I had my my first breath of fresh air since the last 52 years of my life when my husband breathed his last a week ago.
It had been at St. Gerald’s hospital, in the early hours of saturday morning. He had given up just after pressing his lips hard against mine to seal the promise that I would find happiness with the short while I had left to spend on earth. Then his head had fallen back on my thighs and he had stayed calm.
The moment this happened, the first thing I’d done was to yank off the hijab that was wound carefully around my head, his greatest pride, and the first sign of my respect for him. For me, my first chain of bondage. Then I’d inhaled deeply, so much that I felt my lungs press painfully against my chest, before getting up to go and inform one of the nurses on duty that night that my husband had passed away. I’d left the one I met wide eyed with my news, and walked out of the hospital building to sit in the blue hue outside.
Given my first statement, it must be normal to have wondered about the kind of person he was. But my husband hadn’t been evil. No. That was miles away from his personalty. In fact, way too far. Till his death, he remained the best man I’d ever met. The kind of man no right thinking woman would refuse as a life partner. In my whole life, I’ve never known anyone liked by everyone. But he was. That was the extent of his goodness. I don’t know how he achieved that, but no one I knew ever lost their charm for him. I think I also fell victim of that.
Then came my greatest challenge; his affection for me. He loved me from the fragile tips of the hairs on my head to the small nails that peeked out of my last toe. For me his sort of affection was out of this world. Not the sort everyone experienced.
I think that was where my problems started and ended. I couldn’t let that special love slip away. As much as I didn’t want that to happen, I’d also not wanted it to go on unrecipocriated. And so even though I knew I hadn’t that near equal measure of affection for him, I’d gone on to be with him amidst serious family conflict. Then I’d picked up the only gift I knew could commensurate it. Respect. I had immense respect for my husband. I did it to a fault.
I hadn’t the chance to tell you earlier that we were of different religion and tribe. That had also erased from my memory when I met him. He was Muslim and from Kabba, while I was Christian and Igbo.
It was after our union had been sealed that I found out that I’d made a terrible mistake. He wasn’t supposed to be my husband. Some sort of bond was lacking no matter what we shared. But it was late. So I consoled myself with basking in the affection he showered on me, and heightening the respect I had for him by several notches. I respected him to the extent that I never got up from where he told me to sit until he instructed me to do so. Not that he would do me anything if I did, but I was careful about doing anything that could thin that thick cover of affection around me, because it was the only covering I had left. It was for it now that I lived.
The little air I had left to live on after I learnt of my disappointment got poisoned when his family staged a war against me on finding out that I wasn’t ready to leave my religion and join theirs. It was then that their senses had opened to the fact that I was Igbo, and all the ills that came with being one. Our agreement had been that I could keep to my religion. But his family members refused to take that. But I’d insisted, because it was our only agreement together that had favoured me. Others, I let him have his way. So it became for me a cross. A heavy burden that crushed the vulnerable me left in my marriage. To keep true to it, he never budged me about it. Instead, he taught me to stay away from their troubles. Maybe he knew that was where my only resilience lied and so avoided it. But that didn’t make it any easier for me. His friends were even worse. They accused him of not being man enough to handle me, a mere woman.
Other agreements that all his children would be muslims like him, and that I would be dressing like a typical muslim wife wherever I was going, I upheld without challege, even after I later found out how difficult it was to do so. Then, my dressing seemed to be more fuel that blazed the anger his family and friends had for me because they believed that I had no right to dress like them if I wasn’t going to be a part of them.
Even with the air already poisoned, I was denied the privilege to take it in freely. Their contempt for me was up to the extent that I would have been killed during a period of religious crisis while we were in Bauchi. I had only been fortunate then because I’d been away to the east to visit my people. His friends had come to the house to demand for my head. I never returned there after then. Nor practice my religion publicly again.
Apart from several miscarriages, we had nine children.