Mama was a weirdo. There was no better description of her. I knew it from the day I was born. Every atom of her being gave her true identity away without a word of introduction; it was through the milk that flowed from her nipples, to her ever dry palms that reminded me of dry leaves every single time I touched them, to her brushy kisses that was void of tenderness and down to the distinctive smell of spices. She almost always smelled of spices and was indeed full of them.
Mama was the wordiest person I knew. She said a lot of things hoping we would grasp them quickly but we seldom did and might never fully do nor even bother ourselves to understand them. To us, her words were like riddles for the old, too outdated for contemporary minds like ours. While we talked about currents issues like the billions of dollars the youngster Mark Zuckerberg was making from Facebook, WhatsApp and my favourite Instagram, or Uncle Eze’s mate Bill Gates being one of the richest persons in the world while he continues to take in new wives and bear children he couldn’t train and then Mama’s own mate Ibukun Awosika who is the chairman of FirstBank. Or the times we drool at how Luipita Nyongo kills every role, and scream at Adeswua Etomi being featured on Vogue magazine, Mama literally lived in a world of her own, a stereotyped one at that. In there, men got educated, worked and provided for their homes while women sat cap in hand or at best paraded themselves like peacocks in anticipation for a good man to come for their way. An ambition, she said every woman needed to pursue with all fierceness and the main goal of that union was to bear children, her grandchildren.
Mama often bragged that a woman glowed like the sun when there was a man in her life, especially if the man was good. And so the target of a woman was to find not just any man but a good one. She emphasised on the ‘good’ as though that would help us understand what she meant but we didn’t care.
If there was anything she did more than she drank water was to warn, me and Nonye, my younger sister, sternly against being in the league of ‘good naive girls’ who fall prey for the bad boys that had nothing to offer. I always wanted her to define the word, ‘good’ and how she could sieve them out of the crowd. Was there a tag they wore on their foreheads that distinguished them or did she naturally have a detector that gave her the signal. Without an answer from her, I could sense Mama’s definition.
Mama’s ‘good man’ was a man who had enough money to take proper care of her daughters and was generous enough to extend some goodness to the rest of the family. She believed that any man marrying either Nonye or I was marrying the entire family and even relatives we hardly could trace in the family tree. In-laws were meant to increase the family wealth and not take from it, according to her.
“I have paid the price by marrying a man like your father, you both should learn from my mistake and aspire to have better lives,” she would say.
No one blamed her much for making statements like that. Papa had affairs that produced two children but what’s worst was he kept living in denial even after series of DNA tests. Whatever reason best known to Mama, she stayed, endured the shame and pain that came along with the disgrace and moved on. She was never one given to pity parties and didn’t like to be consoled either. Even when she heard her cousin, Nna, a victim of Xenophobia, had been burnt in South Africa, she didn’t shed a tear. In the midst of this tragic news, I was filled with a sense of relief that at least my wedding would be postponed but after the wake we had for him, but Mama ended her speech the next day with the words, “life goes on.”
Nonye and I tried to shake off the feeling but it wouldn’t go away, “how can someone be so cold,” we whispered to ourselves and shrugged our shoulders. From then on we called her ‘Stonecold’.
Whether she cried or not, no one ever got to find out. She did a perfect job in shielding her emotions. Nonetheless, her misfortune was like a scar that turned back to a sore from time to time, dripping afresh but one mission she lived for was to guard her daughters like a hen would against bad boys.
Unlike Mama, I had a more streamlined definition of good and bad. To me, no one had the ability to be completely good as there were always traces of bad in us all. But bad, for me, appeared in two forms, Baridum my boyfriend of four years and Ugonna, my husband to be.
Baridum wanted all the benefits that came with dating from spending weekends at his place, to washing his cloths, cooking and maintaining his one room apartment but dreaded marital commitment. I tried so hard to understand him and play along all the years we were together up until last month. I understood perfectly he was still finding his feet and was going through a lot of hassle putting his life together. I even gave excuses for him, played dumb most of the time and diligently hid my relationship with him from Mama. Mama categorised his type as either broke, struggling or managing. She had no patience with those kind of men because none were fit to marry any of her daughters especially not me. She said she had deliberately named me Obiageli. In her words, “I came to eat” and no one can change that.
On the other hand, Ugonna was the wealthy one. We all knew he earned his money from illegal businesses. Once, there was a rumour of him being an internet fraudster or as we call it a ‘yahoo boy’. Another time we learnt he operated a fake real estate company but no one probed him and with time the news died down. Instead he received two chieftaincy titles and drove around without repentance. He was the type of man that wanted to spend his ‘hard earned’ money on a good, innocent girl at the price of her loyalty while he kept other concubines. He was domineering and wanted to always be in charge. He wanted a girl that would quietly escort him to his boring local government meetings, give him children and cook native meals. “Obia, hope you can prepare Ofe Nsala and correct pounded yam?” he would ask in his heavy Igbo accented voice.
“Ahn ahn, I trained her well na,” Mama would reply.
Around him, I forced myself to smile but couldn’t hide my irritation. I felt he needed bodyguards for his meetings, a baby making machine to birth children for him, and most importantly a cook but not a wife. Mama thought I was been too irrational, insensitive and totally unreasonable. “Obia, stop frowning, those are the simple things a woman is supposed to do for her husband. Ugonna is a really good man.”
“Really good?” he now had double promotion. He had obviously won Mama’s heart and I was doomed for life. There was no turning back now.
Despite Baridum’s bad, I still thought of him and how I was able to summon the courage to call things off with him. That day, I paced the fall, sweated and stuttered before I could say the three words I never imagined possible, “I’m moving on.”
After those parting words, I watched him walk against the wind and my heart sank because that day was the beginning of new discoveries. The discovery of being pregnant for him. I had discovered this that morning but Ugonna and I had started planning our wedding. I would discover later that Mama pressed hard for the wedding because she knew of the pregnancy and was certain it wasn’t Ugonna’s.
Apparently she had noticed it during one of my morning sickness episodes. It became our little secret and we never talked about it. She didn’t need to tell me what to do, I knew the trick already- claim I was still a virgin, seduce Ugonna to get him between my thighs then go crying to him I was carrying his baby. Without a bet, we knew Ugonna would fall for it. Men always fell for this trick. It was the very same trick Mama had played on Papa, the same her elder sister used on her husband and so many other women had mastered this craft.
Most times many men, even Papa, never got to find out their first children weren’t theirs. That was a secret women like Mama were ready to take to their graves and now I was following the same footprints. Both Baridum and Ugonna didn’t deserve to know the truth. Now more than ever, I’m more convinced that bad boys got what they deserve, devils in angel clothing.
But sometimes with a stroke of luck, bad boys got good girls that could never measure up their evil. With this realisation, I knew deep down that I was going to run off to a distant place leaving Ugonna at the altar. I just couldn’t stand playing the lie all my life.
Written by Jennifer Chioma Amadi
IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER