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Winifred Òdúnóku | Mirror on the Wall

Sarah stood in front of the mirror trying to perfect her makeup. She smeared the nude lipstick on her lips and smacked her lips together to seal the gel into them. She stared at her reflection in the mirror and wondered why he had to do this again. Her husband, Gideon. It would be better if he had just pulled a trigger on her head, rather than torture her then seek retribution by offering to take her out for dinner. Any woman would have said no, but not Sarah. She lacked the will to stand up to Gideon, or even leave him.

Despite being the leader of the Praying Sisters group in her church where she preaches against women being regarded as weaker vessels, and encourages them to be strong in the face of adversities, “have an if-I-perish-I-perish mentality like Queen Esther,” here she was rubbing in her pain from a failed marriage. Consoling herself with the fact that Gideon isn’t a cheat, he only beats her. Isn’t she lucky?

How moronic to preach against something and still be caught in the very middle of it. To the members of the Praying Sisters group in church, Sarah is a woman of easy virtue, one whose marriage is blissful, and definitely one who is credible in giving women advice. Pray tell! She’s become an expert in covering her shame with heavy makeup. Plastering a wide smile on her face to cover the hurt that seethes through her veins.

And now that she was yet again in front of the mirror that has become second home to her, she plastered and plastered and plastered. Primer, foundation, powder, concealer, and everything-in-between; layer after layer. Her makeup tools all dance to her tune as she picks them one after the other and applies the makeup meticulously over her sagging skin that once shone brightly.

“Babe, aren’t you done?” Gideon stormed in from the bathroom, holding a wet towel over his face.

The water dripping down his chest made Sarah stifle a moan. This was one of her weaknesses, among many others.

“No babe, just a little perm up, and I’ll be done,” Sarah picked up her compact and peered into it with one eye closed.

Gideon walked up to the mirror, and grabbed Sarah from behind, almost destroying her makeup with the water on his chin.

“Babe, you should go get dressed,” Sarah tilted his head off her neck and dabbed the wet patch on her neck with a foam.

Standing in front of the mirror, she wasted a few more minutes admiring herself and smiling faintly into the mirror. This was her way of maintaining her charm. So, she kept her makeup tools handy, for whenever she’d need to use them to plaster a faux happy face over her distressed one. She admired herself one last time and slid her ring into her forefinger. By the time she and Gideon walked out of their apartment, any traces that she’d been earlier battered by him had disappeared.

“Here comes the power couple,” Mugabo, their security man, shouted from the gate.

Sarah smiled and waved at him, as Gideon turned around to open the car door for her. They did give off the vibes of a power couple, these two partners that couldn’t go a week without creating a morbid scene before their dog, Meso.

Out through the massive gate, Gideon drove his Mercedes Benz into the streets. They were going on another exclusive date, such one he often used to pay for his ‘sins’ and seek Sarah’s forgiveness almost every week.

As the youth pastor of his church, he always preached about forgiveness. With the mic gripped firmly, he would shout into it and conjure the congregation to always forgive their neighbours and brothers. Sarah would be sat in the front pew, with a massive hat that obstructs those behind her from having a clear view of the altar. She’d snap her fingers and scream “ride on, pastor” from her sitting position. And Gideon would intensify his message and quote scriptures to drive home his point.

“Brethren,” Gideon would adjust his tie, “getting the blessings of God is attached to being a great giver. But one more thing that we don’t stress enough?” he’d scan the entire perimeter of the church to ensure he had all their attention before continuing, “you also have to be a great forgiver. Amen?”

The congregation would shout “Amen” and Sarah would clap her hands to cheer him on.

“In Matthew 18:21-22 when Peter came to Jesus to ask ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? What did Jesus tell him?” Gideon would ask again.

“Seventy-seven times,” the congregation would roar.

Gideon would cup his left hand to his ear and shout, “say that again?”

The congregation would repeat it. Sarah too. And that’s how the message became ingrained in her mind. As a Christian, she had to forgive not seven times, not forty-nine times. If her husband sins against her seventy-seven times in a row, she had to forgive him all his sins as long as he was genuinely sorry.

Gideon was always sorry, but only hours or even days after he’d disfigured her face with his fist. One thing he knew for sure was that Sarah, his wife of two and half years who always intercedes for him in the war room, would always forgive him.

“Amen,” the preacher’s voice in the car stereo roared to life.

Sarah had asked Gideon to play a message as they coursed through the busy streets of Kigali to the restaurant – May’s Bistro – where Gideon had made a reservation for two.

“I love this message,” she said as the recorded message played on.

Gideon placed his right hand on her lap and fiddled with the hem of her pencilled skirt. The skirt had been chosen specially by him for the date. Though he abused Sarah when his rage was upon him, he always made up for this inadequacy in other departments; one of it being splurging on Sarah.

“I knew you’d love it,” he replied after a while, “you’re a woman after God’s heart.”

Sarah glanced at him as he looked straight ahead on the road. The thoughts going through her mind were palpable. How did she end up with an abuser for a husband who, to the public eye, was a saint? Why isn’t she walking out of the marriage despite everything she was going through? Why couldn’t she let go of this man?

Gideon turned to her and smiled, “what’s going through your mind?” he asked.

“I’m just thinking about how lucky I am to have you,” Sarah lied.

“Hhmmmm,” Gideon grunted and turned his gaze back on the road.

How lucky?

A still voice chided Sarah. She dreaded hearing this voice speak as it was always making her see Gideon for who he really was. But Sarah had learned to quiet this voice, yet it springs up on her when it’s had enough of her foolhardiness.

You are not lucky, you are in bondage.

The voice continued. Sarah cleared her throat to try and shut it out.

“You have something burning in your heart you want to tell me?” Gideon swerved off the road into the street that led to May’s Bistro.

Sarah shifted in her seat and looked out the window, “I’m very fine, dear.”

I bet you are.

The voice came, again.

Sarah muttered under her breath and hoped the voice would just shut it.

“You know, I’m beginning to think we should try for a baby,” Sarah turned to Gideon and studied his countenance.

“If that’s what you want, babe,” Gideon shrugged as he pulled over to the parking lot in front of the restaurant.

Gideon didn’t exactly want to have a child, or children yet. He said it would affect his growing ministry. But the voice that was taunting Sarah had disappeared, mission accomplished.

The ignition of the Mercedes Benz was turned off, and Gideon bolted out of the car excitedly. He sprung to the other side and opened the door for Sarah who was checking herself out one last time in the side mirror.

“You look stunning, babe,” Gideon extended his hand to help her out of the car.

When Sarah stepped out of the car, the gentle wind blew her fluffy hair and revealed the perfectness of her profile. Around her nose bridge is a mole that has modified her beauty over the years. She had learned how to use makeup to pronounce that facial flaw and transform her face into a Barbie’s. With her arms in Gideon’s, she took her first step down the restaurant, and the still small voice sprang up again.

Are you happy?

It asked her in a funny way. But she shrugged it off and continued to walk elegantly with her husband. The latter grinning widely like a vagabond who just won a lottery. They walked on like the “power couple” that they were, the interlocked bricks of the floor frolicking at the impact of each step they took.

“I hope you like this place,” Gideon said as the door to the restaurant whizzed open electromechanically.

“I hope so too,” Sarah wanted to say but something caught her throat and she smiled instead.

A security man welcomed them and handed them over to another, who walked them to their reserved spot. When they sat down, Sarah mumbled a ‘thank you’ to the guard and tipped him off. One of the waitresses walked up to their table.

“Mr and Mrs Nkunda? Welcome to May’s Bistro,” the waitress, adorned with a fine striped uniform, greeted them cordially.

Gideon flashed her a smile, depicting his gold braces.

“Thank you. I chose this place because it’s small and modest,” he explained without being asked. “Here,” he continued and faced Sarah, “we can have all the time to ourselves without any ruckus.”

“Ruckus,” Sarah repeated absentmindedly and Gideon asked if she was fine.

You are not.

The dreadful voice came into Sarah’s head again.

“I’m fine dear,” she replied, then on second thought, added, “did I say something off?”

Gideon stretched his hands on the table and took Sarah’s hands, “you’ll be fine when we get back home,” he promised, sensing she was still traumatised by the earlier abuse that evening.

“What would you like to order ma’am? Sir?” The waitress looked from wife to husband, eager to satisfy her customers.

Sarah studied how happy the waitress looked, hoping against hope that she could strike the same deal with happiness and stay friends with it forever. She collected the menu from the waitress and glanced through it, so fast one could tell she wasn’t really interested in having any food.

“I’ll have pork spine with brisket broth, please,” she finally said and handed the menu to Gideon who had been ogling at her all the while.

Gideon collected it, “get me a bottle of cold Stout,” he said and handed the menu over to the waitress without glancing through it.

The waitress left and Gideon planted his gaze on Sarah once again.

“You’ve been watching me keenly since we arrived,” Sarah picked her phone and took a picture of him.  It went straight to her Twitter, with the caption “my view.” If this was the only way she could stay happy in the middle of the marital ‘ruckus’ she was in, she’d better embrace it. Before she placed her phone back on the table, the tweet had already garnered five likes.

“You’re my wife, I can ogle at you for as long as I want. Right?”

Gideon leaned forward in his chair, then whispered, “I love you, Sarah.”

Sarah’s cheeks flushed red. She felt embarrassed at how she could feel butterflies in her stomach for Gideon even with his ill treatment of her.

“Always will,” he smacked his lips seductively.

Don’t believe him.

The still small voice whispered to Sarah and interrupted her thoughts, yet again. She closed her eyes for a second and sighed. When she opened them, Gideon was taking a picture of her. He must have figured she was making a tweet the other time, so he must quote the tweet with ‘his view.’ The ‘online’ congregation must be waiting for it so as to make inaccurate analysis of the couples’ lives.

“Oh! Isn’t this lovely?”

“This is how men should love their wives. God bless Pastor Nkunda.”

“I wish my husband could love me this way.”

These and many other seemingly beautiful comments will saturate the tweet in no time, and Sarah would be left with another ‘good’ reason to stay in her marriage. Even if she were to put up a disclaimer to advise people not to totally believe what they see online, it wouldn’t have had the desired effect. As far as the Praying Sisters of Great Citadel Church were concerned, Sarah’s marriage is enviable. And left to her followers on Twitter, she’s the role model that every contemporary Pastor’s wife should be shadowing.

“You will always love me?” Sarah considered his statement. “Like Jesus loved the church?”

Gideon shook his head. He wasn’t convincing her enough. He’d have to think of another way to let this woman know he truly loves her. Yes, he beats her, but that’s a curse from the devil. His fire-branding-head-stomping-feet-clamping-sweat-breaking prayers are well under way to deliver him from that oppression completely, so the beatings would soon stop. Sarah need not worry at all.

“Yes, as Christ loved the church, I will always love you,” Gideon assured her.

Sarah swallowed hard and sighed heavily. She had heard this before. Gideon always said it at every given opportunity. If he was being repentant and remorseful, she didn’t see it that way. He never verbally said the magic word – “sorry” but only ever overwhelmed her with good deeds long enough to change her mind to stay in the marriage until the next abuse. He’d ask for forgiveness by taking her out for a date, expensive shopping, or even a vacation to Seychelles or The Bahamas. Why? He could afford it. He could afford to buy her love, and her life too. Like Jesus died for the whole world.

“I love you too.” As Sarah forced the statement out of her mouth, the waitress came around the table with their order.

“Thank you,” Gideon curtsied the waitress, “I hope my wife enjoys the meal.” he winked at Sarah.

Sarah was still waiting for the waitress to leave their table so she could start feasting on her order, when two lovers walked in. They seemed to be new love birds. The lady laughed hysterically as the guy placed his hands on her waist and they hop-walked into the restaurant. “You’re so funny.” The young lady seemed amused by whatever the guy had said before they entered inside. “I know right,” said the man, dragging a chair out for his woman to sit on.

Gideon’s eyes followed Sarah as she watched the two young lovers laugh heartily at each other’s dry jokes from across the table. He coughed without removing his gaze from the couple.

“I love how happy they are,” Sarah smiled and picked up her cutlery to start digging into the pork spine.

Gideon rolled his eyes and turned back to his wife, “Babe, don’t I make you happy?”

Tell him he doesn’t make you happy. Tell him.

But Sarah didn’t heed the still small voice. “Of course, you do,” she lied and scooped a bite of meat into her mouth. “Hhhmmm, yummy.”

Gideon’s lips quirked. Sarah shifted in her seat, her heart beat sensing the anger brewing in his chest. He poured his drink into a tumbler and sipped, his lips making a scraping sound as they brushed the tip of the glass. Sarah ate in silence, her cutlery making the only sounds that passed for the communication that was supposed to be had with her husband in endearing words.

“Hurry and eat up, so we can leave.” Gideon, after gulping down his drink, said in a deep baritone voice.

The sentence caught the cutlery in Sarah’s hand, mid-air. “But we’ve only just arrived,” Sarah placed the cutlery back on her plate and protested.

“And I said, hurry up.” A few heads turned in their direction as Gideon roared at his wife.

Sarah gulped down her cup of water hurriedly. She dropped her cutlery involuntarily and excused herself from the table. “I need to use the restroom real quick,” she stood up and grabbed a handkerchief from her bag. Gideon’s eyes followed her menacingly as she rushed to the ladies. Even when she entered, his eyes remained transfixed on the door.

Inside the toilet, Sarah heaved a sigh of relief and shut her eyes defiantly while resting her lean body against the door. Silent sobs escaped her mouth as she tried to gather her thoughts.

You really are not happy. Why can’t you leave him?

The still small voice sounded calmer this time around. Sarah didn’t shut it out. She cleaned her tears with the handkerchief and stuttered towards the big mirror in the bathroom.

She peered into the mirror and touched her face. The tears had smeared her makeup, making her look distressed and haggard, which she was. “Oh God! This can’t be me,” Sarah said to herself and moved an inch closer to the mirror, using her hands to feel the blotches on her face. She bowed her head and cried.

“Of course, that’s you. It’s what you’ve allowed yourself to be turned into.”

The voice was so loud that Sarah jerked her head up and turned to the direction of the door.

“Who’s there? Anyone?” She cleaned her face quickly and arranged her hair.

“It’s me. I’m right here. In the mirror. Hey, look at me.” The voice repeated.

Sarah turned gently around, her teeth clattering noiselessly as the handkerchief in her hand shook haphazardly.

“What,” Sarah muffled a scream and covered her mouth when she saw her reflection in the mirror, talking to her.

“I am the still small voice that has been speaking with you all day. Why have you been shutting me out?” Sarah’s reflection demanded, arms akimbo.

Sarah stood in shock, her eyeballs widening as her reflection spoke to her. When Sarah did not respond, the reflection continued, “Gideon is out to turn you into a shadow of yourself. You really would allow that to happen?”

Sarah composed herself, pushed away thoughts of her losing her mind, and dropped her shoulders in resignation. “No,” she started, “I won’t allow that to happen. I have to stop him.” She clapped her hands into a fist and knocked them against each other.

“Good,” her reflection replied. “Now you need to think of how to leave your marriage. You deserve to be happy, Sarah.”

Her reflection spread out its arms and smiled. “You deserve to be happy,” it repeated in a still small voice, one that is unrecognizably akin to the voice Sarah had become used to for a while.

“I deserve to be happy. Yes, I deserve to be happy.” Sarah affirmed and paced the bathroom, repeating the words to herself with her hands clamped together like one offering prayers to a god. She walked back to the mirror and peered into it, but her reflection was gone. What remained was the voiceless image staring back at her, scratching its head as she scratched hers. She yanked at her hair and screamed.

Frantic knocks on the bathroom door made her remember where she was. May’s Bistro. “Is everything okay in there?” one of the staff inquired from behind the bathroom door. But when Sarah came out of the bathroom, it was Gideon she met.

“Are you okay?” he asked, studying her dishevelled hair and smeared makeup.

“I’m leaving,” Sarah brushed past him and walked to their table. Using her left hand to grab her bag, she stormed out of the restaurant with an air of temerity, her stilettoes swaying back and forth as she walked out. Gideon stood at the bathroom door, shocked at his wife’s sudden transformation.

—————

Image: Maria via Pixabay remixed

Winifred Òdúnóku
Winifred Òdúnóku
Winifred Òdúnóku is a writer who sees writing as an art of self-expression. Her works have appeared in Isele Magazine, Revista Periferias, Kalahari Review, Punocracy, Nnöko Stories, Ngiga Review, The Moveee, among others. She loves listening to good music and tweets @majestic_winnie

1 COMMENT

  1. I felt a series of ‘woman’ emotions. Abuse is a killer and only the brave get to walk out to save themselves.

    And don’t we all need a mirror on the wall? Someone to help us recognize the unfavorable situations we’re willing to compromise on despite knowing it isn’t the best, and conquer that bias.

    Thank you, Winnie for this piece. Amazing story!

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