Behind Mud Walls S01 E04: “The Cult of Silence.”

“Adegbola, let us find a solution to this problem!” Mowunmi said, her hands on her waist.

Adegbola licked his fingers and swallowed hard before responding. “You’re talking as if I’m just sitting still and doing nothing. Am I not drinking all the herbal concoctions I can find?”

“I’m talking about something more. Let us tell our parents what’s happening!”

Adegbola sat away from his food and frowned at her. “Tell them what? Look Mowunmi, this is not a serious issue that we can’t resolve between us!”

“It is o! Ah, it is! We’ve been married for almost a year and I’m still a virgin. Have you heard of such a thing before?”

“I’ve told you several times that I’m not impotent…”

“That’s what you keep saying but you’ve not been able to make a woman out of me!”

“Go and ask about me!” he yelled.

“Adegbola!” Mowunmi pointed at her chest. “I should go and ask about you?”

“Yes!” he spat, frustrated. He couldn’t understand his impotence, he’d been a very virile man who had had women swooning over him. He sprang to his feet swiftly.

“Look, I’m beginning to suspect that you’re the cause of my misfortune. I’ve never had any difficulty in bedding a woman. Go and ask of Adegbola, son of Adegoke of the Olaadepoju household. They know me!”

Mowunmi was hurt, surprised and insulted. She began to weep at her husband’s words, how else could she be supportive of a man who was insistent on hiding a problem that they desperately needed a solution to? How could he accuse her of being the cause of his problems?

“There you again, you cry over every little thing!”

“How can you accuse me of a problem that you had before I married you?”

“I think you’re deaf. Didn’t you hear what I said about my virility before I married you? My mother was right, I shouldn’t have married you.”

“My mother too was right! She warned me not to marry you. Look at the trouble I’m in now!”

“Why wouldn’t you have married me? Who wouldn’t want to marry into a wealthy home? See your cheeks, fuller than when I married you. Look at the clothes you are wearing, are they not different from those faded ones you were wearing when I first met you?”

Mowunmi was too stunned at his words to reply him. She stared at him and wondered what her husband truly thought of her.

“Then let me go.” She said after a while. “Let me go back to my father’s house. If you think that I’m less than you deserve, or that I am the cause of your problem, let me go. At least I’m still a virgin, my bride price will be full and I will carry my own children.”

Before Adegbola could recover from her words, she went out of the house and left him staring at the empty clay dishes still full of his dinner.

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*********

“Please ask of someone else.” Adegbola said irritably to Oni who had just asked of Mowunmi.

“I should ask of someone else?” he smiled. “You two had a fight didn’t you?”

“The woman is problematic, she’s always nagging me.”

Oni shielded his face from the sun and looked at his friend who was sweating profusely. The skin of his well-toned chest glistened and Oni was reminded of how attractive his friend was. He still couldn’t understand why Eledumare would bestow one person with so much benefits.

“What is the problem?”

“Forget about her.”

“Is it because she’s not pregnant yet?” Oni asked bluntly.

“I’m not God.” Adegbola replied lamely, wondering how to respond to this line of enquiry.

“Try someone else.”

“Hmmn?”

“You heard me. Try another woman. I’m sure that when she gives birth, Mowunmi will get pregnant too.”

Adegbola looked at his friend for a while, shook his head and resumed hoeing.

“What is it? Is it unheard of?”

“I’m not ready for another woman. That is not the solution to my problem.”

“So what is? You’ve been married for almost a year! People are counting the months. It’s not too early to start looking for another wife.”

“I love Mowunmi.”

Oni laughed. “Is that so? Marriage has softened you Adegbola! I still remember how you used to move from one girl to another. While we talked about a girl, you had already slept with her.”

Adegbola smiled, this was a much needed reminder of his past. “I’ve changed…”

“Keep quiet! Change, you?” Oni laughed.

“Nothing is impossible my friend, nothing is impossible.”

Oni saw a strange look on his friend’s face and perceived that there was more his friend was not saying.

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**********

Ireti was picking ewedu leaves with Mowunmi in the latter’s kitchen hut.

“Are you going to cook all these leaves?” Ireti asked.

“Yes, my husband is coming home with his friends. Look at the pot of stew I cooked before you came.”

Ireti’s eyes widened at the size of the pieces of meat in the pot. “Are they going to eat all this meat? Isn’t it too much?”

Mowunmi laughed. “I used to think so too when I first got married but my husband would complain all the time that the meat was too small. I quickly accepted that this is how rich people eat!”

“Is that so?” Ireti clapped her hands in amazement.

“It is my friend.”

“Hmm…” Ireti sighed and decided to say no more. Her friend was incredibly lucky and she wondered if her life would ever turn out to be half as prosperous as her friend’s.

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They finished picking the leaves and Mowunmi put them in a pot of boiling water. Looking out, she saw a pregnant woman waddling with a basket of yams on her head and a scantily clad toddler crying behind her. The pregnant woman could not care less about the crying child, she was overwhelmed by the load in her uterus and on her head. Mowunmi was angry at the woman’s seeming indifference to the child and almost reprimanded her, but she managed to keep her lips sealed.

Ireti was watching her friend and saw the raw desire, pain and anger on her face. She had tried not to interfere in her friend’s marriage but she felt it was high time they talked about her flat stomach. She feared for her friend’s reputation in the community and was curious about her situation.

“Mowunmi,” she began tentatively. “I’ll be a bad friend if I don’t ask you what’s going on. You’ve been married for almost a year and you’re not yet pregnant. What’s the problem?”

Mowunmi looked at her friend and longed to unburden her mind of her husband’s secret.

“Talk to me!” Ireti urged. “What are we friends for if we can’t confide in each other?”

Mowunmi rubbed her eyes and put her hand under her chin. “I don’t know what to do Ireti. I’m fed up!”

“What exactly is the problem?”

“Hmmn! What is the problem!” she laughed sarcastically. ”Ireti let’s talk about something else please, this matter leaves me heartbroken.”

Ireti stared. ”You never used to be secretive with me before your marriage. We hid nothing from each other!”

“Things change, when a woman gets married, she becomes initiated into a cult of silence. I say let’s talk about something else. How is your mother?”

Ireti shrugged. “I guess I will soon understand this silence you’re talking about. Alani the woodcarver’s son has asked for my hand in marriage.”

Mowunmi clasped her friend’s hands in hers. “Really?! I am so happy for you!”

Ireti rolled her eyes. “He’s poor.”

Mowunmi released her hands and sagged her shoulders. “But is he a good man? My friend, money is not everything, believe me!”

“I will accept that when I start wearing fine clothes and eating big pieces of meat like you are doing.”

Mowunmi smiled and shook her head. “Alani is not poor. He is …”

“Striving to make ends meet, like most men in this village!” She said sarcastically. “Why can’t I have someone who’s better…?”

Mowunmi smiled and allowed her thoughts to stray, Ireti could never understand her point.

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**********

Adebisi walked into her son’s house and immediately began calling out to her daughter-in-law.

“The beader’s daughter! Mowunmi!”

Mowunmi was at the back of the house, grinding pepper when she heard her mother-in-law calling for her. She sat up, wondering why she was doing so derogatorily.

“So you’re here? Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

“I’m sorry mother, I wasn’t sure if you were the one calling.”

“Aren’t you the beader’s daughter? Or who else is a beader’s daughter in this house?”

“Please don’t be offended my mother.” She pleaded on her knees.

“Mowunmi, you’re testing my patience!”

“What did I do ma?”

“It isn’t what you have done but what you haven’t done. Get up and stop kneeling like a slavegirl!”

Mowunmi scrambled to her feet and bowed her head.

Adebisi grabbed her arm and pressed her stomach roughly. “It is still flat! Mowunmi your stomach is still flat! Wait, haven’t I been patient enough? It has been a year now since you’ve been in my son’s house and you’re still childless.” She clucked her tongue at her. “And I told my son not to marry you, what exactly is your problem? Look, Adegbola is my first son and you must give him a son or get ready to be replaced. Do you hear me?”

“Yes mother.”

Adebisi undid her wrapper and brought out a small gourd. “Take this. Start drinking it now and do it for the next seven days, you should get pregnant if your womb is intact.”

Mowunmi collected the gourd and resumed her earlier stance.

“Drink it now!”

“Yes ma.”

Mowunmi poured some of the medicine in her mouth and almost threw it up.

“Swallow it! You must not throw it up!”

Mowunmi managed to keep it down, angry at the situation and intent on giving her husband a piece of her mind when he returned. Adebisi sighed deeply and looked at the morose young woman who held her hand over mouth, she seemed to be waiting for her to leave. Realizing that she had nothing else to say to her, she hissed and walked away.

Mowunmi breathed out after she left and sat on a large stone.

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**********

“So do you see your friend often?” Ibironke, Mowunmi’s mother asked Ireti.

“Yes Mother, we see each other almost every day.”

They were on their way back from the market, which Mowunmi had not been at. Ireti carried her friend’s mother’s wares and foodstuffs on her head.

“Did she tell you that she wouldn’t come?”

“No Mother, in fact the last thing we said was that we would see today.”

“So why didn’t she come?” the older woman wondered out loud.

There was a silence between them, each woman worrying about the same woman and wondering how to tell the other person.

“Ireti,” Ibironke asked calmly “Does she talk about her childlessness?”

“No Mother, I’ve tried several times to talk to her but she won’t tell me what’s really going on.”

Ibironke adjusted the wrapper on her waist and sighed. “Mowunmi…”

“There’s something going on that she doesn’t want to talk about.” Ireti blurted.

“How do you know this?” Ibironke asked, stopping to look at her.

“The last time we talked about it, she said she was fed up. But when I asked her what the problem was, she refused to talk about it. And it hurts me, because we never used to hide anything from each other.”

“Hmm…” Ibironke pondered on what Ireti said.

“Thank you my daughter, I will do something about this matter.”

“Yes Mother.”

They resumed walking as Ibironke thought on her next line of action.

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