Papa’s house was nothing beyond a regular two-bedroom flat that accommodated a family of eight. Agnes was the first child. Mama had birthed five girls before her brother was born; the one Papa had been waiting for.
The night Ochemba visited them, Mama brought out the new set of candle sticks from the kitchen cabinet, instructing Agnes to light them up. NEPA had showcased its talent again. They had no fuel to power the already faulty I-better-pass-my-neighbor generator. Under the dim candle lights, the conversation that would translate her into being a wife ensued. She could see her shadow, the dark reflection of her soul on the wall which was defaced with crayons by her brother who was learning to write. He was the only one who attended school as the others were withdrawn after Papa was laid off due to the mass retrenchment at the local government office where he had served for fifteen years.
Agnes graduated from secondary school and passed her O’ Levels. She had scored 250 in JAMB too but her reward ended in Mama’s “I’m proud of you but your father has no money for University”. Papa didn’t see the need for tertiary education. He wanted her to learn a trade and get married to a rich man.
A rich man came. Mr. Ochemba, the forty year old big car dealer from their home town. Papa didn’t own a car so he was delighted when Ochemba promised to give him a Toyota. Ochemba wanted to marry Agnes and he promised to send her to the University immediately after their wedding. He was uneducated yet rich and he wanted a trophy wife; a wife through whom he could prove his class to his contemporaries. In the speed of light, she found herself being given out in marriage to him at the wine-carrying ceremony and becoming his Mrs without her own consent.
Ochemba didn’t renege on his promise. He asked her to choose a school abroad and when the offer from the University of Manchester came, he paid the tuition with the caveat that she would come home every holiday even though he visited her almost too regularly and his visits felt like more like supervision sessions. During her second year, he started to complain to her. He said she refused to get pregnant. He wanted a child; specifically a son. She wanted to concentrate on finishing school first. She was only eighteen.
Mid-December came and she boarded the next flight to Lagos for the Christmas vacation. The night she arrived, he initiated sex and she refused him again. He became angry and forcefully took what he had paid for despite her screaming and struggling. She accused him of rape and he hit her, warning her to never be rude to him again. It was rude for wives to deny their husbands sex. A husband owned his wife hence his act could not be termed rape.
Agnes graduated with a first class degree and was offered scholarship for a master’s programme. She had dreams of taking the UK bar exams, dreams bigger than being Mrs. Ochemba. He denied her permission to pursue these dreams lest she forgot that she was just a woman. A first degree was enough ambition.
When she told him that she wanted a divorce, he became livid and after the familiar punches; verbal and physical, he bundled her into his SUV and returned her to her parents’ house; the new one he bought them at Surulere. Agnes sought succor from Papa, informing him that Ochemba hit her but he insisted that it wasn’t enough reason for a divorce, telling her not to be ungrateful for all Ochemba had done. Mama begged her to endure the violence, warning her not to let the oyinbo culture get into her head as Ochemba must have meant no harm. The quarrel was fast settled and her parents said farewell as she returned home with him.
They arrived home and Ochemba demanded an apology for embarrassing him before her parents. Agnes refused, keeping her gaze on the crystal chandelier that hung on the white plastered ceiling as he ranted.
He didn’t mean it.
The push wasn’t intentional. He only wanted to teach her how to respect him. But it happened suddenly.
His fear and her cries overtook his rage as he saw Agnes fatally fall down the staircase, each tiled step marking her with bruises, and she marking them with blood in a synchronized exchange.
Agnes stared into the chandelier lights; the bulbs set like a choir of angels, shining in their glory. They didn’t sing hallelujah but she swore they did for she already heard the angels’ voices as she lay in a pool of her own blood.