“What did you tell them at your little women’s meeting?” Henry’s voice was low. It was completely impossible to tell if he was being curious or trying to bait his wife. He noticed Ruth’s hand tremble slightly as she cleared the dinner table. When she did not answer him immediately, Henry felt anger rise swiftly but chose to hide it.
“Are you deaf? Is that what they teach you at that meeting? To be a deaf stupid woman? I should never have let you go there.”
“It’s nothing that would concern you…just stupid women stuff.” Ruth laughed nervously as she straightened. Henry noticed she was avoiding eye contact. When he rose from his chair and approached her, he noticed she did not shrink back as she normally did, instead, she just stood with the plates in her hand, staring at his chest with unfocused eyes. Was she ill?
“Are you ill? Is it the baby?” He stretched a hand, attempting to touch her chin but she flinched and drew back.
“I’m fine, just a bit tired.” As Ruth took slow steps to the kitchen, Henry followed. He knew she was hiding something; the thought alone infuriated him. Leaning on the door frame he watched his wife mechanically wash, rinse then towel dry the dishes. At last, she broke the silence.
“I would love to spend the weekend with my aunt.” She spoke softly as she released a weary sigh and massaged her back.
“Which of them?” She didn’t answer immediately, instead, she wiped the last plate slowly, placed it on top of the others with exaggerated care then turned to face him. This time she looked him in the eye.
“Aunt Chisom, you’ve met her before. She was the one that-“
“No need to explain, I know her. You’re not going. Look at you, you’re eight months pregnant. I cannot let you run around looking like a pregnant ox. Wait until you deliver,” Henry said dismissively as he turned to leave.
“She is a nurse, I would be safe in her company. It’s just for the weekend.”
Henry sighed. Was this woman determined to play with his patience?
“You are not going. It’s final. I don’t-“
“What tangible reason do you have? For the past six months, I’ve gone nowhere except the hospital, church, and market. You wouldn’t even let me go to Lagos and see my parents. Why do you want to stop me from seeing my aunt? She would only be around for the weekend!” Ruth’s voice had risen a notch. Her insistence was seriously grating on Henry’s nerves, and he became even more determined to keep her from going.
“I don’t care whether she would be around for a second. Erase the possibility of seeing that woman. I can only imagine what you’ll discuss with her.” When he scoffed and turned to leave again, her words stopped him on his track.
“Are you scared that I would tell her you’re a monster? …that perfect Henry is a wife-beater?”
Her eyes had become glassy but there were no tears in sight. It seemed the woman wanted to die, Henry thought as he approached her. She didn’t shrink back, instead, she stood like a statue and dared him with her eyes.
“Do you want to know what I told them at the women’s meeting?” Ruth asked then laughed bleakly. It was obvious to Henry that she was taunting him. Wrong choice Ruth, wrong choice.
“I told them that their beloved philanthropist and home cell leader was a despicable man. I told them how you beat me, tear me down with your words, and rape me over and over again even though you know I suffer from vaginismus.” Ruth spat the words at him as she leaned on the kitchen counter for support. She was visibly trembling but Henry could see that there was no fear in her eyes.
“Is that so?” Henry asked in his characteristic smooth voice. He was consumed with fury but he refused to let it show. His mind began to conjure ways of punishing her for her gross disrespect. As he watched her look at him with eyes ablaze with anger and hate, his own anger became more intense. What right did she have to be angry?
“What are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to hit me? At least this time I’m giving you a good reason to. I hate my life with you. I feel as if I’m living with the devil and I find it difficult to forgive my parents for convincing me to marry you.”
I have tried over and over again to be a good wife to you, but then I realized that no one can ever be a good wife to a devil unless she is also a devil. Release me, Henry. Let me go. If you do not kill me this night then understand that nothing would stop me from leaving your house tomorrow.”
Henry’s hands balled into fists as he looked at his wife- or was this his wife? Where was the calm loving woman who always endured his hang-ups?
“Stop talking, Ruth. Shut that filthy mouth of yours before I break all your teeth. What do you suffer in my hands that other women do not? I am a gift to you, without me you’ll be single, all alone and your wretched family would keep suffering.” He moved closer and held her neck, pressing it gently.
“You’re so fragile. Just one snap and I’ll break this ostrich neck of yours.” Henry smiled coldly as he saw fear flicker in her eyes.
“You are carrying my child in you…the child of a devil, right? Think twice before you attempt to leave. I am like a demi-god in your life right now.” He laughed as he increased the pressure on her neck, slightly lifting her from the floor. He began to feel strangely excited when she started gasping for breath.
Ruth gritted her teeth as she felt hot tears threaten to surface. Her eyes felt like they would burst from their sockets and she was beginning to feel light-headed. When she took her next action, she didn’t know if she did it out of self-defense or a need to inflict pain on Henry. Grabbing one of the ceramic plates, she smashed it on his head. Henry immediately let go of her neck with a dazed expression on his face. Ruth scampered to the far corner of the kitchen and grabbed a kitchen knife from its block. Holding the knife in front of her like a shield, Ruth watched him touch his head gingerly and release an angry gasp when he saw blood on his fingers.
“How does it feel?” Ruth’s voice trembled as she asked her question.
“I have twenty-four scars on my body, all inflicted by you. There were moments I used to wish you’ll place one on my face. I wanted the whole world to see the monster I married.” Ruth released a short laugh as she continued,
“I would defend myself, Henry. Even though I know you would kill me, I’ll defend myself.” Ruth was certain she had gone crazy. Henry was a huge man and she knew he could get the knife from her hand in one swift move. She didn’t care anymore. As for her child, she didn’t want to bring him into this world of violence and oppression that she was trapped in.
As Henry rushed towards her, she struck him with the knife blindly. When she felt the knife sink into his arm, she dragged it down and then withdrew it. He swore loudly, grabbed the hand that held the knife, and viciously began to hit it against the knob of a drawer.
“I will kill you! I swear I will.” Henry roared as he slapped her across the face.
Ruth refused to struggle as she felt the knife drop from her numb trembling fingers and hit the floor with a clatter. She felt a heavy blow on her head but did not shield her face. When she landed on the floor with a dull thud, she felt the wind get knocked out of her by another blow on her tummy. As if the baby could sense the commotion, it moved. Ruth instinctively hugged her belly and weakly tried to roll herself into a ball. When she heard him remove his belt, she began to laugh hysterically.
“You coward! You are not man enough! If flogging me like a child makes you feel more like a man then you are more pitiful than a castrated bull.”
She heard Henry roar with rage as he began to flog her mercilessly. She felt intense pain when the metal buckle struck her face, narrowly missing her right eye. All the months of silence she suffered while he tortured her soul and body suddenly began to flash before her eyes. It was at that moment she couldn’t stop herself. As he flogged and kicked her, she told him what she thought of him in clear terms. She was no longer scared. If the worse he could do was kill her then she was ready to go down exposing him to himself.
She felt lightheaded as blood poured from her mouth and nostrils. She couldn’t speak anymore, her vision had become a blur and she couldn’t move a muscle. She could still hear Henry roaring in rage as he attacked her body with kicks, blows, and lashes. Wasn’t he tired already? Even her groans of pain sounded far away in her own ears. When he kicked her in the chest one more time she began to choke on her own blood, within seconds everything went black.
Two weeks later, Ruth woke up in a hospital bed. She was told that an emergency caesarian section had been carried out on her and that her baby survived. When her parents came to visit her, they told her to go back to her home and bare whatever goes on there. They said it was the Christian thing to do and that leaving Henry would bring disgrace and suffering to the family.