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The first time I ever lived alone was in Ibadan. It was a self-contained room in a partial two-storey building. Getting the house was a herculean task, it involved spending one month chasing agent after agent before I got the room.
The landlord, who we all called Alhaji, lived on the second floor alone, his wives and family lived in separate houses all around Ibadan. The ground floor had four tenants, including Alhaji’s mother, a 97-year-old woman we all called Mama. I lived on the first floor with three other tenants.
My room was the last room on the left, the first room had an elderly woman whose son had just gotten married – for clarity’s sake we called her Big Mummy. There were two other rooms; a young couple with two young children occupied one while a woman whose family resided in the U.S. occupied the other. Big Mummy and I lived on the left wing; a locked door demarcated her room from mine.
The house was located in Ibadan on a dirt road with no street name and no running water. We had to draw water from the well; the house opposite had a borehole so women and children from neighbouring houses came to fetch water there. It was a rather interesting place to live in. I was the youngest tenant in my compound and I got along with everyone quite well.
One Saturday morning I heard a loud shout from Big Mummy’s room, “Egba mi o, Alhaji fe Pa mi,” which means, “Help me, Alhaji wants to kill me.” Immediately, I opened my door and walked out to the corridor.
She was the one who was too cheap, she forced herself on Alhaji, and she was a shameless woman who had married twice.OA
A carpenter working in the house advised me to go back inside; I obeyed promptly. The noise became unbearable, Big Mummy was running everywhere and Alhaji was chasing her. I was scared to my bones, Mama was crying.
Alhaji had started beating Big Mummy furiously. He beat her for close to three hours. I slept, woke up and ate; Alhaji was still beating her. The landlady of the next house came over to settle the issue and finally the beating stopped.
I was working in radio then so I interviewed Big Mummy and other neighbours about the case. The situation was knottier than I had thought; Big Mummy had been living downstairs in one room with her relatives. Then Alhaji started behaving nice and good to her. For Salah festival he bought her a whole ram, he gave her love and attention.
Before long, they started a romantic relationship that was devoid of any chance of marriage. Big Mummy had fallen out of love thrice and was too old by Nigerian standards to remarry. Alhaji too had several wives and his grandchildren were already getting married. Their romance was initially a secret, with Big Mummy going up to Alhaji every afternoon. As I worked on the issue, I remembered how Big Mummy had warned me earlier not to allow Alhaji touch me. Then I brushed it off as an old woman’s advice, now I knew it was Love’s jealousy.
They had been having lover’s quarrels regularly; I was even privy to their last argument, which was loud and cantankerous. However, this one was bloody; Alhaji had changed the room doors for all the tenants except Big Mummy the previous week. Big Mummy then complained to him that her door was not changed. On the fateful day of the beating, a carpenter had come to change Big Mummy’s door, but, rather than upgrade the door, he brought an old inferior door and started installing it without informing her. Once she saw the door, she got angry and told the carpenter to remove the door. The carpenter then called Alhaji. Alhaji descended from his floor with anger, in his singlet and trousers.
Once he got to Big Mummy’s room, he took the saw and started hitting Big Mummy with it. He beat her until she bled, she ran and he pursued her hitting her all the way. He hit whoever tried to stop him until the old landlady from next door stopped him.
The landlady then called a meeting to settle the issue. Alhaji started apologizing; he said Big Mummy was his wife and his life. He said the devil was in charge of his brain at that time. He told everyone to intercede with Big Mummy on his behalf. He then hugged what was left of her and that settled the matter.
Big Mummy’s children came that evening to take her to the hospital. On arrival, she was covered in bandages as if she had survived a hit and run accident with a moving truck. She told us, her co-tenants, that she still loved Alhaji and felt their relationship could continue to blossom. At this point, the young couple called Big Mummy’s son on their phone and told him to come and carry his mother away before Alhaji killed her.
In less than a month, Big Mummy was out of the house.
In all that happened, everyone blamed Big Mummy. She was the one who was too cheap, she forced herself on Alhaji, and she was a shameless woman who had married twice. Someone even said she was too desperate. While Alhaji retained his status, no one respected Big Mummy anymore. In the end, the woman was blamed.
I had always read about domestic violence, but that was my first time seeing it. No one called the police, no one fought Alhaji and no one supported Big Mummy. In fact, Alhaji announced to whoever cared to ask that Big Mummy begged him to love her and that he had beaten her blue and black.
I understood for the first time why feminists fight for equality of the sexes, for an end to domestic violence and for gender peace.
Also check out Lola’s story on Growing Up In Okene.