Abibatu Abeke did not really appreciate the man she married until years after the fact.
Because it was the reason for which she had chosen him, she initially took it for granted that he was easy going and uncritical of her uniqueness as a woman. When it had become apparent to her that she needed a husband to cement her position in the village and realize her ambitions, she had mentally cast her net over the young men of Jilete. But her unusual circumstances meant she was not as familiar with the pool of marriageable men as her sister, for example would have been. And there was no way she was discussing something so critical with Aduke!
She had been contemplating taking Shadia into her confidence when Sumonu, rather fortuitously, mentioned that they would have to find someone else to help with the farm – Lasisi Ayinla was quitting after the current harvest to begin his own farm. It was the very unsubtle move of a young man hoping to marry and Abeke’s first reaction had been a profound sense of loss – here was a young man who fit her criteria perfectly. Then, when further prodding of her clueless younger brother revealed that no concrete plans had so far been set into motion, she had immediately drafted him into her plot.
The boy had been grudging, preferring instead to have a “man-to-man” conversation with Lasisi to find out if he might be open to idea of taking her to wife. What did he know about these things, a mere boy? As if she could ever live down the shame! Arranging marriages was in the purview of the women. It was rather unfortunate that the man in question did not have female relatives close enough to him. Those women would have been nudged into suggesting the idea, subtly enough that he’d think it was his. Alas, in absence of such allies, who understood the art of slyly abdicating credit for what machinations their hands wrought, Abeke resigned to the fact that her brother would have to be trusted with the delicate task.
Yet as the days went by without Lasisi taking the bait, Abeke had valiantly hidden an apprehensive mess on the inside, stoically projecting a calm to her accomplice that she did not feel.
Finally, quite expectedly, as she said to her brother, the one who stammers called out his father’s name.*
The marriage had been low key and simple, as befits a widow of her years.
Abeke and Raufu moved into Lasisi’s hut while Sunmonu chose to stay behind in their old hut. He was not alone for long, for soon as Abeke’s request for more land was approved, he was joined there by her staff of the three Mola that she commissioned from Atan. They, in turn, began earnest work on her planned kola-nut plantation.
Three arduous rain cycles have passed since then, and the plantation was finally beginning to bear its fruit.
Abeke continued her trading but her rather pointed interest in the work on her farm was obvious. Every Lusada day saw her resuming with the men after sunrise, ready to put in the work alongside her staff. They were hard workers, taciturn but respectful enough of her, accommodating of her micro-managing, forgiving of her occasional ignorant blunders. On the other market days, she would head to the farm on her way back from the lorry park, checking that all was well with her ambitious project. The few times she was unable to get to the farm, Lasisi would stroll down with her to the worker’s hut at night, sometimes by himself, to get the daily verbal report.
Her husband was busy, himself. He had been allocated the adjourning land to Abeke and her siblings’ original farm by the elders but had to take over both farms a few months after the marriage. Not at all unexpectedly, Sumonu announced that he wanted to become a driver.
The boy had always been fascinated with the lorries and their drivers, even during their exodus from the village of their birth. With Aduke’s husband owning three bolekaja, he had found his way of making his passion a reality. Within a few months, he was driving to the closer markets for their brother-in-law but that did not appease him for long. The young man was now an apprentice driver, taking the days-long trip to Ibadan and back, transporting goods for the more successful farmers and traders.
Abeke could not understand his fascination with the noisy and uncomfortable lorries. She especially did not see the allure that he so obviously felt for going away often far from home– she had done enough travelling in this lifetime – but she knew she could not stop him. He was a very nearly man now, and he had to find his own path in life.
Lasisi’s unanticipated acquisition of such a large farm put him in a position to hire some of the village young men who in need of occupation – orphans with no inherited farmland to speak of, those with much older brothers that significantly decreased their future prospects, and were yet ineligible to get farmland allocated by the elders.
In this way, Abeke and her husband grew in influence in the village; each in their own right. Their relationship, too, was simple and pain-free. Quiet companionship occupied what little time they spent together. Neither was prone to much talking or an excess of emotion, and they existed in their little family with a contentment borne of not desiring more than you have. Raufu thrived in his new home growing into boyish naughtiness in a stable home and with the company of the other children of the Iga.
The recent months have seen Abeke slowing down somewhat though; even her indomitable will was no match for a late stage pregnancy. She had gone through the early stages of her condition unscathed by the vomiting and weakness that had plagued her younger sister just the year before. Even the persistent nausea she’d suffered was tamed somewhat by her incessant chewing on ata ijosi*, a remedy she remembered from nursing her mother through her numerous pregnancies as a child herself. Those unfortunate experiences from her childhood served her well enough to convincingly play at an experienced pregnant woman, and no one was the wiser. Except for her husband, sister and friend – she had confessed to Shadia during a pre-marital anxiety attack that ended up saving her wedding night – everyone thought this was at least her second pregnancy.
That misconception had probably stalled any tongue from waggling over the two full rain cycles it had taken her to get pregnant, too. Since she had ‘proven’ her fertility once before, the villagers had been less easily triggered over how long it took her to show signs of conception. They had, it seemed, waited with a collective knowledge that it was just a matter of time…
When her time came, the women of Jilete rallied around her, a rotation of two to three were with her at all times during the endless day and night until she was delivered of a live, healthy baby boy.
No one said it, but there was a palpable sense of relief when the little one made his arrival. Kicking and screaming, his lustful cries piercing the silent nighttime calm, alerting the men waiting outside with the anxious father under a nearby tree of his safe passage into this existence. Everyone present still had a clear recollection of his aunt’s labour, a mere rain cycle before, much earlier than expected. And of the second baby who arrived much too late after her brother had been born, tired and dusky in colour. She had tried, that little girl, clinging to life with her huge gasps of breaths that grew increasingly further apart until she finally stopped and closed her eyes in peaceful rest.
Ibeji*, the village women had mumbled in commiseration, shaking their heads in sorrow. It was always a battle with them, thus the great celebration when all three survived the pregnancy and delivery process alive. Every Iya Ibeji that survived with two infants to show for her labour was a testament to the resilience of womanhood. In Aduke’s case, she had her son, Taiwo, and the unfortunate knowledge of her daughter’s unmarked grave being somewhere in the forest of the ancestors – mothers did not visit the resting place of a prematurely dead progeny.
The loss of a child mellowed Aduke, even more than marriage had done, and she had spent nearly all of her sister’s labour at Abeke’s hut; holding her hand, encouraging her through the pain, taking Raufu home with her so he could get a good night sleep. With her son strapped to her back so he could not crawl away to find any mischief, Aduke was the focal rallying point for the women who couldn’t understand how Abeke’s delivery was taking almost as long as her first-timer sister’s had done.
By the end of it all, Abeke – who had expected to approach this incidence with the practicality that made up her nature – had a greater appreciation for the role of motherhood. One could take care of a child from its birth and consider it hers, but until you have felt the sensation of a new life clawing its way out of you, through what should have been an impossible channel. Until you have lived through the worst, unimaginable pain anyone had ever experienced. Until you have come out on the other side, then forgot it all the moment a squalling bundle is placed in your arms to suckle at your breast – triggering yet another birth and the flow of life to pour from between your legs. Until then, one does not know – not really – what it means to birth a child.
Then there is the actual mothering. The months where a tiny human being takes over your life with their loud demands – sleeping, feeding and crying at the most inconsistent and inconvenient pattern. Those months passed for Abeke in a blur of breastfeeding and pacifying a wailing infant. They were the most traditionally woman months of her life.
When three full moons passed, and her womanly parts had healed, Abeke returned to the markets, the squalling infant strapped to her back. Her kola-nuts were harvested by then and she began yet another venture, employing a couple of women for the cleaning and sorting them into different grades and sizes for the different markets.
In this way time passed, life went on as it always does, marching on relentlessly while humans exist in oblivion. Abeke and her family lived with the characteristic lack of mindfulness seen in people who have no hardships to endure. Her business, her sons, and her standing in society grew steadily.
Until one otherwise unremarkable day, after a brief bout of iba that left him much more listless than was commensurate with the degree of the illness, her little son passed away unceremoniously.
*Akalolo a pe oruko baba re
Ata ijosi – peppercorn (best believe I had to google translate, then verify the image for this)
Ibeji – twins