“Here comes the bride…all dressed in white”
I still remember the background music that accompanied me as I walked down the aisle. Careful not to step on the strikingly white gown.
I remember the many faces, the women ululating joyously, hysterically almost. I remember papa’s face, his eyes red, his starched white shirt, his tie. He never wore a tie. He fidgeted with the tie every two minutes like it was choking him. I could relate. The dress was squeezing the life out of my waistline. But this was mama’s wedding dress, albeit with a few adjustments. This was her proudest moment. Seeing her little girl in the dress she wore thirty years before. I looked exactly like her, she said.
“The white symbolizes your purity. It tells the whole world that you kept yourself pure for your husband.” She emphasized.
Now I smirk when I hear that word. Purity. To think that I kept my body untouched, kept that wedding gown as white as white can be, for a lifetime of pain.
I remember the days leading up to my wedding day. My wedding shower was as dramatic as my darling mother’s intermittent sniffling and cheering on my wedding day. Rightly so, she organized it. My aunties came in drones, carrying symbolic gifts and unsolicited advice. ‘The wisdom of our foremothers’, they called it. I sat and listened intently as they predicted my sex life. The conversations were had in loud whispers, interrupted by louder giggles and my mother’s high pitched effortless laughter.
‘Your body is your husband’s mwana wefwe, whispered Aunty Nakhumicha. “when he wants it, you give him.”
‘Hahahaha..uuuuuuuh,” The women broke into laughter. Loud, and unapologetic.
“Make sure your man is well nourished. Give him a well balanced diet. Feed his stomach. Feed his ego and feed his pleasure.” My mother whispers loudly, poking the small of my back in that way only an African mother can. You know, pain sugar-coated with love, sprinkled with motherly concern with a dash of ‘disobey me and you’ll see’. That stern side eye serves as a topping.
I am suddenly yanked out of memory lane by the sound of the door screeching open.
Shit! Oscar is home!!
I can smell the alcohol from my room. It reeks. It fills the entire hallway carrying along with it the impending sense of doom and despair that our ten year marriage has dissolved into.
I cannot tell you for sure when things changed between us, when the double tot of whiskey turned into an entire bottle. It was somewhere around the time I got a promotion at work. When he decided that ‘my head had become too big’ and ‘I had forgotten my place as a wife’.
The hugs disappeared; the loving words turned into veiled insults, the encouragement became sarcastic comments, the appreciative words transformed into barked orders. Suddenly, I was a bad wife, an unavailable mother,definitely replaceable and not attractive enough.
I hear him stagger towards the bedroom. It is two am. He announces his arrival with loud humming.
God! That wretched song again!! “Aw my commanding wife…she wants to des..troooooy my liiiiife”, he slurs.
I hear him opening the bedroom door. I shut my eyes tightly; hold my legs tightly together-like my life depends on it. Because most nights, it literally does.
It takes him a while to get into bed. I lie still, fake-snoring loudly. I am hoping he blacked out on the toilet seat like he did the week before. On nights like those, I actually get to sleep. An uneasy rest, full of nightmares and half the night with one eye open, senses fully alert, but I sleep.
Today is clearly not my lucky night. I feel his cold feet on my legs. He inches closer, his hot reeking breath is on my neck, and it hits my face like a dragon’s breath. I try to hold my breath but I can only do so for so long.
“Turn around woman! Give me what is mine,” He grunts.
I pretend I didn’t hear him, pretend I’m dead asleep.
I feel his cold feet on mine. I can’t hold my breath any longer. I breathe in deeply. He smirks.
“I knew it. You’re not even asleep. Women these days, too good for your own husband eh? Too smart, too accomplished. Nkt!”
He struggles with my tightly held legs. He is surprisingly strong for a man as drunk as he is.
“You should…remember your..s..sss..Scripture dear wife,” he smirks, “Submit to your husband… ehe…for this is?”
I cannot believe he is literally waiting for me to respond.
“…For this is what?” he barks. His clutch tightens significantly. The pain shoots up from my arm. That will leave a mark. No sleeveless dress tomorrow.
“Sawa, its okay. I’ll school you myself,” he grunts. “..for this is right in the Lord.”
I struggle to hold myself in place. I have not said a word until this point. I have learnt this the hard way. My words only fuel his anger. My pleas only strengthen his resolve. He feeds off any sign of weakness. My tears no longer move him. They stopped being real to him years ago. Screaming does not help either. He knows our son is in the next room and I would never wake him up with anything other than a kiss on the forehead.
He wins, eventually-as is always the case. I fight, I struggle, I lose my resolve, or rather, I figure, what is the point, I lie still. He grunts, huffs, puffs, interjects with “who is the man now?” and “Mmmh…you belong down there Vayo. I will snip off those horns you’re growing. You will know who runs this house.”
I lie there quietly. The occasional whimper of pain escapes through my gritted teeth. I clench my fists. I swore to myself that I would never let him see my tears. He tears into me furiously, with no hesitation. He sweats profusely. Some of the sweat lands on my lips, a little seeps through. It is salty, harsh. If I could taste my current situation, this is how it would taste like. Undoubtedly.
I am now drowning in his sweat, and pain. Blinding, earth shattering pain. It is as if he is baptizing me in his sweat, so that I emerge a more submissive, more agreeable wife.
The smell of sweat and alcohol lies thick in the air. I feel nauseated. Pain and extreme nausea. Deadly combination. I start to count down. He will heave loudly any minute now. His muscles will tighten, his eyes will shut, he will clench his jaws. He will dig his fingers into my aching body.
“…five, four, three, two…one,” I count silently. After ten years of marriage, I have mastered the countdown. I know how long I have to suppress the pain and muffle my cries with his sweaty shoulder, or with a pillow. Ten years of marriage means predictability if nothing else.
His body finally collapses fully onto mine. All a hundred kilograms of it. He lies there for a minute or so. I fear he has blacked out. It is like carrying two heavy sacks of maize, I grimace in pain as I try to push him off. The meeting of my thighs feels like a fiery furnace. My body hurts, my heart aches, I feel dirty. Like I could shower for hours. I need to wash the sick mixture of bodily fluids I have been drowned in, without my consent, off. I need to scrub him off my skin.
I slowly place my feet on the ground. He mutters something in his sleep. I freeze. He goes back to snoring; his body plastered across our king size bed. I walk towards the shower. I peel off my nightdress, slowly, mechanically. I need to pee, but I am afraid it will burn. I hold it in and stand under the shower. Hot water blasts out from above me. It stings, but this pain is good. I try to wash away the disgust, and the shame, the anger and the frustration. Tears run freely down my face now. I sob, loudly, my shoulders heaving as I slide down to the floor. My cries are drowned by the sound of the shower.
Questions run through my mind. Am I a victim or a survivor? Is my husband a criminal or a typical man? Who can I talk to? The law does not recognize my pain and my shame. There is barely a definition in my country’s laws for what I am going through. Proof of marriage is actually a defence in a rape charge. Marital rape is either an unheard of, incomprehensible or plain laughable concept to many. Legal minds and women’s rights advocates go back and forth, arguing about implied consent and boundaries of consent.
I turn the heat up. It moves from stinging to burning. The despair turns into anger. All that is gibberish. I don’t speak legalese. I care less about it. I only know my pain. The disgust I feel when I look at my marital bed. The fear I drown in when I hear the door open. The utter sense of loss and despair I feel when I look at my son, praying that he never hears me sobbing in the bathroom. The helplessness I feel when I get home from work, knowing that my sense of empowerment is left at the door along with my six inch heels.
Home is meant to be that place I cannot wait to get back to at the end of the day. Now, it is that place I cannot wait to get away from and dread getting back to.
As I turn the water down, I remember my vows. “For better and for worse”. Perhaps this is what they meant when they came up with that line. Surely, it does not get worse than this. As I walk back to my bed, I remember my mother’s advice. What would she have done if she was here? Would she have given me a poke on my back with her signature stern side eye? Would she have said, “ Vayo, your body is your husband’s!”
Or would she look at me with tender eyes, drawn me into a tight embrace, the kind only an African mother can. Would she have said, “Vayo, nobody deserves your tears. Love your husband my child, protect your marriage, but remember to love yourself. You cannot truly live if you are dead inside.”
I get back into bed, water still dripping from my cropped hair, down my face. Droplets cling to my worn out body.
“You’re okay Vayo,” I say to myself. “For better and for worse.”