THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
Udale held onto one of her husband’s hands. No matter what she had discovered he did, she couldn’t bear the mere thought of losing him to the shivering hands of death. A part of her that still felt any form of affection for him… whether love or pity, she held onto it. All through the drive from Ankpa down to the federal medical centre Abuja, she had pondered over and over again on Max’s revelation.
“Isn’t that a type of paraphilia? A mental disorder? A sexual orientation?”
She couldn’t believe her ears. Matthew seemed normal and alright. Well, according to the part of mental health that was taught her in nursing school and all the various professional courses she had undertaken in her course of service, people with sexual orientation usually lead a normal healthy life, so much so that the difference between paedophiles and the seemingly ‘normal’ people is in the category of people they are sexually attracted to. Also, it has come on record that one major boosting characteristics that can stimulate the expression of these disorders is isolation.
Matthew has always been an isolated person right from time immemorial. In fact, it was because her pastors, who were her guardians then, felt she needed some more courtship time, to get to know him better, that they were hesitating. She, however, felt she found the one. The very ‘right one’ at that. Matthew has always been a man of few words, but whenever he outbursts in anger, you would wish hell was let loose instead. She had always known him to be a lover of little, adolescent and all categories of children – probably that was why he taught at a secondary school regardless of his high performance from the university.
Perhaps he discovered this inordinate feelings for the children he taught and that was why he resigned, to the utter amazement of everyone. This could only be the most reasonable explanation for that kind of drastic decision he took, as he has blatantly refused to say to anyone why he let go of his so called life’s passion. Doctor Max said they discovered… rather, they confirmed it not so long ago. It was actually Dr Nonso that did, during one of his numerous interactions with Matthew, and he had been undergoing therapy and taking drugs alongside since then. Drugs has not been an effective medium of treating patients with mental disorders, research has come to prove, and this is even worse because it’s a sexual orientation. Maybe, all those ‘initial gragra’ were his own way of being careful so his lust doesn’t lead him into something as embarrassing as what has eventually happened.
Udale could remember a lot of things.
First and foremost was his outright refusal to accommodate Laibe, the first day she was brought to Ankpa. Udale had known Matthew to be friends with children right from the world go, so couldn’t really understand why he was that harsh with her niece. Maybe if she had calmed down to hear his reasons, she would have found another better option. But she wasn’t calming down at all, in fact, none of them seemed ready to reach a consensus regarding the matter. Udale could bet her instinct telling her that her husband had something on his mind which he needed to say. His hesitations in voicing out was more or less a source of worry to her.
Who would say such a thing as this easily, anyway?
Thence, came this issue of Matthew telling baba that he would be taking another wife; there was also a time he told Udale that she might be the ‘architectural designer’ of his next wife.
Udale cried more on his hand while all these thoughts flashed back her mind. He is lying unconscious with the oxygen mask firmly gripping his nose.
She still can’t stop wondering why Dr Nonso hadn’t told her. Matthew’s case isn’t exclusively paedophilia as it were then; because they had great sex in the beginning time of their marriage, at least up until the resignation from teaching. Things started moving down the spiral from that time, so much so that at some points, she felt like a stranger on her own husband’s bed. They slept so wide apart like young people forbidden to fornicate.
When pastor Lydia told her, ‘some men have wives they never married’, it didn’t make the slightest meaning to her or maybe the older woman didn’t explain well enough? Could she have known about this Matthew’s condition too and didn’t tell her?
“No! That can’t be!” She screamed from her thoughts.
Her head is beginning to shatter again. So much sorrow in her lifetime. She glanced at Matthew to be sure her shout didn’t wake him, on a second thought, she wished the shout actually could wake him.
The more she thinks about it, the more she realises that this abuse thing thrived in her house due to her quick assumption, ignorance and carefreeness.
What could she have rather done?
They have taken Laibe to be their own daughter. Should a mother not trust her husband with their daughter any longer?
As much as she tried, she wasn’t well able to console herself.
There was the night Matthew woke her up. He looked like he had something serious on his mind. Maybe, she should have listened instead of talking. Maybe she should not have concluded he was only worried with Baba’s ill health and let him say what his mind was. But she would not. Typical of her to take the first lead and feel in charge of every situation. See where it has landed her in now.
Then the day she found a lot of romantic presents in Laibe’s room. The little girl said her uncle bought them for her and actually when she confronted her husband, she could tell she felt discomfort in his voice. He first was eager to confirm how she learnt of it. Udale didn’t suspect anything, nothing whatsoever. Even when the white paper she saw in Ocholi’s hands that evening contained a horror diagram – a little girl with tattered clothes, like the type that result after gang rape, was pushing hard at a thick tall wall. A huge man, who she now believes was the abuser seemed to be chasing after the poor little girl as she struggles for rescue, while another older woman is seen, just beside them, dozing off on a table with lots of paper works to attend to.
Udale snapped back immediately,
“Did Ocholi say he drew that picture? He probably quickly admitted making that painting, just not to arouse further questions. So it was a cover up? Oh my God!” Her tears doesn’t seem to be finishing as they poured out the more, helplessly. She should have pressed on further till Ocholi tell her the truth about who made that painting.
Instead, she was stupidly more concerned about Ocholi teaching her fine arts than she was about the message Laibe’s painting was presenting.
She has heard that abused children result to writing or drawing their pains since they’ve been probably banned and at some case threatened from letting anyone know about it.
Why didn’t she think this?
Udale pitied herself.
Of course, the painting on the white paper, though not so accurately done depicts deep emotions. She could see the connection more now as she thinks about it. Right there was a poor girl running away from an abusive man, and she, who is supposed to be the refuge, the listener, the mother the girl could run to, was busy with a lot of work coupled with tiredness, so much so, that she didn’t even smell the aroma of the food being cooked under her very nose. She has always called herself a failed mother, guess this crowns it all. She used to be one of those persons that wonder how sexual abuses thrives in homes and people don’t get to learn of it early enough until a danger or harm is done. At those times, she blamed the man who is irresponsible enough to be involved in such an abominable act but right now, she has seen how much most of the abuses thrive, simply because one of the parents – especially the mother, has chosen to be either too busy or carefree.
The latest of the events that made her completely judge herself a failure was the day she brought Baba from the village. Truth is, everything sounded and appeared suspicious to her that morning but she didn’t let her brain think the possibilities in there. Mathew rarely sleeps in the sitting room… more like never. She found the spare bunch of keys for the house, which is always kept somewhere not close by, on the table. He was wearing only a boxer and slept so deep that he didn’t even notice when she walked in till she tapped him and the best explanation her ‘daft head’ could conclude was that PHCN probably dragged him out there.
“How could I be that dumb?” she asked herself.
“Laibe’s room was scattered. Since I don’t even visit enough times, I couldn’t tell if that was done overnight or if it was a normal attitude. God! I was so fast to judge her. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t explain herself, yet I was busy slapping her.” Udale let hot searing tears pour down her face as the scene of that day played in her head, torturing every part of her being. She should have known that Laibe would normally run into her grandfather’s arms any day, and not stand staring vaguely at him. She should have asked better to be sure her leaping painful steps was truly as a result of playing badminton as she claimed… or not. She should never have been quick to judge Laibe. She should have visited her room more often, get to know the kind of person she is, and what her fears were. She should have been less concerned with the IVF Dr Nonso advised they do and focus on caring for her niece who had become her daughter. She should have tried to understand Matthew’s hesitations about accommodating Laibe, she should have tried to understand his hesitations concerning doing an IVF. She should have done a lot of things to save her marriage and the poor girl. She should have… she should have…she should have done a lot of things, but she failed at all of it, every single one of it.
“Oh God! I’m a failed wife and mother!” she screamed out.
“No, you are not.”
Udale jerks back to see someone she presumes to be the doctor walk in. Pastor Lydia couldn’t follow them down to Abuja as she needed to stay with Laibe at the hospital. Max who drove them down has been with the doctor… this doctor, ever since and now that he was here, Udale could only hope for a milder bad news, because it’s certain the news can’t be any good.
“Doctor, is my husband going to survive this?” She drags herself up and hurriedly moves over to the approaching doctor. She has lost appreciable kilograms of weight in the last weeks. She hopes to wake up sometime and all these are nightmares.
“Calm down, Mrs…”
“Onoja… Udale Onoja.” She cuts in before the doctor could finish her name.
His face wasn’t betraying any expression whatsoever and Udale could feel her heart almost spilling out through her ribcage.
“Let’s see in my office, Ma’am.” He said, and turned to walk out.
Udale glanced at the helpless shadow of her very own hefty husband on the bed and sniffs. She picks up her phone and follows the doctor as fast as she could. If there was anything she’s sure about is the fact that Laibe cannot keep a baby for her husband
Laibe feels like she is watching her own obituary.
How could this be happening to her?
She had long been eager to meet Aunty Halima’s daughter and she just did, even though she never envisaged meeting her this way. A lot of things has happened since morning. The last she could remember was that she felt horrible about herself. First was that Uncle Matthew walked in, glared at her like a piece of thrash and walked out in silence. He was followed by aunty Udale much later, and she came asking her who she was pregnant for. She had sat down helplessly when her aunty dashed out of the room, and Halima followed after her. She used to think she was a curse of some sort. If not, what would explain her losing her dad, her mother, her grandfather and now… herself. She wanted to end it all. There was absolutely no use of her anymore, so she grabbed one of the dinning knives in her food basket and slashed her hand. She was praying to die.
She needed to die.
Perhaps after death, she would understand why so much horrible things has happened to her in a life time – her father died in a ghastly motor accident when she was only a child. Then her mother died also few years ago. She felt coming to Ankpa when aunty Udale suggested it to her this time three years ago was God’s way of answering prayers and taking her many steps nearer her dreams. She had always wanted to be great, to be influential, and to be someone with a name. The first thing she did with the android phone uncle Matthew bought for her was to google names of influential young people in Nigeria. She saw many persons that gave her inspiration and if not for anything, she shares one thing in common with most of those people – they came from a very humble background. Majority of those persons are survivors of poverty, abuse, discrimination and even low self-esteem. She was so inspired that even with the torture and abuse from her uncle, she could still see that one day she would be able to break lose and become all that she had ever wanted to be.
Those are not feasible anymore.
A sixteen year old girl who is pregnant for her own uncle? What good can come out of such a girl ever again? She has lost her dignity, her self-esteem, her self-worth, and also her academic pursuit.
“Tell the members of the class that I’m so sorry for disappointing them.” Laibe cries on Helen’s shoulders while hugging her.
Helen was crying bitterly too. In fact, the latter’s tears superseded that of Laibe. Helen’s driver brought her to the hospital on the demand of her mother. The older woman has been telling Helen about an interesting patient of hers she should meet. So it’s more like she’s been looking forward to this day; the day she would finally come to her mother’s office – where she visits once in a blue moon. Her parents practically forbids her from leaving the house, let alone coming to any of their work places, not as though they are always around to start with. She was so eager to see this girl her mother told her so much about, also that the girl was eager to see her too. She didn’t believe her eyes on getting to the office to see her father and the young man that frightened them with car about two months ago. They were actually both stunned, herself and Omachoko that is, so much so that they held each other’s gaze absentmindedly for many minutes. It was her father’s attempt at introduction that interrupted the stare. One thought came to her mind, and that’s to call Laibe’s aunty that she had seen the guy again. The guy seemed dangerous, at least, her friend’s life seemed to have turned in disarray since they saw this guy. It’s even safer that he appears to be working with her father – that way they can pin him down if he attempted escaping. All these were carefully undergoing synchronous calculations in her head till she got to the ward room to see that the girl she has heard so much about was Laibe.
“Laibe!” she had screamed and her mother quickly pulled her by the arm and out of the room.
“Do you know her?” Her mother had asked curiously, sounding like she was whispering. Well, it’s an intensive care unit.
She explained everything to her mother, and they all waited for Laibe to wake up. Laibe didn’t look happy waking at all.
It was truly a suicide attempt.
“I’ll miss you, Helen.”
Helen wiped at a tear dropping down her soft skin.
“Laibe, stop talking like you are going to die.”
Laibe chuckled in spite of herself,
“Am I not dead already, Helen? Everything has been taken away from me. What more should I live for?” The questions came out so deep that Helen’s heart broke while hearing it.
“Sometimes we feel like just dying and letting the pain all go away, but then we need to stay alive… that’s because we have to see how the story ends.” The familiar voice came through the door.
“’Choko” Laibe exclaimed tiredly, and as though his name carried onions, more tears gushed down her face.
Everyone had left Laibe and Helen alone, and have been waiting back at Halima’s office for them. Oga Jude left a while ago though, after he got a call. So Omachoko has been in that office with the two women, Halima and pastor Lydia. It was Halima that asked him to go check the girls as they appeared to be taking so much time. The poor psychotherapist was afraid of another attempted murder.
“Laibe, I need you to be strong now.” He quickly wiped a teardrop off his own face.
Grabbing Laibe’s feeble body, he bent over to hug her. He has never seen his beautiful girl breakdown in tears this way before, except when her mother died. Even the tears then wasn’t as deep, as painful and as sorrowful as this. This felt like a dagger was passed through her chest and she was screaming at every painful drill.
Helen held the handkerchief firmly to her nose as she stood somewhere there watching the duo cry in each other’s arms. It is true now that this fellow loves her friend, and he wasn’t a sign of danger as she had thought him to be. Something to be grateful for today.
Laibe quickly jerked off the hug. Omachoko would have fallen backwards if he wasn’t much bigger and heftier than her.
“Helen, please call your mum and mummy Lydia.” She signalled to Helen, avoiding Omachoko’s eyes as much as possible. She was sure he couldn’t wait to decipher what she was up to and why she was sending for those women.
In a flash, the door opened and Helen led the two beautiful women into the room. Laibe is just noticing the resemblance between Helen and her mother, Halima. Whatever made her not notice earlier, though?
Pastor Lydia came to sit down, while Halima hurried over to her.
“Are you OK, baby?” Her voice was shaky.
“I am.” Laibe manages a fake smile.
Laibe sat still for a long time. It felt gloomy in there. Everywhere was extremely quiet and heartbeats from everyone in the room came out loudly, like the characteristic traditional drums from the ogani festival. Those, and the whir of the fan above them produced the little sound heard in the deafening silent room.
“Lee, why did you ask I call them then?” Helen couldn’t hide her apprehension anymore.
Laibe carried pain struck eyes from one person in the room to another. She did it so slow that fifteen rounds of cardiac cycle would be completed by the time she was able to move her eyes to another person. Haven done that, she took in a very deep breath.
“I… I…” she stammered.
If the eyes pointing at her carried guns, she would have been shut dead, over and over again, by now with their stares.
“I want Omachoko to… I want to … I mean, I…want to go back to Ofabo.”
“Ofabo?” everyone screamed as she let out the bombshell.
They screamed it, at the same time, as though planned.
- “Please have your seat, ma.”
Udale moved her curious eyes from the doctor that just spoke to the seat offered her. She stared so intensely at the seat, as if she was trying to gauge its capacity to carry her with her eyes, before finally bringing herself to sitting on it. She sat up, with her hands resting on the desk in front of her. She is as much afraid as she is scared… well, there may not be any difference between these two words but to her right now, the news should be at least better than worst. Once she is done from here, she may have to quickly go back to Ankpa and see how Laibe can terminate the pregnancy before more persons hear about it.
It’s already more than shameful as it were.
If Matthew had impregnated another person, like the Angela woman she was suspecting at the initial point, it wouldn’t have been as shameful and abominable as impregnating someone that is literally her own daughter.
Baba’s spirit would not be happy wherever he is, she thought.
She quickly discarded that thought as fast as she came. The dead are dead and have no spirits roaming around anywhere, she reminded herself.
Another thought had come to her mind also. Perhaps this an answer to the prayers Baba made about hearing a sound of baby in her house. Perhaps, she wasn’t fated to give birth to a child for Matthew. This Laibe’s baby might be the opportunity she has been waiting for. She tried to consider the option of adopting the child as hers and letting Laibe continue with her normal life. Being the emotional person she is, she just knew she can’t.
What if the child is a girl? And Matthew being a paedophile abuses the child again.
Laibe would abort that pregnancy and that’s non-negotiable.
She brought back her attention to the doctor who was only staring vacantly into thin air.
“Doctor, you are not talking?” she querried, breathing impatiently when the doctor’s silence was becoming deafening. The doctor on the other hand maintained a straight face, giving away no expression at all.
“He drove into a ditch.” The doctor said, looking straight at Udale and she swallowed deeply.
He continued notwithstanding. “Seeing the so many accidents that are happening at the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Road Safety officers have been heavily mobilised to that area…”
Udale didn’t know if she needed all these details. Doctors and unnecessary protocols! He was trying to calm her down perhaps, so as to absorb the oncoming bad news better. But what is the need of calming her down in the first place if she was going to still hear what he had to say?
“They said it was while your husband sped off, after refusing to harken to their flagging him down, that he drove the car off the road and into a ditch.”
“What? Were the Road safety men chasing him?” She demanded.
“No! They said they weren’t even ready to chase after him. It was in their bid to attend to another oncoming car that they heard a loud noise, only to see the car has landed in a deep ditch. Well, it appears like an attempted suicide to me.” The doctor said and that made Udale flare up.
“You just said he was attempting to avoid the never-do-well road safety officers on that road, that’s because they only wanted to collect bribe and nothing else. How can they save him when it was needed? They were busy waiting for another victim of theirs.” Udale drew a long hiss, in spite of herself.
“I don’t think it’s so, Ma’am, because…”
“Because? Because what doctor? My husband is laying there in serious coma, and all you are doing is defending the Federal Road safety commission?” she stood up and made to leave. The doctor felt frustration sauced with anger in her voice and could connect to it.
“Have you ever seen him with this before?”
Udale stopped in her track and turned to face the doctor. He is holding out a little bottle. The bottle look both familiar and unfamiliar. Familiar in that she had seen it sometimes at her workplace before, unfamiliar in that she has never seen it with or on her husband at any point. She moved closer and closer till she collected the bottle and held it in her hand.
“We found that in his car’s safe. And after the tests we ran on him, we found the content of that poison in his blood. Obviously, your husband drank this poison before driving down that road, and its effects only started at that point, blurred his vision and made him drive into a ditch. Whatever the storyline is, ma’am, the point remains that your husband attempted suicide.”
“Jesus!” Udale screamed and fell into her chair again. She left herself off so thunderously that the doctor thought she fainted. Her body shivered more and tears flew down freely off her face. Her legs felt so weak and her head so heavy on top of her neck.
“The poison has affected a lot of things in his body. We are trying our best and hope he comes around. This is a very slim probability.”
“Doctor, you mean, my husband might not survive this?” Udale’s tears could make a lion have an appetite to taste grass.
“I can’t say Ma’am. Dr Max told me you are a matron, so I would be as blunt and open with you as possible. As it stands now, his chances of survival are slimmer than the slimmest of things there is. And if he eventually survives at all, he would remain impotent and a vegetable for the rest of his life.”
Udale slid down gradually from the seat till her buttocks touched the floor as she screamed out in anguish.