Deji counted the bottles where she had hidden them in the back of the wardrobe. Five bottles. It was a reasonable number, considering that it could have been worse. It had been worse. She was making an effort, he gave her that. Although for how long, he couldn’t tell.
He had feigned sleep until she bathed the children, herself and stepped out of the room, because it was their routine. He pretended not to know about her drinking, and she cleaned up after herself making sure she was good as new when he saw her. This routine was better than before, he mused.
Before the children, there were days she drank herself to sleep. Days when she started drinking as soon as he left for work and didn’t stop until she was unable to stand. Those were the dark days. Days when he stayed back at work because nothing was waiting for him at home even though he was newlywed and was expected to still be in the honeymoon phase.
The counsellor had once asked if he had known of her drinking problem before they got married, and he had said no. That was the truth, but was it the whole truth? Were there times he suspected that she had a problem? Maybe those times they went out to dinner and she downed more than three glasses of wine and had to lean on him for support to get out of the restaurant. It had been cute and romantic then, even if he didn’t drink. It had been like the movies; he, the strong man helping the tipsy lady into the car and laughing at her silly drunk jokes, or her clumsy attempts to kiss him. He should have known then, should have at least suspected. But he had refused to let himself believe that a woman as beautiful and classy as Ivie had a drinking problem. He had been blinded by her porcelain skin with a tiny nose fit snugly between her pear-shaped eyes and her lovely red lips. God, she was a beauty.
Even now, he found her attractive. There were times when she was drunk that he let her take him into their bed, and if truth be told, those were some of the best sex they had. It was the aftermath that he never enjoyed – the feelings of guilt and disgust that overwhelmed him.
The decision to see a counsellor first came up when she was pregnant with the twins and he found empty bottles of alcohol in the trash. He had been mad at the thought of putting his children’s lives in danger with her addiction, and for the first time he had given an ultimatum. Get help or get out.
The next day, she came to him with a list of addiction rehabilitation centres in Lagos and begged that he contact them on her behalf because she was scared, she couldn’t do it.
It was her first round of treatment and they managed to provide support for her throughout the duration of the pregnancy. He watched her struggle with nurturing life inside her without anything to help her along, and sometimes he wondered what had happened to make her that way.
He should have asked, but he was terrified of the response. He was, he realized, terrified of a lot of things in life. Things that he would never admit to anyone else. He was scared of becoming like his father, but he was also scared of not being good enough for the man. He was scared he would lose his wife one day, that one day she would wake up and realise he was not the best she could do. Because even with her problem, Ivie was out of his league. She was much better suited to his brother, Benjy, if he were ever going to get married.
Benjy had always been the better looking one between them both, with their mother’s effeminate looks and full head of hair. He was also the one who stood up to their father the most. The first time they discovered that their father sometimes hit their mother, he was fourteen and Benjy was eleven and they had found out by accident – the door to their mother’s room was slightly open and they heard the sound of their father’s palm connecting with her face.
His natural instinct had been to turn away – to unsee what they had just seen, but Benjy had rushed into the room without thinking and hauled his slim body at their father, causing the man to stumble. Their father had glared at him, hissed and walked out of their mother’s room, no sense of remorse that his sons had witnessed his brutality. Deji had felt a mixture of envy and admiration for his younger brother. Thus was the nature of their relationship – Benjy always taking decisions that Deji himself would never have dreamed of. When Benjy launched his fashion business, Deji had been stunned by his audacity, because even though Benjy had always shown an interest in fashion and designing, their father had turned his nose down on his obvious talent and had insisted he study Engineering in the university.
So, when five years after graduating, Benjy quit his job at an industrial plant and went into fashion fulltime, their father threw a fit. According to Benjy, the man huffed and puffed and blew nothing down.
Yet again, Deji found himself in awe of his brother, and yet wary of him. How had Benjy ended up with the daring genes even though he looked like their mother? Whereas, Deji, a spitting image of their father was a wimp, with the compliant nature of their mother. He had done everything he was supposed to do, following the outline of his father’s plans and yet it wasn’t enough. He walked about with an emptiness at his core. He had three adorable children, children his father paraded as his only grandchildren, and yet Deji felt no sense of achievement. Getting out of bed everyday was a struggle, being a present and happy dad, was an even bigger struggle. He wanted to be nothing like his father, which was why he accepted Ivie’s shortcomings, why he looked away and pretended they were one big, happy family. If he looked away long enough, he thought, his reality may blur a bit. If he looked away long enough, maybe he could photoshop some happiness into his life.