One day, my second sister, Paulina paid Ngozi a visit. As she sat in the living room and made herself comfortable, she perceived the sweet aroma of melon soup wafting from the kitchen into her nostrils.
“Ngozi, I must eat some of your soup, it smells so inviting!” Paulina said excitedly.
“Erm, I’ve just finished eating Paulina. Maybe next time, I’ll dish some for you to eat.” Ngozi said, scratching her head in embarrassment. What she really meant to say was, she wished her sister had come earlier; then she’d have served her the one piece of meat rationed to her for the day. If she dared to serve Paulina soup with meat, Stanislaus would use her for a punching bag when he returned from work. How was she going to explain that to her sister?
“You must be joking right? Paulina laughed as she strolled casually into the kitchen. She pulled out a bowl from the cupboard, dished some soup into her plate with a piece of meat. Then she served herself with a small mound of eba. As Paulina ate the meal with relish, singing praises of her well her sister could cook, Ngozi’s knees were knocking together in fear at the thought of what was awaiting her later.
Stanislaus returned and counted his meat as usual. One was missing. He went into his bedroom, brought out a new pack of razor blades from his drawer. He slit Ngozi’s lips, making bloody vertical lines. As his wife cried out in pain with blood oozing down her chest, Stanislaus repeatedly kicked her on the stomach until she fainted. Ngozi woke up in Ugara General Hospital the next day. She had lost a twenty week old pregnancy, all for a wretched piece of meat.
As if my parents didn’t learn their lesson from a son in-law like Teacher Stanislaus, they were eager to give Paulina away to another inept man. Romanus was a cook who served in a vessel belonging to an offshore oil company. He worked for two weeks offshore and then returned onshore for a two-week break. As was the custom with most expatriates who worked offshore, they spent their leisure hours chugging bottles of alcoholic wines and spirits. This was a perfect place for Romanus to be as he was a chronic drunkard. Once he almost set ship’s kitchen on fire and nearly lost his job. He was lucky that his administrator appealed on his behalf, so he got off with a warning.
Whenever Romanus returned home from his two-week break, he’d use all the wages he earned on beer, ogogoro-the local illicit gin and on betting pools. It would have been better if he never had a job, because his wife and daughter were always starving. Sometimes, Ngozi would take little Nenye to her grandmother’s just to eat. Romanus never laid a finger on his wife. The constant presence of alcohol in his system made his heart too merry to think of violence but the same alcohol was the invisible robber that impoverished him and prevented him from providing financial stability for his family.
Paulina was a strong woman. She didn’t make her secondary school exams in one sitting, so she couldn’t get a university education because Papa said he couldn’t afford a second WAEC enrollment for her. So she had to make a living from selling second-hand clothing; the clothing popularly known as Okrika. Paulina became the unofficial breadwinner of the home, using the profit made from her Okrika business to pay the house rent, feed and clothe Nenye as well as pay for her school fees. This made my sister secretly bitter. She vowed not to have another baby for Romanus until he changed his ways.
“His people will kick you out of the house,” Mama warned her. “You know our people love male children. How can you even think of having only one child?” Mama said looking at her second daughter as if she had taken leave of her senses.
“How much do you make from selling vegetables, Mama?” Paulina asked.
“Do you think I’m happy always coming to beg you for food? How many more mouths will you have to feed for Romanus and why hasn’t his family talked sense into him?”
“Have you spoken to his family about his way of life?”
“Mama, I did. There was this time he got himself into serious trouble with our neighbor, Papa Ovese. His teenage daughter, Ovese was returning from church one evening, when Romanus beckoned for her to come. He asked her where she was coming from. She told him she had gone for choir practice. Romanus asked her to sing the song she had learnt and as she sang, he grabbed her breasts. When her father confronted him, he told the man he was enjoying the goodness of the Lord. Romanus was beaten up by our angry neighbours. But for the timely intervention of the police, who knows? He may have been beaten to death. I called his relatives to come and pay his bail. When they took him home, I told his family elders how he had been living and spending money recklessly.”
“Roma…Roma!!” Mama sighed raising her two hands and looking up as if in prayer. “This boy will not kill me before my time. Maybe if you have another baby, it may calm his head and make him settle down to become a responsible father.”
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Story Written By: Peace Ben Williams
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