Mum was visibly angry and sullen that evening and we wondered if anyone had annoyed her at the market or within our neighborhood while on her way back to our home. And when Papa, who was sitting in front of our house with Uncle Brendan greeted her, “Welcome back my wife”, she ignored him and walked straight into the house. My brother, Ikenna and I watched in silence to know what Papa will do.
Maybe he’ll get angry and slap Mama when he comes into the house, and the extended family members will hear them as they quarrel. I hate it when Uncle Brendan and his wife, Mama Okey square against each other in a shouting match. Often times, Uncle Bee would pound, punched, and beat her up like fufu inside a mortar.
Uncle Brenda hissed and snidely asked, “What is wrong with this your wife today?”
“You know women behave like the moon. Today they shine with joy like the full moon and the next day, they are full of hisses, frowns and sighs like the crescent moon, with little or no glow.” Papa for some unspoken reason always defends Mama before other family members.
Maybe it’s because he married her as a young teenager who had lost her parents during the Biafran War, or maybe because the age gap between them is so wide that he sees her as one naive little girl in a woman’s body. But how can a woman with four children be called a girl? Tufiakwa, that doesn’t sound nice at all especially when it’s my own mother. Mama even has some strands of grey hair which Ikenna and I used to help her pluck out from her scalp sometimes. And I doubt if Mama’s hairs will not turn into a white field like Grandma with age.
”Dike my junior brother; you now see this is what I have always warned you about eeeh? Now you’re reaping the fruits of your lack of manliness for the way you’ve always condoned her disrespectful behaviour and always making excuses for this your wife whenever she misbehaves. I don’t blame her anyway because you know my wife can’t try that nonsense with me. Dont worry, a day will come when she will urinate and dump shit on your head, and it will be too late for you”.
‘Emmm…it’s not what you think Dee Brendan”, Papa tried to explain. He respects his elder brother so much that he wouldn’t attempt to call him by his first name without the prefix, ‘Dede’ or ‘Dee’.
‘Hey nwokem!,You had better shut that your mouth up! Are you not so ashamed of being a woman wrapper all the time? And when anyone tries to correct your mistakes, you’d foolishly say it’s because of love that you’re letting your stupid wife ride over you. This is errant nonsense and our dead father will be gnashing his teeth in anger inside his grave because of this abomination!”
Uncle Brendan stood up, hissed and stomped back to his house while Papa watched in silence. Uncle always protested against dad’s unusual tolerance of Mama’s outbursts and I don’t blame him because Mama could blow off the lid at will. She shouts at us when we go out to play football or watch American Wrestling on the TV with our friends. When she nags, everyone shuts their ears so the heart wont be pricked by her scathing words.
That night, Mama and Papa locked themselves inside their bedroom for a long time and Ikenna and I pressed our ears to their doors to eavesdrop on what transpired inside their private chamber, as daddy called it. Papa didn’t raise his voice and if they had argued or quarreled, the walls of the room must have swallowed up those angry and bitter words that tear and poke rudely at the heart days, months and years after they had been uttered during a quarrel between a couple, friends or family members.
When Papa emerged from their private chamber in his wrapper and white singlet, he didn’t look ruffled, but quietly went into the kitchen to prepare our supper. He served Ikenna and I, and took Mama’s portion into their bedroom. That night he helped Ikenna and me to take our bath before we slept. And it was so nice to have Papa rub the Cocoa Butter cream on our damp skin like the Bone Setter that massaged Mama’s ankle when she tripped and sprained it at the Nkwo Market. Mama didn’t wake up early the next morning to prepare and serve us breakfast before we left for school, but Papa did. Kai, my Mama would have been a good drama queen like daddy will joke at times, except that she was born in the village, and couldn’t go to the university to study theatre arts so she could become the dramatis persona on a stage!
A couple of nights ago, I wanted to slap my wife, Nkiru for the umpteenth time to teach her a lifetime lesson of regret for daring to call me a ‘foolish man’ over a trivial matter. As I raised my right arm midair to strike her face, a picture of my late father flashed before me. It was as though a surge of electric current overwhelmed my hand that it grew limp and dropped to my side. I was literally stopped on my track by that sight of my dad peering scornfully at me.
I moaned out a sigh with my teeth locked in a grind, and the surface anatomy of my jaws stood out in anger like ruffled waves. To the chagrin of Nkiru who was used to my slaps, kicks and beatings which left her with bruises and sometimes, black and swollen bags in her eyes, my hand ddn’t land on her face this time around. It was that night, when something I’m oblivious of came over me that I resolved never to beat her again. Months later she would know why her arrogant and abusive husband had turned into a woman wrapper like my dad!
Papa had punished me severely the first time I slapped my younger sister, Ezinne, when she insulted and called me names for reminding her to wash up the plates and utensils in the kitchen after dinner. With teary eyes, she had gone to report me to Papa, who would not accept to hear my own side of the story, and the reason for the well-deserved hot slap I gave her.
With my bum facing heaven while I lay on the floor, Papa gave me six strokes of the cane that made sitting unbearable on the wooden bench in my classroom at the Primary School in my village the nest day. He warned me to never show how strong I was by beating a woman for whatever reason. That if I thought I was strong, I should square up with fellow men to wrestle at the village square or go into the bush to tame or kill a wild animal. That a warrior only fights in a battle field to prove how fearless and brave he was, and that any man that beats a woman for whatever reason was indeed a coward. He pulled my ear with so much force that the lops stretched to ensure that the message crossed my eardrums into my brain!
After sharing my story, Nkiru’s eyes teared up that night as I swallowed my pride to apologize for treating her with such angry outbursts tinged with contempt. For the first time since she joined me in the city, she melted into my arms like a child. My heart ached as her tears wriggled down my chest upon which she laid her head while she sobbed. For the first time, my lips gripped hers and we kissed. For the first time, my eyes scoped and roved over her face and emotions of deep love and passion tried to choke my breath. I effortlessly lifted her up and headed into our bedroom…and that was the night I truly married her and she became mine for life!
I had met her during one of my long vacations as an undergraduate student in my State’s University. She was then a smart looking secondary school student from a poor family whom I had a short fling with that led to pregnancy. I had to marry her upon my graduation for it was an abomination in my village for a young woman to have a child in her parents’ home without a husband. She dropped out of school to wean our daughter, and my father paid her fees till she sat and passed her secondary school exams. Though I detested her, my father accepted her as his daughter-in-law and doted on her as if she was his first daughter, his Ada; while I was away rounding up my studies.
The next morning, Nkiru woke up different from the grouchy, spike-mouthed and nagging wife that she had been since I trie
d to deny the pregnancy. Save for my dad and mum, I would have succeeded in dumping her like my friends had advised me to do, ’cause that was the best way to treat a dumb woman who tried to traps a guy with pregnancy. Maybe it was my eyes that saw better, for all I know Nkiru had become once again, that sweet teenage angel that gripped my heart the first time I saw her. And if this is an illusion of sorts, I’d rather swim and drown in it!