Remembrance Of The Past

A middle-aged woman recollects memories of past events that destroyed her marriage as she tries to forgive her runaway husband and hope for a better future together with him.

When Nana Maryam arrived home on Monday evening after a hard day’s labor, she felt her head throbbing. “This headache is different from the usual Monday headaches.” “You should not be doing a man’s work,” the women at the quarry told her. But what else should she do? She had been left with no other choice. The jobs were hard to come by without the huge price of her body. Nigeria had become a difficult country. You get nothing without a bribe.

Lukman, her boss at the firm where she had worked as an office cleaner, had demanded sex from her. She blatantly refused and threatened to file a complaint about sexual assault. She was later fired for ‘being nonchalant at work. “After all, you’re a woman without a head,” her boss had said. “A woman without a head must accept any offer that comes.” 

That was an indirect insult, but it was true she was without ahead. Her husband, Tukur, had left her seventeen years, four months, six days, and twenty-one hours ago. She kept a record of each passing moment, for she could never let go of the hurt and shame. It was a thing of shame to hear that a woman’s husband had left her. If he had sent her away, she would have had some dignity, for another man might pay a second bride price on her head no matter how little. 

Yet he left her! That ungrateful idler. Now here he was, standing at the door, as black as the night soil man he was seventeen years ago. He was the last person she thought would be at her door. She thought it was one of those evening beggars who come pilfering at your house. What on earth could such filth want from her now? He had lost everything and now was making the most ludicrous request – seeking forgiveness from her. Such audacity!

His leaving meant she was too terrible to be tolerated, and no man would ever want her again. What woman sends her husband packing from her house? Nana was tired of explaining what had happened. No one believed nor cared to hear. She was tired of explaining everything. “You can’t explain away everything,” her mother had told her years ago.

So she kept her mouth shut and toiled through the years, determined to prove to her boss and the women at the quarry that she was capable of doing all that a man could do and succeed. She worked hard, even on Saturdays. The big and painful red blisters on her palms alluded to that. A woman breaking rocks was a common sight in Jos city.

“When will you rest, mama?” Her eldest daughter asked. “I will rest when I need to.” “For now, you both must be taken care of. I will not have men haggling over low prices for my daughters because they’re unschooled and unfinished.” “But mama, when the body refuses to rest, it is said that it will be forced to rest.” “Since your father decided to take a rest from this marriage, leaving me with two hungry mouths to feed, I’ve been left with no other choice than to work out your future the hard way.”

Nana Maryam was a beautiful woman. At least she thought so, not since her two daughters had sucked her breasts and her husband had reduced them to swinging pendulums. She had a curvy body and a graceful charm, and even at forty-five still looked young and ravishing, with her long curly hair a talk among the women of the quarry. 

She was well educated, had a Master’s degree, and lacked nothing of value. She had only grown stronger and better ever since Tukur left, but she still felt the hurt and regret every day. A small part of her still craved for him after these long years of supposed forceful celibacy. It was love at first sight when she first met him. He was a humble young man, a driver and night soil man in the nearby village of Barkin Ladi, who mesmerized her with his dreams of a bright future. He was not everything she dreamt of, but he seemed promising. She saw the future in him. Alas! He did not see it for himself! After they got married, he settled down into a lazy and comfortable life. 

He was the man who would do nothing but wait for the woman to dote on him. She made several pleas for him to pursue a university education and had sacrificed hers for him to get one. Her earnings had been poured out yearly for his school fees. She worked double shifts to earn more money to take care of the family. She gave him sex without conditions and was all a woman should be to her man. She wondered what these men wanted.

Then the bombshell came. He fell in love with a dark-skinned beauty in the university, who matched his ideal picture of the African woman. He would marry her and move to Barkin Ladi with her. Nana was shell-shocked. “Am I not beautiful enough?” “Oh, you are a beautiful and charming princess. I never doubted that for a second.’ “So, what is it you want that I have not given you?” “She does not challenge me in any way.” “Neither have I.”But you’re too intelligent for me. A woman’s mind should be the pillow upon which her husband rests. I cannot rest in your mind, I must admit. I find it difficult to understand you.”

“It is not a crime to be intelligent. I have never disrespected you. I have kept our marriage bed undefiled. I have done nothing other than to please you, my only true love. Yet you hurt me deeply with these words.” She cried and begged him to stay. Yet he would not, for the blight of infatuation had sauntered across his heart, pulling him away to the brink of fanciful commitment. He had gotten a scholarship but was using the money to fund his would-be new wife and to satisfy his orgies. He had rented an apartment in town for her and was planning to move in with her. It was devastating. “I sent you to the university.” “To fulfill your dreams. To be the man you wanted me to be for you. You were ashamed to be married to an illiterate.” “I never thought you so.”

“Actions! Nana, actions! You daily stare at me with eyes full of contempt and resentment. I see regret written all over you. You wish you didn’t marry me. You would never say that but cannot deny that either.” “Do not speak so,” she cried. Her heart was being broken into pieces by those shattering words. How could he not see? Could a man be as blind as to be oblivious of all that one did for him? She had loved him with all her heart.

They had dreams of a house in the city and holidays in the beautiful Miango Rest Home and the Yankari Game Reserve with the children. He would get a big job – in a bank or an oil firm. He would be the boss one day. They would tour the world and enjoy life to its fullest. How could he have stopped dreaming? Why did he come to the end of the road? This wasn’t what she envisaged at the beginning of this marital voyage.

He walked out of the door and never came back. Her trust for him was complete. He was the rising sun and the breaking of her dawn. She was the talk of the town. But along with him came bad luck. The witch doctor said he had given her a dry breast and a miscarrying womb when she went to visit mama after her husband began to show signs of irresponsibility at home.“Your marriage has suffered a miscarriage. Forget about Tukur. His star is small, predicted long ago. His future is dark.”She never believed anything that lying old hag said. She was a Christian and would believe none of that stuff the witch doctor said. 

She had prayed for her husband to change, but he was getting worse. The women of the city complained about his drinking. He would spend late nights and come home drunk. He had, on one occasion, attempted sleeping with his eldest daughter.“You look beautiful,” he told her with drunken and sleepy eyes. She was mute.“You know, I could have you. For you would writhe in bed just like your mother. You have her genetic beauty.” She didn’t say a word but left quietly to her mother’s room.“Come back here,” he snarled at her and started after her but fell.“Cccc……ooome here…..” His voice trailed off as he immediately slept on the floor. That was when Nana Maryam decided her daughters would go to a boarding house to rid them of the influence of a bad father and the molestations of an addict. He would have none of it.

“Do not send my daughters to a boarding house where they will be under no parental guidance.”They lacked one at home, so the school will make up for it.”

That was before he left to begin his new life with his new wife. Nana Maryam nonetheless tried to be mature and calm. She would never let her daughters talk evil of their father. She would groom them to be good women. She would take them to the best schools.

That dream was long in coming. The hardship tore her resolve daily. She would not beg. She would not sleep with those potbellied drunks who came to buy gravels from poor women and sleep with them for extra change. She would remain undefiled. She would remain unmarried. Now she questioned her decision. “An extra penny from a responsible man would do you and your daughters a lot of good,” the mouthy Mama Caro said.“At what cost? Those men care nothing for my daughters and me. When they look at me, all they see are my curves and the habitat between my thighs.”

She had tried. Alone! She had little help from the church, though. Now Bilkisu, her eldest daughter, is a medical student while Saratu, the younger one, is a law student, all in the university of Jos. She prided herself in this as no mean feat. She would soon rest. She will give her daughters to responsible young men, and she will have quieter days of rest as old age beckons. She had no idea she would see her husband seventeen years later. 

She thought she saw a ghost as she saw his tall, lean body walk through the same door he left seventeen years ago. He looked pale and weak. He was sick, fragile, and lean, like the cows in Pharaoh’s dream. He looked ragged and worn out - a modern-day prodigal son. The sickness had a firm grip on him. His appearance no doubt would signify bad luck, for she had always associated his name and face with bad fortune ever since he left her to fend for herself and their two daughters.

He had a putrid smell all over him. You could perceive a hue of mortality around him. Had he contracted a deadly disease from his wife, who ran away and left him for a younger and fresher man? She stared at the man with whom she shared her heart and life for seven years and still loved him even after he left. The teardrops began falling from her eyes, for he bore the marks of the years gone by – rejection, pain, toil, loss, and shame.  

“What went wrong with us?” He asked with a frail voice “You, my friend, went wrong and changed our lives forever.” She felt sorry for him but wished he were dead and that would be the end. He would also die in her heart, and she would be free. “I hurt you,” he said. “Are you just realizing it?” “I knew it the moment I walked out that door. I hoped you would run after me and beg me to stay. My pride would not let me look back.” “Where is your wife?” “I have no wife. No children.”

His mistress had left him six months after they moved in together. She had bigger dreams than his and was siphoning his money to get a visa and prepare to take off with another promising younger man. He had been a fool to believe her all along how he loathed his life. “So, where were you all these years?” “Dwelling with the swine.” “Thankfully, my dear husband. I forgave you long ago. Otherwise, a milestone would have come crashing down your head. You made me suffer, she cried. 

“For seventeen years, I labored, poured out my soul to get our daughters a good life. I had hoped that you would walk through that door back into my arms every day. My hopes perished. All the men died in my heart. You tainted my heart with bitterness, and the last thing I wished for was to see you again.” “I am sorry.” “Being sorry is not enough. What promise can I hold onto?” “The pledge of my life. I owe you my life.”

Nana’s heart melted with pity and love and bitterness and wonder. He was pledging his very life to her, the life that had become worthless and poor. She will accept him back. She would have a man in her life at last. She would nurse him and feed him back to life. They stared at each other for a long. She walked slowly towards him, giving him a tight hug. Oh, how sickly he felt. At that moment, she didn’t care. She knew no embrace save for his. For minutes, they cried in each other’s arms.

He was surprised to see that she had forgiven him. He didn’t expect it to be so easy. Forgiveness always comes at a cost. What was his? “What price must I pay?” Tukur asked, “The price of your life and your love. I would have you and your heart all to myself from now onwards.” “You have my life, my heart, and my love.”Through the years that would follow, he would remember that grace had given him a second chance. He would do anything, even die, to demonstrate his love for her, who forgave him unconditionally. 

Nana Maryam went to bed that night thinking of the lost years and precious youth's wasted age and wondered if they could ever have that grace and charm again. She hoped for the best in years to come. She was unsure of what the future held, and there was no telling if she’d ever erase the memories of the past and the haunting specter of his guilt. They had seared her heart, and it would never be the same again. 

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