By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
I have often wondered why sometimes people who had danced into a marriage with love, happiness, optimism and hope all too soon turn into bitter enemies, ready to maim, defame, or abuse, or kill and go their different ways. For some, after ten, twenty or thirty years of marriage, they turn on each other and fight a bitter divorce in court, calling each other names, and throwing caution to the wind. In one deadly case, one of the former sweet lovers sent assassins after the other party. Why does intense love turn into deep bitterness in some marriages? When bitterness creeps into a union, some throw away all forms of decencies, ignore the fate of their kids, and carry on as if the world would be better off without the presence of the other. Why does this happen between persons who had been in courtship for many years?
The first time I witnessed a marriage of close persons go sour, bitterly sour was around 1985. It was our post-graduation years. We all had kept tabs on one another on most issues – job, marriage, family, who was where and who was what. We knew who was dating who, who took someone seriously and who we would never recommend to an enemy for a deep, long lasting relationship. Yes, later we all drifted apart into different fields, lives, climes, and endeavours. And some died early too. Everyone with his own fate, his obligations, and his destiny. Some rose sharply, got to the top and made it big while we were yet struggling. A few burnt out early. They had risen too fast perhaps. ‘This world no balance’, one of us summed it up.
Fast forward, we all became reunited in the era of social media. But in the old days, we managed to meet. Dapo showed up one day and told me he was getting married to one Chinyere Hauwa Okafor. Chinyere Hauwa Okafor? Hmmm! I said, ‘Just like that? ‘Just like that how’? he asked. ‘So fast’? ‘What a combination of names getting married to a Dapo? ‘Marriage of unity. Igbo father and Hausa mother! ‘Great. But we don’t know the lady involved.’ ‘That’s precisely the point. It’s an adventure. A journey of discovery. You don’t have to know her. I’ve known her long enough to marry her. Five years is no joke! ‘Five years? How? When? ‘My secret, boy, my secret’, he replied confidently.
So, I was shocked beyond words when after three years, he said it was all over. The drama of the news of the exit of Chinyere from his life equalled the one which had announced her coming. I had come to know them after the introduction, months before the wedding, while we ate out, drank, saw movies, and attend social functions together. I supposed he wanted me to meet his angel, though he never asked my opinion, and I never volunteered nor asked any questions, and we lived happily ever after. Or so I thought! I simply took her as wife-to-be. I guess he was very comfortable with that. His family was relieved that their notorious philanderer had decided to be serious about life, by taking a wife. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know her or that she was from an ethnic group that some of them thought should never come into their family. Any wife that he chose was good. They accepted Chinyere and treated her like family. They didn’t want him to change his mind after a few months. Before we knew it, a big wedding was held, and both were expected to live happily like the prince and princess in fairy tales.
I wondered what made the hitherto inseparable pair so disgusted with each other that they could not sit down in the same room just three years into the marriage. I was witness to their courtship and beautiful wedding at which ceremony my friend looked into his wife’s eyes all the time that everyone believed that he was indeed smitten by the bug of love. She also was all soft and smiling and saying and doing all the right things. In their courtship days, they hardly had time for a third person. He had been a swinger on the business of women chasing and suddenly cut off everyone. What was in this girl Chinyere that made Dapo a born-again lover boy? What charm, what potion had she fed him with that altered his personality?
But the marriage ended. He didn’t want to say what really happened. I didn’t have the nerve to probe for details because his lips became tight any time the topic came up. He returned to drinking and smoking furiously as if smoking was a way of repudiating the life of a born-again, which his foray into Pentecostalism had taught him. He simply said it was too painful to talk about it. I had no access to Chinyere. Indeed she disappeared from our orbit, taking their only child along with her.
It was later we found out that they were two different personalities. While Chinyere was the home girl who frowned and made trouble with his long hours in his workplace, with new friends, Chinyere the unemployed would cry into the night waiting for her beloved. How and why did Dapo stop coming home as he did in the first year? I was not aware that he had resumed hanging out late because I hardly saw him. We lived and worked at different ends of this big hostile and dirty city. Dapo would just smoke away each time I asked what could be done. Once I joked that I had invited Chinyere to meet us and he replied that the moment she walked in he would walk out!
Marriage is a marathon. Not a sprint. The ‘for better for worse’ proclamation in the old tradition recognized this fact. In that old tradition, parties or stakeholders in a union respected most of the rules. Families knew how to intervene and restore order. In the world we live in, such rules are no longer respected. Spouses now pick up a gun or a knife to kill off a troublesome partner. In one case, a wife cut off her husband’s genitals after stabbing him to death. What this means is that there are some marriages, apparently made in heaven which must end once it gets to earth. When it becomes clear that both parties are or one of the parties is suffering unbearably in the union, something must be done. Suffering is not an experience that should go on forever. An exploitative union of any type must end. That is the spirit of the brave new world, the world of freedom. An abusive marriage gives happiness to no one, not even the abuser. It hurts. A husband and wife who can no longer live together because of irreconcilable differences should part ways amicably without breaking heads. For the sake of the children, for the sake of their sanity, like Chinyere and Dapo, separation should be peaceful and without unnecessary drama and acrimony. If they decide to ‘manage’ and ‘patch up’ things for the sake of the world, they might end up killing each other.
In all the unions in the land, whether nuptial or geographical or religious, there must be no exploitation, no oppression and no-winner-takes-it-all spirit. Those who have a stronger arm in a marriage today could lose it tomorrow. Power in the hands of man is not an eternal thing. It is transient. The history of the world is replete with spouses or powerful men who thought that they would rule forever. Some learnt a lesson when it was too late. Nobody rules a family, a clan, a community, a state, a country in injustice and rules forever. The Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth will not allow injustice to be a forever thing in the affairs of man! A sour marriage should end!