BY ABIOSE A. ADAMS
“Unapologetically Shewa” is a story of Shewa and Sheri. Both of them are single mothers who live in a society which judges them. While Sheri keeps seeking where and what to hide behind, Shewa decides to stop hiding or withering under the condescending glare of society. She was ready to shed no more tears, but shed off the scales of self-judgement and begin a journey of self-actualization. Coming against societal norms, will she change the norms or the norms will change her?
The Tunbi I thought I knew had suddenly shed off his outer skin of humour. And a new one had emerged. This one — rough, callous and caustic. The laughter lines on his face had dissolved, and the dimples— those hollows on his cheeks that made him so appealing when he laughed— had turned into a disgusting hollow of sorrow.
Back to my apartment, I slept in my tears and woke up a total mess. In the morning I begged him on WhatsApp, but he didn’t reply to my messages. I checked Facebook and he was there posting jokes and all sorts of motivational jargon as if nothing had happened between us the previous day.
It was my world that crumbled. Not his. It was I who had to either abort the child or face the condescending glare of society. Not him. It was I who had a lot of explaining and apologizing to do: Why an unmarried girl would be pregnant out of wedlock. And not him —a participant in the process. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulder and I wanted to cave in, hide from the world and from myself.
I called him to convince him, but he wouldn’t pick. The following day, I checked his display picture on WhatsApp and I couldn’t see it anymore. I called and it was not connecting. I sent SMS and it bounced back. I needed no one to tell me I had been blocked.
My 76-year-old Aunt Rolake would come to the small room where I put up and meet me lying flat on the floor. She loved wearing overflowing gowns that must always expose one shoulder. “Sedentary life is what causes diabetes,” she would warn me.
Aunt Rolake lived in a bungalow of two tiny bedrooms and a parlour. Her room was like a mini-exhibition hall that told her life history at a glance. On the walls were several black and white photos, showing every phase of her life, and a generational display of her three daughters from three different men, and her grandchildren. On the other side of the walls were also artifacts, beaded hats and artwork that said “Jesus is the Head of this home”, souvenir mugs with the inscription, See Paris and never die, and all sorts of mementos that showed she was widely travelled. At the top of her bed is a shelf that housed stacks of dusty, antiquated stereo plates of Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade’s music. And a giant-sized King James Bible accompanied by thick magnifying spectacles. I slept in the second room.
“Adunni (as she calls me),” she would pop her head into my room and say…..how about your job search? You know it is difficult to get a job in Lagos. Lagos is such a busy, congested city. I have told your mother to allow you to school in Lagos but she refused. Had it been you have gone to the University of Lagos now…you would have gotten a job instantly. I would have called Professor Beckley of the University of Lagos, or Professor Whyte of Agric Science,” she said, to show off that she was a powerful and influential Lagos society woman.
“Yes ma,” I pretended to be interested, but I was more interested in knowing how she raised three girls, with each of them knowing they are from different fathers. Even if she told them they have the same father, their surnames would tell otherwise. Did the girls even know themselves? Did they grow up together? I studied the pictures on the wall, and I concluded that the difference in their ages could not be more than two years. How did this woman face a society which proscribes out-of-wedlock pregnancy? She must have got some spunk!
Every morning, Aunt Rolake would sit in one side of her sitting room, peeling oranges and drinking soda water. She says it’s good for her bowel movement. “Professor Whyte, will soon call you, okay, my dear.”
“Yes ma,” I would pretend to be interested.
One day I was warming a pot of soup. And then suddenly, she ran to the kitchen and yelled at me. “Adunni, Adunni, what are you thinking? You are right here in front of the soup and it turned to ashes before your very eyes. What in the world are you thinking about. Are you alright?” She shook me into reality. I looked at the ashes stupidly and speechlessly.
How will I tell my parents that I came to Lagos to find a job, but found a baby? I don’t have the nerve to tell my aunt. Society will crucify me. The only person that can save me from this looming shame is Tunbi. I must convince him. Even if it means soliciting support from his mother and sister. I thought mothers and sisters are women like me, so they would understand and accept me. So I set out to his house the second time.
I arrived at Tunbi’s house by 4 pm.
“He is not in,” the security guard told me.
“Is anyone at home?”
“Yes, madam is in.”
The security guy opened the gate and allowed me in, pointing me in the direction of the sitting room.
My hands turned cold and watery as I pressed the doorbell. In no minute, the mother came to the door. She was wearing a black wig with long curls and a white and blue polka dot dress.
“Yes, who are you looking for, she spoke with the accent of someone who had been schooled under a British governess, maybe even the Queen, with a very civilized but surly look.
“I came to see Tunbi,” I struggled to form the words, forcing the tears back and trying to stabilize my voice so the trembles in them don’t get noticed.
“Why didn’t you call before coming?”
“I, I, I tried…..I said wondering what made her think that I didn’t call?
“So why did you come. You could have saved yourself the stress of coming…….come in though.”
I reluctantly stepped in, wondering if I should spill the milk or not.
She sank back into the couch, scrolling the TV channels. And then she turned to me.
“I learnt you are pregnant. Is the child my son’s,” she asked, pointedly, looking me in the eye.
I quaked from within… wondering whyTunbi told her so soon?
After a few minutes I answered “yes ma., believing the follow-up question would be; when are we coming to know your people? When is the wedding date?
“How is that? She asked, facing me squarely- her civility gradually transforming to severity.
I wanted to ask her: how do people get pregnant, but I didn’t want to be rude. This could be my prospective mother-in-law, so let me not ruin my chances of being well-behaved.
“I don’t understand ma.”
“How are you sure it is his?” She pointed at my lower abdomen.
“Ma…ma, we were in a relationship?”
“Relationship? From what I know, Tunbi didn’t tell me he was in any relationship with you. Or am I mistaken?” And then she turned her head towards the corridor, calling out to Tunbi’s sister.
She appeared into the sitting room clutching her phone.
“Kunbi, did Tunbi tell you about this lady?” She pointed at me.
With a snooty nose, she looked at me and said;
“Has Tunbi broken up with Caroline without my knowledge?” She sounded as though she was ready to deal with him for breaking her rules.
“Nope!”…. “In fact, I just got off the phone with Caroline now. She just arrived in London and is settling in well with sister Bunmi.
I was weeing in my pants and weeping in my heart, unable to believe what I was hearing. Tunbi is engaged? He didn’t tell me?
The mother turned away from Kunbi, and at me. “And you opened up yourself to be allegedly impregnated by him… and mark my words “allegedly.”
“I beg your pardon ma….open up myself? How?….it was mutual consent. Tunbi is just so irresponsible. If he is not irresponsible why would he be engaged to someone else and agreed for us to get this far?
“If he is irresponsible, then you also should examine your shame quotient. A decent lady wouldn’t just open up herself to man that has made no commitment to him. I hope you will learn a lesson from this.” She stood up to leave, leaving no room for a reply from me. Perhaps, she was too civil to exchange words with me, I guess.
Her words sank me further into the sofa. Kunbi switched off the TV and left too.
I had never felt so disgraced in my life. So Tunbi had been lying to me. So it was his fiancée he was going to meet in London and not in pursuance of a master’s degree? Oh my God, I had been a big fool. I looked at Tunbi on the wall photo amid his three sisters. That must be the London-based sister Bunmi.
I better go for abortion as suggested and get this idea of a ‘baby’ or ‘marriage’ out of my head. If I decide to have this baby, it will never have a father or a paternal family. These two women will never accept me. Tunbi is directly under their control. He was really not the man I thought he was. Like the saying, the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world. Tunbi’s world was ruled by these women. The hegemony of women over men and other lower women (like me).
I stood up to leave totally disoriented, stifling the choking spell to cry. When I managed to step out of their gate, I ran towards a lonely ATM machine which was blinking with the message, out of service, and reminiscing how Tunbi and I had met during the service year and now we are out of service, and I’m out of his life. It’s a woman’s world after all- these three women—Tunbi’s mother, sisters, and Caroline, had ruled. They have the final say. Tunbi had no say.
To be continued next week
You can read the last edition HERE
Abiose A. Adams, a journalist, creative writer, and senior programme officer at Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation, can be reached on [email protected]
Author’s Disclaimer: This story is purely a work of fiction. Any coincidence of the characters with real persons is highly regretted.
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