By Bunmi Sofola
It’s only an incurable romantic that believes that these days marriages are meant to last a lifetime. Yet, no newlyweds believe they are in a three-years-only contract. Gbemi’s marriage was virtually over before it really had time to record a semblance of pleasant memories. She tells her story: “If it is true that a drowning man always sees flashes of his past life just before his life is eventually claimed, I must have experienced same the day I finally admitted to myself that my marriage was a horrible mistake. I relived flashes of things I did with my husband, how we started … young, very much in love and full of dreams. The world was at our feet, and as long as we wee in love, we had nothing to worry about.
“Only three short years after marriage, I sat on my favourite chair, the radio blaring music that was meaningless to me. Then, all of a sudden, this tune came on and all I could hear of the music was the singer’s constant refrain: “Where is the love that you promised me?” The single might as well be echoing my thoughts, and I sat thee, too numb to think. I shed all the tears there were to shed. The future looked bleak, and my husband was somewhere else living with a woman who wasn’t free to marry him.
Where do you begin to tell a sad story? A story that took a very important chapter of your life? A story that marked the beginning of something beautiful and, in the same breath told a disastrous end? Several times I’d asked myself why it should happen. What did I do wrong? Why was it me that should feel so hollow, so uninterested about life? Men meant nothing to me. I was wary of starting anything that should drain me emotionally as my marriage had done. I’d given more than three years of me to a man, I’d given him my whole life, all I’ve got, and he’d nonchalantly thrown those years back in my face.
‘The ideal couple’, that was what friends called us for the first six months we courted. We wee lucky to have found each other, they told us; and we were so tuned to each other that besides being in love, we had companionship. We could sit for hours talking. Him about his job, me about mine.
“I was 21 when I finished studying as a radiographer and got a good job that paid more than I could imagine. He was two years older and already a college graduate. His parents are quite rich and he read business administration, instead of wasting his talents working for other companies, his parents decided to set up an advertising firm for him. They had good business contacts, and in a short while, business boomed so much that within a year, Diran, my husband, was already riding a big car and had a tastefully furnished apartment to the bargain.
“We didn’t have to worry about money in short, and since both of us agreed we were madly in love we thought nothing should stop us fro getting married, so we got married. Eighteen months later, we had a son. He was a novelty and everybody spoilt him. Diran played the role of the proud father to the hilt. I was sure we’d had it made.
“After our won was born, my husband gave me a small car to move around with since business demanded that he should be out on the job for hours. Suddenly, I discovered that now I had my own car, my husband was not always rushing home to take me wherever I wanted to go. I didn’t often see him until late in the evening and when I complained, he always had excuses as to why he had to stay out so late. His business was still picking p and he had to see clients constantly and entertain them if he wee to keep them. Very genuine excuses they were and I didn’t want to play the role of a nagging wife so I kept quiet. Keeping quiet meant being on my own most of the time after office hours. I cooked meals for myself alone. Also several people were helping with my son and it wasn’t important that I should fall over myself dancing to his whims.
“Then, out of my loneliness came this wild rumour that even the smuggest wife dread”, my husband was seeing another woman! I refused to believe it at first. Later, when I could smell faintly on my husband the different brands of perfume that I never wore myself, I became more suspicious. I thought of the last time I went out with my husband. I couldn’t even remember. Most weekends, he was out of Lagos pursuing clients who, according to him would bring him big business. He didn’t usually take his car, so I always believed him. When I leant he always spent the weekend at this woman’s place, I decided to find out for myself.
“The next weekend he said he was travelling again, I waved him off cheerfully. The day after he left, I gingerly called at the woman’s place. She was a cosmetics consultant and my husband had told me a couple of days ago that she had some heavy cosmetics that hadn’t been introduced to the Nigerian market yet, and that she had consulted him to handle the publicity for those cosmetics. If my husband wasn’t at her place, I thought, I could always lie that I was interested in the cosmetics myself. When I knocked on the door, who should open it but my husband? You could have knocked him down with a feather when he saw me standing there staring at him my worst fears confirmed. “Who is that darling?”, a shrill voice inquired from inside one of the rooms. “Your lover’s wife”, I snapped back.
“She came out then. A very pretty woman but more experienced and certainly older than my husband. She regarded me as if I were an intruder, which in a ridiculous sense, I was. For a while we sized each other up, saying nothing. “Why don’t you go home?”, my husband asked me, `I’ll see you soon’. What a laugh! He expected me to walk quietly home like a beaten dog when I felt like clawing at the eyes of the woman that now stared at me a half-smile of contempt on her face. I told him off, and I called her several unprintable names. I also warned my husband never to show his face at home if he knew what was good for him.
“Very well”, he said calmly, “If that is what you want”. This must be a nightmare, I kept telling myself. This couldn’t be my husband taking the side of his lover against me. I stumbled out blindly and drove around for hours. I had no destination, my thoughts were fuddled and I felt numb, dead. Like the end of the world had come.
“In the end, I had to go home, I was pretty sure my husband would be there and had mentally gone through my line of attack. I didn’t know which experience I found more disappointing: finding my husband with another woman or his preference to stay with her knowing I knew about them and was terribly upset.
“I went to my parents-in-law and told them everything. They were very sympathetic and promised to talk to Diran when he eventually showed up. They saw him the next day and they might as well be talking to a brick wall. When he got home, Diran yelled at me that I had no right turning his parents against him. I was speechless. Most men are usually sorry and full of excuses when they are caught being unfaithful to their wives. Not my husband. He glared at me as if I were a menacing bug and stumped out of the home.
“He slept at home regularly after that, and that was about all he did. He scarcely spoke to me except it was absolutely necessary. When I complained be asked me point blank:
“What else do you want? You wanted me at home with you, well, here I am or do you want me to tag along with you like our child does?
“What answer would you give to such a question? My husband, I realised now hated me and the hatred showed in his hostility to anything that I had to do with the home. He didn’t pick up his son, to play with any more and when we made love, I had a feeling he thought he was doing me a favour.
“In the end, after nine months of crying my eyes out, rolling sleeplessly on the bed and hitting my fists frustratingly against the wall, I faced up to the fact that I had no marriage. If I left my husband, I reasoned, it would only hurt for sometime, I would get over it. But, heavens know for how long the mental torture I was going through now would last if I were to stay.
“In a last desperate bid to save my marriage, I thought I would talk it over with my husband. When I did he was cooperative. After I’d finished my talk about saving our marriage and throwing in our son as a sort of emotional blackmail, he glared at me and told me simply that he was sorry, but he couldn’t do more than he was doing at the moment.
“Then I can’t take what you’re doing to me”, I told him, holding my breath, knowing whatever answer he gave now would determine my future with him. `If you can’t take it, why don’t you leave it?”, he asked.
“I got up from where I sat. It was the end of a marriage but the beginning of the nursing of a ghastly wound in my heart that would take a long time to heal …”