Uju watched her husband, Ikem, hunched over his laptop Facebooking and reading stupid tweets, activities he’d call ‘job hunting’ when Uju accused him of frittering away time. She sat on the couch in front of the TV with their son’s head resting on her lap. Ikem was at the dining table, his eyes were fixed to the computer screen and his eyeballs darted from side to side as he read. Uju wondered if he even knew she was in the room, he barely spoke to her or even looked at her. He had more fun giggling at his computer than he did talking to her. When she tried to make conversation, she got curt nods or silence in response. Uju spent more time with her son, Junior, instead and sometimes out of loneliness told him things a five-year old had no understanding of.
As Uju tucked Junior in later that night, she couldn’t help but think how much his sleeping face looked like his father’s. She used to call Ikem my handsome man in the days they had been in love. What had happened that brought on so much coldness between them? What went wrong? She had even on occasion considered quitting the marriage but had only stayed for fear of what people will say, how her mother would have to cover her face in shame at the village meetings and how much her father’s heart would break. She smiled sadly at her sleeping son and drew the blanket up to his neck, kissing him a little longer than usual on his forehead and wiping the tear that slipped from her eye to his cheek.
The sex that night was as usual. She only felt a tingle when he penetrated her but nothing more than a tingle. He rode her fast and rough. He didn’t see her, his eyes were closed the whole time probably lost in his fantasy. His pig grunts grew louder as he climaxed and Uju was glad it was over when he lay limp, heavy on her.
She lay awake in the dark listening to his snore and wondered how much longer she could live that way. She should have heeded to her father’s warning that day many years ago in his shop at Enugu. Uju had gone to tell him about Ikem’s marriage proposal and was sure her father would be ecstatic, he worried that her bank job made her appear too expensive for any man, but Uju had been greatly surprised by his response.
“Don’t marry him Uju” he had said while ironing a customer’s white-washed brown shirt. He worked on a rickety table that took most of the space in the tiny room with one window.
“You haven’t even met him, papa”
“My spirit does not accept him. Asim mba”
Uju had gone crying to her mother who was unperturbed by her father’s disapproval and encouraged Uju to ignore him. She wasn’t getting any younger; she should grab the husband she was seeing now. What did her father know? Uju had gone back to Lagos and told Ikem he could bring the palm wine and dowry to her father, for the old man had said yes. Her father had accepted the items without a word and had barely spoken to Uju since the marriage.
She didn’t care, at first, about her father’s aloofness. Ikem loved her and they were happy. He treated her well. He left her chocolates and love notes at work. He served her breakfast in bed and massaged her feet when she came home after work. She excused his joblessness and always answered “he’ll get a job soon” to her colleagues when they inquired. But Ikem hadn’t made any attempt to get work; He changed like a green leaf in the harmattan season and started complaining about everything. I don’t like this bank job, he would say, it keeps you away too late. Who do you expect to take care of our son? You are neglecting your family. Once, Uju had had enough and told him she would quit if he got a job and he had responded with a shrug. Then he stopped talking to her altogether. He simply climbed on top of her every night and rode her like a slave.
The next day Uju came home and found Ikem in the sitting room laughing at something showing on TV while Junior lay on the rug in front of the TV asleep. She murmured a greeting and bent to carry Junior.
“Leave him. I want to speak to you first” Ikem said and Uju stood and stared at him surprised.
“Sit down” he said pointing at an armchair.
Uju sat and observed him suspiciously.
“Since you have decided that your job is more important and have neglected your duties as a wife, I have decided to marry a new wife. She will arrive tomorrow, I need you to move into the guest room because she will move into the master bedroom.” He waved offhandedly and turned his face to the TV.
Uju chuckled “You must be out of your mind” She rose to her feet as she spoke: “What rubbish, in my own house. You are mad!”
“What did you say?” Ikem asked and stood up.
“You heard me,” Uju replied close to tears.
Ikem stood up and grabbed her shirt collar. A pain tore at her cheek at the impact of the first punch and she couldn’t scream even though she wanted to. She heard her son cry as the other punches struck her cheek, neck, breast, arm and other parts of her body. She fell to the ground and her groans grew smaller and smaller with each kick he sent to her belly.
The beating finally stopped but the pain stayed with her. She couldn’t move a muscle, she lay there on the floor with Junior curled up by her side. She felt his tears on her breasts and she wanted to rub his head but her hands were too heavy. She wanted to tell him that they could leave now, with a reason that was visible to the world, but all she managed were laboured groans.
Nnedinma Jane Kalu (@nnedinmajane) studied Biology but works as a freelance scriptwriter. She lives in Enugu from where she sees the world in the pages of books. She participated in the Writivism workshop program 2014 and is an Alumini of the 2014 Farafina Creative Writing Workshop.Follow @JaladaAfrica