September 2009, Tarkwa.
Kwansima was seething with anger. She had had it! Her father was becoming more and more unbearable to live with, with every passing day. Yes, she was 28 but she didn’t need him to remind her everyday that she needed to get married soon. For the third time this week, he had threatened to kick her out of the house for her to find somewhere else to live. Papa hadn’t always been like this- Mama losing the battle with breast cancer had left him bitter and easily irritable.
She walked down the dusty road, lost in thought. The noise from the cock fight nearby startled her. People had gathered around the two cocks and they were shouting their approval for one cock or the other. Cock fights scared her a little. They were a little too intense for her liking. It didn’t even make sense to her that human beings could bet on the outcome of such a fight. Well, to be fair, most of them were miners who had been laid off, they had a lot more time on their hands-they were either drinking or betting on cock fights.
Kwansima didn’t realize there was a boulder in her way until she tripped over it. She landed on her knees and even before she saw it, she knew that she had probably scarred her legs once again. She could almost hear Papa’s voice already, ‘How do you expect to get a decent man to marry you, if you keep scarring your legs?’ A voice interrupted her thoughts, ‘Are you alright?’ His voice was so deep that it made Komla Dumor’s voice seem like a mere mezzo soprano.
‘Yes, I am fine, thanks’. He helped her to her feet. His name was Nurudeen, he was a miner. He had soft hands for a miner. He was dark no, scratch that- he was black and imposingly tall. His colour made his smile even more dazzling. Never had tribal marks complimented a person’s face so well. He was a twin- his sister was called Nurath. Kwansima did a little dance in her head when he offered to walk her home. Even the fact that he was a year younger than she was didn’t dim her enthusiasm. She couldn’t wait to see her father’s reaction when she eventually introduced Nurudeen to him. She imagined that he would be very unhappy that she couldn’t find anyone from their hometown to marry, but then again, who asked him to frustrate her emotionally? Who does that to his only daughter? Serves him right- it was like sweet revenge. She smiled quietly to herself.
November 2014, Kokomlemle.
Kwansima opened her eyes to find Nurath poring over her, like a protective lioness over her newly born cubs. She tried to smile but her lips were bruised. She looked around at the now-familiar decor in the Dua Clinic Emergency Ward. Nurath asked quietly, ‘Were you ever going to tell me?’ Memories from last night hit Kwansima, each one more painful to remember than the last. Nurudeen coming home drunk, she complaining, his reply two slaps, she landing on the floor and asking him if that made him feel better. The rest was hazy, but he kept hitting her until she passed out. The last thing she remembered before passing out was him looming over her and telling her, ‘That ought to teach you to respect your husband.’
Kwansima turned her head to face the wall and began to cry softly. Pregnant silence followed Nurath’s question. She continued when she realized she wasn’t going to get an answer, ‘The doctors say you come here on the regular, and that you always have a new story about falling off one thing or the other. I saw the scars, Kwansima. Some of your wounds are not even completely healed. You can’t keep covering up for him. He is my brother but this cannot continue. This time you lost your baby and we don’t even know if you can still have babies, the next time you could lose your life.’ Kwansima spoke for the first time, ‘My baby? I didn’t even know I was pregnant. He took that away from me too?’ The sobs shook her body- it was a cocktail of pain, anger and sorrow.
When she married Nurudeen four years ago, she never pictured this as part of their happily ever after. Maybe she should have seen it coming- he had quite the temper. The first time he hit her was in Tarkwa, just two weeks to their wedding. They were arguing about how many of his friends to invite to the wedding- she thought the number was unreasonable. He apologized severally and promised that it would never happen again. She should have taken to her heels then, now it was too late. The beatings got worse when he was laid off by the company he was working for and they had to move back to Accra. He had taken to heavy drinking and she literally had to tiptoe around him to ensure that she didn’t say anything to upset him.
She had tried to make it work. She made an effort to say very little, to serve his food on time, to avoid any form of confrontation. She had to make it work. Papa had passed away six months after their wedding- she had nowhere else to go. Besides, she loved him. No, it didn’t make any sense but she loved him. And he always apologized anytime he hit her- but this, this definitely crossed the line. He had destroyed her chance of being a mother- the doctors said there was a problem with her uterus.
The day she was released from the hospital, Nurath went home with her. Nurudeen was walking around bare chested and she instantly knew that this was his apology. He knew that she loved it when he was bare chested, but he couldn’t stand being bare chested for more than 5 minutes. This had to be his way of saying sorry. ‘Unfortunately, it is not good enough’, she thought to herself grimly. That night, she sat in one corner of the bedroom for about 3 hours, just staring at him. The hatred that was swelling up in her heart overwhelmed her. ‘God, please help me otherwise I will kill him’, she whispered. There was no reply, just the chirping of crickets and Nurudeen’s quiet, rhythmic snoring. By 4am, she had made her decision.
‘I am leaving you, Nurudeen. I can’t continue to live like this’, she said calmly the next morning. She kept her eyes fixed on the pattern on the bedsheet. She couldn’t dare look him in the face. He responded the only way he knew how- violently. He hit the side of the bed and exclaimed, ‘You are not going anywhere!’
‘Nurudeen, when did you become this monster? Can’t you see that I am miserable? There is nothing else to live for. I can’t even be a mother. You took even that away from me! I am tired of the gossip and the sympathetic looks. They even say you have a son elsewhere’ Her heart was racing and she silently prayed that he wouldn’t lift his hand.
‘I married you and saved you from your nagging father. You should be grateful to me. Besides, where are you going to do? You are stuck with me. Wherever you go, I will find you’, he practically snarled at her.
‘If you married me to do me a favour, then I am better off being alone.’ With that, she got up and started to pack her things into a suitcase. He reached for his belt and was just about to fling it at her, when she jumped out of the way. They scuffled for a few minutes, Kwansima determined not to be beaten for the last time. He knocked the mirror to the ground in the process and it was shattered into several pieces. In her attempt to run out of the room, she shoved him backwards with all her might and he fell to the ground with a loud thud. She ran into the room she had intended to raise her children in and locked herself in the wardrobe. She was afraid that her panting would give her away. After crouching in one corner for what seemed like eternity and listening for his footsteps, she opened the door slightly and stealthily stepped out of the room.
The sight of Nurudeen lying in his own blood made her nauseous. She quickly checked for a pulse- there was none. His head had landed on one of the broken mirror pieces when he fell down. The alarm went off at 7am, as it usually did. Usually that was the cue for her to jump up and prepare his breakfast. Today, the alarm brought a new feeling- freedom. It was finally over.
©Maukeni Padiki Kodjo, 2014