The bourgeoning reports from the press, grapevine, and whistling pine – wielded with the merciless lash of protean infinity – astonished even the gods. Another middle class Nigerian American professional has, once again, killed his wife in cold blood. I say once again because it is apparently becoming the pastime of some faceless Nigerian men in the United States to latch unto every imaginable unreason to do their own wives unto death.
A Nigerian American man in Texas woke up one day and decided to tie his wife with a long cattle rope to the back of their family car and engaged an entire city’s police department in a street-by-street drag race. By the time he was through all the roads and their stupefied spectatorship were left to bear witness to the battered body of a lifeless woman who was once a daughter, mother, sister, friend, and neighbor. Another man elsewhere tracked and trailed his wife on a rather bright day, ran her car off the expressway into a roadside valley and slugged her at the wheel point blank with a pistol that was specially marked for the hunt. Yet another man in a different state stalked his wife all the way into their family bedroom where he trapped her, following an alleged long distance telephone conversation with her lover in Europe, and proceeded to rain machete blows of unforgettable bodywork – in the very lame tradition of failed artists – all over her face and arms. Till today the survivor woman of that implosion carries her stump and sutures like throwback testimonials from the blood oil and diamond genocides of Biafra, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
In the past decade the legend of Nigerian American domestic snoopsmen, trapsmen, and marksmen grows and spreads with the festering threat of an American deep sea oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. They have gradually become the proverbial silent listeners to every conversation, hawk-eye watchers to every twitch, and jeepers-creepers in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and every cockroach-cranny of the homestead and workplace. Worse than McCarthyian era FBI and Cold War age CIA and KGB, they have bugged homes, offices, clothes, bags, cars, and postal mails, and poked at computers, iPads, disks, flash drives, phones, emails, texts, and Facebooks. The only thing they have not done is have the straight-face courage of entry port immigration agents to ask their wives to spread their thighs so they may poke for galling signs of telltale humidity, if not stashes of some powdery substance.
Only this time the latest Nigerian American wife murderer is not faceless. Both he and his wife-victim have names to go with their faces. He is Mr. Olufemi Oladapo Ademoye and she was Ms. Juliet Toyin Ademoye. Both husband and wife were prominent members of the Nigerian American community in Tampa, Florida. He was a hardworking pharmacist and owner of Crown Pharmacy on Waters Avenue. She was a restaurantuer and caterer at their family-owned African Eateries on the same street, a business at which the husband regularly joined his wife at the close of his pharmacy every night. They lived in a duplex on Villa Largo Drive that is currently valued at $106,000.00. They were both in their midlives. He is 52 and she was 53. Being Nigerians one could not wonder enough what role, if any, age had to play in the tragic bent of their marriage. Femi had distinguished himself in his chosen profession so much so that his Nigerian colleagues across the United States had no problem elevating him to the respected position of the vice president of the Nigerian Association of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Scientists in America (NAPPSA). Juliet had been a secondary school teacher of many years with a Federal Government College in Nigeria before she married and joined her husband in the United States. They were married for eighteen years and were blessed with a seventeen year-old son. It was this most profound blessing of all traditional marriages that Femi and Juliet Ademoye decided, at no fault of their son’s who had absolutely no hand in the choice of his parentage, to turn to their own curse and sacrilege on the morning of June 16, 2010.
The foregoing are not the total facts of their cumulative lives of a hundred and five years on earth, but it is the sum of their individual and collective adult lives as man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, Nigerian national compatriots, and American immigrant citizens. It is very appropriate that an accomplished immigrant man who has secured his place in the comity of high American capitalism should retrace his line of exile and find for himself a suitable wife among his own ethnicity. That, in fact, is the story of all immigrant communities in the United States. There is no evidence, therefore, that Femi could have traveled back home to take Juliet from her father and mother and family in Nigeria for any other reason than to be his wife; definitely not to turn her into a punching bag or to kill her. I doubt that he could have introduced himself to his in-laws as a body slammer or body snatcher. On the contrary, he must have represented himself as a knight in shining armor who had come down from God’s Own Country to whisk their daughter’s feet away on a flying chariot and to change their lives forever.
It does not matter now that returning Juliet as a heavy weight dead body was not the change that her parents had expected from Femi. It does not matter either that her relations and friends vehemently deny that Juliet was, indeed, pregnant before holy matrimony by any other lover than her once happily wedded husband. It does not ultimately matter that they deny, in defense of her who is late and can no longer defend herself, that their only son who was at the middle of their fatal conflict (even in his absence for a summer trip in Europe) was fathered by any other father but the father whom the boy himself always called father. It would never matter now, nor could it be a credible defense as his friends assert, that she fraudulently denied him his heart’s desire to father a horde of sons and daughters even while she allegedly knew that their only child was fathered by a secret lover.
The only thing that matters is the eternal knowledge that the valiant’s epic ends where the villain’s wiles begin. That is as much the dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s gallant Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth, as it is the theatrics of Julius Caesar (king and statesman) and his friend Cassius (hater of beauty). One is always already either a citizen-soldier or a citizen-saboteur. There is no fence-sitting or middle ground in nation or family building. What we dread, of which all of us should be very afraid, is when a saint becomes a scum. Can we tell, how could anyone say, when we begin to change? Both Femi (who is a pharmacist) and Juliet (who was a teacher) knew as much as Hamlet (who is a prince) that the scourge of every marriage and every state is when a woman (who is the other or predicate) becomes a betrayer and a man (who is the subject or signifier) becomes a murderer.
As we learn from Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story of 1884, The Body Snatcher, and the Robert Wise film adaptation of 1945, body snatchers do not choose their vocation; it is chosen for them. They are well-trained medical personnel who swear to “first do no harm” of the Hippocratic Oath, but who quickly regress into protesting but ready professionals of death, who make and procure dead bodies in spite of their own best judgment. They do kill fellow men every now and then of course, but like cowardly flash mobs, rapists, serial killers, and genocidalists they are always already enchanted and rhapsodized by the intimate task of dispossessing and disposing of women, especially women very familiar and close to home. It is a tragic irony, therefore, that the Nigerian American Olufemi Ademoye is not only a body snatcher who felt the instinctual need to dispense of his wife with a mindless swing of the baseball bat to the head, he is also a medical personnel like those infamous archetypes of Stevenson and Wise’s works.
The deadbeat husband is not born. He is made and betrayed by his nation and his community. His foe is not his enemy but his family. When the Vietnam War ended were the American patriots who went to fight for love of country not spurned by fellow countrymen and cast out to rot, as we see in Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo series? When the British war combatant and poet Wilfred Owen takes up the subject of the deadbeat soldier in his 1917 poem, “The Dead-Beat,” he unequivocally indicts the “brave young wife” who is at home “getting her fun” with other men while the war rages abroad as responsible for the allied conspiracy that finally “crazed” her soldier-husband and quickened his degradation in the “blasted trench” from a “stout lad” to a “dead-beat” and to a “dead” body. When the mind implodes, the body explodes. As the mind goes the body goes, like the tortoise that moves with its shell.
At the lowest point of his dehumanization and humiliation the fighting compatriots of Owen’s protagonist see him as nothing but a stupid “cod, heavy like meat,” and his company’s doctor whose job it is to save his life mocks him and jubilates at his demise, “Hooray!” The only statement that Owen’s bleary anti-hero makes is an ineffectual one: “I’ll do ’em in … If this hand’s spared/I’ll murder them, I will.” It is both a promise and a threat that have no basis in fact, since he is guided by the ignorance of his human limitation and his dying condition. Both Andre Malraux’s novel Man’s Fate and Leon Uris’s novel The Haj rightly call up the Chinese and the Jewish foreclosure that to take another’s life always already presupposes a willingness to take one’s own life. In other words, murder is suicide too. Always already a fated name, every Juliet goes down the tube with her Femi. As in Stevenson’s story and Wise’s movie and Owen’s poem and Femi’s life, body snatching is always already about lifesavers who turn against life, lovers who turn to hate – like a dog which goes mad and turns on its master or mistress.
The problem of American postmodern globality and alienation, especially to an African immigrant, is the loss of faith in the customary foundations of an earlier life, like fish cast out of water which has to learn the giddy props of earth-gliding. We do not need the prognosticating art of a Paul the “Oracle Octopus” to know that there are far more Femis out there now waiting, in spite of themselves, to make as many Juliets as are willing to give them the pleasure of spousal disfigurement, dismemberment, and assuredly deposition and decomposition. That is what body slammers and body snatchers do, like the accursed scorpion that stings its dog-carrier to a drowning death at mid-sea along with itself. The snail that puts out a fire with its spittle will scorch itself to death. For where there is no wisdom the people become murderers, end up behind bars of prisons or asylums, and perish. As it is in the house of Okeke is as it is in the house of Okonkwo. In spite of its established glory and the age-old claims of the perpetuity of the race, the lasting obverse of Shakespeare’s eternal lovers Romeo and Juliet suggests the paraphrasing of Wilfred Owen’s dictum in his preface to his unpublished poems, that my subject is marriage, and the pity of marriage. “The poetry is in the pity.” Perhaps, all Nigerian American men should begin to brace for the onslaught of a simple question from their other American acquaintances, colleagues, and friends: Hey, Mr., will you kill your wife today?
Obiwu may be reached at: [email protected]