The months following Rire’s birth were wonderful. Jimi was so fascinated and in awe of this little human being we had produced, and even more in awe of me for birthing him. And any worries I nursed about him no longer being attracted to me were dispelled, as he could barely take his hands off me after I had Rire. In fact, I’m not sure we were able to make it to the 4-week limit my doctor had recommended! This gave me all the assurance I needed that he was still attracted to me.
Well…if I’m to be honest…I still had my insecurities..
I still compared myself with Dolly, and still tortured myself wondering how much better she was than I…in pretty much everything. I found myself beginning to dress like her, and imitate her style. I even found myself watching x-rated movies, just so that I could better whatever sexual prowess she had. In all of this, Jimi didn’t notice anything, and was still as loving and caring as he’d always been.
But I still struggled.
The blessing I had was my beloved mother-in-law, who was affectionately referred to as Mama Jay. We clicked from the very start, and she took me in as the daughter she never had. With Jimi’s younger brother, and only sibling, Seyi, away in school in the States, she had more than enough room in her heart to accommodate me. And accommodate me she did! It was with her I understood how possible it was to be friends with one’s mother. I never did before. In the past, I would puzzle over how close my friends, Bimbo especially, were to their moms, because the relationship I had with my mother was tolerant…at best.
But with Mama Jay, it was different. And my gosh, I still bless God for her to this very day. What would I have done without her, especially in those early days of Rire’s birth? With my own mother still gallivanting with Dolly in America, I was pretty much left to my own devices, but Mama Jay had swooped in like the superhero that she is, and had pretty much saved the day. Not only did she take care of me better than any biological mother could, she was a patient teacher and guided me with steps on how to be a mother myself. She was truly heaven sent.
One thing she never hid though, was her disdain for my mother. My father, she liked. But my mother, whom she had never met at the time, she despised…and with good reason too.
“What exactly is she still doing in America?! Is your sister married to this man in whose house they both live? Has the man even come to ask for her hand in marriage?!” she had asked, time without number, and always ending it with, “O ga o!”
Well, Mama Jay, if only I knew the answer to that almighty JAMB question!
Alas, it all soon came crashing down…for Dolly and my mother.
In February 2001, after having been there for a little over a year, Frank had kicked them both out of his house. Apparently, it hadn’t been all sugar and cream, as they’d tried to make us believe back in Nigeria. Almost as soon as Dolly had moved into his Atlanta home, he had become physically abusive, but she had endured it. When our mother had joined her, she had decided to turn a blind eye to the daily bruising on her daughter’s body, the black eyes and the night screams. I guess both of them had silently decided it was not enough to stop them from enjoying the luxury life Frank provided.
In the New Year, his mother had finally returned from her long sojourn in Europe, and had taken an instant dislike to the gold digging Dolly, the very first time they met. That had been all the reason Frank needed to abruptly terminate the relationship. He might have been a few months shy of his 45th birthday, but apparently, for Frank, his mother’s word was still law.
That was how Dolly and my mother had to return, tail between their legs, to Adun’s house in Dallas. As it was too late for any so-called omugwo (Adun’s son had just turned 1 year old), my mother realized lingering in America was foolhardy, so had decided to start making plans to return home.
My mouth had been on the floor as Adun told me this story, of which she had only discovered the details from a friend of hers who knew Frank well. Left to Dolly and our mother, we would have never found out the truth. They would have probably returned with some long tale about how Dolly had decided to dump him. Alas, the proverbial wind had blown open the fowl’s backside, so they couldn’t hide what had happened.
But when I relayed this gist to Jimi, my husband, I didn’t quite know what to make of his reaction. I had expected us both to have a good laugh over what had befallen Dolly, so I was left stunned by his casual indifference.
“Wow. That’s sad. Poor Dolly. She must be disappointed it didn’t work out,” had been his response. He hadn’t even looked up from his drawing.
“What kind of a reaction is that?!” I had finally snapped. “Is that all I’m going to get from you? It’s your ex-girlfriend we’re talking about!”
“What am I supposed to say, Fola?” he had asked, looking up at me. “I am genuinely sorry it didn’t work out for her. Dolly and I were a lifetime ago. I’ve moved on now…and you should know that, considering you’re the one I moved on with!” and then with an even more annoying shrug. “Besides, with this thing we’re hearing about Seyi, I have other things to worry about.”
Even though deep inside, I knew he was right…about Seyi at least. In the last week, we had started hearing rumours about his younger brother’s addiction to drugs in America, and friends and family were planning an intervention for him.
But regardless, the conversation with Jimi still kept me up that night. Was Jimi’s indifference simply a cover up for whatever feelings he still nursed for Dolly? Was he acting all cool and unbothered, when in actual fact, he was probably still dying inside?
The next month, my mother finally returned to Nigeria. When she came to visit us for the first time, my son was almost 4 months old. Jimi had been at work, and it had just been Mama Jay and I at home. Holding him, for the first time, I actually saw my mother beam…an emotion that was only reserved for her favourite child, Dolapo…and, of course, money! As she danced around, showering with him oriki after oriki, I was amazed at what changes this newborn could have brought in the woman.
“Already?” Mama Jay had remarked. “I thought you would spend at least a few days with them, considering that you have been away all this while.”
“I am very tired!” my mother had remarked. “You know I have been doing the same thing for over a year, in Dallas…”
“Oh please! From what I hear, you didn’t even spend a full month with your daughter in Dallas.” Mama Jay interjected, refusing to play the fool. “In fact, the daughter you were supposedly babysitting for, made it back home for the wedding!”
My mother had glared at me, a look I interpreted as anger over having shared family secrets with strangers. I looked her back square in the eye, hoping to convey the message that Mama Jay was family now.
“Well…my other daughter needed me. And I had to be there with her,” my mother answered, an edge of defiance in her voice.
Mama Jay simply chuckled and shook her head, proceeding not to say any more. Knowing all the questions she’d already had about that situation, her silence was a blessing.
Alas, she wasn’t totally silent.
“You should have been here for the wedding. Folabomi is the one who has saved your face as a mother. If I were to judge you by the character Dolapo displayed when she and Jimi were dating, I would have scored you very low indeed!” Mama Jay retorted.
My mother’s eyes flashed, a clear sign that her own rage was building.
“And what do you mean by that?!” she demanded.
“Imagine a young girl like her, coming to the house, and sitting down with crossed legs, waiting to be served?! And this was consistently for the three, four years she and Jimi were together!” Mama Jay exclaimed. “I used to wonder to myself what kind of substandard home training she got…and I was on my knees, begging my God not to allow my Jimi marry such a girl!”
“You wanted her with you in the kitchen? Acting like a wife…with a mere boyfriend? Madam, I taught my girls to have confidence in themselves. Dolly wasn’t trained for eye service. If you had married her, you would have seen how wonderful a home maker she is!” my mother had retorted.
Mama Jay and I had similar facial expressions of Na so!
“Sham?” I echoed, not quite understanding what she meant.
“We all know that if you hadn’t been so foolish as to get pregnant, there wouldn’t have been a wedding!” Mom had said, spitefully. “You know as well as I do that Dolly is the only one Jimi loves. All the years they were in Unilag, you saw it just as clearly as I did! And after your sister decided to dump him, you offered yourself as a consolation prize?”
There had been pin drop silence in the room. From the look on Mama Jay’s face, she was stunned by my mother’s outburst. For me, I wasn’t surprised she had gone below the belt. It was her way. I was only saddened because it was a reflection of what was eating me up inside.
Would Jimi have married me if I hadn’t been pregnant?
“Madam. First of all, Folajimi didn’t marry Folabomi because of the pregnancy.” Mama Jay said, finally finding her voice again. “We are a family of means, and trust me when I say we would have taken care of mother and child, easily, without him having to marry her. He decided to marry her on his own accord..because he loves her, just as deeply as any husband should love his wife.”
It was my mother’s turn to have the Na so facial expression.
“I’m not going to argue with you,” she said, before turning to me. “Folabomi, I’m going home. Walk me to the car.”
We walked in silence to the chauffer driven car she had insisted my father provide for her on her return, and I couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding that was rising in me..
“Your father has refused to pay for Dolly to finish her schooling in the U.S.” she announced, her resentment unmasked in her voice. “That man is the most unreasonable person I have ever had the misfortune to meet!”
Her voice trailed off, as my heart crashed, with the realization of what she was saying hitting me. If Dolly wasn’t going to stay on in the U.S…
“…he has insisted she returns to Unilag to finish. Can you imagine that?! Almost 2 years after leaving?! I wonder how he thinks she’ll cope!” she was still rambling.
“So Dolly is coming back?” I croaked.
My mother heard the fear in my voice, and smiled. “Oh! I thought you were trying to prove to me that you are confident in your marriage. So why are you afraid?!” then leaning forward, she added in a half whisper. “But you should be. With her back in the picture…there’s no telling what your ‘husband’ will do.”
Long after she’d left, I was still shaken by what she had said. All this time, my insecurities had only been in my head. But today, they had jumped right out and taken a voice.
If Dolly returned, I was toast!
“Folabomi, you need to stop thinking about what that woman said!” Mama Jay scolded me, before she left for her own house, later that evening. She had spent the rest of the day lamenting about how awful a woman my mother (or that woman, as she preferred to call her) was, and how she understood why my father had created a home for himself in far away Saudi Arabia, to be as far away from that woman as he could get. “Jimi married you because he loves you! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
When Jimi returned home that day, apart from letting him know my mother had visited, I hadn’t bothered giving him the details of our conversation. But as we lay in bed that night, there was a question I just had to ask.
“If I hadn’t gotten pregnant…would we have married?” I asked.
He had looked at me quizzically. “Where did that come from?”
I had simply shrugged, without breaking eye contact, to convey to him that I needed an answer.
“Yeah…I reckon we would have…” he said, not sounding convincing.
I sat up with a start. “You reckon?!”
“Fola, neither of us was thinking about marriage then…and you know it!” he had answered. “Tell me that marriage was paramount on your mind, as a 22 year old Youth Corper!”
I looked away. He did have a point. This time the year before, marriage had definitely not been on my mind.
He tilted my face to his, “Fola…it might have happened much sooner than either of us wanted…but it would have most likely happened anyway! I love you! I’ve probably been in love with you the whole time…even when I was infatuated with your sister…”
“She’s coming home soon…” I heard myself saying.
He shrugged, “So? So what? That means nothing to me. Apart from the fact that she’s my wife’s sister, I have absolutely no emotional strings with Dolly. Never forget that!”
But as we lay asleep, my mind was still active. Had there been a flicker in his eye, when I told him about Dolly’s impending return? As he lay sleeping, was he fantatsing about seeing her again…and wondering about what could have been?
Was he with me…but still longing for her?
You can catch up on Fola’s story here:
- Sister, Sister 1: Calling Me Mrs.
- Sister, Sister 2: The Odd Family
- Sister, Sister 3: Floating On Air
- Sister, Sister 4: The Many Wives of Jimi
- Sister, Sister 5: Russian Roulette
- Sister, Sister 6: So Much In Common
- Sister, Sister 7: An Unlikely Pair