“But, why did you marry him in the first place?” Aa’siyah’s voice echoed in Ruqoyah’s head as she opened the metal door which separated the living room from the veranda at eight thirty in the evening. Ruqoyah felt the breeze coming from the brown ceiling fan, penetrating her soft black overall khimar, cooling her tepid body and drying the sweat. She gazed at the black wall clock and then furrowed her brows— she wasn’t aware time was so far spent.
“Salaam alaykum,’’ she greeted the sitting room- a symbolic greeting intended for the unseen angels and to ward-off evil Jinns that might be lurking. Next, she put down her brown handbag on the couch nearest to the door while she untied her oja’ to allow her daughter, Ra’ianah who had made a fuss throughout the bus ride back home due to the heat before succumbing to sleep to also feel the coolness permeating the room. She gently placed the sleeping infant on the couch, next to her handbag. Briefly sitting beside the baby for a moment, she caressed her cheek and blew cool air on her sleeping body, with the hope that she slept a bit longer. Ruqoyah was too tired to lull into the night.
Ruqoyah then turned to Ismail who was chatting on his phone, and repeated her salaams. Ismail did not respond. Ruqoyah remained unperturbed at first, thinking that he was only lost in a conversation he was probably having on WhatsApp. She removed her niqab, flung it on the couch, and started towards the kitchen, but not before she went to Ismail.
“Abu, e’kule. Have you eaten?’’ She asked, placing her hand on Ismail’s shoulder.
“Take your hands off me!’’ Ismail roared.
“Ti n ba kuu’le nko? How dare stay so long before returning?’’ He yelled, yanking her hands off him. Tears began to stream down Ruqoyah’s face.
“But…’ she began to say, “but, I told you I was visiting my friend,” Ruqoyah stuttered, her hands on her eyes, in an involuntary effort to stop the flow of tears.
“So, because you were visiting your friend, you should displease your husband? ehn? Have you forgotten I am the Qowam of this house?”
“I’m sorry. It was the heavy traffic that’s to blame,’’ Ruqoyah tried to explain in a suddenly tired voice.
“Shior!’’ shrugged Ismail. “Well, it has been said that when you are too lenient with women, they take you for a fool. I know what to do.” Ruqoyah wanted to retort but she held back. There was no use engaging in another bickering session, she decided. ‘Take a deep breath, count from five to one, then say ‘Alhamdulillah’ Aa’siyah had taught her how to stay calm earlier today. She stood at the kitchen entrance and glanced over the sitting room with a heavy heart. Looking over at her baby, she decided to stay silent so as not to wake Ra’ianah. She entered into the kitchen, and as she began to rinse a pot, she heard Ismail murmur, “I don’t blame you. It’s Maimunah’s fault.’’
Ruqoyah and her co-wife, Maimunah, lived in the three bedroom flat Ismail had inherited from his father. They shared everything except bedrooms. Maimunah had two girls with Ismail before Ruqoyah married him. A week earlier, Maimunah had traveled to Iperu, her hometown in Ogun State, to visit her parents. Because she went in the company of her two daughters, Ismail waved the requirement of a mahram, a close male relative, which would have otherwise been in effect. Her absence in the house meant two things for Ruqoyah: loneliness and suffering. Whenever Ismail bullied Ruqoyah with religion, Maimunah was always to defend her. She would shield Ruqoyah from the assaults and respond to their husband with counter religious statements. With her gone, Ruqoyah already envisioned a tumultuous week ahead.
The food was served at nine thirty, but Ruqoyah didn’t have any appetite left. She busied herself washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. When Ismail finished eating she removed the dishes and washed them.
Re-entering the sitting room, her face squeezed in a grimace as she saw Ra’ianah had woken up when Ismail turned up the volume of the television to listen to Alfa Onikeude’s lecture airing on BCOS. He wasn’t even considerate of his own child. One side of her wanted to challenge him on being a selfish and ruthless man, but a second part urged her to tend to her baby and ignore him. She sat on the couch and lifted the infant onto her bosom to feed. Few minutes of suckling saw Ra’ianah drifting back to sleep. She carried her inside and laid her to sleep inside a crib.
Ruqoyah stood over the crib for some minutes. Her love for Ra’ianah was inexplicable. Water formed in the corners of her eyes. She thought about divorcing Ismail, but then she didn’t want to deny her baby a father. It didn’t feel right. Maybe she could be a bit more patient. Isn’t life supposed to be a test? Maybe, Aa’siyah was also suffering but just wouldn’t expose her marital problems. After all, was there a perfect husband in the world? As she began entertaining these thoughts, a story she had once read on Facebook came to her mind.
The story was about a woman with an abusive husband. Each time the husband beat her, he would send her a flower to apologize the next day. The flowers kept pacifying the wife, and made her think he would change. But during a beating session, which proved to be the last, the wife suffered severe internal injuries that sent her to her waiting grave. The last flower was delivered to her graveside.
At this point, Ruqoyah’s mind was made up. She wasn’t going to let her idealism cloud her judgment any longer. She would work on the marriage so long Ismail showed considerable positive improvements. Her feet began to ache and she felt light-headed. She knew from experience, this could only mean one thing, a shower. To get to the bathroom she had to pass through the sitting room where Ismail sat watching TV. This gave her a reason to pause, but she summoned the courage and went to the bathroom anyway. She took a warm bath and made ablution.
Wrapped in a short crimson towel which left many parts of her body bare, she walked past Ismail on her way to her room. Her soft curves couldn’t have been more inviting. Ismail couldn’t resist. There wasn’t any thoughts of lowering the gaze. This was his wife. Ruqoyah entered her room, Ismail followed closely behind.
The night was going to be long.
Ruqoyah traded the towel for a white praying gown which she picked from the large wooden closet facing her bed. She cast it over her head and by the time the gown reached her shoulders, she could see Ismail removing his Jallabiya. “What is he doing?” She wondered briefly before spreading her prayer mat at the foot of the bed, some inches away from the window.
“Oya,” Ismail announced.
“Ki lo ya?” With furrowed brows, Ruqoyah queried.
“You look beautiful tonight, let’s do it now,’’ Ismail said in a shaky voice as he stretched his hands to hold her.
“Do kinni?” Ruqoyah feigned confusion.
“Sunnah, now. Sunnah.” Ismail had a serious but happy face.
“Leave me alone, please. Don’t you see that I am about to pray?”
She knew that wasn’t a good defense. Ismail would simply remind her that Isha’i has an extended period and could be put off till later. But Ishai or not, she was too tired to have any sex that night, and definitely not with Ismail who had brought tears to her eyes more than once that day. Ismail who had woken her baby up. Ismail who didn’t have the decency to thank her for dinner. No, they were not having any sex. She must mean more to Ismail than a sex giver.
“You can pray Isha’i after we finish.’’ He launched towards her again, she responded by stepping further away from him, and towards the closet.
“Aren’t you considerate at all?” Ruqoyah was quickly losing her patience. “I came in this night and you didn’t even ask how my visit went, rather, you yelled at me for being late. I cooked for you, but you couldn’t say thank you, or at the very least ask if I had eaten too. You woke my child because of your stu— ,’’ she held back, “you woke her up without any feeling on your part, and then now that your testosterone has kicked in, you now know you have a wife! No! a sex machine to ride on, eh? Sex ko, gender ni. Please, leave me o jare.’’
“If I understand you clearly, you’re saying no?’’
“Yes I am.’’ She placed her hands akimbo, tilting one leg forward.
Ismail shook his head in pride, pitied Ruqoyah for her insolence as he moved towards her. “And you know the consequence. Don’t you?”
“Oh’ the curses of angels?” Ruqoyah replied, her voice raised with a hint of laughter. “Oh’ I know you will play that card. Well, I will throw my heart out to Allah, who is the Lord of the angels, to ease my affairs. Stop acting like angels are your personal servants who will unleash wrath upon everyone you wish to oppress.’’
Her response stung Ismail hard, like the venom of a scorpion. That had been his way of coercing Ruqoyah in the past. Whenever Ruqoyah did not want to have sex, citing stress or general discomfort, Ismail had always used the hadith about angels cursing the woman who refuses her husband’s advances to force her obedience. Fearful of the wrath of angels, Ruqoyah would surrender reluctantly. Sometimes, she silently wept as she laid under him. Since the tears had not, in the least, upset his own pace, Ismail never reconsidered.
“Ruqoyah, have you forgotten that I have rights over you as Allah stated in the Qur’an?’’ He asked, striking his chest proudly.
“Well, in that same passage in surah Al-Baqorah, have you also forgotten that Allah said I also have rights over you and that you should not hold women in a marriage which they clearly aren’t treated well? I have made it clear to you that I want divorce but you refuse. You treat me like I am your slave. You do not care about my wellbeing, all you want is sex. And I can’t take that anymore.’’
“What an ingrate you are. There are lots of sisters looking and praying for husbands, and you have the guts to talk to me like that. Who are you to even quote the Qur’an in front of me? You will do as I please. I am your husband.” Ismail eyes grew red and he began to sweat.
“…wa la tumsikuhuna dirroron li tah’tadun wa man yaf’aal zalik fa qod dhalama nafsaa….and do not hold them in hardship to hurt them, whoever does that has wronged his soul.’’Ruqoyah recited the ayah to him, and then added, “Ismail, you’re holding me diroron, fear Allah!’’
Before Ruqoyah could finish the statement, she felt a hard smack across her right cheek. The slap was so apace that Ruqoyah didn’t see it coming. Her ear made a ringing sound like the opening of a Nollywood film. The force with which he had hit her compelled her to stooped position, palm on cheek, eyes shut trying to withhold her tears. Ismail’s nostrils flared and his chest heaved, he grabbed her head, lifting her face to his, then said:
“Never in your life dare to tell me to fear Allah.”