By Yetunde Arebi
I don’t have an exotic taste bud, so you will hardly find me eating fancy meals. My favourite food is Amala served with Gbegiri and Ewedu and I eat it almost every day, and sometimes twice a day. I also eat it with Ogbono or vegetable soup. Every other food, I just manage for the sake of eating.
But I love snacking a lot, especially on what some may regard as unhealthy foods. Puff puff tops the list of my favourites. My sister sometimes makes them for me and I store in the freezer, just to reduce my trips to the Puff puff sellers. Next is roasted Plantain, then Corn and Ube, Asun (barbeque goat meat and fish) and any other finger food will do. Because of this eating habit, I am very close to the grassroot as the politicians will say. I know a lot of mummy this and mummy that, either by the names of their children or what they sell. They are my people.
A few of them have my telephone numbers. They call me when they have nice stuff that they think I will like and I am nice (I try to) them too. I give them free old newspapers and they are really grateful for them. For me, every relationship has its own merits. We talk a lot too whenever the situation permits and we have learnt a lot from each other.
One of my favourite Puff puff sellers is mummy Shade, a very young beautiful woman in her late 20s or early 30s. I was drawn by her beauty and perhaps, something more. Even after three children, and her work circumstance, she still has the looks. Though married to a Yoruba man, her mannerism and accent give her away as someone from the Niger Delta. Everything about her just does not fit into the profile of a Puff puff and Akara seller.
But she takes her job seriously, always at her duty post with a smile and a joke for everyone and everything. The picture fell through the day I met daddy Shade. Obviously much older than his wife, he had an arrogant air on. Like he was trying to paint a false picture of himself and daring you to challenge it. Unlike his wife, he spoke only good English and always had a newspaper wrapped in his hand, perhaps to complement his looks as a serious, respectable gentleman. What the Yorubas call, faworaja. A camouflage. I decided I must squeeze this great love story out from mummy Shade and patiently worked towards it. When it finally came, I was not so surprised.
A woman’s life is very delicate. No matter how well she’s planned and plotted things out, marriage will either make or mar them. Thus, a woman, indeed the girl child, needs to be meticulously careful about her choices in life. Had mummy Shade made the right choices, she probably would not be in her present condition. I believe she was designed by God for much more than her present lot. If only she realised it and had chosen a different path.
There are some mistakes you make that you cannot unmake, such is the plight of mummy Shade. All she has, like many women are memories of the life she once had and fantasies of one she could have had, had she listened to the advice of her mother and grandmother. Now she can only hope that all will be well, some day. This is mummy Shade’s story:
“I come from a wealthy Benin family. My father, a Lawyer and business man lives in England and I was to join him after my secondary school certificate examination to continue my education. My mother was a school teacher in Benin before her retirement a few years ago. Both of them were never married but he always acknowledged me and made provisions for my upkeep. My mother said he did not readily accept my pregnancy but was forced to after she gave birth to me. It was a big battle between the two families because my father was married to another woman and they both lived with their children abroad. Though he had always known my mother as a little girl in the village, he had only befriended her while home on a Christmas holiday. He never knew it would end with a baby between them. So, it was a long battle to get him to the point that he was ready to take me to London with him. However, everything was destroyed when I became pregnant. My mother on finding out sent me out of the house to stay with my boyfriend. The disappointment and disgrace was too much for her. My father washed his hands off completely, insisting he’d always known that I would amount to nothing.
My boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, was not my first boyfriend. I left my young boyfriend, a class mate whom everyone already knew, to befriend him. He is not a Benin man. He is 12 years older than me and nobody ever approved of the relationship. But I was in love, or so I thought and could not give a damn. It was when I became pregnant and it wouldn’t come down that I began to have a change of mind. I used Ovelin 50 because I had used it before. But this time around, it didn’t work.
I had never had an abortion before but I have heard stories of how dangerous it can be. There was even a recent case at that time, about a girl from another school who after doing the thing had bled to death. So, I couldn’t go through with it. More so, my boyfriend had always boasted about his family’s wealth too. He told me he was a Lagos prince and that his parents were very rich. He told me he had never been married because he had never found someone he truly loved. I was happy to be the lucky girl.
I believed his stories, more so, I did not have the opportunity to verify the truth. He suggested we kept the baby since it was close to my WAEC exams, promising to take care of me. He said I could go to school in Lagos, after the child was born.
I first went to my grandmother when my mother threw me out. But she also refused to accept me, so I had no choice but to go to my boyfriend. My allowances were stopped and all my clothes which my father had sent from England were taken away from me. Contrary to what I expected, I did not get the full attention and support from my boyfriend, even though, I didn’t really mind. It was not until after the birth of my baby that I started feeling the pinch of being a mother without a means of livelihood.
I had to beg my grandmother and boyfriend for every penny I needed. Of course, my boyfriend did not fulfil his promises. I soon learnt that he was just a supervisor for the construction of the building where he worked. It was not his father’s property as he’d told me. He was just an employee and would return to Lagos after completion of the building. Little did I also know that more shocking discoveries awaited me in Lagos.
To make matters worse, when the WAEC results were released, I failed woefully. I would have been able to retake the exams with my father’s support but I couldn’t as I had no money to do so. After the construction was completed, we had to move back to Lagos because we could not continue to pay for the apartment. His boss had been paying for it and I never knew. When we moved to Lagos, I found out that he already had a wife and child he’d left behind to come to Benin.
I was devastated. Had my mother allowed it, I would have returned to Benin. His wife and child were already living in an apartment in the family house and his father refused to have me live there with them. He insisted that he had only one wife and so his child cannot have two wives and live under his roof with them. With his mother’s help, we were able to rent a room in the same neighbourhood. His wife could not cope with everything and eventually left with her child.
My husband is not who he told me he was. First, he is not a prince and though his parents are alright, he is poor, he does not have any money of his own except what they give him and the odd jobs he gets occasionally.
He is the black sheep of his family, he never even completed his Secondary school, not to mention attending a University. He never learned a trade as well. He had only been wasting away, doing fine boy all his life.
Now, his parents are also tired of his unserious attitude, so we don’t really have their support. After two children and no one to assist, I had to wake up and face my reality. With the help of my mother-in-law, I began frying Akara, Puff puff, Yam and Sweet Potatoes at the bus stop to make ends meet. Business is good but my responsibilities are huge. The current economic situation has made life more difficult too. My husband does not work and so, I fend for the children, myself and him.
My regrets are many. Because of my foolishness, I forfeited all the bright plans my father had for my future. I am estranged from my family. Everyone in my father’s family goes to the university or travel outside the country. But here I am. I feel like I have wasted my entire life. I regret not being able to further my education. If I had known, I would have had an abortion by whatever means possible. But all that is too late now”.
Much as I felt sorry for mummy Shade, my anger would not let me. If she came to Lagos with only one child, then found out she’d made a big mistake, why didn’t she return to Benin? Why have two more children for a man with no identifiable means of livelihood? Her answer? “Aunty oh! It is not good to have one child now. In fact, na four I wan born”, she quipped. Like seriously?
Do have a wonderful weekend!!