Ofure opened the front door and entered the apartment quietly. She entered the kitchen, opened the fridge and brought out a bottle of water.
She jumped back.”You scared me,” it was Austine, her husband.
He looked really angry. “Where are you coming from?” he asked her.
Ofure opened the bottle of water and took a drink. “I went to see Patience.”
He struck her face with an open hand. The force of the strike lifted her off her feet like a small aeroplane about to take off. The bottle flew from her hand and fell into the sink. She landed hard on her right arm, then her head followed. Blood gushed out of her mouth.
“I told you to stay away from that girl. She’s a bad influence.”
“She’s one of the few friends I have left. You have chased them all away.”
“Look at this rag you call a blouse. Exposing your body like a harlot.” He grabbed her red blouse with both hands and tore it in one violent motion.
“You will not turn into a prostitute in my house.”
“My mother bought me this blouse,” she moved away from him.
He hit her again. She fell to the floor and rolled under the dinning table. He was about to hit her when the dog started barking. Someone was at the door.
“Don’t you dare move from where you are,” he opened the curtain and looked outside. A man wearing the black robes of a catholic priest stood outside his door.
It was father Chibuzo.
He yanked the front door open. “How many times have I told you not to come to my house?” He spat near his black shoes.
Austine hated everything about the priest. His horn rimmed glasses and beard that made him look like a distinguished professor and the silver cross he wore like a badge of honour on his chest.
The priest adjusted his glasses. “I am here to see Ofure. She wasn’t in church for mass. Is she okay?”
“Old man, Ofure is none of your business. Leave us alone!”
“Agh….”a soft moan came from underneath the dinning table.
Father Chibuzo stood on his toes to look over Augustine’s shoulder. “What was that?”
“Ofure is not around. Now leave!” Austine tried to shut the door but Father Chibuzo placed his right hand on it and pushed back.
“Help…me,” the voice came again.
Father Chibuzo pushed Austine out of his way and entered the house. He looked around and saw a form curled under the dinning table.
“Ofure!” He knelt beside her trembling body and cradled her head gently in his hands. He cast an angry look at Austine. “You will pay for this!”
“What will you do Father, beat me to death with your cross?” He jeered.
Ofure’s eyes were swollen. All she could see was the silver cross hanging from the neck of the priest.
“Father…Chibuzo…you…kept…your…promise,” her words came out with a slush of blood.
“You will be fine,” he said with a forced smile.
But Ofure knew she would never be fine.
On her 21st birthday, which was a Tuesday, Ofure saw an ugly man talking with her parents.
“Who is that?” she asked Efe her elder brother.
“He is a local business man,” was all he said about him.
Later that day, her dad called her into his room.
“You are going to get married,” he drank beer directly from the bottle.
“Married to who? What about my education?” There were so many questions on her mind.
“He will come and see you tomorrow morning.”
“Who is he?” she asked her dad.
He finished the contents of the bottle and reached for another one by his side. “His name is Austine Emovore. He is a business man.”
“But I don’t know him. I am in love with someone else.”
Her dad stood up and slapped her on the face. “You will do as I say. He has paid your bride price. You will learn to live with him.”
“What did mom have to say about this?” Even as she asked the question she knew her mom could do nothing about it. Whatever her dad said was law in their home.
“I will never marry him!” she ran to the Church to see Father Chibuzo.
The priest tried to stop the hurriedly arranged traditional wedding which took place the following Saturday but he failed. Ofure wept throughout the event. She refused to be consoled by her friends who attended the impromptu function.
That night, Austine raped her.
Three months later, Ofure went to visit her dad in his new house to ask for his help but she was disappointed by what she heard.
“You should learn to be a good wife,” he said.
“Dad, he beats me up whenever he likes. I can’t live with such a man.”
Her dad bent his head in thought for a moment. He raised his head, looked up at the ceiling and spread his hands. “Ofure, this house is what your husband gave me as your bride price. I am retired. I no longer have a regular source of income. It is the rent from the two tenants we have at the back of the house that barely sustain me and your mother. Do you want me to return this house to him and take you back? How will I survive?” He asked with sadness.
Ofure had no answer for him.
Next she tried the local police but she was rebuffed for coming to report her husband. “Go home and be a good wife to your husband,” the officer on duty advised. “This is a personal matter between you and your husband. Find a way to settle it.”
Ofure later discovered that Austine was a local drug kingpin. He had bought the police to protect his business. He stopped her from getting a job because he was scared that other men would steal her away from him. He bought a shop for her in the market but Ofure refused to open it. She wanted to go back to school but he wouldn’t let her. Ofure felt like a trapped animal.
In her frustration she turned to the Church and became a faithful member of the Holy cross catholic church. She attended church regularly and prayed that God would deliver her from her pain. She joined the choir and participated in many church activities just to numb her pain.
Austine frequently mocked her faith. “Do you think God will save you from my hands? Your own father gave you to me. Why would God want to change such a good arrangement?” he asked.
From the look of things Austine was probably right. It had been a year and six months since she was given to him as wife and in spite of her prayers the situation had become worse. She knew the priest was just trying to allay her fears with empty platitudes.
As long as she was with Austine, she would never be fine.
Austine’s phone rang breaking the silence in the room. He entered his room and shut the door behind him. The priest helped Ofure up from the floor and sat her on a chair. She didn’t bother to cover her open chest. Father Chibuzo brought out a white handkerchief and wiped the blood from her mouth. He saw the look in her eyes and knew what she was about to do.
“I can’t take this any more,” she shook her head from side to side.
The priest looked fearfully in the direction of Austine’s room and looked back at Ofure. He took off his silver cross and put it on Ofure’s neck.
“May the Lord be with you,” the priest made the sign of the cross and stood to his feet.
Ofure kept her eyes on Austine’s room, took off her shoes, walked to the front door, opened it and fled into the sunny afternoon.
Austine heard the front door open and came out of his room.
“Ofure!” he looked around for her and realised what had happened. He opened the curtain and saw his young wife running down the street like a stray dog. He reached for the door. Father Chibuzo tried to hold him back but he shoved him aside. The priest staggered, fell against the chairs and hit his head hard on the dining table. Austine ignored the priest. His angry eyes were set on the fleeing woman. He opened the door and ran after her.
Ofure ran down the street, her torn blouse barely covering her heaving breasts. She hit the tray of a girl selling oranges and the yellow fruit scattered all over the street. Little children helped the girl pick up the fruit. Ofure didn’t stop to see what happened. She climbed over the culvert and ran recklessly onto the express way. Angry horns blared at the fleeing woman and cars veered off course, narrowly missing her. Austine ran after her. His rage blinded him to the truck coming at full speed on his left. The truck bared its loud horn but it was too late. Austine’s mouth was open in shock as the truck hit him.
‘Crunch!’The impact lifted him into the air like a human kite.
‘Thud!’ He landed heavily on the asphalt road. The driver couldn’t press the brakes on time. The tires climbed over Austine’s legs and crushed them like dry twigs in harmattan. The truck driver stopped briefly and looked at his rear view mirror. He saw the man splattered on the road like badly made pancake. He drove away quickly.
Children gathered around the body. The man was in the throes of death. The last thing Austine saw as life left his broken body, was the silver cross dangling from Ofure’s neck as she knelt beside him, her torn blouse waved like a flag, free in the wind.