Riverside Press, Ford Quay, St. Georges Quay, Lancaster, LAI 5QJ, UK.
To my parents
Mr. Charles and Mrs. Teresa Nwaezeapu.
Map of West Africa
I first met the husband of the writer, Mr John Osammor during a visit to Manchester
in 2002. One thing led to another and a relationship was formed. When he therefore
approached me to write the Foreword to his wife Mrs Stella Ify Osammor's book,
The Triumph of the Water Lily', my first reactions were multi-dimensional. First,
what could Mr John Yahaya Osammor (M.D, Hons., D.L.O Engl., F.R.C.S.Ed.),
an Otolaryngologist and Head & Neck Surgeon be doing with a project of this
nature? Second, where on earth was I going to find the time to read through this
voluminous script to do justice to Mr Osammor's request? Third, with the way I
was travelling all over the place, would I be able to finish on time to make it worth
their while? I battled with these and many more, but still decided to say 'yes'. Mr
Osammor's follow-up letter told me I had landed myself in real trouble, as part of
the letter read: "My wife feels delighted and fortunate that you would be writing
the foreword to the book. We are about to republish ... in a month or so .. and also
.... should be ready by September ..." There was no going back now.
'The Triumph of the Water Lily' is a book about topical issues in Nigerian
marriages (inter-tribal and others), culture clashes, childlessness or barrenness,
pride and humility, grief and pain, love and joy, politics, the diverse forms of
religion inherent in Nigeria, the full works. It is about qualities and values which
transcend culture, ethnicity, etc. It is also a book about the profound nature of an
African thriving in the midst of adversity.
As you pick up the book, you are instantly hit by nostalgia that rises up within you
from the first page. The unmistakable rich and strong African flavour cannot go
unnoticed. A highly innovative book. 'The Triumph of the Water Lily' brings to
mind the true riches, joy and excitement of living in Nigeria as a family entity, as
students, the escapades of undergraduates and peer pressure.
I have personally witnessed the agonising experiences of persons, who have been
involved in situations such as those described so vividly in this book, making
them feel, in some cases, that the pursuit of justice may be in vain. The events are
everyday life experiences, which many Africans and particularly Nigerians will
readily align with - this is familiar terrain.
Ify Osammor has been thorough in her narrative, indicative of much research
and diligence. I praise her for this excellent piece and for the great effort she
has put in - for this, she deserves great respect and recognition both locally and
I readily commend this book to all strata of our society and pray God that it will be
a real blessing to its many readers. I commend it also as a book of reference; for
those wishing to know about Africa and in particular, Nigeria, 'The Triumph of the
Water Lily' is a good start.
CHRISTOPHER KOLADE, CON
Nigeria High Commissioner to the Court of St James 's, Nigeria House, London.
The Triumph of the
As our plane touched down at the Murtala Muhammed airport, I felt a
surge of relief well up in me. Oh my! It was good to be home again.
It had been some nine hectic weeks of gallivanting around Addis-
Ababa with the President.
I showed my passport and identification at the immigration desk.
"Press?" The officer enquired.
"Yes," I answered. "Please move on," he said.
Travelling with the President as a member of the press covering the
OAU summit certainly had its advantages. It could however be harrowing
at times; especially when you had to compete with your colleagues at
press conferences for an exclusive interview or angle to a story.
I got through immigration quickly and moved in with the other stream
of journalists who had also gone to Ethiopia to cover the summit.
I was very tired and very hot and sticky too. The arrival lounge of the
international terminal of the Murtala Muhammed airport was the usual
hubbub of noise and movement that it always is. Airports have always
been an intriguing place for me. I am always fascinated by the drama
that takes place in them. As a foreign correspondent with a magazine
such as The Guardian, I had witnessed many an airport scene: tears of
departing loved ones as well as the laughter of couples who were being
reunited. The most dramatic were often the Arab and Italian airports.
Every member of the clan, who accompanies the departing individual
to the airport, kissed and embraced him at least three times and on each
occasion; looked into the departing relative's eyes and murmured words
of regret at the separation. The Germans and the French especially, often
engaged themselves in very prolonged and elaborate kissing rituals. The
British and the Americans kissed as well, but often interjected this with
sniffs and tears. The Africans simply wailed. You often had a feeling of
heightened drama each time you stepped into the departure lounge of the
Murtala Muhammed Airport.
I collected my luggage and heard Norman Obi call my name. "Effua!
have you got your car here?" He asked.
"No," I replied.
"Do you care for a lift then?"
"No," I answered with a slight shake of the head.
Chris Adamu was with him so was Benji Kemeka. We had all travelled
together and it had been fun being with them. They had a hilarious
sense of humour and they knew their jobs well. Norman was with the
press office of the president. He and I had read journalism at Legon.
We had also met again at the University of California in Los Angeles
for our masters degree programme in mass communication and media
studies. Chris and Benji both worked for the News Agency of Nigeria.
Norman was very sure that if he tried hard enough, he would strike up a
relationship with me. He was good looking, intelligent and witty, but I
wasn't ready to be anything but a platonic friend with him. Therefore my
response to his offer of a lift was: "No Norman, Nkem is coming for me.
I sent a telex message to say I would be arriving today".
As if on cue, I saw Nkem's graceful figure striding towards me and
"Well, well," said Norman. "I guess it's goodbye then." He gave me a
quick peck on the cheek and strode off to join his friends, who called out
their goodbyes to me. They wished me a good time in Lagos. All three of
them then went off in the usual bustle and good cheer that was so much
a part of them.
By this time, Nkem had meandered her way across to me. "My Effua,
it's good to see you again," she exclaimed, as she hugged me close.
"It was good of you to come to meet me Nkem," I answered.
"Is that all the luggage you have?" She asked, rather surprised.
"Yes", I replied. "You know me and my phobia for heavy luggage,"
"Yes, I remember you used to have a distaste for odd bits and pieces,
when we were at school," she said, laughing.
"I still do", I answered as we found our way to the car park. Nkem's
305 Peugeot saloon car was there in the parking lot, gleaming brightly.
She had re-sprayed it and it looked as elegant as herself. My comment on
the car made Nkem smile.
She put my overnight kit into the back seat and opened the door of
the passenger seat for me. We got in and she drove towards the gate. She
paid the parking fee at the gate and switched on the air-conditioner and
cartridge player. As she did so, she said to me; "I've left Odili, Effua."
"You what?" I asked, not believing I had heard correctly the first time.
"You heard me right the first time," she said, smiling.
She had her attention on the traffic. This declaration immediately
explained the weight loss I had observed in her. I had however put it
down to the fact that she was probably on a diet or that she was working
I couldn't digest the news that easily. It was totally unexpected.
"What happened?" I managed to ask.
I kept my eyes trained on Nkem, watching closely for her reaction.
She however appeared calm and collected. I nonetheless couldn't
comprehend her real emotions.
Nkem and Odili were the last couple l ever imagined would fall
victim of such a circumstance. They seemed to have a unique and
fulfilling relationship, in spite of the fact that they had no children after
seven years of marriage. I knew it bothered Nkem a lot but, like every
other thing in her life, I imagined she had managed to take this in her
stride. I knew she had tried not to be embittered, depressed, or negative
in her attitude, because of her childlessness. I had probably been wrong.
One is never sure as an outside observer.
We stopped at a traffic light by the National Arts Theatre at Iganmu
and to my chagrin, I found that Nkem was taking a route marked Apapa
and not Victoria Island. It finally dawned on me that what she was saying
was actually true.
her and Odili. They had a gorgeous house Odili had bought from his
Jamaican partner. As an architect, he had made striking innovations to
the house and had turned it into a haven for both of them. I had often
found it to be a wonderful refuge too!
Nkem, smiling, turned to look at me. "Don't look so crest-fallen,
Effua. It is not like you think. I now stay at Apapa, but Odili is still very
much a part of my life. He is welcome to come and see me whenever he
pleases. As a matter of fact, the house where I'm staying, belongs to him.
He insisted that I moved into his property".
"This is sounding crazier and crazier all the time", I said musingly.
"First, you sound as if you had a blazing row with Odili, which led to
your moving out; the next minute, you sound as if you are both carrying
out a pseudo psycho analytical experiment."
Nkem laughed in her full-throated manner, which belied any
suggestion that she was pining or sad. "As a matter of fact, you could be
right to call it an experiment."
"I don't know about the pseudo psycho analytical bit", she said. "But
yes it is a kind of experiment; a brave type of experiment let's say. We
also did have a row, although it wasn't a blazing one as you put it. It also
occurred, because Odili thought my desire to move out was downright
"You mean you simply woke up one morning without any aggravation
or quarrel and told Odili you were leaving?"
"I didn't do it without reason Effua. I also gave it plenty of thought.
In fact Odili is beginning to appreciate why I did it at all. I moved
out to shield Odili and I from what I saw coming. The malice of so-
called 'friends' and members of his family, was threatening to turn our
relationship sour. There had been pressures on Odili to marry again,
since I was assumed to be barren and incapable of begetting children for
"So you are caving in to external pressures, Nkem, and allowing
onlookers ruin one of the finest relationships I have ever known."
"It is not so much a case of caving in to pressures, Effua, as a question
of devising an alternative strategy to tackle a paradoxical and difficult
dilemma. The societal pressures I saw coming, would have wrought a
lot of havoc on our relationship. Odili and I share something special - at
least we both agree we do. I also happen to believe, that what we have
is worth protecting at any cost. My love for Odili is unyielding, Effua,
and I believe we shouldn't throw what we have away, simply because our
marriage lacks offspring. I have come to terms with my inability to beget
children; however, I also recognise the fact that I needn't stop another
woman from fulfilling that role for Odili. If another woman is capable
of bearing children for him, by all means, let her do so! However, I do
believe it would be best she did so in Odili's home and in an atmosphere
devoid of suspicion and fear. I have therefore, decided to move out
and allow whoever Odili's family thinks fit to come into his home and
perform the function of child-bearing for him. In the interim, nothing
prevents Odili and I from sharing what we have. If he wants me, he
knows precisely where to find me".
"This is both sad and preposterous", I remarked, feeling somewhat
"Odili thought so too", Nkem responded matter-of-factly, still
"You mean the family, has taken it upon itself to get Odili a new wife
in your place and by themselves?"
"Don't sound so shocked Effua. These things happen all the time not
just in Africa, but also in other supposedly civilised societies. Marriages
get arranged and annulled by families for political and socio-economic
reasons and not merely for love. Concubines are also arranged to produce
heirs if the woman taken in wedlock is unable to beget any"
"This is news to me", I said, somewhat sardonically and still shaken.
"However in this case, Nkem, you have decided against Odili having a
concubine. You've rather opted to be the woman outside; in other words,
you've chosen to be his mistress. Is that accurate Nkem?"
"Yes, Effua, I feel the role of a mistress suits me much better - given
my present circumstance. I probably was destined to be a mistress and
not a wife anyway. I honestly would rather be that than a derelict and
pitiful wife, who is left in the home dejected and embittered and only in
possession of the wedding ring and not the man himself," Nkem ended
with a laugh.
I simply shook my head in disbelief. I found we were approaching
the government reservation area at Apapa. We drove past the botanical
gardens and came to a new layout with trees lining both sides of the
road. The air was fresh and warm. I had switched off the air- conditioner
and rolled down the glass on my side of the car. I could smell the sea
nearby. The tree-lined road ended in a T-junction. Nkem took the
turning to the right and continued on a fly-over bridge, which brought
us to a roundabout. We then entered Bala Avenue, and after six poles,
she signalled and turned into Owina Crescent. I discovered immediately
that this was: "A privileged class-residential area". It was not only quiet
and secluded, but also enveloped in a profusion of security lights. The
architectural design of each of the houses was also distinct. They all had
a common profusion of flowers in front of them.
Nkem stopped at a house on the right, marked number 10.
It had a white fence and a white gate. As the car came to a halt, an
elderly man came forward to open the gate and a dog barked, as it rushed
from the patio in front of the house.
As the tyres of the car ground on the gravel in front of the house, three
people simultaneously peeped from a curtain downstairs, to see who was
driving in. All three immediately rushed out to the garage, as soon as
they realised it was Nkem.
She drove the car into the garage and then it was closed.
"Sister, nnua!" echoed three happy voices simultaneously, as they
greeted Nkem. The loudest of the voices, belonged to the elderly woman,
who led the "welcoming delegation". It was an impressive reception.
"Are you all fine?" Nkem responded rhetorically.
She handed the car keys to the girl, whom she called Dorcas. She
instructed her to bring out all the luggage in the back seat and lock the
"Yes sister", the girl responded.
"Onyeisi, come and help me take some of them up", she called out to
Onyeisi, who had taken Nkem's bag in one hand and my jacket in the
other, dashed back to help her with some luggage. Meanwhile, Mama
Nima (as the elderly woman was called), helped to bring in the fresh
fruits Nkem had stopped to buy on the way.
We went into the house through the kitchen and a door to the right
brought us into a small living room with a television showing a movie.
Nkem pushed aside a flush door, which separated this living room from
a larger sitting room.
This sitting room, was luxurious without being grandiose. It was
fully rugged in a thick green carpet, which looked like moss. The carpet
blended beautifully with the cream-coloured leather upholstery. The
front flush doors were completely screened by a lovely green and white
lace organza curtains. There was an entire wall covered by a larger-than-
life mural of crystal clear water, rushing down a precipice. It looked so
real and vivid, you could almost feel the spray on your lips. The opposite
wall had a beige wood panelling with a lovely white bar built into it.
Finally, there was the dining area, tucked away to the left flank of the
room. It stood by a French-window, which overlooked a garden from
which wafted in the sweet scent of Queen-of-the-night blossoms.
The lights in the room were subdued. This effect was created by the
beautiful lamp shades around them. I remember Odili and Nkem loved
lamp shades. The ones in there were exquisite.
It was as if I had stepped into a movie set; I was most reluctant to get
away from it all. I dropped into the armchairs, which seemed to embrace
"Caustic Soda! Nkem, this is simply breathtaking", I said, letting out
a small whistle of appreciation.
"I agree totally," Nkem said, going over to the bar to get two bottles
of cold shandy. She opened the bottles and poured their contents into
two tall paper-thin glasses. She handed one to me and settled on the rug
with the other. The place suited Nkem beautifully. She looked like a
queen in her domain. For the first time, I noticed she had acquired an air
of independence, which hadn't been there when I last saw her. Just as
she was about to speak, the phone at the bar rang. She reached for it and
spoke into the receiver.
It turned out to be Odili on the line.
"She arrived on schedule," I heard Nkem say. "I made it just in time
to the airport."
I watched as she made light and affectionate banter with Odili. I
discovered that nothing had changed. They were still very much in love
with each other. I watched my friend and wondered what made her so
unique a person. It wasn't just her beautiful features! She was one of
those people you would describe as "Lithe" and not just tall. She had
an oval face with a nose, which made you wonder if she was of North
African stock. She had beautiful eyes, tinged with long lashes. Her smile
revealed a set of small white teeth, which contrasted vividly with her
dark gums. She was an embodiment of feminine elegance and everything
about her said she was a woman. More than that, Nkem had an aura, a
presence, which came with her into a room and lingered after she had
left. She had that extra quality, which very few people are endowed with
nor can easily acquire. It came, I guess, from an intimate knowledge and
acceptance of who she was.
Nkem had again exhibited this intimate knowledge of what was best
for her and I mentally congratulated her.
I wondered how Odili was taking it all. I knew for one thing that
he had personally supervised the furnishing of the house. He would
also have spared no expense. He had obviously provided every minute
comfort he felt would make the place a haven for Nkem. Odili loved
and respected Nkem a great deal. It showed in the way he looked at her,
even while she talked. His pride and love also showed in the manner he
wanted to show her off to his friends and business associates.
The two had a deeply fulfilling and symbiotic relationship, to which
I personally believed children would have made little difference. They
would certainly have loved and cherished any offspring, if they had had
any between them; but I was sure Odili would always regard Nkem,
not just as the mother of his children, but first and foremost, as the one
woman who could satisfy his deepest emotional needs.
As for Nkem, I still believed she was still going to be a mother. I was
simply certain she would still fulfil that role. She had once explained
to me that children meant a great deal to her. However, there was just
one particular child she wanted to carry in her body - Odili's. For her,
pregnancy was a means by which she could joyfully claim a part of the
man she loved with her being.
I had almost finished my drink, when I heard Nkem mention my
name. This brought me out of my reverie.
"Yes, you can hold on for Effua, she is right here", I heard her say.
She then extended the telephone receiver to me.
I spoke into it saying, "Oga Odili, how are you?"
"Madame Effua," Odili responded, with pleasure. "Effua the great!"
he repeated, as I continued laughing. Odili enjoyed teasing me and I
found him a pleasant person to be with. "So, how was the presidential
trip?" he asked.
"Okay, but rather hectic," I replied, smiling.
'Yes, I can actually feel the Presidential breeze blowing from you
even from the phone"
"I beg go sidon bo," I responded in pidgin English.
"Haa! People like me never even stand in front of the man, talk less
of travelling with him," he answered.
"Count yourself lucky my dear brother," I replied. "At times, it's no
fun travelling with the President especially, when you aren't doing it for
pleasure, but to write down what he and some Arab heads of states have
to say to each other."
"Well, were they able to convene a session this time around?" Odili
"Yes, fortunately they were," I replied.
"Well, how do you like Nkem's new abode?" he enquired - switching
the subject of conversation suddenly. I knew he would broach the
subject of their separation in this manner and I hesitated slightly before
answering. "It's a lovely place Odili. I didn't know you owned any
property in Apapa." I responded carefully.
"Yes, I do", Odili replied with a sigh. "Three as a matter of fact, I
leased the other two out to the Navy last year".
"Wahoo ! You must be collecting a neat sum from them!"
Odili chuckled, "A piece of the 'National Cake' is what I call it. It's
really good to hear your voice again Effua," he went on. "Although I
can't help wishing you were here with Nkem and I, as it used to be in the
I detected a slight note of nostalgia in his voice, but he fortunately did
not dwell too much on this.
"I hope your friend does not plan to incarcerate you in that house of
hers for the entire period of your stay?" he asked.
"No, certainly not," I answered.
"Well, do try and come down to Victoria Island with her to say hello
before you leave Lagos".
"Yes Sir!' I said in mock salute.
Odili laughed and asked to be handed back to Nkem.
In the meantime, I finished off my drink and, at that juncture, Mama
Nima came in with a tray load of food. It had a lovely aroma and made
me remember just how hungry I was. I debated briefly with myself
whether or not to take a quick shower before eating; however, at the
sight of the food, which Nkem asked to be brought to us on the rug, I
put every thought of a pre-dinner wash behind my mind. I found myself
completely at ease in the relaxed setting of the room. I simply sprawled
my tired body on the luxurious carpet. Dorcas fetched a hand woven
rawhide mat, on which the tray was placed. The meal consisted of a
steaming bowl of rice, some pepper soup, prepared with a large quantity
of fresh fish, a bowl of fried snails, some fried plantain and a bowl of
thick red tomato and onion stew, which smelled delicious.
"My goodness" Nkem exclaimed, when she caught sight of the tray.
"Mama Nima, do you expect just the two of us to finish all this rice?
Have you eaten?" she asked,
"Yes we have," Dorcas and the woman replied in unison.
"What of Papa Sunday the night watchman; did you give him some
Dorcas and Mama Nima were suddenly amused at that point.
"Yes we did, but it was eba he ate and not rice", Mama Nima
explained. Dorcas, who was laughing very hard, added: "Aunty, he said
the last time we gave him rice for supper, he could hardly get up from
his mat in the morning, because he was very hungry. He said the rice we
gave him dissolved into water in his stomach, before he got to the gate
the night before."
"Well, let's just thank God thieves did not decide to visit us that night",
Nkem said laughing. I was also amused, as I sat listening to them.
Just at that moment, Onyeisi rushed in to say that the television series
-"Cock-Crow at Dawn" was on. All three rushed out excitedly to watch
it. Meanwhile, Nkem and I settled down to eat.
"You are very lucky to have such good company around you." I
"Yes they are nice and helpful; Dorcas and Onyeisi are my cousins.
They lost their mother not too long ago - she was my father's niece
and I liked her very much. She was a gentle and unassuming person."
"Yes. I notice Dorcas appears to be good-natured," I said.
"Oh yes, she is" Nkem said, "and in the event of an emergency I know
I can trust her implicitly."
"What of Mama Nima?" I asked.
"Oh Mama Nima incidentally is from Ghana -I mean she spent most
of her adult years there. I understand she and her sister were Kente cloth
weavers. Her sister died last year and she returned to Nigeria when
our people were asked to leave. I employed her through a nun, who
patronises my bookshop regularly. She wanted to find employment for
Mama Nima and approached me about it. I decided to employ her and
have her live with me and keep the house organised rather than have her
as a cleaner in the shop.'
She appears to be happy," I said.
"Oh yes she is, except for the fact that she is a workaholic. She is
forever looking for one thing or the other to scrub. She is a good woman
though; the only real minus she has is this most frightful snoring habit
she has" Nkem explained laughing. "Honestly, you've got to hear it to
believe it Effua. The first time I heard her snoring, I wondered what was
making the noise that was coming out of her room.
So, if you hear someone blowing a trumpet tonight, know that it's
Mama Nima taking a trip to Ghana." I simply rocked with laughter as I
"So much has happened Nkem, since I last saw you," I said, after a
"Yes dear, a lot of changes have occurred in my life, but I am sure it's
for the better," she said in response.
Tell me how is Odili taking all this?"
"Well, as I told you, he vehemently objected to the idea of my moving
out, but I managed to talk him round to accepting the idea eventually. At
first, he wouldn't even listen to me, nor consider the issue, but I prevailed
on him and he eventually let me have my way. Trust me, I had to do it
Effua. It took a lot of teeth gritting determination, but I knew it was
either that or a polygamous life-style in a home, which was meant to be
monogamous and originally created for Odili, myself and our offspring.
However, the house at Victoria Island and all the lovely things in it are
inanimate. What really matters is the way Odili and I feel about each
"I didn't know you cared so much for what people think or say Nkem
- I'm not criticising you though I'm just making a statement of fact," I
"Yes, I know what you mean Effua and as I was explaining to you
in the car, I knew it was just a question of time before the pressures
started having their negative effect on our relationship. The insinuations
that Odili was to get a second wife, the malice and at times, the outright
hostility or nastiness of people around us, was beginning to overwhelm
me. I had to move out of Odili's home, so as to preserve and keep as
strong as I could, the love that we share. I know it sounds paradoxical or
ironic, that I have to keep away from a man, so as to be able to continue
loving him the way I do love Odili, but you see, the circumstances in
which we've found ourselves are unusual and so we've had to devise
ingenious steps to remedy the situation. Now that I have created a
vacancy in Odili's home by moving out, people like his stepmother
will now leave us in peace. Odili and I can now go ahead with the task
of fulfilling each other's emotional needs. I sincerely love him Effua",
Nkem continued to say to me, in a quiet and pensive voice. "He means
so much to me and I've never felt this way about any other human being.
Nonetheless, I do not mind sharing him with another woman, if it is
for the purpose of satisfying an important need such as childbearing; a
need which society deems as 'Fundamental' quote and unquote, and one
which must be satisfied, if they are to regard him as 'successful'. Up to
date, I haven't been able to fulfil this need," she said with a sigh. "And it
remains to be seen in the future, if I ever will. I have come to terms with
this limitation and I thank God. I have also decided to embrace the idea
of becoming Odili's 'Mistress' and believe me, I am beginning to enjoy it
- what with the independence and peace of mind that goes with it."
"How did his family actually take it all?" I asked.
"They were stunned - his stepmother in particular." She had on
one occasion hinted to me that the family would want Odili to take a
second wife and that they wanted my co-operation. She assured me that
they would in turn ensure that I remained the highly respected 'mem-
shahib' she claims I am at the moment; but I didn't tell Odili about this
conversation with his stepmother. I knew he would react with outrage, as
he always did, whenever they broached the subject of his taking a second
wife. However, that discussion was what set me thinking."
At that moment, Onyeisi appeared in the doorway to find out if we
had finished eating. Nkem asked him to come in and remove the plates.
He rushed in to do so, closely followed by Dorcas.
"Hmmh"! Dorcas exclaimed, with irritation, as she tried to shove past
Onyeisi. Onyeisi persisted and rushed forward to clear the plates.
"Don't break the plates O!" Mama Nima called from the other room.
"Dorcas; you let him clear the plates. There is enough food left in
them for two of you to share; you go and get us some tooth pick," Nkem
ordered. I smiled as I realised that the scramble to clear the plates was so
that the food left over could be polished off by whoever got the dishes
Dorcas ran off to get the tooth picks, which she placed in a saucer
and brought to us. She cleared the rest of the plates and Mama Nima sent
Onyeisi in, with some peeled pineapples.
We decided to take this upstairs. Onyeisi therefore conveyed the tray
upstairs, while Nkem and I followed. Nkem paused to instruct Mama
Nima to make sure that she and Dorcas locked up the place properly
before they went to bed. She however checked the front door herself and
switched on all the security lights, before she turned to go upstairs.
Dorcas was already locking up all the windows. She had also let
down the burglar-proof railing, that ran across the entire flush doors in
front. The household looked orderly and efficient.
Upstairs, Nkem led me into a lovely self-contained bedroom. It was
the master bedroom. It was very resplendent and had a balcony attached
to it, replete with lovely house plants and three white garden chairs and
The room itself was tastefully furnished and was most inviting in a
typical reflection of Odili and Nkem's personalities. There was the same
thick green-moss carpet, like the one in the sitting room downstairs.
There was a big white bed, which matched the white ornate dressing
table and wardrobe in the room. The wall directly opposite the bed, was
covered in a lovely wall mural of a serene meadow, with a profusion of
green and yellow flowers, and a gentle stream, flowing by.
Nkem also had a beautiful stereo set just by the bedside. It had
a lovely stand of its own and an amplifier. It was all impressive and
romantic. The room spoke of two people who had money and knew how
to use it to make themselves comfortable.
I settled on an easy chair and reached for my pineapple. Nkem put on
a slow rhythmic song. I smiled. I remembered Nkem loved music a lot!
For her it was a sort of psychological prop. She was one of those people
whom music had a lot of effect on. When we were at school in Legon, I
recalled she used to have her cassette player with her everywhere, even
while she washed her hair. She claimed music helped her shampoo it
"A penny for your thoughts," she said to me, as she took her pineapple
and settled on the bed with it.
You shouldn't play that kind of music except when you have Odili
with you." I said, smiling.
"Oh!, it's gospel music," she said, sitting up. "I discovered it through
a friend in the charismatic group I joined recently; and I've found it to
be a very soothing brand of music: very rhythmic and rich in carefully
composed and meaningful lyrics."
"Do you mean to say you've become more than just a church going
Catholic?" I asked, with quiet interest, as I cut her short. This was another
new development in her life, which I had also been unaware of.
"Oh yes, she responded with obvious enthusiasm. And about time
too! I am actually enjoying it."
"Tell me more," I said raising a quizzical eyebrow.
Nkem simply laughed, saying Well, the same American nun, who had
talked to me about employing Mama Nima also introduced me to this
African American lady, who wanted to find out if I could market some
wall murals, such as the one downstairs and this one up here. As you can
see, they have gospel messages on them, like this one which says 'God is
Dad' and the one downstairs, which says 'The Lord reigneth'. The lady
wanted to find out how popular they would be and requested that I put
then, on display in the shop. I saw a few samples and approved of them. I
then decided to go along with her plans and the response was tremendous
- in no time at all the entire stock I had ordered was bought up like hot
cakes. Thereafter, I established a permanent commercial arrangement
with Sister Vanessa as we all call her in the charismatic group. She is a
most remarkable person. I must take you to meet her."
"Where does she stay?" I asked, with interest.
"Minna Road," Nkem, answered. "You look very tired," she observed
"And very sticky too." I agreed, with a loud yawn.
"Well, why don't you take a bath right away," she suggested.
"I'm so tired, I can scarcely move a limb,' I said with relaxed
indulgence. "Where are my things?" I enquired.
"Oh! they are in your room. Come, I'll show you.'
Nkem led me down a carpeted corridor, to a room, which was situated
almost diagonally to hers. It was a lovely room, set off in pastel and beige
colours and also tastefully furnished. There were crisp, white sheets
on the bed, a lovely dressing table, very similar to the one in Nkem's
bedroom, except that this was much smaller in size. The room was any
visitor's delight and was replete with every comfort, including its own
toilet and bath.
"There is still so much for us to talk about" I said to Nkem, as I
searched for my toilet bag in my hold-all.
"I'll tell you what we'll do,"she replied. "You just get your toilet
things and your night gown and come over to our room. You'll take your
bath and spend the night there and we can keep talking until either of us
"That sounds good to me," I said, as I stifled a yawn. "I'll have to
phone my parents though, to let them know I m back in town" I added.
"That's alright" Nkem replied, as we left the room and switched off
the lights. As we walked back to Nkem's room, I couldn't help pondering
lightly over the way she had referred to her bedroom in the plural term,
"Our room". For her, nothing had changed. The place was hers alright,
but Odili had a place of prominence and importance in this restful and
idyllic domain she had created for herself.
I quickly rang my parents' home as soon as we got back to the room.
It was very late and I silently hoped they were not already in bed. After
two short rings, someone picked up the phone.
Hello, who is there?" I enquired.
"Etsenu," replied an unfamiliar voice. I guessed it was one of the
many new hands who came from Ghana to help my mother in her
bakery. As head of a big family unit in Koforidua, many members of her
extended family unit came by the droves to live in Nigeria with her.
She often housed and employed them to work in her bakery, but
always insisted that they returned to Koforidua after a three-year period
to set up their own bakery or some other trade they might have learnt
with whatever capital they had saved, whilst they were with her
"Wey mummy?" I enquired in pidgin English.
"She dey for Palour" the boy answered.
"Them get visitors?" I asked rather surprised
"Yes de Church-Warden them come hold meeting for our house
today," he explained.
"Okay wey Alice?" I further questioned.
"She dey backyard, make I go call am?" he asked.
"Eh, go call am," I answered. 'Tell am say na sister Effua." A short
while later, I heard Alice panting and shrieking with delight. "Eeh! Sister
welcome! Where you dey?" she asked in pidgin English, with excited
"I dey Apapa," I answered, smiling.
"Tell Mama them say I don return." I continued. "Tell them say I go
come house tomorrow. How una dey?" I asked.
"We dey well sister, but we been don dey hala say you never return"
she responded in fluent pidgin English.
"Okay make you tell mama them say I don return. I just dey come
this evening; and tell them say I go come house tomorrow afternoon," I
"Okay sister, I hear."
"And Alice, make you help me look for store, you go see one red
carton wey book dey inside, make you help me commot am, I want take
sometin inside, when I come tomorrow," I further instructed.
"Okay sister," she repeated, before popping the question, which I
knew she would inevitably ask: "Sister, you buy anything come for me?"
she asked in her youthful manner and holding her breath.
"Eeh," I answered. "I go bring am come tomorrow," I assured her. I
knew that had sent her jumping up and down with suppressed delight.
"Okay sister good night." she answered, sounding very happy.
"Sleep well," I responded briefly, before dropping the phone. I
strolled to the bathroom, bare-footed and found that Nkem had already
run me a warm bath. She had added some sweet-smelling cologne and
bubble bath to it. It looked very inviting.
"You are giving me the V.I.P treatment in great style tonight."
"I think you deserve it," she answered, as she moved to the wash
basin, to brush her teeth.
"I feel a little bit guilty spending the night here. I feel it's exclusively
for Odili and yourself, the place has such a strong feel of his presence."
Nkem laughed, saying, "Don't be ridiculous Effua; it's only a room
and besides, Odili would definitely not mind; moreover it's only for one
"So tell me, how did Mama Asaba react to your decision to move
out?" I asked, in an attempt to resume the conversation about her
separation from Odili.
"Oh yes, as I was telling you, she felt so conscience-stricken about it,
that she began a campaign to get me to return. She explained that all she
had wanted me to do was help bring another woman into the house and
that vacating it was the last thing she wanted."
Nkem changed into her night gown and then wedged the bathroom
door with a stool so that we could continue talking, whilst I bathed.
"I suppose she already has someone in mind for Odili?" I asked.
"I am not really sure," Nkem replied, yawning. "But I believe
Comfort is a likely candidate."
"You mean the girl who occasionally drove Mama Asaba down to
your house in a Toyota-Corolla?" I asked, incredulously.
"Yes, she is the one!" Nkem answered, equally surprised. "I didn't
know you knew her," she said.
"Yes, I do," I answered. "You remember there was one evening we
were all seated out on the front porch and then she drove in with Mama
"Yes, that is true," Nkem answered, as she recalled the occasion.
"You know her alright," she added, as she punched up her pillows and
made herself more comfortable on the bed. "I understand her mother and
Mama Asaba are distant cousins and that she's only just returned from
Britain. I gathered she is a confidential secretary to one of the managers
at the Nigerian Airport Authority"
"This is incredulous," I said, shaking my head in disbelief. "You
mean Mama Asaba had the effrontery to begin making a harem out of
your home, even whilst you were there?"
Nkem merely laughed in response.
"Yes, I remember she was kind of acting very nervous and was
painfully shy on that day," I said, as I recalled the occasion more clearly.
"She kept calling you 'Aunty' and was so eager to help you around the
"Yes, in fairness to her, she appears to be nice enough as a person and
probably, if it had been in another era, I wouldn't have minded sharing
a polygamous home with her. However, as it is, I would rather she had
the entire house to herself. Odili knows where to find me when he wants
me," she concluded.
"One keeps learning new things about life each day," I said, as I got
out of the bath and towelled my body vigorously.
"You couldn't be more correct," Nkem agreed with a soft sigh. She
yawned tiredly and pulled the bed covers up to her chin saying: "The last
thing I want is to live in a household full of rancour or for some woman
to accuse me of cruelty to her or suspect me of poisoning her food or
claim that I've 'locked up her womb', because I've have been unable to
give Odili a child."
I couldn't help laughing at that last bit. It sounded so ridiculous that
anybody would accuse another person of such a thing. But Nkem assured
me it could happen saying: "Oh yes it is true! It's simply amazing to hear
the different sorts of accusations levelled in polygamous homes. They
could send you to an early grave if you aren't used to that sort of thing"
"My dear, I am beginning to think you did the right thing to move
out," I said, as I joined her in bed.
"Odili is beginning to think so too."
"Tell me, has he now agreed or warmed up to the idea of marrying- or
shall I say, living with Comfort?" I asked.
"He was very nasty to her initially," Nkem said, after a thoughtful
pause. "But he later sort of relented. I gather she goes there quite often
now and does his cooking and supervises his laundry," Nkem laughed, as
she added. "You know the saying about the fastest way to a man's heart
being through his stomach."
"Mhumh," I answered, in agreement.
"I understand Mama Asaba is making frantic efforts to get Odili's
eldest uncle to legitimise the whole thing by paying the bride-price
Comforts family has asked for. They are very enthusiastic about the
whole thing; they consider Odili a most desirable son in-law. I won't
say I blame them. Odili has everything it takes to win the approval of
any parents-in-law; breeding, good looks and wealth. I've given them
the assurance that I bear none of them any grudge and that they are
welcome to share the flesh pot with me." Nkem said the last bit smiling
enigmatically. She also appeared to be sleepy.
"For how long will you be staying in Lagos?" she asked me abruptly,
as her eyes flew open.
"Three months," I answered.
The seminar I had come to Lagos to attend, was lasting twelve weeks
approximately. I had been detailed to deliver a series of lectures on
'The techniques of reporting', at a training 'Workshop', organised by
the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), for newly recruited
The FRCN in Lagos, held such regular in-service training programmes
for its News personnel. The National Guardian, the newspaper which I
worked for, was often asked to send a Senior Professional Personnel',
(as they often put it), to help in the training scheme. My Editor-in-Chief
had told me he was sending me on this occasion. He had instructed me to
report at the FRCN, as soon as I returned from my coverage of the OAU
"I will, however, be going to Ibadan tomorrow to collect all that I'll
be needing for the period and then drive back in my car," I continued to
explain. "I understand I've been booked into the Guardian Guest house
at Victoria Island for the period, but I'll have to get that confirmed by my
"I'm so glad you'll be spending some time in Lagos," Nkem replied.
"I wonder why you ever decided to move to Ibadan in the first place,"
"I wanted to leave home," I replied. "My parents' match-making
efforts were beginning to get too much for me."
Nkem laughed, saying: "Not to talk of the endless dates Odili and I
kept arranging for you."
"You all meant well. But I wasn't ready for any intimate relationships
then and I'm still not sure that I am yet."
"Well I'm glad you like lbadan."
"I certainly do," I replied.
"What are your plans for tomorrow?"
"First I'll go and see my parents and we'll probably see Odili. You
know I promised him I would go over to Victoria Island to see him
before leaving for lbadan. Then at six forty five, I'll catch my plane to
"You know it's a long time since I saw your parents. I'm sure your
father will say I am a bad friend," she said, smiling.
"It isn't your fault," I said, reassuringly. "You've been very busy."
"I hope we do get up early tomorrow," Nkem said, as she prepared
to sleep. "I intend to stop by at the shop briefly to see that everything is
alright. Thereafter we can go wherever you want us to."
"Alright," I answered, sleepily.
Nkem made the sign of the cross and said The Lord's Prayer out loud.
I said some of it with her and then fell fast asleep.