The Pause Button
Jemade stared at the couch in the living room for so long, she did not know that her four-year old daughter Sarah, was tugging at her sleeve. Her seven-year-old son Bernard was playing a video game. Jemade’s mind was far away. She had been thinking of the many arguments that had taken place on that couch with Tosan. When Tosan was at home, he was on the couch watching TV. If Jemade or the kids wanted his attention, they had to compete for it with the TV. There was a time when the arguments were about something in particular, but as the years went by, Jemade realised that there did not have to be any tangible reason. She and her husband simply could not stand one another. He never seemed to appreciate anything she did. He was always quick to criticise if she did something that displeased him, but would not bring himself to acknowledge all her efforts at making their home and marriage work. And there was the issue of his womanising. She had grown weary of his apologies and promises. He was always cheating, and not carefully either. It seemed as if he couldn’t be bothered. She was tired of his frequent absences from home on business trips which left her to deal with the children on her own. She joined the civil service so she could have better working hours because of her young family. She could have made a lot more money as a Lawyer in the private sector, but she valued the flexibility she had as a public servant. It was quite difficult managing school runs, traffic and two boisterous kids under ten, yet she tried her best.
From Tosan’s point of view, he was fed up with her constant nagging. He found his wife too jealous, hot tempered and overly critical of everything. She was also intolerant of his family members, even though they did have a habit of making unannounced visits that lasted for weeks. His wife always complained of the extra work as if she was the only woman who had to deal with in-laws. He was also constantly irritated with her habit of making him a prayer point during the family prayer sessions which she was always forcing on him. After Sarah was born, she kept putting on weight and didn’t seem to care about her appearance.
Jemade began to notice a change in herself. She laughed less, was withdrawn and had difficulty concentrating. She was tired all the time. Even her colleagues at work were beginning to comment on what they termed her absentmindedness. Her only friend, Funke, asked her what was wrong. ‘I don’t know, I just feel my life is running ahead of me’ she said. When Funke asked her off she would consider taking a break, Jemade asked what she would do with her children and what would she tell her husband. Funke agreed with her but pointed out that she would be of no use to anyone the way things were going. Jemade respected and trusted Funke, but probably not enough to tell her how she was really feeling. Jemade stood in front of the mirror one morning. Ugly. Fat. Useless. Hopeless. Helpless. Worthless. Invisible. Jemade wasn’t even shocked that she was conjuring up all those words to describe herself. She vaguely recalled something she had heard at a women’s empowerment seminar a while ago.
‘You are what you see in the mirror. So, when you look, see strength. See beauty. See power ‘. No, Jemade thought to herself. I don’t see any of those things. I see a woman with no self-worth. I see someone whose husband has not slept with in two years, yet he sleeps with other women. I see a woman trying to keep everything together but is failing. I see a thirty-five-year-old woman who feels and looks like she is sixty.
Jemade finally turned to Sarah to see what she wanted. Sarah wanted to get out her paint brushes. As Jemade was looking for the brushes, her phone rang, it was Funke, who asked her to check her WhatsApp for a message. There was a link to the news about a woman who had allegedly killed her husband, her three children and then herself. It was a dreadful story. Later on, as she was going over the story with Funke, Jemade wondered, ‘What would make a woman do such a terrible thing? ‘, to which Funke responded, ‘The kind of woman who keeps taking in all forms of abuse till she snaps and becomes a danger to all those around her. The kind of woman who feels worthless, hopeless and unworthy. The kind of woman who did not press the pause button to take stock and look after herself. Someone like you’. Jemade shook her head, ‘Oh no, I am not abused. Tosan has never lifted a finger against me. We just quarrel often’. ‘And how does he make you feel, even if he doesn’t actually hit you? How do you feel about yourself?’ Jemade was silent for a while. Funke then very quietly said, ‘You need to figure out what you want. That poor woman’s tragic story ended in a day but did not start in a day’.
Tosan came home from work around 11pm. There was no one to let him in after the gateman had opened the house gates. The lights were all off. It struck him as strange. He dialled his wife’s number but there was no response, it rang out. He went around the house, but there was no sign of his wife or children. Their housemaid Lizzy was not around either. He went outside to ask the gateman where Madam and the children had gone and he was told that they left the house at 4pm. What has happened to my family? Tosan wondered. Even in his confused state, it dawned on him that he had not thought of them in those terms for a long time. His family. It was usually Jemade, Bernard and Sarah. Not ‘my family’.
Tosan went back into the house, and checked his phone again, there were no messages or calls from his wife. He went into the bedroom and looked around again. Then he saw a sheet of paper tucked under the lamp on his own side of the bed. He picked it up and read the message Jemade had left him. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am powerful. I am worthy’. Tosan sat on the bed and held his head in his hands, his heart beating faster than he could ever remember.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]