My Broken Ego (A Short Story) by Theophilus Enemali

It was Wednesday. And by her timetable which regulated my libidinal ecstasy, Wednesdays and Saturdays were for consummation of our companionship in the sweetest way possible. But she had drifted away, hissed loudly and faced the wall. It was a cold night, with the pelting march of the rain and its rhythm of sweet splashy sound on the zinc. She allowed the thick blanket to form a wall of stiffness between my body and hers. I pretended to be alright, to act as though I was missing nothing at all. So I backed her and mumbled in the silence of my sad spirit: "To hell with you." Then I forced myself to have a wink of sleep. But the dryness in my eyes were as harsh as the Sahara desert and it chased away sleep completely.

My mind went through the happy moments we have had until, three months before then, when she decided that we should limit our sexual activities to twice a week against the previous infinite fun. To say I felt sad would be an understatement, I felt emasculated.

"Why? We have the right to have it every time, all day, all night!" I had screamed angrily.

"I'm sorry, I do not burn with sexual desires as I used to anymore," she replied coldly.

"Is anything the problem?" I inquired.

"I just can't tell, I am hardly ever in that mood," she added.

When I got married to my wife; Princess; three years ago, she used to be the first to cross her legs over mine, she would entangle her legs with mine and ask me why I should sleep so early without performing my marital duty as always. I loved those days. But now, it was as if those days never happened and she was not the same person then.

I decided to pretend and let the thick blanket form a bigger wall by angrily adding a pillow to solidify the wall of separate worlds, on the same bed, between us.

Minutes later, I heard tearful moans, the sniffing of a running nose, and knew immediately that she was crying. I thought of what to say, whether I should feign sleep or act in a very caring manner and ask what the matter was. Do I even need to ask? I knew it already. It was something I hated to hear even though it gave me an ugly stare every so often. Saying it was breaking my masculinity, throwing my fragility to an open space of mockery. I could have been stronger if she had not gone to the hospital and the doctor confirmed her perfectly fertile to conceive. And...and maybe I should have lorded it over her and not have revealed to her that the problem was from me, maybe she would still have had some respect for me and would not have treated me as if I no longer mattered in her life. Ever since she knew it was not her fault, everything had changed. I thought very deeply that night.

I removed the pillow and the blanket and tried talking with her. I moved closer to her, allowing my cold body to touch her warm body.

"Princess, sweetheart,  what is the matter? Please move closer," I beckoned. "Can you hear me? Just face me please, let's talk."

"I can hear you, I'm not deaf, I'm tired of fruitless talks," she said curtly.

Sweat streamed down my forehead, defying the cold night to form wrinkles on my forehead. There was silence and what I could see all around me, beneath me, over me and within me in the deep darkness of the room was utter hopelessness, a less than a man figure. I just could not bear it anymore, but I was powerless to act. In fact, I was bereft of thoughts and action. After a while she drew closer.

"Idoko, if you don't do anything about this childless marriage, I might be left no option but to abandon this marriage and marry another man. Think of the shame that will befall you. Think about it and see what can be done to make me pregnant, it is to protect your image and give us the happiness we both yearn for," she finished amidst hot tears and drifted away again, leaving me alone in the maze of my confused thought to search for a solution. A solution that could be found from where I know not of but I knew I had do something, and quickly too.

It was already the second week of my sexual starvation, I could not touch my wife anymore without her flinging my hands off her body furiously. I felt like a fish out of water fighting for life on a rocky sand in a harsh sun. Last night, she had slept with a knife just to frighten me off her body.

"Idoko, if you dare touch me again before day light, I will injure you, and I mean it," she had said, showing me the knife with her clenched teeth and a face bereft of any iota of even a wicked smile.

"We promised to love each other, remember, you told me you will love me for better or for worse," I said with a near misty eye.

"Hey! Don't come and quote any bible for me, is it too much to ask? Perform your function, make me pregnant like other women, I want to be a mother!" She thundered.

Her voice was becoming too loud and I would not want our neighbours to hear such a remark. I kept quiet. I thought of what to say but I was deeply lost in thought. I could not cry either, that would make me appear weak, coupled with the fact that I have been unable to impregnate her. In my community, tears were synonymous to weakness, it made one look too childish, helpless, and unworthy of being called a man. I allowed some minutes quietly walk by before asking her what she thought could be the best solution. But she drew closer, leaned on my shoulder and began crying.

"I didn't mean to shout at you or hurt you, it is not as though I don't enjoy our love making, but I'm just sick and tired of our life as it is," she said in-between tears.

"I am also sorry for making you go through this hell, I haven't been myself for a long time, my happiness lies in being with you," I said.

"I know how much you love me, but honey, what do you think we should do? I am fast becoming the laughing stock of other newly married women who have babies already."

There came a sudden kind of cold that swept through my body, my brain went blank like a plain sheet of paper. I could not just figure out what to suggest. I mustered courage and asked her in return.

"Honey, is there anything you think we can do to help us?" I asked calmly.

"You are the man, and I am going out of my way to protect your image, you need to think and find a solution, not me. How about you go to the hospital and ask if there is something else that can be done for you?" She suggested angrily as she got up and walked out of the room. She sat in the living room, in the thick darkness. She refused to turn on the light. I was scared she might run away. I was also wrong for keeping a secret for so long. This was not the kind of suggestion I wanted to hear. I felt so remorseful even without an open apology.

It was almost a year ago...after her fruitless medication and the eventual confirmation that she was fertile to conceive, I secretly went to a doctor to confirm my procreation potential.The revelation was bizarre, so I hid it at first. My mind wandered back to that painful day, when I took a personal bold step to get tested.

The consultation was done, and the doctor asked me series of questions. He was Dr. Sam, a young man of about thirty-five who seemed to be very much knowledgeable in his discipline, he carried himself with calmness, courage and candour. After the questions, he led me to a ward, where he carried out the physical examination and took some sample of my semen to run a test. I had to return two days later to get the medical test result. I did not tell my wife. It was always almost believed that infertility was often the fault of women. I held that belief too. That was the kind of community we grew up in and lived in. A woman must be responsible for the gender decision of a child as well, so that if she had several girls, the husband would marry another wife in search of a male child. But since the government established the General Hospital in Ogbogbo, a bigger village that was just ten kilometers away, they had come to prove many things wrong. And life seemed to have improved for the people.

Two days later, when I returned from my farm, I went to the hospital to see Dr. Sam, and get the results. What I expected was that he would give me some medicines. But after waiting in the lobby of the hospital for what seemed like forever. He walked me to his office. His face wore a kind of  pity that was very revealing. He appeared sympathetic and I could not tell what was happening. There was silence and the only thing I could hear was the hazy harmattan weather that was tossing and blowing warm wind, closing and reopening the window of the doctor's office. He stood up and closed the window and returned. He stared at the paper in front of him for a long time. I knew it was my test result but I could not ferret why he was so calm.

"Mr. Idoko, I have your medical test result. From what we have here, you have a bit of a problem. You have been diagnosed with what is called "Azoospermia" it is an absence of sperm cells in the semen," he said.

"Doctor, please what can I do? Is it that I won't be able to impregnate my wife any more?" I asked.

"You can, it's just that it will cost a lot of money, and I'm sorry we don't have the facilities here to carry it out. Actually, it would have been an agreement between yourself and your wife and your little  sperm cells would be used for intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization, besides these, I'm afraid that Azoospermia tends to be resistant to medication. I'm very sorry," he finished.

His last statement was the only thing I understood. I knew I was already a dead man, living but dead in spirit. I looked at him in the face, hoping he would change his mind and tell me there is another solution to it. But he said nothing and I stood up and walked away, my mind wandering off from my immediate environment. I thought of what I would tell my wife, yet I knew I could not come up with the truth. I love her and I could not let her leave. So I concealed the pain, the hidden tears all to myself. This had happened more than a year ago. But I had kept it to myself and rather helped her to get medication, even when the truth of the situation stared me right in the face. I decided I had to do something to save my marriage and I needed to do that something very fast.

I thought of telling my wife about my impotency but the decision to let that out was nightmarish, smothering and potentially dangerous. I used to think that I was one of the most decisive people in the world, but the situation that was threatening the beauty of my masculinity and the adoration of my manliness seemed like a demonic venom in me. I thought of what to do as I sat in our living room that was furnished with chairs made from dyed raffia, with linear rolls of lines that crisscrossed the chairs in a serpentine and artistic fashion. I was running out of ideas, and my wife, Princess was running out of patience. I could not visualise myself following the doctor's advice, I would not have such money even in ten years, so I brushed it aside.

I played out the consequences of telling her, two were most probable. First, she might endure with me and hope a miracle would happen. Secondly, she might walk away, because my mother too was running out of patience, not with me, but with Princess. The last time she visited, she had come with some herbal mixture for Princess.

"My son, Idoko, don't worry, after your wife uses these herbal medicines, she must get pregnant, this is from the greatest obochi in our community. The herbalist had cured every woman that had had infertility issues in the village and beyond," she said confidently.

"Okay Mama, I believe Princess would get pregnant after taking this one, since the obochi's herbal mixture had made sterile women fertile," I responded, faking faith.

"Except, she is under a spell, or she had been bewitched or married to a spirit husband. Your wife will get pregnant," Mama added.

But, eight months passed by and nothing happened. I revered my wife, Princess, for her virtue of patience, but I knew I was the secret patient that was becoming impatient and insecure.

My confusion got miserably heightened immediately she went for her checkup and returned with positive results which prompted me to sneak to a doctor and have my organs checked also. And since when I discovered that I was impotent, a lot of heavy loaded thoughts had been struggling for space in my head. It was certain I could not keep the issue to myself anymore. I needed to share it with someone, someone who is trustworthy. So I listed my four friends in my head and imagined their responses upon telling them that the doctor had confirmed me impotent.

Achile Peter: "Oh! I'm so sorry for your situation, my dear, let's trust God. There is nothing beyond His power." That would certainly be his response, he is the new catechist at Father Williamson's church, the Irish missionary.

Uchola Ocholi: "Ewoooo, that's the worst thing that can happen to a man ooo. Hey! You're finished. Just bear it. There is nothing you can do about it." I imagined that would  be Ocholi's response, he has the most annoying frankness, yet his sympathy is always sincere.

Enemaku Attah: "I'm so sorry ooo. I can't tell what you should do." Yes, that would be his response, he was the most indecisive person I knew in the world. On several occasions, during our cultural festival with plenty of different meals, he would think almost eternally before he would decide on what to eat. There was no point disclosing anything to him.

The last person I thought of telling was my closest friend, Odiba. But he was often too quick in getting solutions to problems no matter how weird it appeared.

Akpa Odiba: "Idoko, you mean the doctor told you, you are impotent? Eyaaa, but that is not a big issue. See, Idoko, I just want you to trust me with your breath, I can help you get your wife pregnant. And the secret will just be between three of us till the world ends."

Odiba was that kind of man. He gave disturbing solutions to tough issues. That would almost definitely be his response. I was thinking of giving a consideration to that, he seemed most reliable to keep my dark secret in the darkest part, but my wife walked to the sitting room from the bedroom and interrupted my ravaging thoughts that morning. She drew closer to me and asked after trading greetings.

"Have you considered going for the medical checkup at Ogbogbo? I was told the doctor could treat any issue, maybe he could help us with this issue of childlessness," she said in a very calm but frustrated manner.

I opened my mouth to respond, but words seemed stuck in my throat. But I must find a solution to my problem, sooner than later, otherwise heaven might fall. My wife looked at me again with horrors in her eyes and asked:

"Did you hear my question? You need to go for a checkup to know what the problem is."

"I will do that later in the day," I replied

I knew I had come to a point where I could not hide my problem anymore. I made up my mind to tell her in the evening, after I had pretended that I was back from the Health Care Centre at Ogbogbo. That day's evening came earlier than any day I had known. We sat across each other, on a woody stool  at the little bamboo table  to have a dinner of steamed maize flour and a soup made of milled white beans, filled with fish and with a scent of locust bean. I could not eat much like I used to.

My thought was just on how my wife would receive the awful information I was going to give her. After the dinner, an uncomfortable silence that had a loud voice of frustration swept through our backyard. The little courtyard where we always sat to have dinner under the moonlight. I expected her to ask me, but she seemed not to want to be the one to broach the question. She pined with an expectancy that I would tell her how it all went. After a while, I broke the silence.

"My sweetheart, I went to the hospital today, and I have seen the doctor." I said in a sort of shaky voice.

"That is good, what did the doctor say?"

I breathed down, the question seemed too weightless for the heavy answer that might change our union forever. I mustered a kind of uncommon courage to say it as it was.

"The doctor told me, I have a small problem that can be treated, he said it is just that the money for the treatment amounts to millions of naira," I said in a most sympathetic way.

"Oh my God! Can't we try another herbal mixture, it is possible a good one can solve this problem?" She suggested as her eyes gathered clouds of tears. 

"You need not cry, you have to be strong for me this difficult time of our lives. I have made inquiries, they said no local medicine could solve this problem of mine," I replied.

"Oh my God! Does that mean, I won't be able to carry your baby?"

She asked with tears rolling down her cheeks. She cried for a long time, I could not look at her face, I was too guilty to say a word. We were cold all through that day, we did everything in sorrow. I knew we could not continue to live our lives in such a frustrated way.

... And that was how Princess began giving cold shoulders in our home, then followed the rule of regulating our sex lives to two days in a week. It was as if sex was no longer fun except it came with the ability to procreate. Every little thing seemed to vex Princess those days and I was beginning to feel that she was a time bomb waiting to explode. No, I thought, I could not fold my arms quietly and let her explode, something had to be done.

The following morning, we woke up with the residual of the pain that seemed to have welled up to the brim in us. She drew closer to me and asked again.

"What do you suggest we do? We can't live this way, hmm?"

"I know, I wish we can raise the money, we wouldn't have been talking about this. But I want to ask a question before I tell you what I have in mind as the solution.

"Will you always be by my side to show me love even in the midst of this?" I asked.

"You know, I truly love you, if I don't,  I wouldn't have been this understanding," she said.

"Thank you very much. This is my plan, I have thought of secretly hiring a very responsible and secretive person to help me perform my conjugal function."

The way the sentence came out from my mouth was like a heavy drop of a bomb. There was a deadly silence and the only thing we could hear was the whistling of the trees outside.

"Hmmmmmm." She sighed but said nothing.

"I have considered my friend, Odiba to come maybe twice a week to help me out. What do you think?" I asked with a kind of shame and guilt in my voice.

"No, no, no, it is not possible, I just can't stand such. This is so difficult for me, I don't even know what brought this kind of thought to your head," she said angrily, almost shouting.

"I know, but what can we do? Adopt a child? You know how the entire community will view us and call us baby buyers. This is the only secret thing," I tried to sound convincing.

No, I just can't accept it. I would rather wait, am sure you will be able to impregnate me soon. Maybe just a little patience. Supposed, your friend comes someday to claim the child? What if he does? No, no, that would be an unbearable scandal," she said as she shook her head sideways.

That night we couldn't reach an agreement. She had strong faith and patience because she was not aware of how serious my situation was.

After two weeks of serious deliberations, we finally agreed to enlist the help of Odiba--Odiba, already had a wife and three kids, just six years after he married his wife. Odiba's children were cute. So, it was a good choice.

But I had another deep river to cross, and that was how to go about explaining to Odiba my predicament, especially the role he had to play. I knew he would not object to my plans, not because I felt he admired my wife before now, but because he had always stood by me as a friend. The first day, I visited him to discuss the issue with him, we talked and laughed about almost everything except that which took me to his house. I left that day feeling beaten, a kind of defeat kept swinging all over me, which seemed to drain life out of me.

The following day, I made up my mind to let it out to Odiba irrespective of the shame that would come with it. The pair of legs that carried me to Odiba's place felt weak and reluctant to walk down to his house at the early hours of the morning of that day. I had to see Odiba before he left for the farm to harvest his yams; the harvest season usually came with a rush every family wanted to harvest all crops before the arrival of the rainy season which usually came with floods messing up the whole place.

When I got to his house, it was Ayegba's mother, Odiba's wife, who answered the door. She had applied the local make up all over her face with excessive enthusiasm, she also had her youngest child strapped to her back and was about leaving the house for Eke market when I arrived.

"Good morning my husband's friend," she greeted with a warm smile on her face.

"Good morning Mama Ayegba," I replied.

"Here is a seat my husband's friend," she drew a cane chair closer to where I stood. "My husband went to ease himself in the bush behind our house, he would soon be back," she said.

"Alright, no problem, I shall wait," I said.

"My husband's friend, I just prepared some cassava flour with egusi soup for my husband, perhaps you might like some. Let me bring them to the table before I leave for the market," she said and was about going outside towards the kitchen.

"Oh no, my good wife. I know you want to go to the market, please do not let me keep you much longer. Odiba and I shall eat from the same plate as usual when he returns. Please go now, time is of utmost importance to traders," I persuaded her to leave which she did; my main motive being that I wanted Odiba's undivided attention and some privacy when he returns from the bush.

In Iyele, only few people had a pit latrine, many used the bush, although the community development service team had built public toilets but many people disliked it and found it disgusting to use. I sat in Odiba's sitting room, waiting and searching deep within me the right way to convey this soul damaging issue to him. While I was still rummaging the inner recess of my mind, Odiba walked in wearing a sleeveless white shirt and tying a wrapper in that sort of a cultural way that made it ball out in the front just below the navel. He was chewing a long and fat chewing stick which he must have brought with him from the bush.

"Oh, good morning Koko, I didn't know you were here," he said. He is the only one who calls me "Koko" and I have come to love the name

"Good morning, the Odiba 1 of Africa!" I responded. We both smiled and shook hands in an air of earned friendship.

"Thanks for your visit yesterday, you really made the day great for me, let me quickly get a dish of cola nut and small hot drink to break the day," he suggested.

"No, no, I just have to discuss something with you quickly, so that we won't waste time before going to the farm,"  I said.

"Well, okay, no problem, can we talk here or do we get out of earshot?" He inquired.

"Yes, I think I prefer that we go out, you know the walls have ears and what I have come to discuss with you is a delicate issue."

"Odiba, you see," I began when we arrived outside beneath a mango tree not far from Odiba's house. "I have a deadly problem. I have searched the whole world and I don't know whom to share with if not you. Not even a relative. It is something that is a big secret. First of all, I want you to assure me that this will never be heard by another ear other than ours," I said in a pleading voice.

"We have been great friends for a long time and I already feel you should know what I can do and what I can't do by now. You're more than a friend, closer than a brother. Just trust me, no matter what it is, it will never reach any other ears aside from ours. I will rather help you solve that problem," he said.

Odiba is a problem solving type, calm and not the kind of person who would say anything when he is drunk, unlike his neighbor Ameh.  So, I believed him.

"This is my problem, I am sure you have been so concerned about my marriage and perhaps expectant that my wife will get pregnant soon. This is the third year of our matrimony. I'm dying deep inside, under intense pressure. I thought the problem was from my wife but a year ago, I went to the General Hospital at Ogbogbo, where they ran a fertility test on me. Odiba, you wouldn't believe the medical test result. The doctor said I am impotent. I have been hiding in the darkness of the shame but I can't continue hiding anymore," I paused and let the information sink while watching his reaction.

Odiba was too shocked to reply at first, he expected me to continue, but my words were no longer coming out right. I was stammering in between  my tearful voice. I had to be strong, I thought and I hit my chest as if that would boost my confidence. Odiba was looking straight at the ground and what I felt in his posture and body movement was an enormous pity for me. I allowed the silence to swing away, then I continued.

"Odiba, when a man is sick and dying, he runs to either his family or friends for help. Odiba, when sand flies into our eyes, it is to those closest to us that we turn so they can blow it out. problem is not what my family should learn of. After thinking from the sky to the earth, I have resolved that only you, Odiba, can help me out of my predicament. I need your help Odiba, I need you to help me out. I know it might sound awkward but I have considered things and this seems to be the best option, you will have to help make my wife pregnant."

I said it and let an awkward air blow past us. Odiba was holding the tree that was just beside him. I felt like burrowing my head with the earth. I felt ashamed as though I was unworthy of being counted a man. He breathed out slowly, cleared his throat and after a while, he began to speak.

"Idoko, I'm so sorry for all you have been going through. I feel your pain, and I want to assure you that am right here with you, to hold your hands through this tough time and take away the shame. Believe me with your life and let the sky that stare at us and the earth that we thread upon bear us witness, this will be between us till the moon fades and the sun goes dim forever," he promised.

"Thank you so much, I don't know how to thank you," I said.

"No, no, don't worry, your problem is my problem, and your shame, my shame, I know you would do same for me were I in your position," Odiba said.

We walked away in the silence of the cloudy morning. He saw me off a little, then returned to his compound to prepare for the journey to his farm while I went home to do same also.

Odiba would come twice a week, that was on every market day, there were often two market days in a week.  And I was expected to stay back in the farm till he had performed my marital function on my behalf and had gone.

It was like fighting an invisible demon. Whenever the time approached I felt like sinking my life deep into a gulf and ending it all. I could not tell how they were having it together, I tried not to think about it, but it was just impossible to ignore. I thought there might be art of sex that had eluded me. But I tried hard to remain stable. I had avoided Odiba. Seeing him anywhere in Iyele was like seeing a man who had yanked off my masculinity, my pride, and got it shattered like a glass, yet walking around with the shattered pieces of me in pride.

This continued for six weeks. On one of the days, I could not bear it anymore, I went home very fast, with anger and the thought of ending the contract with Odiba right there. I walked as fast as I could. When I got home, the doors of my own house was locked so firmly. I wanted to bang on the door, and yell at them. But I lost my voice. I stood behind the window, and all I could hear were moaning and the squeaking of the bed in rhythm with the activity, slowly, then faster, faster, until I heard the voice of my wife talking unconsciously,

Oh! Hmmmm! You're the best, the best man ever, oh yes!"

She said it time and again. I could not believe what I heard, but I knew I was dead in spirit. There was calmness, and I knew the game was over. I lacked the courage to confront Odiba, but I was dying deep inside, after all, I had contracted him. I wandered away to avoid meeting him.

A little later, I returned with deep pain but I was surprised to see my wife happier than ever. She wore an elaborate smile on her face, and I barely settled down to rest than she told me that she had a good news for me. She first of all, swung round and danced  a little to the left and right without rhythm before she broke the news.

"Sweetheart, this is the good news, I have missed my period". She said smiling in joy.

I wanted to ask, if that would automatically terminate our contract with Odiba, but I didn't say that. It would dampen her joy. I faked a smiled, embraced her like it was a victory of mine. But this left me broken rather than  happy.

Nine months later, my wife gave birth to a boy, whom we called Omachonu. We called him "Achonu" for short, and he became the thread that held the love and the life of my wife and I together. We loved him so much, that I forgot the child was not mine. Thankfully again, Odiba kept to his words, I never heard from anywhere of what had happened. He kept his promise and what even made it unnoticed was that, people claimed we had a striking resemblance, and that was what strengthened our friendship even before the contract. He didn't collect a dime. He had said, he could do anything for me, except death.

But there was something more deadly than death itself. My self image. Since this happened, I lost my confidence and voice and I could hardly voice out my opinion in public, especially at the village meeting which also had the presence of Odiba. Nevertheless, I was comfortably grateful but anytime we came in  contact, I knew my ego had been broken. I saw in his eyes the masculinity that was deficient in me and all that stared strangely from those eyes of Odiba was my broken ego

The End

Theophilus Enemali


Theophilus Enemali holds a degree in English Language and Literature. He is the author of the novel entitled HOMESICK IN PARADISE. He is currently a post graduate student of Applied Linguistics and English Language Studies. He hails from Ibaji, Kogi State, Nigeria.