Slavery

This is not what I anticipated that it would feel like.

Tunji and I’s romance had been amazing in every way. I told him I loved him, and he believed me.

Two months later, 96 days after we first met and 94 days after we started dating, he took me to go and visit his mother.

Alhaja Bosede Folarin was expecting us, and had made her cook prepare a feast for us.

I was overwhelmed.

The Jollof rice was well made and the goat meat pepper soup was the spiciest I had ever had. I thoroughly enjoyed the food, and the warmth between Tunji and his mother quickly dissolved my uneasiness at meeting his mother. Tunji held my hand and squeezed it lovingly at intervals. That was his way of checking if I was comfortable. I squeezed his back gently and smiled every time he did, reassuring him that I was okay.

I slept in Tunji’s room that night, while Tunji slept in the living room.

I was a bit amused at that, seeing as we were almost living together back in Owerri.

I woke up to Iya Tunji, leaning over my bed and tapping me gently.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Nkechi. But I need to speak with you before Tunji wakes and begins to rush you people back” she said.

I sat up and wiped my eyes. i managed a smile, and offered her greetings.

“Hope everything is alright Iya? “ I asked. She sat at the foot of the bed, facing me, and nodded.

There was a little pause, and I wondered what was on her mind,before she drew a deep breath and spoke.

“I understand you and Tunji have been courting for a long time now.” I giggled and tried to protest that it wasn’t such a long time but, she motioned for me to shush. “all you will do is listen. What I have to say is small and simple. My son Tunji is in love with you. He might not have told you but I am certain. You are not the first girl he is bringing home but you are the first one that he is bringing home to me. He called me about three weeks ago to stock up the house and prepare to host him and his woman. Secondly, he is sleeping in the parlour, I don’t know who is trying to deceive but I know it is to protect my opinion of you.”

She took a deep breath.

“It’s from these little but great acts that you know. I am certain of my sons intention. So, now I am asking you, do you love my son?” she asked.

I didn’t hesitate to answer, but I needed to find my voice, such that when I answered “yes ma. I do” it came out like a stutter.

“Are you sure?” she asked. And I nodded maintaining eye contact with her.

“I understand you Igbo people have converted my son to Christianity, I have no reservations. God is everywhere. But I will want my grandchildren to choose their own path, just like my son has.”

I laughed and said shyly. “Ah mama, we will cross that bridge when the time comes”

She joined me in low tones and said “get some rest now, day breaks soon, and Tunji will come for you. I just needed to reassure you of this.”

I remember being unable to control my smiles. Every time I looked at Tunji in the following days I couldn’t hide the grin. Tunji would often ask what the matter was, which I always replied in my cheesiest baby voice “nothing, I am just happy.”

150 days after we first met, Tunji asked me to be his wife and I said yes.

And in typical Tunji fashion, he wasn’t interested in the minor details, as soon as we could get a court date, we were wedded at the marriage registry and had a few friends over for dinner at our regular joint. It was beautiful in its own way. I fulfilled my fantasy of wearing a black dress at my wedding and the restaurant owner where we dined gave us a 10% discount on all orders.

We didn’t have a honeymoon. A weekend at my parents apartment in Abuja was all we could afford. Tunji was only a serving corper and I was in my 3rd year to become a Medical Laboratory scientist. We were very happy, and everyone thought that of us too.

I remember laughing whenever my mother called to admonish me, on being a patient wife. I always replied her with ”thank you mama, I will always remember your advice when I need it. but for now, God answered all, every one of your prayers for me by giving me Tunji.”

I still remember our first fight. Someone in my class was running for a students’ union post and had made me her campaign manager. This meant a lot of fraternising with other students and Tunji did not like it one bit. “you seem to receive a lot of phone calls these days.” He started quite harmlessly. I saw it as an opportunity to fill him in on all my victories. He managed to look interested while I was talking, until my phone rang and I picked up and started to chant rather wildly “ GREAT NIGERIAN STUDENT!!! I CAN NEVER BE INTIMIDATED NIGERIAN STUDENT!!!” I backed him during the conversation, if not I would have seen the change in his expression.as soon as I hung up the call, I couldn’t miss the ice in his voice when he said   “ I forbid it that I will be having a conversation with my wife and she will cut me off to scream so uncouth on the phone with who I don’t know!”  “Ah TeeJay, e ma binu,” I had started to pick up a little yoruba because it made Tunji very pleased. ” It’s the electoral body responsible for Mirabelle’s election I just told you about.” “what electoral body?!” he flared. he wouldn’t let me explain when I tried, and he screamed and scolded until he was spent then he walked away from me. Out of the house. I was too stunned to react. Before now our most heated arguments had been about our choice of pizza, or something just as trivial. I dug up my mothers advises and tried to remember what she had said, because I had hardly paid any attention. I made dinner and waited up. When Tunji returned past midnight, he walked right past me into the bedroom.

The next morning, I was told I couldn’t be in the electoral team or politics anymore  because he didn’t like the woman it was turning me into. I apologised to Mirabelle, and took a bow from politics.

We had to move back to Omuo-Ekiti when Tunji rounded up NYSC and Iya Tunji’s health deteriorated. I applied to have my studies transferred to the state university at Ado, but when it was taking too long, Tunji suggested I started taking care of his mother’s Tie and Dye shop.

Initially it was fascinating. I enjoyed the dyeing process a little more than I should have.

Until Tunji brought home another woman.  He complained that my dyes were causing him a sort of food poisoning and henceforth, the woman would be responsible for his meals. “just your meals” I asked for clarification. “whatever you want Iyawo.” He didn’t sound endearing when he replied, so I gave him a fight. “mi o understand, if u needed a cook or someone to cook your meals why did you not at least tell me so that I can ask Iya Tunji’s cook to attend to you as well?” I asked, hands akimbo and throwing all my mothers admonitions away. He gave me a look I didn’t understand, hissed and walked out on me.

I stormed straight to Iya Tunji’s room to report the matter. “Iya, OlaTunji ori e darun” I started, curtsying same time. “Ah! Nkechinyere, what do you mean by that?” “He has brought home another woman!” even as the words left my mouth, I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. “Olorun maje!” Iya exclaimed. “what is the meaning of that? Where is he?” mama stormed past me to go find Tunji, while I scuttled behind her. He had already gone out, sensing the drama that was coming his way.

When we were assembled that night, to answer his mothers question to if it was not too early, he said “I am tired of having my meals prepared by uneducated women!”

I broke down in tears instantly. Iya Tunji let out a very loud “Ah!”

I would not be consoled. Tunji felt some remorse seeing as we both wouldn’t stop, his mother especially, he tried to pacify her. I flinched at his touch.

Tunji just called me uneducated.

The lines kept replaying in my head as I tried to sleep that night, until my head ached.

The woman didn’t stay. But Tunji barely ate at home , and kept late nights. So it was obvious that he just changed location to appease his mother, who was consoled. “you should only worry about the witch that lives under the same roof with you” that was her logic. I didn’t buy it though.

My relationship with Tunji became very strained. It appeared that every conversation we had found  a way to end up in a fight. The only way I could get him to reason with me was to involve his mother as a mediator.

By 29 months of married life, I was fed up. Totally and completely.

To worsen situations, I was having a little difficulty getting pregnant. There were cases of false pregnancy, and with every menstrual period was the torment of including sanitary towels in the shopping list. Tunji insisted that every penny spent be accounted for, such that if I had to buy groundnut to drink Garri, I had to get creative. He didn’t give me any pocket money because “if I am already paying for everything you use, I might as well be aware of what my money is being spent on.” He said to his mother in one of our meetings where Iya tried to encourage him to leave me some cash.

Considering that Tunji was an only child, and Children were definitely important to Iya. I knew it was only a matter of time before my inability to conceive turned her against me.

I had lost face in my marriage, because it seemed that I was unable to be the wife I dreamed I would be to Tunji.

I couldn’t feed him.

I was uneducated and unemployed (Iya never offered me any salary for the work I put in at her place; I was not promoted past apprentice.)I couldn’t be the wife he was proud of.

I could not even give him children. I found that I was slaving away in unhappiness.

Become an unconventional slave to my high hopes and expectations. A slave to a happily never after that I didn’t plan for.

This is really not what I pictured married life with Tunji would become.

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