I awake with my head in Tade’s lap. He still reeks of alcohol but his eyes are clear and apologetic. He gathers me up from the floor, a brassiere as my only dignity. He is sober as he scoops me into his broad arms, the superior cotton of his white Fred Franks shirt soaking up the blood oozing from my battered body. Gently depositing me into the bathtub, he fills it with tepid water and uses our softest sponge to clean out my wounds. By the time he is done, the water is crimson and I feel nothing. He drains the tub and remedies the worst of my injuries right there, his hands delicately soothing bruises and bandaging cuts. When he finishes, he gently carries me over to our bed and sets me down on the softest of blankets. Stripping down till his nakedness is revealed; he lies behind me, soothing me with gently sung lullabies in the sweetest falsetto voice. I feel his tears wet my hair as he promises to change and make things better.
“How long was I unconscious?” I ask quietly.
He hesitates before answering in a testy voice. “Four hours.”
An involuntary shudder runs through me before I can stem it. He feels it and pulls me closer. The gesture is meant to be comforting but I feel smothered.
“What did I do this time?”
He lets out a frustrated sigh. He has always hated explaining himself. “Do we really need to do this now? Can’t you just let it go?”
I want to push him away but the better part of reason prevails. I answer him carefully, reining in my emotions. “How am I supposed to avoid angering you if I don’t know what initiates these episodes? Help me learn.”
He tenses and I react accordingly, bracing myself for a slap. Instead, he surprises me with an answer.
“If you must know, I saw you laughing with Dominic at my company dinner yesterday.”
A bitter laugh escapes me and I stifle it quickly. But I cannot hide the bitterness in my voice. “I thought Dominic was your best friend. He’s slept in this house too many times to count, why is he all of a sudden off-limits?”
“God, Maryann. Are you that blind? Dominic is my friend but he is also a philanderer. I told you not to wear that backless dress but you wouldn’t listen. As if undermining me wasn’t enough, you stood there and let Dominic parade you around and chat you up like a loose woman. You’re a lady and I can’t let anyone treat you as less.”
“No buts, Maryann, You’re my wife. Mine. I paid for you with my sweat, your dowry cost me a bloody fortune. I will not tolerate insubordination from you.”
He pushes me away and turns his back to me. The moment of intimacy has passed and I am expected to ignore my bruises and soldier on, be the perfect wife, seen but never heard.
It’s one in the afternoon. The lunch break is over and Tade has just driven off in his sedan. Adeolu and Irene are at home with me. I’d called the school the day before to ask leave for the children. Tade stayed for breakfast this morning and for the first time since Adeolu turned one; he bathed and dressed the boy, enchanting him with tales of Sango and Orisa. It’s almost as if he can sense my despair and his actions are meant to prove he can change. A pebble of good against an avalanche of wrongs. I am especially apprehensive as I pack a handful of clothes and my most expensive jewellery into a carry on, ensuring I slip in my account booklet. The name on the booklet reads Maryann Nwaka, my premarital surname. Tade knows nothing of this account, I’ve made certain of that.
I pack two suitcases, one for each child, big enough for school books and clothes, small enough so it doesn’t become a burden. Adeolu is blissfully unaware of the tears which streak my face, playing with his action figures in the corner of the room. But Irene can sense the gravity of the day’s events. She has always been like my mother, intuitive and empathic. I think she has known for a while that I plan to ‘run away’. To say I was leaving my husband would have been to ascribe dignity to myself of which I wasn’t worthy. She hands me a long forgotten story book.
“Put that in for Ade, he pretends to hate it but when you switch off the lights he reads it under his covers.”
I collect the book and add it to the pile, carefully angling my face away from her so she cannot see my despair. It is one thing for a child to suspect her mother of being anything less than superhuman and another to see evidence of such.
“Don’t you have anything you want us to bring along?” I ask her.
“Everything here will remind me of daddy.”
I’m startled by her acuity, another trait she gets from my mother.
I finish the packing quickly and dress the children in sensible summer clothes. The heat of the August break is unforgiving and the journey ahead of us is treacherous so sensibility trumps all other concerns.
So Maryann is running off with her kids. Sadly very few options seem open to women from broken marriages.