We met in church, he was the visiting pastor’s PA and I was the head of the protocol/ushering group. Naturally, we had to liaise to discuss the modalities for hosting the pastor. He seemed bold, direct and ambitious- the kind of guy his classmates voted most likely to succeed in their yearbook.
He took over our unit’s operations and streamlined the actions with an economy of movement that had me reeling. The event was so well organised that our pastor had us stand up for a standing ovation, after the programme I hurried to meet him and thank him for his efforts. He shrugged off my effusive gushing and asked me to dinner the next day. I was too stunned to say no, I mutely nodded my head.
I had the most amazing evening of my life with him, he was funny, urbane, and his dry sardonic wit had me gasping from suppressed laughter. He was the personification of a romance hero, did I forget to mention his looks? He was the cliché- Tall, dark and handsome (think Idris Elba) and he had an amazing body too. I could just tell his muscles were taunt and firm beneath the powder blue suit he wore. That suit was beyond beautiful, it takes a confident man to rock a suit in that shade and he was the most impressive man in that swanky restaurant. I was well dressed but he made me look dowdy and dull and I could feel the gaze of the women there and the question in their eyes… what was he doing with her?
Things blossomed between us, I loved him beyond reason and was grateful that he chose me when he could have any woman he wanted. He was a high powered lawyer who was humble enough to serve as personal assistant to his pastor, he had plans of running for governor of his state and he was going to contest for his state's house of assembly in the next elections and he hoped we'd be married before then because "having a beautiful wife was an edge in the elections" he said with a smile.
I can't really put my finger on the point where and when the fairytale began to unravel, he started making remarks about my weight and how he wanted me svelte and sexy. Then he began making remarks about my clothes and my carriage, my accent, my general lack of sophistication. I tried hard to improve myself but I was obviously not working hard enough. His biting tongue cut me to shreds and the hurt broke my heart.
The memory of the first time he hit me still makes me shudder, we were at a supermarket buying household staples for him. We ran into an old friend from my university days and I hugged him, I noticed the darkening of my fiance's mood so I hurriedly dismissed my old friend and promised to call him soon. From that moment until we drove home, he didn't say anything to me. He didn't respond to any of my overtures, we continued in silence until we got to his house. Just as we drove in he turned to me and asked why I was so loose, my mouth hung open in shock. He started screaming out my faults- real and imagined but I was still too shocked to react. My silence must have irked him, his voice got louder until his right palm struck my face. The sound of the slap resounded in the car and echoed in my brain yet I didn't feel the pain... I felt nothing at all.
He apologised effusively, he blamed it on the stress of work and he promised me the earth to get me forgive him. I forgave him because I felt it was a one-off occurrence, don't shake your head yet, love makes us do stupid things.
Soon the slaps became a regular thing, he slapped me if he felt I was too loud, I got a slap when I disagreed with his views, a slap when I didn't dress to his taste or if I smiled at another man. I was walking on egg shells around him but I could confide in no one, who'd understand that he was a monster. He reminded me of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic 'Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', yet I couldn't walk away... I loved him too much.
I'd have stayed with him, gotten married and had a miserable life beside him but for two events. The first was the story of a woman who killed her husband when she couldn't take the physical abuse anymore. She said her breaking point was when her teenage daughter attempted suicide because her father hit her and her siblings too. She realised that her children were traumatised by her husband and her being 'a good wife' was harming her children and not protecting them as she'd thought. She poisoned him and turned herself in to the police, she was found guilty by way of temporary insanity and she didn't even go to jail.
The second event occurred just after his birthday, I'd organised the party and was tired from all the activities. I dozed off on his couch while he bade farewell to the last guests. A hot slap brought me back to consciousness, he screamed out his disgust for my snoring and my fat body. With groggy eyes, I rushed at him and bit him. He soon overpowered me and tried to strangle me, somehow I summoned strength and pushed him off me. He was as stunned as I was by that burst of strength and while he was still in shock, I made my move.
Grabbing my bag I ran out of his house, it wasn’t hard to get a taxi that took me home. I got home, packed a few things and went to a nearby hotel to spend the night. I sent a text message to my mother telling her I was taking a vacation and I switched off my phone. The next morning I took the first flight to Kano and spent a month with a friend who didn’t know my parents or my fiancé. I called my parents to tell them I was safe and I was calling off the engagement, I didn't tell them why I was calling it, they wouldn't have believed me anyway. They told me how everyone was bewildered by my actions and how distraught he was by my disappearance. I was strengthened by his display of distress, he hadn't confessed to what he'd done and I realised that if I'd continued with him, he'd continue in his sadistic ways until he maimed or killed me and no one would believe him responsible.
While I was in Kano, I applied for jobs in other cities. I wanted to be faraway from my family and from him, I got a job in Makurdi that paid better than my old job and was considerably less stressful. I went straight to Makurdi from Kano and three months later I found a sweet young man who's my husband today
My husband and I are watching the inauguration and swearing in of the new president and the TV station was interspersing it with clips of various states and their inauguration ceremonies. When we got to a particular state, my husband piped up “isn’t that your former boyfriend? He’s being sworn in”. I knew he’d contested and won the elections but seeing him on the screen made it seem surreal. My husband’s next words are subdued, I barely hear him. “You could have become first lady today, married to the youngest governor in the history of our country, instead you’re stuck with me”.
I turn to him and hold his hands, he couldn’t meet my eyes. I remembered how we met during one of the heaviest rainstorms in the history of Nigeria, I was caught in the rain and had no umbrella. He offered me a ride and I gratefully jumped into his rickety Volvo. Soon the rains made it impossible to continue driving, so he parked on the side of the road and we talked.
From the first minute there was no friction between us, it seemed like we’d known each other forever. Our relationship evolved organically until we found ourselves at this moment, sitting on the sofa and watching TV. With our seven year old marriage, our two children who were spending the weekend with my parents and the beautiful baby we were expecting in less than ten weeks as the sugar in our proverbial tea.
“Akum”, that’s my pet name for him. It means my wealth, I’d always called him that from the minute I realized I was in love with him. He is pouting slightly, he looks like a little boy who’d been denied cake and ice-cream. I call him again, “Akum”. This time he looks into my eyes and tries to smile.
“I’m happier with you than I’d ever be with any other man, you’re God’s perfect gift to me. I agree that I could have been first lady but I’m ecstatic that I’m not his wife, I’ve seen her on the campaign circuit and the circles under eyes coupled with the haunted look in those eyes make me rejoice that I didn’t stick with him.
As my husband smiles and gathers me in his arms, I murmur a quiet prayer of thanksgiving,