Celebrating East African Writing!
The chaise lounge in Mrs. Akintola’s office is rather uncomfortable. It is my first time seeing a marriage counsellor. She sits in the large armchair facing me and asks if I would feel more comfortable sitting on a chair. I decline, telling her that I am fine in this position.
“How can I help you today, Mrs. Obiagwu?”
She sounds so pleasant that I take a moment to steady myself for what I am about to say.
“Doctor,” I sigh. “I want to kill my husband.”
There is a slight pause and I can see Mrs. Akintola struggling to keep her composure. I sit up to study her face and I begin to doubt the newspaper articles that said she was in her forties. She looks so much younger that I have to remind myself that she is one of the country’s best marriage counsellors. She is also a psychiatrist. She knows what she’s doing, I tell myself.
“Tell me, what has your husband done to make you feel this way?”
“He has betrayed our vows. He hits me! And he has failed to satisfy me sexually for twenty years. Twenty years! Are those enough reasons?”
I look at her, silently pleading my case, hoping she would see how fed up I am. She nods and her eyes tell me she understands.
“I want you to tell me more about your husband but before you do that, tell me about your parents,” she urges.
I lie back and close my eyes.
“I grew up in a village outside Benin with my parents. My mother sold firewood and my father was a carpenter,” I rush the words. “There’s not much to tell, really.”
“Did you have a happy childhood?”
“Happy?” I laugh. “Happy?” I shake my head, trying to avoid the memories. “Despite being a small family, there never seemed to be enough money so we were always hungry. Do you know how my father dealt with that? He sought solace in the company of other women. He would come home late at night, drunk and smelling of other women.”
One night, I watched his legs stagger into our one-room apartment and fall over my mother on the bed. I curled into myself on my mat as I heard her plead with him to stop attempting to take off her clothes so they wouldn’t wake me. I heard a sound I’d come to recognise as slaps. I heard it thrice and then the sheets moved and the floor groaned as my father walked out of the room muttering, “It’s because I even chose to sleep with you tonight.”
She whimpered and began crying silently. After a while, I climbed into my mother’s bed and consoled her, wondering if she would ever leave him. My mother believed in endurance.
“A woman has to learn to endure certain situations,” she’d say to me. I guess that her husband sleeping around was something she’d convinced herself to endure.
I had just turned eleven and was on my way back home from school when I heard screams coming from our compound. I ran into the compound to see my mother on the ground screaming as my father beat her with a stick. I tried to help her up, but my father used the stick on me and spat, “I’m sure you knew that your mother had a lover. You knew didn’t you? Fat bastard. I’m sure that you’re not even my daughter as well. You’re too ugly to be mine. Take your adulterous mother and leave this place!”
I sit up straight and smile at Mrs. Akintola.
“You know, I think that was the most confusing moment of my life. My mother had a lover? I looked at her face to confirm what my father had just said, but she didn’t look at me, instead she began to beg my father. And that’s why I was confused, Mrs. Akintola. I could not grasp what was going on. Why was my mother begging when my father was also in the wrong?”
Neighbors had gathered to watch the scene with judgment in their eyes. It was clear that my father enjoyed the attention; he beat her more and recited a list of her sins. When begging didn’t work, I lay on top of her so he could beat me instead. After a while, he went into our room, threw out our things and warned us to never step foot into the compound again.
“We left the village after that because my mother said she would never be able to step outside without being insulted by people. As we walked out of the village, people behind us shouted all sorts of names at my mother. I remember her lover running up to her and begging her to come with him. It was the welder whose workshop was down the street. She walked past him and we never looked back.”
Mrs. Akintola has been scribbling in her notebook, pausing to listen before returning back to it. I desperately want to read what she is writing.
“Did you and your mother ever talk about it when you were older?” she asks.
“Yes. I asked her why she didn’t stand up for herself and let people know that my father had also been in the wrong, but she had said that everyone had known and no one cared because he was a man. ‘There are many things a man can do without any objection, but a woman cannot attempt the same things without there being consequences,’ she said to me. ‘No matter what happens, a woman’s voice would never be heard and that is why you have to learn to endure. No matter what your husband does to you, you should always remember to endure it.”
“Do you think that’s why you’ve endured your husband the last 20 years?”
“Well, I don’t know. I can’t blame my mother.”
“We’re not blaming her. I’m just asking if you think the situation with your parents influenced the way you relate with your husband.”
“I don’t know. What I know is I’ve endured all his bullshit and this has made me resent him because I have never stood up for myself.”
“I understand,” Mrs. Akintola says. She really does look like she understands but I still want to know what she is writing down. I hope she doesn’t think I’m crazy. “Now I want to hear about all the things your husband has done. Tell me everything.”
I close my eyes again. “It all started…”
By: Wonuola Lawal
Wonuola Lawal is a Chemical Engineering student at Aston University with a passion for writing and photography. She is an avid reader who wouldn’t mind spending her days reading African fiction as well as writing them. She expresses herself through her writing and photography.
You can check out her photography account @thephotographerscorner on instagram as well her writing on wordsonablankpage.wordpress.com