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Throes by Becky Peleowo

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“Of the many things she felt when the midwife handed her the baby, love was not among them.” Though marriage and motherhood seem to be an obligation for every African woman, Arike could not sense the excitement any sane mother should feel handling her first bundle of joy. Twelve years of barrenness was no lemon squeezy and now that her long-awaited dream has been fulfilled, Arike felt no fulfillment.

“Arike!” She could hear her mother’s voice in her teenage years, “Is this how you will be lazy in your husband’s house?” or “Can’t you add enough oil to this soup? Your mother-in-law will give you a tough time with this cooking method of yours!”

Arike would pout her lips raising her nose in a quick gesture of saying “Who cares!” She did not want to bother herself with the thought of a fat-mean-looking mother-in-law that would expect nothing of her other than to be a slave in her marriage. Her mother seemed to have raised her only to serve a man and his slave-driver mother in the name of marriage. She had better plans for herself. She wanted to study the English language at the University of Lagos and become a writer like Chimamanda Adichie. She would work her way to the Ministry of Women Affairs and if by chance she finds her prince and he is truly charming, she might give marriage a second thought.

“Put her to breast!” The unconcerned midwife appeared to be giving a command rather than a request. But was she supposed to be requesting that she breastfeed her baby? Arike looked at the tiny creature in her arms curled up like a lonely cat, searching for love and care in a mean world. A very cruel world that she had found herself in.

“I can’t breastfeed it!”

The other nurse in the room shared strange looks with her colleague. Arike could read their thoughts. They must have thought she was going bananas.

“It’s not mine!” She said almost in disgust as she dumped the little cutie on the bed while giving it a scornful look. The older nurse beckoned on the other one to call the doctor. The nurse picked up the little one as if she feared she might strangle it to death.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” Arike asked absentmindedly.

“Do you care? “ The nurse retorted. She scanned Arike with her bulging eyeballs that appeared to be falling out of its socket in disgust. The nurse does not know her story. No one knows her story. Only Terhile, Jared, and herself knew what turned her world upside down.

She grew up a cheerful child. Her adolescence and teenage years were full of many happy memories. She grew up among happy folks and had few worries as a young adult. Just like she had always dreamt, she gained admission to study her chosen course of study in her choice university and had no special event in her life until Terhile moved into the neighbourhood. She and her parents used to live in a single-bedroom apartment on Lagos Mainland. She had a younger sister who later travelled out of the country to marry a white guy she met online and has since disappeared into thin air. Her brother, Banji, a very hardworking lad also lived with them in the same apartment and was the first to encounter Terhile.

“Broda Terhile!” as he would often call him, was a very nice young man. Their apartments were adjacent to each other and Terhile seemed to have developed a peculiar fondness for Banji. He would allow him into his apartment to pass time with PlayStations and yet help him with mathematical sums from school. He would let him use his laptop and teach him some computer tricks. The relationship continued to grow so much that Banji could sleep over at Terhile’s apartment. That was when Arike’s mother started noticing how much of a fine husband “Broda Terhile ‘’ would make for her pretty Arike. Arike could still recall their first conversation about Terhile.

“Arike!”

“Ma…”

“Please come!” She said in her accentuated English.

“When are you going for your service?”

“Service?” She had asked innocently “Oh, National Youth Service! Next weekend.” She replied excitedly.

“Shebi, it’s in Benue?”

“Yes, Mummy!” She replied, still smiling.

“Won’t you ask Broda Terhile to put you through Tifi?

“ It’s Tiv, mummy, not Tifi.”

“Ehn, have you told him?

“ We are not that close.”

“Why? He’s a decent guy and he is a banker too. He lives in a decent room even better than our own and he is still single. Good men are not easy to come by. See the way he takes care of your brother.” There it goes! The official pronouncement by an African mother that you are ripe and ready to be plucked.

“Mummy, I still have big plans for myself. I don’t want to be married yet. I’m just 23.” Then, a long discussion ensued on what is and what is not, in coming of age. Two years later she saw herself as Mrs Arike Terwase, the wife of Mr Terhile Terwase. She was not forced to marry him but she was forced to be the wife of an anticipating groom. Terhile’s zealousness to marry her made her begin to suspect that he had used Banji as bait to get close to her and her family. He did not reduce his attention to Banji and showered so much love on her family. As “happily ever after” exists mostly in fairy tales, the storm of their marriage began to surface.

“Mrs. Terwase!” the doctor’s voice jolted her back from her reverie. “What’s the matter, Madam? Why don’t you want to feed your baby? Are you tired? Are you in pain? “

Arike lowered her head and then raised her eyes.

“I told the nurses. She’s not mine.”

“I was the doctor who supervised the delivery of this baby!” The doctor almost shouted at her. “Are you insinuating that your baby was changed?”

She smiled. That painful smile that requires you to narrate a tragic tale you would rather not tell.

The tale of her barrenness for twelve years or should she call it Terhile’s infertility. For twelve years, the whole world scorned her for being barren. Her one-time mother-in-law became hostile to her for her inability to give her only son a child. Her mother neglected her thriving business, taking her from one spiritual house to another to “bind and cast” the enemy that had cast a spell on her. It is not alien to the African tradition, to tag the inability of a woman to conceive as her barrenness. Arike wondered if anyone ever thought the man could be the possible reason for infertility. The problem was from Terhile. He had a low sperm count and some other medical issues caused by prolonged infections.

Arike’s annoyance was not Terhile’s condition but his unwillingness to own up to it and get treated. She couldn’t believe she spent most of her marital life running from hospitals to religious houses only for her to discover after these agonizing years that Terhile was their setback. Yet, when she found out the truth, she was angry but forgave him. She had accepted the blame for infertility because she was RH-negative and their baby could be RH positive which might pose future problems of conception. Although that couldn’t have been a possible cause of infertility, Arike saw it as a dent in her womanhood and carried the burden of infertility which wasn’t hers. When they found out about the Rhesus Factor, she was shocked that Terhile had called his mother to tell her everything they were told at the hospital, adding that it was why they couldn’t have kids. How would she explain such a complex term to an uneducated woman? The senior Mrs Terwase did not waste time in coming to visit the next time, with little Dooshima to come and serve as a maid and of course, according to her secret plans, become the younger wife of Terhile. Innocently, Arike treated Dooshima as that sister she never got to see again. Unknown to her, Terhile would go over to his mother’s place and narrate a false tale of how Arike always made sure she had nothing to do with Dooshima. Unsuspecting his mother, blinded by her love for her son, did not realise on time that she was also a pawn on Terhile’s chess board.

Looking at reality in the face, Arike could see that the doctor needed a concrete reason to believe that she was not having postpartum depression. But how could she explain the unexpected blow she received in her marriage, especially at a moment when she was supposed to be rejoicing? Even when she had not fancied marriage as the best event for her, she had hoped motherhood would be divine. The feeling of having a new life out of you, feeding from you, nurtured by you, was second to none.

“Mrs. Terwase, can you call your husband over?” The doctor asked impatiently.

Adjusting herself gently on the neatly arranged hospital bed. Arike could feel the pain nudging at her womb and each bout of pain seems to foster more ill feelings towards the curled-up infant sleeping quietly in the arms of a woman who is not its real mother. The thing looked hungry like its real father always was. Its lecherous father, a man who could barely keep his immoral eyes off Arike’s backside. She had accommodated him because he was Terhile’s friend. As the cliché goes, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” Jared, the mastermind of this squid game had always come to their home and each time got overfed and even took some home for his hungry-looking children.

While rolling the soft Amala balls in his plate of gbegiri and ewedu soup, he would jokingly commend Arike’s culinary skills, never forgetting to add that she was physically endowed. Arike always saw his comments as a shield for his immoral thoughts but she would play the good wife and smile sheepishly after bringing him an extra plate. She had always wondered what drew Jared and Terhile close. Little did she know that the two scheming friends were busy arranging her doom while she was over-feeding one and warming the bed of the other.

“That’s his phone number. Call him yourself!”

Arike tossed the phone at the doctor as if the whole ordeal was his fault. But could she be blamed for hating her child even when the little one was truly innocent? This was the child that was supposed to bring her glory in the eyes of the world. This was the first fruit that should make her dance till her feet ached.

This was supposed to be a fairy tale’s “happily ever after’’ but it had become a tale of woe. If only that night could be erased from her life’s history. That night which she had thought was the peak of her married life. She had given herself without any restraint. He had told her earlier that he had gotten himself treated and they could start trying to have kids again. They could get lucky if her baby was not RH-positive. She believed him and gave herself as she had never done.

The memories are all coming back to her. That night he had made her tipsy and replaced himself with the lecherous Jared. Jared slept with her instead of him. She could not believe it. The lights were out and she felt different that night but she was tipsy. She never imagined she would be in bed with the man she detested most in her life. And now, having forced himself on her, he is forcing his child on her too. Never! She would never accept this as hers. Let Terhile and Jared share the responsibility of the baby. She will never have anything to do with it or Terhile or Jared. They all stink to her. Another bout of pain nudged at her womb again. The nurse had said her womb was contracting but she knew this pain came from the ache in her soul.

This is how people create monsters in society. She is a monster created by Terhile and Jared. The baby is a monster created by her abandonment of it. She had told Terhile she never wanted to see him again. The day their eyes meet again would be bloodshed. But who will bear the brunt? Whose fault would it be? To whom would she put the blame? Many encouraged her to forgive and move on. Yes, she would eventually forgive but she can never forget. She would move on but can she move on with the memory of her worst nightmare right under her roof?

For a complete year, a group of catholic sisters took in Arike’s baby and nurtured her until she completed a therapy session she was sponsored to take. Her first appointment with Dr. Ahme was a battle for Arike but her lawyer had told her that if she wanted to get justice, she had to heal of her trauma. Dr. Ahme opted for a common means of treatment for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); He used Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, a mental health treatment technique. After her first session, Arike did not wish to continue with the therapy but Barrister Noah urged her on.

When she finally completed her sessions, Arike was as good as new. Her beauty came out as if she was in her teenage years and advances started coming in even from her new workplace. Barrister Noah stood by her through thick and thin and she finally decided to accept her daughter. Dr. Ahme had admonished her to take her time to find true love and not to rush into marriage too soon. This advice prevented her from acknowledging the love and care Noah shared with her. He helped her to get a DNA test done on her daughter to prove that Jared was the real father of the baby and with other documents, he filed a petition with the police against Terhile and Jared for conspiring to rape her. The two men were soon tried and jailed for their crimes. In her kind heart, Arike set up a business for Jared’s wife because she believed the poor woman was also a victim of her husband.

Noah continued to woo Arike with patience and love. During her therapies, she met an old schoolmate, Philip, who was also a therapist at the facility she went to. They had both attended the same high school and served as corp members in the same state but they lost contact after the youth service. Arike had always liked Philip but he never told her he shared the same feelings for her. When they met again at the facility’s cafeteria, Philip shared how he had wanted to ask her out but never had the courage to because she was everyone’s favourite. Arike wished he had told her, perhaps, she would not have accepted to marry Terhile.

Philip’s affection became stronger when he heard Arike’s story. He wanted her to be his so he could show her what true love was really like. Noah, on the other hand, finally shared his feelings with Arike immediately after he noticed the growing friendship between Philip and her but Arike felt stronger feelings toward Philip. Noah showed love to Arike more than she showed him and he was willing to give his all to make her happy. Recalling Dr. Ahme’s advice, she decided to put the two men to the test.

On different dates, she told each man that she had had a hysterectomy and she would not be able to conceive after her daughter, Omolade. Both men reacted differently to the news. Although both showed sadness over the fact that they could not have children of their own, Philip asked for more time to ruminate over the matter while Noah gave a quicker response. He told her he had to speak to his mum. If his mum had no problem with the issue, he would marry her in a grand style. Arike was disappointed. Three days later, Philip called.

“I’m sorry I hadn’t called before now.” He apologized to Arike in a soft tone.

“The day you broke the news to me was the day I was to engage you.”

“So why did you not?” Arike queried.

“I love to have kids, so I was heartbroken. “

“So what’s your plan?” Arike wished badly that he would still want her.

“I love you more than I love our future kids. Not to have you is more depressing than not to have them. So be my wife, Arike?” Philip confessed his undying love with passion.

“Over the phone?” Arike needed to be sure he wasn’t under some sort of pressure.

“Right at your door post!”

She rushed to the door to meet the love of her life.

“What would your mum say?” She asked later that day while Philip took her out for dinner.

“It’s my family now. She would respect my wishes.”

“And what if I say the hysterectomy was a test to see if you love me?”

Philip could not believe his ears. Their love story was going to be sweeter than he had imagined.

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