Author’s Notes: If you have not read Part I and Part II of The Prudent Lives Part III, the links are below.
I entered the small, dingy bedroom. On the bed was Mama dressed in nothing but a felt Ankara wrapper and a matching head-tie. Between her spread legs was her Bible. She motioned me to sit beside her on the bed. As I moved closer, I could see the dried tracks of tears that lined both her cheeks.
I sat on the old mattress waiting for the sermon that would most definitely be given.
“Uju,” Mama began, her hands clasped tightly together, “I know the loss of the baby had dealt you a great blow. I understand you. But you have to understand that your family comes first. Dale comes first. He might be hurting you, he might violate you, he might neglect your but he is still your husband. You have to honor him. Cutting yourself is not the way to do that, my love.”
I listened to her, feeling anger rise up inside me like a tornado. What right did she have to not call my child by the name we decided? I wanted to scream at her, “Obinna! His name is Obinna!”
How dare she say Dale comes first in my life? Since Obinna was born dead, how many times did she come to Lagos to console me and tell me that all will be well. And now, she’s seeing the manifestation of all the hurt that I feel and can say to my face that the cause of it comes first in my life. How dare she?
I wanted to scream all this out, pour everything. I wished I didn’t have to be strong all the time, didn’t have to endure it all just so Dale can have a good name. I wished my parents were ready to understand me. They weren’t. No one was.
“I want to divorce Dale, mama.” I said this very calmly, and my resolve threatened to fall apart when I saw mama shift from me in a manner akin to Olanma’s shift when I showed her the cuts.
That familiar word made its presence known again. “Odiegwu! What did you just say? What will people say, Obianuju? Don’t let them hear you. Are you the only woman in this world who is going through hard times? Do you not understand that it is part of being a woman, being a wife?”
I did not answer. I just looked straight ahead, focusing my eyes on Papa’s age-old title deed hung on the crusting wall.
“Look at me,” Mama continued, her shock at my desire to separate from Dale fueling her, “did I not go through the same thing with your father? Did I die? I prayed for him, Uju. That’s what you should do; pray. Go on your knees. There’s nothing God cannot do. See, let me show you.”
As she quickly flipped the pages of her leather-bound Bible and read to me, my mind flashed back to the first time I knew Papa was beating Mama.
I was 10 years old and about to enter secondary school in Lagos. Before I left, Mama and I went to the farm to pluck some vegetables in our village farm. I could not differentiate between the edible leaves and the weeds so I didn’t cut anything. I just watched how Mama did it, her back hunched over the vegetables, hands deftly plucking and throwing into our wicker basket.
Mama gave me a handful of mangoes to eat as I observed my surroundings. Then I noticed, when Mama’s shawl shifted, the large, red mark at the upper left side of her back. “Mama, your back! What happened to you there?”
She looked at me, half surprised, half angry. The pain in her eyes was unmistakable. She didn’t have to tell me it was Papa that did it; I just knew. She shifted the shawl back into place and said to me, “Finish your mangoes.”
I was drawn back from my reverie when Mama shouted in my face, “Do you understand?!”
I did not hear anything she read from that Bible. But then, I did not want to hear anything; there was nothing to be heard. So I said, in that calm tone that was the opposite of what I truly felt, “If I die tomorrow as a result of Dale’s actions, my husband did not kill me. You and Papa did. My soup is burning.”
With that, I stood up and walked briskly out of the room, leaving Mama to resume crying crocodile tears.
Stay tuned for Part IV of this story!
If you are struggling with a mental illness or depression, please do check out the National Institution for Mental Health.