I was a ticking time bomb, unsure of how many more days, hours, minutes or seconds were left before I exploded but fully aware that zero was fast approaching. On the outside, I was calm because that was all I knew how to be; to the world, Chike was always poised. I hid my internal chaos well but she was slowly ripping through the fabric of composure I had been weaving intricately for decades.
She was bad for me but like a drug, I just could not get enough of her. I spent most of our relationship here; at the intersection of anger and misery. Her tongue was venomous and words inflicted poisonous wounds that might never heal. Ours was a toxic relationship and still I stayed, making excuses for her behavior, pretending that my cowardice was actually remnants of medieval chivalry. I was pathetic and if I really was honest I’d admit that she just might be the spawn of Satan.
About that time bomb, it was about to go off in five, four, three, two, one.
“Shut up Ijeoma!”
Finally, silence. No more ticking. Just silence.
“Excuse me, what did you say?” It was a threat and usually a warning I heeded.
With a smile I repeated myself placing emphasis on every word, “Shut. Up. Ijeoma.”
I was crazy, and looking around the dining table, my audience thought so too. Usually I would care. I was not one to make a scene. Ever. Who would have thought not caring could be so liberating?
“Chike!” Amanda, Ijeoma’s older sister chided but I gave her a look daring her to say more. She was always the smarter of the two – though that’s not saying much – and she knew better than to open her mouth again.
I took inventory of the people around the table, my assortment of friends selected for me by my fiancée, because she had long ago edged out of my life all the friends I had before her. ‘They are not good for you,’ she once said because Ijeoma- Almighty knew what was good for me, always. For five years I let her control my life, bully me, berate me and manipulate me. But her greatest achievement though was somehow making me put that ring on her finger. It was a nice ring – she has great taste. And it cost me more than half my annual salary and I will probably be paying for it long after I retire.
It is rather ironic that after all she had put me through it took something as inoffensive as her talking non-stop about the trip we were scheduled to take to Hawaii in a few days, to set me off. Of course, she had our itinerary all planned and I was to go along with it. I listened to her talk for twenty unending minutes, with her friends and sister oohing and ahhing while their significant others shot lethal glances at me. It was no secret I spent a lot of money on Ijeoma. It was evident in the car she drove, the giant rock on her finger and the fact that I was paying for a luxurious vacation to Hawaii to rejuvenate her and prepare her for the wedding planning she had to ‘endure’ for the next few months. The trip was her idea. The money was mine. The concept of needing a vacation before planning a wedding was stupid. And I was an idiot.
“Do you ever shut up?” I asked my stunned fiancée. She wore way too much makeup, I thought, something I never really noticed before.
“Chike be very careful,” she warned her tone icy.
“Or you would what?” I asked. “Humiliate me in front of our friends? Yell like a rabid dog? Hit me perhaps?” These were her specialties. And the yell-hit- and-humiliate-in-front-of-our-friends-combo was a true delight.
And the waterworks began causing her friends to rush to her side. She was acting. And she was really good at it. This was a regular scene at our house and I had the lines memorized. She would soon mention something about how much she does for me like cook and clean and how I never appreciate it. Or how I worked so much that she hardly saw me and other women would not tolerate that from their man but she did because she respected my work and she loved me. Or how I did not love her even though all she does is show me love. Sniff, sniff. End scene
“Oh God, the baby,” she said grabbing her stomach. Oh of course, I forgot about that one. The baby. That was the newest line added to this scene. She used that word to get just about anything these days. I would not lie, I felt a pang of worry but then I had to remember this whole performance was to make me look bad and to garner sympathy. And it was working. Ijeoma 1, Chike 0.
I still could not believe I was going to be a father. It was something I wanted so much and for the longest time, but I never thought it would happen as a result of her manipulation. Getting pregnant was her desperate act to keep me, because it seems downright suspicious that she conveniently forgets to take her birth control after I threatened to leave her. Now I was stuck in a proposed marriage I never wanted. She won. She always did.
I threw my napkin on the table. I had seen enough.
“Where are you going?” She asked as I stood up to leave the table, all eyes now on me.
“Away from you and this drama.”
“I am leaving you Ijeoma. For ever.” There, I said it. Finally. And it felt so good!
My words were met with variations of shock. “Ah Chike,” “Oh my God,” “Are you serious?” Blah blah blah. I ignored them all.
“Baby please,” she said, getting up and slithering her way towards me. She touched my shoulder affectionately and I fought the impulse to recoil. “Let’s talk about this later.” She was being sweeter about this than usual. She could see my resolve; she knew I was not kidding this time.
“There’s nothing to talk about. I’m done with you and this charade of love.” I had to get out before somehow she made me stay and maybe even marry her tonight.
“Oh my God,” she started crying again, lifting her hand to her trembling lips. “What about the baby?” She asked, her voice barely a whisper.
“Send me the bill.” And with that I walked out of my toxic relationship.
I would be an amazing dad. I would take care of my child and provide anything he or she needs but I did not have to do it tied in a relationship to the worst woman to ever invade my life. I might have made the most selfish decision of my life but there was finally silence. No more ticking. Just peace and much needed silence.