Uju Cole is my best friend, we’ve been friends for the past thirteen years and even though we don’t get to see each other as often we want, it hasn’t affected our relationship. She’s still the one person I feel most comfortable telling anything. She lives on the island but always makes an effort to see me whenever she’s on the mainland. From our recent chat, she’s become worried at my state of mind so she’s here in my house on an unexpected visit.
As soon as we’re alone in the sitting room, she looks earnestly at me and asks.
“What is going on?”
“What do you mean nothing? I came all the way from Ikoyi to hear nothing?”
I look away from her and lean my back on the sofa. “Uju, I don’t know how much more I can stand being in this marriage.”
“You said as much on WhatsApp. What I want to know is, why?”
“I thought I was throng Uju but I’m not. Things are hard and Dayo is just not the kind of man that is willing to do what it takes to be successful…”
“What do you mean? I thought you married him because he was ambitious…”
“I made a mistake Uju, Dayo is a dreamer. He talks big but he’s not willing to hustle. He’s too relaxed to make a move!”
She sighs. “So you want to divorce him?”
“No, I won’t do that but I won’t live like I don’t have options either.”
“What does that mean?” Uju asks.
“I’m smart, I’m always looking for opportunities. You know me Uju, you know how I used to be when we were in school!”
She looks at me strangely.
“I know you can’t understand how I feel. Your husband is a company executive, you’re doing well in your architecture company. You’re not struggling, you don’t know what it means to be married to a man who won’t reach out for more.”
“Have you tried to talk to him?”
“What am I supposed to say? Step up?”
“No, of course not. You can be more diplomatic than that…”
I shake my head, she simply cannot understand how I feel.
“I got an offer, it’s a one-month job with a multi-national company. They’re paying about a million.”
“Dayo doesn’t want me to go.”
She gasps, now she gets it.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m dealing with. He won’t rise and he doesn’t want me to rise.”
“In other news, I need your help please. Can I get a loan from you?”
She smiles sadly, this has happened too many times. “Of course.”
I decide to try Uju’s suggestion, perhaps I can talk some sense into Dayo.
“Have you thought about applying to another company?”
He looks at me then wipes his face with the towel in his hands.
“Yeah I have.”
“Really?” It’s quite unbelievable. “Where are you thinking about?”
“I’m thinking that they’ll say I’m too old.”
I sag my shoulders. “What?”
“They’ll probably say I’m too old. Besides, I’ve been doing this sales job for almost five years now, they’ll probably say that I don’t have much experience.”
“But you’ve been promoted at work. You’re now a supervisor, you’ll get a good job as a sales manager.”
He laughs. “I don’t have an MBA…”
“But you can sell…”
“We both know that most of these companies are looking for certifications.”
“Okay then, you can work towards getting an MBA…”
“And how are we supposed to afford that?”
I look at him in dismay. “So you’ll just give up? Do you want to work at BerryFoods forever?”
He look at me sternly. “Of course not. I just have to find a better option.”
“I can stay at BerryFood and get promoted with time or I can start my business.”
“I’ve really been thinking about it. I can own a wholesale outlet for BerryFoods, instead of being in traffic trying to deliver goods, I can be in my store and they’ll bring it to me.”
“You want to own a shop, you’ll be sitting in a shop all day?”
“It’s not a woman’s job. Anyone can own a wholesale outlet, besides I’ll be less stressed, my time is my own and I can help more with the boys.”
I shake my head in utter unbelief, how did I not see how unambitious this man was before I married him?
“I know you might not like the idea now but think about it.”
Stunned, I lie down on the bed and see Dayo seated on a low stool counting boxes and surrounded by shouting petty traders.
Remi is in my house, just as I’m about to prepare dinner. Tomiwa comes into the sitting room with a cup of garri and I hope that Bimbo doesn’t notice it. I’m already conscious of the bareness of my walls and the cut in the sofa we’re sitting on.
“Tomiwa what are you eating? Are you still eating golden morn at your age?” she teases.
“It’s not golden morn ma, it is garri.” He replies and goes back into his room after picking up his backpack.
“Garri?” she looks at me. “Remi, you let your kids drink garri? It’s not good for their eyes o. Don’t you know?”
“This is just a one-time thing!” I say with a forced laughter. “Sometimes they’ll just insist on drinking garri. What do I do?”
“You can give them an healthier option. Like cereal with milk.”
“Okay, but I just prefer to give them proper food like rice.” I reply as nonchalantly as possible. I can’t let her see how much her unsolicited advice is affecting me.
Her phone rings. Saved by the bell!
“Hello?” she says into the phone with a huge smile and I know that it’s her husband who’s calling.
I get up and go into the kitchen where I start cleaning the locust beans I intend to use for dinner.
“Sorry about that.” Bimbo says a few minutes later, startling me. “Oh sorry,” she laughs when I jump in fright. “Ah ah, what are you so afraid of?”
I shake my head at her and begin to clean the smoked panla that I had left on the counter to thaw.
“Wait, you eat panla?”
“Yeah? What’s wrong with it?” I am genuinely confused.
“I’m sorry I don’t mean to sound snobbish but I can’t imagine myself eating something so unhygienic. I would rather smoke my own fish in my oven if I want to eat smoked fish.”
I am very offended but I don’t want to get into a fight with her. She borrowed me twenty-thousand naira two nights ago.
“When last did you eat out?” I ask, setting aside the cleaned fish.
“And you think that all their preparation is hygienic?”
“I’m sure it is.”
I nod my head in mockery, I’m not done with her. “Continue deceiving yourself. I’m sure that your expensive food is not as clean as mine.”
She looks hurt but I choose not to acknowledge her.
“Just be careful what you buy in the market.” She mutters.
“Thank you ma.” I reply sarcastically as I pour some palm oil into the pot and begin the preparation of my vegetable soup.
I’ve poured in the pepper and stirred the fish around in the sauce when I realize that Bimbo hasn’t said anything since. I glance at her, she looks deep in thought. There’s a hint of a smile on her face.
“Ah ah. Bimbo, why are you smiling?”
“Nothing.” She replies self-consciously, refusing to meet my eyes.
“You look like there’s something on your mind.”
She laughs again. “Sola wants us to go on a vacation. He just asked me where I want to go.”
“Wow, lucky you,” I reply and focus on my cooking.
“Ah Remi, I’ve missed him. I can’t wait for him to get back from his trip.” She exhales sharply. “There’s this new thing he does when we’re having sex…!”
“Hey…! Madam! Thank you, we can imagine.”
“Ah ah, I haven’t even said anything!”
“Yes, don’t bother saying anything.”
She looks at me closely. “Are you pretending that you don’t have awesome sex or you really don’t have awesome sex?”
I’m shocked to hear her ask this. “No, I just don’t…”
“No, you don’t have awesome sex, or yes you’re just pretending. Which is it?”
I exhale tiredly. “Can we please talk about something else? Sex is the last thing on my mind right now. I just want to finish this dinner and sleep peacefully. My whole body aches from cleaning the house.”
“I’ve told you to get a maid or housekeeper but it seems as if you just like working.”
“You can’t understand Bimbo…”
“Understand what? You can’t afford it? It’s a matter of priority. Look these men won’t give you a break unless you voice out and tell them you’re no longer going to take it.”
I sigh, she cannot get it. “Okay, I hear you.”
Dayo is watching me from the corner of his eyes, as I pack my suitcase.
“So you’re going?”
“Dayo I’ve told you that we need the money.”
“So money is now more important than your family?” he says coldly.
“Does it not take money to run the family?”
“We will be fine Remi, you don’t have to go.”
I drop the clothes I’m carrying on the bed. “What exactly is your problem with this trip? Why don’t you want me to go?”
“I just feel that there’s a better way. You don’t have to go…”
“What better way? Opening a shop where you’ll be selling milk and sugar?”
I shake my head sadly, my husband’s insistence on this matter is shocking. “This family won’t survive on your feeling Dayo. You’re driving every day to work while the boys and I have to take public transport! We will soon have to pay the rent and we still need a lot…”
“So will this money you’re going to get, solve all our problems?”
“No, but it will suffice for the moment! Why are you being an enemy of progress?”
He gets up from the bed and stares wide eyed at me. “I’m being an enemy of progress?”
“Yes! You’re the one who’s driving the only car in this house and wants to live in a quiet environment but you’re not doing anything about the price. You’re not willing to make any sacrifice! It doesn’t even bother you that your wife and sons are hopping from bus to bus. How can you sit there and tell me not to make an effort to at least offset our bills?”
“I’m the man of the house. It’s not your job to pay the bills, I’m working on getting a loan…”
“More debt!” I shake my head again and resume packing my bag. “We can’t keep getting into debt.”
Suddenly he snaps my bag shut. “Don’t go on this trip!”
“I am going, there’s nothing you can say to stop me! If you don’t have a solution to our problems then please don’t try to stop me.”
He stares at me for a while. “Are you really going to go against my wishes?”
“Are you really just stopping me for no reason?”
“Remi if you go, you’re making a statement.”
“And if you insist that I pass up on a great career opportunity for no good reason, you’re also making a statement about the kind of man you are.”
He stares coldly at me and walks out of the room.