My phone is ringing again. I look at the caller ID and sigh. It’s mama again. She’s been calling all day and I haven’t answered. I know if I ignore it this time she’ll get in her car and come over. I can’t face her, or anyone. Not today. I take a deep breath and stare into space as I answer.
“Good evening Mama.” I greet her.
“You don’t sound well. Everything’s fine?”
I should have known she would see through my jovial greeting. I sigh and answer her ‘yes mama, I’m fine. I just got in from work. It’s been a long week and I’m tired. I need sleep,”
She keeps quiet for a few more seconds and seems content with my answer. We chat for a few minutes and I hang up feeling worse than I was before I spoke to her.
The next few days go by in a blur. I’m not sure what I do all day and night. My phone ringing brings me out of my daze. It’s mama again. As I answer the phone, I feel tears on my cheeks. I don’t know how long I’ve been crying. This time I know she will tell something is wrong. I brace myself ready for the inquisition. She never stops with the questions. How are you? How is work? Did you go to class this week?
I listen and wait for her to go through her list of questions. My usual answer would be “everything is fine. School is going well.” But today I do not feel like lying, I need her to know the truth. I swallow back my tears and tell her “Mama, everything is not fine. It’s Ken.”
She immediately panics when I mention her beloved son-in-law. “What is wrong with him? Is he fine? Is his work fine? Has he been taking care of you?” My Mama is like that, worried about the rich son who sends her money for her shamba every week. I wait for her to run out of questions and answer her systematically.
“He is fine. Work is fine. He is taking care of me; at least he provides me with food money and pays the rent.” I told her.
So, what is it?
“Mama, He drinks and when he is drunk, he beats me.”
“What did you do to him? You must have done something to make that kind and loving husband decide to hit you” she says angrily
“Nothing, Mama. Everything I say and do sets him off. If I ask for money for food he hits me. If I do not put enough pepper in his food. Or if I’m even one minute late getting home. Small things mama, everything is wrong in his eyes.”
Silence. Then, a deep sigh.
“My child there has to be something else. And those are not small things. Your husband thinks they are big and you must accept that and change what you do. Think hard about what you say to him a good wife does not question her husband. You submit to him and accept anything he does to you.”
I sigh and agree with her. I know she will keep insisting and I can’t get her to side with me. After I hang up, I spend the next few minutes crying. All the pain of the last few days come rushing out and I do not try to stop them.
That was the first and last time I told Mama anything about my marriage. I did not tell her when the drinking got worse. I did not tell her when he locked me in the room for days without food. My mother would ask me about it and my answer would be “it’s all fine.” She would sigh and say “Thank God” before going on to sing praises for my husband.
I had to remind myself every day that I was the good wife. That it was my duty to please my husband. Beating me was what made him happy. I took it all in stride and never complained. Not even when my ribs were broken and I had to stay home for a week and lost my job.
I remember when I discovered I was pregnant. I was happy, thinking that maybe a child would make him stop hitting me. So I cooked his favorite food and waited up to tell him. Once the words left my mouth I knew I had made a mistake. He was angry and said I could not be pregnant with his child. He wanted to know who else I was sleeping with. He kicked me in the stomach till I lost the baby. I was the good wife; even then I did not say anything to my mother or the police. Instead I sat and as the pain wore off, the reality set in. This was my life. it was my duty to be a good wife just like my mother was to my husband. We were stuck with each other till death. And a plan forms as i think about how to be a good wife.
I sit watching him eat his dinner. It’s his favorite meal, rice and chicken. I have outdone myself today he says. He eats two plates and I secretly smile. There will be no beating today, or tomorrow. And when I call the police to cry about his death, no one will suspect me of poisoning him. After all, I am the good wife and I have pleased my husband one last time.