Am I colour-blind or is it a grey street?
Recently Afghanistan’s parliament legalised domestic violence and banned any aggrieved party from testifying against relatives. If this bill is signed by the president, it will legally sanction coercion and silencing the victim. Domestic abuse or ‘physically disciplining’ your partner is a world-wide reality and is not limited to one geographic region or area. Our friend from Lagos, Nigeria shares a fictionalised account of a real life story she witnessed.
(Photo-Credit: Nominated in the Contemporary Issues category for World Photography Awards 2014, this is Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s work on domestic abuse in Ohio)
Quickly I dug my fingers into the grooved sides of the dull silver tray trying to steady my trembling hands. The closer I got to the dinning, the more uncertain I became of the meal I prepared. On days like this, I shiver. His mood just swung again.
I glanced down at the patterned plates and bowl in the tray I carried as though to gain confidence. Taking a deep breath, my eyes were now glued to his stocky frame with his back facing me. Everywhere was quiet, there was no electricity to play music or watch the television. But for the walls painted with bright colours and the ray of light coming in through the door, it could have been a gloomy room.
‘Ikenna, the food is ready’ I said gently placing the tray on our wooden dining table. In a warlike rhythm, he repeatedly tapped the sole of his foot against the marble floor while he remained sitting. “Y-your food … It’s ready, Ike…” I repeated. He looked over his shoulder at me, and then with a glance at the contents of the patterned bowls in the tray, he arose.
He was abrupt, just too sudden, but it was expected. My eyes went blurry; there was a sudden waft of pain on my cheek. Ikenna’s sting of slap sent my face sideways. My two palms quickly reached for my face, hugging them tightly, but it could not protect me from him. There was a heavier slap, then a hit and then a punch. The very last blow caught me off balance and my head crashed on the floor.
Things went fuzzy; I could only see a shadowy figure looming over me. His words swam in and out of my head. I could hear other voices and yelling; that was not from him. It was our two last children. Through teary eyes, I could see them standing like preys chased into a corner. That did not stop him; he clung to my clothing tearing them in convenient pieces. In little time, I lay naked, bruised and wounded on the marble floor but I was not dead. Next, His feet smashed my head further into the floor and everything went pitch black.
I woke up to the voice of the doctor and nurses looking over me. I tried hard to recognise my environment and different pictures were flashing through my eyes. I wanted to say something, but I tasted the warm coppery tang of my own blood at the corner of my lips. Now I could not talk, I could only think.
Again I have been touched inappropriately. It was a hard touch, then a hit, and a punch… every hit is an inappropriate touch. When did it become okay for him to put heavy hands on me, to touch me inappropriately? Tell me why have I stayed with a man who does this to me? For 20 years, could I not feel? Where did my shame go to, why did it mean nothing to be stripped naked and choked by another person? Am I neck down dead?
No, I am not, he is my husband, only death could part us as that was the oath we took. For better for worse, in sickness and in health… yes that is all the justification I need. That is all the law needs to make this right.
It was his best meal I prepared. Cooked with bigger sized fish and beef, but it was his bad day, so none of these mattered. Rather than please him, the aroma of the food stirred his spirit to violence. A violence my educated mind cannot rationalize but my emotions can.
In the street of Lagos where I live, Violence is like music. As a Magistrate of the local court, sitting on my raised chair and overlooking everyone, I know that this kind of justice is a rarity. I know the language and practice of the law; it favours not the women that have in boldness approached the court. For years, lawyers have mocked them in the dock. Other times, they are made to stand at the back of court with little knowledge on the etiquette of the courts. Where they seek divorce, we offer reconciliation or separation. Decisions on penalty for violence are reached in a formulaic way, with limited discretions. Never has the man gone to jail, at worse he is fined based on his meagre income. If women choose the long torturous path of divorce and win, they leave empty.
How can I the magistrate stand in the dock to be mocked? How can I the marriage counsellor in church desecrate my oath? Tell me how? So many thoughts roved through my head as the doctors loosened the stich on my scalp. These are tomorrows scar; they remind me that again I survived.
I feel my body aching but I am not crying. I worry more for my children’s pain now. I wished they never saw this happen but it has been injected into them. I worry that this evil will rise to violate their future. When you have given so much and consistently got little in return, then it’s time for you to go. Its 21 years today and my pain has grown. I will leave. I want to nurse my wound; I want to nurse my children’s future. Now I know I cannot see their pain through my pain.
– Adaobi Nkeokelonye
This is a guest blog by Adaobi from Lagos, Nigeria. She is a social development researcher with over 8 eight years of work experience on issues of HIV/AIDS, Environment, Agriculture, Climate Change, Gender Equality, Reproductive and Sexual Health. You can read more of her work on: Fiction & Development