She flinched when he raised his hand and only relaxed slightly when the hand landed softly on her hair, instead of with brute force on her face. She pulled her lips into a forced smile. I hope it looks natural, she thought.
“Nwanyi m oma, my good wife. How are you feeling today?” her husband asked.
Fear gripped her heart with an iron fist. It felt unnatural to hear such sweet words form the man she had married, and she found it hard to respond. All she knew around him was fear and silence. She was afraid of him and she had learned to be silent in the face of his rages. The first few times, she had pleaded with him to tell her what she had done wrong so she could do better. She had begged him to stop. He hadn’t. He had only become more enraged and she had learned her lesson. Silence was better. Now, faced with a sweetness she had long since forgotten, she was clueless. She formed her lips into another smile and hoped her face looked relaxed and happy.
“I’m fine, my husband. Today was not so bad. At least I was able to eat something this afternoon.”
He had come straight to her room when he came back from work and had asked the cook to have their dinner served upstairs. Cook had made his favorite tonight - oha soup - and she had been looking forward to it, but she had declined dinner when she found out he wanted to eat upstairs in the small sun room near their bedrooms. She had already told him she was feeling sick. It wouldn’t do for him to see me eating like nothing is wrong.
He smiled at her and nodded. “That’s good, that’s good. You have to try hard and eat well,” he said. He looked at her carefully and her heart leapt into her throat. Does he know? No, he can’t. No one does. She relaxed as his expression finally shifted.
“You even look different. It is good to know that I finally scored”, he chuckled at his own crude joke. “Like my father used to say, a good beating never hurt anyone.”
She looked at his handsome face as he laughed and something dark stirred within her. She kept the smile on her face by sheer force of her will as she fought against the tide of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her.
Lord, why? She asked silently for the umpteenth time. Why had God allowed her to marry such a cruel man? Why had he kept her barren for almost three years? She had prayed fervently for a child. She had fasted for days on end, yet nothing worked. The insults came unabated. The beatings became more vicious. She had nowhere to turn to…there was no hope. At least until she had heard Nkasi throwing up. Was this finally the answer to her prayers? Could she finally get her dearest wish and win her husband’s respect? A small voice whispered to her…words that she would rather ignore.
“Wait and see the salvation of the Lord. Cast your cares on Him …”
How much longer will I wait? How many more tears should I cry before you answer? How many more beatings…? No, she mentally shook her head. I can’t wait any longer. She cast a glance at her husband as he sat content, satiated from the heavy meal he had just eaten and satisfied that he would finally be a father. He caught her glance and smiled at her almost teasingly.
“Nnedi, come, let’s go to the room and relax. I’m very tired.”
Who is this man, she wondered to herself. Since she had broken the news of her ‘pregnancy’ three weeks ago, he had been like a totally different person. Gone was the angry, violent man who found pleasure in inflicting pain. In his place was this man who walked around smiling and spoke to her like she was actually a person…who actually called her by her given name, instead of one of his numerous insults. She had to take advantage of his good mood. She and Nkasi had worked out their plan very carefully and she needed to set the wheels in motion.
She got up from the armchair she had been sitting in and walked from the other side of the small, airy sun room towards their bedroom. She mentally braced herself to do what she had to. It wouldn’t be easy, but she would do it. She had no choice.
“Oya, come now”, she smiled teasingly. “I even have something to show you.”
Seven months later
Nnedi stretched lazily as the sun streamed through the curtains. She lay in bed for a few minutes before reluctantly kicking the covers aside. She liked to wake up early and check on Nkasi to make sure she was doing well. They had been here for almost eight months and they were expecting the baby any day. She thought back to that day when she had managed to convince her husband to let her go travel to the east to stay with her mother for the duration of the pregnancy. They had lain in bed together, she tense and worried about her plan, he languid and relaxed from their shared intimacy.
“You know how long we have waited”, she pleaded. “I don’t want anything to go wrong and I would feel much safer with my mother.”
“Safer?” he quizzed with a frown on his face.
“Yes, safer. You never know who is who. Who knows why we haven’t been able to have children? And the same thing happened before with your first wife.” She had pressed, tapping into his superstitions. “It’s better if I’m at home with Mama. She’ll take good care of me.”
“What about medical care? Who will take care of you when you’re in the village? I don’t trust those village doctors and I don’t want you travelling up and down to the city in your condition.”
“Hmm, yes. I see what you mean.” She pretended to think for a while. “Wait, you know there is a very good hospital in the village – Jasman Hospital. People even come from all over the country just to see the doctor there. I think they’ll take good care of me.”
He nodded. He knew the hospital and the doctor that owned it. His own father had gone there for medical treatment when he was sick and he had been very pleased with the results. Nnedi was right. Who knew the real reason for his childlessness all these years? He had been married before for ten years – no child. Now, he was married to a second wife, and still no child? It wasn’t normal. He had always thought the fault lay with the two women he had married, but what if there was something else at work? Something dark, and twisted? He certainly had enough enemies…people who would go to any lengths to try and destroy his happiness. What if one of them had gone to a dibia to make sure he, Tobenna never had children…no one to carry on his lineage? Tufiakwa! God forbid!
Convinced, he nodded. “But, you can’t go alone. You have to go with someone to take care of you and my son,” he said as he rubbed her still-flat stomach.
Pleased, she smiled to herself. Of course I have to go with someone. “Yes, you are right my husband. I will need someone to help me while I’m away.”
And so they had ended up here in the village with her parents. Her father was a principled man – a man of God and she knew he would not approve of her deception, but mother was a different case. Unscrupulous and grasping, she would do whatever she needed to in order to keep the golden goose happy. Her mother would become her ally. A skilled seamstress, she fashioned several pouches that Nnedi would wear over her stomach when it was time for her to start ‘showing’. Each was of a different size, to represent a different stage of pregnancy. Together, they concocted the story they would tell her father about Nkasi when her pregnancy could no longer be hidden.
Her father, absent-minded and caught up in his small pastorate had bought her story and welcomed her home with open arms. She and Nkasi had settled into one wing of the huge mansion and everything had seemed to be going great. Everything had been going great, until about a month after they had arrived. Nkasi was about 3 months pregnant at the time and Nnedi was worried about her because she was still having severe morning sickness. She had decided to take Nkasi to see the doctor and had gone downstairs to help her mother make breakfast. The smell of the frying eggs had made her feel queasy and she had been unable to eat breakfast or anything else that day. After feeling out of sorts for a few days, she had decided to go and see the doctor. The news he had given her had literally rocked her. At first, she had been dismayed. Not now when everything was going according to plan. Why now, Lord? What am I supposed to do now? She had waited to tell her mother, unsure of what she felt…how she felt. A familiar, fluttering sensation pulled her away from her thoughts and she rubbed her swollen belly. How am I going to explain this, she asked herself again. How?
Please come back next Sunday, August 12th for the concluding part of ‘Who Are You?’!
Stay tuned after that for Sonia’s story (Grace’s sister from Marital Dance and Finding Grace). Thanks for reading!!
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