Blackouts and family stability

When Tom and Clara woke up that morning, there was the NEPA bill sticking out at the gate. They had not had light for the past four days. That boiled unforgivably in the couple’s mind. They made a joke of it that as NEPA is untrustworthy so is the country that owns it. Trust this country at your own peril. NEPA is the country’s Achilles heel.  Or is the country NEPA’s Achilles heel? NEPA is a snail at the Olympic Games’ 100 meters dash. All the runners have finished the race and gone home for years to face other things.  And the snail was still half-way on the track coming leisurely and in all dignity. The people will never know what was happening to it. The snail moves slowly. But nobody knows why. Why can’t people have light? Was the problem a functional fault? Was the fault local or universal? That’s the question the man usually jovially asked. Was NEPA born never to deliver? Why is the country independent but not dependable? The man went outside the house and frantically changed the fuse to the three lines connecting their house. Nothing! The snail is very happy with its speed, think whatever you like.
Tom met his wife at the door collapsing on his feet: “the soup has gone soar.”
“That soup? The soup you spent all the money in this house making?” lamented the man, throwing himself to the other end of the sofa. The wife, Clara, almost dead with frustration, threw herself to the other end. She was lucky not to have had a stroke as a result. That became the issue in their most stormy quarrel in marriage that lasted that whole day and beyond. The marriage was to crash on account of this if not for a “Divine intervention”.
Tom dragged her up and spoke into her face: “Look, woman, I told you to make a small soup, considering the ways of NEPA. You know them too well. This is twenty something years we’ve lived together in this country. We’ve never had light without interruption for 30 minutes.
You won’t listen. You took the last kobo in this house and made three types of soup to prove you are a big madam. Now see. There is nothing to eat today. No money in the house to do anything. Your entire fault! Typical women’s obstinacy”
“I know you will bring all the blame to me.  I, the woman in the house must take all the blame, even for the things NEPA, or whatever you call them, is doing to virtually all homes in this country. Is that fair? Is there any home that doesn’t have this experience? Have they all perished? Blame the country, not me.
“If they brought a power surge and it burned the house down, you’ll still blame me.  I do not give a damn. Why should I?”
With uncontrollable anger still rising in his chest, he lashed out at her and gave her a slight cut on her left eye.
“What are you doing, Tom? You have crossed Buhari’s red line. She touched the wounded eye. “So you can afford to make me bleed, Tom?”
“You deserve everything I do to you in this matter,” Tom retorted, unrepentant. His eyes were red. He thought more of the money wasted in making the soups. Going to the squalor called markets for women every week was to him subhuman. That was another side of Tom. He had great compassion for his wife, womenfolk in general and the weakness of the opposite, fairer sex. Besides, Clara was a pretty girl when he married her.She remained so, many years after child-bearing. His regard and love for her clashed with his disappointment of her not heeding his advice about the soups.
Tom thought it a life sentence worse than prison terms for all wives who have to wade through swamps called markets in order to feed their families. Coming back, she slaved for hours again in the kitchen. She gets   exhausted sometimes; she got respite sitting on the concrete pavement outside to stabilize. Iced water from the freezer would have helped her. But there was no electricity. The freezer was a heat chambers instead.
“It is this country,” said Clara, “that is the cause of these problems. If they had given us light, this wouldn’t have arisen. It is not my fault that the soups got spoilt. You don’t expect me to warm three big pots of soup every now and then in order to preserve them. They will be tasteless if I did that. They will decay. Nobody can eat them. It would have been a fruitless effort.”
“If you had listened to me and made a small soup, this wouldn’t have arisen,” said Tom, almost regretting being physical on his wife. “You say it’s the country, yes. If they had given us light, making three different pots of soup would have been a great idea. But knowing they always disappoint, why you didn’t leave a chance that investing our entire livelihood on a perishable thing that depends on NEPA beats my imagination. Is that foolishness or naivety? I wonder a times, is it typical of women to make silly mistakes, behaving sometimes like children?”
“I don’t agree with you”, said Clara, emphatically. “Don’t forget too soon. You don’t bring all the good ideas in this family. I also bring some. Take it easy with women. It is not only women who make mistakes. Men do too. You men get away with a lot.
This kind of treatment can make me keep all my ideas (good or bad) to myself. Don’t drive me in. It will be of no use to anybody. The way you’re reacting is dangerous. Any marriage is practically dead if the wife does not feel free to come up with her ideas. This is caused by the man. Nobody should lose the critical support of his spouse, especially the wife.
“A man will soon die if he alone is to provide the entire marital ideas, take all the decisions and implement them in any home. He will not survive. That is worse than physical divorce. Both parties, though living together, are divorcees. It is worse than hell fire. Quick, final separation by death of any of the spouses is what naturally follows.
“This is the most silent of killers. By then one spouse has given up. Go and check all deaths of spouses. This is what lies behind many of them. Most people die of undeclared divorce. This is when a couple live mentally apart, separated and divorced while living together. That life is full of pretences and leads to falsehood, contradictions and death. It manifests in big health challenges that quicken death. Death due to undeclared divorce happens suddenly, when unexpected. There may be an illness or physical weakness or incapacity. But it is brief. It just happens when the body and spirit have tolerated enough of solitary life and cannot take any more of it, and any more load or stress.” A life will snap when it is isolated and isolates itself in a marriage. Open quarrelling is better than tightly bottled ill-feeling in marriage.
Still sobbing, Clara came closer to her husband. “Don’t blame me. Blame this country. Console me. I am a woman. I need understanding. I need compassion. I’m your wife. You must love me. You have a duty to protect me, even against NEPA and this country. You owe it to me. Why should you allow the country to come between us? They don’t think of the way their failings affect individuals and families; that mere power shortage for four days can wreak a marriage and lead to murder. They don’t know that all the things they fail to do affect lives. If they consider the human factor in whatever they do, things won’t be like this. If you had killed me in your unjustified anger, would they know that remotely they caused it? They will come after you and kill you too. Two of us would be gone by this country’s act of blunder.”
The weakness of a woman overtook her emotions.
She admitted that she was a woman; she was weak, but strong enough to take charge of the emotional steering of the marriage. At one and the same time she was sorry. She justified her decision to make the soups. She hated NEPA for all they think they are worth. How many times have they blown their electrical and electronic appliances? Their bills are just a gamble to try to collect money for service not rendered. The country closes its eyes to it. They don’t raise their concerns.
When NEPA staff lack money they go round and collect one – two thousand naira from people. NEPA goes as far as asking consumers to buy whole transformers and pay for their installation, after which power will still not be supplied. The worst experience of consumers is to have no communication with anybody on why power goes off and on; why it goes off at all.  It is in convulsive state all the time.  It is incurable.
Clara disapproved of her husband’s reaction. She condemned her country’s rulers for never considering the pains their acts omission and commission cause individuals and families. This thinking piled up unbearable pressure on her as a woman.
If she didn’t accept guilt and surrender to him, the quarrel had no chance of abetting, let alone being healed.
They sat on the sofa in each other’s arms thinking of what had just happened. Which was of more value to them, the country or their family? Can the country substitute for the family? What is the country doing to support the family? What is their relationship? What should it be?
Tom manly held his wife, and pulled her possessively close. He tried to wipe her tears, touching the wound by the side of her eye. She felt the pain and pulled back involuntarily. She felt the pain and shouted:
“Tom. See what you did to me. You would                have blinded me.”
She dropped some more helpless tears on his palm which he responded to with his own sprinkle of tears. “It is this country,” Tom said with apology. This, far from, settled the whole matter. Money must be provided for another pot(s) of soup. “There will still be blackouts. We’ve not heard the last of blackouts,” replied Clara.  Both of them said in unison, laughing: “THIS COUNTRY!”

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