The morning she left her marriage – on a Sunday – they had deep fried ndumas for breakfast. He read a paper in his shorts and an old t-shirt throughout breakfast, like he always did. Their son sat in his small blue chair near the television, absorbed in cartoons as he drank milk from a red feeding bottle.
She had sat opposite him and stared at the front page of the paper held up, covering his face as he read. She seemed to be living her marriage like this – without his attention. The only time he looked at her was during fights.
At 11am he showered and announced that he was going to the garage and car wash. She wasn’t surprised. Every Sunday he’d leave for either the garage or car wash or to shave his head or to attend to ‘urgent business’. Two years ago she stopped asking him where he was going or when he would be back. If he noticed this nonchalance, he didn’t say anything.
As soon as he drove out, she went to the bedroom and calmly hauled out two big suitcases from the top drawer. She then took her time folding some of her clothes. “The ones that were not stained too much by the marriage,” she says. She then folded her son’s clothes and stuffed them in the second suitcase. She dragged the suitcases outside and tossed them in the boot of her car. Then she threw in her son’s toys and his bike in the back seat. In there also followed a dozen or so of her academic books for her Masters programme. She left untouched “Americanah”, “Lean In”, “How Should a Person Be”, “Bossy Pants” and a many other old fiction titles. She only carried “What I know For Sure”, by Oprah Winfrey and “Shoe Dog - A Memoir By The Creator of Nike.”
BEST WEDDING RING
She bathed her son, dressed him and bundled him in the car seat in front. He clutched a green stuffed frog that he always slept with. She went up and locked the door and left the keys on the flowerpot by the door. Behind she left everything: furniture, some of her clothes, electronics, any gift he had bought her (“they weren’t more than three,” she says), all electronics (“Including my iPad he had bought me,”) and eight years of marriage. Then she drove to her mother’s house.
When she walked through the front door, dragging her suitcases past the living room to the extra bedroom that belonged to the house help, her mother who was lying on the sofa watching TV propped herself up on one elbow and stared at her, wide eyed with shock, fear and a million questions in her eyes. But she never said anything other than, “There are clean bed-sheets in my bedroom.”
Her mother had always said her daughter got the best wedding ring any man can give a woman. It was white gold and exquisite. She had always admired it and joked that she would buy an exact same one to wear for herself even though she was divorced since her two daughters were children. That night, after she had put her son to bed, she had gone to her mother’s bedroom and placed the wedding band on her dresser and told her. “You always wanted this, you can keep it. I won’t be needing it.” And her mother had looked at her with such sadness or pity, the way your mum would look at a you if you failed your exams and there was no need to even make you repeat that class.
A friend told me this story one day and I was taken aback at how cold it was. How completely devoid of emotion she had been to leave her marriage like that. I remember saying, “You didn’t leave your marriage, you sneaked out, sneaked out of your own home, like a thief from a scene of crime.” She was not remorseful. She said. “I didn’t sneak out. I had started leaving emotionally two or three years back but he didn’t notice. He was too caught up with sneaking out to the garage and shaving and all the business he would find outside the house to notice.”
She said something that got me thinking. She said, “You men complain about women whining about things that irritate you. That’s a very good thing. A whining woman is a woman who still cares. But when your woman stops complaining, when one day you realise that she hasn’t raised a finger at you coming home in the morning, you not giving her any attention, you treating her like a full-time border in her own house, then you should be worried. That kind of quiet doesn’t equate to peace. It means resignation. It means she has left you emotionally and that is worse when we scream and pack our bags and go because come on, we always come back. But when she leaves emotionally, she is gone.”