Forever There For You (eBook)
When NADINE is confronted with the reality of her failing marriage, her first instinct is to work it out. She has had it drummed into her that marriage is ‘for better, for worse’. Walking out is just not an option – her faith would condemn her and her culture would make her a pariah.
The combination of Nadine’s background, education, social standing, friendships, faith, experiences and past relationships is meant to equip her to become a success. Failure is alien to her and love means forgiving at all cost.
As she tries to survive and make the most of the curves that life has thrown her, she discovers that ’success’ is a subjective term, and ‘happily ever after’ is something that you have to discover and define for yourself …
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Nadine did not consider herself a feminist; if anything, following her Freshers’ Fair, she consciously avoided the members of the Feminist Society throughout her university career. But she couldn’t help but be impressed at how relentless the Southall Black Sisters had been. She wondered what it must have felt like for Kiranjit Ahluwalia to have those women she had not known from Adam, fighting her corner. That was sisterhood.
Samantha’s proposed 10km to raise money for Refuge had a ripple effect. It was the ball that set in motion a chain of events that she could not have been aware of. Mrs Troy’s memo about Ms McCall’s involvement with the Refuge also gave the obligatory information about the lovely work which the organisation continued to do. Staff of the firm were also encouraged to be pro-active in seeking out opportunities to give back to the community and develop themselves outside the office. It was the practice of Eldridge & Grey to assist staff, however it could. With the government’s gloomy predictions about what the recession would do to the country and legal aid consequently being cut, it wouldn’t hurt to be seen as pro bono-friendly; it helped foster their ties with their community, and staff personal development was also important. Shortly afterwards, Nadine got an email from Mrs Troy asking if she was interested in doing any pro bono work with the Refuge – after all, she had done a lot of work with the Rape Crisis Centre during her undergraduate days at Bristol University. The firm also had it on record that she loved this kind of work … or volunteering opportunity. She said so at her interview. When Eldridge & Grey checked, the Rape Crisis Centre had nothing but good things to say about Miss Nwaturuegwu. So, although it was by no means compulsory, it would be greatly appreciated if she would consider giving of herself to Refuge. Any activities she carried out in that regard, could even contribute towards her Personal Development Portfolio, which Eldridge & Grey encouraged all staff to have. If she was interested, she could get more information from Ms McCall. As Nadine made out a cheque to Refuge – when someone informed you that they were trying to raise money for any cause, they didn’t normally do so because they wanted you to comment on how nice and altruistic they were – she thought this might be a sign.
Her first evening at Refuge went just as she had anticipated it would – horribly. She could not have asked for anything else. Making hot chocolate and keeping a fresh supply of biscuits for these women as some told their stories at the meeting, would be unsettling for anyone. When Elena – a member of staff – saw her visibly upset and shaken, she asked her if she was alright. Nadine nodded; surely, that was the expected response. This thing that some people did in England where they asked “Is everything alright? Are you OK?” when they saw someone act or look a certain way, just made her want to scream sometimes. In Nigeria, they would just ask you outright, “What is the matter?” if they saw your countenance wasn’t what they assumed it should be. If someone looks distressed, of course something is the matter. Even a child in the midst of a full-blown tantrum does so because in their minds at least, something is wrong. So, what was the deal with adults? They didn’t just happen to switch personalities because they thought that acting like a cry-baby at 2pm in the afternoon – or whenever it is that you found them – was something they should do everyday. No, they are not OK. But Nadine had said she was fine. Elena had no reason to believe otherwise. She probably thought Nadine’s shaking was due to vicarious trauma – the condition that caused a responder, mainly police and other professionals, to experience trauma symptoms that are similar to those suffered by a victim after hearing about the abuse the victim has experienced. How was Elena to know that there was nothing empathetic about Nadine’s reaction? She wasn’t to know that these women’s stories resonated with her for truly personal reasons. That when a perfectly physically healthy Amy recounted how her boyfriend liked to tell her that she was ‘dumpy and fat’, she understood because she had been there? Actually, she was there – that was where she lived. Or that Louisa’s fear as she told how her husband’s violence escalated when she got pregnant and did not abate after the birth of their baby, was something Nadine imagined each time her husband raped her? Or Kerry weeping as she remembered how her ex-boyfriend made it a point of duty to isolate her from her friends and family, made Nadine remember her own reality. Tony had actually ordered her to stop talking to a particular chorister in their church. He claimed the woman, whom he barely knew by the way, was a bad influence … because she was single. And she would convince Nadine, who was gullible and easily influenced, to be disrespectful to him and to have affairs with all the men in the church. Even that when they all said how the abusers made excuses for their behaviour and had convinced them that the abuse was their victims’ fault, Nadine wondered how it was possible for any other human being to know exactly how she was feeling? That when some of the women said as far as they were concerned, the violence came out of the blues, Nadine finally knew she wasn’t going crazy? Elena wasn’t to know that the shame she felt was so personal and so acute. Nadine was an educated woman. Most of these women came from council estates and some even spoke in broken English – whether it was the aftermath of the abuse they had suffered, or the fact that their own educational system had failed them, Nadine found it difficult to say. But she knew the assumption that domestic violence only happened to and with poor people, was wrong. It was a myth. The truth was that domestic violence knew no class, and she was living proof of that. She wasn’t a woman on benefits. She was a well-educated, professional woman. She was married to a professional man, not an obvious lout who spent all his time at the local pub – as far as she knew, Tony didn’t drink. She wasn’t the product of a home torn apart by violence or infidelity – she had been raised in a loving home, where people said they loved you and meant it. Her parents’ marriage was happy and it worked. From a young age, she had been primed to succeed in all that she did. So the shame she felt at finding herself in this situation she did not create, yet made her feel too paralysed to ask for help – there were no words to describe it.
That shame was all-consuming when Tony urinated on her. She returned from the Refuge meeting a bit later than she had anticipated. He was already in a mood and she tried not to antagonise him further. But he went berserk when he searched her bags and saw the Refuge letter-headed papers. He asked her who she thought she was and why she thought she could get away from him. When she said she had only gone to volunteer and showed him a print-out of the email Mrs Troy sent her, he hadn’t believed her. He slapped her, pushed her to the ground and kicked her. When she grabbed his leg instead of just shielding herself from the blows, as he was accustomed to, he was even more irate. He said that she now thought she could fight back so he would show her. He raped her, and when he stood up, she thought that was all he had in mind. Until he urinated on her and called her a ‘filthy, disgusting, foolish creature’.
This new act of degradation made Nadine feel even more broken. She knew this had to be how Kiranjit Ahluwalia felt. But the erstwhile insignificant, little woman had gone on to gain her freedom and make legal history. No, she hadn’t done it alone and she had the power of sisterhood behind her, there for her and working for her. Nadine wondered how liberated and vindicated she must have felt. To say she hated Tony was an understatement. She wanted to hurt him, not out of revenge – she had no compulsion for vengeance. All she wanted was freedom. When her husband sat down to breakfast alone the following morning, she wondered what would happen if she poured his morning tea over him. Or if she mixed anti-freeze with his cereal. Or rat poison in his dinner that evening. She would watch him squirm and hurt. He would die a painful death. She would probably go to jail, but he would never hurt her again. She wasn’t sure that even then she would be able to bring herself to admit the incident or the extent of the abuse, so if she ever got caught, they might think she did it for financial reasons. That the treatment she would receive would be very harsh, was almost guaranteed. But if she was a man … It was almost unbelievable, the discrepancies in the treatments given to men and women, even in this century. Even in this country that was supposed to be civilised.
Ahluwalia wasn’t the only one. In 1990, Sara Thornton was jailed for life for the murder of her violent, alcoholic husband – she stabbed him once and called an ambulance when he threatened to kill her and her daughter in their sleep. This was a man who had actually beaten her black and blue, in the presence of a neighbour, on one occasion – this led to a hospital admission as he beat her unconscious. Then, there was 17year-old Emma Humphreys, in 1985 who served a 10year sentence for killing her violent boyfriend and pimp, Trevor Armitage. In 1991, Joseph McGrail was told by a judge that “this woman would have tried the patience of a saint”, given a 2year suspended sentence and walked free. McGrail killed his alcoholic wife who swore at him, by kicking her repeatedly in the stomach while she was drunk. Then there was Les Humes who stabbed his wife 12 times in 15 minutes in the presence of their children, after she confessed to an affair with her karate instructor. Although their teenage daughter told the court how she had tried to retrieve the knife as he repeatedly stabbed his wife, he got a 7year sentence in 1992 because the Crown Prosecution Service downgraded the murder charge to manslaughter. Nadine was no Eve Ensler or Andrea Dworkin. She did not consider herself to be in the league of Marie Stopes, either. But she did wonder what it would feel like to be free.
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