Janet sat quietly on the brown bench of the customary court room, she listened attentively along with the rest of the audience as the stern looking president read out his judgment. She glanced over at Ikenna who was seated at the other end of the court, he had a wry smile on his face, but Janet couldn’t bring herself to smile. How could she when the judgment seemed to be going against her.
She returned her gaze to the judge. She noticed the unread sheet in his grip and her heart leaped in hope, maybe the information that was in that sheet he was yet to read would be in her favour.
The stern judge flipped the sheet and her heart beat nervously. “The Customary Law Marriage contracted between the petitioner Mr Ikenna Agwu and the respondent Mrs Janet Ivie Agwu under the native laws and custom on the 23rd December 2005 is hereby dissolved. The sum of twenty five naira being the bride price on the respondent by the petitioner is hereby ordered to be refunded to the petitioner via the respondent through the registrar of this court to be collected by the petitioner at his convenience within a month from today. Custody of John male and Chike male is granted to the Petitioner__”
Janet’s heart dropped. She shut her eyes tightly in an attempt to choke back the tears that so desperately wanted to escape her eyes.
“__and the Respondent shall have right of visitation at reasonable hour and access to the children during vacation__”
The judge’s voice trailed off as Janet’s mind blacked out. Memories of the sour moments of her marriage to Ikenna came rushing back to her. Her mind replayed a particular night, a night she could never forget. She had just finished making dinner and served her two boys when Ikenna came to her in the bedroom they both shared, she was undressing to have her bath.
“I have a visitor” he mumbled.
“En ehn? I want to bath, when I finish, I will come and greet the person” she responded and stepped into the bathroom.
When she withdrew from the bathroom, Ikenna was now sitting at the edge of the bed wearing a poker face. His jaw was tightened and his stare was fixed on the wall before him. Ignoring him, Janet moved past him and put on her nightgown.
“You have to change and wear something else” Ikenna said, now looking at her.
“Why?” She asked.
“Because I need you to leave, my guest is here to pass the night”
Janet’s heart skipped, her eyes widened at once. “What? Ikenna what does that mean?”
Ikenna rose to his feet and stood up to her, clenching his jaw tightly. “I need you to leave”
“Is this another woman?” Janet asked squeezing her face in contempt, this wouldn’t be the first time she would be having issues over infidelity with Ikenna. “This is my house, I’m not going anywhere” she added adamantly and began to brush past him towards the door. Ikenna pulled her back by her arm.
“Leave me alone!” she protested, repeatedly hitting his hand in an attempt to wriggle out of his grip but he was stronger than her. He held her arm in place and dragged her out of the room to the corridor. She was resisting, slapping and yelling at him every step of the way. The boys heard their mother’s voice and ran out to the corridor.
“Go back to the sitting room!” Ikenna shouted at them, causing them to take to their heels.
A young girl emerged from the sitting room, she folded her arms across her chest and watched on with a satisfied smirk as Ikenna dragged Janet towards the kitchen.
“God will judge you!” Janet cursed at him. ” It shall not be well with you, ah Ikenna! God will judge you_”
Ikenna pulled open the back door of the kitchen and pushed Janet out, shutting the door immediately behind him. Janet sprang towards the closed door and began hitting it repeatedly, calling out for her sons to come and open the door
But no one came. The father had threatened the boys not to go close to the door and increased the volume of the TV to wade off Janet’s wailings.
Exhausted from yelling and crying, Janet collapsed her back against the door and slid down to the floor, she spread out her legs helplessly..
A tap on Janet’s arm brought her out of her cogitation. The man seated next to her was calling her attention to her lawyer who stood outside the court room beckoning to her.
Janet slowly got up from the bench and trudged her way out of the courtroom to where her lawyer stood. She couldn’t believe what had just happened, how did the judge expect her to live without her children, she wondered.
Her lawyer placed a hand on Janet’s shoulder consolingly. “It’s okay ”
“It’s not okay. How can this ever be okay?” she said.
She could hear Ikenna jubilating with his lawyer at the other end. “He bribed the Judge didn’t he? He is rich, he has all the money, he bribed him” she insisted.
The lawyer smiled dismissively. “I have another matter at the High Court, I have to go. Let me drop you on my way”
Janet followed the lawyer’s lead, they passed by Ikenna and his lawyer as they made their way out of the court house. He looked at her and smirked in triumph, Janet eyed him back bitterly.
Janet went back home and began to pack her belongings into boxes. She wanted to leave before the boys got back from school. She and Ikenna had been living in separate bedrooms for months prior to the proceeding. She had never wanted to leave the house she had sweated with Ikenna to build, but now that the divorce was over, she had no other option than to move out and go and stay with her sister until she could find her feet again. She was throwing her shoes into a smaller box when Ikenna walked into the house. He stopped by her doorway, relaxed against the door frame with his legs and arms crossed and watched her with satisfaction.
“Where are you going to stay now?” He asked mockingly. “Or wait, let me guess, your sister’s place? That two bedroom house she has?” He laughed out loud. “It’s not going to accommodate you and her two children o”
Janet increased her pace as she picked up what was left of her belongings. She needed to leave before she lost complete control and stoned him with one of the shoes she had in her bag.
“Journey merices o” Ikenna laughed and moved away from the door. Janet could still hear him laughing as he walked further into the house. She couldn’t hold it in anymore, she collapsed into her bed and allowed herself sob softly. Healing she had heard, sometimes comes through tears, maybe, just maybe she would feel a little bit better when she was done crying herself out. And so she cried softly, she was not going to allow Ikenna hear her cry. Thirteen years of marriage all gone down the drain. She had never stopped loving Ikenna inspite of their arguments and differences, even after that night he threw her out, she forgave him. She always forgave him because she believed in forgiveness. But along the line, he stopped loving her, along the line, he didn’t want to try anymore. He had found someone who according to him made him happy, someone younger, classier and prettier – those were all his words. And now, she was leaving a home she had built with him, and kids she had borne for him. It hurt all so badly.
She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands, zipped her bags and rolled them one after the other out of the duplex she will no longer be living in. The security man on sighting her quickly came to her, received her bags without questions and carried them out of the gate for her. He knew what had been going on between the couple so he stood quietly with her and they waited for a taxi to pass by. A blue taxi sped their way and the security man hailed it down, threw her bags into the boot and dropped one in the front seat, he shook his head as she got in and he pitifully waved her goodbye.
Ehi pushed open the door to the bedroom Janet shared with her two girls and stepped into the small room. Her daughters were still fast asleep in the other bed while Janet was seated upright in hers’ with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Good morning sis” Ehi greeted her older sister Janet who acknowledged with a simple nodding of her head.
Ehi sat down at the edge of Janet’s bed and looked worriedly at her sister whom she loved so much. “Sis, you need to stop thinking too much, ehn_?”
Janet hissed and sighed heavily.
“Don’t come and give yourself high bp o” Ehi continued. “I know it’s not easy but you need to try and stop worrying so much”
“E__hi! It’s just too painful”
“I know but you just need to __”
“For 3 months,” Janet gesticulated with her fingers. “I have been away from my children. In those 3 months, I have seen them only two times. Ikenna is doing everything he can to make it impossible for me to see those boys, my own children!” She slapped her chest. “Hei!” She hissed, biting her lip. “Okay, shebi today is Saturday?” She spread out her palms inquisitively to which Ehi nodded sadly. “I have been calling Ikenna so that I can come over and see them but he won’t pick my calls and I’m afraid of just showing up. The last time I did that, he didn’t even come to the door, it was that his girlfriend that came and opened door and was speaking to me telling me my children went out with Ikenna, only for Ikenna to later call me on the phone shouting that I should never come to his house without calling first. Shebi it is the call I am making now, but he is not picking, see na? ” She held her phone screen to Ehi’s face. “I’ve called him over 5 times”
“I can see that. I know all this sis, I know. Ikenna has really surprised me, I don’t even know what to say”
“He is there to pick them up from school even before the school closes so even there, I can’t see them. He is always on time to drop them and pick them up. I am not even so worried about the divorce, at least not anymore, I just want my children. He can keep the house and every other thing, but I just want my children”
“My husband has promised to find another lawyer to help you since this lawyer you used before isn’t able to do anything about all these, at least let’s try another lawyer and see. I’m so sorry sis”
Janet nodded her head “thank you”.
Ikenna completely stopped picking Janet’s calls, he dodged every effort she made at contacting him. Janet couldn’t handle it anymore and decided to show up at the house one Saturday without his consent but the security man refused to let her in. He pleaded with her to leave otherwise he would lose his job if oga came back and found her still standing there. So Janet left.
The following morning, Janet was washing her clothes at the backyard when her phone began to ring. She picked it up to hear a woman’s voice on the other end. It was her first son’s teacher.
“Hello, good morning” Janet greeted as she answered the call.
“Good morning Madam,” the teacher spoke from the other end. “How is the family Ma?”
“Fine. How is Chike?”
“That’s actually why I am calling Ma. He hasn’t been to school for five days now ma_” Janet sprung up at once. “Infact the both of them, is everything okay Ma?”
Janet was dumbfounded. She had no idea the boys had been missing school.
“Hello?” The teacher said impatiently.
“Em, yes! Hello, yes, they are fine, let me, ehm, I’ll call you back” she stuttered and hung up immediately.
Janet quickly dialled Ikenna’s number, she paced the floor worriedly pressing the phone to her ear. Ikenna did not pick. She dialled again and again and again but he did not answer. She crossed the pile of clothes on the ground and dashed into the house, grabbed her purse, changed her skirt and hailed a taxi to Ikenna’s house. On arrival, she met the security man trimming the flowers outside the gate.
“Ah Madam! Good morning o” the man greeted her as she approached him.
“Abu where are my sons” Janet asked almost breathlessly, ignoring the warm greeting.
“Madam I no know o, me sef never see them now for some days”
“You never see them how?! Them no dey go school? Them no dey play for compound?”
“Madam walahi! them no dey, e be like say Oga carry them go vacation”
“Hei God!” Janet threw her hands over her head. She lowered herself to the ground, she could no longer stand on her feet
“Ah Madam!” The security man protested, he tried to help her up but she fought him off. He quickly went into his small room and brought out a chair in which Janet reluctantly sat on after much persuasion from the young man.
Her heart was breaking into a million pieces, she knew there was no way her sons had gone on a vacation in the middle of a school term. Where could Ikenna have taken them then? She tried to figure it out but nothing was coming into her mind.
She withdrew her phone from her purse and called his family members one after the other, none of them picked except his mother. She said she was not aware that the children were gone and that she was sure that they were fine wherever they were but Janet did not feel convinced. She wondered about the calm in her mother in law’s voice but her worries were greater than pondering on why a grandmother did not feel alarmed that her grandsons had not been to school for days.
She felt broken, she felt cursed. The hot scorching sun dried the tears she had been crying as she refused to move from the chair.
“Madam, oga go sack me if him come back see you for here, na beg I dey beg madam”
She ignored the security man’s plea. She was determined to wait for Ikenna, let the worst happen.
It was at about 6pm when she saw Ikenna’s black Venza driving towards the house. She stood to her feet immediately, put her hands akimbo ready to confront him. As Ikenna pulled up at the gate Janet rushed to his car and began to knock at the windows. He did not wind down, he honked his horn impatiently and the gate man hurriedly opened the gate. Janet ran after the car as he drove into the compound, the security man quickly held her, stopping her from going any further.
“Ikenna where are my sons?!” She yelled from the security man’s grip. Ikenna alighted from his car and begun to make his way towards the house completely ignoring her. “Ikenna I need to see my sons. Ikenna you can take every thing from me, but please, let me see my sons, Iken_naaaa!!” She yelled as Ikenna opened the door to the house and stepped into it, closing it shut behind him.
The security man loosened his hold on her as she dropped to the ground and wept in frustration.
“Madam I dey very sorry, no vex for me abeg” he begged remorsefully. He didn’t like what he had to do, but if he didn’t do it, he would lose his job.
She let the security man help her to her feet and lead her out of the gate.
Janet sat in the passenger’s seat of her sister’s golf car as Ehi drove them to the mainland part of Lagos. Ehi’s husband had contacted a Lawyer who had asked them to see him.
Janet stared out the window of the small car quietly. She didn’t have much hope left in her. What could the lawyer possibly do now that her son’s had been missing for over 2 weeks she wondered in her heart.
TO BE CONTINUED…
WRITTEN BY OGBUGOH TERUNDU JOY.