By Bunmi Sofola
THE Nigerian culture is often rooted in diplomacy, especially when it has to do with polygamous relationships. Eight cases out of ten, it is the first wife that’s left gnashing her teeth after the death of her husband. A few weeks ago, Bola, a good friend, had a get together party for a few friends to mark the arrival of her first grand-child. 1 wasn’t seated five minutes when this lovely middle-aged lady came in.
She looked a bit apprehensive as she searched the room for known faces, saw mine and beamed, trotting towards me. Did I know her? When she came closer, I couldn’t hide my astonishment. It was Alaba! Five years ago, she lost her husband in a motor accident. She was a casual friend of our ‘group’ and we’d tried to rally round her when the poor man died until her grief turned to indignance!
After three children – two boys and a girl – Alaba wanted a fourth one but Jeje, her husband, talked her out of it. He said nobody had that many children these days, if they wanted the best education for the kids and still have a bit of money left over to have quality life, three children were about right. Jeje was the executive secretary of the professional body he belonged to and travelled extensively in the course of his duties. He was on one of his assignments when he had the accident on his way to Benin and his corpse was deposited at one of the hospitals there.
Alaba was naturally devastated as grief engulfed her – how would she cope with three children all under 14? One of Jeje’s professional colleagues offered to go with her to Benin to, at least, identify her husband’s corpse before any burial arrangements could be made. At the hospital, they saw the matron who consoled the two of them. “It was a miracle the wife survived and a stroke of luck she didn’t lose the pregnancy,” the matron said. Her two visitors looked blank. ‘Alaba reminded her of the name of the man whose corpse they had come to see, she said it was the same man she was referring to. “But I am his wife!” Alaba yelled. The Matron’s eyes widened. “All I know is that the man was brought in with a woman found with him in the car. They were travelling together and we kind of assumed they were husband and wife … “ defended the Matron.
Alaba insisted on seeing the woman and was taken to a private ward. She cowered when she saw her. She was obviously her husband’s mistress who knew her; Alaba had no recollection of ever clamping eyes on her. “I was told you were travelling with Jeje as his wife when the accident happened?” queried Alaba. The poor woman kept mum and the Matron had to hustle her out of the ward.
Back in Lagos Alaba nearly went ballistic. The thought of her husband planning to have a child with his mistress whilst convincing her they didn’t need another child nearly blew her mind. She’d lovingly packed his suitcase when he made that fateful journey, never suspecting she was preparing her husband for a night of passion with another woman!
She was on autopilot throughout the funeral rite as the story of her husband’s escapade had spread like wild-fire – thanks to society’s active grapevine. Mourners were embarrassed for her but friends rallied round the best they could. She was still battling with her anger weeks after the funeral when her dead husband’s relatives called to take possession of his only car. Alaba was furious and threatened them with a knife. Suspecting they might be back, she instructed her mechanic to take the car away and arrange for a buyer. When she went to arrange for her husband’s terminal benefits, she was told a pregnant woman claiming to be his legal wife had already been brought by Jeje’s relatives for the same purpose. Luckily, Alaba was well-known by the officials involved but they still had to insist on her bringing a copy of her wedding certificate.
All the unnecessary hassle she suffered from her husband’s greedy people drove any thoughts of grief from her mind. She refused to wear black to mourn a husband whose loyalty was to someone else. But, the trauma of her predicament took its toll on her – she lost interest in her appearance and there was a time we feared she might be losing it. She dropped out of circulation until she made this sudden appearance at Bola’s. Her transformation was simply spectacular! She’d toned her complexion to the max and her clothes and accessories were very trendy. Those who knew her amongst the guests were obviously dumb-founded. We forgot for a moment the solemn occasion under which we’d last met and openly complimented her on clawing her way back to civilization.
It was a relief to talk about something else as Alaba recounted, with pride, how she was lucky to have impounded her husband’s briefcase the minute she came back from her Benin trip, “It was one of these combination – lock briefcases and I’d been made to believe it contained confidential papers of the association of which Jeje was the secretary”, she explained. “Instead, there were complete documents of a plot of land in a choice area here in Lagos and a house he’d bought and paid for in Ibadan. I put both properties straight into the market and the money they fetched launched the business I’d always dreamt of starting.
“I thank God I’ve done very well for myself and the kids. Don’t think it was easy – I went through hell and back and I had a lot of setbacks. My husband’s greedy relatives didn’t want to know how we were coping, so I had to take things easy and not flaunt any wealth for a couple of years until they were off my back. As for the mistress’ Jeje had the accident
with, I later learnt she had a daughter. Good luck to her, I feel no bitterness towards her – it takes two to tango and she can’t take all the blame for Jeje’s indiscretion … “
The Kindest Way To Tell The Kids You’re Divorcing
All kids react to the news that their parents are divorcing in different ways. Some retreat into themselves, others might misbehave or rebel. While there isn’t a magic wand you can wave to take their pain away, there are things you can do to make the process easier. Marianne, a 46 year-old who came from a broken home and has been through a divorce herself offers the following advice:
“Try not to bad-mouth your husband in front of the children. My father was a serial adulterer and Mum struggled to keep her feelings to herself. All I could think was: ‘He’s my dad. If he’s a liar and a cheat, what does that make me?’ I grew up believing that I too must be a bad person. If you need to vent your anger, do it to a friend, but never within earshot of your children.
“If possible, you and your partner should tell the kids together. Presenting a united front is very important. Let them know how much you both love them and stress that this isn’t their fault – it’s about you and their father. Explain the basics of what is going to happen. Encourage them to ask questions. They may be worried about whether they will have to move house or school and how often they’ll be able to see their dad. Give them honest and clear answers”.
“After you’ve broken the news, try to spend a few quiet minutes a day alone with each child. This will give them the opportunity to talk if they want to. I bought my 15-year-old daughter a hard-back notebook and said to her that if there was anything she wanted to talk to me about, but found it difficult to say out loud, she could write it in there and leave it somewhere where I would see it. This seemed to encourage her to open up.”