We found each other by accident. I was looking for a way to burn time while my spouse was working. I didn’t have any children at the time. She was a cardiologist…. moonlighting as a zumba instructor. My spouse and I had recently moved to a town in New Hampshire. Him,looking for a better paying job. Me, hoping the the change in location will help me conceive.
She told me she was a second generation immigrant. Her parents were originally from some Scandinavian backwater. Her blues eyes always seemed to look elsewhere whenever she spoke of her family. My kinky, black ringlets were the attraction. Africans were not a common feature I found after we moved to Azure. My stint in the zumba class was short lived; I discovered I was expecting my first baby. Ad midst much celebration, for our class was a small, close knit one…I hung up my leotard and focused on my new status. She continued to call on me, which was remarkable because of her busy schedule. In addition to consulting at the hospital as a cardiologist and zumba, she ran a low income private clinic with one of her siblings.
She was a breath of fresh air. She helped me navigate the medical insurance landmines; introduced me to a good gynecologist, pointed me in the right direction for Lamaze classes. She always seemed to be available when it came to me.
When my baby finally arrived, my husband was out of town on business.With no family to help me….she was my life saver. She ferried me to the hospital, was there holding my hand through the delivery. She stayed with me through it all; feeding me ice cubes, wiping my sweaty brow. It was her face Azuka first saw when he opened his eyes, not even mine. Never complaining. Always smiling, always encouraging.She was my main stay
Ours was an unlikely sisterhood of sorts. Our hearts spoke the same. And even though she knew so much about me, I knew very little about her. I knew she had three siblings,all younger. I knew her parents had recently divorced after over four decades of marriage. I knew, even though she admired my relationship with my spouse, she always said she would never marry.
Sam, I called her fondly. Even though her real name was Adele. “If you were a man Samson would be a perfect name. And strong she was, for someone so small. She was a few inches shorter than I was. Her slight frame was quite misleading. Once, at the end of my third trimester I slipped on some ice during winter.She caught me, and I was amazed at the strength of her grip. Whenever I asked her questions towing on relationships, she would smile and say: Ameze good men like yours are rare.” She told me she had no use for a long term relationship. And when I ask her about children: Don’t you want to have children? She would laugh and tease me. We are not all built for maternity Ameze.
It was almost three years into our relationship before she told me of her mother.
Raised a staunch catholic, she married her high school sweetheart. They had five beautiful children. The marriage was a tumultuous one. Sam’s father struggled with substance abuse. Her mother was left isolated and stranded as a result of verbal,physical and psychological abuse. Leaving her husband was not an option for her.Marriage was to be endured. Leaving was not an option. When they migrated to North America, Sam was about a year old. Her childhood memories are riddled with her mother’s tears,screams and blood. For years she watched her mother suffer. She learned at an early age to bind her mother’s wounds. In fact, her first visit to the neighborhood library was to look for a book on how to stitch a particularly bad gash on her cheek. She found the library and became hooked. The books were an outlet to the horror their lives had become. She would go to the library after school with her siblings and stay till the library closed, not minding the growling pangs of hunger in their stomachs. The thought of going home to see their bloodied mother…. intoxicated father……. kept them reading.
She said she found herself in the quiet hallways of the library. She believes there was no bone in her mother’s body that had not suffered some kind of trauma from her father’s fists. Once,after a particularly bad beating, her mother unconscious was not able to stop Sam from calling for an ambulance. Her mother had suffered a skull fracture, several broken ribs. It was a miracle she lived, the doctor said. When she was asked what happened to her mother…..Sam said she told the truth. Her father was nowhere to be found.
Her father disappeared for days. When the police came to their door, herself and her siblings hoped…no, prayed it was to tell them he was dead. If only they were that lucky. He had been arrested for drunken, disorderly conduct.He had begged a policeman to tell his wife. He needed her to post his bail . He could not remember he had beaten her to a pulp, broken her jaw,nose and ribs. He did not remember beating her. Sam said she told the policeman where her mother was, what her father had done to her. When the police corroborated her story,her father was sent away to prison for almost a year.
‘The system has changed Ameze. Now,if my father did the same thing..he will be locked away for the rest of his life. But not back then…..her voice trailed off. Justice really is half blind.”
I remembered Nne Chinye. She lived in a small squat opposite my family when i was a little girl. Her husband would beat her black and blue. She never left him. He worked for the railway service. A tall dark handsome man who always greeted my parents with a smile. A smile that never reached his eyes. His wife was always dressed in a wrapper and a mismatched blouse. Her scarf always tied crookedly…hiding a discolored eye, a swollen temple. She walked with a stoop. Her children very beautiful but always cowering behind their door. I remember coming back from school when I was ten and learning from the hushed whispers of gossiping neighbors she had died suddenly. For many months I would wake up screaming….the dream was the same. Nne Chinye was lynched by a faceless crowd. She would lay eventually immobile, covered in blood and gore…Though a child I felt a sense of guilt. Guilt… that nothing was done to save her…..from the monster she married.
By the time he was released, there was no home for him to return to. With him in prison, there was no income to support the family. We lost the apartment. A kind neighbor employed me in her dinner. She also helped my siblings and I secure a small apartment. For two years I worked and attended night school to enable me care for my siblings. My mother needed therapy.She was in a facility for almost a year. In the midst of all that madness,I found joy and peace because Papa was gone. My siblings did beautifully well in school. We had hit rock bottom,the only place to go was up.
When my father came out of prison,he reconciled with my mother. I had no expectations of her. Her choice to hold on to a dead marriage was not going to destroy my siblings and I. My years of living in the library paid off. I found an attorney to represent my siblings and I pro bono. I appealed to our neighbors who had stood idly by as my father continuously abused my mother to stand has witness for us. They showed up en masse in court to support myself and my siblings.I was old enough to file for custody of my siblings and was ready to make the sacrifice to keep us together. My parents cried that day in court. Both clinging to the other. Their tears made me angry. Very angry. The judge ruled in our favor. My parents wept hysterically that day. They kept on begging…. calling out our names. My brother’s face was blank but I knew he was crying inside. My sisters were too young to really understand what was happening but years of turmoil and chaos had taken its effect on their sensibilities. All they knew was, our father was not in the picture and that….. for them, was more than enough.
My parents would come around to the small apartment I shared with my siblings. They would bring groceries and always maintained a united front. I never saw a bruise on her again. He enrolled in a drug rehab program. I guess the loss of his children was the catalyst he needed. When they visited, I would either go to the library, or work extra hours. I couldn’t afford to soften towards them. If I did, we would be back to square one. I couldn’t risk it. I did not go back to school until my last sibling had gotten into high school.
She raised up her hands: These hands, Ameze, have been working for almost twenty two years.
When her siblings started to date, they made bad choices. She said her youngest sister always seemed to be attracted to the dead beats of the society. Men that would take her money.Her other two sisters too made quite a few judgement calls. Her brother dated women with questionable characters. Women, who took his money and gave him sexually transmitted diseases.Each misstep a throw back to their orientation. After series of heart aches, the three girls found relatively stable relationships. Herself and her brother stayed single. She did not trust men. She did not trust herself to choose well.She looked at each man that approached her as an actor. They were all caricatures pretending to be something they were not. The monster would soon escape from the pressed shirt, tailored pants and attractive exterior. She would never marry. She would succeed in dodging the bullet that threatened her mother’s existence.
Her brother was her succor. They encouraged and validated each other.
Her parents, she avoided like the plague. Her mother had tried several times over the years to reconcile with Sam, her father same. They never gave up on her. My friend says they are both poison. Her father was a monster and her mother was worse. She allowed them to be held prisoner because of her fears.She lost her childhood because of a misguided belief in a God that her mother served. When we have conversations on religion and divorce. Sam would say, many of these so called preachers should be sent to the gallows. The pastors tell the women to forgive,they tell them to be docile…to love the man and be submissive. They read their bibles upside down. They keep these women in dead and evil marriages. When she rattles on…. passionate and angry; I listen and smile. I know where she has been and so I do not judge her. I think back to my gentle and loving father. He gave me the blue print of what a good man should be. I shudder to think of what my life would have been if I had her kind of father. I didn’t watch my father raid the family purse to quieten his cravings. I didn’t have to sleep hungry days on end; stitch holes in clothes too small to wear….a father, I prayed fell into a gutter and died.
Our relationship was one of mutual respect. I saw her more clearly after I knew her background. I loved her more, too…if it were possible to love her more than I did before. Perhaps in my love for her, I could make up for the misguided guilt I carried for Nne Chinye.