“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?
Tunbi laughed a lot. He had a non-threatening air that made him easy to be with. With Tunbi there was never a dull moment. That was my first attraction to him. The evening I met him, he was settling a quarrel between Yemi and Ibrahim. Both were his flatmates at Mobil Oil quarters in Eket, Akwa Ibom, where we both observed our national youth service. Yemyem, as she was fondly called by her friends, was smallish, dark-skinned, not the kind of girl who would pass as beautiful. To worsen it, she was grim, grumpy, and often grimaced when she happens to smile. I later learned she was the daughter of a Kogi king. No wonder the domineering demeanour. Unlike many local monarchs, her father happened to be polished and posh, and almost all his children were studying in Europe. Yemyem too was only waiting to complete her youth service after which she would travel to Europe. She carries this consciousness on her head and believes every other person was beneath her. Ibrahim was her boyfriend. He was tall, well-built, also the son of a rich Katsina seriki (king). In my opinion, he was too handsome and too good-natured for someone like Yemyem. They remind of the rhetoric -what has light got to do with darkness? Yemyem has so bullied him that he appeared perpetually henpecked and over-cheerful. In the few days, I met them, I wondered what Ibrahim saw in her. In their relationship, Yemyem was the male, and Ibrahim, the female. Both of them were graduates of Chemical Engineering.
“I have told Yemyem,… a woman who wants to remain in husband’s house has to be spotlessly submissive, ” Tunbi told me that evening. “But Yemyem is too headstrong, and I feel she is taking Ibrahim’s love for granted,” he said.
I was instantly attracted to Tunbi, and I thought he would make a good, God-fearing husband seeing he already seem to know, the biblical description of roles expected of married couples.
Quality number two that made me fall for Tunbi was his quickness and wit. He was a first-class student. That, I couldn’t resist. He was cerebral, witty, quick. I knew his future would be bright. While growing up, my mother made me believe that every young lady should marry a man with a bright future. I remember in my final year, in the girls’ hostel, we used to say, at least if your fiancé is not prosperous yet, he should have prospects. And I used to wonder why we girls never used to think of ourselves in the light of prosperity and prospects too.
Quality number three, Tunbi speaks impeccable English. All my friends know that I can’t stand a guy who cannot construct proper sentences; a guy who would say- they know me instead of they know me. Or the one who would mix up his verbs and prepositions. That’s for me is an instant turn-off. But Tunbi even used to correct the way I pronounce certain English words.
“It is pronounced ‘oil’ not ‘hoil,” he would correct me.
“It is pronounced ‘eight’, not ‘hate.”
“It is ‘ask’, not ‘’axe’.
And then the first day I said my button fell off. I said it emphasizing the two buttons. He shouted and said;
“Its buhuns…..the ‘t’ is silent.”
I tried it his way pretending as though I wanted to belch when I got to the point of silencing the ‘T’ in buttons. And he would laugh and playfully call me a village girl with a typical Yoruba accent!
“For the records, I studied Counselling at the University of Ibadan,” I would reply and laugh too.
And he would say “nothing compares to Ife…Great Ife. That is the school.”
And so every Friday I looked forward to travelling to Eket to see Tunbi at the Mobil quarters.
Tunbi fits the exact stereotype of the kind of man my mon had always admonished me to watch out for —young, first-class graduate, promising, nice, friendly, ‘God-fearing’. So I got drawn away from Dumebi, the main reason why I found myself in Eket in the first place. Dumebi and I had met at the NYSC orientation camp. We were in the same Platoon 14. He liked me and showed some interest. But like any young man who is just finishing school, he said he would need a job, get a house, furnish the house before he would think of a wife, and that would take 3-5 years! With my kind of upbringing, my mother wanted me to marry immediately after school. All my friends were hooked and planning marriage. I wanted to be hooked.
And so every weekend I hung more and more with Tunbi, this chatty, funny, witty guy. He wasn’t so tall by my standard — about 5 feet 7 —with a slightly round chubby face, not really my specs, but one thing was certain, I was happy with him. I felt free with him and I began picturing us as a couple. He told me about his dreams to do his masters in the U.K. He was already applying for a scholarship available for only fresh first-class graduates, and he was sure he would win it. I shared the same dreams too. I wanted to study abroad, so I started seeing us walk up and down the university campus lane together.
At the end of our service year, we left Eket. He, to Lagos, and I— to my parents in Ibadan.
We chatted and chatted, and I spent all my midnight calls on him. He persuaded me to visit Lagos. Alas, I lied to my parents that I needed to go to Lagos in search of a job. I told mummy I was going to stay in the house of her 76-year old sister.
“Ah! Sister Rolake would even appreciate your coming to stay with her,” mom said. Although my dad felt Ibadan was a less chaotic place to get a job and settle down, my mum and I prevailed and so I went to live with my aunt in Lagos.
My aunt used to be a society woman in her time; in the sixties, having had three children with three different men. It was at the time when being the mistress of a rich business tycoon, musician or footballer, was fashionable —what in today’s world— is called baby mama.
A day after I arrived in Lagos, I told Tunbi I was in town; and in the evening we went to one of the many clubs in Shitta, Surulere, where my aunt lived.
Shitta was an insomniac town. The streets lights were permanently on; shawarma, barbecue spots everywhere. Red-light districts here and there, pubs and clubs uncountable. Tunbi drove in an airconditioned SUV with a friend. The moment he picked me, his friend took over the wheels while he jumped at me at the back seat where we smooched endlessly, unbottling all yearnings and longings hitherto siloed and compartmentalized by time and space. We danced together at the clubs, frolicked all night hopping from club to club like some drunk teenagers on steroids. Alas, I returned to my aunt’s house around 5 am. She was a light sleeper. She raised her head and asked where I was coming from. I lied (with a tremble) that I had gone for a night vigil; trembling for using the name of my Lord in vain.
Weeks later I woke up feeling queasy. We had just eaten at a restaurant, and I had told him, I would go home early as I was feeling very feverish. Initially, I thought it was the greasy meal we ate at the cinema, a day before. But this queasiness wouldn’t go. It followed me everywhere. Everything developed a smell. Even the air had a smell. My nose became extra perceptive. The perfume I used irritated me, the food I ate nauseated me, even my own sweat. I woke up one morning with a bilious attack. And off to the bathroom, I would throw up everything to the last drop of bile. I smelt a rat, but I wanted to believe that my nose was malfunctioning.
But before I raised any false alarm, I got a hold of my phone and googled the symptoms I felt. The search brought results from WebMD, Mayo Clinic, all sorts of medical journals…
All narratives pointed in the direction of what made me jittery. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad. I checked my calendar, my day had passed. Ha! I’m in trouble! How would he react when I tell him? Was he going to be ecstatic or sarcastic?
To be continued next week
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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