Each night becomes worse than the last and each night, I lose more and more of myself. His eyes become darker, more evil – I can’t even bear to look at him anymore. I didn’t know it was possible to feel violated by someone who was supposed to be so “near-and-dear” to me. My whole life has been about him since the day we got married. His belly, his clothes, his sex drive, his desires, his orders, his commands… I’m at the mercy of it all.
What about me? What about what I want? I have needs too and once upon a time, I had dreams too. Ironically enough, I had dreams of being a lawyer one day; to fight for the rights of those who are voiceless yet here I am feeling voiceless myself. I had dreams of standing for the rights of the innocent and ensuring they had a fair chance at living a happy life! What has become of me and my dreams? They’ve taken a back seat to the conjugal obligations I am bound to day and night. And in some cases, they aren’t even part of the picture. I have lost myself.
I used to be beautiful. In my prime, many marriage proposals came my way. I turned them all down. I was top of my class and only two years away from earning my Bachelor’s. Then things took a turn. Ibrahima, my husband now, asked my father for my hand in marriage. Like many others before him, I refused.
Ibrahima: I’ll let you finish your studies. But I cannot wait any longer, Fatou. Accept my proposal.
Fatou: Ibrahima, I like you, I do. But I know how this story goes. Once we get married, my studies go out the window! I’ve seen it happen too many times and I don’t want that for me. I’m only 19 for God’s sake. Give me time.
Ibrahima: I won’t let that happen! Just trust me.
I suddenly found myself in a tete-a-tete with my aunt, Dior, after my family realized how rew [stubborn] I was being.
Dior: Enough is enough. We’ve tried bargaining with you but you don’t seem to understand. You’re going to marry Ibrahima one way or another. Do you hear me? He can take care of you.
Fatou: Tanta, I need to finish school. Ibrahima can wait.
Dior: You can marry AND finish school. It’s not the end of the world. You’re acting as if you’re the first to juggle both.
Fatou: I don’t want to. My answer is no.
By the end of that week, I was scheduled to be married on Sunday. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
28 years later, I still feel sick to my stomach. I liked Ibrahima before he was forced on me – but our marriage made me resent him. The whole thing made me feel helpless and now, on top of helpless, I feel ugly, somber, and drained. Before I got married, I thought could speak my mind and object every now and then to things I didn’t quite agree with. I realized that was a false sense of confidence … my life wasn’t really mine. I had lost myself a long time ago and in case you were wondering, I never finished school. I had my first child before I turned 21. So much has happened in the last 28 years and maybe another day I will tell you about it. But after a long day of cooking, washing, fixing, and sweeping, it’s time for bed.
The house is silent; the kids are sound asleep and I was ready to do the same. I wash my feet using the plastic kettle outside of my room door, slide my tired feet into my sandals, and step into the room. Ibrahima was already snoring away as I stepped out of my ripped grand-boubou made of cheap khartoum. I sigh and climb gently into bed.
Ibrahima: “Hmpt, huh?”
I didn’t even acknowledge him. I lay quietly in bed and think about how I would fund the next days’ meals. Suddenly, I feel his hands searching for me under the covers; I nearly threw up. Not tonight.
Fatou: Ibou, please go back to sleep.
Ibrahima: Come here.
Fatou: I’m tired. Please, let me rest.
Before I could even finish my sentence, he was already on top of me. The sad part about it all is that I am used to it. I am almost numb to the feeling of him forcing himself on me; it’s become routine. But this particular night, something that hadn’t happened in a long time happened …tears rolled down the side of my face. I had become so accustomed to his abuse that I stopped crying years ago… but tonight, my heart broke all over again as I think about what I had done to deserve this life sentence.
The next morning, the routine resumed. I woke up at dawn to find some money for the house while Ibrahima continued his deep slumber. I take a similar walk to a dear friend of mine who lived a couple of streets down from me to ask for assistance yet again. A little part of me dies each day knowing I have to extend my hand to feed my family. I truly feel helpless during this walk. With five children and a useless husband, I feel like I have no choice. She always helps with a smile on her face but I know that smile takes away a little piece of my dignity each time. I collect the money and head to the local market to pick up a few things.
Fatou: Here’s your breakfast.
Ibrahima: This coffee doesn’t have sugar!
He didn’t even notice I wasn’t having any breakfast myself. There wasn’t enough for everyone so I go without. He hadn’t noticed in years.
Fatou: I don’t have money for sugar. This is what I have, take it or leave it.
Ibrahima: Is that how you talk to me now? You’ve gotten disrespectful lately. Wait until I have time to deal with you.
I sit quietly watching him have his coffee and stale bread from the day before. Around the fourth sip, Ibrahima started coughing and I fixated on him, motionless.
Ibrahima: I don’t feel so good…
Nothing from me.
Ibrahima: What’s in this coffee? What’d you do?!
Fatou: Shhhh you’ll wake the kids.
Ibrahima: Fatou! Answer me, what’s in this coffee!?
I remain fixated on him as he started coughing up clots of blood.
Fatou: I only say this so you can hear it before you die – otherwise, you woudn’t even be worth me wasting my breath: rot in hell.
Ibrahima: Fatou, lii dingua ko rethiou! Kou ñulouk sa jeukeur yakk say dom…wallahi! [you will regret this! The repruccusions will be seen in your kids! They’ll never be successful because of how you treated me! I swear it!]
Fatou: Batay meun na nek. Mais kou ñulouk sa diabar nak? Lan nguay yakk? [That’s possible. But what about how you treated me?]
I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as Ibrahima fell over, finally. The freedom I had longed for finally joined me.
I grab the breakfast dishes, step over his body, and steadily walk to our sorry excuse of a kitchen. I set the dishes down and walked into the room I no longer have to share with a monster. I was free.