SHORT STORY: EMANCIPATION

Temi sighed as she looked up from the pages, swearing under her breath. Twenty minutes of cramming and revising was hardly enough to absorb knowledge, and all she wanted was to bury herself in her assignments—was that too much to ask? To her pompous husband Bisi, yes. Always a reason, excuse, or taunt to pry her away from her studies when she least expected. When would she start preparing dinner? Had she collected his suits from the dry cleaners? Why was she wasting her time over an exam she wasn’t sure she’d pass? How her own husband not show support?

Temi hid the book in her clothes drawer and placed another text on her pillow, pages down. She could hear the impatience in Bisi’s voice as he yelled louder, demanding her presence. With no patience for another of his cussing sessions, she quickly headed towards the living room where he sat in front of the giant flat screen sipping on an ice-cold beer. The World Cup qualifier had his full attention, and he hardly noticed Temi until she gave a small cough.

“What the hell took you so long? I called you several times, but you’ve been lying in bed doing nothing.” Temi winced. Bisi had only called twice, what was he talking about? And lying in bed doing nothing? “I’m hitting the hay early tonight because I have this really important meeting tomorrow. There’s this delegation arriving from Johannesburg, and I have to be well-rested and prepared. Perhaps you should start dinner now?” He reclined on the sofa as his wife grimaced. Typical, she thought, the only time you develop those hunger pangs is whenever I open a book. 

“Now? It’s too early…” Temi had hardly began to speak when Bisi cut her off, his calm yet deafening voice always meant trouble.

“Maybe I’m not making myself clear,” Bisi replied, using the remote control to mute the stadium crowd. “The meeting is important, and I have to arrive early because it concerns a valuable contract the company have been negotiating for months, and I’m determined to see this deal through. Because let’s face it, somebody has to pay for those exams you’re going to fail. So if I were you I’d stop arguing and prepare the bloody meal. The sooner you start serving, the sooner I can go to bed. And we’ll leave it at that.” His steely glare pierced through Temi who struggled with her emotions as he uttered his insensitive command. “Is that clear? ”

Temi nodded. “Darling, can I borrow your laptop afterwards? I’ll need it for my research, and my own computer still hasn’t been fixed.” She braced herself for the negative reply he was sure to blurt, and he did not disappoint.

“No.”

“But you’re watching TV now, and you say you’re going to bed after you’ve eaten…”

“Are you deaf?” Bisi’s authoritative tone caused Temi to coil back in terror. “After damaging yours, you now want to spoil mine? No, you can’t have it. If you want to do your little research, go to the internet café down the road, go to the library, go to your father’s house…I don’t give a shit, it’s that or nothing. Either way, you’re not using my laptop, and that’s that. Why do you even need a Masters degree?” He paused to light a B&H as Temi attempted to recover from his outburst, her mouth still agape. “Oh, and by the way, I want rice.”  With these words he turned up the sound, and Temi entered the kitchen where she opened her cupboard in search of ingredients, using all her restraint to stop herself from slamming the doors in anger. She’d been married long enough to accept Bisi would never stop being difficult, but this? As if she would ever consider stepping into that rundown cyber café crammed with lecherous internet fraudsters. As a wife, Temi longer for her husband’s support, and she received was scorn and criticism. She craned her neck to inspect an upper shelf and noticed the emptied stock cube bowl. She found her purse and informed Bisi who grunted his approval as he took another sip from his glass.

Had Bisi damaged Temi’s laptop on purpose? Note pads, handouts, printouts…vanishing with no reason. How long did she have to put up with this? Thank God they had no children witnessing mounting tension between both parents, but even this minor blessing wasn’t without any drawbacks. The couple had tried conceiving since their wedding eighteen months ago without success, although expensive tests had proved Temi was still fertile. Yet Bisi refused to accept this confirmation, constantly boasting barrenness was unheard of on his side of the family. Temi could never do right for doing wrong under his roof.

Those exams you’re going to fail.

A light bulb pinged in her head – Bisi was masterminding her failure, willing to throw away a fortune in tuition fees to ensure she remained a lousy doormat. Temi unwrapped the stock cubes and did a double take. She recognised that face in the old Hello! Nigeria page the petty trader had used to wrap the Maggi. Temi uncrumpled the paper and scanned through the article. Libby Thomas was the hottest interior designer/events planner in town, but her colourful life had not always screamed glitz and glamour. Rumour had it her ex-husband, a high-flying bank manager, had kicked her out of their marital home with their children trailing behind her to marry some hydroquinone addict youth corper he’d mentored at work. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Libby used her artistic talent rebuild her life despite the odds stacked against her (No experience, limited funds, divorced with two children…). Six years on, Libby Thomas reigned as a successful entrepreneur enjoying the fruits of her manic labour with her now-teenage children and rumoured boyfriend, the dashing London-born Bob Purnell who ran an advertising agency in Victoria Island. Temi’s eyes lit up with admiration for the striking lady posing in her cherry-red evening gown and clutching a champagne flute. Any husband who belittled his wife to retain his Alpha-male status wasn’t worthy of her love and devotion. Enough was enough.

Temi switched off the stove and made her way to the bedroom. The fake textbook she had left on the bed earlier was nowhere to be seen, confirming her suspicions. Enough was enough. She threw her essentials into a suitcase along with any books that had survived Bisi’s wrath, and gathered various documents and files from her primary teaching job. After she’d combed her hair and glided Peach Blossom across her lips she found her husband still glued to SuperSport 3, resting another beer on his expanding waistline. Good luck negotiating at that fake meeting tomorrow with a hangover, but don’t expect me to clear up your vomit when you get drunk, she thought, standing tall in her four-inch heels, blocking his view as the game went into a penalty round.

“Do you mind?” Bisi stretched sideways to watch the action. “You are not transparent, can’t you see I’m trying to watch the football?” Noticing the change in Temi’s appearance he hissed in anger, his voice rising a notch higher. “If you’re thinking of doing some stupid fashion parade, forget it. I already know what you look like.”

“Fashion parade? I’m not moving because I have something to say, so why don’t you forget the TV for once and listen?” Bisi shuddered at the aplomb he never knew she processed, but she’d barely started. “What exactly do you have against my Masters degree? No need to pretend – I know you’ve been hiding all those books.  You’re pulling all the stops to make sure I fail, that’s why you disturb me whenever I study while you sit there in your boxers drinking like a fish and watching SuperSport all day, everyday. Important meeting indeed…”

“Temi, I’m warning you now, watch your words! Remember who’s paying for that degree before you insult me.” Bisi had now abandoned the match. “I’m paying your fees, hoping you’ll pass…”

“Insult you? You’ve always doubted my ability to sail through any exam, and you’re now hopeful?” Temi let out a sarcastic cackle, noticing two cigarette burn marks on his vest as Bisi failed to switch off the set with the remote. due to weakened batteries. He stood to perform the task manually, and Temi could barely choose what surprised her more – his change of tune, or his unexpected ability to unglue his lazy chauvinist ass off the sofa. “Be honest, the only reason you’re throwing away your money is because you’re willing to do whatever it takes to prove to everyone I’m not good enough. I’m sick of you sabotaging my progress, and I’ve had enough. All I wanted was to borrow your computer for my research, but you’d rather I went to that rowdy den of fraudsters across the road when there’s already a computer at home. And don’t lie to me, I know you hid my books – did you think I wouldn’t notice? I don’t understand why you feel threatened by an educated woman in the year 2017, but I won’t stick around to hear your lame excuse. Continue with your football, don’t let me stop you.” With these words Temi paced behind the sofa to retrieve her suitcase and Bisi watched with disbelief, quickly recovering to deliver more abuse Temi chose to ignore until he dropped the ultimate bombshell.

“Stop that nonsense, woman, and get back into the kitchen.”

“No.” It was clear Temi would not be pushed – literally or mentally. “Are you even listening to yourself? ‘Go back to the kitchen’? You really are beyond help.” She nodded towards the laptop which had long finished recharging in a corner of the living room but still attached to wire due to Bisi’s complacent sloth. “See that? If you can walk across the room to reach it, google allnigerianrecipes, wikihow, go on YouTube…they’ll teach you how to cook, clean, get rid of your fat belly…basically they’ll teach you how to stop being a total asshole. And that’s what I call research!”

Temi slammed the door with her head held high, too agitated to acknowledge the “GOOOOOAL!” chants from jubilant neighbours running outside to dance merrily and light fire crackers. With her heels clinking Temi wheeled her suitcase behind her, making her way to her parents’ home – one of the options Bisi had suggested during his harsh criticism. She had no idea where life would take her now she had walked out of that hellhole home, but as long as she remained determined the sky was her limit, and as she raised her head to observe the firework sparks, she knew in her heart she’d made the right decision.

© Okoro Dedeh, Tami, 2019 All rights reserved

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