She smiles, it is a sad, knowing smile. It is a smile that says I know I revolt you now and I know that because I revolt myself as well. She starts matter of factly “I used to be very beautiful and if you do not look too closely, I still am now, of course only after my dentures and hair are on. I used to be happy and vivacious, full of dreams until life took all that away from me”. I am straining to hear, the lack of teeth muffles her speech. “About 5 years ago, I got married to this guy I met in church. He was handsome, 6 foot 1, light-skinned, dimpled, well-built and had a good job. I was a worker in church at the time and was told by my colleagues that his fruits were not consistent with someone who knew God and I was quick to answer that he was in church wasn’t he? We did not need to have the same level of spiritual growth as long as he believed in God. His name is Bayo.”
We had a nice not-too-lavish wedding and even in church people commented on what a beautiful couple we made, and like is expected in the Nigerian society, I was often asked when we would start having babies. I mostly laughed it off and said in God’s time. We were only married 6 months when Bayo called me for a state of the union address. He asked what the problem was, why I had not taken in yet and I said I did not know that I had not done anything to consciously prevent conception and that it would happen in God’s time. “You always resort to God to cover up issues don’t you?” Bayo asks, “I know ladies like you, you lead a bad promiscuous life in your youth, then you go to church and pretend to be someone you are not, so that you can “catch” the good men in church. Unfortunately, you did not meet a fool, whatever you have done to damage your body, fix it! Quickly!” “Needless to say, I was shocked by his response, but I have always been one to rationalize people’s behaviour and I thought he must be really disappointed. I did not realise how much having a child meant to him and I resolved to do whatever it took to get pregnant.”
“I went to the best doctors in Lagos and was prodded and poked in ways that you cannot imagine. After a myriad of tests, I was told that there was nothing wrong with me. That made it all the more difficult you see, if there was something to blame, something to fix towards resolving the problem, it’ll have made it easier. Bayo treated this time in a “you are on your own kind of way” it was bring me a solution or don’t talk about it. I was lonely and sad. It was nothing like what I thought marriage would be but i was determined to make mine work.
I counted the days faithfully and one evening when I knew I would be ovulating, I made a very nice dinner and threw on my very best lingerie, lit the candles and had nice music in the background. I sat at the table waiting for Bayo to return from work. I must have dozed off, because the next thing I feel is someone shaking me. It is Bayo, “what is all this?” He hisses, “is it your type they do this with? You know in your heart of hearts what you are don’t you? Don’t you?” he says moving closer to me. I smell alcohol on his breath and in my mind I was asking when he started drinking. He keeps shouting at me and saying, look at me when I am talking to you. I did not realise I was looking down, he hits me, pushes me off the chair, is hitting me repeatedly and violently rapes me. When he is done, he says “that is what you are good for, nothing else”. “I must have lain on the floor till morning. My mind was numb. What just happened? I thought. Did Bayo just have forceful intercourse with me because he actually felt cheated or was this how he prefered it? Was he actually what he seemed to be, or are there deeper issues? The alcohol? I have never known him to drink. I am a Christian woman and this is not something that God cannot resolve, so should I be submissive to him and maybe win him over with my conduct? I also remembered that I was warned, I was warned that being in church did not make you Christian, I was wasn’t I? I was also thinking, is this me? Fehintola Lawson, beautiful, beloved of her family, I recalled the countless number of times people had looked at Bayo and I and said I was lucky. If only they could see this. Thank God they can’t see this. God! What happened to you? Are you still my God in this?” Contrary to Bayo’s accusations I had not been promiscuous; he was the first person I had been with, he knew, he saw the blood on the sheets. Or could that be faked? I second guessed. I had tried a cigarette or two just out of secondary school and had jumped over the school fence in search of food a couple of times but nothing with the opposite sex. So why was I delayed? Why couldn’t I conceive like everyone around me was doing? Still lying on the floor, I recalled seeing a pregnant mad woman that week. Where was this my God and what will he have me do now?”
“It is morning and I pick myself up, I am sore all over. I look around me, the dinner is on the table, still exactly as I laid it out. The table is out-of-place, no longer in the centre of the room. The candles have melted unto the table-cloth and the music had stopped playing sometime in the night. I take a bath in the guest bathroom, put on a double layer of foundation and concealer to hide the marks on my face. I get dressed and pick my bag from the room very gingerly- Bayo is still asleep and I make to go to work. I am confronted by my reflection in the mirror in the hallway and I am surprised about how normal and even pretty I look. I do not look like what happened to me the night before and even that scares me.
I was confused, something in me blamed my sins for letting this happen. Maybe if I prayed harder, maybe I did not listen to God when I made my choice. Maybe this was a trial I was meant to pass, afterall didn’t God say he hates divorce and that we deserve the authorities over us? All these thoughts raced through my mind as I drove into my parking slot at work. That was the beginning of life as I would come to know it. Violence, pain, rationalization, mask. I became a master at putting on a show, there was me, there was real life and there was the life that it appeared I had.
I got in to find the secretary beaming at me. ‘You sure are a lucky woman’ she said by way of greeting, she is pointing at a bouquet of white roses on the floor, it’s from Bayo, with a card that says “I am sorry.” Something in my heart warns me not to believe it and some other thing says maybe this is where the 77 times 7 times should manifest? And I tell her to please decorate her table with it.
At mid-day, my p.a. calls to say my husband is coming in; he was already at the door when I dropped the receiver. “What do you want now?” I ask. “I came to take my wife out for lunch or do I need permission to be here?” I make to respond, “ I can see you do not like the roses I sent? You now think you can pick and chose what parts of me you want?” I am silent. “You will pick up your bags and leave with me now!” he says very quietly. “I will do no such thing” I hear myself say in an out-of-body kind of way, there seems to be another me up there looking down and asking, what are you doing? Have you forgotten what this man is capable of? He lunges towards me, I press the security button in my table-its unconscious. The guard opens my door “mam?”, “she is alright” Bayo says. “Did you call security on me?” his voice is even lower. I am staring at him, and he turns back to leave, “except you don’t come home this evening, except you don’t” he is saying as he walks out my office…
“Fehintola, it’s almost lunch time. My colleagues would soon start to come up.” She wears her hair and puts in her dentures-she is transformed, a princess again. I hold her hands (never mind that I have OCD and just saw her put dentures back in her mouth). “I don’t know what to say now but I want to hear the rest of your story. Would you be willing to come to my house on Saturday morning so we can talk?” She nods. I scribble my address on a tissue, give her a long hug and tell her to be strong, we are now at the elevator I watch her step in, dainty, beautiful and my heart goes out to her.
I try to concentrate on work for the rest of the day, I even skip lunch, so that I would not have taken two breaks, but I’m distracted. I keep thinking, ‘this is heavy stuff, this is heavy stuff”….