My hands trembled with the fingers holding the bottle in a loose grip. As the clock slowly ticked to midnight, I waited patiently for the house to be filled with my husband’s snores, before I could do anything tangible. In those fifteen minutes to midnight, I revisited the past fifteen years of my marriage life.
I had been married off to the wealthiest man of our times, with a bungalow for a house and hectares of land under his name. He was a church man; at least that’s what my mother had painted him to be. In those days, arranged marriages were the order of the day, and I could see the pride in my mother’s eyes when my husband paid the required bride price and was free to take me home with him.
“Be a good wife,” my mother insisted as I left the compound, eyes down-cast.
But I didn’t know anything about being a good wife. And in the first years of marriage, I aped everything I remembered my mother doing. I asked every time I was in doubt and most of it all, I prayed for my marriage.
Fast forward to five years down the line with two kids, things slowly changed. Fred, my husband, would occasionally come home late with the excuse of too much office work. Then the frequency changed from occasional to frequent then to completely not coming home for days. When he came, he reeked of alcohol if not the common cheap perfumes common in public transport.
Other days, I asked about his whereabouts. Other times, and those times are many, I chose to remain silent because I realised I loved my skin without blemishes. I juggled between being a dutiful housewife and the best mother my children could have. I devised methods to evade questions from my kids about their father’s disappearance and frequent tempers. I read a lot. I filled diaries within weeks in a bid to rid my mind of the emotional violence.
Emotional violence. Fred moved from our matrimonial bed and spent his nights in the guest room. The only time he lay his hands on me was when he beat me up because I snored too loud, wore old clothes. Other times, he beat me up because our children looked more like me and less like him. Sometimes, he beat me because he believed I did not deserve him; I was too ugly.
I lost touch with my friends because ‘I slipped and fell in the bathroom’ ceased to be sufficient reason for having black eyes every day. I lost touch with them because I saw happiness in their eyes, contentment in the way they spoke and comfort in the way they laughed. Their laughter was hearty; from the heart all the way to the eyes. I lost touch with them in the same way I lost touch with my life; slowly but eventually.
I lost touch with my kids.
Kate and Nate became strangers in their own house. Nate stopped talking to me because ‘your father will come back in the evening’ ceased to make sense to him. He blamed me for the misfortunes, and after years of trying to prove my worth to him, I gave up the race. But Kate, she looked into my eyes and saw the tears even before I shed them. She held me close when the silence was too loud and urged me on. She covered me with her small body when the blows were too much to withstand. And when the storm died down, she picked me up, led me to the bedroom and lay next to me.
Kate let me cry.
So, as I sat waiting for the clock to strike midnight. I didn’t think of myself. I thought of Fred and the edges he had pushed me to. I thought about the permanent scars he had embroidered both in my heart and my body. I thought of the life he had taken away from me, and the life that was still ahead of me. I thought of his life without me, and reckoned he would do just fine.
I thought about my mother and her constant pleas. “Pray for him” was all she ever said whenever I complained about Fred. I thought of the disparity between the life she had wished for me and the life I was living. I thought of the nights I had spent crying at her backyard; nights she didn’t even notice I was there; nights when bracing the cold was far much easier than lying in a bed in my house. I thought of the days I spent loitering in the market, because bracing the midday heat was far much easier than the silence in my house.
I thought of Kate and Nate. They were the only reason I had held on for so long; but not anymore. They were old enough to brace the life ahead of them; at least I thought so. I thought of the day I brought them home and the laughter they had caused during their early years. I remembered how their presence slowly turned into a nuisance in the eyes of Fred. I remembered how they had become the source of my insults and the reason I lived a life of valour.
I thought of life and its emptiness, about how quick the transition from happy to sad is; about how one person can be the cause of all your misfortunes. I thought of all the talks of depression and ways of getting yourself out, but I lacked the strength to fight on. I had lost myself in the battle. I had lost the will, passion and reason to live. I had lost myself in the process of finding others. I had lost it all when I gave my life for the sake of others.
I knew, when you lose yourself, you’ve lost it all.
Midnight. I doused my body with the paraffin in my hand as the other hand struck the matchstick. As the flame took control of my body, I let out all my troubles in one scream as I knelt down, hands covering my face. Even in my pain and anguish, I had vowed to suffer in silence, the same way I had suffered in life. But in a far distance, I could hear Kate’s screams as she struggled to wake up her father.
Then the unimaginable happened; she poured a jug of water on me and the flame doubled up. Her screams pierced right through my heart, but there was nothing I could do even if I wanted to. I wanted to bring an end to the shame that had turned into my life. I wanted my life the pain to eat me up until death. I craved for the fire to grow bigger, and literally begged her not to try to put it out.
In that moment, I thought about myself. Who was the woman who put herself on fire right before her children? Who was this woman that gave up when there was an option of leaving? Leave? Where to? Why was my heart so heavy yet I had wanted so much from life? What was the point of life anyway?
Even as Fred struggled to cover my body with a blanket, I fought on, wanting to be left for the dead. He won.
Two years in the Intensive Care Unit, I was nursing ninety percent burns. My children were not allowed to visit me because it was feared they won’t manage to live with the image. After two years of hospital misery, I walked back into a home lined with ‘Welcome back home mummy’ posters. When my children lay eyes on me, they both ran away, only to see them two months later after they underwent a series of counselling sessions.
I have never set eyes on Fred ever since that fateful night. My children are now adults, and I never hide the fact that I don’t know where their father is from them. They are a constant reminder of my past life, but I have learnt to live with that.
I have since stopped blaming myself for giving up. I have learnt that it is okay not to be okay. That people may fall, but getting back on their feet is always top of the list. I have learnt that it is okay to lose trust in yourself; to have wounds that are permanent; to have memories you can never forget. I have learnt that things will not always turn into what you wish them to, but there will always be a second chance.
I have learnt to live with my scars. And they are beautiful.
My heart goes out to all the voiceless women out there....a masterpiece read indeed.