This story is available in an audio version on iTunes Podcast.
We lived in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, where my husband owned a thriving manufacturing business. I was a stay at home mother of one – my Oriade. We were stinkingly rich, wealthy, affluent – whatever word you could use to describe two people who lived in a seven-bedroom house with a gym, basketball court, two playrooms and a swimming pool.
Well, my husband was. He always liked to remind me that it was his money, and I was only sharing in it. He didn’t want me to work though, never. Whenever I brought up the topic his brows would do a wiggle dance and his nostrils opened up as he threw a fit.
Didn’t he give me everything I asked for? I obviously didn’t appreciate his hard work. Why was I such a thankless wife?
“Nike, the Bible says to train young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, kind, working at home. Please, let’s not anger the Holy Spirit.”
So I just stopped asking.
We had a routine – Monday to Friday, I got up by 5 am, made him breakfast, picked out and ironed his outfit of the day and ran him a bath. By 6:30, I woke him up because he claimed alarms made him wake up with a headache. He’d be out of the house at 7:30 to beat the traffic and get to work by 8:30 am. Then I would clean Oriade up and feed her her favourite food – sweet potatoes mashed with green peas and beef that had been pre-chewed by me. I had always sworn that I would not be that kind of mother, but there I was sucking snot out of my daughter’s nose and chewing meat before handing down the tasteless strings to her. After that, I’d send her off to daycare.
Back home, I prepped the food for dinner; blending fresh tomatoes and peppers and boiling chicken drumsticks because God forbid that my husband ate ‘stale food’ prepared more than a few hours before consumption. Finally, at 3 pm I had some me time until 5 pm when I had to get up to cook dinner and clean up the house. By then, my mother would have dropped Oriade back home, washed and asleep. By 6:30 pm, my husband would be back home, boasting of the deals he had scored.
Saturday was ‘boys’ hang out day’. He stayed out three out of four Saturdays in the month and stayed home with Oriade and me on the fourth because and I quote “as a good, family man, I understand the importance of family bonding.”
One sunny Saturday, a few friends were in our house dressing up for our friend’s wedding. I was in the guest room with my best friend Basirat, struggling to fit into my outfit. My arm muscles were about to give out from the violent abuse I was inflicting on them as I tried to push the green Ankara blouse across my very small chest. It was stuck just above my breasts and stayed there rigidly like a child whose mother had told him that he was going to get injections at the hospital.
“Okay Nike, you obviously can not fit into this blouse anymore. Don’t you think you should give up?” Basirat smirked as she tugged the blouse off my head.
“I’ve told her she looks like a hippo now. Ever since she dropped that baby, she has stopped taking care of herself.”
It was my husband that walked in and spoke. Olowo ori mi. Ade ori iya Oriade. Akinlolu Aderoju Akinsanya.
“Every day, it’s burgers and fries. Look at your friend; she has dropped three children, and she is still looking model-like, just like the way her husband married her”
“Akin! You need to think before you talk” Basirat looked at me apologetically and left the room.
Akin threw a confused expression in my direction.
“Look at the person I’m even approving of”
As if he hadn’t just called me a fat glutton, he reached out to kiss my left cheek. “I just want you to be the best version of yourself. You were such a stunner before. I used to want to parade you-.”
I didn’t need him to complete the sentence. I left right behind Bas while Akin put his innocent victim face on.
Let me tell you how we ended up together. We met in church almost three years ago. I was twenty-one, faithfully serving as a chorister in the church my father pastored and he was a twenty-six-year-old newbie from Osogbo who just got posted for his NYSC in Lagos City. Things were great with us, and it wasn’t hard for me to fall deeply in love without knowing about his values. He was eloquent in his speech and rapt with the word of God. Who knew it was those same verses he would use to manipulate me in marriage? He seemed like the perfect person for me. We took many car rides, and he changed every love song that came on the radio to be about his love for me. I got pregnant after three months of meeting him. It was mandatory to get married as soon as possible so that the church wouldn’t find out about our situation. So we did.
Months into the marriage, his attitude changed. He unveiled himself right in front of my eyes. He blamed our unborn child and me for everything that went wrong in his life. That was the man I vowed to spend the rest of my life with. The one I promised to love and to hold till death did us part. Right then, it seemed like death couldn’t come faster.
“I don’t think you should leave him; it’s not like he’s cheating on you.”
“All these things you’re complaining about are things that happen in every marriage.”
“What will people say? The marriage is not even up to three years.”
“You’re living a fairytale life. Everybody wants a rich man who provides while they stay at home.”
“Give it time; he’ll change.”
All the excuses family and friends gave me to stay with my husband played in my head like a broken cassette as I leaned on the white couch that had just been delivered from Dubai, cupping my face. It was throbbing as if someone was beating the bass drum and my ears were ringing like a school bell at lunchtime.
We were back from the party, and he brought up the fact that I walked away from the room after Bas. He was furious I had insulted him in front of people. Who did I think I was?
“You begged me to marry you, Nike. Your mother knelt in the same spot you are now and begged me to take away the shame that hung on to your family’s name after you conceived the bastard child.”
The ‘bastard child’ was his too by the way – my Oriade.
“Akin you slapped me.” My voice was quavery. Stern, but shaky. He had never placed his hands on me. He would yell, stop paying for cable and sometimes raise his hands but they never landed on me.
He looked shocked that he had hit me but his pride wouldn’t let him give up. So he went to his comfort zone – bible verses.
“Nike, the bible says the woman is lesser than the man and she should be submissive. Your father is a whole pastor and frankly, I’m surprised he did not teach you this.”
“Akinlolu, you like to spit bible passages to defend your evil. The same bible says that you should love your wife the same way Christ loves the church.”
“Nike, the bible says ‘those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.’ I love you, and I want you to change.”
It was pointless to argue with this man. He would argue forever if given the chance. So I walked away. This was one of the reasons he didn’t want me to work. He was scared that I would have an economic safety net and leave him when he acted up. Akin was a smart man. He made sure I never had too much money. He never gave me cash for anything. Instead, he employed someone to bring in groceries every week and gave me his credit card to buy the things I wanted.
I locked myself in one of our many rooms and cried to Bas that night. I had to start working and earning my own money. Vex money. Days like this, I would have loved to leave the house and stay in a hotel or an apartment under my name. I’d have loved to fight back. So Bas and I launched my website that night. I started selling the Gucci and Fendi bags Akin had bought me.
“That should give you a little money for now. You can also start your own baking service. Turn one of those rooms into a bakery.”
Akin gifted me with the Porsche I had asked for since the beginning of the year the next week.
“I know I said some horrid things. I want you to know I love you. I’ll do whatever you want. I work for you and our daughter alone. Notice how I said ‘our’? I was wrong to call her a bastard child. You see, the bible says-.”
“Akin, please stop talking. No more bible verses.”
And like that, everything was back to normal. All was well again in the Akinsanya family.
Akin didn’t lay his hands on me again but that didn’t stop me from continuing my business because the emotional abuse and blackmail continued. Between selling my used bags and taking bakery orders from friends, I had saved enough money to leave if it ever came to it.
It did come to that. Two years after that day. He hit me for the second time ever and I got up and left.
It was a Sunday afternoon. We had just come back from church and the Pastor had spoken about husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church and the implications of emotional abuse. Akin was so sure I had told him about our disagreements because the examples he gave were eerily similar.
“Nike, this marriage is between us. I’m your husband, and you’re my wife. Every marriage has ups and downs. You don’t see Basirat running her mouth here. You act like a dullard someti-.”
“Akin, watch your mouth.”
“Ay!” He clapped three times. “Who do you think you are talking to like that? Does your mother speak to your father this way?”
“Akin, don’t you ever in your life-”
I had heard of people seeing stars when hit, but this was my first time experiencing it. My eyes were instantly filled with tears and for a moment, I couldn’t see. I was in a state of shock and I felt liquid trickle down my right leg.
Oriade came in at that moment, pointing towards me.
“Mummy pee pee”.
I looked down and saw the wet floor; it was urine. And in a blink of an eye, Akin’s face recovered from its scowl.
“Honey clean yourself up.”
Akin’s voice was calm again, and he grabbed a mop. You would call me a liar if you walked in and I told you what he had just done.
Oriade put her right hand on my head when I carried her on my chest. “Mummy is a good girl. Sorry mummy.” Those were the words I said to her whenever she cried. I hugged her and walked into her room leaving Akin to clean up the mess I made.
Hearing her say those words made me realize she was watching and assimilating what I did. So I decided there and then that I wouldn’t allow my daughter to grow up watching me stoically endure abuse from my husband. I wouldn’t have her repeat the cycle. I had to be strong for my Oriade. I had to be the best role model for her.
I called Basirat to tell her I had made my decision to leave.
“I’m so proud of you, Nike. It’s really enough. If he’s not emotionally abusing you, he’s hitting you. That kind of behavior is unacceptable. Carry the emergency bag we packed and leave with Oriade right now before he kills you. You kuku have money now so there’s no excuse. I’ll set up a hotel for you for now.”
* * *
“Baby, don’t make any rash decisions. I love you. I wouldn’t survive without you.” Akin was moving on his knees beside me as I rolled my suitcase toward the gate. I had dropped off the keys to the Porsche he bought me. “You know it was a mistake. I wasn’t thinking. Please Adenike. Ma she bayi.”
“Akinlolu, you haven’t apologized once since you started ranting. Don’t you see a problem here?”.
“Baby, slap me back” He set his face and brought my hand to his face. I didn’t budge.
“I’ll never hit you in my life again. Think of the years we’ve been together. Think of our precious daughter. Remember what the bible -”
I forcefully shook my hands away from his hold and slammed the gate in his face.
The bible says “There is no good way to answer fools when they say something stupid. If you answer them, then you too will look like a fool. If you don’t answer them, they will think they are smart.”
He did not deserve an answer.