“You are a sorry excuse for a son-in-law! You can’t even afford to pay for your house rent. I don’t know how we ended with such a useless man like you!”
The harsh words of Mrs. Okwuchukwu, a woman he once called “Mama” had stung worse than the sting of a scorpion and it kept replaying in his head with crystal clarity. It was like she was inside his head. When she first uttered those words, Uche prayed for the floor to open up and swallow him for he had never felt so useless in his life but the floor held firm and wouldn’t budge.
What killed him the most was that Ada stood there and watched as her mother hurled unprintable words at him. Wasn’t she supposed to stand by him in all this? Instead, she stood by her mother.
His head had remained glued to the unobliging floor as her merciless tirade continued. She was a shrew with a venomous mouth. He found it ironic that this same woman had welcomed him with open arms two years ago when he first visited her home.
Since his wedding eleven months ago, the only word to that came into his head whenever he tried to define himself was “emasculated”. This was a non-existent word in his vocabulary some years ago. He reeked of confidence and prospect as a high flying banker. He had made efforts to culture himself to a fine gentleman despite his humble beginnings and he succeeded immensely.
This was what Ada saw in him; this was what everyone saw in him. He remembered the day he went on one knee and asked Ada to be his wife. He remembered the tears in her eyes as she said yes. He remembered the pride in his heart when he pulled into the compound of his prospective in-laws in his brand new Kia Cerrato. He remembered the good words they all spoke of him.
It felt like a life time ago.
He saw the tired disappointment in Ada’s eyes everyday when he came back home from another futile adventure into the saturated labour market. The fact that there was a baby on the way didn’t help. There were no jobs. No, there were jobs but he knew no one with the sufficient clout to pull the right strings to get him one.
Since he lost his job six months into his marriage, he had been living in penury and was heavily in debt. How did this come to be? He had money. He never clubbed, he wasn’t a womanizer, neither was he much of drinker. He had saved judiciously a generous percentage of his income for the four years he worked in the banking industry. Where did the money go?
He gnashed his teeth in anguish as the words of his mother-in-law flashed in his head again. He remembered her demeanor, the way her body shook with rage, how her eyes flashed in contempt as she spoke. She meant every word; he was convinced of that. He knew she wasn’t a nice woman but money and success could butter and shut her up. What he didn’t know was that money and success would leave so suddenly.
“In my house! In my home!!” He moaned silently as a teardrop escaped his eye which he cleaned off immediately.
“I’m a man.” He assured himself without much belief in the words.
He stood up from where he sat for the past thirty minutes, bemoaning his incredible misfortune. Ada and her mother had gone to shop for the baby that would be due in a few months and they didn’t think to invite him because he couldn’t afford to pay for a damn thing!
How could he when he had spent his savings on the ridiculously expensive wedding few months ago? He wanted to keep his in-laws happy so he spent more than he could afford so that they could impress their friends. What a fool he had been? Now, he had nothing. He had sold his car and most of the expensive stuff he owned.
When the rent came up for payment last month, he had nothing. He had managed to rustle up a little money from his friends and his elder brother but it was meager and barely made 50% of the rent. Ada had called her mother without consulting him and the rent was paid. Now, she had practically moved in because he no longer had a say.
“Is this life?” He wondered out aloud.
He looked at his beat-up phone and considered the course of action he was about to take. He shuddered at the thought.
Should I call her? He thought.
Somehow, Debola knew. She knew what he was going through and had offered to help many times but he wouldn’t have it. He couldn’t give up his pride and collect the money she offered even though he needed it more than anything in the world. He knew she still wanted him and if he took her money, that would be the beginning of the end. She was too forward, too bold. His marriage didn’t stop her. She still wanted him.
He thought of Ada. He really loved her but he wasn’t sure she loved him anymore. She was sweet and supportive at the early stages but now she was different; she was cold. She carried out her wifely duties like a robot. Those little details she took care of before were gone now. They used to talk. They used to pray. Now, he felt like he was living with a stranger. He didn’t know her anymore.
How could she betray him so? He couldn’t get over the fact that she called her mother into their home at the slightest hint of trouble rather than rough it out with him. Wasn’t that what marriage was about? Did the words “for better or for worse” not mean anything to her?
He sat down again. He was torn. Even if he got past this, would things ever be the way they were? He wasn’t sure.
He leaned on the chair and closed his eyes. That idea that he had kept at bay danced perilously close to his head. He pushed it away with lesser resolve and it came right back.
What would people think? What would people say? He laughed at the question. Isn’t that what has put me in this predicament? People will always talk and right now, he knew what they were saying behind his back.
Irresponsible man. Dead-beat husband. Useless son-in-law and most likely, foolish father.
The pride he had fought hard to keep had eroded with misfortune.
He opened his eyes in realization. The worst had happened. His pride was just as valuable as a sack of cattle dung. It wasn’t going to get him anywhere.
He thought about the child. His mother-in-law would do a good job of tarnishing what was left of his image when he or she finally came into this world. That was not the picture of fatherhood he dreamed of.
Without further hesitation, he picked up the phone and dialled. Debola picked on the first ring.
“Uche.” She exclaimed, quite surprised. He never called. He wouldn’t even pick when she did. Her heartbeat rate went up.
“Are you at home?” He asked.
“I’m coming.” He said. There was a loud silence over the line. The only audible sound was mild static…till he heard her catch her breath.
“What about your wife?” She asked with a shaky voice.
“I’m coming for good.” He said with finality. Debola went silent again. Her mind was a mixture of excitement, relief and fear.
“My credit is almost out. Say something.” He said impatiently.
“Ok. I’ll be waiting.” She said almost immediately and the phone went dead.
She jumped up from her bed where she had been lying down watching TV and reached for her drawer. She brought out an old picture. It was from six years ago. They were much younger then. She was laughing at something he had said before the picture was taken and he had this mischievous look on his face.
She placed the picture on her chest and cried.
Ada and her mother arrived with lots of baby stuff in the trunk of her Picanto. She hated the car. She still wished Uche hadn’t sold his Cerrato and left this matchbox for her. Well, they needed the money.
She didn’t know how she felt but she felt sorry for him. She constantly cursed herself for standing by and watch her mother rain abuses on him in her characteristic manner. What could she have done? The pregnancy always left her too tired to want to engage in arguments and besides, you don’t bite the finger that feeds you.
Her maternal leave was without pay because she was already pregnant when started work at the Real Estate Company on the Island so things were really rough. She knew it was a mistake to call her mother into her marriage but somehow, she was glad she did. Being the only child of her mother, she knew her mother would do anything to see her comfortable. The downside was that her mother’s influence had grown and she now practically ran the house.
It wasn’t Uche’s fault. She had several friends who had lost their jobs as well in the Banking sector but somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to terms with it. He had warned her that they were going to have to tighten their belts after the wedding. He had spent so much but then, he had a good job. Bouncing back wouldn’t have been so hard if he wasn’t laid off.
The baby kicked. It was the only positive thing in her life at the moment. She smiled as she gently caressed her stomach, cooing to the baby that things would be ok. She wished she could tell Uche the baby kicked but the palpable tension between them since her mother arrived wouldn’t let her.
“The baby kicked.” She said to her mother
“Mmmmm. He knows that we just went shopping for him so he’s happy.” Her mother said as she brought out things from the back seat and the trunk.
“You’re so sure it’s a boy.” Ada teased.
“Yes oh and God will answer my prayer. Oya go inside and rest, inugo?” She said endearingly with a smile. “I’ll prepare pepper soup for you when I come in.”
“Ok mama.” Ada responded with a smile. The metal protector was locked. Uche was out. I wonder where he went to, she thought. She remembered the episode before she left and felt sad. She hoped he would cool down and get back home in time. She would try to apologize to him on her mother’s behalf. She took out her keys from her bag and opened the protector and door and went inside.
She was hot and fortunately, PHCN had decided to be nice today. She switched on the fan and Air Conditioner and sat on the sofa where Uche had sat not less than 20 minutes ago and closed her eyes.
She became aware of a piece of paper that flew off the table because of the force of the breeze from the fan. She leaned forward with difficulty and picked it up. I was a neatly folded A4 paper with her name on it. The handwriting was Uche’s. So he leaves notes now when he goes out, she thought smiling. That’s a good start.
The smile however disappeared from her face when she unfolded the paper and read it.
Frantically, she stood up, momentarily forgetting her condition and ran into the spare room where he usually spent most of his time and now slept. The table was tidy and devoid of his many books. Not a trace of his shoes, slippers or even his clothes.
She ran to the bedroom they once shared and opened the wardrobes. His clothes were gone and so was everything that gave a hint of masculine presence.
“Mama! Mama!!” She screamed as she crumpled to the floor and broke into uncontrollable sobs.
“What is it?” Her mother asked, clearly agitated as she scrambled into the room. She prayed it wasn’t premature labour.
“My husband has left me!” Ada wailed as she held her hair. She could almost hear him say the words she read in the final paragraph of the letter.
“You and your mother have succeeded in totally emasculating me. I’m now a useless stranger in my own home. What kept me this long was the child you carry. I now realize the child may never need me. The child will have a father in your mother.”
Her mother stood in shock as she noticed the change in the bedroom until her eyes strayed to the letter on the tidy bed. She picked it up and read.
I am @saymalcolm on twitter.