I am surprised to hear mother’s voice more hoarsely than ever in my sleep. I thought it was a dream but then squinting, I see an image, quite vague, of her in front of me. After a few turns and stretches, I finally sit up with dizzy heavy eyes. I stare at the wall clock with dismay; it is 5:00am. You see I’ve spent most of my years with grandmother than mother. I only visit mother once in a while and each time, there were always few changes – changes Ibinabo calls “new developments”. This is certainly one of them.
“Ibinabo, get up! It’s time for devotion,” she yells at my sleeping younger sister who only turns to take a more comfortable position and wrapping the blanket over her entire body. “IB! Get up get up. Lead us in worship,” mother yells again as she settles for the arm chair in our room.
Ibinabo finally gets up with an expressionless face, shuts her eyes from the light rays and begins to sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
Startled at the choice of song, I turn to look at Ibinabo who is obviously sleep-singing. I have no problem with the song. But for a worship song as early as 5am, I was expecting the usual “Good morning Jesus…” or “Anytime I see another breaking of the day…” songs. They seem to be more suitable for a morning devotion, I think.
“Oyewa sakite imeieta ke Tamunu pbe, Let us stand up and give thanks to our God,” mother says shaking her head and legs as though to put more emphasis on her words. “Yes! Let’s thank Him. Today is another day,” mother begins the prayer session immediately and I get more confused. I had expected more worship but yet again my expectation was cut short.
I am torn between laughing and praying. All these are new but I try to stay calm and go with the wind of change. After a few more prayer points and I hear mother call out my name, “Yenimi-ere, round up the prayers.”
Now I begin to feel guilty for my lack of seriousness and try to get myself “in tune with the spirit before praying to everyone’s hearing, according to how grandmother always puts it.
After the prayers, we all go back to bed. Then I turn to Ibinabo, who has already taken her favorite sleeping position, and say to her, “Ib, of all worship songs, you chose ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’?”
We laugh about it and try to catch some sleep before mother comes up with another thing. Just then, a sharp cry, as loud as a blaring siren, breaks the morning’s serenity, like a glass shattered to pieces on a tiled floor. I jump up, with curiosity lines on my face. I try to listen and search through the window where the cry is coming from.
“Yenimi, what is it?” Ibinabo asks me.
“Can’t you hear the cry coming from outside? Is that not strange?” I reply.
“Oh! That’s normal na. It happens almost every morning and every day.” Ibinabo says as she drags the blanket over her face.
“What do you mean? How can such a cry as this every morning and everyday be normal?” I ask again, unable to understand the normality in the screaming cry.
“Yenimi, please I’ll tell you in the morning,” Ibinabo replies, as she yawns and doze off.
“In the morning? IB, it’s 6am!” I retorted.
I decide not to let my anxiety get the best of me while I wait till Ibinabo’s morning comes or mother comes in a few minutes from now, asking Ibinabo to wash the dishes. Though she never succeeds to wake Ibinabo up before 8am, still she comes by 7am to try.
It is 6:40am, sleep is far from my eyes, confusion fills my head and the loud cry persists for almost an hour. I just lie there, staring at the spinning fan and the wall clock. Unable to keep my mind still, I leave for the sitting room. The sun rays penetrating through the window always makes the green room, which had everything in it, the cushion, rug, glass center table, all in the color of green, look like a little paradise.
“Yenimi-ere, ibate! Good morning, Yenimi-ere,” mother says, opening up all the curtains and sadly destroying my paradise.
“Mummy, ibate, Good morning, mummy,” I respond, while looking through the window.
I wait for her to sit down before making my inquiries about the cry. She reaches for her glasses and begins her morning ritual. Mother has the habit of marking dates on the calendar every morning even when she had no date to mark, she just stares at the days of the month for close to twenty minutes. She says it helps her keep track of appointments.
“Yenimi, today is 6th of September, abi?” She asks, still concentrating on the calendar.
“Yes, it is. Umm… Mummy, who was crying earlier this morning?” I ask as I pick up a broom to sweep.
“Oh that!” She hiss slightly. “It’s from our new neighbours upstairs. The man beats his wife every single day, morning and night. I never see that kind thing before,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.
She goes further to tell me how they’ve tried to mediate but the man asked them to stop interfering. “And that is why we have decided to mind our business,” she sighs.
The following day, few minutes after the morning devotion, we hear the woman screaming, “Chisom, ndo biko (Chisom, sorry, please)”.
“I’ll kill you and bury you in this house. You are very stupid. I made you. I own you” the male voice travels through the morning air.
I look towards mother with pleading eyes but she looks away saying, “if he wants to kill her let him go ahead. Me, I can’t get involved in their issues anymore.”
“But we can’t just sit here and allow him to kill her. Mummy, this is injustice and against her human right,” I say with a kind of rage that I’ve never felt before.
Mother glances at me sternly, “what do you know about injustice and human right? When did you become a lawyer?”
I inform her about the “I am Purple” academy, a movement that stands for gender equality, I had just completed two months ago. “Mummy, one of the courses was centred on violence and its types. This one is a clear case of both physical and emotional violence, we shouldn’t be quiet about it.”
“Yenimi-ere, this is Nigeria! It is a normal thing for a husband and a wife to have quarrels and fights. It is a normal thing for a man to beat his wife, traditionally. All those things you’re talking is oyibo things. Too much internet is beginning to affect your generation,” mother says, while circling a date on the calendar. “Ah! Next week is Aunty’s birthday.”
Ibinabo walks in and breaks the awkward silence between mother and I, “Ibate, good morning,” she greets and comes to join me on the long cushion.
“Tobra? How are you?” Mother asks, putting down the calendar next to the television.
“Ibim, I am fine,”Ibinabo replies. She searches my eyes for a clue, “Yenimi, are you okay?”
“Yeah!” I reply and make my way to the bathroom.
I return back to the sitting room, well dressed, few minutes later and find mother folding the dried clothes while Ibinabo is scrolling through her phone.
I head towards the door without a word, hoping mother will not say anything to me and then, “Where are you going to?” Mother’s question draws me back.
“I’m going to see the lady upstairs,” I say stiffly.
Mother claps her hands in disbelief and bursts into laughter. Ibinabo joins her. “You’re serious o! When did you become an advocate for women?”
“This is a matter of life and death. I can’t just keep quiet about it. This issue needs to be addressed,” I reply sternly, dropping my black slippers on the ground and slipping my feet into them.
“Mummy, you don’t know your daughter has become a freedom fighter. Justice must be served,” Ibinabo mocks and they both burst into another round of laughter. “This is a new development”, she adds.
For a moment, i think of replying and making them understand but then i remember a quote that says, “Choose your battle wisely”. My main battle is upstairs with the woman not here with them.
As I climb the stairs, my heart pounds and my mind sought for the right words to speak. I find the lady sitting on the stairs, few steps away. I approach her immediately as though I want to hug her but she is not aware of my presence. Her head is bowed, her back resting against the wall and her hands wrapped around her knees. There is an aura, a depressing one, around her. She looks, like one caged and a bird whose wings have been broken.
“Good morning, ma” I say just to bring her back to consciousness.
She turns her swollen face away, I know she is trying to wipe the tears which keep flowing as though from a spoilt tap. “Good morning, dear,” she responds softly.
“I am Yenimi-ere, my family lives downstairs. You should know my mum, Mrs Ginah.” I say trying to create a better atmosphere of acquaintance.
“Oh yes! I do but I’ve never seen you before,” she replies. She is soft spoken. Every word comes out with warmness. I begin to wonder what she does to deserve such beatings every day.
We get acquainted a little more and I strike, “ma, I don’t know what’s going on in your home but I know you don’t deserve this.”
Her smile gradually turns to a frown and she becomes selective with her words, “Yenimi, I know but there’s nothing I can do.”
She tells me about how bad her husband’s temper has gotten after he lost his job due to his company’s downsizing of employees. Now he drinks, gets angry often and complains about everything especially about her job. He had even asked her to quit her job. I read between the lines and sense insecurity in his actions.
I reach out to hold her hands, searching her eyes for signs of hope but they were reddened from tears and punches. “You can do something about this. This is not right, he is violating you.”
There is a pause for some minutes. “He is my husband, he has every right to,” she finally says, dully.
“Even if he is, he has no right to hit you and disrespect you. No right at all, not even marriage gives him that right,” I say.
I suggest her leaving but she says divorce was against her belief and so she can’t settle for it. I advice her to speak up and defend herself then, she says it is disrespectful to talk back at him. After exhausting all the options, I sit quietly next to her in the dim passage. This point makes me recall chapter 12 of Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages which says “Love is a choice.”
Maybe she has come to a point where she has chosen to love him regardless of his actions. But deep down I perceive she is one left with no choice and she was only stuck in the marriage, unable to leave and unable to stay. Before leaving, I promised to put her in my prayers. I take a deep helpless breath after my final look at her and walk away.
Getting downstairs, I see my sister and mother, at the door, as though to welcome me.
“Nelson Mandela’s daughter, welcome back. How did it go?” mother says with a broad smile on her face.
Ibinabo also tries to get answers to what I did upstairs and what I said to the woman. I think of replying but yet again the words seem not to come out, so I go straight to take my breakfast. How can I explain anything to Ibinabo who thinks life is never as serious as I make it seem to be or mother who believes in traditions and customs? How can I tell them both I wasn’t successful in convincing the woman to leave before she gets killed? No, I can’t tell them. Instead I sip my tea and eat my bread.
Today, the sun’s rays brings along with it a steaming kind of heat. One that makes you sweat even after having your bath. We are sitting, watching mother’s favourite channel, Zee World. Then our neighbours begin their usual routine. Everyone seems not to care, even I. Voices raised, the slaps follows, and the scream.
Then we hear, “I am no longer going to tolerate this. Chisom, I’ve tried my best for five years. I’m leaving! You will live and die alone in this house,” the female voice says.
The shock on mother’s face as she turns to look at me, “Yenimi-ere, what did you do to that woman? I have never heard her challenge him before.”
At this point I feel like a proud teacher whose student has just passed a test. “Let’s just say, it’s a new development,” I say, crossing my legs and watching the television.
There’s silence for a while but suddenly we hear, the woman screaming more than before, it is not the same as the usual. It is louder like one passing through an excruciating pain. We rush out to see what is happening and find the woman lying half dead at the foot of the stairs.
“Jesus!” Mother screams.
Immediately the other neighbours go after the man lest he escapes, while mother calls the police. The gateman and I pick up the woman from the ground and Ibinabo goes to call our driver to take her to the hospital.
Our hearts sink when the doctor tells us her survival is not guaranteed. We are left with faith to cling on to.
After the night’s devotion, mother begins a conversation, I know she was going to do this, “the point I want you and your sister to understand in all that happened today is, don’t settle for just anybody else you’ll be stuck for the rest of your life. Don’t settle! This woman is just one out of many victims that go through such violence on a daily basis,” mother says with dull eyes. I understood the message.
Tonight, in my sleep, the image of the woman lying lifeless refuse to leave my mind while mother’s words, “don’t settle, else you’ll be stuck for the rest of your life,” resonates non-stop in my head like a drum continuously beaten in a cave with unbearable echoes.
Written by: Jennifer Chioma Amadi
Let’s learn to speak up against violence of any kind.
“IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER”