By Queen Oladoyin:
Deyinka was not particularly a beauty and her mother made sure to repeat it often, especially now that her marriage was at the verge of crumbling. It had become a song Deyinka was tired of listening to. She was asked to be grateful her husband took her as she was. Her lips were full and luscious, they were only too big for her round face. She was also unfortunate to have had tribal marks at birth. She had horizontal ‘one-one’ on both cheeks. It was deep and the rift formed was darker than the rest of her body, as if charcoal had been grinded and painted in it. What Deyinka had that made her stand out was her skin. It was jet black, even by African standards. It was also shiny and void of blemishes, but in the part of the world that she came from, it was unattractive.
Deyinka had the perfect response at the tip of her tongue to shut her mother up, like how she’d gotten her beauty gene from her, but she chose to be quiet. She always chose the easy path. ‘What is the essence?’ She always asked herself, and in finding none tangible enough, she was always reticent, allowing herself to be a victim of abuse.
They were all waiting. All the elders of Deyinka’s family had called an emergency family meeting to resolve the issues between herself and her husband. They had invited him to Deyinka’s parents’ house which sufficed as the family house. He was supposed to be there by 4pm, but this was already 4:50pm and there was no sign of him. Deyinka was troubled and she unconsciously traced the fish pattern on her ankara fabric. Her daughter came into the parlour then and spoke, only for the ears of her mother. “Mummy, I am hungry.”
Deyinka equally whispered back, aware that eyes were on her. “Go to the room and take care of your brother. I will soon find you something to eat.” Truth be told, Deyinka had no such hopes. Ever since her husband had sent her out of the house alongside their children, she had come running to the house of her parents, but her mother did not want them so she provided shelter and nothing else. She did not want ‘Ile moshu’, as two married women of different husbands could not be living together. As far as she was concerned, Deyinka had to go back to where she was coming from. Deyinka wondered how her father would have reacted if he was still alive.
When the faithful wall clock announced it was 6:00pm, just like it used to since Deyinka’s childhood days, the elders began to murmur. “Who does he think he is, keeping us waiting till now?” “Does he not know we have other things to do?” Deyinka began to fidget and she strongly resisted the impulsive urge to defend him. She wanted to say, “He must be busy at work, Oko mi, my husband will never disrespect you.” All lies. Deyinka knew that he was doing this on purpose, to spite her.
It had been a Saturday morning and there was ‘environmental’, requiring everyone to clean their surroundings. Naturally, Deyinka did the house chores: washing this and sweeping that when her husband brought out her land documents, the ones she’d hidden well because she hadn’t informed him before acquiring the land. Her intention was to use the land for her farming business. The receipts had also been in the file, so he’d questioned her fidelity because he knew she could never afford that amount of money on her own. Another man must have gotten her the land and he couldn’t be married to such a woman.
Although Deyinka was lost in her thoughts, she was still very much aware of her surroundings. When she felt the hush that descended upon the room, she knew her husband was around. He prostrated, in a chest to ground manner in order to gain the approval of the elders. “Omo ale! Bastard!” Deyinka thought fiercely, surprising herself and feeling guilty at the same time. She was not supposed to think of her husband in that way.
The ambiance was changing. He started to speak, in smooth and oily Yoruba. “Good evening my elders, I am sorry to have come by this hour, some things happened at work. One hill blocks one from seeing the other.” Deyinka knew he was lying, but dared not to call him out. “One of my staffs was arrested for fraud and I’ve been at the police station since, trying to bail him out. In fact, he is still there as we speak. We all know how Nigeria is.”
Deyinka’s mother rushed to him after his speech, offering him the meal she’d denied her grandchildren. He kindly declined, stating that matters that required urgency had to be resolved first. The elders thought him intelligent. He had spoken their minds.
“Deyinka, won’t you greet your husband?” It was less of a question than a command. She didn’t know who said it, but the voice was harsh. It reminded others of the fact and soon they started talking about how Deyinka had no respect. As expected, she went to meet him, kneeling down and hugging his knees. If he fought the urge to kick her away, no one knew.
Soon enough, Deyinka’s husband was asked to narrate his part of the story. Of course, we are always the victims in our stories. He kept on rambling about how he had been noticing some changes in his wife, before he made a determined effort to find out what her secret was. Deyinka had no plans to defend herself, but when he said she was cheating on him, right in front of the elders, a rage she didn’t know she had engulfed her, no matter how short-lived.
“No, you are not saying the truth.” That killed everyone’s comment in their mouths. Deyinka was known to be subservient and was least expected to speak up. They swallowed their corpse of words and buried it deep in their stomachs. Deyinka stood up from where she had been kneeling. Her knee cap hurt, but she ignored the pain. Her tone was low but even. “All my life, I have been nothing but faithful to you. No other man has ever seen my nakedness. How can you insult me so?”
Deyinka was not done. For a brief moment, she became possessed. Virtuous women were supposed to hide the dirty linens of their families, especially when it related to their husbands. Her voice was starting to quiver as she stuck her index finger in the air. “All my life, I have been nothing but faithful to you.” When she said it this time, it took on a different meaning. Deyinka was about to expose her dirty linens.
“I’ve been working since I got married. I’m not a lazy woman and I’ve never cheated anyone. I work day and night to make ends meet, working like an elephant but eating like an ant. Why is this so?” She asked no one in particular. “It is because of this man, Oladejo that calls himself my husband.”
Deyinka’s mother interjected. “Gbe enu oshi e soun! Keep shut!”
The family head intervened. “Let our daughter speak.”
Deyinka was starting to lose her courage, but she continued. “We run a joint account and he always spends all my hard earned money on his family. He doesn’t cheat, no, God forbid, but he doesn’t allow me to spend my money as I wish. He never uses my money or his to take care of his wife or children.”
She addressed her mother, catching her eyes in an attempt to get sympathy. “Moi-mi, how many times have I spent on you? How many times have I bought you the fabrics your mates are wearing?” Her mother would not be swayed, her indignant posture said it all. When Deyinka was younger, she wondered if the woman was truly her biological mother, but as she grew older, the physical features they both shared became really poignant.
“When I voiced out, he told me I was being proud because of the meagre I was paid. I decided to tell my pastor and he asked me to keep enduring and praying to God to touch his heart. I prayed and prayed for things to change. When it didn’t, it was my pastor’s wife that gave me the money to start a small scale business so I started selling fish.”
Soft sighs filled the room, and even Oladejo’s shoulder drooped. Deyinka felt she was winning them over. How wrong could she be?
“I am very hardworking,” Deyinka prided in that regard, “not long after, God was merciful to me and my business expanded. I did not let him touch any of that money. I have many north-eastern women as friends and most of them are into farming.”
“So, I began to save in order to start farming like them. Heaven smiled at me that time and I heard of a non-interest loan for farmers. I took the loan and got the land, my land.” She said the last two words for emphasis, “and I am to start cultivating as soon as I raise enough money. It was the land documents Oladejo saw and claimed I was cheating on him.”
“Why didn’t you consult him before getting the land? Have you forgotten, the husband is the head of the home?” Iya Risi, the woman with the ample bosom was quick to ask. The dead words had begun to rumble and come alive in her belly. Iya Risi’s eyes were yellow as if jaundiced. She also had rolls of fat in her middle section, but her buba made it less conspicuous. Deyinka hated her. She looked at the older woman as if she had two heads. “Did you not just hear me? Do you think he would have allowed me?” These were the questions Deyinka wanted to ask her.
“Yes,” another elder began. “Why didn’t you inform him? At least he allowed you to sell your fish.” Deyinka thought to herself, “That is because the investment had come from a woman of God he revered.”
“To solve this issue, Deyinka should transfer the land ownership to her husband to prove another man didn’t get it for her. Shebi what belongs to Deyinka belongs to her olowo ori?” Iya Risi suggested with a smug expression. Encouraged by the nods from others, she kept on talking. “Then her husband will be in charge of the farming while she continues her fish business, abi?” The idea seemed to make sense to everyone in the room apart from Deyinka herself. Her ears rang and her throat tightened. She could not speak. She was sure she had heard wrongly.
The family head spoke to Oladejo. “Men are better suited for farming. You will be in charge of that.” The latter’s eyes twinkled, as if he had wanted that all along. Why should his wife have a land of her own when he didn’t?
Deyinka wondered how the whole issue got to that extent. Had it always been about the need to control and not fidelity? Besides, who would repay the debt incurred from the loan? Herself?
However, these thoughts never came out of her mouth. They only remained in her head. Who was she to argue afterall if she wanted to remain in her husband’s house? Deyinka merely watched as a spectator while decisions that affected her life were being made.