In Sickness…IV-By Edward Maroncha

Continued from In Sickness…III

Reginah is deep in thought as she drives back to the house. She is sad that the children have suffered so much. But she concludes that the only way she can help them is by leaving George. The financial comfort that will come with being married to Martin will give her the freedom to spend more time with the children. That should be the cure to Tom’s problems. And she does not doubt that Martin will be a good father to them. He has even told her that they will go with the children on subsequent trips abroad.

Reginah parks the car and quickly goes up the steps to the apartment. She finds Corazon bathing George. It is a sad sight, seeing her husband in diapers like a baby and being attended to by a strange woman. Sickness truly robs one of every inch of dignity.

“Corazon, can you give my husband and me a minute? There is something we would like to discuss privately.”

“I am sorry Mama Tom, but I can’t abandon this process halfway. Kindly let me just finish and then I will give you space.”

“How long is this likely to take?”

“About forty-five minutes.”

“Forty-five minutes? I don’t have all that time. I have to go to work and I am already late. What will you be doing for three-quarters of an hour anyway?”

“I have to…”

“Corazon is a nurse,” George says, cutting her short. “Just let her do her work as she should. Tell me what you have to tell me.”

“This is a personal matter and I didn’t want to…”

“Just say it Reginah.”

Reginah is surprised. He has never called her by her name ever since she agreed to be his girlfriend some eight years ago. She has always been ‘sweetheart’, ‘darling’ or ‘babe’. But today he called her ‘Reginah’.  His tone is also stern. Does he know what she is about to tell him? But how would he have known? Then another thought occurs to her. Maybe he is falling in love with his nurse, and that is why he is projecting his anger and impatience on her.

“Why are you snapping at me? What is wrong with you?”

“Reginah, I am a sick man. I cannot move even an inch of my body without assistance. You are hardly home, so you probably don’t know the struggle…”

“Who told you I don’t know?”

“If you knew, you would understand that what Corazon is doing is important and you would leave her to do her thing and come later. Or if you are in a hurry, you can just say it as she continues with work. Corazon and Monica have seen my nakedness both literally and figuratively. I don’t think there are any secrets they don’t know about.”

“This is about our marriage. That is why I wanted to speak to you in private.”

“Do you want a divorce?”

That question catches Reginah by surprise. But that also shows how distant she has become from him. The question should not have surprised her because George has always been a very blunt man. She decides to turn the tables on him.

“Why do you think I want a divorce? Or is it that you are hoping that I can get a divorce so that you can be with your nurse here? Is that the reason you are disrespecting me in her presence? Have you finally fallen in love with her?”

George grins at his wife. Corazon goes on with her work with an expressionless face, pretending not to hear anything.

“Reginah, I worked in the corporate world for many years,” George says calmly.  “I know how reverse psychology works so don’t even try it on me because it will not work. Corazon is a professional; she is doing work that she is paid to do. Besides, why would Corazon or any sane woman want to be with a man like me? I can’t work so I cannot provide for her. You know my penis is dead as a sexual organ, so I cannot please her that way. It is just a pipe to pass urine. I cannot use my hands so I cannot even hug her…”

“Don’t start with your pity party again…”

“This is not a pity party, Reginah. Again, if you were here more often, you would know that I overcame that eons ago. I am just pointing out how flawed your logic is.  It makes more sense for you to want to flee from me, because the truth is that I am a liability, than the other way round.”

“I don’t know what would make you believe that I want to leave you…”

“Then prove me wrong. Tell me that it is not a divorce that you wanted to talk to me about.”

“It is, but it is not the way you are putting it…”

“Tell me. How did you want to ask for the divorce?”

Reginah fumbles for words. She doesn’t know exactly what she should say to make her decision look reasonable. George has her cornered.

“George, I don’t think this life is sustainable. Our costs are rising while our income is stagnant.”

“That is very true.”

“So I thought maybe you should relocate to the village so that we can save on costs.”

“How will that help us save on costs?”

“You know if you are in the village, your parents can look after you. That will free me to work harder and look for money…”

“But you are hardly home, Reginah. Surely you cannot claim that I am the one who prevents you from working. Corazon is the one who looks after me round the clock.”

“That is the point, babe. If you go to the village, your parents can take care of you and you will not need the nurse…”

“But my parents are working too, and besides they are the ones who pay the bulk of Corazon’s wages to the hospital. And there is something else that I don’t understand. How is my relocating to the village tied to a divorce?”

“I am finding it difficult to meet my share of those costs every month, considering that I am paying rent, school fees and other costs.”

“Even if I go to the village you, as my wife, will still have to pay rent and school fees, won’t you? And if we divorce and you go your way, it will be none of your business where I live. Let’s cut the crap, Reginah. It has been quite obvious for the past few months that you are no longer interested in me. And believe me, I do not blame you. I know I am a huge liability and it would be unfair to ask you to bear it for the rest of your life. I mean, you are only thirty-four. So if you want a divorce, that is perfectly okay. You don’t have to come up with lame excuses to justify the decision. Just go ahead and file it. I will not oppose it. But I am keeping the children.”

“Why would you want to do that to them?” Reginah says, finding her voice again. “You said it correctly: you cannot work so you cannot provide for the family. Why would you want to condemn your own children to a life of poverty?”

“Reginah, those kids are not sad and depressed because of financial reasons. They are sad because, on top of seeing their father crippled, their mother has no time for them. Every night they watch the door hoping that you will come on time and tuck them to bed. But you are usually too busy entertaining Martin that you do not care about them.”

“Why are you dragging my boss into this?”

“I am paralyzed Reginah, but my brain is functioning perfectly. I know you have always liked Martin. At one time, before we got married he even called me and tried to bully me into dumping you…”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it wasn’t necessary. I trusted you. Besides, I figured that if he was calling me it was because he had failed to convince you to leave me for him. But from the way you talked about him even after we got married, I was always under the impression that you liked him.”

“Why didn’t you leave me if you thought I was cheating on you?”

“I didn’t say you were cheating. I said you liked him. I didn’t have any reason to think you took it any further than that. You always treated me right and I wasn’t going to let speculation ruin a good marriage. But that has changed in recent months. You have become cold and distant, and you come home late at night. You hardly even ask how my day was or even have small talk with me. It is obvious that you want out, and my gut says that the real reason you want a divorce is that Martin has promised you that he will marry you. I could be wrong about Martin, but if it is not him, then it is another man. The thing is, if this man has made you neglect your children, then I am not going to let you take my children to him. You can have your divorce, but the children will stay with me.”

“We will see what the courts will say about that,” Reginah says rising to her feet. She doesn’t like the fact that George has managed to make her look selfish, even though she knows it is the truth. She is determined to have the final word on this. “You think any sane judge will give the custody of children to a jobless cripple?”

From the pain that flashes through George’s eyes, Reginah knows that she has hit him where it hurts the most. It wasn’t her intention, but she is too proud to apologize. She walks to the bedroom without another word and starts dragging out her suitcases.

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