PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
I grew up as everyone’s child so I don’t know how to feel entitled. I lost my both parents in a flood that submerged lives and properties in Ibaji, my hometown, at age two. I still don’t know how I survived it but I did. At age seven, my father’s younger brother brought me over to Idah to live with him and his newly wedded wife, aunty. Aunty was a nice and caring woman until she had her first child. I don’t know if it had something to do with pregnancy and childbirth but gradually, Aunty turned into an unrecognizable beast in human clothing.
Whenever she sent me on an errand, she timed it five minutes shorter than the usual time it should take and waited for me to return just a second late. She then beat the hell out of me and refuse to give me food that entire day. I cooked, washed, fetched water from the stream and cleaned the house morning, afternoon and night, most times on empty stomach. Because my uncle was a business man who travelled a lot, I was made to cohabit alone with the devil herself.
Once, she asked me to make a pot of stew, wash the baby’s clothes and also ensure he doesn’t cry before her return. A few minutes after putting the pot of stew on the kerosene stove, I heard a loud scream from the room. I ran in to meet the baby wailing loudly. All efforts to pacify him was aborted until I found his feeding bottle, filled it with pap and tuck it in-between his lips. Slowly, as he sipped, he drifted into sleep in my arms. That was good. The unfortunate part, however, was that I dozed off too, right on that seat. I had been extremely fagged out from working continuously all day and it was Aunty’s voice that jerked me up.
“You want to burn down my house?” she yelled above my loud pleas
“I am so sorry, aunty. It’s baby. He was crying. So I…” I said, sorrowful tears streaming down my face.
“Baby did what? Baby made you careless?” she looked at me with total disgust. “Oh! Oh! They sent you, huh? They sent you to kill my baby for me? Tell them you’ve failed, and I would have to kill you first before…” she angrily pulled out a knife and hung it over the golden yellow flame from the kerosene stove for some minutes before bringing it to face me. Again, in her flashing eyeballs, darting from the North to South pole, I saw the exact shape and size of the word, hate. So dark and so large. “I will teach you a lesson you’d never forget.”
She grabbed my right hand tightly and with all her might, pressed the red hot knife against it. I screamed in pain and pleaded continuously as I watched my hand burn underneath the knife, but all my pleas fell on deaf ears. When she let go of my hand, I was in more severe pains. She threatened to throw me on the streets if my uncle ever learns about it, so I never said a word about that incidence to anyone all my life until I met him.
Someone I fell in love with some years later.
And since him, I’ve never said a word about it to anyone else.
Unconsciously, that terrible incidence cultivated in me the habit of keeping everything to myself, piling this secret on that until my heart became a deep ocean of secrets.
Many times, Mona wishes I can be very free around him. He asks me to bother him, talk to him about everything and anything.
“You’re the woman I am going to spend the rest of my life with, Ile. Bother me. Don’t hold back from asking anything from me. All I have is yours.” He says always.
I usually just smile and nod in the affirmative. He knows I avoid that line of conversation yet won’t give up. I am layered, like thick Ankara neatly folded on each other, one may have to dig my heart open to see me for who I truly am. For me, there’s no feeling of entitlement to anything that’s not mine. And even the things that are supposedly mine, I don’t feel worthy of ownership.
One of such are my feelings.
They have been all over the place all evening, yet I cannot admit them. I lied to Mona that I fainted because I was feeling lightheaded from the weight of the new hair, considering that I am not used to such hairstyles. When he said he didn’t mind if I took them off right there, I eyeballed him coldly. I didn’t go through all the stress all day to take the braids off barely an hour later.
“How do you feel now, babe?” he asks again for the umpteenth time, joining me in front of the kitchen sink, as I put the dishes in the dish washer.
“I am okay, Mona! Really.” I say, keeping a fake smile on my face.
He furrows his forehead. “Mona?”
I see visible shock sit on his face. I have never called him by his first name. We’d moved directly from ‘sir’, to ‘babe’.
“Are you okay, Ile? You’ve been acting strange all evening.” Mona’s voice is a whisper. “You collapsed in your house and as if that’s not strange enough, you’ve not been yourself since we got here. You barely ate two spoons from your dinner. And… to crown it all up, we are doing first names now?” He sucks his lower lips in.
“No, no, no, babe.” I cut in. “I am sorry. I think it’s the hair… ehm… I know… I…” I stammer.
Mona leans in and places a peck on my cheeks. It calms me a little bit. “You are not comfortable around my visitor?”
“Oh no. No. No. I am.” The words fall out before he could finish asking. “Absolutely comfortable, babe. Why not? He looks like a good guy.”
Mona nods his head with a look of concern on his face. “Are you sure?”
“You should go back to the sitting room, babe. Don’t leave your visitor sitting all by himself. You do not want to be tagged a boring host.” I fake a smile while my eyeballs urge him to go right on.
He turns to walk away without saying anymore words but at the door, he turns around sharply to look at me.
“I love you, Ileanwa.” His voice is tender and sends shudders down my spine.
“I know, babe. I know.”
He exits the kitchen and closes the door quietly behind him. I let out deep hot air I didn’t know I’d been holding onto the whole time.
Over the soft sounds from the TV in the sitting room, I hear roaring and thundering laughter from Mona and his friend. They are saying something about ‘Pondei Maneuver’ and it must be really funny to elicit such reaction from the two men. I hold onto the kitchen slab for support while allowing the fresh air rushing in through the window sweep over my face. I don’t know how long I can keep up before everything comes gushing out. After all these years of struggling through life trying not to break apart, I am right back at the very same spot where it all started. Like journeying in circles, I am back at the very beginning again.
To be continued.
- DO YOU THINK ILEANWA’S STRANGE REACTION HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH MONA’S FRIEND?
- DOES MONA’S ATTITUDE SHOW ENOUGH INTEREST IN REALLY KNOWING WHAT’S WRONG WITH ILE?
To be continued on Friday. Have a great week ahead.