“Would you like something? A drink perhaps?” Daniel asked before I could start my lengthy story.
“Yes, please.” My throat had gone dry, probably from tension.
He stood up beside me and went to the fridge tucked into the corner of the room. “What would you like? There is coke, fanta, and maltina. Then water too.”
“Water is fine, thank you.”
I watched him as he retrieved a bottle of water and two glasses from the tray on the fridge. He came back to where I was seated, poured the water into the glasses and offered me one.
“Thank you.” I said solemnly, my mind on how polite and courteous he was.
“My pleasure.” He smiled, took a sip of his water, and settled back in his chair, watching me closely.
“Oh my! I forgot you have to be somewhere.” I suddenly remembered the mini celebration party he organized for his staff.
He just smiled and waved it away. “I’ll catch them later.”
Well, I guess I wasn’t going to get off that easy. “Okay then.” I sat back too, nervous now that he was watching me with absolute concentration on his face. I wringed my hands together on my laps. “I don’t know where to start from.” I said, not daring to look in his eyes.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad Ella. Start from wherever you’re comfortable with.”
That was the wrong thing to say. His words did not calm me like he intended, they only made me tenser. Of course, it was very bad. Better to just start. This night can only end one way anyway, no need to window dress anything.
“I have been married twice.” I started.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the hand lying casually on his thigh clench. I ignored it, and plunged ahead. I couldn’t look at his face. If I do, I won’t be able to continue.
“Both marriages did not work out. The first time I married very young. We knew each other quite well, but both of us were not prepared for marriage. We didn’t know what we were doing, much less how to go about it. When the situation became so bad, we had to part ways.
“Few years later, I met another man. We worked together and one thing led to another. We dated for a few years, I was reluctant to commit to anyone at this point, but he hammered at my defenses until I agreed to marry him. We were okay for a while, until I got a job somewhere else, then the insecurities, jealousies, physical and emotional battery started.
“He hit me at the slightest provocations. I developed a repertoire of lies which I tell my friends and family. It became quite embarrassing for me. The last time he beat me to a pulp and I was hospitalized for many weeks, which was when I decided to quit the relationship. I was not ready to die because of any man’s emotional imbalance.”
I did not realize Daniel held my hand, and I did not realize I was crying until he offered me a handkerchief. I took it and dabbed at my tears. “Thank you.” I murmured.
“After I made that decision, I spoke to my family about it.” I continued my story. “My family was not very sympathetic. My father expressly forbade it, and mother told me to deal with it, as marriage comes with different challenges. My sister understood, but she advised going for counselling instead of quitting totally. I didn’t listen to any of them, perhaps I should have, but at that point I was barely healed from his last battery, and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I filed for divorce.
“All through the process, my family didn’t speak with me. When the divorce was final, I decided to have a change of environment, there was nothing there for me anymore. So, I came to Lagos, and I am attempting to put my life back together, and then you come along, threatening to topple the wall I carefully built around my heart. I don’t think I am ready to risk it all again.”
He released my hand and sat back as before, staring off into space. What I would give to be able to read his mind at that moment. The annoying part of it all is I don’t know how I want him to react. My feelings are all jumbled up, and my heart is so scared and confused.
He remained like that for a few moments more, before he finally turned to me and I was shocked by the anger in his eyes. His eyes blazed with intense emotions, and I was momentarily trapped in them.
He took my hand again and squeezed it so hard, I almost yelped. “That was a very sad story Ella. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. The first one was understandable, you were both young and wanted different things out of life, but the second……” his lips tightened and he released my hands abruptly, stood up, and started pacing.
He looked at me again. “I’m sorry, I just find it hard to control my anger when I hear of a man hitting a woman. In my opinion, it is the lowest, vilest of men that will raise his hands on a woman, no matter the provocation.”
I just kept staring at him, speechless. He finally walked off the anger and then came back to seat beside me. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and sighed deeply. Suddenly he sat up and gripped my hands in his. He looked into my eyes, and I knew this was a profound moment for him.
“Ella, I’m going to treat you so right, you will forget that any man ever hurt you. That I promise.” He said fiercely, and pulled me into a hug.
God help me, I believed him. I totally believed him.