The first time I realised Maami had her own voice, could make her own decisions without the help of my father, was the day Bami brought home a new wife, and Maami kicked against it with such vehemence that surprised me.
This happened a day after Aunty Suliya came from Iseyin to seek Bami’s financial assistance to start all over again having suffered devastating flood on her farmland. I had sat down that night in our sitting room to watch NTA news as Aunty Suliya narrated her loss to my parents.
‘Egbon mi, you will have to help me. The frequent rainfalls in recent years have been a surprise to many farmers in Iseyin, not that we don’t pray for rain but not a rainfall that would bring floods which would destroy our farmland.’
Coincidentally, the newscaster was talking about the recent flood in Iseyin, how it swept away houses and destroyed lots of farmlands. The NTA newscaster attributed the flash flood to climate change.
After my parents had listened to Aunty Suliya, telling the story of how she had found it difficult to feed her husband and children after the devastating flood swept her farmland, it was Bami that spoke.
‘I will give you some money to start all over again.’
Aunty Suliya knelt down in front of her elder brother.
‘Ese Egbon mi, it will always be well with you.’
The next morning, Aunty Suliya was beaming with smiles as she left our house, having being settled with some money to restart her farming.
That same evening, Bami surprised Maami as he brought another woman home for a wife.
‘Sule, who is this yellow pawpaw you brought home?’ Maami rushed out of the kitchen where she was cooking Bami’s food when she saw Bami walk in with another woman holding his right hand. That was the first time I heard Maami called Bami by name. The yellow-skinned woman managed to put up a smile, as she stared in the direction of Maami.
‘Abati, this is my new wife.’
‘After all I have done for you, is this how you will repay me, Sule?’ Maami shouted, her voice loud enough for all to hear.
He looked into Maami’s eyes and said, ‘You will have to accept her.’
‘No!’ Maami shouted at the top of her voice again as she went straight into her bedroom. I was in the kitchen when all this happened. To my surprise, Bami led his new wife to a seat close to her, imploring her to feel comfortable and not be bothered about Maami’s ranting. Bami went back to his car, brought back a big black box and took it into his room. His new wife followed him, trying to assist with the box.
‘Don’t worry, I am fine. I can carry this for you.’
I was surprised that Bami would help carry his new wife’s luggage, because I had never seen Bami help Maami lift a load.
‘Sule, I hope Abati is fine with this plan. I don’t want her to give me trouble in this house. It’s better you rent a house for me outside.’
‘Haba, my sweet potato, Abati will have no choice but to accept you, and she will have to share me with you.’ As Bami said this, he looked lustfully into her eyes with a salacious grin while his new wife nodded approvingly.
The way Bami said Maami and his new wife would share him was as if he was an object that can be broken into two, and shared between two women.
Maami had always depended on Bami’s voice, ever since I could remember to spell a word. Maami’s junior sister Aunty Bunmi, who resides in the United States, had insisted it was only when Maami fell in love with Bami that she began to depend on his voice.
‘Your mother can barely do anything without Sule after she fell in love with him.’
I kept quiet when she said it. It was when she came from America to Lagos, she told me all about my parents.
During her visit to Nigeria, she gave Maami and I the best cloth we ever wore, after which she said:
‘Abati, you should come and live with me in America, you and Segi. Her cousins would be excited to see her.’
‘Bunmi, you know my husband would not allow that, it would be as if you want to steal Segi and I from him.’
My mother’s sister almost shouted. ‘Can’t you do anything without this man, can’t you think without him?’
‘Sule is my husband, everything has to revolve around him.’
Maami, in exasperation, stood up that day, entering her bedroom and shutting the door after her. When Bami returned home that night Aunty Bunmi didn’t raise the issue with him, rather she slept in my room telling me how my parents met and how my mother fell passionately in love with my father.
Aunty Bunmi disclosed to me that my mother sacrificed her career to be with my Bami. He had married Maami in her final year when she was at Obafemi Awolowo University studying Nursing. She said Maami had always wanted to be a nurse before she met Bami. Maami dropped out of school to concentrate on having a child after two miscarriages in her final year at university. Aunty Bunmi said it was Bami who advised Maami to do so. She then warned me:
‘Do not sacrifice your career for a man, your life first before that of a man, your career must be important to you, you must finish school and do something for yourself in life, o gbo.’
I nodded at her words. She told me Maami never went back to complete her university education even after I was born, because she thought my father and I were the greatest career she could ever have .
The night Aunty Bunmi left for America, I couldn’t sleep. I thought of what it meant for a woman to do something for herself, what it meant for a woman to consider her life first before that of a man.
Maami depended on Bami’s voice as long as I could remember. It was him that decided everything, like the school I would attend – primary, secondary and even University of Lagos, where I was studying Theatre Arts – and there was never any objection to any of his decisions.
Maami also depended on Bami’s voice to make decision on the kind of friends she should have. When one of her old friends from the Obafemi Awolowo University’s days came visiting and advised Maami to go to go back to school, it was Bami that answered as Maami helped him clean his fingernails.
‘My wife is not going back to school, what she has is enough.’
The woman was surprised not because of Bami’s words, but at the fact that Maami didn’t raise her own voice against this.
When Bami went out to parties in Lagos with friends, he never took Maami along. He told her to stay at home, that her place was looking after the home and not attending Lagos parties. Maami never complained because she believed in Bami’s voice, never raised her own voice against his.
Unlike other women in the compound where we lived who were traders, including Mama Chinedu who worked as a teacher in a government school, Maami depended solely on Bami to give her money.
Bami told her he was capable of being her only sustenance, and she believed him. She did everything to please him. Maami would wake up early morning, sweep the whole house, wash Bami’s clothes, and tend to all his other needs.
Aunty Bunmi once warned me never to follow in my mother’s footsteps, because it was dangerous for a woman to depend solely on a man.
One day, before Bami returned home, when I came back from school, Maami asked me to join her in the kitchen.
‘Segi, your father must not meet you in the sitting room while I am cooking. He has told you several times to learn from me, learn how to cook, learn how to please a man.’
I frowned and said, ‘Maami, I don’t want to be like you o, learning how to cook is not a criteria for finding a good man to marry.’
‘Segi, never say that in front of your father. A good husband is more important than all the education you have.’
‘No, Maami, I will have a good husband and I will have a good education, finish university well. I am not ready to follow in your footsteps.’
When Bami came back and Maami told him all I had said, Bami slapped me on the face and raised his voice at me.
‘You must follow in the footsteps of your mother, you must treat a man like a king.’
‘No, Bami, only if he treats me as a queen,’ I shouted and ran to my room, locking the door.
Maami was surprised, she never thought I would raise my voice at Bami that way. She was so confident Bami would change my thought. I overheard Bami telling Maami:
‘Abati, you haven’t trained this girl well, she must have been following bad girls in the university who are telling her not to follow your footsteps.’
‘I will put back common sense into her head, I promise you olowo ori mi,’ Maami told Bami.
A day after Bami slapped me for not wanting to follow after Maami’s footsteps, Rukayat told me she saw Bami in the hotel she worked at as a caterer with a light skinned woman. I told Rukayat she was telling me lies.
Rukayat lived with her parents in the next compound, and she was working in a hotel trying to save money to go to a university because she believed university education was an important thing every woman should strive to achieve.
‘I am so sure, Segi, it was your father I saw. He was laughing with the woman openly and touching her hair, giggling into her ears and promising her love.’
That night I chose not to tell Maami, because I didn’t know how she would receive the news. She had always depended on Bami for everything. I watched Maami that day cook Bami’s food with delight. She waited for me to return from school before she started cooking dinner.
‘Segi, your father does not hate you. What he is telling you is right. You must learn to please a man. Follow in my footsteps and a man will greatly appreciate you.’
‘Maami, what you are doing for Bami is slavery.’
‘No, Segi, pleasing a man is not slavery.’
I almost told Maami that Bami was with another woman but something stopped me, because I remembered that Maami didn’t have her own voice.
In the first few days after the arrival of the new wife, Bami told Maami to help his new wife wash her clothes and cook food for her. Maami refused and Bami slapped her across her face.
I had to hold Maami to prevent her from falling on the floor. Bami’s new wife said:
‘Sule, don’t worry, if she has refused to do it, I will do it.’
‘No, honey, why I married you is for you to do the main thing, satisfy me in bed.’ Bami looked at his new wife and they both smiled into each other’s eyes. Maami shouted again, her voice reverberating across the house.
‘Sule, is this how you will treat me now, after all I have done for you?’
Bami didn’t answer Maami. He and his new wife went into his room and locked the door.
The day Bami and his new wife left for work early in the morning because of the Lagos traffic, Maami told me to call her sister in America. On the phone, Maami was crying, telling her sister her story of anguish, saying she wanted to come to America. Aunty Bunmi was happy, what she heard from Maami’s voice excited her.
She told Maami that America gives a woman the opportunity to start all over again. After she ended the call, Maami made me promise that I would not tell Bami and his new wife and I said yes.
It was through one of Aunty Bunmi’s childhood friends that everything was arranged, how we went to the American Embassy for the interview and how we got our visa.
The day we were to leave for America, rain fell heavily in the morning and many parts of Lagos were flooded. The taxi driver switched on the radio on our way to the airport. The radio presenter said the flood was due climate change. He also talked about the rise in sea level, how some houses along costal lines in Lagos had fallen into the Atlantic Ocean and this had rendered some people in Lagos homeless.
We almost missed our flight because of floods in many parts of Lagos, and this caused traffic snarl. In some parts of Lagos, people were evacuated from their houses because of the heavy rainfall, as some houses were destroyed by the flood.
A climate change expert who analysed the situation with the radio presenter advised the Lagos State Government to take climate change seriously because some parts of Lagos could be under water by 2050. The expert advised the Lagos State Government to plant more trees, as this would help curb global warming.
On the plane, after Maami and I were checked into Muritala international airport, when the flight was about to take off, Maami was happy not because we were going to America to start all over again, but because we left without telling Bami goodbye. For the first time after many years of marriage, Maami made a decision without the help of Bami’s voice. Maami realised that night that she had found her voice again.
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