A month later, the in-laws travelled down from Port Harcourt with Clara's people for the last leg of the traditional marriage ceremony. Claras symbolic entrance into our home. It was my duty to welcome her. When I heard the talking-drummers percussion that preceded the bride, I rose in the parlour I had always thought would be mine alone.
It had come to this. I was twenty-four when I entered this house as a bride. Married late, by usual standards. My education ended after secondary school; there was no money to aim higher. I was apprenticed to a local sewing mistress and worked under her for six years. She was Gani's mother. She told her son I would make an obedient wife, a good mother for his children. So he plucked me from late spinsterhood, to my mother's relief.
Clara was tearful during the ceremony. Everyone laughed them off as tears of joy. In my heart, I wished her only tears.
Hafsanat danced all around the bride. She bent forward gaily and grabbed the hem of her organza wrapper with both hands. Her bosom heaved. She stuck out her bottom and shook it left and right, turning round and round to the drumbeat. I had forgotten how nifty a dancer Hafsanat could be, and I wondered how her husband could have wanted another. We watched in wonder as Hasfanat turned herself into the entertainment. Relishing the attention, she wheeled round to where Clara sat and prodded the tearful bride. Our wife, dance for us!
Cant you see Im pregnant? Clara retorted loudly in an irritable voice. My heart danced when I saw the look on Hafsanats face. No wife of the family had ever dared to talk back to her before. That was the end of her dancing, and the end of Claras tears. I felt ashamed for wishing the girl tears.
The arguments started soon after well-wishers had gone back to their own homes. I was in my room while the children were at school one day, when I heard Clara and Gani from the parlour. I went to my door and listened.
But Clara, I thought I was doing the right thing, our husband said. You were pregnant with my child." His voice was not as loud as hers, so I tiptoed down to the front end of the corridor to better hear. I wanted to give our child a stable home.
A polygamous home, you mean, Clara snapped. You think this is what I wanted ehn, to marry my sugar-daddy?
Clara did as many of her friends in the Teachers Training College; she supplemented her meagre pocket money by going with a sugar-daddy who could provide for her needs. Gani was the sugar-daddy, a means to an end for Clara - until she fell pregnant and got kicked out of school.
Sugar-daddy, you make it sound so Look, I didnt plan it either. He sighed, then said softly, I knocked on your door last night.
Really?" Her voice rang false. "I must have been asleep. This child tires me so. I imagined Clara touching her belly as she said this.
Gani sounded exasperated. You wont cook for me; you lock your door at night-
What am I to do when I am tired, ehn? A pregnant woman is like an egg - fragile - and should be treated so.
I heard Ganis footsteps advancing out of the parlour and I retreated quickly to my room.
Im going to Port Harcourt for a meeting," he said from the corridor. "Ill drop in to see your mother while Im there; maybe she can talk some sense into you.
The way she talked me into marrying you, because she didnt want the shame of a pregnant daughter who was unmarried, abi?
I am too old for this wahala, Clara.
And I am 22! Too young to end up like this. Tell my mother that.
Clara was a head taller than our husband. It was more obvious during arguments because she rose on tip-toes when she got heated. He always walked away, sometimes from backyard into house. Other times from house to backyard. Having shunned my company for so long, he could not now invite me to his room. When on some nights his knuckles rapped on the wall between our bedrooms, I pretended not to hear.
Clara had her baby and Baba came for the naming ceremony. We set out some chairs over Hessian mats in the backyard for the visitors, nearer to the main bungalow. A light breeze scaled over the walls into the compound. Clara pulled the shawl to cover the babys hands.
Baba squeezed up his face when told the baby was a girl, but Clara told him it was his sons fault, that a babys sex was down to the mans sperm. I sat next to Clara but I could see Ganis embarrassment from the corner of my eye. He scratched his head and hurried inside - as if he suddenly remembered something he had to do.
Baba arched his eyebrows and leaned forward in his chair, one hand resting on his cane. What is sperm?
I dont know what its called in our language, Baba," Clara replied, "ask our husband - then see the evidence in all the daughters of this house.
The fear of being driven out by the in-laws helped keep wives in line. But it didn't work with Clara, who threatened to walk out at the slightest provocation.
Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
Ganis Fall by Molara Wood