Mariam sat in silence opposite her crying sister, watching the tears run down her cheeks. She no longer recognised her own flesh and blood.

She wondered how long she had been keeping her predicament from the family, but found little solace in the fact that she had finally come to her for help.

“Zirwa… you can stay with me as long as you like.” Zirwa burst into tears as Mariam sat by her side.

“This isn’t your fault Zirwa. We would have never imagined Dapo was capable of doing such a thing. This isn’t your cross to bear alone, do you understand?”

“Mariam, look at my battered face, look at the bruises all over my body.” Zirwa pulled up the loose satin dress that covered her thighs to reveal the still bleeding gashes on the surface of her skin.

“He watched me scream in agony as he dug his nails into my skin. He said he needed to make me realise I was his… Mariam, this man will kill me!”

Mariam fought back her tears and took a deep breath as her sister’s gaze, full of fear and panic, met hers.

“Is this what ‘for better or for worse’ means? To allow your own husband rape you over and over again? Is this what God ordained as holy matrimony?”

“Zirwa, you are safe. You are here with me and we are in this together, no matter how long it takes. You will get back on your feet and make it out of this marriage a stronger woman, I promise. But Zirwa, when did all of this start? You didn’t tell me? Am I no longer your best friend?”

Zirwa could hear the pain in Mariam’s voice. She took a deep breath to ease her dizziness and allowed her sisters words to sink in. She finally realised that it was time to let go.

“I… I thought I would be able to deal with it. Dapo has always been very controlling, but it never escalated to the point of him laying a finger on me. He would just shout and make threats.”

Mariam could see the tears in her sister’s swollen eyes welling up once again and held her tighter. Closer.

“Zirwa, talk to me… tell me what happened…”

Zirwa held her sister’s hand as she finally released the tears she fought hard to hold back.

“Not long after we got married, he started picking out what I wore to work. He said he didn’t want other men noticing me… This bothered me slightly but I was still in the honeymoon phase with the man I loved, so I would indulge him. As soon as I started to protest he started to belittle me. He would tell me he didn’t understand why I bothered going to work and what value I could add to any place other than our home. He said I tricked him, that I knew I was barren before we got married and planned to tie him down, because he didn’t understand why I wasn’t pregnant with his child by now. He would yell at me for wearing makeup or for getting my hair done. He said I wanted other men to notice me so I could start prostituting myself around Lagos. If not for the fact that Daddy would raise concern about me quitting my job, he would have forced me to stop working altogether.”

She paused to wipe her eyes on the back of her shaking hand. “He told me that he would one day deal with me for thinking I was better than him because of my father’s prominence and wealth. Mariam, I never really understood where the hate came from, so I wouldn’t argue. I would do all I could to please him. Though he always threatened to physically harm me, it never happened, so I would endure. I dealt with it because I didn’t want my home to fall apart. I’ve only been married for a year.”

Zirwa steadied herself. She would no longer allow pain consume her in silence. She needed to speak out.

“Two days ago Richard, my colleague, approached me after work to ask me if I was ok. He said I’d lost a lot of weight and I’d started looking tired all the time. We were the only ones left in the office that evening, and when I looked up to see the genuine concern on his face, I fell apart and melted into tears. I couldn’t bring myself to speak. I just told him I needed to get home. Then Dapo called to inform me he was waiting for me downstairs. Mariam, my heart almost left my body. I quickly packed my things and rushed down the stairs. When I got to the parking lot I was still trying to fake a smile and didn’t realise Richard had followed me out of the building. Dapo didn’t even look at me. His face was fixed on Richard and I could see him coming to his usual irrational conclusions. Only this time he looked extremely mad. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him that angry before.  I knew I was in trouble but as we drove home he didn’t say a word. As soon as we stepped into the house, he grabbed me by my… he grabbed me by my hair and dragged me into our room. Mariam, my husband locked the room door and told me that by the time he was done with me, no other man would look at me, and look at me now. Has he not kept his promise?”

Zirwa laid her head on her sister’s chest. She felt like death and wished her life for the past year had been a dream she could just wake up from.

Mariam was heartbroken. Dapo was such a gentleman when they saw him. It was so hard to believe he could treat her sister this way.

“A friend of mine…. She’s an excellent family lawyer and has an organisation solely dedicated to helping women who are experiencing domestic violence and rape in the home. We can go to see her when you’re ready. In the meantime, let me get you to the hospital. I’ll call Dr. Ifi to let her know we must see her this afternoon. We’ll take this one step at a time.”

Mariam knew her sister was exhausted. She briefly made a call, grabbed her keys and help her to her feet. As they reached the door, the bell rang. Mariam opened the door and felt rage overcome her instantly. She felt her sister cling  to her in fear.

“Zirwa, why did you leave my house!?” Dapo stood with a piercing gaze directed at his wife.