My father will not take me back, an extra mouth to feed will only worsen his poverty. Between Victor’s snores and the crickets chirping outside the window, I remember my cousin Faith who left our village some years ago to go to Ibadan. She found a job as a secretary and has been sending money home to her mother since.
But how do I get a job when I failed my Senior Secondary School Certificate Exams? Victor stretches and swings his arms over my chest. I lie still, afraid that he knows what I’m thinking. My heart beats faster and my body is cold with fear. His grip is strong, he must know that I’m plotting something against him.
“Mama… Mama… Come back please!” he mumbles, squeezing my bruised arms.
Two days later, I knock on Caro’s door.
“What do you want?” she asks bluntly.
“I’m sorry… I had no right to say the things I said… I was just angry because, because I knew you were telling the truth…”
Her frown disappears and she opens the door wider and points me to a sofa.
“Sorry, I don’t have anything to offer you.” she says coldly.
“I’ve not come here for that.”
“Of course, my food is not good enough for you to eat.”
I look around the house and stare at the faded bedsheet that has been lain on the bed, it has a yellow and green flower pattern.
“I like the bedsheet.” I tell her, staring blankly at the bed.
“It’s faded, not as pretty as yours I’m sure.”
“Peter says I must have another child and it’s the last chance I get. If it’s not a boy, he’s taking another wife.”
Caro sits beside me. “Eno, you can’t do that! How many times are you going to get pregnant?! What if you get pregnant and it isn’t a boy?”
“I don’t know what to do Caro, I don’t want him to chase me out of the house.” I look into her eyes. “What will happen to my children?”
She sighs and slouches. It is then that I notice the dark bruise under her eye, her arms and her chest.
“He beat you again? What did you do?”
“I did everything you told me to. I kept quiet, apologized, yet he beat me because I wasn’t around when he got home.”
I touch her arms and she flinches. “Caro you can’t continue like this. He will kill you one day.”
“And so will your husband if you don’t leave.”
We look at each other for several seconds.
“How can I tell my husband that I don’t want to get pregnant? He will not take it lightly.” I say breaking the silence.
“I heard of something called family planning. We can go to the city and get it done when your baby is old enough to be left alone. You won’t get pregnant except you want to.”
This sounds like a good plan, I’m tired of getting pregnant every year.
“What about you? What will you do?”
“I already have a plan to rewrite my exams. I’m going to run away to Ibadan and get a job as a secretary like my cousin.”
“But how do you know that you will get a job?” It’s terrifying to think that my friend will leave me alone. Who will I confide in?
“I don’t know but I can’t continue to allow Victor to beat me for no reason.”
“Alright.” I say reluctantly, we’re both fighting for survival, wherever it is.