I may not have been a good wife to my ex husband, and for all I know I may not have been a good mother either. But one thing I do know for sure is that marrying Imo was the greatest mistake of my life. He was bad for me in every aspect, and I knew it from the beginning. Unfortunately, I was not in the right position to make my life’s decisions at the point when I married him. Consequently, for many years I suffered under him. It was altogether a horrible experience, one which will undoubtedly torment me for the rest of my life. But I am happy that I was able to find the courage to get away from him eventually, even though it wasn’t an easy thing to do.
My life was almost ruined following my decision to leave Imo. I instantly became known as the evil prostitute who abandoned her husband and her children. I heard all the rumour and it was hard to take in. But in spite of what the people said, nobody ever really knew the truth except those of us who were involved. I am for instance a far better parent than Imo could ever be to our children. Even the children themselves knew this very well, which was why they kept coming to me. But I kept them distant from me although it was a very selfish thing to do no doubt. I however had to do that in order me to first of all ensure my sanity and also restart the course of my life the way I always desired for it to be…
Truth is I was once a young girl with big dreams. But after I finished primary school at the age of fifteen, my first dream of going to secondary school was dashed; no thanks to my father who greatly disappointed me. He told me to forget about school and that I should marry instead as it was supposedly my responsibility as a girl to do so. Schools were for boys, he said. And he wouldn’t go against the tradition of his people by sending his daughter to school. That night we had this talk was one of the worst nights of my life. I cried my eyes out, and would not allow anybody (not even my mother) to console me. I just couldn’t understand why it was such a taboo for a girl to get educated but very normal for a boy to do same. Moreover, to think that I made a better first school leaving certificate than my brother did… I felt betrayed! I was saddened and could not make sense of the reason why I was going to reject an admission to study at Ovim Girl’s College, the best of such schools and only a few towns away from my village. The school was comprised of female students; young girls like me whose parents were brave enough to defy tradition them to school. I wondered why my father couldn’t be as brave…
I was full of questions that night, questions that I probably never would have dared to ask myself until that night. But I asked them anyway, wondering why I could not be given the opportunity to put my academic brilliance to good use just because I lacked a dick in-between my thighs. Moreover, the fact that my father could even consider it right to marry me off at the age of fifteen was disturbing to me. The idea of me being in a man’s house at that age and attending to his whims and caprices instead of being in school worried me. Said worry kept me awake through much of the night even as I sobbed uncontrollably, attracting my mother’s attention who then came to console me while promising to discuss the matter with my father the following day.
Unfortunately, my mother’s attempt to reason with my father only ended up getting him upset. He perceived my mother’s advice as a challenge to his position in the family, enraged that she could even as much as question his decision. He reminded my mother that he was the head of the family, not her. And then he had blamed her for not training me well; raising me up to aspire to take after men instead of to know my place as a woman. For several days after this altercation, my parents did not speak to each other. The situation at home got so tense such that I began to feel guilty. My mother had always been the obedient and dutiful wife, a woman who meticulously ensured to please her husband even if it meant her suffering. To think that she was then disputing with him for my sake made me sad. And this is why when she later came to advice me to give up education and consider marriage, I forgave her.
“You are my only daughter, Ngozi” she began as we rested from work one day at the farm. “You are the only daughter your father and I have. And trust me, we mean well for you. You may not believe it now, but getting married is indeed the best thing you can do for yourself.”
My mother was a gentle woman who always was concerned about the kind of impact she had on people; especially her family. As a matter of fact, she made a conscious effort all the time to never hurt anyone. One of the ways she did that was to find a way to let everyone have their way at all times. Consequently she felt very guilty that afternoon because she knew I would never have my way. I heard the guilt in her voice as she talked to me about the traditional principles I knew even she did not believe in. She told me about the stigma associated with girl child education in the village, and how no man would want to marry me later after I must have spent many years in school.
“Our people believe that sending a daughter to school is not just a waste of resources that would be used to train sons, but also a way of preparing said daughter for a promiscuous life in the future. Now you know that your father is prominent in this village; it would be a think of shame for him to have an educated daughter. Please I plead with you to understand…” I did not understand, and I most definitely did not agree with anything my mother said that afternoon. But I had to pretend like I understood just so she (my mother) could feel less guilty over the situation.
By the year 1978, my brother Nduka was done with secondary school. And then one day I overheard my father discussing with his friend about the plans he was making to send Nduka to the university at a distant place called Nnsuka. The mere idea of that happening filled me with jealousy even as I quickly remembered how I had been vehemently denied a secondary school education just because I was a girl. I began to wish I were a boy, even as I despised my womanhood. And with this anger and frustration came a deep-seated hatred for my father which I loved to love. But no matter how much I hated him and no matter how obvious I made my hatred for him, he refused to rescind his decision about my future. This made me grumpy for months. I hated everyone
Interestingly, I was unable to get married until I was twenty years old. In other words, I waited for five whole years after finishing primary school before I could marry. What was annoying about this is that this was the same five year period it would have taken me to acquire a secondary school education. But instead of getting married, I wasted it being a single village maiden whom none of the men could muster enough courage to propose to because they thought that I was too beautiful, intelligent and bold. Perhaps intentionally made it difficult for them all to dare approach me. This is because out of spite for my father, I had sworn to not marry anyone. Consequently, everyday as I walked to and fro the numerous farms we owned, I held my head up high, exuding pride and magnifying my beauty while subtly telling all the men to stay clear of me as they were out of my league. And so it happened that no man even had the courage to woo me until one December night when everything changed.
His name was Isaac, and he was the first suitor I ever had. The first thing about him that caught my attention was of course his handsomeness; the kind that no girl can ignore. And then I was carried away by the fact that he wasn’t resident in the village. Instead, he was a city boy who lived and worked in Enugu and was only in the village for the yuletide. He wooed me so romantically, and then made me feel comfortable with the idea of being wooed. It was all very exciting, right from the first night he approached me as I returned from the evening market with my girlfriends. What can I say; Isaac was perfect in every aspect, and I gave in easily to his overtures more than I thought it would have been possible. This was the December of 1979 and the best Christmas season I ever had. Unfortunately, it all soon came to an end because he had to return to Enugu. I was devastated when he left the village in the January of 1980. Even his promises to return to see me during Easter failed to serve as enough comfort.
I counted each day from January till March, waiting earnestly for Easter and wondering why Jesus Christ hadn’t been killed earlier. But while I waited to see Isaac again, I secretly corresponded with him. He was such a good writer, even though he often used difficult words which I found hard to comprehend. Nevertheless, I looked forward to his letters, said letters which I always managed to sneak into the house and hide under my mattress. And after reading those sweet things he wrote me, I would write my replies and send them through my friend Olanma who always helped me to post at the Post Office at Onu. Unlike me, Olanma was lucky enough to have been sent to the teachers’ training college where she qualified as a teacher and then taught at the Ibina Primary School…
Meanwhile, as Easter finally came, Isaac returned to the village to see me just as he had promised. I was very excited to see him just as he was to see me. And then I was convinced that he looked even more handsome than he did the last time he was around. He came bearing many gifts; clothes and some tasty brown stuff which he told me were called chocolates. And every day throughout the time he was around we found a way to meet up and talk at length. On one of such days (which was a sunny Sunday afternoon), Isaac followed me to the stream where he helped me wash some dirty clothes while telling me stories about Enugu. He told me about the trains that always passed through Enugu while heading to a place called Kafanchan in the north, and then even told me about the university where my brother was studying at. I wished I could just vanish and appear in those places he was mentioning in his stories. And at that instant, it was as though Isaac read my mind. And that was when he surprised me, whipping out a small black box which contained an inexpensive ring. With that in view, he went on bended knee and proposed to me, much to my utter shock and excitement…
(SHAME AND FORLORN GAZE IS A WORK OF FICTION WHICH WILL SOON BE AVAILABLE FOR SALES ON AMAZON