“All lizards have their belly to the ground. One cannot tell which of them has a stomach ache.” – Yoruba saying
“Another whore! What is wrong with this woman?” Akani thought to himself. The disgust he felt inside was clearly etched on his face as he looked at the little creature his third wife was clutching. He said nothing as he looked at the child. That tiny brown baby girl with the daintiest features was barely a day old. She looked as if freshly ground kohl had just been applied to the rims of her eye lids. Her fingers were drawn into fists as she lay there bundled up against her silent mother whose eyes remained downcast. She was wrapped in an azure blue blanket splattered with a design of little gold crowns that had been chosen for the son that was expected. She was beautiful. Akani picked up a corner of the blanket as one would a soiled used handkerchief from a filthy gutter along the road. He was actually checking to see if perhaps everyone had made a mistake about the gender of this child.
“So, this is it.” He managed to say flatly. It was as much a question as it was a statement. “Is this all this damned woman can do?” he thought to himself. His face twisted in further disgust with each word he left unspoken. He let go of the edge of the blanket and turned as if to leave the room. He really could not bear to look at another girl child; disgusting little creatures who come to eat you out of house and home. And for what reason? They could not carry on your name. They always ended up as some man’s whore. They were only good for making babies. Even if you spent money on sending them to school, what was the assurance that they wouldn’t open up their legs and get pregnant before they got to the point when they could get a job and earn some money? Worse yet, the ones who became wealthy still ended up in some other man’s house and their money stayed more with the husband and some stupid in-laws. What was the point?There is little to be gained by fathering a girl child. This foolish woman that he had spent so much money in the hopes of teaching his other wives a lesson, had done no better than the two before her. Perhaps he was cursed. Perhaps he had been cursed by one of these foolish women. Were women not witches after all?
There was not a sound to be heard in the room as Akani walked out. Save for the flapping noise of his rubber slippers on the linoleum covered floor leading away from Abeni’s room, there was not a sound to be heard. Even the noise from the busy streets nearby seemed distant. The silence Akani left behind lingered for a few moments and then as if to bring everyone back to this world, the baby let out a piercing hungry cry. Abeni was startled by her own child’s cry and the other three women in the room came alive at once. “Feed your child!” they chided in chorus. “Your baby is hungry.” As if by some secret pact, no one mentioned what had just occurred in the room with Akani. When compared to the stillness and silence that had possessed the room earlier, the rash of activity that now descended on it seemed frenzied. To the unknowing person it was simply women going about the business of taking care of one of their own kind who had just brought another life through the unpredictable channel of child birth. These women knew their place. Survival and custom had cut off their tongues and sealed their lips.
Akani was noticeably absent at the child’s naming ceremony. It was a good thing that the naming of the child was not left to him alone. The child might just as well have remained nameless. His mother and Abeni’s had come to announce the names their husbands had given to the child. Although each woman now lived with one of her children, they had accepted the far reaching supreme power of their husbands over their lives and had sought out the men who were their masters and to whom they still paid homage as custom dictated so that they could name this grandchild properly. Women had to do well in the eyes of society. Impropriety was a man’s prerogative. Happiness was not to be found in a husband’s home. A man’s home was the school of hard knocks. Abeni had only just begun her journey as a wife. The gargantuan task lay ahead. The older women would have to convince Akani to get Abeni pregnant one more time.
Marriage was the institution that lent legitimacy to a woman. After all a woman could not have a child by herself. A woman’s happiness had to be found in her children or in serving her husband and his clan. Whatever a woman becomes she is nothing without children. A tree after all, could get no higher than its topmost leaf. No woman could rise higher than a man. Omosegbe’s grand mothers were well adjusted women. They accepted their role and played their part to the fullest. They had been chosen by men. They had married. They had had children. They had suffered at the hands of their men and oppressive mothers-in-law. They had been abandoned for new women by their men and now finally, they lived with one of their children. Now here they were preparing to welcome another female child into the cult of womanhood. They were grateful to have survived it all. They had no greater dreams than they had lived for their new grandchild.
Each grand-mother had left her husband’s home under the guise that she was going to help take care of her grandchildren. They simply had never returned to their husband’s house. They showed up when occasion dictated. They greeted everyone genially, did their part and left. This method of escape was the polite way for older women. They knew they were no longer needed by their husbands who had long replaced them with younger versions despite any protests they may have made. They knew well the fate that awaited their replacements. Some of their contemporaries who remained behind did so because they had nowhere else to go; the others stayed to save face. Long suffering is to be admired in women, even if in actuality they suffered pointlessly. The harshness one withstood could be used as artillery against ones son’s wives if one was lucky and had sons.
Everyone who had ears had heard a many a mother-in-law remind her daughter in-law of how lucky the younger woman was because it had been much worse in previous eras. “At least my son still eats the food you cook. My son has not once asked you to cook for his new wife. Be glad that he has not brought his concubines home to live with you.” Some older women would chirp. Privately, however, some women hoped to outlive the one who ruled by virtue of male genitalia in order to ensure their children’s place in the ranks of a myriad of children born by fellow wives. These women knew they had been replaced many times over, but they choose to remain like well trained elephants that had been unleashed but still perceived that their fetters were in place. Some ousted women thought it better to stay and make scapegoats of other women and their children since they believed that they could not win a battle against the man they had married – the one who brought women home as he pleased. Women fought women for the shadow of a man.
Iya Abeni and Iya Akani knew their place. They knew there was nothing to be gained from discussing how Akani treated the child. This child was destined to be every bit of a real woman; she began her suffering early in the form of her father’s absolute rejection. Akani was a man. He had every right to feel the way he felt and to say the things he did. So the women went about their business of conducting the naming ceremony. Free running salt, honey with parts of the honey comb still intact, shelled kernels of alligator pepper, dried fish, dazzling red palm oil, firm and Bata kola-nuts wrapped in leaves and fresh cool water were laid out.The child was named on the eighth day as custom dictated. They wished her a life that would be as sweet as honey. As pepper and salt add spice to food, they wished her an interesting life. They dropped beads of water, the source of all life into the child’s mouth. As the child had tasted of the traditional offerings, everyone present did the same. The child’s father had gone to work at the medical department at the university as usual. He had lectures to conduct. He had science to teach. He had young minds to attend to while his own child that he had refused to name was being introduced to the world.