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Petra gingerly stepped out of the car and rushed inside the hospital ward. She could hear her husband trying to tell her to slow down but Petra was late and she would hear none of it.
She passed the long queue of patients and entered straight to her office. Immediately with enthusiasm, she started to attend to every one of her patients.
Agreeably, she had a tasking job that was full of hard work, but the fulfillment and joy derived from her work were worth it. In fact, Petra considered it a privilege to help people with their health and still get paid for it. Hours later, she breathed a sigh of relief as it suddenly dawned on her that she had missed lunch.
“That’s not good for the baby” she muttered leaving the office and strode to the hospital canteen.
On her way, she decided to check on Aneesah at her office. It was a surprise that they’d been friends all through the University and now worked at the same place. Petra wondered why her friend had been acting strange and so she decided not to knock into her office, who knows, maybe she could see or learn something.
Emptiness greeted her as she quietly entered Aneesah’s office. It was a small cozy office with heavy files on the table and even on the couch nearby. Aneesah worked for three years as one of the lab scientists before she was promoted to the head of the lab and now she mostly took care of the hospital records.
Maybe she’d gone for lunch already, Petra thought as she made to leave, after all, she was late herself. Her eyes met with a yellow tablet on her friend’s table. It was a battle but curiosity won as she picked it up to check the name.
Petra was shocked. Could these pills be for someone else? Even before Aneesah got married, she had reiterated her passion for having children, then why was she takings pills to avoid pregnancy? Was there an underlying problem or was it why Aneesah had been acting strange?
The question ran through Petra’s head without an answer. She dropped the tablet and left for the canteen.
“Hey Aneesah, ya kike?”
“I’m good Maryam, ya aiki yau?” Aneesah replied.
She was at the canteen trying to get lunch and exchanging pleasantries with Maryam, the young lady who worked at the hospital canteen.
Maryam and Aneesah were good friends after the latter helped her deal with an abusive boyfriend. After a few words, Aneesah helped Maryam to secure a job.
“Alhamdulilah, work is fine”. Maryam shyly replied.
“Alright then” Aneesah smiled at her as she left, then turned towards her lunch and devoured it.
Because she didn’t want to sit with Faisal at the table this morning, she had foolishly left for work without eating breakfast. She couldn’t believe she was losing the right to eat in her own home.
Aneesah looked at the blue dress she wore and sighed. Faisal now controlled what she wore. She’d picked a black and white gown to put on, but Faisal sternly asked her to pull it off.
Aneesah had been dismayed, but she feared a smashing and duly took the dress off. Before she could realize it, the noodles and egg were completely wiped off the plate. She was more hungry than she had realized.
Aneesah looked up to see Petra.
“Dr. Petra, good morning”
Petra chuckled lightly, but Aneesah noticed it was forced.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come to get you for lunch. I couldn’t wait, I was starving.”
“It’s okay.” Petra noticed a purple patch beside her friend’s face. It looked like desperate efforts had been made to carefully keep it hidden under the dubiously applied foundation. When did Aneesah start to wear a foundation?
“What happened to your face? Besides your eyes?”
“Oh, this” Aneesah laughed nervously. “You wouldn’t believe it, but I was looking up things on my blog and I rammed my head on the door. Foolish right? Anyways, thanks for the congratulatory message on my blog.”
There, she wanted to change the topic, Petra thought. Something was definitely wrong.
“It’s okay. I was thinking of going to the spa therapist today, much later in the day. We could go together if you want”
“Oh, I wish I could”. Aneesah sighed. “I have a case that was reported to me anonymously. I want to go and check it out and see what I can do.”
“It’s okay”. Petra replied. ” Aneesah, we’ve been friends for years and you know we don’t have secrets. So I want you to know that your secrets are safe with me and whatever you’re going through, we could tackle it together.”
Petra observed the tears that threatened to well up in Aneesah’s eye. She felt immense pity and sympathy in her heart for her friend. What was so large that she couldn’t talk to her?
“It’s okay Petra. I’m fine” Aneesah abruptly stood up and left the canteen.
She was too occupied to notice me.
I watched the two friends converse as they ate their meal. Clearly, they were both uneasy. They fidgetted with their hands, the laughter was forced and the conversation was slow.
Pieces of the conversations floated to my ear.
It was awkward.
One friend trying to understand the other, the latter running away. If only she knew the strength that lay deep within her, I thought digging into my lunch. Such strength carried by one single woman. Over the years, I’ve seen first-hand evidence of that strength in the large number of women and children she set free from sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Somehow, I wasn’t surprised that she is a victim. I’ve been in the world long enough that somehow a lot of things don’t surprise me.
I’ve made a silent and strong resolution in my mind. I would help her till my last breath.
Suddenly, I watched as she abruptly left her friend alone with tears building a river in her eyes. Yes, I had to help her.
I turned towards my laptop and sent a message.
If you’re meeting an anonymous victim of domestic violence, there’s a lot of things to consider. It was much more for Aneesah, now that she had a ‘stalker’ on her blog.
However, Aneesah believed the stalker wasn’t out to hurt her. Somehow, the messages they had been exchanging had been giving her peace and she was starting to believe she could get out of her marriage.
The identity of this stalker still remained a mystery and she has resolved to find out.
Two weeks ago, Aneesah got an anonymous message from someone who claimed she was experiencing violence from her husband. She gave her name as Laraba.
From her little wealth of experience, Aneesah noticed the women in the north were more prevalent to suffer from domestic violence. Was it because of the low rate of girl child education which was recently beginning to garner massive support?
Through her blog, Aneesah tried to educate thousands of women that were still stuck in abusive marriages to find help. It had taken her a while to realize that the government, religion, and traditional rulers all had a massive role to play if domestic violence was to be completely curbed out in society.
She expertly maneuvered her car away from the ditches and parked at a safe distance away from the road. She had agreed to meet with Laraba at the GetFed eatery in Kaduna. Aneesah had traveled from Zaria to Kaduna to make this appointment.
It was worth it.
She entered and ordered a donut and ice cream, something to keep her busy till this Laraba arrived.
Her mind drifted to the conversation she had with Petra and felt guilty. How could she tell her friend that she who had championed the cause against domestic violence was a victim? She couldn’t bear the thought of having her secrets come out.
If all she could do was to help women and children, then she could safely do that. At least she was helping to make the world a better place.
Aneesah watched with longing as a family of four walked into the eatery and ordered take-outs. The man who was obviously their father was holding a young girl in his arms, and the mother was with the boy. Looking closely Aneesah was sure they were twins. The resemblance was uncanny. She sighed remembering her own predicament.
Since Faisal started hitting her, she had been on pills. Aneesah wouldn’t dare bring a child into her abusive marriage. She’d rather carried her cross alone. Curious enough, Faisal had not inquired about her inability to conceive.
She glanced at the yellow wristwatch around her left wrist for the umpteenth time. Where was this Laraba?. The agreed time was by three pm, it was almost four pm.
Just as she looked up, a petite looking woman, plump and dark entered the eatery. Without being told, Aneesah knew this was Laraba. Somehow, with just a look, Aneesah could tell if a woman was undergoing domestic violence or sexual abuse.
Was it due to years of experience? She didn’t know.
But somehow Aneesah had never guessed wrongly, maybe she saw her face in the women.
The woman Laraba wore black sunshades and walked confidently to Aneesah. She hastily sat down.
“I know you’re Aneesah. I can identify you by your numerous videos from your blog; Pride. A friend asked me to reach out to you, that you could be of help.”
“Yeah, depends on what you want” Aneesah calmly replied. This woman was obviously educated. She noted the designer bag, wealthy too.
“What do you mean depends on what I want?”
“I mean exactly that. I’ve come across a lot of women who struggle in their marriages and relationships but do not want to be helped. So it’s just like I said, it all depends on what you want” Aneesah finished with a smile.
“Oh, I understand” Laraba replied calmly thinking. “Well, my name isn’t Laraba. Actually, I was just scared of using my real name.
I got married nine years ago.” She paused for a while before she continued. “Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t love my husband when I married him. My parents kind of forced me to marry him. He was not like bad looking and all that, so I accepted. It wasn’t like I was in love with someone else anyway. Our first few years of marriage were uneventful, we lived in peace. He provided whatever I needed and he gave me anything I asked. After three children, however, the story changed”.
She took off her shades and Aneesah saw that her eyes told a lot of stories. She looked desperate and tired, fed up and about to snap.
“Earlier this year, he started drinking and he started to lose money from his business. This made him blame everyone around him. He accuses me and the children of stealing his money. Several times, he would hit me once or twice, but recently it became worse”.
Wiping few tears from her eyes, her voice was hoarse and she continued.
“He would drink the whole night and come home in the morning. If I tried to talk to him he would bring out his belt and flog me. Once he grabbed my hair and pulled at it till I bled. He would also flog the kids for nothing. Aneesah I need help, I want to live this man or else I fear he would beat me to death one day”
Aneesah ordered a donut and a bottle of coke for ‘Laraba’. She took a large helping of her ice cream and waited, watching.
Experience taught her a lot of things, some women would stay and die in abusive marriages for their children while others needed a bit of encouragement and support for them to leave. She placed ‘Laraba’ in the second batch.
“It’s okay dear.” Aneesah clutched ‘Laraba’s’ hand. “I’m here for you. Have you tried to get help previously from friends and family or anyone?”
‘Laraba’ wiped the tears and sniffed loudly.
“I tried to tell my mother. She insisted that marriage was all about patience. I told my friend and that’s when she suggested you. Aneesah, I’m thinking of my kids, the eldest is seven. I don’t want them growing up in this type of family.”
“I understand. What do you want?”
“I want to leave this marriage”
“Do you want a separation or a divorce? Do you have somewhere to stay”?
“Laraba” sighed deeply. “My husband isn’t really a bad man. All the problems began when he started drinking. I want a separation. There’s somewhere I can stay for a while.”
“Alright. That goes a long way. Do you have a job? Do you work here in Kaduna?”
Aneesah was concerned about her welfare and that of the children.
“I’m a teacher at a private school here in Zaria. It pays well. I just don’t know how to leave. I’m scared, I’m scared he might find me one day and hurt me”. She started to cry.
“Listen to me”. Aneesah began. When she kept crying, she repeated;
“Listen to me. Just calm down and hear me. I want to tell you something that I’ve told every woman who has been in your situation. You don’t deserve this. Like we say in my blog, you’re a pride. No one deserves what you’re passing through in your marriage. It’s not your fault so don’t beat yourself over it. It’s time you protect yourself and your children.”
Aneesah paused and brought out a card from her bag.
“It’s good that you have a job already and a place to stay. This is an NGO that I partner with, I’m giving you this card you can reach out to them anytime you want. They’ll help you move out with the kids and also take legal actions if he tries to hurt you. Do not worry they keep your case anonymous and would never reveal your identity to the public. I’ll give them a call in the evening, so we can talk about your case. Be sure to expect our call tomorrow. If between today and tomorrow he tries to hurt you, please don’t hesitate to call that number.”
‘Laraba’ collected the card with shaky hands and looked it over. “Thanks Aneesah. I’ll forever be grateful to you.”
“It’s okay. Do not thank me. I consider it a privilege to help women in this condition. Do you need a ride home?”.
“No, it’s okay. Thanks a lot”. “Laraba,” said.
Aneesah got up and paid for what they’d ordered and as she made to leave, she heard her speak up.
“My name is Hafsat”.
“Nice to meet you Hafsat”.