MAJESTIC AND I. -Engee Mbah
The first thing I became aware of was the sound of arguing voices.
‘We need to take her to a hospital.’ The female voice was a furious whisper.
‘She doesn’t need a hospital, mama. She is my wife, so I’ll thank you to let me do what I think is best where she is concerned.’ A louder male voice said. This voice I immediately identified as my husband’s.
The next thing I became aware of was the pounding in my head. I slowly lifted my lids. My head hurt as if a drummer decided to play ariaria in my skull. A gasp escaped my lips, drawing their attention to me. I was lying on the sofa.
‘Don’t move. The towel will fall off.’ My mother-in-law said, just before I did and the towel I hadn’t known was resting on my forehead fell off. She picked it up and urged me to lie back down. Her brows furrowed in deep concentration as she examined my forehead.
‘Well, it is no longer bleeding.’ She said. My breath ceased and I felt a bit of panic.
‘Bleeding? What bleeding?’ I asked, my right hand going straight to my forehead. With a pained wince, I examined by touch what felt like a linear cut. It didn’t feel deep.
My husband just stood there, with his hands in his pocket and a sullen look on his face.
I tried to move again and let out a moan as pain lanced through my head. I felt as If something had shaken loose in my skull and now jangled with each movement.
‘Paracetamol.’ I moaned. It was then that my husband moved. He came back with some pills and a cup of water. I took the pills and lay back down. The cat crawled onto the sofa and curled on my side. From the corner of my eyes, I could see my husband giving it the stinky eye.
I slept on the sofa that night and a few nights after that. If my mother-in-law noticed, she didn’t say anything about it. She didn’t say much about my relationship with her son, except on the fifth day of her visit. I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen, while she stood nearby and watched.
‘My son, he is like his father in some ways. In other ways, he is better than his father.’ She said, without prompting, suddenly deviating from the light conversation we were having about a movie we watched earlier.
‘How?’ I wanted to know. I never met my father-in-law. He had died before I met my husband.
‘My husband was a difficult man to live with, much as his son. He was worse in that he would often get physical.’ She answered.
‘Physical.’ I echoed, stupidly.
‘Yes, physical. He would hit me for every reason and no reason.’ She explained. Surprise rushed through me. I just looked at her. I had always thought her to be a strong woman who wouldn’t take nonsense from any man. It was kind of unsettling to picture her being physically abused.
‘My son doesn’t hit you, does he?’ She asked. I shook my head.
‘But sometimes, emotional abuse can be just as bad, don’t you think?’ She went on, reaching into the cabinet to hand me the can of salt, from which I added salt into the pot on the cooker.
‘I don’t know.’ I said, cautiously. This was a weird discussion to be having with my husband’s mother. Was I supposed to speak ill of her son in her presence?
She looked at me for some seconds, as though trying to decipher something, then gave a smile.
‘Do you always make soup on sundays?’ She asked, changing the topic.
‘Only when my husband demands it. Truthfully, I would rather have made rice.’ I replied.
‘Let’s make rice after making his soup, then. I want rice.’ She said.
‘He won’t like that, I think.’ I tell her.
‘Who died and made him king’, was her reply. I grinned. The woman was just lovable.
My husband came back from whereever it was that he went on Sundays, just in time for lunch. We all sat to eat, vegetable soup and semovita for him, rice and stew for my mother-in-law and I.
‘Why are you eating rice?’ He wanted to know.
‘I wanted rice, so I made rice.’ I answered. I scooped a spoonful of rice into my mouth and waited for the ranting I was sure was coming.
‘When did that one start? When did you start making your own food different from mine?’ The ranting began and all I could think was, ‘Here we go again.’
‘I wanted rice too.’ My mother-in-law said.
‘Oya, take that food inside and serve yourself soup and semovita, before I lose my patience.’ He instructed. Normally, I would do as he said, but today, I was tired, tired of his bullying. I can’t tell where the guts came from. Maybe, it was as a result of his mother’s presence.
‘Ranting, does it give you blood?’ I asked, quietly. His mouth snapped shut.
‘Excuse me?’ He obviously wasn’t sure he had heard me correctly.
‘Ranting, does it give you blood?’ I repeated. Surprise was evident in his face.
‘This bullying, do you do it to other people or it’s just specially reserved for me?’
The blow that landed on my face was unexpected. I didn’t see it coming. He had never hit me before. In that moment, I realised why some women got hit by their husbands. It was because they wouldn’t keep their mouths shut.
My ears rang. I felt fluid run down the side of my face. The cut on my head had split open.
‘What did you do that for?’ My mother-in-law yelled, rising to her feet.
‘Stay out of this, mother.’ He told her.
‘I was the one who told her to make rice. Even if it was her idea, is that why you would raise you hand to her?’
‘Mother, mind your business.’ He yelled. My mother-in-law raised her plate of rice and hurled it straight at his face. For a moment, there was silence. Shock was palpable in the air. I was shocked. And so, was my husband obviously. Just as his hand went to his face, probably to wipe it, soup landed on this face. The aim was such that some went into his eyes. I flinched. My husband was yelling something about pepper inside his eyes or something like that.
‘Don’t you ever talk to me like that again in your life.’ She said, then, sailed to her room. I wasn’t going to sit there and wait for him to recover. I hurried after my mother-in-law. Her room seemed like the safest place right now.
Later, when I looked in the mirror, I had a shiner. And, that just pissed me off. The more I looked myself in the mirror, the angrier I got. I went to the storage room and rummaged through the cupboard until I found what I was looking for.
With shaking hands, I read the label on the bottle to ensure I had the right bottle.
I was tired. I was going to kill him. I was that weak and tired.