“I saw Emerie with a guy down at New Haven.” It’s almost like a casual remark tossed absently as he tapped on the console of his game pad, but I know that edge. That edge in his voice that came before one of his whirls.
I swallow, bracing myself. What would it be this time? “You were at New Haven?” Perhaps I could steer him off the course of his initial thought, whatever it is.
“They seemed pretty cosy. They were laughing together and he made a point to pat her elbow while they laughed.”
I shrug and take a spoon of my cereal. “A friend, maybe.”
“A friend… She didn’t tell you she was going out?”
“I didn’t ask.” I know Emerie is seeing someone else. I had tried to dissuade her when the illicit romance was still in the bud but her loser of a husband didn’t help matters. Why should she stay faithful to a cheating husband who constantly withheld her nuptial rights? God, Emerie. God. You have him to think about. Your body is his temple. I saw that look come to her eyes. Determined defensiveness. And I knew she’d never talk to me about Stanley again.
“Is she cheating?”
That was direct. “I don’t know…”
“But she might be, right?”
I hate it every time he starts with the questions. I hate how it keeps me on edge. I hate the fact that things could escalate at any point. I hate the fact that the questions won’t stop until he ferrets the very piece of information he desires out of me.
“Sweetheart, I don’t know.”
He pauses his game and turns his full attention to me. Oh, good Lord in heaven.
“What do you know?” His voice is cool, contained.
“She might.” I concede and quickly add, “but I’m not certain.”
He nods and smiles. “Wow. You’re friends with a married lady who might be straffing around. What’s it they say about showing me your friend, again?”
“Kene, for God’s sake! Anyone could be cheating.”
“Rich. Are you trying to tell me something about yourself?”
I’m starting to have a headache. God, please make it stop. “I’m not. You can rest assured that I’m not cheating on you.”
“Of course you are not. Who would want to cheat with you, anyway? After one kid you’ve managed to morph into a whale. At least your might-be-cheating friend is still in shape after three.”
He drops his game pad and walks into the room. I sit there, staring at his game pad and shrinking inside. To have and to hold, he said in his vows. Really close. To have and to crush, he must have meant.
•You also vowed to have and hold… crush… you’ve been taking his hits lying down. Strike back•
-He’s insecure. You know this. Don’t give the Devil a chance. Kene is not your enemy-
•If you continue letting his insults slide, he’d keep them coming. He can’t continue tearing you down with his words and you’re the one expected to gobble it all up in Christian stride. Kene is a child of God too, isn’t he? Why must you be the bigger believer all the time? Isn’t he, after all, the head of the home? Why not follow his lead? An eye for an eye, a strike for a strike. All is fair in love and war•
-Leave Kene to the Holy Spirit. Focus on your own love walk, Oluchi. Love endures, forgives, keeps no record of wrongdoing-
•He said you’ve become a whale. He compared you with Emerie. He knows you are sensitive about your body. He knows you envy Merie. His jab is not at all a mistake•
I stand up. I won’t let Kene off the hook so easily. I walk into the room. He’s seated on the bed, face buried in his palms.
“I’ve had a really horrible day. The boys went to hang out without me. I saw pictures on Ebube’s status and I sincerely felt hurt. I feel left behind…”
•Are you the cause of any of those? Can you see how he’s supposedly apologizing and not really apologizing? He’s explaining his misbehaviour away, making it your fault in a warped way. You should have known better… You should have known he might have a bad day… You shouldn’t be offended that he hurt you, he was also hurt by a stupid WhatsApp status…•
“I just wanted to clear my head so I took a walk…”
•He took a walk. On a Monday afternoon your husband was wandering the streets of Enugu. When other men who have their heads firmly on the shoulders were out working, trying to make a living, your sweetheart was on the lookout for who might be straffing who•
“And then I saw her with that guy. I know it was a wrong thing to think but I couldn’t help imagining you like that with another guy…”
•Can you see how highly he thinks of you? •
I stew. He hasn’t even said sorry.
“I’m really sorry, Oluchi.”
•He’s not sorry. He will do it again. He’ll keep hurting your feelings until you show him some teeth. You have them. You have the teeth to hack him down to size. Show him•
“I’m deeply sorry…”
“You’re not sorry about your action. You’re only sorry for yourself. You didn’t say what you said in the living room because you had a bad day or any of the nonsense you’ve spent the last three minutes rambling about. You insulted me because you are small in your eyes. So small that it scares you. You are afraid that I will look at you and see you like you see you and realize that I want someone else.” I move closer to him. “It’s the source of your paranoia, it’s why you worry yourself to sickness over an affair you know I’m not having. It’s not Merie that is responsible for your paranoia, it’s your dismal self-esteem. So, you weaponize words. You choose to tear me down with the hope that I will become small in my own eyes; as small as you are. That way, we’d be even. A perfect match.” I see him cringe. Good. I haven’t even started.
•Now you’ve got the facts out… the next thing is to strike•
The words of my mother flashes across my mind. “Oluchi, you need honesty and transparency in marriage. You need to be honest even when it’s difficult. Don’t shy away from tough conversations. But I must add that you also need to be gracious with your honesty. You don’t have to be brutally honest. You can be honest with consideration and kindness.”
•Not today. Consideration, kindness and grace won’t even the score. A strike for a strike. Today, you must use honesty like methylated spirit. Rub it on him to numb him, to prime him for the needle’s prick•
I look at Kene’s shorts, I see the line of brownness on its hem. Disgust simmers in me.
“Have you had a bath today?”
He doesn’t respond.
“How do you do it? How are you so comfortable sitting around all day playing game and eating food you’ve done nothing to provide?”
His mouth opens and closes almost immediately.
“You say I’ve become a whale. It would have been better if you were the one gaining weight, at least that way all the free food you’ve been eating would have some use.”
“I’m not finished!” I bark. Where is all this anger coming from? Have I been bottling up this much?
Tense silence sits between us until I push it out with, “I’ll be finished if I let you get away with all the pain you cause me. I’m not going to let you walk me over like your furry ‘welcome home’ foot mat. I’m not a doormat, Kene. Not anymore.”
I walk out, partly angry, partly ashamed. The look in Kene’s eyes haunts me. I’ve drawn blood. I should feel satisfied, we are even now, aren’t we? Wasn’t this what I wanted?
I steel myself against those thoughts. Kene deserves what I served him. I’ve not given to him something he hadn’t given to me. The golden rule. It’s only fair.
I am restless. I know I’ve grieved the Holy Spirit. What if Kene had been truly sorry? Why would I strike a man who was already down? How can I claim to love him if I expect to rejoice at his wounds? Love doesn’t rejoice in evil… But he hurt me first…
I go to our son’s room. He’s asleep, arms flung carelessly, drool coming down from the corner of his mouth and pooling on his pillow. Okwudili. I flash back to the time he was born; to the good times when Kene still had his job at ANAMMCO. Kene was a lot happier then. He loved his job and thinking back on it, I see that it’s beyond love… Kene drew from his job. He drew his identity and confidence from the job, he glowed in it and that seemed good for the period it lasted. But a year after Okwudili’s birth, covid-19 stuck and like many other companies, ANAMMCO downsized and unfortunately, Kene fell among the leaves they shed in drought. Before the layoff, Kene’s moods was quite stable although he had his moments -days when he came back from work very tired and grumpy, days when he woke up from sleep to Okwudili’s cry, days when he was feeling sick. On such days he was brusque and would usually say hurtful things. Thereafter he’d apologize and things would go back to normal. But after the layoff, Kene became jittery, insecure, always reading meaning to things.
I sigh. Kene’s misdeeds do not justify my cruel words. Kene cannot be the standard or primary reason for my moral rectitude. If he is, I’m no different from Emerie who thinks her husband’s infidelity justifies hers. I’m accountable first to God. It’s to him I will give account for every idle word spoken. It is he who died for me. It is he who loved me while I was without strength, loved me till I accepted him and constantly loves me without condition. It is he who has shed his love abroad in my heart by his Holy Spirit. It is to him I owe the responsibility of love and kindness. My love for Kene cannot be based on his actions or inactions but on who I have now become in Christ.
I see now that in a fight against my partner, there are no winners. If he strikes me, I bleed. If I strike him, I bleed still. We are one.
Tears gather in my eyes. How would he be feeling now?
“God, I’m sorry for silencing your voice and choosing instead to crush my husband.”
•You’re not going to apologize to him. Apologizing just defeats the whole point you made in there•
“I’m not here to make points… I’m here to make peace.”
Kene walks in then.
“You were right.” His tone makes me cringe inside. He’s broken. I go to him; I try to hug him. He stops me. “I need counselling.”
“We need it. Let’s sign up with the counsellor Pastor recommended.”
“And Kene, I’m sorry for the hurtful things I said. I love you and I respect you. I know you want better for us and it was wrong for me to throw your struggle in your face.”
“Is this how I make you feel all the time? Is this how hard my words hurt?”
•You see… He’d never have known if you didn’t show some teeth•
“Kene, God brought us together to help each other. Hurting each other is outside the purview of our call.”
Now, he lets me hug him.
“Mummy, Daddy, what are you doing in my room?”
When did he wake? Kene and I stare at our son awkwardly. We look at each other and snigger.
“I had a funny dream.” Okwudili says, rubbing his eyes.
“Tell me about it, Dili.”
“Both of you were standing together then one ugly thing like a big cartoon rat came to stand behind Daddy. He took daddy’s hand and used it slap mummy. Then it ran behind the two of you and came to stand behind mummy. This rat now took mummy’s hand and slapped daddy. Loud slap that sounded kpa!” Okwudili chuckles. “very nonsense dream. Let me go back to sleep.”
Kene and I look at each other and we knew exactly what our son’s dream meant. It was not nonsense at all.