Someone named Ngozi had just left her husband. At least, that was what I heard mother say, as she stood stiffly, stirring her pot on fire. The savory stew she cooked simmered, as if it too was as enraged as she was. Perhaps it was, perhaps she was telepathic, perhaps she had transferred her aggression to it.
Or perhaps, the stew simply protested their gossip, because also in that kitchen was her best friend, Bibiana. Aunt Bibi to me, Mrs. Iyanda to others. The bulk of her from behind, looking like the hull of a barge placed upside down, sat by the kitchen entrance, slowly but steadily draining her cold glass of fura de nunu. They made a wonderful duo; Mother’s tongue poured scorching fire, Aunt Bibi’s produced venomous bile. Together, they inflicted slander scars on their victims. Scars the latter neither saw nor felt; only visible to third party observers. Observers like me, cleaning after mother.
Aunt Bibi spoke. Her loud voice, bass-like, reverberated through the kitchen walls. “In these times of scarce, someone stupid gives hers up. Has she seen the sharks out there? They shall devour, in hunger, what she knows not how to value.”
My ears perked up. Character assassination had commenced.
“She is deceived by the trend of feminism. Those women who chant ‘women’s rights are human rights’ and ‘women matter too’ in public. Yet, in the secret chambers of their hearts, desperate singles, they are, or unhappy divorcees. Shameless women who refuse to accept that it is only proper a woman give up her rights once she says ‘I do’, for family and forever. Why tilt the balance of nature when you cannot live with the consequences, eh?” Anger was an aura Mother wafted into the air, it mixed with the aroma of her stew to form a heady nonsense.
“Can she offer prayers with the women now at church? From her lips to God’s ears? She asked, skeptical. She hoped not. Ngozi, whoever she was, did not deserve a seat at the table with the gods anymore.
“Of course not! Our God is against divorce. And she has to be ex-communicated from the Catholic Christian Mother’s Association as well.” Came Aunt Bibi’s reply.
“Not if her reason was serious.” I surprised myself by speaking. “Not if her life was at stake. Not if he broke his vows. Not if she was unhappy. Surely, even your God will understand.
Did I just say that?
Blood pounded in my head, altering the sound of my voice in my ears. Both women were looking my way now, surprise and disapproval visible in their eyes.
“Look at this child! What do you know about marriage?”
Nothing. But then, I was not the one father called a bloody whore the night before. The top knuckle of my pinky finger was not bent like the number 7 from a beating; a permanent disfigurement. I did not have to run to mother in tears each time I found a new fruity flavor in my husband’s fast-growing mobile candy collection. My medical record had no history of a sexually transmitted disease. I did not have a marriage that produced more pain than pleasure. Bitterness and scorn were not the end-result of my marriage. My all did not always fall short of being worthy of my partner’s approval and I was not being denied sex by him because he thought me fat and unappealing. What could I possibly know about marriage?
“You should listen to your betters in silence, Ama; follow our example. You know nothing about what your mother and I speak of. Don’t you know that a woman without a man is like a human body with no head?”
Not a word from me again, I promised myself as I stacked now clean plates on the rack.
It was sophistic, this pretense of theirs, that because they had both stayed married for almost two decades, they had, of a sudden, become experts on marital affairs, on the how-tos of marriage, on how wives ought to conduct themselves to avoid getting divorced by their husbands.
This time around, their victim was devoid of the anticipated scars. Her persona glowed instead, so great was my admiration for her. But what was also obvious, even to me in that hot kitchen, on that eventful afternoon, was the unspoken acknowledgement in the deep silence that followed their conversation. Indeed, the infamous Ngozi, whoever she was, had dared to put an end to an unpleasant aspect of her life, and this gallant act of hers, they could only dream about, for they did not have the temerity to make it real. They were trapped, by their own doing, in a bubble, that comprised of a thousand faceless, moving lips.