Ameh watched Muri from the corner of her eye; she observed that his face was in ‘sincere mode’ as he listened with rapt attention to what Dr. Okonta, their marriage counselor, was saying. She thought about reaching out to pinch his neck, just to see if his expression would change. It didn’t seem like the right thing to do at a counseling session though.
No, neck-pinching would not go with the mellow set-up of the counseling practice located in the Abuja suburb of Maitama. Dr. Mildred Okonta, their counselor, came highly recommended, but Ameh looked forward to admiring the sophisticated decor of her office than to the counseling session itself.
So far, they’d had two sessions with Dr. Okonta, where Muri had participated actively, and she had responded in monotones. Since the discovery of Muri’s continued affair with his ex-girlfriend, and his suggestion for marriage counseling, Ameh had existed on autopilot. Her life over the next few weeks felt like she was ticking-off an imaginary checklist: cook meals, have sex, go to work.
‘I think it would be best if I had the next session with just Ameh’, Dr. Okonta. The words startled Ameh, making her come back from her reverie; she had not been listening to what was being discussed. She had been admiring a vase on a side table, which was a very fetching shade of peach.
She refocused her attention on Dr. Okonta, a nice-looking gray-haired lady who gave her ‘School-Principal’ vibes with her tortoiseshell glasses, pale gray suit and sensible black shoes. She felt Muri staring at her, obviously worried but she did not make eye-contact with him.
Ameh shrugged. ‘If you think that is necessary’ she responded.
‘I think it is very necessary. I have found that clients often feel free to express themselves when their partner is not in the same room’. Ameh shrugged again, saying nothing.
The counselor closed her notebook. ‘This was a good session. Ameh, please choose an appointment date with my receptionist on your way out’. With a smile, she stood up and walked to the door; Ameh and Muri followed suit.
Ameh was back at the counselor’s office a week later. She chatted with Ndi, Dr Okonta’s receptionist, a very pleasant lady who was proof that Nigerian customer service stereotypes of unfriendliness and hostility had its exceptions.
Eventually she was ushered into the counselor’s office, who greeted her with a polite smile and handshake.
After they sat down opposite each other, Dr. Okonta asked, ‘why did you marry husband?’
The bluntness of the question made Ameh smile, but she took it in stride. For what she and Muri had paid for the sessions, there was no time for chit-chat.
‘I married him because he asked me to marry him’ she shrugged.
‘Did you love him?’
‘Oh, yes, I loved him’ Ameh responded, looking surprised by the question. ‘I loved him, but I had so many doubts about the relationship. I said yes because I had other things to consider’.
‘What things?’ the counselor asked.
‘I am the first child of my parents-the first of three daughters. I was almost 30. My parents had been praying for me. The timing was right. I wasn’t convinced that Muri had moved on from his ex-girlfriend. But he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. It was that simple’. Now that she had said the words, Ameh knew that the situation had been far from simple.
The counselor scribbled in her notebook for some moments, which gave Ameh time to admire the colourful rug beneath her feet.
‘How well do you get along with his family?’
‘I get along with his father, step-mother and half-sister really well. I do not get along with his mother’ Ameh smiled wryly.
‘Could you expand on that?’ the counselor asked.
‘She has never liked me-I was not her preferred choice as a wife for her son. She has always found fault with me.
Once, about 6 months into my marriage, I came back home in the middle of the day from a work trip and met her in our house. She had hired professional cleaners to clean the house “thoroughly”. I had smiled and told her thanks, but later on, when Muri got back from work, I told him not to let her into our house ever again. Pretty dramatic words, I’ll admit, but there’s been a lot of tension between us since then-and of course, let’s not forget that I am yet to produce a child’.
Ameh closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘The marriage hasn’t been a great one’.
Later, as Ameh drove home, she thought about Dr. Okonta’s words. They had been matter-of-fact and straightforward. She had told the counselor that she could not make up her mind whether or not she wanted to end the marriage. Dr. Okonta had told Ameh that she would need to decide what conditions had to exist in her marriage for her to make the decision to stay.
As she parked her car in front of her house, she glanced at her watch and saw that it was almost 7.30pm. She switched off the engine. Muri’s car was parked beside hers and the lights were on in the house, so she knew he was home.
She had been sitting in the car for about 10 minutes when the front door opened, and Muri peered out at her. Ameh wondered if she should restart her car, reverse and drive away to an unknown destination.
Muri walked towards her, looking relaxed in a white t-shirt and black joggers with flip flops. He stopped by her window, and they stared at each other for a moment.
Eventually, she picked up her bag, removed her keys from the ignition and opened the door, with Muri stepping aside for her to come out.
Before she could speak, Muri drew her close to him in an embrace. They stood that way for a while, silently.
‘Things will be different now, babe. I promise’ Muri said into her hair as he held her.
For the first time in a long time, Ameh believed him.
She stepped back from his embrace, took his hand, and they walked into the house.
©Ivie M. Eke 2016