Mama Eli and Mama Ayo were in the sitting room downstairs with their children, it was a hot afternoon and the air conditioning was faulty. The children were clad only in their underwear and the women in their wrappers. The fact that they had just eaten a lunch of hot lafun and ewedu didn’t help matters.
“So this is what I’ve been saying. We need to tell our husband that we need more money for the upkeep.” Mama Ayo was saying.
“Hmm… do you think our husband will take kindly to that? You know how testy he has been recently. He didn’t even come to my room last night.”
“He wasn’t in my room either.”
“Maybe he was in the old woman’s room.”
They laughed. “I wonder what he still goes to do there, she’s all dry!”
They laughed again and got the attention of their children who were playing with their toys on the floor.
“Mummy why are you laughing?” Elizabeth, Mama Eli’s eldest child asked.
“Shut up and mind your own business!” Mama Ayo snapped at her.
“Don’t mind her.” Mama Eli said waving her hand dismissively.
“Mummy…” Niniola came into the sitting room and knelt down. “I’ve finished picking the beans, should I start cooking it?”
“Yes but make sure it’s soft enough, we have enough water in this house.”
Mama Eli watched her niece walk away and thought of her sister Comfort. She had been widowed when Niniola was ten years old, seven years ago. Having nothing to sustain herself and her three children by and seeing no other way out she married Babajide the carpenter who lived not far from her house. The marriage had been tumultuous from the beginning. The man had refused to pay her full bride price claiming that she was used goods. Desperate and needing his financial benefits, Comfort had begged her family to take what he had to offer. Mama Eli remembered that half of the yams they had brought were bad and the smoked fish they also brought had begun to mold.
Two months later when she had gone to see her sister on her way from a friend’s party she noticed a dark bruise under her left eye.
“It’s one of those things, let’s forget about it.” She had said with a sad smile.
Mama Eli had left her house angrily, unable to do anything about a situation her sister wouldn’t admit. Seven months later, Comfort gave birth to a boy and her sister’s smile returned briefly until her husband’s euphoria over his son ended. Enduring the relationship and distracting herself with her various petty businesses, the years had rolled by. She understood why Comfort had sent her daughter to her, she was looking for a miracle. A way out of her miserable life.
Chief Afonja returned home at ten-thirty and to his disappointment his two younger wives were waiting for him. Their large bodies lay on different chairs as they watched television.
“Welcome sir.” Mama Eli sat up revealing her ample breasts which were threatening to spill out of her cotton nightgown. Chief Afonja didn’t notice.
“Welcome Chief.” Mama Ayo said loosening her robe and Mama Eli observed with vexation her cream silky nightgown and the deep plunge of the neckline. But again, Chief Afonja didn’t notice.
“Hmm hmm.” He replied.
“How was your day? I have prepared your favorite pounded yam and delicious efo riro with seven lives.” Mama Eli said, choosing not to be defeated.
“I have also prepared some salad and roasted chicken. I know you might want to eat something light.” Mama Ayo said going over to him, collecting his briefcase and sitting by his side. Mama Eli left the room and returned shortly with some water and juice.
“Just give me some water.” He said to Mama Eli who positioned herself in front of her husband and bent low to pour the water as slowly as possible.
The chief leaned back in the sofa and tried not to speak. His wife’s large sagging breasts resembled two large pendulums aiming to squash his head.
“Go and put some clothes on, your breasts are all over the place!”
This wasn’t the response she was expecting but she wasn’t discouraged. She pulled herself up with dignity.
“If I don’t show you my breasts who will I show?”
“When I want to see your breasts I will tell you. In the meantime go and get dressed.”
Mama Ayo was glad she that she hadn’t been so forward. She smiled as Mama Eli walked away dejected.
“My husband, should I serve you the chicken and salad?”
“Please go to bed and leave me alone. I’m not hungry.”
Mama Ayo was tired of being coy. “Ah ah Chief! What’s wrong with you? You haven’t been in either of our rooms for almost two weeks, we’re not made of wood. What’s going on?”
“There are more important things than marking attendance in your rooms.”
“Is that so? Chief you’re playing with fire! I’m warning you.”
Chief Afonja gave his wife a look. “You’re warning me…”
“Yes, I’m warning you! You can’t just do whatever you like with us. We are not your slaves, we’re your wives. None of us forced you to get married. You can’t just decide not to do your duty by us. We own you just as much as you own us! If you have problems, you better speak up so we can get help instead of this rude attitude you’re putting up.” she hissed loudly and left him with a huff.
Chief Afonja stared at her in shock. Even though she was known for her caustic tongue, Mama Ayo had never spoken thus to her husband. He took a long drink of water and leaned back again. His wives had no idea the kind of pressure he was under and he didn’t intend to explain it to them.
Niniola had heard Mama Ayo snapping at Chief and she knew that the atmosphere in the living room would be tense. She lingered in the kitchen wondering when it would be safe for her to go to her room when Mama Ayo came in.
“What are you doing here?”
“I just finished cleaning the kitchen ma.”
“Are you sure you were not stealing something?” she moved menacingly towards the girl.
“No ma, I just fished cleaning the oven.”
“Open your mouth!”
Niniola did as she was told.
“Oh! Your mouth stinks! Don’t you brush your teeth?”
“I do ma.” Niniola replied embarrassed.
“Get out of here!” she barked at the girl who scurried out.
Mama Ayo took out a bottle of malt from the fridge and poured out its content into a glass cup. Next she got a tin of evaporated milk from the shelf above her head and poured it into the malt. She carried the mixture up to her room, turned on the air conditioning and sat down on the bed. As she sipped her drink her thoughts strayed to the young man who had come to her supermarket three days earlier. He had asked her opinion on all sorts of food products and even though she had known that he was flirting with her, she answered all his questions politely. He had smiled charmingly and thanked her profusely for being so kind. His teeth was white and his jaw firm, his moustache was welt trimmed and she remembered the bulge of his biceps.
Shaking her head, she gulped down the rest of her drink and lay on her bed.
As Niniola lay on her mattress in the guest room, she heard a shuffling of feet outside the door and stilled. Who could it be? As far as she knew, everyone was asleep. Grateful that she had locked the door she sat up and waited.
There was a light rapping on the door. “Niniola! Open the door, it’s Chief.”
She shook her head violently, refusing to believe what she had just heard.
She remained seated and stared at the door, praying that he would leave. After a while all was silent and she lay back, wondering what to make of what had just happened.
Behind the door, Chief Afonja retreated silently from Niniola’s door. The girl was asleep and he needed her tonight. His wives had soured his mood even more and he was too burdened to sleep. Resignedly he went to the kitchen and sought Mama Ayo’s roasted chicken and a cold bottle of wine.
As he ate he remembered Mama Ayo’s warning and hissed in anger. He knew his wives would be wondering what was going on and could do something irrational such as involving his relatives. He needed to attend to them soon. With a full stomach he decided to go to his senior wife’s room.
The door was unlocked, he got into the bed and began groping Mama Deji’s body.
“Chief…” she said sleepily. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
Mama Deji was irritated by this man who had broken her heart twice and still felt entitled to her body. She was too sleepy and not interested in being intimate with him. She shrugged his hand off.
“Please I want to sleep, go and meet my younger wives.”
“What do you mean? If I wanted them I would have gone to them. It is you I want tonight.”
Overwhelmed by sleep, she shrugged him off roughly. “I said leave me alone!”
Chief Afonja was confused. What had gotten into his wives? Puzzled, he got up and went to his own room. Staring at the chandelier, he eventually fell asleep.