London Wife: by Ayodeji Benedicta Matuluko

Photo credit: images.nationalgeographic.com

Ibadan is quiet most mornings. You wake up to the sound of grains hitting an asbestos roof. The old man in the house opposite your apartment has started feeding the blackbirds that perch below his veranda. The woman whose shop is below the roof never complains when Baba starts feeding the birds. She is used to the grains and the squeaking birds by now.

You reach for your wristwatch on your side table. The time is 7:15am. It will be 6:15am in London. He called you yesterday to tell you they will now be one hour behind. You have 30 to 35 minutes to get ready for work. You mumble a few words in prayer. You have tired of fervent prayer, as it doesn’t seem your prayers are going to be answered any time soon. You break into song in the shower and surprise yourself with how easily the words leave your mouth. “When the spirit of the Lord is upon my soul, I will dance like David danced” you sing. But you don’t dance and you don’t feel, you just sing slowly.

At 7:47am you are already walking down the road. You greet the woman in the stall by the right, close to the PHCN cement pole. She doesn’t acknowledge your greeting and you reckon she is still upset about the other day. You replay the scene over in your mind and suddenly decide you should be the one who is upset. You went to her stall to buy a few provisions and by mistake, caused some of her displayed goods to fall and slide down the road with potholes and puddles of muddy water left after the rains. You ran along to pick up the cans of evaporated milk and corned beef. When you came back to her stall, the fallen items cradled in your arms, she eyeballed you and told you to drop ‘her things for her’. You didn’t like the way she spoke, but you said nothing about it. You remembered Ireti telling you that people in Ibadan are crazy. Insults are the food they eat and the air they breathe. Insults are even their way of recreating. An Ibadan person abuses for fun. If such abuse comes to your hearing and is directed at you, you feel stung and feel the urge to reply your detractor. When you do reply, you will most likely lose; lose to your opponent and lose your dignity. You remembered this and kept quiet. The woman continued talking and said that if she knew you would help her scatter her goods she would not have stood up to attend to you at all. After all what had you come to buy? Just a tin of powdered milk and a tin of Milo, with just a bottle of groundnuts in addition. She said all this in fluid Yoruba laced with her funny Ibadan intonation. You collected your change from her, not uttering anything from your lips and made your way home while she grumbled and grumbled and spat to the ground. You could still hear her voice when you got to your apartment and were pulling off your clothes.

You get to work at 7:55am this morning and say silent thanks in your heart again for the closeness of your work place to home. You open the shop and wait for the cleaner and the sales girl to resume. You mutter in slight frustration about their persistent lateness.

Life in Ibadan makes you happy, that is, when you are not thinking about all that has gone wrong in your life and when you are careful to avoid getting in trouble with an abusive stall woman. When you moved here with Kola three months ago you were quite the skeptic. The both of you had just gotten married. Your wedding had been a small one, compared to what you had always imagined. You had your traditional wedding first, that Saturday morning, in your father’s compound and then hurried to dress up and get to St. Raphael’s Catholic Church for your white wedding. You had the wedding reception at Ariyo Grammar School’s playing field. You had been unlucky that rain had fallen that morning and hence the sand and the grass on the field were wet. Your heels dug into the wet sand as you danced, or struggled to dance, and you had to pull your rented wedding gown up to prevent it from getting stained by the mud. It took a lot of restraint for you not to cry that day, and instead you feigned a smile and danced as Ayefele’s voice bellowed from the speaker, ‘Do ti fa mi so la do do do do re mi’.

Kola had surprised you by announcing that he will be moving to Ibadan and in matters like this you had no say. Saying you decided to move would be out of place, because, of course you had to move with your husband. In the past, getting a job had not always been easy for Kola and not even you, although you managed to keep yours. He left job after job; was probably fired, but never told you. He said he had started some business with some friends who were based in Ibadan and that both of you needed to move there to be closer to the business. He won’t tell you exactly what the business was but he told you that once it ‘clicked’ you will see that he knew what he was doing. You resigned at your secretary job at the small primary school and moved with your husband to the Pacesetters state. He said he had an aunty who has a supermarket and was looking for an assistant to help her manage it while she tended to other matters. He looked very happy while he told you this and made it seem to you like you were getting a promotion from your present state in life; common secretary to ‘assistant manager’. You started work and Kola tended to his ‘business’. Life in Ibadan was good.

You were not sure if it was that the business had really clicked or Kola’s people were chasing him from his village with the curse of indecision. He announced to you four weeks and three days after your stay in Ibadan that he would be travelling to the UK, to make a ‘better life’ for the two of you. You did not know what to think. He didn’t even give you a chance to think. In three weeks he was gone, with all of his things. Gone. Completely gone. He said he would work things out soon and you would be joining him. He promised. You hoped he would keep his promise. You liked the idea of moving to the UK, but you were uncomfortable with how it all happened. Kola would not give you full details. You had a sordid fight one night because of that. You wanted to know if your suspicions were true. He had acquired a fake passport and visa, right? He told you to shut up; it was none of your business.

It really turned out to be none of your business, because you never said anything about it to him again and he never offered any explanation. He left on that Thursday night with the British Airways flight; his hand luggage his ever faithful JanSport backpack in which was an extra cardigan and one jean jacket among other things. His friends had told him to come prepared because it was getting cold over in London. You followed him to the airport with his younger sister and his senior brother. You couldn’t help it, the tears came out. You covered your face with one hand, embarrassed, but he drew you close and told you to take heart. “Take heart”, that was all he said, not even, “I love you” or “I’ll miss you”. Take heart. “Take heart Shade”.

Now, taking heart is all you are doing. Kola has been gone for 8 lonely months and 6 worry-filled days. His calls have become infrequent, though he didn’t call frequently in the past. You have started to hear stories. It’s not that you care much for them. But they have been increasing and they have become more troubling. Funmi told you she heard from someone that he has started doing some really dirty business somewhere in North London. What ‘dirty business’, she did not say. Pamilerin said she also heard from someone that knows someone that Kola once shared a room with in Essex, that he is now making good money, but they are not sure what kind of work he has been doing. You know he has been making ‘okay’ money because at least he sent some clothes, shoes and Elizabeth Arden perfume through Hussein the last time he came visiting. But you still don’t know what kind of work he does. He always avoids that type of discussion.

A random friend you haven’t spoken to in ages calls you up and says she heard you got married. How nice, she says. And she hears your husband is in England too. How she heard, you do not know. You have not gone around telling anybody your man is in the UK, not just because it’s none of their business, but because you are not even consciously aware he is in the UK. To you he is somewhere in the sky. In a land where you cannot see him, a land probably flowing with milk and honey, yes, but a land where he basically just exists. You don’t imagine him on the tube or in buses, or in a house more so, eating or sleeping. To you he just exists, and especially now that you haven’t heard from him in 2 weeks. And so your friend goes on to ask how you are putting up with all of it. You wonder what she means by it and answer her that, of course it is not easy to have a husband who lives in a totally different continent. She is silent and makes a slight humming sound and you realise maybe that was not what she meant. You find out you are right, for she says that is not what she meant. You ask her then what she means and she asks if you are sure you don’t know.

Now you are confused. She has stopped talking and you are both silent now and then she says she will talk to you later. You immediately tell her not to hang up and insist she tell you what she knows. She says she thought you knew your husband has a British wife. You laugh and throw your head back; just like your mother used to laugh when she was in her lightest of moods.

“Bisi, you are joking”, you say. She tells you she is serious. She does sound serious. She then tells you to check his Facebook. Facebook? Now two things are on your mind. One, how does your long lost Bisi know your husband’s Facebook and two, how are you supposed to know what is on his Facebook when you have not signed up for an account? You don’t ask Bisi any of these aloud and tell her thank you, and that you will check. She says bye and wishes you the very best. After hanging up, you are suddenly angry at her for even calling and spoiling your day and daring to wish you the very best. The girl has always been full of herself, behaving like she is better than everyone else and waiting to gloat over other people’s failures. You know she is enjoying it. You decide not to believe any of what she has said. But the next day, as if taken by a spirit, you find your way to that cybercafé with the big signboard at Bodija and pay for 30 minutes of internet time.

You want to type ‘www.facebook.com’, but stop at ‘c’ and think that instead you should just type his name into Google to see if it will yield any result. You type ‘Kola Abolade’. Different results come up. None of them is your Kola. You retype into the search engine, ‘Adekola Abolade’. When you click on one of the search results you find yourself on Facebook and what you notice at once almost throws you off balance. You draw your seat closer to the screen and try to shield your computer, like other people might know that you are spying. You convince yourself that you are not. After all it is your husband’s Facebook page. You draw in a deep breath and click on his profile picture to take a closer look and now you do not need any further confirmation of what you saw earlier. In the picture he is standing on a neat walkway, not like the ones back home, and a woman is standing by his side. She is white. Even a blind man will notice that first. In the background you see a tall red bus with the number 73 printed in bold black ink on a yellow screen at the front of the bus. There also a few shops in the background and many people holding shopping bags or holding food and munching away. Kola and the woman are holding hands, they are smiling. They look very happy. The white woman has black flowing hair almost reaching her bottom, you notice, because she has turned a bit to her side in the picture. She has a really tiny waist which is visible in her black tank top, and wide hips that sit nicely in her printed joggers. Kola is holding some bags in his hand, grinning like a toddler that has just been gifted a new toy car. You notice ‘H&M’ printed in red, on one wide bag and something ‘MARK’ on another. Right now you are numb; you don’t know what to even feel. You move the mouse up and the cursor rests on the picture. You click and you are taken to another page where you are told to log in. Your session has timed out. You buy another hour of internet time and this time, really get down to business. You are back on his page. There are a couple of comments beside the picture with him and the white woman. “Congratulations”, most of them have written. “Olorun a se yin ni ore ara yin”, another has written. One person has written “Is this our wife?” Kola has commented under the comment “Na so I see am o. We thank Jah” The guy has written in reply “Omo, she make sense”, and Kola again “Your guy get correct eye now

Now you are boiling. You really don’t know what to think. You really don’t know. You have gone through his page. There are more pictures of him and the white woman. Too many in fact. You are not just angry at Kola, you are angry at his disrespect. You know not many of his friends or yours were invited to your wedding and not many people know you as his wife, but you are boiling at the nerve of him to disrespect your marriage like this.

You log out and keep your slip. You still have 20mins online. You have not made it home before the tears start clouding your eyes and you cannot even see your way clearly as you walk down the street. You get home and lock yourself indoors. You are writhing and rolling and crying and hitting things. You want to run mad now. You start trying numbers. You have gone through your call log and want to call the numbers that Kola has ever used to call you in the past. You try each one; there are so many of them. He has never called you with a particular number. The first three numbers you call are unreachable; when you dial the fourth one, you hear a lady’s British accent and you jerk yourself up from your chair, anger already welling up inside you, but you soon realise it is just the recorded voice of the voice mail lady and you are being asked to leave a message. You hang up immediately. You are determined; you try another number and are actually shocked when you hear the familiar voice at the other end. You are silent, but he keeps saying “hello, hello”. You are not sure if he knows it is you, for you think he might not have picked up if he knew. As if reading through your mind, you hear him say “Hello Shade”.

Your throat hurts. You gulp.

“Kola. Yes it’s me Shade”

“Of course now, I know. How are you?”

The nerve of him to ask how you are. You are now frying up inside. You want to keep playing along and answer “I am fine”, but then that same spirit takes over you and all the words come jumbling out.

You talk fast, you scream crazy, you cry, and he is still on the other line, listening, not saying anything. You can hear his breathing, it annoys you. You are now crying heavily, the phone is still on your ear and he has started talking. Telling you how you like jumping into conclusions. Telling you that you should stop crying. Telling you how he can’t explain everything now, where he is, but he will call tomorrow to tell you everything. He hangs up before you can protest. When you try the number again few minutes later, it is switched off. You cannot sleep that night. You roll from side to side and cry like a baby. You contemplate suicide, but soon you are awake and you don’t remember when you slept off.

He calls you that morning while you are at work. You enter into the toilet and sit down to listen to him. “Let me just tell you”, he starts “there is a reason why those pictures are on my Facebook page”. Okay, fine he admits that there are some things that don’t add up. No, of course you are not stupid. Yes, he got married, but no, don’t you get it? It’s just for the papers. Yes, the papers. You see, soon he will divorce her and after he has settled it all and has his papers you can come and join him and everything will be good, he promises.

You ask, so why the pictures on Facebook? Why this kind of humiliation? He answers that they are there so that it will be believable and besides she is on Facebook too. If he doesn’t put up pictures of her and of both of them together, Brianna will start to suspect. It annoys you that he calls her by her name- Brianna, that he doesn’t refer to her as ‘white woman’ like you do. You are angry.

You continue to ask questions and argue. He begs you and tells you to be patient. “Be patient. You will see”, he says.

Days after, you have stopped talking to him. His calls have increased, but you ignore them or answer them and say nothing on the other end; he’s trying to placate you and make you see reason.

Soon he has won you over and now you anticipate the day when you will go and get your own visa. The day when you will leave the shores of this country and the day you will become a London wife.

 


Ayodeji Benedicta Matuluko (@pharm_ay) is a Pharmacist who has been writing since she could string words together. For her writing is a way of being and an essential mode of expression. She also likes to explore different interests while she combines her love for science and the written word. Her short stories have appeared on naijastories.com and nigerianstalk.org.

When she’s not busy playing Pharmacist or fussing about getting a perfect sentence, she can be caught trying to perfect her use of sarcasm, baking, sewing, day-dreaming about the places she would love to travel, or giggling at the oddest of things.

Related country: Nigeria

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