Emancipation

 

Here is another story I published for The Naked Convos, and the second in the series featuring Libby Thomas; it appears here on my blog under its original title.

 

EMANCIPATION

Temi sighed as she looked up from the pages she was reading, then left a bookmark inbetween to preserve the place, swearing under her breath. Twenty minutes of cramming and revising was hardly enough to absorb any knowledge, and all she wanted was to bury herself in her pile of assignments. Was that too much to ask? To her pompous husband Bisi, it most definitely was. There was always a reason, excuse, or taunt to pry her away from her studies when she least expected. When would she start preparing dinner? Had she collected his suits from the dry cleaners? Why was she wasting her time over an exam she was unsure of passing? She shook her head bitterly, asking how her own husband could be terribly unsupportive.

Temi dashed out of bed and hid the book under the clothes in her drawer before producing another one completely unrelated to the module she was learning, and as she placed it on her pillow with the pages down, she could hear the impatience in Bisi’s voice as he yelled out for her yet again. As she was hardly in the mood for another cussing session she quickly headed towards the living room where he was sitting in front of their giant flatscreen with an ice-cold beer frothing in a glass beside him as the World Cup qualifier transmitted, hardly noticing Temi as she announced her presence.

“What the hell took you so long? I’ve been calling for you several times, but you’ve been in bed doing nothing.” Temi winced at this fib as Bisi had only called twice, but remained silent as he continued. “I’m hitting the hay early tonight because I have this really important meeting tomorrow. There’s this delegation arriving from Johannesburg, and I have to be well-rested and prepared. Perhaps you should start dinner now?” He reclined on the sofa as his wife grimaced with rage through clenched teeth. Typical, she thought, the only time you develop those hunger pangs is whenever I open a book. 

“Now? It’s too early…” Temi had hardly began to speak when Bisi cut her off in a voice so calm it was almost deafening. It could only mean trouble.

“Maybe I’m not making myself clear,” Bisi replied as he reduced the volume with the remote control. “The meeting is important, and I have to be there very early. It concerns a valuable contract the company have been negotiating for months, and as I’m in charge I’m determined to see this deal through. Because let’s face it, somebody has to pay for those exams you’re likely to fail. So if I were you I’d stop arguing, do as I’m told, and prepare the bloody meal. The sooner you start serving, the sooner I can go to bed. And we’ll leave it at that.” His steely glare pierced through Temi who struggled with her emotions as he uttered his insensitive command. “Is thatclear? ”

Temi nodded slowly as she turned towards the kitchen, but reversed to take a few steps towards Bisi who was still captivated by the match. “Darling, can I borrow your laptop afterwards? I’ll need it for research, and my own computer still hasn’t been fixed.” She braced herself with crossed fingers as she awaited the reply he was certain to blurt out, and he did not disappoint.

“No.”

“But you’re watching TV now, and you’re going to bed after you’ve eaten…”

“Are you deaf?” Bisi’s authoritative tone caused Temi to coil back in terror as he raged on. “I need the laptop, so you can’t have it. If you want to do some research, go to the internet café down the road, go to the library, go to your father’s house…I don’t give a shit. It’s that or nothing. Either way, you’re not using my laptop, and that’s that. Why do you even need a Masters degree?” He paused to light a B&H as Temi attempted to recover from this outburst, her mouth still agape. “Oh, and by the way, I want rice.”  With these words he turned up the sound, and Temi fumingly marched to the kitchen where she opened her cupboard in search of ingredients, using all her restraint to stop herself from slamming its doors in anger. She had been married to him long enough to accept he would always be difficult, but this was ridiculous; he knew she would never consider stepping into that rundown café where she was sure to be chatted up by lecherous 419ners as she struggled with her revision. As Bisi’s wife, she was entitled to his support, yet all she received was scorn and criticism which showed no sign of disappearing. She craned her neck to inspect the other cupboard, and upon realising she had run out of salt and Maggi, Temi reached for her purse and informed Bisi who grunted his approval as he took another sip from his glass.

Had Bisi damaged Temi’s laptop on purpose? It seemed likely; after an expensive textbook went missing without an explanation she had taken drastic measures to prevent similar incidents in future, which was why she had bought that second-hand book. No prizes for guessing who was responsible for its disappearance, she thought as she paid the petty trader for the ingredients. Note pads, handouts, and printouts always seemed to vanish without reason, and as she walked back home Bisi’s words were increasingly poignant. Luckily there were no children involved to witness any tension between both parents; they had tried conceiving since their wedding eighteen months prior without success, although expensive tests had proved Temi was still fertile. Yet Bisi refused to accept this, constantly specifying barrenness was unheard of on his side of the family, and for months Temi had endured with his other major put-down.

Those exams you’re likely to fail.

The words continued to haunt Temi as she measured the grains into the basin until a lightbulb pinged in her head – Bisi was masterminding her pending failure, willing to throw away a fortune in tuition fees to ensure she remained a lousy failure…and an even lousier doormat. With a sigh, she unwrapped the stock cubes but did a double take as she recognised the lady in the old Hello! Nigeria page the petty trader had used to envelope the Maggi. Temi uncrumpled the paper, then scanned through the article. Everyone in Lagos knew Libby Thomas was the hottest interior designer/events planner in town, but her colourful life had not always been glitz and glamour. Rumour had it her ex-husband, a high-flying bank manager, had kicked her out of their marital with their children trailing behind her to marry the hydroquinone-crazy youth corper he had mentored at work. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she had used her artistic talent to the best of her ability despite the odds stacked against her (No experience, limited funds, divorced with two children…). Six years on, Libby Thomas was a successful entrepreneur enjoying the fruits of her manic labour with her now-teenage children and rumoured boyfriend, the dashing London-born Bob Purnell who ran an advertising agency in Victoria Island. Temi’s eyes lit up with admiration for the striking lady posing in her cherry-red evening gown whilst clutching a champagne flute, and nodded. Any husband who belittled his wife to retain his Alpha-male status was not worthy of her love and devotion, and enough was enough.

Temi switched off the stove before making her way to the bedroom. The fake textbook she had left on the bed was nowhere to be seen, confirming her suspicions. Enough was enough. After throwing a few essentials into a suitcase she grabbed the books that had survived Bisi’s wrath, as well as documents and files from her primary teaching job. Then she sat at her vanity mirror where she combed her hair and glided Peach Blossom across her lips. Her husband, still glued to SuperSport 3, resting another beer on the ever expanding waistline he constantly ignored despite his family and friends’ teasing. Good luck negotiating at that fake meeting tomorrow with a hangover, but don’t expect me to clear up your vomit if you get drunk, she thought, as she stood tall in her four-inch heels, blocking his view as the game went into a penalty round.

“Do you mind?” Bisi growled as he stretched sideways to watch the bout. “You are not transparent, can’t you see I’m trying to watch the football?” Noticing the change in Temi’s appearance he hissed in anger, his voice rising a notch higher. “If you’re thinking of giving some stupid fashion parade, forget it. I already know what you look like.”

“Fashion parade? I’m not moving because I have something to say, so why don’t you forget the TV for once and listen?” Bisi was stunned at the aplomb he never knew she processed, but she had barely started. “What exactly do you have against my Masters degree? No need to pretend – I know you’ve been hiding all those books.  You’re pulling all the stops to make sure I fail, that’s why you disturb me whenever I study while you sit there in your boxers watching SuperSport all day, everyday. Important meeting indeed…”

“Temi, I’m warning you now, watch your words! Remember who’s paying for that degree before you insult me.” Bisi, who had now abandoned the match, was equally agitated. “I’m paying your fees, hoping you’ll pass…”

“Insult you? Earlier on you doubted my ability to sail through any exam, and you’re now hopeful?” Temi let out a sarcastic cackle, noticing two cigarette burn marks on his vest as Bisi attempted to switch off the set with the remote which proved difficult. The batteries were weak due to the constant fiddling, and as he stood to perform the task manually Temi could barely choose what surprised her more – his change of tune, or his unexpected ability to unglue his lazy chauvinist arse off the sofa. “Be honest, the only reason your throwing away your money is because you’re willing to do whatever it takes to prove to everyone I’m not good enough. I’m sick of you sabotaging my progress, and I’ve had enough. All I wanted was to borrow your computer for my research, but you’d rather I went to that rowdy den of fraudsters across the road when there’s already a computer at home. And don’t lie to me – I know you hid my books; you did it today – did you think I wouldn’t notice? Think what you like, but I’m not dumb. I don’t understand why you feel threatened by an educated woman in the year 2017, but I won’t stick around to hear your excuse. Continue with your football, don’t let me stop you.” With these words Temi paced behind the sofa to retrieve her suitcase as Bisi watched with disbelief but he quickly recovered to deliver a tirade of abuse Temi chose to ignore until he dropped the ultimate.

“Stop that nonsense, woman, and get back into the kitchen.”

“No.” It was clear Temi would not be pushed – literally or mentally. “Are you even listening to yourself? ‘Go back to the kitchen’…seriously? You really are beyond help.” She nodded towards the laptop which had long finished recharging in a corner of the living room but was still attached to wire due to Bisi’s complacent sloth. “See that? If you can walk across the room to reach it, google allnigerianrecipes, wikihow, go on YouTube…they’ll teach you how to cook, clean, get rid of your fat belly…basically they’ll teach you how to stop being a total arsehole. And that’s what I call research!”

Bisi was fuming as Temi slammed the door with her head held high, too agitated to acknowledge chants of “GOAL!” from jubilant neighbours running outside to dance merrily and light fire crackers. With her heels clinking Temi wheeled her suitcase behind her, and as she made her way toward her parents’ home – one of the options Bisi had suggested during his harsh criticism – she assured herself she would be fine, whatever the situation. She had no idea where life would take her now she had walked out of her marital home, but as long as she had determination the sky was her limit, and as she raised her head to observe the firework sparks, she knew in her heart she had made the right decision.

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The Other Woman’s Wedding

The Naked Convos refused to publish this one. I wonder why…
THE OTHER WOMAN’S WEDDING
    She unzipped the black protector bag to reveal a long lacy white dress, evoking memories of the day she popped into the posh boutique on Allen Avenue to try dozens of gowns before settling for this classy off-the-shoulder number with its fitted bodice and flowing layered skirt. Finding a headpiece suitable enough to support the matching veil had proved a harder task – sparkling crystals or fragrant flowers? A toss of a coin as suggested by the shop assistant helped her reach a verdict, and as she placed the diamanté tiara on her head they had both agreed Obiageli Eze had chosen the perfect bridal regalia, complete with glamour and grace, and right now, in front of her bedroom mirror, she released a deep sigh. She had waited fifteen long years for this date – November the 17th, the day she could finally say “I do” before God and man without any stress or baggage. She always seemed to suffer the consequences as far as their relationship was concerned, although her man seemed somewhat oblivious to how much she had been forced to endure. She had dreamed of donning a wedding dress for years, and this was her moment. She held the silky material towards her chest, breathing in the crisp fresh smell as blasts from her colourful past echoed through her mind.
   Obiageli and Ayo’s paths had first crossed at a high society Lagos party where she had served as a hostess to earn extra cash for university. She was young, single, and by no means looking to mingle, especially after the breakup of her two-year relationship with her university sweetheart. The cheating toerag had dumped her without the slightest show of remorse, and Obiageli had sworn to give men a wide berth for as long as possible; as far as she was concerned they were all filthy swine with dicks for brains. She was determined to obtain her degree in Banking and Finance, and sustain a lucrative career after graduation. Woe betide any bastard who stood in the way of her life. And then came Ayo, ticking every box she had long ignored. Oil merchant. Government connections. Highly intelligent. Devilishly handsome…for a silver fox. His heart had beaten rapidly for the tall light-skinned sizzler in the black ushers’ uniform who had led him into the main hall, but Obiageli had been polite yet reserved as he shamelessly flirted with her.
   “Thank you sir, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to meet you for a drink next week,” said Obiageli as she coyly fluttered her long lashes, praying this persistent guest would chase someone his own age. “I’m very busy at school with my final year assignments, and I already have a boyfriend. He won’t be happy if he hears about his girl accepting invitations from other men, even if it’s just a casual meeting.”
   Ayo chuckled and shook his head with a twinkle in his crinkly eyes. His intuition told him she was fibbing, and as a man used to getting what he wanted he would not let her slip away that easily. Sources at Unilag confirmed the jealous lover she had professed her undying affection for was indeed non-existent; everyone on campus still gossiped about the fight they had witnessed with amusement the day Obiageli walked into her room to find Ibe pounding away at her promiscuous room-mate. Ayo had confronted her with this information and she finally gave in, secretly vowing to ignore him immediately after their drinks date. Several more dates followed, and the campus forums wasted no time circulating gossip of an anonymous 400-Level student secretly dating a ‘silent millionaire’. She could barely make head or tail of the snide remarks until the truth hit her like a bombshell: (a) It hardly took an Einstein to figure who the student was (Tall, light-skinned, final year, part-time usher, big fight on campus…), and (b) Ayo Adetokunbo was married. Married? She had gone berserk upon hearing Ayo was someone else’s spouse, slamming down his desperate phone calls and promising to chop his rotten adulterous penis off if he ever approached her again.
   Obiageli slowly slipped into the pristine gown, taking care not the rip the delicate petticoat underneath the skirt. She had always imagined she would spend the rest of her life with a man who was young, handsome, and single…well, one out of three was probably not bad given all the men her age she had dated prior to Ayo had been stingy losers who only showed interest in her limited student funds whenever they were not fantasising over what she looked like naked, or indeed how good a lay she was. Ayo was mature and experienced, exactly what she needed, and his pleas gradually pacified her following the shock revelation. By now she had fallen deeply in love, a forbidden passion so intense she could hardly resist, and as she had already come too far it was too late to turn around despite the signs and warnings from family and friends, most of whom she fell out with on account of her dangerous liaison.
   “Obiageli. Obiageli. Obiageli. I know you hear me call you three times, so I’ll say it loud and clear.” Chinyere never minced her words whenever she spoke her mind, and her cousin with the questionable morals was not exempt from her fury. “A boyfriend who is hardly a boy himself, and a married one for that matter? Are you out of your tiny little mind? The man already has a family, and you’re breaking them up. How will you live with yourself if they find themselves with two addresses and two sets of parents rowing with each other? I don’t care if he no longer loves his wife, what the two of you are doing is wrong, or you wouldn’t be dating in secret. Polygamy is out of the question because you know our doctrines forbid it. Look at you – sleeping with a married man when only six months ago you nearly clawed Ibe’s eyes out when you caught him in bed with Bimbo? You’re such a hypocrite.”
   “Mind your own business!” Obiageli stood from her single bed in the girls’ hostel, her eyes flashing fire. “Hate to break it to you, but me and Ayo are in love, and he is going to leave that old hag eventually. Just because you’re pushing thirty and still single doesn’t mean you can judge me, you jealous bitch, so if you don’t have anything better to say, leave.”
   Chinyere promptly did as she was told, slamming the door behind her, but even her cousin had to admit she had a point. Ayo may have slowly but surely captured her heart, but her life as a mistress was a burden and with time she yearned for more. She grew wary of sleeping in her lonely bed while his wife provided him with comfort in his own home. She longed to call him on the phone before 9PM, and was often sleep deprived in the morning due to those midnight chat sessions. She often felt like yelling the truth when he introduced her as a friend to his own acquaintances. Her past record with men had taught her the road to love was not all snogs, champagne, and rose petals, but this? A frustrated Obiageli had tried calling time on their affair several times upon realising their routine of dates, dinner, and sex would never progress to the next stage, and on every occasion he never accepted her decision, refusing to move on without her as he no longer loved his wife. Why was he still with her? Excuses, excuses, excuses…
   “Honey, you know I’d love to marry you, but my relatives won’t understand our intertribal relationship. They’ll need time to come round…”
   “Oby, you know I love you, but my wife has just lost her mother. She needs me. Let’s wait one more year at least… ”
   “Obiageli, I’m sorry, but my children are aware of the situation at home, and it would kill them if I brought in another woman so soon. Maybe if they graduated first…”
   “Are you fucking serious? I’m too old to be a father again. How can you be so selfish?”
    Selfish? Selfish? Obiageli tightened the dress’s corset until it accentuated her slender waist. She had waited years for Ayo to make an honest woman out of her as her biological clock ticked louder by the minute, and she would never have aborted their precious bundle of joy, even if Ayo had refused to marry her. After refusing to accept her pregnancy Obiageli had turned around and left his office with tears glistening her eyes. If he truly loved her, why did he want to murder the seed he had planted and was growing inside of her? This time it was well and truly over, and a good riddance it was, too. Her Catholic parents would never forgive her for bringing shame to the family, and she was sure to become a laughing stock within her circle of friends who had never approved of her older secret lover, but it was still a risk she had to take; she needed no-one else as long as she had her child. She remained alone without a soul to turn to for comfort and advice until went through a painful miscarriage. It had broken her heart, but it  was time to move on, a decision which did not go down well with her married ex-lover who demanded to know what she was playing at when he heard of her budding romance with Simon, the engineer she had casually bumped into during her lunch break at Mr. Biggs a few month after her miscarriage.
   “Found someone already? I guess you didn’t really love me,” he snapped when he called her at work. “Did you abort the baby so you could fuck someone else?”
   “Who the hell do you think you are?” Obiageli could hardly mask the venom boiling within; had Ayo been in front of her, she most definitely would have wrung his miserable neck. “Not only are you never going to leave the woman you say you’re unhappy with, but you denied our baby. You abandoned me when I needed you most, and for your own information it wasn’t ‘the baby’ – it was our baby. Do you understand me? Our baby. I was alone when I lost him…that’s right, lost. Not aborted, because even after you treated me like shit I still wanted to give birth to our baby. Our beautiful baby I’ll never see, and it’s all your fault. I was alone while you were playing happy families with your wife and kids, but here you are spewing rubbish after I’ve finally washed you out of my hair…seriously? What exactly have I gained from sneaking around with you for eight years when most of my mates are in proper marriages? Think you have the right to judge me? Hate to break it to you, but after everything you put me through I have every right to fuck a virile man, so do your worst.” Ayo expressed incoherent curses through his end of the call as the cruel remark sank in, but his angry ex was past caring. “Go back to your wife, and leave me alone. It’s not the first time I’ve said this. The only difference is this time, I mean it.”
   Did he have a nerve, or what? And to think he had called her selfish. Comparing Ayo’s sexual prowess to her new man’s stamina was below the belt, but at least she had finally put her foot down, allowing her to break free and breathe a sigh of relief, and Simon was a refreshing breath of fresh air – caring and attentive, the type who held his woman in his strong arms all through the night as she lay next to him contentedly, a far cry from Mr. Wham-Bam-Now-I’m-Off-For-Round-Two-With-Wifey-Back-Home’s insensitivity. The same fuddy-duddy who blatantly refused to accept she had moved on, and like the devious snake he had always been, he cunningly attempted to worm his way back into her life.
   “Oby, I was so selfish, I know. I’m sorry I broke up with you after you told me you were pregnant. I don’t know why I said those things, and I’m sorry you had to go through that nightmare alone. I miss you everyday, and I really want you back. It will be different this time, I swear. I really do love you, please don’t say no.” Almost as an afterthought, Ayo delivered the cherry on top. “Do you really love that replacement? What do you really see in him?” He moved closer until Obiageli could feel his warm breath on the nape of her neck. “How does he make you feel? Is he anything like me? Can you honestly say you don’t still love me?”
    How could Obiageli ignore her history with Ayo who once again worked his wicked way back into her arms and bed, promising on his life – for the hundredth time – to make her his wife? All that stood in their way was his youngest daughter’s wedding the following year. Typical. Simon was heart-broken, and Obiageli felt guilty as he was in fact a wonderful man with a heart of gold who could have had any girl he wanted…and he had fallen for her, an ungrateful bitch. As the years passed, several potential love interests continued to approach the still-unmarried Obiageli. There was Ikenna, the radio DJ who had serenaded her at the end-of-year ball her workplace had organised, but he was too loud and outrageous for her tastes. Emeka, the film actor who constantly fought off attention from female admirers, was also turned away when he approached her. Even Ibe had rekindled his interest upon hearing his university girlfriend was still single. Over her dead body. Obiageli hated herself immensely as she questioned the feelings she fought with every time she rejected a man in favour of Ayo. She was a smart, driven, independent career woman who still attracted desirable suitors. Why was she unable to break the spell Ayo had cast on her? It could only be love, and no other man would do. As simple as that.
    An oval sapphire sparkled on her ring finger as Obiageli smoothed down her immaculate dress, casting her mind back to the afternoon Ayo’s long-suffering wife had burst in on her after hearing rumours about the shameless whore spotted around town with her husband and paying frequent visits to his office where the grapevine ran rife. Most of Obiageli’s colleagues had taken sides with the poor woman as the latter hurled fiery insults and unsavoury remarks about ‘husband snatchers’ reaping where they had not sown. Security was hastily required to tear Obiageli away from Ayo’s wife who seemed to possess the strength of ten men as she punched, scratched, and spat at her rival. The bank staff were less than sympathetic towards their colleague; she had brought it all on herself, and it served her right. Part of Obiageli was weighed with guilt and shame as her wounds healed, but the rest of her had beamed with glee as the exposure of those clandestine meetings meant it was now out in the open and no longer had to hide. On the day the divorce papers were finally signed, she popped open a bottle of champagne which she drank alone in her luxurious duplex. She already had it all – her own house, a plush car, an enviable bank balance – all she needed was her man, and when Ayo finally thrust the long-awaited ring into her palm she was close to cartwheeling across her living room, even if it was far from the romantic proposal she had envisioned. Where was Ayo’s enthusiasm? Would it have killed him to at least smile if he was about to put a ring on it at long last? Not that she cared much at that point – Obiageli was to become Mrs. Adetokunbo, and all that mattered was the ceremony, the certificate, and the confetti.
    Obiageli stared at the wedding dress in her reflection deep in thought as she fastened on the old vintage-style pearl earrings Ayo had bought for her 30th birthday. This was the morning her sapphire was to be teamed with another rock, hopefully a huge diamond because she was worth it, but instead of picking up a bouquet, Obiageli reached for the copy of Hello! Nigeria her neighbour had excitedly slipped under her door the night before, and this morning as she frantically flicked through the glossy pages yet again she cringed with anger. Maybe she was crazy, but she had worn the dress in case she was dreaming, and the glossy spread in her hands proved life was anything but a fairy tale despite the princess-like gown she had been dying to wear for ages.
    Libby Thomas, Lagos’s highly-rated party planner, had duly pulled out of organising Obiageli’s big day, and it was no secret why she had made the decision. As a woman whose husband had left her for a younger home-wrecker five years prior, Libby sympathised with Ayo’s ex and refused to coordinate the other woman’s wedding. Obiageli had been furious with this decision, but if she wanted that ring on her finger fast there was no time to stew. At 38, she was getting on fast with no time to waste. The party planner drafted in to replace Libby had been adequate… and a traitor. Obiageli peered at the pages, instantly recognising the party arrangement in the magazine pictures, and bristled with rage. Everything in front of her was an exact replica of what she had planned – same colours, same furniture, same flower arrangements, same settings…same everything. Except the bride. Men were filthy swine with dicks for brains. Filthy lying swine. Grabbing the dress with both hands she tore away at the fine fabric, pearls and ribbons flying everywhere, and stamped on her tiara furiously before she collapsed in a heap on her bed, hot bitter tears streaming down her face as she read the article for the umpteenth time:
 
 “Model/actress Sarah ‘Sekara’ Kanu has tied the knot with Lagos-based oil merchant Ayodele Adetokunbo in a ceremony held at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry after a whirlwind romance. Only a few guests were present at the brief ceremony, but family and friends were invited to celebrate with the newlyweds at a reception held at the Cassa Grande hotel. It is the 60-year-old Adetokunbo’s second marriage following his high-profile divorce from his ex-wife eighteen months ago. Sekara, 25, met her husband after they were introduced by mutual friends at an awards ceremony, and the stunning bride’s slinky wedding gown cleverly disguised the three-month pregnancy they both announced in front of the delighted crowd. Speaking to Hello! Nigeria at the reception, Sekara stated it was the best day of her life, and is looking forward to becoming a mother in her marital home…”

Liberation

 

This was the first story I wrote for The Naked Convos, and one of the few to attract criticism. Contrary to popular believe, I have nothing against overweight people. It’s a story – deal with it. 

 

Liberation

 

Libby’s eyes wandered across the array of shades and hues until she decided on Ruby Woo, admiring its vibrant yet subtle tone. She held the lipstick close to her face before smearing it carefully, finding the result flattering. Just as she was about to rummage through some matching lip pencils, a shrill ear-splitting voice caused her fingers to freeze as her heart briefly missed it cue. She turned around, curiously narrowing her eyes at the source of the sound – a short, pregnant woman raining obscenities at the unfortunate make-up artist who had scrubbed off the thick caking of war-paint her tormentor had arrived with, revealing the patches and blemishes she had tried hard to conceal. Fifty Shades of Bleaching, Libby thought, as she wondered if she had ever crossed paths with this double-chinned face whose owner was so fat, she had probably signed a lifetime contract with her local butcher. Suddenly Libby closed her eyes, and it all came back to her – the pain, the anguish, the misery she hadn’t deserved five years ago but still had to endure, and while events had occurred long before the average Nigerian had even heard of MAC, the scars were still present, and no amount of make-up would have been able to mask the past…

***

Her heart stopped beating, and she was certain she could hear it shatter into a million and one unfixable pieces. She jolted in her armchair totally dazed with disbelief – either Chinedu was playing an early April Fools’ trick, or he had actually confirmed the suspicions she had long ignored. She stared at him confused, her brain still not having processed her husband’s short but stern speech, but she was alert enough to realise that he was serious, and the raging storm outside was no match for his own thundery temper indoors. As Libby’s eyes began to moisten, he stood up and headed towards the front door, but Libby refused to give up without a fight, or at least an explanation.  She ran in front of him, grabbed his shoulders, and pleaded desperately. “No, no, no!” she wailed. “You don’t mean that! Why? What did I do? Why?” The house abruptly plunged into darkness courtesy of NEPA, and Chinedu coolly brushed her hands off, took a few steps backwards, and growled in the direction of her tear-soaked face, his voice lacking the emotion Libby had craved for eons.

“I’ve said what I’ve got to say – I can’t be with you anymore. It’s not working, we’re not working. I have to be honest, I don’t love you. Like I said, you’ll get over it, but if you want to mope over a dead marriage, that’s your own business, and you won’t do it in my house. Our marriage was a mistake, it feels like a burden, and I can’t keep carrying it. Yes we have kids, but how can we carry on like this when I feel nothing in my heart for you? It’s over, deal with it.” Libby’s waterworks increased the flow, but Chinedu did not seem bothered as he concluded his statement. “We’re getting a divorce”, and with those cold piercing words, Chinedu managed to find his car keys before slamming the door behind him and driving through the storm.  Libby suddenly dropped onto the rug and wept uncontrollably, her lithe body trembling with every sob. If this was a nightmare, she prayed that she’d wake up with Chinedu’s arms around her, cradling her back to sleep and whispering that this had all been a nightmare. Unfortunately, the agony in her heart reminded her that this was reality. Besides when was the last time Chinedu had even looked at her properly, let alone held her?

Chinedu had been precise when he told Libby that she must have sensed their lack of intimacy in recent months – the term ‘recent years’ would have been more apt – but she had chosen to ignore the warning signs, putting it down to exhaustion due to long hours at the merchant bank where he worked as a manager. He had stopped paying attention to his wife, and whenever Libby attempted to get close to him she struggled to make head or tail of his monosyllabic grunts. She also found herself living in perpetual fear of his temper; although he was never physically violent, Libby suddenly discovered that she couldn’t do anything right, and Chinedu wasted no time belittling his wife – her cooking was subpar (Weird, considering their friends always spoke highly of her culinary skills), her favourite music had to be turned down or better yet turned off (She never batted her long-lashed eyelids when he blasted out those vulgarity-laden gangsta rap lyrics), and  she had to cut back on the calories she consumed because she was packing on the pounds (Seriously? Even Stevie Wonder could see that the last taunt was absolute rubbish). Their two children, Amara and Ugo, were not exempt from their father’s condemnation which Libby thought was unfair as they were good kids, polite and studious. Their mother had raised them well, yet they spent a great deal of their time flinching in terror whenever their father snapped at them, and no-one could understand this sudden transformation.

For years Libby had strived to create the perfect family whilst playing the role of Mrs. Dutiful Wife, forgetting her own individuality in the process. In the early days of their relationship she was sure her critics were merely jealous of her budding romance with Chinedu, but they had heatedly insisted that she could have done so much better due to his domineering temperament. They found him sulking whenever Libby arranged outings with her college mates. He would cut her off whenever she tried to express an opinion during heated topics with his own acquaintances. She came under fire the day she visited him wearing leggings.  Yet like an incurable romantic in need of a dose of realism, she remained with him. One or two of her friends had pointed out that the considerably older Chinedu Ogbonnaya wasn’t exactly Mr. Nigeria material, and indeed although she had never been the shallow type, Libby had hardly been in awe when they first met at the bank when she dropped in to purchase an exam form. However, Chinedu had been persistent, determined to claim exclusive rights to this striking dame. Libby had gradually fallen for his inner charms in spite of his flaws, and against all odds they strolled down the aisle a few years later. She had stood by his side as he worked his way to the top professionally, and soon the children came along. As she wept bitterly, she questioned how her hopes and dreams had miserably come to this. Luckily, Amara and Ugo had gone to their aunt Hope’s for the weekend, and she was thankful she didn’t have to explain her swollen eyes and mournful demeanour to them the next day, but they had to find out about the split soon, a day she dreaded. Engulfed in pitch darkness within the walls of the house she had endlessly toiled on to make a home, Libby had never felt more insecure and alone.

Months passed, and as she lay in bed as the cobwebs in the ceiling corners grew thicker she contemplated her future, and by what Libby had viewed so far it didn’t look bright. Everything had revolved around Chinedu and the kids, and now the existence she had grown accustomed to was vanishing rapidly. During their marriage he hadn’t even allowed her to complete her education or establish a career of her own, which meant there was now nothing to fall back on. While he had never actually uttered the sexist cliché that a woman’s place was at home, she knew that this was exactly what he had meant when he argued that he couldn’t trust housekeepers to raise his children or maintain the house, and had mocked her further by scoffing that no employer would ever take a chance on a woman with a ‘useless’ diploma in General Art. Now, at the ripe old age of 34, she had been left stranded in her sister Hope’s spare bedroom with nothing – nothing to show for twelve challenging years of remaining faithful and loyal after the confetti had been swept away, and now she had been shoved into a dark ditch she wasn’t sure she would escape…

***

Libby paid for her MAC products and strolled out of the Ikeja City Mall into the warm sunny breeze, a smile spreading across her crimson lips – had she been wacky enough, she would have skipped along merrily all the way home in her pencil heels. When Chinedu had callously disposed of her without the slightest trace of compassion, she nearly died. After scrubbing away the final flow of tears she thought would never dry, Liberty Ogbonnaya did die.  In her place was Liberty Thomas – the woman she had been proud of before her own identity had been placed on hold by her control freak of a husband. The driven and determined damsel Chinedu had hounded relentlessly before altering her. Following her banishment from her old home, she had dug out and dusted up her ‘useless’ qualifications, and after months of meeting with potential clients, examining drape samples, comparing colour charts, and countless sleepless night baking and icing dozens of her signature fruitcakes in Hope’s small kitchen, Libby was now the CEO of House of Liberty, the popular interior design and events management enterprise she had built thanks to the grant her US-based brother Victor had provided. Her eye for detail, colour and co-ordination earned her a large clientele, and no Lagos wedding was complete without her flamboyant multiple-tiered fruitcakes which often competed with the bride for attention. Chinedu hadn’t objected to her love of baking during their ill-fated marriage, and had even allowed her to cater for friends who sought her creations as a centrepiece for their celebrations; the orders had been few and far between, but her commissions were always impressive, not that she ever kept the money for herself as Chinedu had often dipped his controlling claws into their joint account without reason, but now she had her own income and, most importantly, her own life. Why had she exchanged those promises and oaths all those years ago…vows Chinedu had no intention of keeping? What a waste of her life, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of feeling sorry for herself – the control freak wasn’t worth the effort.

As she drove to the Ikoyi residence her friends and associates affectionately labelled “Casa Liberty”, Libby winced as she recalled the day her ex moved Ekwutosi, the vertically-challenged youth copper/object of his lustful desires into their home. The scheming bitch who had enjoyed numerous clandestine meetings with her mentor at the bank as his wife remained imprisoned at home. Libby shook her head as she recalled the late nights at work, the unexplained restaurant receipts, whiffs of perfume he couldn’t wait to wash off as soon as he raced past her at home…what a fool she had been! She had despised her rival immediately due to the latter’s condescending attitude, and Libby was certain Ekwutosi, who was already heavily pregnant, had sneered “Old cargo” under her breath the day Libby had arrived to collect the last of her belongings. Despite both women living in Lagos, their paths had never crossed after that, thank God. Five years later Ekwutosi, with her newly-acquired flab, rolls, and bulges was now an obese shadow of her former self, and twice as uncouth. Chinedu had always insulted Libby’s slender figure, and now he’d ended up with…that. Ha ha ha. As she had walked out of the mall unnoticed by her enemy who continued to drop heavy f-bombs to everyone’s disgust, Ekwutosi’s hyperactive twin daughters – mini carbon copies of their mother minus the skin-bleaching – continuously irritated the other customers as they ran amok in the store despite Ekwutosi’s repeated warnings, and Libby breathed a silent prayer, thanking God for her own well-behaved offspring. Five years ago, her heart had nearly experienced another heartache as she waved Amara and Ugo goodbye when they boarded a bus headed for Owerri to live with her own parents months after the divorce (Ekwutosi had no intention of playing step-mother, and Chinedu was keen to please his new wife although he did support his children financially). Libby had pined for them as she threw herself into her budding business, but she couldn’t have been happier now they were back living with her. She would never be able to make up for those years they had been separated, but she intended to spend the rest of her life trying.

Libby parked her bright blue Mercedes in front of her Ikoyi home, kicked off her heels as soon as she stepped inside her tastefully furnished living room, and sunk into her multi-coloured patchwork sofa clutching a glass of rosé. Chinedu most definitely would have criticised her choices in upholstery almost as much as he would have jeered at her new lipstick, but right now who cared? She sighed with contentment – Liberty Thomas had finally moved on. She was reminded of that sentiment when her ringtone notified her of a text which read “Hope you had a good day. Looking forward to Saturday. B ;-)”. She smiled as she day-dreamed of Bob, the dashing Brit she had met at the British High Commission dinner she had been asked to decorate. Having long neglected her personal life, it felt refreshing to be asked out again, not that she was ever short of admirers as she was an attractive successful woman, but she sensed that Bob was special. Whether he would turn out to be the missing piece in her jigsaw, time would tell. As she waited for Amara and Ugo to bounce in from school, she beamed yet again. Chinedu may have been a selfish husband and a rotten father, but she would always remain grateful for releasing her from that hellish cocoon, allowing her to spread her colourful wings and fly into tranquillity, success, and freedom. Libby Thomas was here to stay.