The flames of the stove burned slowly under the pot of soft ewedu leaves, and eighteen-year-old Atinuke could tell it was ready just by looking at it.
She reached for the Ijabe and with a pleasant hum under her breath, begun to mash the leaves inside the pot.
Her mother, Mrs. Foluke was watching her from the kitchen chair with a hand to her waist.
“That’s enough,” she said after a while but Atinuke already knew that.
She reached for her Iru and seasoning and sprinkled it inside the pot; it was the last combo of the Abula soup. The Gbegiri and Obe Ata were already cooked and cooling in their pots.
“Oya, boil water so that you can start the amala. Your father will soon be back.”
And she followed her mother’s instructions.
The last daughter of a family of five, Atinuke was her mother’s handbag; Mrs. Foluke took her everywhere she went, showing and constantly filling her ears with words of wisdom. At eighteen, Atinuke was hardworking, disciplined, and courageous all because of the relentless teachings and grooming of her mother.
“I’m teaching you all these things so that when you go to your husband’s house, you will know what to do.” Her mother would always say. “Life is a battlefield my child, and marriage is not easy, you must be prepared for both.”
January 1st, 2010
Barrister Erondu sat back in his chair, pinned a finger to his chin, and eyed Atinuke across the wooden office desk. Atinuke’s head was dropped, speechlessly, she hadn’t said a word asides the greeting she extended when he invited her into his office.
Barrister Erondu heaved. He leaned forward and moved his elbows on the wooden desk separating them.
He laced his fingers, “You are my head of chambers. You’ve been with me for eight years now, and you’ve been doing great, so I’m just trying to understand this recent complacent development of yours.”
“I’m sorry sir.” She finally found her voice.
“It’s not about being sorry Mrs. Odewale, that’s not the point here. You’re slacking on your job, sometimes you don’t even come to the firm for days in a row.” He heaved before continuing, “You are like a daughter to me Atinuke, by the grace of God, I have children your age, so I can understand these things. Is there something troubling you in your marriage?”
Atinuke shook her head, “I’m just overwhelmed but I’ll do better.” She spoke with her head dropped.
Barrister Erondu leaned back in his chair, “Let’s do it this way, why don’t you take a break, hmn? Take a week or two to sort yourself out then come back when you feel mentally better to work, hmn?”
She finally lifted her gaze to his face, “That won’t be necessary sir.”
“No” He held out a palm, “I insist.”
And Atinuke stared at him.
“Take a break, go home.”
She digested his words for a while then heavily, she rose from her chair.
“I’m not relieving you of your job, so please don’t look at it that way. Come back in a few weeks.”
“Thank you, sir.”
And the older man nodded.
February 14th, 2010
Red candles, flickering on every table adorned the cozy dim hall. Rose petals sprawled the floor and the indistinct whispers of lovers rented the air.
It was a buffet dinner night and most couples had already served themselves and sat down to eat. Cutlery could be heard clinking against plates, overpowered by the live performance of the song, ‘When A Man Loves A Woman.’
“It’s so beautiful,” Ursula stated, roaming her eyes. They had arrived at their reserved table nearly twenty minutes ago and she could still not get over the beautiful scenery. “Thank you for bringing me here,” she said, lowering her gaze.
Wale smiled. He stretched his hand on the table and took her palm into his, “I should be the one saying thank you. For a long time now, my life has been boring and lonely, so thank you, for making me feel alive again.”
“I couldn’t resist bringing you here, I wanted to make our official first-date special.”
“And it is Wale.”
His eyes roamed over her body, taking in her beautiful tiny strap red dress, her ponytail hair, nude makeup that complimented her tiny nose ring.
He squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes, “You are so beautiful.”
Ursula chuckled, “You are making my head swell.”
“And it should. Not many women can look as good as you do, and it’s not just tonight, honestly, I look forward to seeing what you will wear every day at work, and you never disappoint.”
Ursula giggled, “My cheeks are hurting from smiling,”
Wale laughed. He lifted her hand to his mouth and softly placed a kiss on her skin.
When dinner was over, and he drove her back to her apartment, he put the gear into park, leaned forward, and together, their tongues waggled, in their first kiss.
Wale got home later that night.
A glance at his wrist confirmed the time, it was 11 pm. Full with the exciting night he had just had, he climbed down from his car and waltzed to his front door. He pushed the door open, stepped into the house, and quietly shut the door behind himself.
“Where are you coming from Wale?”
Startled, he flicked the light switch on to find Atinuke, sitting on the foot of the stairs, arms crossed in that old nightdress she knew he hated, and her black usual hairnet. She had almost scared him, why did she have to sit in the dark like that!
Sighing, he shrugged out of his jacket, “I was working late at the office.”
Atinuke stared at him in disbelief, “This is the fifth night in a row Wale, the fifth night that you suddenly start coming home at this hour.” She stated calmly. “I called your office line. How come no one picked if you were really there—”
“Well maybe because I don’t want to come back here!” he yelled, “I need some escape, some air!”
“Escape from what?” her brows furrowed in confusion.
“You Atinuke,” he extended his arms at her angrily, “You!”
Tears stung the corners of her eyes as she googled at Wale.
“Just look at you!” he shook his head wearily, “You’re not the woman I married. You’ve lost yourself. When was the last time you even went back to work? It’s been what? A month? What am I talking about, it’s been more than a month—”
“You don’t understand Wale—”
“Then make me!” he sank a knee before her. “I am here, I have always been here.”
She eyed him silently, hot tears jumping down her cheeks.
Wale was waiting on his knee, gazing up at her pleadingly.
Atinuke broke her stare and looked away.
Defeated, Wale sighed. He rose to his feet, “Please excuse me.”
Atinuke leaned against the rails of the stairs to give him passage.
With one step on the stairs, Wale paused to regard the silent tears running down her cheeks. Seen it many times and worn from the fact that it never changes her, he hissed and marched up the stairs.
Atinuke shuddered at the rude bang of their bedroom door, she buried her head in her palms and bawled.
Exhausted from the tears, she lumbered up the stairs, into the bedroom, and sat on her matrimonial bed. Wale scooted to the edge as he felt her presence. She glanced backward at him, heaved sadly then proceeded to lie down.
“Good morning daddy!” Five-year-old Taiwo screamed as Wale walked into the kitchen the next morning.
“My daddy!” the second twin, Kehinde echoed and Wale could not help but chuckle.
“Good morning,” Atinuke greeted him from the kitchen sink.
“Yeah, morning.” He grunted a response.
He placed a kiss each to the boy’s heads and in a cheery voice said, “How are my boys doing today?”
“Fine!” Kehinde spoke with his mouth full of cereal.
“Mummy made my best, best food!” danced Taiwo.
“Oh yeah?” Wale said. Atinuke placed a plate of sandwich and coffee before him.
“Yes!” replied Taiwo, “I love fried rice and chicken!”
Wale laughed, “You’re going to have a swell lunch at school I see.”
“And me too!” echoed Kehinde.
“You people should finish your breakfast and let’s get going, otherwise I will unpack this fried rice from your lunch boxes.”
The boys exchanged alarmed glances, buried their heads in their bowls, and rushed their cereal.
Wale chuckled, amused.
“Oya, grab your bags and let’s start going. It’s almost 7a.m”
“Bye boys!” Wale waved back at his sons over his cup of coffee.
“I’m going to drop them off,” Atinuke notified him.
He nodded. Without shifting his eyes from his phone, he took a bite from his sandwich.
As soon as Atinuke dropped the boys in their school, she drove straight to her mother-in-law’s house.
The kind woman who was a retired matron had always been fond of her, a rare friend was what she had always been to her, in the five years of her marriage.
She met her in the backyard of her house, busy in her garden.
She bent at her knees and greeted her, “E kaaro ma.”
“Ah, Atinuke my darling, how are you?”
“I’m fine ma”
“Please get up.” The older woman tapped her on the shoulder, “What brings you here so early? I was just rounding up with the plants, come, let’s go inside.”
Both women strolled, exchanging pleasantries and asking after each other’s family members.
When they stepped into the kitchen, the older woman offered Atinuke some food but she laughed it off, “Mummy, is it not me that should be cooking for you?”
“But it doesn’t mean na,” the woman lowered herself to a chair, and pointed to an empty chair opposite hers, “Sit.”
The older woman regarded Atinuke attentively, “You look sad, what’s the matter?”
Atinuke chuckled, she had never really been able to hide her emotions from her caring Mother-in-law.
“Did my son do something to you?”
And the question caused tears to well in Atinuke’s eyes.
The older woman nodded sympathetically, “It’s okay to cry, talk to me, what happened?”
“I think Wale is cheating on me. For the past five days, he’s been coming home late, but it’s not even just about that, it’s how I feel within myself. I never had any experience with children and having mine hasn’t been an easy adjustment…”
“Stop crying Atinuke, wipe your tears.”
She sniffled, “Thank you, mummy.”
“You can go on,” the older woman encouraged her with a nod.
“Combining everything, the boys, my office work, has just taken a toll on me. I’m always tired, I don’t have time to just sit and gist with Wale like we used to anymore. I’m always running around to fix this or that and I’m grateful for my kids but I just feel like I’ve aged in the process while Wale has continued to soar and now it’s like there’s a disconnect between us. I’m not the same person I used to be, I know that in my heart but I don’t even know how to be that person anymore, I just don’t feel good within me.”
The older woman nodded, “Clean your eyes, tears will not solve anything, but sometimes it’s good to shed them because they help us to relieve the heaviness in our hearts.”
“I don’t want to lose my husband.”
She smiled sadly, “You will not lose him but I will be honest with you. Atinuke?”
“Ma.” She responded with her head bowed.
“My son married a beautiful intelligent woman, while the brains are still there, I am not so sure about the former. Atinuke, you used to look better than this. I noticed but I just didn’t want to say anything. I understand that the demands of motherhood can be tiring, I know because I raised four children myself, but these our men are visual beings my daughter; they are moved by what they see!
The world has developed Atinuke, you cannot kill yourself in the name of raising your children by yourself. Hire a maid, let the workload reduce on your head so that you can have time to pamper yourself, relax, look good, and have some energy for your husband!
What am I even doing here?” She spread out her hands. “Bring the twins to me anytime you want and give your husband attention. Atinuke? Dust yourself up, find yourself again, you must!”
Atinuke’s head had remained bowed, “Thank you ma” She made to kneel.
“It’s okay, stand up, go home and think of all I’ve said.”
She nodded, brushed a hand under her nose, and rose to her feet, “Thank you, mummy.”
“Lọ si ile.”
“Thank you, ma.” With that, she made her way towards the exit door.
February 29th 2010.
“Good afternoon ma.” The secretary greeted with her hands on the computer.
Atinuke looked around the reception, “Where is Amaka?”
“I don’t know who that is ma. Who are you here to see?”
“Ah, ah, ah!!!” Mr. Erondu’s voice chanted from the top of the stairs, “Atinuke, is this you?” The older man’s feet moved down the stairs.
Atinuke moved to the edge of the stairs. She curtsied, “Good morning sir.”
“Ah!” he patted her shoulder, “This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Mrs. Oduwale,” her colleague called as he emerged from one of the offices, holding files.
“Wow, Mrs. Wale,” a female lawyer said, climbing down the stairs from behind Barrister Erondu, “Welcome ma.”
Atinuke was smiling, “Thank you, sir,” she said to Barrister Erondu.
“You can see, everybody is happy to see you. How is the family?”
“You look fine”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Wow, good morning ma” another Lawyer emerged.
“Thank you Ibrahim.”
“Keep those reports in the back seat,” Mr.Erondu directed Ibrahim, “We will use two cars.”
And the lawyers began making their way out.
“We are in court this morning. I hope you are back to work?”
“Oh yes sir!” Atinuke responded zealously.
“I can see, you are already dressed in black. Grab your wig and gown from your office and meet us outside.”
“Okay, sir.” She said and jogged up the stairs to the office that she solely occupied.
March 10th, 2010.
Wale laughed excitedly over the phone, “Babe, are you for real?”
“Yes,” Atinuke smiled at the other end of the phone.
“Are you wearing that right now?” He commented on the photo Atinuke had just sent to his WhatsApp; posing in their neatly made bed, wearing black lacy lingerie, with neat box braids, falling all the way to her back.
“Come and see for yourself…”
“How about the boys?”
“They are still at their lesson, but you should be worrying about this warm heat of mine. Hurry, before it gets dry.” She teased.
“Ah!” Wale jumped from his office desk and snatched his car key sitting on the table, “Better stay that way o, I’m coming right away!”
As he dashed towards his door, Ursula opened it from the other side. She smiled up at him with files tucked under her arms. “Hi, babe.”
Wale stopped impatiently in his tracks. He pulled her into the office and shut the door, “Listen,” he raised his hands in the air, “I’ve been meaning to tell you this, I’m sorry but I can’t see you anymore.”
Ursula’s brows furrowed in confused shock.
“You are a nice girl but I really love my wife. We were going through a rough patch hence my time with you but we are fine now so,” he clasped his hands together, “E ma binu, let’s end this. Good thing your passing out parade is in a few weeks so we don’t have to see each other again. I have to run!”
With that, he dashed out of his office, leaving Ursula stunned and frozen to her spot.
Wale jumped into his car and raced home. He barged into the house, startling the weekly maid, ignoring her confused glare, he rushed up the stairs and into their bedroom. Atinuke was posed in the bed.
“Ah!!!” He exclaimed excitedly, “I don die today” and began struggling out of his clothes.
Atinuke could not help the laughter.
She chuckled happily and watched as her husband hurriedly pulled off his clothes…
She felt happy, good even. It had been fun and laughter with her husband in the past weeks,
a friendship she hadn’t even realized how much she missed…
“Babe I swear you look beautiful!” Wale commented as he climbed into the bed, “And you smell so good too.” With that, he took his wife’s lips into his and kissed her, passionately.
WRITTEN BY KYLIE JOY TERUNDU.
- Ewedu – local Yoruba soup.
- Ijabe – Ewedu broom.
- Iru – locust beans
- Lọ si ile – Go home.