Literary Fiction

Three Women

By

This book will launch on Feb 10, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

"Three Women" which was favorably reviewed by Kirkus Reviews portrays a modern African family. The first part of the novel, set in modern times opens with the story of Oyinkan's troubled marriage to Kole as they rush their son Moyo to the hospital after Kole accidentally injures him.
Oyinkan walks out of the marriage and finds her grandmother's journals through which she learns about the intricacies which marked the lives of Aduke, her grandmother, and Ibidun her mother. Aduke, was forced out of her marital home after she was denounced as a witch. Aduke's journals which open in colonial Lagos, Nigeria in 1924 are written in poor English. Her language is similar to that used in the New York Times bestseller, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare.
Oyinkan tries to reach out to her mother, Ibidun, who has struggled to reject everything that Aduke stands for. Ibidun's part of the story is narrated through letters. Some revelations in Ibidun's letter to Oyinkan leave her unsettled because they open up so much of Aduke's life that it begins to haunt Oyinkan as she is forced to confront the relationship between the facts in the journal and her life.

Prologue


 

Kole cursed his car horn which failed to blare in spite of the fact that he kept hitting it. He cursed his maiguard[1] in even more flowery language for not being at the gate to let his car in. He cursed his night watchman and all his ancestors, taking his time between hiccups to name as many of them as he could.

"May his great grandfather's balls be damned. May his grandfather's path never be smooth. May his father's mother rot in hell and his mother's mother and her father too..."

        He got out of the car and tried to lock it. Failing in this attempt, he decided to embark on the arduous task of making his way on foot into his compound in order to get the erring maiguard. As he did this, he continued to curse and swear at these long dead ancestors of his employee, holding them directly responsible for the man's failure to man his post diligently. He stopped his invocation of woes only when he slipped on the grass in front of his gate and his left foot slid into the narrow and shallow gutter that ran under a concrete slab. When he had managed to regain his balance, the night sky, bereft of stars caught his attention and his anger shifted grounds as he made to shake the muck from his foot. 

 

       Inside his house, two people stood facing each other at daggers drawn. Then Moyo, in spite of himself (in spite of all the effort he had made to remain neutral since this battle began to rage in their home and, therefore, their lives), fell back into the dining chair. He was more stung by the effort not to cry than by the slap he had just been dealt. He could not remember the last time either of his parents had hit him and he was taken completely by surprise at how much this slap stung. His eyes smarted from tears and, to save himself from crying he lashed out, saying the things he knew would cut his assailant to the quick: "Well, sorry I forgot to congratulate you then. Well done! For winning the contract...” He raised his two arms in mock surrender, then stopped, now fully in control of the searing pain. On seeing the face of his opponent drop, he added, “Here is something else you might want to celebrate since you are so bent on dancing on his grave. Ngozi did not miscarry his precious baby - she had an abortion.” He was satisfied to see his words draw the desired effect. “I knew that would please you.” He could not resist adding even though every word out of his mouth was like a stab at his own body.

"Just why are you going on like this? Because I did not tell you I was going after the contract or because your father lost it to me?”

Moyo refused to honor these questions with an answer.

“Why don’t you care if my business does well too?"

 When Moyo still refused to answer, the figure went over to where he sat and perched on the table facing him. "Look, I only came here because I had no one else to celebrate with me. And I thought that after all you’ve done to help me, you'd be pleased to know..."

"Well I don't want to know. I told you before; I keep telling you both, leave me out of this ... this ... madness." Moyo started to rise out of the chair. His ultimate aim was to escape from the compelling presence of the figure perched on the table before him causing him, against his wish to feel like a boy of four craving his mother’s affirming embrace. As he grew more frantic, he would have been quite satisfied just to put a little distance between them. The tears falling down his face betrayed him.

        Moyo felt two hands, not his, grab hold of his head by the temples as though they were about to crush it. The eyes in front of him bore into his head. Through Moyo’s eyes, the other pair saw the pain he had tried to hide with his jokes and pranks and high sounding phrases from psychology. Moyo's pain tore at the owner of the hands, cutting through all the euphoria of winning the contract. That victory was no longer sweet. Just then it felt sour with a certainty that would only leave a bitter aftertaste.

        When the hands started to cradle Moyo's head, the man in him, all of his eighteen years of manhood felt repelled by this intimacy with the figure in a caftan and trousers[2]. But the hands felt warm against his cheeks, soothing and comforting; they lured him into succumbing to their sensation as at his beginning.

        When Moyo looked up into those eyes in front of him, he recognized vulnerability in them, but he saw strength too. He was however more startled by the desire in them to wipe away his own pain. The arms slipped from his head, transferring their warmth and strength to his shoulders. The eyes slid shut and Moyo heard what sounded to him like the deep rumbling of the Olokun[3] coursing from the figure's depth. It was one of those sounds mothers hum to their children.

        These songs are not lullabies designed to lure the child to sleep. They are songs to comfort a wailing child. Sometimes these songs exhort the child, singing his praise by reminding him of the totems of his ancestors. Sometimes these sounds which are not lullabies, tease the child for making so much noise wailing, when his energy would be better expended achieving his own feats. At other times they make promises, although they will not hesitate to threaten too, when the need arises. But always, whatever form these songs by our mothers take, they focus on nursing our bruised souls by dissolving our anguish.


They do not aim to lure us to sleep because our mothers know that we sleep better to the sounds of words strung together to paint stories about our world, its spirit and soul, our own ancestors. They send us off to sleep with these images which are the foundation of our dreams. When our mothers sing to us, they expect us to listen to the lyrics; singing, clapping or chorusing along. They expect us to add our own effort to the rhythm of these songs.     

So caught up was Moyo in the rhythm of his mother's heart as his soul recognized her song and made to join in it that, when Kole burst into the room, neither of them heard him. What Kole saw was a man holding on to his son's head in a most unnatural manner. His base instinct flinched at this perversity. He lifted a dining chair and it was the sound of it grinding against the tiled floor which tore Oyinkan and Moyo apart. Kole hurled the chair at the figure of the man but before his missile could hit his target, Moyo sprang up, trying to stretch up to reach his full height. The chair brought him down, rendering him unconscious before he attained his aim.

"Bastard!" Kole snapped, hissing at Oyinkan whom he did not recognize before bending over Moyo’s unconscious body. He tried to lift Moyo's head, and then changed his mind as he turned in anger to face the enemy who dared to call out Moyo's name with such tenderness, begging him to wake up.

"Moyo!" Oyinkan shouted "Please Moyo...” Kole shook his head at the sound of the voice which almost struck a familiar chord in him but failed. Oyinkan’s masculine garbs confused him and the drink with which he had tried in vain to bolster his courage against the humiliation which he felt life had heaped on him, drenching and numbing his brain from all corners for so long got in the way of his comprehension. 

“I’ll kill you if...” Kole growled. The next moment his hands were wrapped round Oyinkan’s neck, gagging her. Her eyes clouded over even before she could utter a word to tell him her name so he would know who she was; identify herself so he would recognize her and know that she had every right to embrace their son. As she began to black out, the only thought on her mind was to clarify the scene which Kole met when he burst into the room and found Moyo locked in her arms.


“Open your eyes for God's sake! Oyin, open your eyes." Kole's voice urged her to consciousness. As she struggled to sit up, she wondered if Kole was aware of the tears that flowed freely down his face. The sight of her moustache in his bloodied hand explained how he had worked out her identity on his own.

"You've got to stand up! You must. I need you to help move Moyo into the car. He's losing too much blood!"

Oyinkan tripped over the L shaped leg of the dining chair that Kole had used to hit Moyo's head as she tried unsuccessfully to hold on to her son's legs. She hesitated as she tried to find a spot on the ground that did not have Moyo’s blood. Kole hissed impatiently and, without allowing her to lift Moyo's legs again, he placed his hands underneath Moyo's armpit, intertwining the fingers of his own two hands firmly across the boy's chest. Gingerly, he dragged him through the living room, the strain of the effort contorted his face. Oyinkan managed to catch up with them at the front door.

        Together, they lifted Moyo into the car without his feet hitting the gravel outside the house. Quickly, they settled him into the car and Oyinka slipped into the back seat so Moyo’s head rested on her thighs as she tried to stop the blood from streaming out of the side of his head.

She waited for Kole to start the car after fishing the keys out of his pocket. Instead of the sound of the car engine, Kole's loud howl filled the night.

Feeling like an eavesdropper, Oyinkan sat watching Kole bent over the steering wheel. The thunderous sound of his wailing added to the momentum of the event made it all unreal, so much so that time became inconsequential. Finally, he revved the car to life and they raced to the hospital where Kole jumped out of the car screaming.

"Egba mi! E jo, omo mi.[4] Help me! My son is dying!" he seemed to be running in a zigzag fashion as the porters ran out of the hospital gatehouse before he reached it.

Perhaps it was still the effect of having been gagged which made Oyinkan remain calm as she watched the scene when they lifted her son's head off her laps. Gently, they slid the entire length of him off her body. She felt paralyzed. She remained sitting as she watched them move him onto a stretcher and into the hospital building.

She remained incapacitated, sitting in the car for quite a while, although it seemed to her like only seconds before Kole sauntered out of the hospital. He stood watching her looking exhausted and defeated. Even as she reached the conclusion that Moyo had died, Oyinkan felt completely unconnected to all the commotion she had witnessed. When Kole moved over to where she sat in the car, she was startled by the sound of her own voice.

"O ti ku?[5] " She asked if he had died but the question sounded more like a statement of fact. She was not even moved when Kole seemed to explode, spewing curses and threats at her. Then he paused and asked her what she wanted from him. He asked as if his life depended on her answer, yet she was completely powerless to put together the words that she desperately searched for, in order to ease the misery that blazed at her from his eyes.

"Why are you so bent on destroying me?” he asked. What have I ever done to make you hate me so? Won ki i fe iyawo ni mo fe e ni?[6] Why?"

Something in her eyes managed to communicate words that her mind failed to put together. Kole's hands suddenly gripped her shoulders, shaking her violently till she was forced to yell his name. She wanted desperately to say words to make everything clear. Just at the point when it felt as if the effect of being so thoroughly shaken was about to force the words she desperately sought into her head, she found she could not utter them as her stomach twisted repeatedly and her body wracked. She retched, throwing up bitter green fluid. Bile spilled out of her mouth onto the floor of the car. As Kole watched her spill out her guts, his face softened. He seemed to have burnt out his rage.

"They've taken him into intensive care, they said we should stick around because he’ll need blood."

Oyinkan wiped her mouth with the back of her right hand, then wiped the hand on her caftan. Together yet separately, they walked into the hospital just as a nurse was about to come and call them.


The Phlebotomists  reapplied some spirit to Oyinkan's arm just below the inside of the hollow of her elbow. Then un-knotting the rope which she had earlier tied round the arm, the Phlebotomists placed a plaster on the spot from which she had just removed the needle with which she drew Oyinkan’s blood. The Phlebotomists smiled at her and said: "that would be all, madam." Oyinkan got up and turned to leave. It was then she noticed Kole had been standing at the door watching. Kole's blood was the first to be tested to see if it matched Moyo's. It did not.

When she left him in the waiting room of the Emergency Section to go and donate blood, she was sure he would remain there. She was still surprised that Kole was able to function in spite of seeing so much blood. Especially Moyo’s blood. In all the years they were married, she never once saw him kill even a chicken. She used to tease him about his squeamishness when they first started living together. She was shocked and amused at the look of alarm on Kole's face the first day she arrived from Dugbe market with a live chicken the week after he brought her to Ibadan.

"Why didn't you ask them to kill it for you at the market?” he asked, looking at the more- lively- than- normal bird as if it was an offensive weapon.

She laughed at the expression on his face, explaining that she bought the bird from a woman and it did not occur to her that he would be so offended by the thought of killing a chicken which she had squeezed her lean housekeeping budget to buy in order to cook him a special efo riro.[7]

She ended up killing the fowl herself as Kole simply walked out of the house before she could prevail on him to help with the chore.

It was their first week of living together. She had not experienced her menstrual period. Moyo was conceived during their first few weeks together, and it was not until after his birth when she had her first flow of blood that she realized the extent of her husband's aversion to blood. She was shocked. This was a man who had the unholiest temper she had ever known. He never shied away from a fight. Yet he could not bear to stand the sight of her unused sanitary towels lying in a drawer not to mention a soiled one. He chose to spend the entire thirteen days during which she bled after the birth of their son on a mat. She was more flattered than alarmed when she saw how worried he was when, after the first four days, her bleeding did not stop. He insisted on her going back to the doctors because he was sure she would slowly bleed to death.

Even then, she had not realized the extent of his aversion until he started spending the nights of her subsequent menstrual periods squatting with friends at the university campus. This almost resulted in their first major tiff and she hated herself afterwards for bringing up the topic. She had promised herself at the beginning of her married life that she would never become the type of wife, like her mother, who would go snooping in her husband’s business, going through his pockets and demeaning herself by ironing out rumpled pieces paper which was painstakingly rescued from the waste paper basket regularly.

When his flights to take refuge on campus during the sometimes difficult days when her periods came turned into a regular pattern, it became increasingly difficult for Oyinkan to keep fighting the sneaky suspicion which kept crossing her mind, threatening to permanently disjoint her nose. So a few days to the onset of one of her periods, as Kole who took the trouble of keeping meticulous records of her menstruation began to prepare to spend the week on campus, she retreated into herself staring into space and sighing intermittently much to Kole’s alarm at first. He kept asking her what the matter was but she could not bring herself to voice the cause of her sorrow. Soon he got impatient with her, would not touch his food and so it was her turn to coax him. She became defensive when he accused her of harboring a grudge against him.

“No!” she tried to pack all her love for him into the denial.

“It must be a ghost you’re mad at then, since we are the only two human beings living in this room.”

Turning her face away from him so that they now laid back to back on the narrow bed, she felt emboldened by the neutrality of the wall on which she had spent days practicing her accusation.

“Well sometimes it’s hard to believe that we both live here.”

“Why? Because I am going away to the campus again tomorrow?”

“Look Kole, if you are tired of me, you…”   

She was overwhelmed by the rush of relief which engulfed her when Kole burst into laughter as she began to blurt out her accusation which she had spent days rehearsing in her mind. She surrendered herself to his embrace as he turned her over to face him. Still feeling embarrassed by her accusation, she buried her face in that warm space between his neck and shoulder.

“But you know why I have to go away now.”

Oyinkan shrugged; suddenly it did not matter anymore if he stayed away during her periods.

“Why didn’t you ever say how much you missed having me around before?” His voice was soft as he lifted his torso so he could peer closely into her eyes.

“It’s not my fault now. And you know I use the time to catch up on any backlog of work I have at school,” he said peering into her eyes.

“So is it my fault I have to menstruate?” She forced herself to return his stare.

“Of course not. God knows this menstruation business is just a bloody waste of loving time.”

They both burst into laughter at his clever turn of phrase. ‘Loving’ of course was his coy euphemism for lovemaking. Their lovemaking that day was more playful than it had ever been and Oyinkan knew that more than anything else he was flattered by her anxiety.

Afterwards, he insisted his absence from home had more to do with tradition. He explained to her how in his village just as in the Bible, a woman was considered unclean during her menstrual period. “No right thinking man should touch a bleeding woman with a pole a mile long. Don’t you know” he insisted “ that is the reason why in some parts of Nigeria every woman is given her own room and men who can afford the expense actually take the precaution of building a small house outside the main family dwelling where female members live during their unholy days of the month?" He said his people strongly believed that "evil lurks with women during their menstrual period.” Looking genuinely puzzled, he added, “strangely, enough  women are immune to the disastrous effect of their menstruation."

 Oyinkan laughed, teasing him by insisting; “that’s only an excuse for polygamy because it gives you men a reason to keep more than one wife. Most men use it as an excuse; they just claim they need to have other women to do their cooking during the so called period when one wife cannot be trusted to even go near her husband's meals."

From then on, she never challenged his monthly abandonment. She even tried to joke about it by boasting about the supernatural power which she possessed during the four days of her menses. She said it allowed her to know his movement even when he was not physically there with her. All of that teasing stopped when he finally told her how he had witnessed his brother who was knocked down by a bus, slowly bleed to death on the way to a hospital. Somehow after that Oyinkan was never able to joke about blood with him anymore.


Before the night when they rushed Moyo to the hospital after Kole hit him on the head, she had only known him give blood once. Even then it had been because the hospital in Ibadan, where Moyo was delivered had a policy that blood had to be donated in advance of a child's delivery. This was in case the birth got complicated and the mother needed blood transfusion. Even in those lean days Kole could have easily opted for buying the blood to donate to the hospital's blood bank. A pint of blood at that time cost about as much as a tin of baby food but he chose to give his in spite of his aversion to blood. When she asked him why he chose to give blood, he explained that it was just something he felt he ought to do. He asked, "What when you deliver our child it turns out that not only you but the baby also needs a transfusion?"

She shrugged. She knew just how seriously he took the business of fatherhood and she loved him even more for it. Even when it was discovered that Kole and Oyinkan had different blood groups and Kole declared that their child whether male or female would automatically be born sharing his blood group, Oyinkan could not find it in her heart to query his belief. Rather, she smiled demurely hoping he was right. Although she was not a particularly devoted Christian, she found herself praying that God would reward him for being such an enthusiastic father by granting his wish. She felt he deserved this as some kind of special gift from her.

He was wrong of course, as they discovered eighteen years after Moyo’s birth on that night when his life laid on a threshold.

 

                        That night, as Oyinkan finished giving the blood that their son needed, Kole stepped forward from the door. He stepped forward with his right arm stretched towards the puzzled phlebotomist.

        "I want to donate some blood too,” he said to the puzzled woman, who calmly explained that the blood which Oyinkan gave would be quite sufficient to meet their son's need.

"Just take it anyway. Someone else might need it," Kole insisted, slipping onto the stool which Oyinkan just vacated. Oyinkan stood there watching him give blood, without flinching. His face looked blank as he watched the blood slowly trickle out of his body, filling the pint bag.

Why did she stay and watch the entire process? She found herself wondering long after it was over. Did she wait to see Kole crumble and chicken out of his resolve to give blood knowing his fear of blood? Or did she wait because she felt responsible for causing Moyo’s accident? Did she just stand there because she knew instinctively that Kole wanted her to watch and note his bravery?

Oyinkan felt rooted to the ground feeling awkward in her masculine attire, her face remained transfixed onto the side of Kole’s head. Then he got up, walked past her and out of the lab without glancing in her direction. She followed him and took a seat opposite him in the waiting room. As he fished in his pocket for a handkerchief and began to wipe the sweat off his face, she shivered. The cold stream from the air-conditioning unit sitting in the wall just on top of where Kole sat seemed to be directed solely at her. She felt cold air seep through the large sleeves of her linen caftan. She started to dig her bile-soiled hands into the pockets of her matching trousers but quickly brought them out again. She felt ridiculous in the still unfamiliar clothes and preferred to wrap her arms around her breasts to try and conceal her man's costume from the nurses who rushed in and out of the treatment room without giving either of them a glance.

She knew then as she sat watching Kole, who continued to resolutely avoid seeing her that he had sobered up. She knew also that he would have died rather than hurt a single hair of their son's head had he not been more than a little drunk when he arrived and found Moyo in her arms. She guessed that he was trying not to look at her because the sight of her in the blood and bile soaked clothes repelled him. She understood exactly how he felt. She was a little nauseated by the sight of his blood stained appearance too. Any anger she had felt directed at him for hurting her son, for spilling her son's blood had died down. The very feel of the offensive clothes on her skin repulsed her too and she held the plain caftan and trousers responsible for her anxiety over the life of her son.

Finally, the doctor came out and told them he had done all he could and it was only a matter of time till they could tell how their son would fare. He advised them to go home and wait because Moyo was still unconscious. He asked a nurse to give them a list of the things to bring for Moyo and the drugs they needed to buy. Then he told Kole that he had to go and make a report to the police immediately because that was the procedure with cases of assault. He said he had only consented to treat Moyo before insisting on a police report because of the nature of his injury and because it was obviously a family matter.

Oyinkan decided to go with Kole to give a statement too. At the station, after they reported that their son had been admitted into hospital after Kole hit him on the head, Oyinkan stepped forward and volunteered to write her statement first. Before Kole could go any further, she explained to the sergeant on duty that it was her husband and herself who had been fighting when he accidentally hit their son. The sergeant asked if the boy was Kole's  biological son. She said yes and they both wrote statements and were asked to report at the station for further investigations in the morning before they could get a report for the hospital.

As they made to leave the station, the officer pointed a stern finger at them, "Make una just go pray oh! make the boy no die. We dey treat the case now as domestic matter but if anything happen to that boy, the matter will be una family versus government. Them fit even jail you for murder." The Officer said pointing at Kole. That was when Oyinkan broke down and wept.

Outside the station, they both stood, looking seamless - like their bodies had been un-stitched and allowed to spill out of their skins as they faced each other across the roof of the car on either side of it. After a while, Kole crossed over to her side and opened the door to let her in before getting in behind the wheel.

"Where do you want me to take you?" he asked.

Because she was weeping, and could not talk, he started the car and headed towards his house. She just sat crying as he drove her there.

"I've left your room intact, I’m sure you'd like to bath and change," he explained, as if he could read her mind when they let themselves into the house.

She was a long time under the shower after she tore the repulsive clothes off her body and into shreds. She kept scrubbing and soaping herself till she was physically exhausted.

She heard the sound of Kole's footsteps climbing the staircase as she slipped into her nightdress. When she heard him pause just outside her door, she went and let him in before he either knocked or changed his mind and returned downstairs.

She took the glass of iced water pointed at her without saying a word and muttered a polite thank you, then they stood facing each other. A thousand questions transmitted from his eyes and her eyes asked just as many.

Enemies that they were convinced they had become, contenders on opposing sides, did they embrace uniting over their kill, the body of their own son? Even without being judged and found guilty, did they reach out to touch each other, to feel the blood flowing in each other's veins? Where they hesitant at first? Perhaps it was their child's life which laid on the line that chastised them, making a mockery of their differences and their individual claims to being so different. Afterwards, as they laid together on her bed, who spoke first? What words were uttered first by her or by him?

They spoke words they had never before shared in all their married life. They accused and explained, attempted to reveal new dimensions and cancel old notions. They tried to admit all the lies they had told each other and the false beliefs they had held about each other and themselves.

Kole accused her of trying to emasculate him. He said she persistently attempted to cut off his balls. She denied ever deliberately trying to ruin him. "How could you even think that?" She challenged. "It was you!" she screamed, "you were the one who stopped communicating. You decided to make all the decisions and everything and everyone came before me. Your need to have more children; your need to make all your millions, even Dapo came before me!" She stopped, realizing she was ranting so loud, she felt embarrassed by her words which she decided were incoherent. This was a one in a life time opportunity to say all the things that she had never been able to say to Kole. The things that led to her walk out of almost nineteen years of marriage. Yet, there she was whining about Dapo, someone she had neither seen nor even thought about for years. 

"Let’s just drop the topic, alright?" She said wondering if the sudden deadlock was a premonition of worse things to come like Moyo actually dying. But just then Moyo and the word death just did not fit together in her mind.

Kole turned away from her. She panicked, thinking it was because he could read her thoughts and was worried about the same thing - then what would keep their son alive if both their minds concurred on his death? She was relieved when Kole persisted in pursuing the safe, `pedestrian topic’ of life as opposed to death.

        "I'm certainly surprised you ever thought to compare yourself with Dapo. Maybe I never told you this but whatever I did for Dapo, I did to prove a point. I know it might sound crazy to you but I hated his mother so much when I was growing up, I hold her personally responsible for my success in life. All those years when I starved and had to do farm work to pay my school fees. I held her meanness responsible for my father's uncaring attitude towards my education. So it helped me focus on getting ahead. She was like a touch of fire held to my heels. You know, Baba only went as far as elementary three, maybe four. He could barely read or write." He said smiling as he turned to face her again.

"Don't you think that might have been the reason why he could not be bothered with investing in your education?" She felt relieved that she had sufficiently regained rein of her thoughts.

Kole shook his head, resting it firmly on his left arm. “He felt strongly enough about education to send Iya Dapo to the Teachers’ Training College. That was the reason why he could not afford to pay my own fees. She was at the T.T.C. at the same time I was in the grammar school. She convinced him that if she could train and get a job as a teacher then she would be in a position to assist in supporting us, - the children."

Oyinkan wrinkled her face, puzzled. The woman's suggestion sounded quite logical to her and she told Kole so.

"She never raised a finger to help me. It was all a scheme from the very beginning, she had no intention of assisting with my education. If she'd had her way, I wouldn't be educated at all. By the time she completed her training, I was in the fifth form, and I had just the one-year to finish. My school still practiced the six year system instead of five. She said if I had managed on my own for five years, she did not see any reason why I should not continue managing on my own through my final year. So they, she and Baba could concentrate on educating her children."

"And you blame her entirely for that?" Oyinkan asked incredulously. “What about Baba? Don't you think he should have felt more committed to you especially since your mother was dead and you were her only surviving child? If he did not care enough about you why expect your stepmother to...?"

"That's the point I was trying to make. She had him by the balls. He let the woman do his thinking for him. She... “ his voice dropped almost to a whisper. " It was Iya Dapo who called the shots in our house and I was her target. This woman so dominated my father, he sat back and watched her turn me into worse than a houseboy. You know, I don't remember any point when I was growing up that she did not have a maid or one or two of her relatives living in our house. Yet, this woman... Iya Dapo would never assign the chore of emptying the chamber pot to anyone else in the house but me. Even in broad daylight when she could have easily gone into the bush to empty her bowels. She would go into her room and use a chamber pot. It did not matter what I was doing. Even if I was eating she made me drop everything and empty her chamber pot."

"Oh my God!" Oyinkan gasped. She had grown increasingly alarmed as she watched him talk. It was as if the ghost of Iya Dapo had suddenly materialized in their house and he lashed out at her, hitting his hand on the headboard of the bed. Oyinkan moved over to his side and pressed the flat of her hands on his shoulders, trying to will some calmness into his rattled being.

"But how could Baba sit back and watch her do that to you, his first son?" She asked moments later as he covered his face with his left hand rubbing his eyes as if he meant to erase them.

"She had her ways. She never sent me to do it during the day if he was there. She would actually save it." He tried to smile but his face was badly contorted. “She always used a pot that had a lid, so she'd cover it up and slide it under her bed. The moment Baba left home, she'd call me. I remember once, when I refused, she ranted and raved but I stood my ground. I went and waited outside but I soon left to play with my friends. When I returned home, Baba was waiting with a cane. He asked me where I had been and I told him the truth that I went riding with my friends. I did not know that Iya Dapo had told him that I left home when she accused me of stealing her toro.[8] Baba automatically assumed I used the money I stole from her to rent the bike that I then stupidly admitted I had been riding." He stopped, sitting up to face Oyinkan squarely, like a leper daring her to put salve on his open sore with her bare hands.

Oyinkan got up from the bed and walked into the bathroom to wash her hands that did not need cleaning. She left the tap running for a very long time, hoping that by the time she returned to the room, he would have forgotten his recount or better still he would have fallen asleep. She had heard enough. She was torn between a loathing of herself for trying to put a distance between herself and the man in her bed on the one hand and a desire to rush into the room, gather him up into her arms and coo to him like a baby. Neither of these two desires she felt would do either of them any good.

She stepped softly back into the room hoping that he would not notice her return. She did not have the faintest idea how to face him. Surely this was not the same monster that had made her own life hell. She wondered, as she looked closely at him as though trying to ascertain who he was.  

"I never again gave him cause to do the caning for her. I preferred to let her do her own battery." He paused and laughed a dry brave laugh. "I think I actually used to goad her whenever Baba was home so she would lash out at me. She never used a cane. She slapped or twisted my ears which was easier than Baba's caning. She knocked me on the head once but Baba stopped her. He said I might get a headache. So she confined herself to my ears and my face but her beating was always less painful than Baba's. He paused, laughing that mirthless laughter again but he would not look at her again. He might as well have been alone in that room.

"I’ve spent my entire life proving to her that in spite of her I have become what I am. Ol’oun ju lo.”[9] He looked up suddenly as though startled back into the present. But his face remained a complex puzzle to her.

She started crying again. She was as amazed by her outburst as he was because all that kept ringing in her head like a suddenly recollected mantra was, `so that was why he would never touch Moyo's soiled nappies!'

        Kole sat watching her cry for a while, then he raised his hands which had been restive on his arms across his bare chest. She thought he was going to reach out for her and she dreaded the feel of his flesh on hers.

As though he read her mind again, he drew his hands back. He got up and slowly walked out of her room through the bathroom which adjoined their rooms. Moments later, she tried to rouse herself to go after him but failed. She waited, listening to hear movement in his room, her was mind a riot. One moment she found herself wishing he would return to her but the very next moment she found herself praying that he would not. `Not tonight' she convinced herself. 

To calm herself, she sat back in bed determined to think only about tomorrow. The immediate tomorrow. She forced herself to think only of the mundane things like the list of drugs which Moyo needed and toiletries… Then the silence of the house distracted her. Soon she knew she was alone in that house but it was not for long because like Kole, her past rushed over her, pulling her. Its stark reality dragging her along on a journey which she had known was inevitable but which she had stubbornly resisted for far too long. Ever since she found her grandmother's journals.


[1] Night Guard

[2] Traditional men’s trousers

[3] God/Goddess of the ocean

[4] Save me! Please, my child.

[5] He is dead?

[6] Did I commit an abomination when I married you?

[7] Vegetable soup

[8] Three penny bit

[9] God is greater than she is.

About the author

Bunmi Oyinsan has an MA from Saint Mary’s University, Halifax Nova Scotia and a PhD from York University, Canada. She has published novels in addition to several short stories in anthologies and literary journals. view profile

Published on July 08, 2020

140000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Literary Fiction