I woke up in a room filled with flowers and edible stuff, but the thing that impressed upon my senses the most was the fact that I felt like I had been run over by a car again and again. And again! And yet again!
“Baby! You’re awake!” I heard Umar’s voice as though from a distance and I tried to turn my head to see him, but I guess I must have passed out, because it seemed like all at once it was evening.
Umar said, “Don’t try to look at me or you’ll black out again. I’m glad you are awake. I was so worried. I haven’t left your side all day.”
I was a bit confused. Was this the same man that had beaten me up so thoroughly? Or had I dreamed about that beating? Just trying to figure out what was going on was making my head ache so I tried to settle the second pressing issue: “Water ”, I croaked.
“Yes! Yes!” Umar said eagerly. From the sound of things, he jumped out of his chair causing the chair to fall over. In a short time a straw was placed against my lips and I sipped the water gratefully. When I had enough, my husband took the water away, raised his seat upright and cleared his throat. “Uhm! Tayo? Honey? Can we talk?”
“Baby, I’m so sorry! I don’t know what came over me! If you had only done what I had asked you to do the way I wanted, all this would not have happened. I promise baby, I will never hit you again!”
DON’T YOU DARE BELIEVE A WORD THAT HE IS UTTERING, DON’T DARE!
The voice exploded in my head causing my vision to double for a little while, I had to rest my head a bit. Where was this voice coming from and why did it sound so familiar?
“Umar honey.” I interrupted quickly. “I can’t do this any more. I’m hurting from every angle. I cannot begin to live in fear all over again. You promised! You swore you would never hit me again!” I made this speech with some difficulty as talking made my sides hurt.
Umar looked crushed, and I felt something expand in my head, but I pushed it aside quickly, I’m not naturally mean and I sure wasn’t going to take pleasure in seeing Umar look hurt.
“I swear Tayo, have no idea what came over me, but it will never happen again. I …”
“Umar, listen to me.” I was sure I didn’t want to hear all that. Again. “I have heard all this before and I am definitely not going to fall for this again. I was bleeding , bleeding, and you just kept hitting me!”“I know, I know! But sweetheart, if you take some time to think about it, you will realize that something had to be wrong with me. That is so not me, you know that! I would never hit you so hard. And I know that I have said that I would change before, but I mean it this time baby. I have never been so scared in my life as I was when I saw you motionless on the floor.” He had started crying at some point in this tirade and at this point he broke off, unable to go on because of the storm of tears that had overcome him.
“Hey, hey, hey!” I said comforting him, “Please don’t cry.” I was really feeling like a witch.
“I’m sure we can…” But I could not complete the sentence, as the voice in my head was running wild. She was screaming her head off;
TAYO, YOU DUMMY! YOU ARE NOT GOING TO TELL ME THAT YOU ARE REALLY, REALLY THINKING OF COMPROMISING! AGAIN? HE IS GOING TO KILL YOU NEXT TIME! GIRL, WHERE ARE YOUR BRAINS? TELL THAT VILE, REPULSIVE PIECE OF RUBBISH TO GET OUT OF YOUR LIFE! FOR GOOD!
“You know what Umar?” I asked
“Well, normally I would have said, all was forgiven, but you almost got me killed. I need time to sort through things in my head. Right now I have mixed feelings about us.”
“Umar please leave, you are agitating me”.
He walked out of the room with an odd expression on his face.
It was time to get some thinking done. Umar had promised to change many times, but this was the first time he had ever cried when talking about it. But then again, this was the first time he had ever beaten me up this badly. I thought about it. I frowned as I thought, can I really make it without Umar? After all how many times had he told me I was not worth the time he had invested in me. Besides, I really love him, and he loves me too!
HUSH TAYO, the voice said. At that point I recognized the voice.
“Mama?” I asked in shock, could I really be hearing my grandma’s voice in my head. I was sure that I was losing it, Mama had been dead a long time.
HOW CAN YOU THINK THAT FOOL LOVES YOU? HE HITS YOU AT EVERY TURN. SURE ENOUGH HE ALWAYS TREATS YOU LIKE A QUEEN FOR LIKE TWO MONTHS AFTER A REALLY HARD BEATING, BUT THAT DOESN’T STOP HIM FROM HURTIN YOU AGAIN! THAT IS NOT LOVE! EVEN IF IT IS, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DIE THE WAY YOUR MOTHER DID?
An image imbedded itself in my mind, my mother, bleeding and sick telling me not to take her to the hospital, my dad would kill her if he found out she had asked for help.
“I certainly don’t want that!” I mumbled
NOW SHE’S SHOWING SOME SENSE!
I laughed aloud and a doctor came into my room with a nurse who was carrying a tray. He was an elderly man with a head full of gray hair and a round face, which seemed to have been created for laughter and joy. He smiled at me kindly and said, “You poor dear. If only there was hope of catching the vagabonds who did this to you.” His smile turned a little sad as he shook his head and said, “But you know the conditions in this country, the police have probably forgotten about your case by now. Anyway, I believe that God will judge them.”
I was a bit lost as to what the doctor was talking about. “What do you mean ‘vagabonds’?”
“Don’t you remember? You were attacked by thieves in your home. Your husband found you and brought you here. You are lucky he brought you here when he did.”
“Oh, so that’s the story!” I said even as the voice in my head said, And your argument was? “How was I lucky?” I asked, remembering his last statement.
The doctor frowned and said, “Two of your ribs were broken, one very close to your lungs. That one broke upward and inward, piercing your left lung. The thieves also hit your kidneys a lot, causing slight damage to your kidneys. Your nose is broken, you also have a slight concussion and you sprained a shoulder. It almost seems like those people were trying to kill you! If any more blood had entered your lungs… well it didn’t happen and for that we are grateful.” When I heard that statement, I shuddered as the look of jubilation on Umar’s face as he hit me flashed through my mind and a thought tried to form in my tired head. But I was in too much pain to consider it.
That’s a nice excuse! I started in surprise as I heard that voice, grandma really seemed to have it in for me. It’s funny watching you always try to make excuses, for how long will it continue Tayo? I was confused, I had no idea what she was talking about, so I shook my head, smiled at the doctor, and said, “I’m in so much pain.” the doctor smiled kindly and told the nurse to administer pain killers. A few minutes later I slipped into sweet oblivion. An unconsciousness that was devoid of hard decisions.
When I woke up again, it was daytime and my room was empty, my mouth felt as though I had swallowed a whole box of cotton wool. My head was swimming and I hurt in places that I previously thought it was impossible to hurt in. As I lay there, recalling the doctor’s words, I begun to feel very lonely, I wished for Umar’s comforting presence. After a few minutes I realized that my face was wet. Touching my cheeks, I realized that I was shedding tears. For what reason I know not. I wiped off the tears and thought, at least I’ll be home soon. I was just thinking it, but I got a reply anyway. I replied myself, Where is your home? If you can answer that … I pushed the thought away, scared. I didn’t even want to think about the fact that I had made a decision even in my sleep. But then the voice in my head replied for me, Home is wherever you feel safest! And I held on to that thought like it was the only thing that would keep me alive.
When I left my wife’s sickbed, I was scared. What did she mean, she was not gong to be able to do “this” anymore? What in the world was “this”? I have never felt as helpless and out of control of my life as I did then. Everything was spiraling out of control. What was I going to do without her? What had I done wrong? Had I shown weakness? I had to fix this. I knew what I had to do!
I took the next u-turn and swung into Ceddi Plaza, once in there, I headed straight to the flower shop. As I was entering the shop, I saw a younger couple walking, the girl’s expression was that of one who was struggling not to cry and the man had a defiant, slightly guilty expression on his face. I stopped cold as a memory invaded my senses, I felt like I was literally being sucked into the past…
TWO YEARS BEFORE….
Tayo was shedding serious tears. We had been dating now for a little over five months, and I realized, early on, that the woman had no idea what respect for the man in your life meant. There were days when we were going out and she would wear clothes which I really did not consider appropriate for the occasion, but she never asked my opinion before she put them on, and she seemed to expect me to be impressed when I saw her.
At first, all I had done was hint to her how I thought a woman ought to present herself. Not that I particularly cared what she wore; she looked great in anything, but I can’t go around telling her that. No, then she would be almost impossible to control and one day she would just walk out on me. So on our third date, I told her that we were going to grab a bite at Barceló’s and then, maybe, catch a movie after work. She decided to wear a pair of jeans and a well –fitted long tee and she looked great, but, she had not asked me what she ought to wear. I would not stand for that and so I told her that if I had wanted to be seen as a pimp, I would have hired an escort. When I saw the dumb look that crossed her face. I said, “Not only does she dress like a prostitute, she acts like a dumb, crack-loving prostitute.”
The expression on her face at those words was one that I have never seen before, she looked simultaneously angered, shocked, dismayed and hurt. The shock and dismay I could live with, the fear was perfect because fear breeds respect and fear births total obedience, but the anger! I knew at that moment that I would have to teach the lady standing before me that when I corrected her I expected her to be grateful. Anger indeed. What right did she have to get upset because I told her what was what? Why should I give her the impression that she could get away with any thing just because I was beginning to love her? At this point I realized that the dummy was talking to me so I turned my attention to her words.
“… wearing.” This was all that I heard so I asked her to repeat herself, “What is wrong with what I am wearing?” The fool had guts, I had to hand it to her, she might be dumb and might come across as a bit shy, but she certainly had guts. I smiled, I knew how to handle guts, “What is wrong with what you are wearing?” I repeated, inflecting a tone of incredibility into my voice and grabbing her arm as I spoke, “I’ll show you what’s wrong with it!”
I dragged her back into her room and stood her in front of the full length mirror attached to the back of the door. “First off, I think we should start with the make up; any of those sluts standing outside Ibiza at night would be pleased if they could paint their faces as well as you do.” I tipped my head to the side, “but then again, maybe not! You have more powder on than a circus clown, and the shade of lipstick on your lips? It makes your already too large lips look bulbous! Let me tell you something, you are lucky I even deigned to look twice at you, you ugly swine. The sight of you makes me sick”.
The trick here was to make her feel worse about herself than she already did on a good day. Mina had told me that Tayo was the exact duplicate of her mum, it was as though they had put her mum in a Xerox machine and Tayo was the result, or as Mina colorfully put it, it was as though her mum had vomited and, boom, there Tayo was. Her dad, however, was a hopeless drunk who, every chance he got, did not hesitate to tell her mum, that she was uglier than hope. The man was a verbal genius! According to Mina, he had once told her mum that she looked like a cross between a pig, a dog and a bull. Tayo grew up hearing these things about her mum, and her dad never noticed her except when he was yelling at her mum to come pick her dirty dog out of his way, before he kicked it. Worst of all for Tayo, according to Mina, all her life, my girlfriend had been hearing how much she looked like her mum. So calling her an ugly swine, was reinforcing inner fears, I amaze myself sometimes!
When Tayo heard those words, something interesting happened, she changed somehow. It was as though she visibly deflated, all the animation went out of her face, all the fight went out of her and it was almost possible to see a withdrawal. As though some part of her had just retreated into an invisible shell. But I was not done yet, far from it in fact.
She had turned her head away so that she would not have to look at her image. I took her chin in my hand and forced her to look. “Not only are you ugly, you are getting fat, and the tight shirt just helps us see all that. Who told you I want to be reminded every time I look at you just how hideous your body is. And skinny jeans? Honey, the operative word is skinny, and that is so not you right now. What you should be wearing is those long sleeves office shirts that hide all your uncomfortable places and slacks, because they are neither tight nor loose. That way no one can see how hideously huge you’ve gotten, and you have the added plus of always looking, if not smart, then at least business like wherever you are.” She nodded lifelessly at the end of my speech and turned to go to the bathroom. “I assume you are going to go change?” At her nod I smiled and said, “good girl”.
That had been a while ago. Today she was crying, and I was inwardly jubilant because I had been able at last to bring her to such remorse. She finally realized that I was always right. Triumph flared in my heart causing my blood to flow a little faster and making the world spin out of perspective. The world was small, and I was big. So big! Ha! This is the way it was meant to be. A woman ought to submit before her man. Even if it takes tears to do it.
The reason for her tears was…
…really simple actually. I remember it vividly. It was about five months after we had started dating. Umar had just moved out of his parents’ home and I had just moved in with him. The apartment was a two bedroom luxury, with a lovely sitting room and a well equipped kitchen. There was a little room to the left of the sitting room with a washing machine, the laundry room. I remember that apartment vividly, it was the first time I had ever lived with a man that was not my late father. When we went shopping for furniture, Umar had turned down every choice I made. I remember a beautiful sitting room set that I pointed out , at least I thought it was beautiful until Umar pointed out the fact that it was imitation leather. He said I had the fashion sense of a dog and that I am useless without him. How true that is.
I was on leave the month we moved into the apartment, so I had time to really clean up. The house was so clean you could even eat off the floor of the bathroom… you know… if… that is… you know… your thing. I prepared egusi and pounded yam for Umar and then went upstairs to have another bath.
When Umar got home, I was curled up in a chair reading a novel.
“Oh! Hi honey”, I said, getting up to hug him, but he was on the phone and he turned back to close the door. I went into the kitchen to warm his food and set it out. By the time he made it to the dining table, there was a steaming dish on the table. He kissed me on the forehead and sat down to eat. One taste was all it took. The food was all over the walls, the plates had become shattered fragments of a wasted day, and Umar… Umar looked like he was about to burst.
“I have never tasted such rubbish in my life”, he roared, “Yes, rubbish”, he reiterated when he saw me cringe away from the word. “I am sure that the food in the rubbish cans outside tastes better than this trash! Who taught you how to cook? Or did you just wake up in the morning and decide that you knew what to do with the pots and pans? You waste of woman! I mean, I understand that you are fat and ugly! I mean I’ve survived that these past months, but to add to the assault of my essence, the sloth can’t cook!” then he spat in my face.
All this time I had stood woodenly, facing him with my head bowed. My late mother had been a fabulous cook, and she had taught me how to cook, so, naturally, I had assumed that my cooking was good too. I was grateful to Umar for disabusing me of this notion, but I also wished that he had done it a bit more gently. But to voice this out was to risk Umar’s fury, and further upbraiding. When he called me a sloth, I looked up so that his spittle entered straight into my right eye. That was all it took! I began to cry. Loud wailing sobs that I am sure the neighbours could hear. He took me by my shoulders and shook me, “Shut up you great fool! Why are you crying? I told you the truth. If you don’t want me to tell you the truth with my fists, you will reduce the pitch, tempo and volume of those tears. What do the tears do? Will they teach you to be a better cook? Come on will you stop that noise?”
At the last command he raised his hand as though he was going to hit me. That action stunned me into silence for Umar had never raised a hand against me before this time. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he yelled a lot, but that was only to correct me. I mean, I made him so angry sometimes, but to hit me? Who was this man standing before me, gripping my shoulder so hard that I knew that spot was going to hurt till Wednesday? Who was this monster with its hand raised to hit me?
For the first time since I met this handsome man, I felt the first stirrings of fear in my stomach. The next second the hand dropped and the one gripping my shoulder fell to my waist as he pulled me in for a quick embrace. “What would you do without me dummy?” he asked affectionately as I hugged him back fiercely. The fear had dropped out of sight as soon as the hand had dropped. As I turned away to fetch a broom and rags to clean up the mess, he asked me one final question, “You know you’re nothing without me, right?”