By Adebayo Okeowo, Nigeria:
A key rattled in the keyhole.
Amani opened the wooden door to the bedroom and it gave a slight creak. This was an old house. It’s actually older than her husband who inherited it after his Dad, who had had it bequeathed to him by his own father. There isn’t much to the house at all; the walls had cracks and the paint had paled and faded, the door hinges were weak, parts of the floor now had sand in the place where there used to be cement. The only thing that gave the house some semblance of life was the fact that living mortals resided there – Amani and her husband of 3 years. Interestingly, their bungalow still seemed to be the most alive in their neighbourhood because when compared to other houses, it still glowed despite all its majestic incorrectness.
Amani stepped into the bedroom holding a kerosene lamp that immediately filled the room with its orange glow dispelling the darkness but not the lingering smell of a lonely space. The lamp swayed from its handle with each stride she made as she approached her mirror which hung on the wall in a corner of the room. Today will mark day 4 since electricity last made an appearance in their house. They have gone a month without light before, so 4 days really is nothing – you may regard it as warm-up. Their tiny generator which usually powered the fan at night to prevent the severe heat had eventually broken down due to overuse. Amani and her husband fit the description of a less than average couple but not one at the lowest rung of the social strata. Things were of course bad for them, but others had it worse.
With her shadow behind her, Amani held the lamp up to her face as she observed her reflection in the mirror. It was beyond obvious that the light had left her eyes. She looked numb and intricately crushed but she spoke no words. In the loud silence, she slowly and steadily started to undress, after first hanging the lamp on a nail jutting out from the wall right next to the mirror.
As she unzipped and pulled down her short ankara dress, it became vivid that her body had become the canvass for something dreadful – a plethora of scars lined her skin like birth marks. Some seared deep into her flesh and were still fresh. Every scar seemed to hold a story – times when her husband would punch, kick or slap her at the slightest provocation. At least she had heard the stories of some men beating their wives after falling under the influence of alcohol. But in her case, her husband could batter her if he felt dissatisfied with his meal. He did the things he did while in his right senses but none made sense to her.
She stared ahead at her reflection in the mirror and spoke to it
Her words trailed off even as the room remained dead silent. The only intruding sound was the distant chatter of kids still having fun under the moon light.
She bowed her head; it was about to rain in her eyes. She shut them instead but a tear still burned its way through from beneath her lashes.
A few minutes ago, she had gone to the police station to report the several abuses she was being put through by the one she called Husband. But to her utter shock and dismay, the police officers dismissed her so flippantly saying, “Madame, go back to your husband’s house and resolve your issues. We don’t have time for family wahala here”.
She could have sworn that they were kidding but after several minutes of waiting, it was clear that they actually meant every word they said. Maybe she met the wrong officers tonight…maybe. But why did the wrong ones have to be on duty tonight, after she struggled to muster all the courage in the world to go out and report a matter that was tearing her apart bit by bit.
Who can I to confide in to save me from my misery? She thought. It was bad enough that she was being physically abused but worse that she felt trapped. The news of her abuse had inevitably escaped the four walls of their house. Nevertheless, neighbours stood afar off and scoffed, family continued to preach perseverance, and now the police will not be involved.
She exhaled loudly, dimmed the wicker and retreated to her bed wearing just her underwear and draped all over with her scars. She was mentally and emotionally tired and lay down to rest while she waited for her husband to get back so she can serve him his dinner.
The door to the bedroom burst open and smashed into the wall, peeling off more paint. Standing in the doorway was Amani’s husband whose eyes were burning with rage
“Amani!!!” her husband billowed.
She startled awake and froze. Oh no! I slept off! Amani was overcome with guilt that she had slept off and was now probably in trouble for having not heard when her husband came in so he could be served his food immediately. Oh my! Hell will break loose this night Amani was already crying inwardly. There was only so much her body could take. Thoughts were still racing through her mind when her husband’s hand grabbed her by the hair, dragged her off the bed and threw her to the floor.
“What did you do? So you went to tell the police that I beat you at home?” with each word, he was kicking and hitting her, “How dare you?”
Amani could not believe what she was hearing even as each blow sent a surge of pain through her body. So those officers wouldn’t help me and instead went to tell my husband?! Even in her weakness, she was vehemently angry and was mustering all her strength. Tonight she would fight back!
Her husband was now shouting “You are a dead woman today!”
Amani heard his words and they further fuelled her revolution. She resolved to outlast the beating this time. No more cowering! Her hands were now balled into fists. She was about to take a strong swing at her husband when a kick hit her by the jaw. Her head snapped backwards. Everything turned black.
Article 4 of the African Women’s Protocol demands that the life of women be respected. But these laws mean nothing if communities continually find cause to blame the woman for being victim, instead of calling out the violent men for acting irresponsibly. If as a member of society you do not speak up against violence against women, then you are part of the problem. Your silence is a choice in favour of the violence. There is an Amani you have probably let down. Sometimes they come dressed in a business suit complete with a smile but that doesn’t mean they are not scarred.
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