I jerked awake and realized that I had been dreaming about my past with Umar. I was drenched in sweat and the fear that pervaded my heart actually caused it to stop beating for a while. I was depressed and filled with hate. I wanted to lash out, I had to destroy something. I was filled with rage; I wanted to make the whole world feel the way I had felt for so long. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to laugh, I wanted to kill, and I wanted to heal. I ended up sleeping.
I had a funny dream that night, I was a little girl again and I was sitting on my grandmother’s laps. Grandma was telling me another story and I was listening intently. I cannot remember now what the story was about, but the end of the story will forever be with me. Grandma turned me around and said softly, “But he said that vagrants put you in the hospital. That can’t be right, Tayo. Your husband beat you up hard enough to puncture your lungs. As though that were not bad enough, he lied to the doctors about how you got into that condition. He said thieves put you in the hospital. What thieves? The thieves that refuse to steal anything from your house? The one that did not have to break into the house?” She snorted in disgust and said, holding my chin tight and looking me dead in the eye, “Love is not supposed to hurt. Do you remember me telling your mother that? Love does not hurt, instead it heals and strengthens and makes whole. Do you hear me child? Love is not hateful! Do you hear me child? Do you hear me? Do you…”“…Hear me?” The hand shaking me awake was very small. I woke up, groggy from my drug-induced dream, already forgetting the first half of it. Disoriented, I looked at the tiny hand shaking me awake, trying to figure out why the doctor’s hand was so small. Bit by bit, I began to get my bearing and I realized that a child was shaking me awake, even as I reached that realization; the absurdity of it hit me. I turned my head to look into the grinning face of a cute little girl. She had to be ten if she was older than eight, trying to smile in reply, I said, “Hello, how did you get here?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” came the prompt reply, “So I took a walk from the children’s section. I was passing your room when I heard you talk and sleep”
Her choice of words moved me to laughter, that is, until the pain in my side reminded me how dangerous laughing could be. “So while I was talking and sleeping what did I say?”She frowned as she said, “ ‘Love does not hurt?’ That’s what you kept saying. What does hurt mean?”
“Pain”, I said absently, thinking about my dream.
“Oh!” she said thoughtfully, “Pain is bad, love is good, so love does not pain.” She smiled brightly again.
“What do you know about pain?” I smiled back at her.
“Aunty, I’m tired can I lie down with you?”
“Of course darling.” I moved a little so she would have space to lie down. Laughing a little I told her to make sure she doesn’t kick or move about as my whole body was aching.
I could not sleep! I kept asking myself what games Tayo was trying to play, this was all wrong, where was the little kitten that I could toss around at will? I knew she was still there because she had been willing to listen to me at first. What had come over her, and, more importantly, how was I to regain control over my wife. Then I got angry; who did she think she was, playing these games with me? Am I not the man in my house anymore? If she were here, I would teach her a lesson or two about the person who is really in control in this house. After a while, fear came calling again. I hope Tayo did not tell them what really happened.The rate the thoughts were running through my mind meant that sleep was surely not far off, so when I dozed off I was not surprised. What surprised me was the succession of dreams which I was subjected to. In all of them, Tayo was superior to me in some form or the other. In the first one she was my boss and she was in the process of firing me when the dream dissolved into another where she was a queen and I was a lowly subject being dragged off by her guards. On and on the dreams washed over my subconscious and even though deep down I knew I was dreaming, I could not help the feeling of worthlessness that washed over me. My idiot wife had managed to emasculate me even in my sleep.I woke up the next morning in a bad mood and drove down to the hospital without taking a bath. I meant to have her cooperation if it was the last thing I did…
… The day nurse woke us up. “Agatha? What are you doing all the way here?” Agatha, for that was the child’s name, gave her a sleepy grin. “Morning, nurse,” she said, “I couldn’t sleep and so I took a walk. I wanted to walk so I walked. I was too tired to go back to my room. Agatha hugged me and said, “Love does not…” She scrunched up her face trying to remember the word. “Hurt”, I supplied the word for her and was rewarded with another bright smile. She hugged me again and climbed down the bed. Looking over her head I saw Umar at the door scowling.
TWO YEARS LATER…
I heaved a sigh of complete gratification as I sank into the bathtub. I was back home, where I belonged. The bathtub was filled with lavender scented water and bubbles. There was a glass of Champagne within my reach and Darwin Hobbs’s “He’s Able” was straining out softly from the overhead speakers. The lights were off in the bathroom and there were scented candles lit everywhere. The candlelight bouncing of the rose colored walls gave the bathroom a warm glow, the way the world looks during the perfect sunset.
The water felt great on my body and I felt all the tension gained from lying on a hard bed wash away into the heat of the water. I sipped my champagne and smiled as I thought about the wonderful day I had, and the wonderful night I had ahead of me. The song ended and Asa’s Subway started playing.
As I toweled my self I recalled the scene at the hospital. That was the last time I had seen Umar in two years, and that was the beginning of my empowerment as a woman.
Umar had come to the hospital to bully me into obedience as usual. The minute I saw him, grandma spoke up in my head, now or never Tayo, you know what you ought to do. As if on cue, Agatha looked back at me smiled and said, “Love doesn’t hurt.” She waved and let herself be ushered out by the day nurse. Before Umar could say a word I told him that I was going to go along with his plan. When a confident smile threatened to break forth I told him that the marriage was over. I could not continue to live with a man that did not love me. He started to tell me the usual story about how he really loved me, but sometimes I could be so stupid and I got him so angry. I cut him short and told him, “Love heals. It corrects gently. If you loved me you would have at least owned up. I can’t explain it, but, somehow, now I know that if you ever loved me, you would never have tried to break me, mold me into your idea of a perfect woman. You would have accepted me -mistakes and all- and encouraged me and made me feel secure. How can I feel dread anytime the man who claims he loves me draws near? Why should I be afraid that I would offend you? I should want your happiness, not out of fear, but out of, at least respect. I may not know what love is, but I do know it cannot be found in our house and for that reason I am leaving you.”
Umar’s face had contorted and a series of emotions raced through his eyes, then he said softly, “Where do you think you will go. What do you think will become of you? You are nothing without me?”
At that instant it was as though I could finally see my husband, I mean the real Umar. I realized he was afraid! I don’t know what he was afraid of but I knew then that all his actions were motivated by fear, and I also saw, sadly, that there was nothing I could do about it. I straightened up in my sickbed and looked my husband straight in the eye.
“Yes, Umar, I am something without you. I am Omotayo Ladipo. And I will survive, somehow, because I know that I might not be worth as much as a lot of people, but I am worth more than Umar Hassan.” Weakened by that speech I closed my eyes and said, “You may leave now. It would serve to your interest not to show up here again.” I turned away from the door and went to sleep, smiling.
When I got discharged from the hospital, I went straight to my grandmother’s house in Ibadan. She had willed the house to me and that was the place where I felt happiest. I quickly got a new job and I settled in here. I had learned at least one thing by loving Umar: It is sometimes safest to love from a distance. Wish them well, pray for them and by all means help them if they need it, but some people ought to be kept at arms length.
As I walked into my bedroom to dress up for bed the last song on my play list started up. It was Flying Without Wings by Ruben Studdard. I smiled as I realized that was what had happened that day, two years ago; I had taken a huge leap from the top of a steep cliff, and instead of dropping like a stone as I had expected, I had flown. Of course from time to time heavy winds buffeted me and made me long for the security that is marriage, but I held fast and slowly taught myself how to heal. I learned that I am a beautiful, special woman of whom there is no double, I also think I am quite intelligent because in the past two years, I have risen rather well in my chosen field, rising to the rank of branch manger in less than two years.
Today is the second anniversary of my emancipation from fear, and I celebrated it by loving myself and the world at large. I spent the day at an orphanage playing with the children, cooking for them, bathing them, telling them stories and suchlike. Tonight I am pampering my self, learning to live with the thoughts in my head. My grandma? She must be resting in peace now because since the day I told Umar to bug-off, I haven’t heard a word from her. I am free and I am loved, if not by anyone else, then at least by myself and by God, and that is all that matters now.