“How dare you?” the words were punctuated with a stunning blow to the side of her head. In a move made perfect by years of repetition, Ebere dropped to the floor and curled up tight, her hands moving up to protect her head. She knew from past experience that any mark on her face would only upset Chima more. They would have to come up with a story to explain the mark and Chima would blame her for making him lie.
The blows rained down on her from all sides as he kicked and hit her repeatedly. She gritted her teeth and held back the screams threatening to spill out. No one must hear or know anything. Marriage is sacred. She had had that drummed into her from an early age. Whatever happens between a man and his wife must remain between the man and his wife. No other person must be party to it.
Especially not the household staff. Thank God the children were away on holiday. She had managed to hide this side of her marriage from everyone including her own children, wanting to protect them from it and not wanting them to lose respect for their father. But more than that she did not want to lose their love. Which she was afraid they would if they knew she was a less than perfect wife to their dad. After all, she was always the cause of his loss of control. A good woman and wife would not say the wrong things to her husband. Lately, though, she had started suspecting the children knew a lot more than they let on and that scared her. Making her more determined than ever to hide the brutal reality from them.
At last, he gave a final kick and stormed out of the room, slamming the door viciously behind him. Ebere lay there for a while, trying to will the pain away. But she had to move. To stay longer would make the pain set in and stiffen her body which would not do at all. They still had to attend the government house dinner this evening. It was to honour her husband, Chima Erabor, the newly elected governor.
The thought gave her the needed strength to move. Ignoring the pain lancing through her body, she got shakily to her feet and stumbled over to the dresser. Opening the drawer, she took two pills from a green bottle and swallowed them dry. As an afterthought, she took two more and swallowed. She needed more than the usual two tablets to get through the evening ahead.
She placed both palms flat on the dresser and breathed in deeply then exhaled out heavily. She repeated this three times to make sure her ribs were not broken, like the other time. Having ascertained that, she moved gingerly to the connecting bathroom door and entered.
Carefully, she sat on the edge of the bathtub in their large decadent bathroom and opening the taps, filled it with hot water. As she slipped inside, she took a bottle from the lower cabinet and poured the healing salt into the water. It stung but she knew it would help. If this evening was as successful as envisaged, and there was no reason for it not to be, Chima would want to celebrate and he had a voracious sexual appetite. She would not incur his wrath again by being less than enthusiastic to his demands.
Letting her head drop to rest on the tub ledge, she idly wondered what he would give her as an apology. He was always so sorry and generous after what she now termed as “episodes”. She couldn’t really blame him though. She had always done something to enrage him. With all the pressure and expectation on him, she shouldn’t incite him further. The problem was she always said or did the wrong thing to trigger him off.
Her handsome and ambitious husband. He was a self-made man. He had grown up in poverty but had worked his way up to riches and fame. If he had done some illegal and unethical things along the way, he could be excused. No one would want to remain in such abject poverty.
By the time he was in his early thirties, he was the target of all ladies and their scheming mothers. But he had chosen her. Ebere Chioke. She remembered the euphoria of their wedding day. It had been more than she had ever dared to dream of. Her parents had been overjoyed. She had made them proud, even more so now that Chima was to become governor and she, their daughter, the first lady!
And he had been a great husband. A wonderful father to their two children. Making sure they were well provided for. He never cheated on her like other men do on their wives. If once in a while, the pressure to succeed got too much and he took it out on her, well, no marriage is perfect. Neither is any man. He was still better than most men.
And to be fair, he never touched her without provocation. She just had to learn what not to do or say whenever he was stressed and everything would be okay.
He had been under a lot of pressure lately due to the election which had resulted in an increase in the “episodes” and though he had won, his victory was being challenged by the opposition. He had been assured by the present governor, who was his political godfather that all would work out well but he was still worried, trusting no one apart from himself with his ambition.
She hoped his worries would end when he was formally sworn in in two weeks time. As governor, he would have the election tribunal and judiciary in his pocket and would have nothing to fear again. The realisation of his lifelong ambition would mark the turning point in their lives. Finally, there would be no more pressure and therefore no more beating. All through the now almost daily battering, that was what kept her going. “Four weeks. Three weeks. Two weeks” was the mental countdown in her mind. Soon. Very soon, all would be well.
A few hours later, she was stepping out of the car in front of the government house. Flash bulbs exploded in her face and she smiled for the cameras. A few journalists rushed towards her hoping to get a few newsworthy comments but were thwarted by her security. They had standing orders from Chima not to ever allow her talk to the press without him. And though she usually resented this, today she was grateful for it. She couldn’t handle any question right now. Flanking her, she was herded by them into the large hall.
Heads turned in her direction as she entered. She could see envy and jealousy on the faces of the women looking at her. For a moment, her steps faltered and she wondered what would happen if she opened her mouth and yelled out her pains and sufferings to them, showed them her scars and bruises. Would they still envy her? Want to trade places with her? Could they survive what she had gone through in the past thirteen years?
The feeling was so strong her lips trembled with the effort to hold back the words. Then she spied her husband in the crowd and the brief insanity passed. What would she even gain by such an outburst? The loss of such a respected man and her children; the scandal and public ridicule. Her parents would never forgive her for bringing such shame to them. Where would she go? Who would she turn to? She smiled a ruefully bitter smile and mentally shook her head at herself. She was truly crazy to have even thought of such a thing.
She looked at his handsome face, standing out, taller than almost all the men in the hall and love beat frantically in her heart.
The women were right to envy her. She had the most handsome, most successful man as her husband. And who knew what those women were going through in their own marriages, anyway? It could be much worse than just a temperamental husband. She was lucky to have Chima Erabor as her husband.
Pride strengthening her spine, she walked towards her husband, almost forgetting the pain each step brought. As she drew up to him, he reached out a hand and encircled her waist. She successfully hid a wince as his hand touched a particularly sore spot. Shouts of “First Lady!” rent the air.
She could see pride and satisfaction on her husband’s face and the tension in her eased. She was sure now that everything would be alright. It had all been worth it. Her heart lightened and the smile on her face became real. The governor came over to embrace her and looking down into her face, said “The next stop is Aso Rock”. She laughed and turned to her husband, expecting a flippant reply. Instead, she saw a look of such ambitious hunger on his face that her heart froze over.
“NO! NO! NO!” echoed over and over in her head but the words stayed, thankfully, trapped in her. ‘She couldn’t go on like this’, she thought wildly, on the edge of panic. She couldn’t continue to be the outlet for his frustrations and fears. She could endure the infrequent anger bouts but not daily battering brought on by campaign and election pressures. Before the campaign, the ‘episodes’ had been occasional but they had increased in frequency and violence from the time he was nominated as the party’s flag bearer in the gubernatorial elections. She could not even begin to imagine how much worse it would be if he was to run for president.
People nearby had overheard the governor’s words and the chant of “ASO ROCK” was now spreading.
She stared at the faces and felt dizzy. She swayed on her feet and unconsciously leaned into her husband’s arm. His hand immediately tightened on her waist. It served to jerk her back to consciousness and immediately, her sense of love and duty took over.
As a good wife, it was her duty to help and stand by her husband through thick and thin. And she could and would do it. Even it killed her.
She squared her shoulders in resolve and stood up straighter. It was her lot in life and she accepted it.
Ebere smiled graciously at the sea of faces. She had a public image to maintain. And if her smile was a little less bright and a lot stiffer, no one noticed.