“I will kill you today!”
He yelled after administering another slap on my face and moved to lock the door. I wondered what must have possessed my husband this morning, it was barely 5 am, and the heavens rumbled, roared, and winked to mark the disappearance of weeping skies while the wind swept pines against the coming dawn, a sight I love to see, but how could I when my husband had turned our apartment into a WWE ring?
He drew his belt and began to whip me. At least I could count fifteen painful lashes from the belt on my skin before I lost count. Our three kids were at my mom’s place. I would never have wanted them to witness this strange person their father had become all of a sudden. This is the choice I made, for better or worse, so why should I complain? He descended on me with punches when he felt the belt wasn’t having much of an impact, establishing the fact that he was the man of the house. What a weird way to assert one’s dominance. What could I have done? I was in love, I had to be submissive as I was taught, wasn’t I?
I was blindly in love with the man I married. His dark complexion, red lips, and chiselled physique were enough to turn me into a sixteen-year-old high school girl who had fallen in love for the very first time.
Of all memories, I mostly cherish that of two days after he had popped the question. He had returned at 10 pm from a hangout with friends only to meet me in his house, clad in a skimpy dress.
“How did you get in here?” he asked, surprised.
“I guess you should quit asking the wrong questions and start asking the right ones baby,” I said, wearing a smile as I drew him closer to me.
I wanted to know his capacity in the other room, we stared at each other for a while, and he knew what I wanted. I knew he wanted it too. We could tell from the way we stared into each other’s eyes that the tension built over time, and like a strong magnet, my lips enclosed his. We kissed each other passionately and a few minutes later, my floodgates were open. Soon, he was on top of my supine mass, letting out grunts of sweetness while I assisted with my high-pitched soprano melodies. I was certain our singing was good enough to make an audience if any of his neighbours were to be awake by that time of the night, surely they would know it was me. They have seen me countless times while I visited Ken, but who cares?
We would be tying the knot soon enough. Why would I not want to spend the rest of my life with a person who makes me sing so well and makes my heart skip? If I didn’t know what I wanted as a twenty-seven-year-old, that would be the height of self-deceit.
Our union of three years had been all rosy and sweet up until the pandemic lockdown. Ken would surprise me with gifts anytime it was my birthday, and he would always recount how grateful he was that I supported the family with part of my salary as a banker. We didn’t live a luxurious life, we were comfortable, we had a roof over our heads, and we were able to provide other basic needs for the kids. We were admired both at church, at the street we lived in, and even in the bank where I worked, until this morning when his bottled-up frustration seemed to have erupted like a volcano.
“Come here, Lilian! I said come here!” he barked.
“What have I done this morning to deserve such treatment from you?” I said amidst sobs, tasting the blood that trickled into my mouth from my left nostril. I wondered when my once romantic husband began addressing me by my name.
“I asked for ordinary twenty thousand Naira, you felt too big to give it to me, don’t you realize I am the man here? I married you with my money, for God’s sake!” he yelled.
“But you know that since the past two months of lockdown, the bank hasn’t paid us. I don’t have any money and the little one I have in my savings is for our upkeep. What did you do with the two hundred thousand I gave you?” I replied, putting up a defence.
“You even have some money in your savings!?”
I kept mute, my silence was very loud. I raised my face to be sure that the man whom I had three kids for, the man who always praised my smooth ebony skin and had professed his love for me countless times while inside my honey-pot was the same person treating me like a thief nabbed by street boys.
My eyes met with his, and he quickly looked away like a child filled with guilt. He picked up the kitchen knife that lay on the table. I had peeled oranges with it the previous night and forgot to return it to the kitchen, now it has ended up in the wrong hands. I had watched Jackie Chan and Jet Li in movies and noted the precision they employ with their bare hands while defending themselves from foes armed with long swords, overpowering them in the end. How I wish I could do some before things got any uglier
“Hand over your ATM card to me immediately!” his angry voice jolted me back to reality.
“What do you want us to feed with if I do that? I wonder what you want to do with the money,” I replied, wondering where such boldness came from. Common sense will demand an angry person to be treated respectfully, just like a king at that point of boiling rage, perhaps when he is sober, he can be confronted, but I wasn’t having any of that. If I gave up my ATM card, it meant us going hungry till whenever the lockdown was called off, which seemed pretty far.
The lockdown was felt more here in Abuja, the nation’s capital which meant a high cost of living, especially for us living in a rented three-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Asokoro. I had given him a hundred thousand Naira on two occasions during the first and second months of the lockdown and vowed never to repeat such a mistake as I saw nothing valuable he had done with the money.
“You want to see what I can do, right?”
He thundered, charging at me, and in his bid to stab me, I quickly moved out of the way, and he slipped and fell on the knife.
I turned immediately to see him submerged in a pool of blood, I didn’t know how I felt at that point. I stood there like a mannequin, only to discover that my skirt had been torn during our scuffle. I managed to find the keys in his pocket, unlocked the door and called our next-door-neighbour who drove us to the hospital.
From the way Obi, our neighbour, responded to the emergency, it seemed as if he was following the sequence of events and was ready to offer any form of help in case anything went wrong.
Ken had been in a coma for two weeks, and each time I visited him, I would hold his hand and pray he would make it. What do we call this type of love? I wondered. The doctor had told me that Ken had a fifty-fifty chance of survival due to the knife stab rupturing his left kidney and intestine. Although the surgery was performed, which gulped almost everything in my savings, he still maintained the horrifying prediction. My colleague at work, Kate, had advised me to leave Ken while he was still in the coma and get a better life as he would turn me into a punching bag once he was back on his feet.
“You are still beautiful. Your curves are still there even after three kids. He doesn’t deserve you, remember it’s better to leave with your life than in a body bag,” she advised
“Eh!” I yelled, halting her in her words; “I love him, and that’s it,” I stated
“I love him, and that’s it,” she said, imitating me in the most sarcastic manner, “Stay there and watch him kill you,” she concluded angrily.
Sitting by his side in the ward, alone with my thoughts, it was strange, defending the man who almost stabbed me two weeks ago. I could elope with any of the wealthy male admirers in my DMs, or at the bank where I worked, but something kept me attached to Ken. I know for a fact that his mother’s demise and eventual sack from his workplace as a result of the pandemic played a role in the monster he became overnight.
Ken would slide into depression now and then, flare up at the slightest provocation. I avoided him as one with tooth sensitivity avoided cold drinks. His mother had died of covid-19 complications when the only ventilator available for treatment was forcefully reserved for the senator who represented their constituency. He had flexed his powers as a politician and ordered for the ventilator to be used on him first before anyone else, thereby resulting in her death as she couldn’t receive adequate treatment on time. Perhaps the last straw was when the remnant of his savings was snatched by robbers. He had gone to an ATM to withdraw what was left for family upkeep but was trailed by some robbers who snatched it from him at gunpoint. From that day, Ken became a shadow of himself. He joined the street urchins and gave in to heavy smoking and drinking.
“Baby,” a weak voice called. At first, I thought I was in a trance, but it was Ken that called me. I felt like a girl who had been kissed by her crush. I quickly kissed his hand.
“Hey baby, how are you?” I replied as tears of joy trickled down my cheeks.
“I just want to apologise for all I did; that wasn’t me at all. I… I… I… was frustrated as a result of everything that had happened to me right from when I lost my job,” he released every syllable with slow and accurate precision while my eyelids permitted a free flow of the never-ending tears of love.
“You are a good woman, I love y…” he convulsed, and before I could come to terms with what was happening, the impulse monitor drew three straight lines on the screen.
I needed no doctor to tell me what it meant.
When the reaper came for Ken, it came like a raptor from the womb of the skies, swooped on a hen and its precious chick at the most unpleasant time, grabbed it with its talons, and took off. I didn’t realise I had screamed until a nurse scampered in.
“Madam, what is it!?” she inquired.
My silence was loud enough to answer that. She needed no soothsayer to tell her that my treasure had just been stolen by the cold hands of the reaper.
As she took off the oxygen mask from his lifeless body and covered him up, I pinched myself to see if I could wake from this tragic dream. This reality was too heavy for my mind to consume. It was like a cold kiss from a corpse, I felt a chilly sensation running down my spine. It is true that I wanted freedom from verbal abuse and freedom from emotional torture but not freedom from the man my heart beats for, was that too much to ask for?
Fate finally gave me my desired freedom, but at a price I couldn’t pay. Once more, I pondered over the precious things this pandemic had stolen from me.