Like many women, you grow up with a certain idea of an ideal life. You envision yourself with a good job, a nice car, beautiful children and, of course, the coveted husband. So you work hard in school, you’re keen on knowing what it takes to climb the corporate ladder, and as society demands, you also pay attention to what it takes to have a family. Having grown up in a happy family, it doesn’t look so difficult, so when you hear stories of the lengths women go to to keep men, you don’t comprehend the struggle but life has a twisted sense of humour.
I sat with Angela in a restaurant. I hadn’t seen her in about three years. We had kept in touch after campus because we ran in the same circles. She found me seated outside at a corner on the balcony of a popular new joint in town. It was a calm day. We looked at each other as she looked for a table, and that was how we ended up sharing a meal.
“Oh hi Angela, it has been so long since I last saw you. How have you been?”
“I’ve been good, just adulating,” she said.
“I see you every once in a while on Instagram. How’s the son?”
“He is great. They grow up so fast!” She said more enthusiastically.
The waiter came, and we placed our orders as we chit-chatted about general things and mutual acquaintances. There was soft music playing in the restaurant. Sanaipei Tande’s Kunitema was playing. I was enjoying her glorious voice when Angela’s sobs surprised me.
“I’m sorry,” Angela said as she tried to wipe her tears.
“Did you get some bad news?” I asked, confused. We were chatting a minute ago, and then she started crying.
“I’m sorry. This song really triggers me.”
After a couple of minutes of sobbing, she finally regained her composure.
“I’m a thirty year old divorcee, single mum and I have to start work extra hard to get my career growth back on track,” she said.
“I am so sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. At least not for everything. My son and I are in a better place but I am still angry.”
“I am glad you feel you’re in a better place. Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.
Angela had always been more aggressive than most people. So, it was no surprise that she got promoted at work about a year after joining the company. That was where she met her husband. He worked in the finance department, and she worked in the research one. She would often have to go to the finance department to fast track disbursement of funds for various projects. It started with friendly chats, then it graduated to seemingly flirting, and the rest was history soon after they were in a relationship.
A year later, Angela found out she was pregnant. The news was received with both excitement and fear. The timing wasn’t ideal since it would limit her ability to take field assignments. She was in a stable relationship, but they were not yet ready to take the next step. However, despite not having planned for the pregnancy, they decided this was the sign to make things official.
The arrangements began, and the boyfriend, Frank, went to visit her parents. They held the dowry negotiations and settled on agreeable terms. The couple also moved in together. That was when the drama started. In her fourth month of pregnancy, Angela had to travel for work. Her flight back landed around 3 a.m., so she took a taxi home. She had informed Frank that she would be coming back at that time. He acted passive-aggressive, but she didn’t think it was a serious problem. Angela figured they would talk about it once she was home.
She arrived home at 4 a.m. She called Frank as the taxi neared the gate. He didn’t pick up the call. She paid the taxi driver and started dragging her suitcase towards their house. Suddenly, her attention was drawn to flying objects. Someone was throwing clothes down through the window- it was Frank.
“Go back to where you’ve come from. You have no respect for your husband,” Frank yelled as he threw her clothes down.
“Frank, what’s this about? You know I am coming from a work trip,” she said as she begged him to stop throwing down clothes.
They lived on the first floor, so she quickly climbed the stairs. Frank came to the door and prevented her from getting inside.
“You have been arrogant about having a better-paying job than I do. Which pregnant wife comes home at this time?” Frank asked as he threw more of her things at her.
Angela pleaded and cried, but Frank was having none of it. He believed she was disrespecting him and needed to learn a lesson. They lived in an area where she couldn’t easily access cabs, so she collected the clothes Frank had been throwing and asked the watchman to let her stay at his station until she could get help in a few hours.
Since Frank was in the finance department, he knew how much she was making and didn’t like that she earned more than he did. He had hinted a couple of times, but Angela only encouraged him that he would also get a promotion in due time. She didn’t know it was deeper for him.
Soon the sun was out. She was torn between begging Frank to let her back in and going to her sister’s place. It was shameful to tell anyone what had happened, but Frank was still angry at her. She decided to take a hotel room as she gathered her thoughts. She also needed to prepare a report to present at work the following day. Against all odds, she finished her report, but she wasn’t in a good place mentally.
Later in the day, she called Frank. After several discussions, Frank apologized and asked her to come back home. She was glad to go back home, but it also came with shame. She wondered what the neighbours thought of her. The next couple of months were filled with constant arguments. It got worse when she bought herself a car. She had been saving up for one for over a year and wanted to have one before the baby came for easier movement.
“You want to be the man of the house? What do you want to show me?” Frank asked.
“Frank, I told you I had been saving up for a car since we started dating. I don’t understand why this is an issue,” she said in desperation. Nothing she did seemed to be good enough for him.
By the seventh month of her pregnancy, she was tired of the arguments. She wondered whether she was a bad wife. She decided that if it helped salvage her marriage, she would quit her job since it seemed to be the greatest source of friction. The people at her workplace could not believe she was leaving. She argued that she needed more time to care for her soon-to-come child, but the boss offered her a flexible back-to-work schedule. She declined the offer.
For about two weeks, Frank seemed happy. Meanwhile, she started looking for businesses she could start. Quitting her job was taking a toll on her mentally, but she couldn’t open up to anyone that she had left her job to save her marriage. Frank was back at it, expecting her to do more for him since she had more time at home.
The next time Angela went for a checkup, the doctor expressed concerns over her blood pressure levels.
“Is anything, in particular, stressing you?” The doctor asked.
“Just the usual anxiety,” Angela lied.
“You don’t have to lie to me, your numbers are telling a different story.”
She opened up to the doctor. The doctor suggested if she couldn’t get her stress levels in check, it could necessitate a caesarean section. They talked about the particulars and told her she wanted to monitor her closely, so she would have to go back to the hospital regularly.
With the stress from Frank, her stress levels didn’t decrease, and she eventually had to have a C-section to deliver the baby. Frank refused to pay the hospital bill because, in his opinion, she had decided to go for the ‘easy’ way out instead of having a normal delivery. He said he wouldn’t enable her laziness. Angela used up most of her savings to pay the bills.
They went home. Frank was happy that he had a son, but he was still angry at Angela for not having a normal delivery. When she needed help as her stitches healed, he would help reluctantly. At some point, he told her that he grew up with a strong and hardworking mother, and he couldn’t understand why his son couldn’t have the same.
Unfortunately for Angela, the healing process took a bit longer, and she needed help around the house. Frank refused to pay the house help as Angela’s savings were running low, and the business didn’t even have time to pick up before she got her son. The house help started getting impatient with Angela. Eventually, she found a way to visit her parents and told them everything. Her supportive parents told her they would help her pay for the house help as she figured out her way forward.
“I know you’re wondering why I didn’t just leave. But it wasn’t that easy. It meant I was going to raise my son alone without a father,” she said without giving me a chance to respond.
She secretly also started looking for jobs. Once, Frank came home earlier than expected. She had gone for an interview, so she was well dressed. She couldn’t lie that she had gone to buy household stuff or claim she was meeting up with someone because he would claim she was negligent. She told him she had been recommended for a job by someone, so she had gone to check it out as a courtesy to the person who had recommended her.
“Angela are we going to have issues about your job again?” Frank asked in anger. It was at that point that she knew it would never work out. With her family’s help, she moved out and started over.
“Looking back, I should have known that it wasn’t going to work when he threw out my things while I was pregnant but it felt like I was failing at marriage even before the take-off. But I’m glad something wonderful came out of it. My child,” she said with a smile.
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