My Brutality And Love by Chinelo Oputa

My marriage was a wonderful prison. I was both the prisoner and the prison wardern. Being yoked with Mezie in holy matrimony was a terrible blessing.

At the very moment I needed someone to call my family, he came along and adopted me as his wife from the Motherless Babies Home where I had lived all my life. Getting away from that place of abandonment was like liberation for me. But soon, I discovered my husband was an oxymoron. He was brutally loving. Brutality and love became my personal possessions. Though I wanted to lose one, I cherished the other with my whole being. But the two were never ending – for better for worse. Till death do us part! And he was full of life, 35, and I wasn’t dreaming of killing him, at least for the sake of the love he gave me. He gave me comfort, peace, and happiness. With him, I lacked nothing. But he had a fiery temper.

It was Friday evening and I had sent our only son out, before it started raining, to buy a packet of match boxes. I had just returned from work to find there was no matches to light the stove. I pulled a chair from the dinning and slumped in. While I waited for Ekene and the match boxes, Mezie came home.

“Welcome!” I said with one corner of my mouth. I had learned to keep it brief at first, then when I was sure of his mood, I would know which way to go.

“Akum!  My beloved.”

“My kind husband, how was work at the office today?” I smiled.

“Just fine. And your salon, how was the traffic?” His tie and shirt came off and sat beside him on the sofa.

“Heavy. You will not believe this, but I stood from morning till the time I came back to this house. I had no lunch today.” I painfully lifted myself up to go to the kitchen.

“Too much money. But don’t you think you are stressing yourself too hard?  You could get some more help to do the job while you supervise.”

“I know. But I already have seven hairdressers. And besides, I love to make other women look beautiful,” I threw away my face, fighting back the tears that gathered in my eyes.

“There you go again. I thought I have said sorry.”

“Yes, but it hasn’t taken away these,” I pointed to my face and swept my hands down my body.

My right cheek was swollen, making me look like I had one full egg in my mouth. On the left side of my face, there were several marks crisscrossing one another; some old, others still fresh. Mezie printed those on me with whatever he found – stick, whip, knife. And for no reason! My hands and my legs were not left out. My husband had the temper of a man with whitlow on all his fingers.

“By the way, where is Ekene?” Mezie blinked several times uneasily. It was obvious he was trying to change the subject.

For a minute, I thought of the right answer to give. I had learned by experience that a careless answer could bring me an avalanche of blows.

“I sent him to buy something for me.”

“Oh! Well, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”

“I… em… the soup…” I stammered.

“The soup? What happened to the soup?” he opened his eyes so wide I swallowed hard.

“Nothing. I brought it out from the freezer to thaw.”

“Ok! Then, prepare the eba. I’m starving.”

The aroma of banga soup from a neighboring building impregnated the air around the vicinity. I entered the kitchen with speed praying that Ekene would come back immediately. I guessed the rains must have delayed him. As I busied myself with washing the kettle to buy more time, Mezie appeared at the kitchen door. My heartbeat increased. Oh! Ekene, please come back NOW.

“Where is the matchbox? I want to help you light the stove.”

I froze. Slowly, I turned to face him. There was no escape for me. Wasting time before answering was as much a crime as telling the truth.

“That’s what Ekene went to buy,” I whispered.

Wham! A hot slap landed on my egg-filled cheek.

“Don’t tell me that a WOMAN like YOU does not have a single matchstick in her house! You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Looking frantically around, Mezie picked up the pestle standing at the back of the kitchen door. He didn’t care to ask for explanations. Ekene, our nine year old son, had mistakenly soaked the remaining matchboxes in a bowl of water that afternoon. He was trying to cook himself a packet of noodles. The food he took to school wasn’t enough for him, he had told me. But I would be dead if I waited to explain that.

My legs came to my rescue and sped me out of the way through the kitchen back door. Mezie gave me a hot chase with the pestle raised high above his head. Our backyard was slippery because of the rains but I managed to pass. I was already getting to the gate when I heard a piercing cry and a resounding sound. I stopped and looked back but didn’t see the pestle nor Mezie.

I stood still thinking whether to continue my marathon race or go check on Mezie. I listened, my legs shaking vigorously. They were firmer while I was running. But as I stood in one place, they quaked. I fell to the ground in a kneeling position. There was quietness. I started crawling back to the house on all fours. It was drizzling now. As I got closer to the backyard, I was shocked to see my husband lying full length on the hard floor. The blood flowing out of his head got me up and running, to his side.

I didn’t know whether to shout for help or not. If not luck, I would have been the one lying there now. If not luck, I would have been dead long ago, killed by my own husband. If not luck, that pestle would have smashed my head even before I took off from the kitchen.

I stood motionless, horrified by the sight. There he laid facing up, his arms thrown open as if ready for an embrace. His legs spread wide apart on the slippery floor. There was a visible opening at the right side of his head from where the blood gushed out. He was writhing weakly in pain. As I watched on, undecided about what to do, Mezie started convulsing. My brutality and love. Till death do us part. Was this it? The end? His blood now formed a little pool around him.

And then I heard footsteps. I turned round to find Ekene behind me, with a packet of match boxes in his hands. Ekene walked up, surprise written all over him. But he stopped only briefly to take a peep at his father’s face, never bothering to ask what happened. He took hold of my hand and slowly dragged me into the kitchen. Once inside the kitchen, my son locked the door against his father.

“What was that for?” I managed to ask.

“I want to make sure his ghost doesn’t come after us. I’m going to make arrangements for his burial.”

“Shut your mouth! Who told you he is dead? Are you like your father – heartless? My husband, your father, is lying out there in the pool of his own blood, and all you did was to shut the door against him?”

“Don’t tell me you still want him alive after all he has done to you? Do you think I enjoy having a mother who is so beaten out of shape? I saw that pestle. He was chasing you with it, wasn’t he?”

I broke down in tears. Maybe this was best. At least, I would finally be free indeed. But I was about to lose my two personal possessions that seemed eternal only moments ago. I was at the brink of becoming a widow and losing the love of my life. With the speed of lightening, I ran out, shouting for help at the same time.

But it was too late. Mezie’s heartbeat had finally stopped.