The next morning her mother would greet them as she usually would while they stepped out in their gears to work and they will buy sliced bread for her on their way back. That was the first time she came to the realisation that men’s ills and vices had a force that worked against justice. So she grew older to hate more about men. Her hatred drove her to communing with herself not to ever get married until Odegwu came into the picture and her mother insisted on her getting to know him.
Her mother had said, “He is not like other men.” She doubted her mother at first. But later on she believed her. She started showing up when he came visiting. She started smiling when he made jokes. She started brushing her shoulder against his while they sat on the bench in front of her mother’s house and under the mango tree when he said she was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.
When he raised his hand on her the first time, she had gone to visit him in his paternal home and had knocked over a ceramic plate of tomato seeds on the kitchen sink. His anger was uncontrollable. He never let her tell her mother what had happened, that she was standing on a stool picking a bottle of salt from the hung cubicle when her plum body brushed the ceramic down in wreckage. He held her by the throat, pushed her against the wall and fisted her face. In pain and agony she left to her mother’s and vowed not to see him again.
He came to her mother’s pleaded with her mother and Nneoma and then she forgave him and went back the next day to cook for him. That was before he paid her bride price and moved with him to Onitsha.
The second time was worse, she had lost the money he sent her to the market with. He sprung out his belt from the holdings of his waist to spank her all over her body till she ran out to the neighbour’s and from the neighbour’s went back home to Umunnachi where she narrated to her mother what had happened. This was three months to her traditional marriage. She had divulged her mind to her mother whom she told she would not marry him, “to hell with him and his money.” Nneoma said. Even before Odegwu came to beg her mother to plead with Nneoma to forgive him and accept him back that it was the devil, her mother had told her that if Odegwu did not come begging that she would bundle her back to Onitsha herself. She cautioned her on why she would run home at any slight maltreatment of his.
The words that melted Nneoma’s anger and positioned it for Odegwu’s forgiveness yet again was when her mother said, “Do you think anyone is ready to marry a raped girl. They see you as second hand. Better marry him and stop running about.”
These words had pierced her heart to believe that Odegwu was doing her a great favour by marrying her and caused her to wonder why men were the ones doing women a great deed by paying their bride price? She wondered if men could subdue the earth alone as Pastor Benson would say during Sunday service at Umunnachi and the men would nod in affirmation to their egos. When Odegwu came and sat on the bench under the mango tree in front of their house, her mother had told him that Nneoma was sorry for running away and stressing him to come look for her all the way from Onitsha. Her mother had also parked her clothes in a bag and positioned her ready to go back. So he said nothing and walked out from under the mango tree with Nneoma in a face formerly soiled with confession and guilt then assumed anger and rightness.
The day Odegwu told her that she was the worst thing that had ever happened to him was barely two months into the wedding at Pastor Bensons church. He told her this during a period of dryness, the dryness of the wind, the sand, the leaves and everything else that showed that it was harmattan. The way he said it made her know that it was from the depths of his soul and he truly meant it; with a scourge on his face and a show of the finger to her face. She realised that her mother was right, Odegwu thought he had done her a great favour by marrying her. She had utterly come to hate herself for ever believing his words by the banks of Umueze River that he loved her.
She had become the worst thing that had ever happened to him because she confronted him of his affair with a pale skinned lady. What Nneoma did not want to think of was why Odegwu who had spoken so assuredly of his affection for her, deliberately telling her that she was the most beautiful creature that he had ever seen, the phrase that broke the chord of surge that barricaded her hate for men would make her irritable.
Was it the pale skinned girl’s fiddly manner, her shimmery tone while Odegwu spoke with her on the phone not minding Nneoma’s presence? Or her presence; her red and pinkish coloured over manicured nails that seemed like claws positioned to kill. Deliberately, she was positioned to kill Nneoma’s marriage and kill the affection that Odegwu reserved for her? Or was it the pale skinned girl’s fake hair, the long and unnatural hair they called the Brazilian hair.
The time she confronted him of his affair, he had beaten her too, this time harnessed all the beatings of his under one voiced anger to punch, spank with his belt and scold her at once. She ran home, not to tell her mother who would side with Odegwu yet again. She told the elders instead, the Umunna. To her utter distress and disbelief they disbelieved her and only summoned Odegwu out of mere courtesy. This they said,
“Your wife said you beat her.” The first elder asked as the elders sat in parallel on one end facing Odegwu, Nneoma and her mother on the other end at the village square.
Odegwu responded with a scorn on his face, “She doesn’t respect me. When I am talking, she is talking.”
“Ihulaya, you see, I told you, Odegwu would not do anything without a cause.” one of the elders murmured.
Odegwu continued, “She doesn’t do what I ask her to do. When I ask her to do something she would want to do her own. She meddles in my privacy.”
One of the elders said, “she said you also…” another elder caught in immediately and said, “rabu ba nkeahu” – leave that one aside”.
“Ok,” the first elder that raised the issue affirmed to have understood. They didn’t bring up the affair but said instead turning to Nneoma, “Listen to your husband, not when he talks, then you talk too, cho! cho! cho!”
Another elder concurred, “Do not meddle in his affairs, your husband deserves his privacy.”
Nneoma sat with her mother in silence. In the midst of the elders, the Umunna she had run to for rescue she saw perverted justice. She saw justice being padded with a soft hand. This wouldn’t be her first time looking at perverted justice in the face, before, in the face of her mother as she watched the men that raped her go about their business. Now, in the face of the Umunna as they sided with Odegwu.
At the moment when one seeks for a cause to hold unto in hopelessness she held unto the cause that at least Odegwu’s Umunna summoned him for questioning. At least, she could sleep at night knowing that she raised a finger toward seeking for justice for her abuse. At least, she did something unlike her friend Amaka whose husband punched to death with the baby that was growing inside of her and they said she died due to childbirth. Nneoma was the only one that knew Amaka’s husband was abusing her because she was the only one Amaka had told. Nneoma advised her to leave him but she refused. She said that there was nothing else she could do, she wasn’t a working woman. She was a housewife and her husband had wanted it that way. Amaka’s husband told her to quit her job immediately she became pregnant that she would like for his children to be raised well and not be ignored at the early stages of their lives.
Amaka had agreed that she would go back to work when the kids were old enough to start schooling. Her husband told her when she told him she was going back to work, to wait until they had begot five children and the last child was five. She also agreed. Who knew the third baby would die in her belly with her. At least, to Nneoma, her speaking out to the Umunna had given her a consolation that she stood up for her justice despite the fact that it was perverted in every sense of the word.
Stay tuned for Part 3 next week Wednesday. Please like, share and leave your comments. Thank you.
Categories: Short stories