She’d stared so long at the golden ornament on the altar that her eyes watered and the white circle had taken a reddish tint. She thought she saw something else, a blurry head crowned with thorns, but rendered it a hallucination her tired eyes had imagined. She had counted the spikes shooting out in different directions until she mixed up her numbers after getting to forty. She reluctantly pulled her eyes away, blinking rapidly. Her eyes had been on the Blessed Sacrament for more than thirty minutes but she didn’t tire of looking at it. Her eyes fell on a woman kneeling on the red kneeler surrounding the little haven that harbored the Blessed Sacrament. Probably in her mid-forties, she was mouthing prayers, her body shivering with the intensity of her prayers. A prayerful woman keeps her family together.
She was prayerful, was she not? She woke her family up as early as six, singing choir songs. Their voices were angelic, her neighbor often told her. She would lead them in the rosary, alternating between Yoruba and English and they would follow after her. They prayed in turns. Her son, Dafe always prayed for the day’s food and children that didn’t have anything to eat, he prayed for a test at school, for daddy and mummy, and then the whole world. Her youngest, Yemi prayed for her daddy and mummy as well, her grandma and so that her brother would not look for her trouble that day. Ejiro prayed the shortest, committing his business into God’s hands and praying that God guides their going out and coming in. She prayed the longest, starting from their small family, to their extended family and whatever bad news had hit the news the previous day.
They had been happy, were supposed to be happy.
Divorce. The word tasted like unwashed bitter-leaf in her mouth- dirty and bitter. Even after repeating it so many times in the past two days, it still sounded foreign to her. She had looked up the word in a daze that Sunday after Ejiro had given her the news. Oma, let’s get a divorce. She didn’t use her phone to give the correct definition. She had gone to the bookshelf in the living room. The bookshelf that she cleaned every Saturday but rarely brought a book out of the neat stack, the bookshelf that had three albums that contained their family pictures. She didn’t look at the albums. She had reached for the Oxford dictionary that occupied most of the space on the top shelf and checked the word divorce. She sat down with the dictionary on the couch for an hour before the implication of the word registered with her.
Ejiro wanted a divorce. She scraped at candle wax that coated the pew in front of her. Why?
A young girl dressed in jeans with a white handkerchief over her hair sat in front of her. A subtle scent reached her. The girl knelt and clasped her hands together after making the sign of the cross. Oma noticed the shiny silver on her middle finger. The girl raised her head, her eyes settling on the golden object. Oma imagined that she would have that glossy look in her eyes, that look that could only compare to the look one gave a faithful lover.
She used to have that look. She used to rush to the church when she got a little break from work, and like the young girl, she would pour out her sorrows. She always left with a lighter heart, even though nothing changed. She was still the one left when her other friends got married, she never got promoted. It didn’t matter. It was peace to her, the gold ornament sitting on the altar.
But sitting in front of the golden ornament, lights from the red and blue bulbs bouncing off its sides, she could barely summon a word of prayer. She had tried but the words remained stuck in the middle of her throat. She tried reading from the prayer book that now lay abandoned beside her but kept on jumping lines and mixing up the words. For the first time, she did not want to pray. She didn’t want to pour out her sorrows. Saying them out only gave them life. She just wanted to marinate in that glorious peace that had become her sanctuary the past two days. And so she sat. The middle-aged woman finished her prayers and left. A younger child took her place. His hands were joined together, his eyes tightly shut as he knelt upright. Dafe. She imagined him praying for the peace of the world, or maybe for something as small as a toy gun. Dafe had once prayed for a toy gun and she had cautioned him to be less selfish when praying. Pray for the world, pray for orphans, pray for your parents. He listened, but she suspected that during the moment of silent prayer, he prayed for himself, for new toys, for him to win at the school inter-house racing competition.
You will keep the children, I will come to visit them from time to time. She looked away from the boy, blinking rapidly.
The lady was still there. She was beading a rosary now, her lips moving silently. Oma knelt on the cushiony kneeler. She made the sign of the cross. Closing her eyes, she left the church and went back home, went back to home before Sister Divorce pulled her bags and settled comfortably in their small living room, waiting for them to serve her the visitor’s meal.
Ejiro, her husband of seven years wanted a divorce with her. She was hurt, and sad, and confused. Why? Their marriage was wonderful, it was happy. It was everything she wished for. Ejiro was her specimen of a good husband- he loved her and didn’t shy at showing it, he took her on dates even after they had their children, he bought her gifts constantly, he showered her with beautiful compliments. Her friends always told her she was lucky to have him as a husband. Then why?
I fell in love with another woman. She loves me too. A hysterical laugh escaped her lips. She didn’t open her eyes, but she could feel the strange looks cast in her direction, He had been looking down at his phone, typing furiously. She was seated opposite him on the dining table. They just finished lunch and the kids had gone up to their rooms. He gave her the news as though he was saying that he wouldn’t be going with her to the evening benediction service.
I met her when I traveled to Abuja, for the retreat. I didn’t expect it to go this far. Her fingers rapped rapidly on the wooden table. He lifted his eyes from the phone, dropping it aside with a sigh.
Why? She’d asked again.
A frown. She…
She shook her head. The children…me. You want to leave us.
You will keep the children, I will come to visit them from time to time. His lips were pressed in a thin line.
No. I won’t agree to this. The chair scraped against the tiled floor. She stood up, reaching to pack the plates on the table.
You have to. I don’t want this marriage any longer.
Her hand stilled on the plate with palm oil coating the bottom. She must have used more palm oil than required in the recipe Was that why? I still want it.
I will let you think about it. He left the dining.
Someone tapped her. She opened her eyes. The young lady was standing in front of her. Can I borrow your prayer book? Oma handed it to her. She sat back, wiping her knees even though there was nothing to wipe.
Two couples were now kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In weeks she would be a single woman. She’d known she would have to sign the papers when he said it. She couldn’t stop him. Why lengthen her suffering. She reached inside her bag for a book. It was supposed to be her prayer book, where she jotted her daily conversations with God. The last entry was that Sunday before they went to church. She slid out the pen from the spine of the book.
No longer married
This was her reality. She continued.
Ejiro Oma Dafe Yemi
She crossed out the first name. She closed the book and dropped it on the chair. She picked up her bag, she walked to the end of the pew. She genuflected making the sign of the cross. Without looking back, she left the church.