This story is about Tatenda, a new mother who is struggling with motherhood and the challenges of being a new mother. In Part 1, we read about Tatenda finding out that being a new mother can be lonely and overwhelming.
It was now half past seven in the evening, and Mark would be home soon. Tatenda lowered her dress and stepped away from her appearance in the long mirror, moving with more energy than she had in a long while, into their bathroom and shut the door behind her. She’d chosen their bathroom as her new haven ever since she’d been confined to staying indoors. It was where she retreated to in those moments when Mark would make a snide remark about her ‘attitude lately’. Where she could take off her clothes freely, without Mark gawking at her new postpartum body.
She didn’t know why she felt the urge to, but she grabbed her makeup pouch, another item of hers that had been gathering dust in the past few weeks, and started fumbling through makeup brushes, eyebrow pencils, lipsticks, She could barely see through her tears but she forced herself to remember and re-create the face that Mark fell in love with, and never stopped complimenting. Minutes later, she glanced at her work – her eyebrows were still a bit wild, and the line she’d drawn over her eyelids were faint and now slightly stained, from the tears. Still, for someone who would admit she was an emotional wreck, she was somewhat impressed with the result.
She moved back into the bedroom and into their walk-in wardrobe, one side of which held her clothes, both pre-pregnancy and maternity clothes. None of which she had much use for these days as she seemed to recycle the same old, oversized T-shirts. She picked out the dress with the most plunging neckline, a black strappy satin dress which went down to her knees, with a slit that went high up her thighs.
She’d worn something very similar on her first date with Mark, when they were both still at university, and she remembered distinctly how his eyes had glazed over, almost in awe when she’d walked in through the restaurant doors. Like a scene from a romantic movie, he’d stood up taller than she’d remembered him to be, pulled out the chair across from him and whispered in her ear “You look so beautiful” as she’d sat down. He’d been a gentleman in the early days. Old-fashioned and very proper.
Tatenda once again stared at herself in the long mirror, this time with the dress thrown on, hugging her new curves. She planted herself on the foot of their bed and waited, ready to welcome Mark’s arrival in what she hoped was at least marginally seductive. For the past two months now, Mark looked at Tatenda as though she was his sister, but of African descent. She constantly felt like he blamed her for allowing herself to lose control of her body. But even more so, he blamed her for ending up in this detached, bleak abyss with no way of being rescued out of it.
Hours had now gone by. When she got tired of waiting, Tatenda stepped out of the dress and threw it into the laundry bag in a fury, mad at herself for trying to step out of her dull routine and do something nice for her husband. And mad at Mark for not knowing. She stuffed the dress under towels and dirty clothes, almost as if to hide the evidence, and went into the kitchen to rummage through Mark’s stash of alcohol. She poured herself a glass. Then another, and then a third.
It was now very late. Mark’s phone went straight to voicemail every time she tried to call him. Tatenda was trying not to spiral into a panic but her mind couldn’t help but wander. What if? What if this had been Mark’s plan all along, to leave her when she got too difficult to cope with? It was a thought that had crossed her mind more than once in the past few months. Every time she lay awake in the dark as Mark got dressed for work. What if he never returned and left her with Rikki? She sank onto the kitchen floor, her mind racing. He would never return, he’d start a new life, perhaps in a different country. An escape that she could only dream of. What if he’d met someone else already? What if he –
Then she heard Mark’s key in the lock. He fumbled around for a while before finally pushing the door open. She waited silently and heard some more fumbling and quiet expletives as Mark ran into objects in the living room, on the other side of the wall. She heard keys being dropped. A loud crash.
“Shit!” he exclaimed from the other side of the wall.
More than a little irritated, Tatenda stepped into the living room where she found Mark kneeling by one of the potted plants. He was clumsily trying to refill the pot which now lay on its side, the gravel and dirt spread across the living room floor, some stuck in between the wooden floorboards. The mess he was trying to clear up only made more of a mess. She walked over to him and bent down, attempting to help but he shoved her hands away roughly.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” The smell of liquor was strong on his breath and Tatenda found herself backing away from him, “Have you been drinking?” Now that she looked at him, properly looked at him, she noticed his curls which looked wild as though he’d run his fingers through them over and over. His lopsided tie and rumpled shirt, which certainly never looked like that when he returned home, even after a long day of work.
He squinted up at her face, “Are you wearing makeup?” Now slightly embarrassed, she touched her hands to the makeup on her face. She’d forgotten to wipe it off. Mark stood up, abandoning his efforts at clearing up his mess and staggered into the kitchen. Tatenda trailed in after him.
“I don’t think I’m the one who should be answering any of your questions, Mark! You don’t call, you don’t text but instead show up past midnight! And you’ve been drinking! Is this your new thing? Desert your family and your responsibilities to have a good time?” Her voice trembled with fury.
“Good time?!” Mark whipped around to face her. “God knows I haven’t had a good time for a long time! If it isn’t you moping around the house or that child crying every God forsaken hour. It’s one thing or the other with you lot!”
This was the first time in the past two months that he’d yelled at her. While any efforts he’d made with her or Rikki were transparent and inadequate, he did make the effort. But now as his lower lip trembled and he struggled to maintain focus and balance, she could finally see how broken he was. How angry he was.
“What would you know Mark? You’re never here!” She yelled back at him, in a tone that shocked her, and shocked Mark apparently, who now had a perplexed look on his face. He stumbled to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of Pinot, unscrewed the cap and shoved back its contents. Unfazed, Tatenda continued. “You’re in and out of here faster than I can even ask you how your day was. Your own daughter doesn’t even know who you are!”
“And she knows who you are? An absentee mother who doesn’t know the first thing about caring for a child. I’m out all day making money so this family can eat and the one job you have which is to take care of our daughter, you can’t do for shit!”
“How dare you! Why don’t you switch roles with me and let’s see how much of a parent you can be? Have you changed diapers once? No. Gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to stop the crying?”
“Tati don’t give me that nonsense! I might be physically absent from her life, but you are emotionally gone.” His voice dropped to a scarily quiet monotone as he took another swig from the bottle. “Frankly, I ask myself sometimes what the fuck I’m still doing here. It’s like I’m a prisoner in my own home. Trapped by a wife and child.”
Shocked at his audacity, Tatenda reached out and slapped him hard across his face. The next few moments unfurled so quickly that to this day, its details remain fuzzy to Tatenda. Mark dropped the bottle and shards of glass flew everywhere. He grabbed her by the neck and shoved her against the fridge until she was gasping for air, arms flailing about. His expression was dark and focused, his teeth gritted, until spittle ran down his mouth as his grip tightened and his fingernails dug in.
Tatenda’s focus blurred as she felt herself losing consciousness. Sounds became distant. Mark’s senseless muttering. The baby crying. Tatenda’s arms flying around until they closed around a solid object. Her final chance. She slammed the object into Mark’s side and suddenly the choking stopped. He looked up at her and grabbed onto the object in his side. It was a knife. The bright red soaked his shirt, so it stuck to his skin and still the colour spread, until it became a large crescent pattern. Tatenda looked on in horror. “No… No… No…” She attempted to keep him steady as he looked at her with emptying eyes, but his heavy body collapsed onto the wooden floor, out of her reach. The blood continued to spread, now across the floor, seeping into the cracks.
Visibly shaken, Tatenda tiptoed around him, careful not to step in his blood and leave a trail. She reached the doorway of the kitchen and paused. She had reached a crossroads at this point, where her next decision would change the course of her life forever. Making up her mind, she moved softly but determinedly into the living room, where a coat rack stood by the front door. Grabbing onto her warm duster coat, she fastened it around herself and stepped out into the night. The baby’s distant wails gradually faded away.
This story was written by Dunni Olayebi. She hopes her readers, mothers or not, are able to connect with, or at least empathise with her characters, or an experience which would bring the story to life for them. You can follow the author Dunni, on Instagram.
Aisha’s Note: I enjoyed reading Dunni’s story and I was left wanting to know what Tatenda did next. Motherhood can be overwhelming for many women and it’s not often discussed. Have you supported a new mother when she was overwhelmed? What were some of the things you tried? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.