In Disowned, Anyianuka explores the dark world of abused women
Sexual violence has become a recurring staple and tool of oppression in today’s world. From the corporate to the entertainment and even the under-world, sex is a language of power and those who wield it, particularly men, use it viciously against women. And so as allegations of sexual abuses of Hollywood film mogul, Harvey Weinstein, continue to unfold, a forceful advocacy voice has been raised for the stoppage of sexual crimes, although fictionally, with the publication of Nina Iphechukwude Anyianuka’s debut short story collection, Disowned (Bookcraft, Ibadan; 2017). It is replete with dark images of women, who are exposed to sexual battery in the hands of those they love, men and women alike, and who ought to protect them.
Anyianuka excavates the dark recesses of her female characters and gives the men in their world no hiding place for the harsh judgment they willfully incur. Hers is a grim narrative that sears the innards of readers on the intolerability of some men’s inhuman actions and the need for change. Anyianuka does not turn away from the grossness of her villains’ actions but steeps her readers deeper into their cavern of depravity, with the hope that redemption can only come from the humanity these despicable characters have otherwise set aside for their villainy.
Five novellas make up the collection that dwells on the dark subject of rape of both female and male minors and adults alike, including a housewife and how men take their wife’s love for granted with philandering. The stories in Disowned include ‘Nnena’s Loss,’ ‘Daddy’s Girl,’ ‘Disowned,’ ‘Blackie’s Mission’ and ‘Two of a Kind.’
In ‘Nnena’s Loss,’ Anyianuka focuses on the betrayal that confronts many wives from their husbands, who in spite of how much love they profess to their wives, still have a woman on the side to titillate them. Discovering such illicit affairs is usually heartbreaking for such wives, who would ordinarily have sworn to their husband’s fidelity. Nnena’s discovery comes at the most trying period, at her husband’s death, when she is mourning his unfortunate passing in an armed robbery shootout. This happens as she goes through his last conversations with his mistress on BBM, which aren’t flattering in their raw intimacy and affection for the other woman.
Also, the author addresses the possible trauma most wives undergo after their husband’s death, with the man’s relations making life living hell for the poor widow, with their unreasonable demands. Nnena’s mother-in-law typifies such relative, but Nnena proves more than a match for her and her husband’s relatives. However, Anyianuka drives the point too far when her heroine takes charge of her husband’s burial at the total exclusion of his relatives, who are intimidated into silence by her use of force, which she uses her husband’s money to enlist. She could easily have avoided some of those seemingly barbaric practices a widow is supposed to undergo, but undertaking to decide how her husband is buried alone without the input of his relatives is carrying women’s emancipation a bit too far. However, Nnena realises too late, upon discovering her husband’s infidelity, the futility of her actions.
As she soliloquises to herself at the end, “I feel numb as I sit motionless, my head aching, heart pounding, throat patched. My eyes are hurting from crying. I am suddenly filled with bile. I regret the tears I cried for Udoka, the sacrifices I made for him. I should have let his relatives take him away and bury him like the animal he was.”
If ‘Nnena’s Loss’ is the disappointment a wife suffers on account of her husband’s infidelity, then ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is a devastating portrayal of man’s bestiality, of a little girl who suffers sexual violence from her own father from the age of four. Anyianuka shows just how beastly some men can get, of depraved paedophiles, who still walk among human kind. That is the heartrending story of the young life of Betty, whom her father molests from age four till she leaves secondary school. She lives a damaged life right under the nose of her mother, whose attention she desperately yearns for but which is never there for her. She is so preoccupied with her own drama she does not notice her children being abused.
For Betty, sexual abuse comes in the name of her own father, a cousin, who comes to live with them and the gateman, who also takes advantage of her defencelessness. In fact, her father is so depraved he flies from Lagos to Calabar, where Betty is in boarding school and takes her a hotel just to defile her after selling the school authority a dummy. Betty is so damaged she is unable to have a normal relationship with a man; her marriage crashes on account of it. She refuses to have children for fear her girl child will be so defiled or her boy child being a beast like her father
And so Betty wails in utter frustration, “In reality, I am a damaged young woman, dented and bent out of shape by an abusive childhood (sic). I have no happy memories to balance out the sorrows that have continuously trailed my life…”
THE third and title story ‘Disowned’ is of a darker hue. A journalist, who opposes the ruling military regime, is gunned down in the presence of his wife and children. The wife becomes a mental wreck, just as the children are left to make sense of their shattered lives. Their aunt takes them into her wings, but they are hunted down and narrowly escape being caught; they manage to get out of the country and reunite with their mother and seek asylum in the U.S. Beatrice and her mother and brothers try to make a living, but life is tough. Then she runs into Femi, a slick fellow with dubious credentials. Against her mother’s protestations, Beatrice marries Femi and relocates to Nigeria. Femi is so influential he guns for governorship and gets the ticket.
But Femi is a brute; in public, he adores his wife and they are seen as picture perfect couple. At home, however, Beatrice is living in hell specially made by Femi. He rapes her at will, beats her up and emotionally abuses her. Worse, he womanizes openly and does not care about her feelings. Like most women, Beatrice’s thought of her children not having both parents to bring them up leaves her open in the abusive marriage.
Beatrice’s self-confession serves as useful guide to all such women, who needlessly endure on account of their children, “There is something about Bryan that worries me. I suspect he knows the truth about me and his dad. Though I’m too weak to confront Femi, I’m actually sick of his deceit… but I go along with the act… because I want him and his siblings to be happy and have a normal childhood with a dad and a mommy. I want them to have what my brothers and I lost – a daddy who will not be taken away from them and I am ready to pay any price to stay in this marriage so my kids can have that.”
However, that thinking almost gets her killed as Femi’s brutishness almost gets out of hand. It was during one such acts of violence that their oldest daughter stumbles on her mother being beaten and then raped by her father. That encounter changes the complexion of the family; it marks the turning point for Beatrice. Her daughter gives her the courage to confront her husband and she discovers just how cowardly Femi is. And when they find the weak link in his armour, they exploit it maximally to ruin him. Femi is sentenced to life imprisonment in France for murder. Beatrice and her children eventually taste liberty from the tyranny of a husband and father.
In the fourth story, ‘Blackie’s Mission,’ it is a mother’s turn to be beastly as she turns her own under-aged daughter into a sex slave, and delivers her to men to devour for scant financial gains. She is so depraved she allows a man to sleep with her and her daughter on the same bed! However, after running from home and suffering so much and losing her brother and sister and her two prostitute colleagues in the city, the young woman finally finds redemption in a rehabilitation centre, where she promises to pursue advocacy causes and help others like her so terribly lost find home.
No doubt, Anyianuka is a gifted storyteller. For a first timer, Disowned shows amazing talent. However, Bookcraft does a poor editing job of the work. In spite of the distractions such loose editing causes, Anyianuka’s narrative power shines through. This is a young woman to look out f or in the years to come. Coming under the tutelage of movie actor, Mr. Richard Mofe-Damijo, who wrote the forward, also counts for something.
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