It was the New Year. We stood outside Sally Balarabe’s house to herald in 2013. The wind was in my face, fireworks – popularly called ‘Bangers’ – were going off everywhere and the sky was lit with beautiful colours. It was now a year since I had run away from my marriage and filed for a divorce. Incidents from the past flashed before my eyes. The sound of the firecrackers took me unwillingly down memory lane to the new year of 2011. I was back in Uzoma’s house.
It was a little past midnight and I had just put my 2-year-old daughter down to sleep for the third time when the firecrackers started again. I cursed under my breath as she opened her eyes. I heaved a sigh of relief when she closed them again as I put her down in the middle of the large bed. Sitting down in the dark for a minute I looked outside the window to the lit sky. The fireworks were a nuisance because of how loud they were but they were after all symbolic of the felicitations. People on the streets were happy to be alive in the wee hours of the first morning of the New Year.
I was happy to be alive, yes I was. I just wasn’t happy to be home alone. Uzoma wasn’t home. He should have been. I dragged my heavily pregnant self to the kitchen. I could hear the sound of loud music coming from the neighbour’s house. Femi Kuti belted out “What will tomorrow bring” and I sang along putting the kettle on for some hot cocoa. I heard the front door slam shut. Uzoma had let himself in.
“Where were you? Dear lord I’ve been worried” I said taking his Briefcase.
“The meeting went on for longer that I thought. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Zion’s asleep?”
I answered with my back to him as I took the whistling kettle off the cooker and made two cups of cocoa.
“Yes she is, although it took forever with all the Bang! Bang! noises.” I said smiling at him and handing me a cup. He smiled back and cupped my face with his free hand.
“I love you baby. Happy new year, Here’s to no more fighting and many years of peace and happiness together.”
“Amen! “I said laughing as we clinked mugs. In my heart I said a ‘Thank you’ prayer for peace.
“Oops! here let me help you with your jacket” I said. He dropped his mug on the dining table and turned his back to me so I could help him take it off.
“I feel a promotion coming.” He chuckled “The way my boss has taken to me ehn, she says without me my department won’t function can you believe that?” I didn’t answer. Down on the living room floor was the pack of condoms that had just fallen out of the jacket’s inner pocket. I stared at it stunned. When I hadn’t answered Uzoma turned to look at me before his eyes followed mine to the packet on the floor.
I looked up at my husband, hot tears blinding my vision. “Uzoma, even on New Year’s eve? Do you hate me this much?”
“Let me explain okay, I’ve done nothing wrong. Those condoms are from last year before we started trying for another baby. We don’t need them anymore so I decide to take them out so I could throw them away on the way to my meeting. The meeting went on too long that I simply forgot.”
“STOP! Just stop! Please don’t say anymore. I’ve heard it all before. Uzoma why are you doing this to me?” I asked him as sobs wracked my body.
“I’ve told you the honest truth. You want me to confess to something I didn’t do?” He said turning his back and picking up his mug to down the contents before turning back to me.
“’Can I have my jacket now?” he asked and snatched it from my hands. He began to walk towards the bedroom.
“Uzoma, God is lifting you up, don’t upset him with what you’re doing to me. Don’t let him bring you down” I said still in the same spot staring at him.
The words were scarcely out of my mouth before the first slap connected with my left cheek. I reeled from the pain and hit the floor. He dropped his jacket and briefcase and crouched over me dealing slap after slap.
“Ehn are you swearing for me?” He asked as me as he continued to strike me. “How will you say God will bring me down. You bitch!”
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. I hadn’t noticed the music had stopped in the neighbour’s house. I hadn’t even noticed I was screaming. Uzoma motioned for me to be quiet.
“Mama Zion is everything okay?” Came the voice. It was my close friend and neighbour Mrs Obute. Uzoma put a hand across my mouth. My neighbour knocked for what seemed like a very long time and finally we heard receding footsteps and the sound of her door shut.
“Can you see what you have made me do to you?” Uzoma asked me as if talking to an erring child. “If you hadn’t opened your big mouth none of this would have happened. Now you have to forgive me baby. I’m sorry and I want to prove it to you.”
He began to take off his clothes in the middle of the living room till he was naked. There was a sound coming from the bedroom, my daughter had woken up from all the noise.
“ZION GO TO BED!” Uzoma yelled at the closed door.
“Please let me go and pick her up,” I said barely audibly as I tried to move and failed. I could not stand up or move.
“You are going nowhere. You will stay here and say that you have forgiven me and reverse your curse.”’ He lay face down on the floor next to me and took one of my hands forcefully placing them over his head.
“Place your hand on my head and Pray for me to prosper! NOW!” I tried to open my lips and tasted blood. I murmured an incoherent prayer and he shouted amen. He got up and picked up his briefcase and discarded clothes.
“Now you can go pick her up. I don’t want her keeping me awake,” He opened the bedroom door not bothering to cover himself and Zion came out to the living room and sat on the floor placing her head on my protruding belly. I wept as I held her to me. I could hear the music from the neighbour’s house as Femi Kuti crooned ‘dem bobo’.
“Mags! Let’s go grab ice cream” Sally spoke and pulled me from m reverie back to 2013. “There’s a place I know that stays open all night.”
“You and night waka,” I said smiling.
“It’s that good trust me. We’ll be back in thirty minutes max.”
“Okay then,” I said suddenly feeling like junk food.
We got into her car and drove into the night. The terrors that plagued me earlier were now far behind me.