There is a buzzing behind my temples. I can almost hear it, like the sound of a mosquito hovering around, making its presence known but remaining elusive. It tingles every nerve in my body. I can neither stop it nor ignore it. I want to shut it out, the same way I shut out Tadun’s voice, but I cannot do that either.
“ …I have told you this before. I won’t keep repeating myself,” Tadun is saying. His voice, strong and booming, fills the room.
I cannot hear him, or I do not want to. I can choose when to listen to him and when not to. It is a skill I have mastered well. When he talks, I think of the abandoned transistor radio sitting by itself on the small shelf at the corner of the room which I can turn off and on at will. I smile, pleased with myself, in spite of the pain building in my head.
“Are you listening to me, woman?” He has finished knotting his tie in front of the mirror and has turned around to look at me.
I say nothing and fold my arms across my chest, giving him a defiant look, with my chin lifted up and my lips set in a thin line.
“Woman!” His tone is sharp, and there is something fiery in his eyes. “Are you listening to me?”
I stand, staring at him, this man who is my husband. He is huge – tall in a way that is menacing with a wide frame that can envelop my small size. His chest muscles have become flabby with years, and his rotund belly protrudes from his starched white shirt. There are folds in his neck, just above his shirt collar, and deep laugh lines which appear at the corner of his mouth make the skin on his face look wrinkled. His eyes bulge when he is angry, as he is now, peering at me, waiting for me to respond.
Finally, I speak, matching his look with mine. “What do you want me to say?”
“Say that you have heard me,” he thunders.
“Okay. I have heard you.” Each word I utter brings more buzzing to my head, and I wince in pain, grabbing the end of the bed stand just before me.
“What’s wrong?” Tadun is suddenly by my side, his breath warm on my face, his voice laced with concern. It is amazing how he switches so easily.
“Nothing,” I manage to say to him and sit on the edge of the bed, rubbing my temples with my fingers.
He sits, too, pulling me to him, a hand on my naked arm, now covered with goosebumps – more from irritation than anything else. I shrug him off and get up, “Don’t you have a work presentation to get to?”
“Oh!” he says, like he suddenly remembers that he is supposed to be somewhere. But he makes no attempt to get up and looks up at me, a worried frown on his face. “Remember what I said…”
“Yes, yes, yes! I do not need a job because you work hard enough,” I say, rolling my eyes, my hands on my hips.
“Good!” He gets up now and hugs me. I do not melt in his arms or wrap my arms around his neck like I am wont to. Instead, I push him away gently and force a smile before saying, “Go break a leg, you!”
When he leaves, I pick my job appointment letter from the dustbin where he has discarded it and read it over and over again till my eyes grow blurry and tears slide down my cheeks. I stop when it seems that my tear glands have dried up, wipe my wet cheeks with the back of my hands, and set to work. I start with cleaning up after Tadun – his wet towel on the bed, his pajamas on the bathroom floor, his used shaving stick on the sink, and his dirty breakfast dishes on the dining table. I clean it all up like I always do. Then I proceed to the children’s bedroom, where the girls sleep peacefully, oblivious to their mother’s pain. With my hand on the doorknob, I watch and listen to them snore lightly with an occasional chuckle from someone having a dream. They are my pride, my joy. It is the long holiday, and I let them have this moment when they can sleep for as long as they want to till school resumes again.
Back in the bedroom, I stand in front of the mirror, and I am horrified at the woman staring at me with sad hollow eyes and sunken cheeks. Her hair has lost its luster, and her skin is bereft of the glow it once possessed. She is nothing like the woman who got married five years ago, filled with dreams and hopes for the future.
The next few days are uneventful except for errands to the store with the girls and the usual tantrums from them which fetch some lashing from me because I have lost my patience. The headache persists and is soon joined by nausea. I find myself running to the bathroom in the middle of loading the laundry machine or mopping spilled water off the floor. I spit in the kitchen sink because I cannot get to the bathroom fast enough. The bed becomes more inviting than it has ever been, and I take more short naps than is necessary.
“Is there something the matter? Are you okay?” Tadun asks one night in bed. He is on his side, propped on his elbow, staring at me.
“I’m fine,” I respond, curled up beside him with enough space for a pillow between us. He reaches for me but I pull away.
“You know we still have to make a boy,” he says this in jest, but I know that he is serious.
“We have four girls!” I hiss, sucking my teeth sharply.
“Exactly!” he grins, reaching for me again, a child’s gleam in his eyes.
Slapping his hands away, I turn to face the wall. There is quiet for some time until I feel his fingers on my thighs like insects crawling on my skin, and I cringe. In the end, I let him have his way, and when he is done, he rolls over and starts to snore. I run to the bathroom where I spew out vomit into the toilet bowl. Then I lie crumpled on the floor, bury my head in my hands, and cry. My body shudders, my shoulders heave and my lips quiver as I let it all out. Snot mixes with tears, and together, they flow freely till they form a salty mixture in my mouth.
I am broken. Sad and broken. But I know what I must do. Tomorrow, I shall visit the clinic where I will take care of this, I tell myself. Surely, my sister can have the girls for a couple of hours. I slip back into bed beside my snoring husband, grateful that he has slept through my retching and crying. The buzzing behind my temples resumes.