Is this heaven?
That was her first question; the woman asking had been beaten beyond belief and had only woken up, from a 2 weeks coma, a few hours ago.
Is this heaven? She repeated
I moved my seat closer to her hospital bed, smiled and told her No, that she was alive and she was welcome back to consciousness.
She held my eye for a moment, and I saw for that minute, that beyond the disfigurement her body was, beyond the brutally bruised face- the stitched brows and wired jaws- there was a strong, but bewildered woman.
I reached out my hand to hold hers. I knew she remembered what happened to her, and I knew she would want to share it. I was to learn how wrong I was on the second point.
“Who are you, and where is my husband?” She asked.
“I am Grace, a case worker with Women Rights International, and your husband is in jail.”
That startled her.
“Jail? Why is he in jail, he did nothing wrong, I did not press charges – I did not even call your organization; why are you here?”
She was trying hard to raise herself up as an unexplained panic took her over.
I rose up, trying to restore order to the situation; and with my most winful but authoritative smile, I tried to calm her down.
“Mrs Willan, Please relax. You are not strong enough for any exertions, so just relax. I’ll explain everything to you.”
The flustered-rabbit look on her face froze for a second, and then began to dissolve.
“Okay, I hear you. Tell me, please.” She lay back down and I too sat again.
“What do you remember last, before you lost consciousness?”
“That is a private matter.”
“I’m sorry, Ma, it’s no longer private. The Police are now involved.”
She paused her scratched, scarred lips, then glanced at the ceiling before answering me
“I had a disagreement with my husband.”
“Hmm…I’d say what happened was more than a disagreement, but no need to dwell on semantics. You were beaten beyond consciousness by your husband, and he left you for dead. Your neighbour –Elizabeth Ehosa, found you lifeless in a pool of your own blood. She got you to this hospital and you were lucky not to be too far gone beyond treatment. She called my organization as well, and by our procedures, we had to inform the police.”
She said nothing, but her vacant gaze was fixed on me.
“The police detained him pending further investigation. We will need to get your narration of what happened both for prosecutorial and therapeutic purposes –”
“I will not help you!”
I was surprised; it wasn’t that this behaviour by abused wives was new to me – I had handled hundreds of those. It was that it came from a woman who was well educated and achieved: someone who really did not need a husband for her livelihood, especially an abusive one, a woman who could have her pickings of men, as she was pretty, still in her 30’s and was the founder of a very successful tech company. She was totally self-sufficient, yet she was protecting her abuser.
“Because I am not interested in whatever sham therapy you are offering and I do not want to pursue a case against my husband.”
“Ma, there is no avoiding it. You are the powerful head of a big company and your husband is also popular in his own right as a writer; you have the nation’s attention.”
“And how does that concern me? Do you think I cannot get the case against him dismissed? As you said, I am a powerful person, and that means I can get perks the rest of you can’t.”
That riled me – this idiocy and arrogance was not my cup of tea.
“With all due respect, my organization will make it hard for you to do so. Your husband is out there telling the press you were unfaithful and that you had a violent quarrel with your lover behind him. He is totally washing his hands off you and rubbishing your public image, and you sit here defending him. This is after he attacked you so savagely and got you into a two weeks coma. The doctor is not even sure you will be able to walk well again, because of the extensive nerve damage to your legs. Or do you think your legs are so heavily bandaged and hanging in a stirrup for your viewing pleasure?”
She was quiet.
“You said Seyi talked to the press? What did –“
I whipped out my iPad to find a webpage containing his statements, and then thrust the tab at her.
“Here, see that! Look at what he said.” I knew I was not being professional, but I was ready to do anything necessary to get her on my side.
She read the page silently for a few minutes, handed it over and let a pensive quiet settle around us for a few more minutes.
“Okay. I’ll tell you what happened.” I brought out my tape recorder, and placed it near her face. With a nod, I signalled for her to begin.
“My husband, Seyi Willan, had always wanted us to have only two children, and we were lucky to have two boys in quick succession –Bola and Shola. It was when Bola was 7 and Shola 5 that I started my company. Tech startups are extremely stressful to run, and my initial team was not especially catching up to my ideas on time, so I had to change personnel more frequently than I liked, then I would have to break-in the new person. It was all very chaotic, and yet I had to be a mother to two small boisterous boys. At that time, Seyi’s writing had not become this popular; he had not won the Caine prize then, so we could not afford a help as much of our income was going to promoting his books and running my startup.”
“Can you restrict yourself to telling us about what happened on the day the attack occurred?”
“You have to know about what happened before then to understand what happened that day.”
“Okay, if you insist.”
“I do. I don’t know if you heard about how Bola died?”
“I did not then, but following my assignment to your case, I do now. It was a home accident, right?
“That was just media spin; I killed him. I killed my son.”
My face creased involuntarily with astonishment when she said that.
“How did you kill him?”
Her eyes had started to blur with impending tears
“The day my Bola died…” she began to sob.
I got out my handkerchief, and stretched it out to her; she took it and dabbed her eyes.
She sniffed repeatedly before continuing.
“The day Bola died, I had a crisis brewing in the company. Government regulators had just served us a notice of breach, and asked us to respond on why we should not be penalized. For corporate confidential reasons, I can’t really go into specifics; but if we were found guilty of the breach we were accused of, the company was not only dead, I could have gone to jail too. And that evening, I had to rush home from the crisis meeting we had to take care of my husband and sons. I remember that I was in the kitchen, when Shola, the little one, came in crying that his brother had hit him. I was angry with Shola, and when I stormed into the living room and saw him unremorseful as he bounced playfully on the sofa – an act we had warned him to desist from, I lost it. I lost my mind over a childish prank, imagine…”
She tried to hold in a sob.
“I gave him a slap that had too much force, but he was trying to avoid it; his balance was totally off when I hit him, and he toppled over the low-arm of the chair to land on the floor with his head. Children hit their heads all the time so I did not even immediately know anything was wrong, and I turned away. But there was a silence behind me –an unusual silence, he should have yelped or cried or something. But th..there was nothing!”
She was crying again, but amidst her tears, she tried to speak: “When I turned back to him, he was having a seizure. I can still see him jerking about for those few seconds with white foams clouding his mouth.” She couldn’t talk for a while as the tears overwhelmed her.
* This is the first of a 2-part series