She has gone 'Mad'
23rd May, 2017 Writers


 

The woman had done the unimaginable, she had slapped her husband, and the entire village was in commotion over her actions. The story of how Ose had slapped her husband Ehi had spread faster than wild fire throughout the community. What had actually led to the legendary slap had been alternated and exaggerated beyond proportion into a fanfare of dramatic hullabaloo. Ose had been duly sent from her matrimonial home, and her family were meeting with her husband and her in-laws to resolve the matter.

               “It is unheard of!” People murmured among themselves. “Has she gone mad?” Many questioned in disbelief.

“What a bad woman!” Others declared.

“What did he expect? This is what happens when we allow these girls go to school.” Some snorted.

“What is the world turning into? A woman slapping her husband in his own house!” Some marveled.

“Such a thing cannot go unresolved.” They all concluded.

              The Abumere’s residence, an old insignificant rectangular building with its dilapidated zinc roof, which had never been of much interest to anybody who was not a member of the family, became the centre of everyone’s attention that morning. Passers-by pointed to the gate, trading tales about the infamous slap, as they headed to their various destinations. It was the day Ose’s fate was to be decided.

            “I heard from their neighbour that he demanded his usual dinner of ema and ogbono but instead she served him garri and ewa, when Ehi said the ewa was salty they began to quarrel, their voices were raised so loud that everyone could hear them, then the sound that followed was so loud that it could not be missed. Twah!!! It was a hot slap indeed.” One enthusiastic farmer informed his partner.

            “That is not what I heard oh. I heard that Ehi demanded his husbandly rights but Ose said she was too tired, and when he stretched his hand to touch her thigh, she landed him the slap almost rendering him blind in the eye gbosa!!!” The other one countered.

            The stories were many but mostly untrue. The families of Ebhohimen had gathered at Abumere’s compound, by noon they were all seated in the living room and the meeting had commenced. Ose sat beside her father, her mother, her two uncles and two aunts. She was a tall dark woman in her mid-twenties with a soft round face and beautiful curly black hair, her posture was demure, arms folded, legs crossed she seemed lost in thoughts.

            Ehi, a bald headed man in his early forties, with a distinguished air about him and spots of grey hair on his beard, sat with his back stiff. His handsome face was devoid of emotion, but underneath he brimmed with righteous indignation. His father, his brother, two Uncles and his elder sister were seated beside him. After the initial greetings, Ose’s father proceeded to speak, he was a slim man, and so skinny one wondered if he was frail. He began by praising his son-in law, a good man who had come to marry his only daughter, he reminded them of their peaceful marriage which had been blessed with a lovely four year old son.

            “A palm wine tapper who climbs a palm tree will surely remember to carry his tapping knife. My son you know your wife, you know she has been a good wife, a faithful and hardworking woman. She is sorry for what she has done, we have come to beg you to forgive her and accept her back into your house.” He concluded, his voice strong with the conviction that his errant daughter had repented.

              Ehi’s father, a huge man with a dominant voice spoke up next.

            “My in-laws, it is not with happiness that we receive you today. Your daughter has done the abominable. She raised her hand and slapped her husband! A man who paid her bride price. It is a shameful thing. A disgrace to his manhood. What you are asking for is a difficult thing.” He shook his head stubbornly. Ehi’s Uncles nodded their heads, vigorously showing their support.

              One of Ose’s uncles rose up to speak, pleading and cajoling his in-laws to temper justice with mercy, and all the while Ose watched Ehi from lowered lids, observing his demeanour. Did she really want to go back to this man? She asked herself. The answer to the question was buried deep within her heart. She did not love him, she had married him as her parents had told her to.

One evening she had been an innocent, returning from school with her friends, barely seventeen, with dreams to achieve big things. Her parents had sat her down and shattered all her hopes, she was to be married, to a man she had never met, sure she had seen him come by the house a time or two, to visit her father, but never had she dreamed she was his object of desire. Left without choice she had married Ehi, a man twice her age, because her father had told her to, because her mother told her that’s what good daughters do.

Listening to her family grovel and beg Ehi to forgive and accept her, she could not help but boil with frustration, she wondered briefly if there would be such ruckus if the reverse had been the case, no one had bothered to ask for her side of the story. Her mother, a short heavyset woman, had screamed her outrage, heaping warnings and insults on her while her father tried to calm her in vain.

“Do you not know you are a woman? Have you forgotten you are his wife? Is that how I raised you? Why do you want to bring shame to our good name? You slapped your husband!” Her mother has shrieked over and over.

“He is lying mama. Why have you not asked to hear my side of the story?” She had asked. Are you not my mother? She had wondered bitterly. Was she to be her husband's doormat forever? She had wanted to scream at her mother and the entire world. Her mother continued to rave like she had not heard her.

“You must return to your husband. Your place is with him, I will call my brothers. Let us pray he takes you back.” Her father had intervened, trying to calm the atmosphere.

 Ose had wanted to scream that she did not care! Ehi could do whatever he wanted for all she cared, but the thought of being apart from her son, her pride and joy, the light of her life, stilted such thoughts. So instead she had swallowed her words and gone along with her family, bearing all the reprimand along the way.

“Let her speak for herself. We have heard you all plead on her behalf, we want to hear ‘sorry’ from the horses’ mouth.” Ehi’s sister requested, a sneer etched on her face.

 All eyes turned to Ose, her father’s eyes imploring her to do what was right, her mother’s eyes reminding her to know her place, Ehi’s eyes seemed to bore through her, daring her to do otherwise. She stood slowly and approached her in-laws, everyone expected her to kneel and beg. In a short while her next move would rock the very core of their beliefs and system.

               She moved towards Ehi slowly like she was about to kneel before him, a look of satisfaction on his arrogant face, he had won, he was humiliating her, punishing her in his own cruel way, for they both knew the truth that she was innocent of his allegations. Eki had not slapped her husband. How could she explain her cruel vindictive husband to her family and his family? They would never understand. She was supposed to endure as a good wife, to please her husband, but how did one please a person who did not want to be pleased?

               Ehi had bullied her from the inception of their marriage, he found nothing good in anything she did and he never missed a chance to belittle his young wife. If she made ize, he would demand ewa, and if she made ogbono he wanted banga. If the food was not too hot, it would be too cold, it was always either too salty or too spicy. He derived utmost pleasure from bullying her and over the years she did nothing but do his bidding, willing things to change for the better. She had lost count of the numerous times he constantly oppressed her. There was the time she had washed his clothes only for him to accuse her of stealing an incredible sum of money he claimed to have left in his pocket, money belonging to a business partner. Despite her denials and pleas, he had punished her vehemently and made her pay the money in full from her savings, only for her to later discover that there had been no missing money, when she had accosted him he had threatened to beat her black and blue.

              Another time he had thrown a pot of egusi soup away because he had wanted her to prepare vegetable soup, and when she had objected pleading they finish the egusi soup in the house first before making another, he had flared up, marched to the kitchen and emptied the pot of egusi into the waste bin. “Now the soup is finished, you can go to the market.” He declared as he strolled out of the kitchen. Ose had swallowed back angry tears that evening as she walked to the market. He had not contributed a penny to the soup he had wasted, and he had sent her to the market without giving her a single kobo. He would not contribute to the upkeep of his family, nor would he pay for his only son’s school fees, but he never ceased to take the praise as a caring and indulgent husband from all his mates  

Then on that fateful eve, their son suddenly took ill, Ose rushed into the bedroom to retrieve some money she had hidden away beneath their mattress and found it to be empty. Months of savings, gone just like that, with Ehi nowhere in sight and a sick child in the middle of the night, she had felt all the frustration, humiliation, a hot white rage like no other had overwhelmed her. Boiling with anger she awaited her husband. Ehi had stumbled in very late, with his breath smelling of beer, he had demanded to eat ema and ogbono which she served him. He had eaten languorously all the while berating her soup as over spicy. She had said nothing.

               After clearing the dishes she had told him of their son’s fever and how her money underneath the bed was missing.

            “What has that got to do with me?” He burped belligerently.

            “I need that money, I want to take our son to the hospital first thing in the morning.” She had spoken with so much confidence that Ehi had been startled.

            “Are you saying I took your money?” Ehi bellowed.

            “I am saying I need that money. Unless the money grew legs and walked out of this house I do not know who else has access to our bedroom.” She had snapped at him, angry tears welling up in her eyes, she knew she would never see the money.

            “Be careful woman, be very careful. You dare accuse your husband of stealing your money! Are you calling me a thief?” He roared standing up so he could tower over her, expecting her to back away as she always did.

            “I did not say you are a thief, but I need that money. Our child is sick!” She had screamed, willing herself not to cry.

            “I took the money to sort out an urgent matter, after all I am your husband. Look for another money and fix the problem.” It was his dismissive tone that made something in Ose snap that night. Why did he not look for money elsewhere to solve his urgent matter? Why did her husband think she did not matter? Did he not know she was aware of Iguehi his mistress who owned the beer parlour close to the village square? Now here he stood, his breath smelling of stout and soup, uncaring and cold about their son's welfare. Somehow she knew she had to stand against the man in front of her, this man who had bullied and frightened her ever since she was his teenage wife.

            “If you do not give me my money this night, by tomorrow the whole of this village will know that you are a thief! They will know what you truly are!” She had spoken softly as he turned to leave, her words had carried so much steel that Ehi had paused to look at her, he had seen the defiance in her eyes, he had seen she was seriously ready to make good her threat. 

            “By this time tomorrow the whole village will know that you are a bad wife.” He had declared, and then he lifted his hand and slapped her so hard she stumbled and fell. Whistling happily while she remained sobbing he had left her and gone to bed. True to his words he had seen to it that the whole village heard his tale of the imaginary slap from his wife, he had also sent her packing for good measure and listened with satisfaction as everyone judged and chastised her actions.

             As she stood before Ehi in the room with their families present, his eyes gleaming with malevolence in anticipation of a solemn apology, she did the unthinkable. She raised her hand and brought it down with all her might upon his face, slapping him so hard her palms ached. Pandemonium broke out, she would never forget the look on his face, as he clung to his cheek in frozen shock.

            “What have you done? Why did you do it? This girl has killed me oh!’’ Her mother’s scream reverberated through the room.

             Ehi’s brother, Odijie rushed at her as if to seize her, she turned and fled out of the room, pushing Ehi’s elder sister to the ground.

            “She has gone mad! She wants to kill me. She has gone mad!” She screamed nursing her waist as Odijie ran to help her stand to no avail.

             Ose ran like a woman possessed and grabbed her child who was playing outside with his peers, and ran with the speed of a sprinter to distance herself from Ehi and their families.

            “We are leaving.” She told him when she finally slowed down. The realization of her actions sinking in, she knew she must leave with her child immediately.

            “Where are we leaving to Mama? Wont Papa come with us?” He had asked, his sweet face crumpled in confusion.

            “No, my darling, your father will not come with us, we must go to the city, I have a friend who lives there, closer than a sister, she has written to me many times, begging me to come to her. We will go there, mama wants to accomplish many things. Mama wants to do great things. Mama wants to finish school and mama wants a better life for you.” She whispered softly in his ears, whipping away her tears, she was leaving, she will not be returning, cradling her son in her arms, her steps were brisk as she headed for the bus station.

             The story of how the woman went mad was one the people did not forget in a hurry, it baffled and amazed them how a woman as soft and gentle as Ose had gathered such courage to defy the norms and abscond with her child. Years later she would return with her son to seek forgiveness from her aging parents, an accomplished woman with wealth and grace, her son, all grown up and handsome, reuniting with his father, Ehi, a changed man, old and frail eventually passed on not long after.

 

 

 

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Abuja, Nigeria
  • In a place where there is no room for the female voice, a woman stands her ground and takes a decision that would change the course of her life.

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