I parked my car in front of what I hoped was the right address. I looked around, stepping out of the car. The street was deserted and quiet as expected in Old GRA. The house was a redbrick, same as everyone on that row. The small black gate had a sign with a camera that read ’24/7 vigilance’. Hoping Mama would agree to see to me I pressed the bell.
I waited, wiping sweaty palms over my hijab. When I had informed Gaffar about my intention to visit Mama he had been surprised at first, then looked unsure.
“A’ish, why not wait till next week? I’ll be less busy at the office by then and we’ll go together.” He’d told me.
Resolute in my decision, I’d shaken my head. “Please Gaffar I need to do this on my own. In shaa Allah, we’ll visit together afterwards.”
Gaffar had agreed and I’d sighed in relief. Standing here now, waiting for Mama to admit me, I realised that getting the address was the easy part. Getting Mama to speak with me was going to be tricky.
Ya Allah soften her heart. Let her listen to what I have to say.
I pressed the bell again. There was a camera at the top of the bell, so I knew whoever was inside had seen me. Ten minutes and three more rings after, I got an answer.
“What do you want?” Mama’s voice over the intercom was hard. I could picture her face clearly in my mind’s eye; angry and unyielding with that ever-present look of disgust.
I cleared my throat. Here goes. “Assalamu Alaykum ma. I would like to have a word with you, ma?”
Mama hissed, loud and long. “What could you possibly have to say to me that I would want to listen, ehn? Unless you’ve come to tell me that you’re leaving my son, or that you’re pregnant?”
“No, ma,” I said quietly, ignoring the twist of pain in my chest.
Mama laughed. A mirthless sound, mocking and condescending. “I knew it. Nothing good can ever come from you. Please leave! Koshi kuro ni ibi. And don’t come back o, if you know what’s good for you.”
“But ma, I only need a few minutes of your time.”
“Leave!” Mama barked.
I jumped and scrambled back to my car. I was shaking so badly, I dropped my car keys twice. Once inside the car, I took deep breaths to calm myself. What a fool I was to have thought this could ever work. I picked up my phone and dialled the girls on the group chat. Only Hadiza picked.
“Babes, Assalamu alaykum. How did it go?”
“She chased me away like a dog, Hadiza.” I replied. “I don’t think I can do this Hadiza.”
“Don’t cry, A’ish. Listen, I know how you feel, but you need to keep trying. You’re going to go back to that house tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the day after that. I’m certain she’ll budge when she sees how persistent you are.”
“I’m not sure, Hadiza…”
“A’isha, think about it. What’s the worst she can do? Tell Gaffar? I imagine she won’t because she knows he’ll try to convince her to see you.”
Hadiza did have a point. Mama was being unreasonable, and she knew it. I wanted to find out why and come up with a solution if possible. Or at the very least we could reach a truce.
A sigh escaped my lips. “I’ll keep trying. Please make du’a that this works out.”
“Always, A’ish. You know you never need to ask”
“Thanks, babe. I feel a little better already.”
“Glad to hear that.”
I injected a little bit of cheer into my voice. “Got any idea what Muslimah and Jemima are up to? This one wey be say na only you answer call.”
“I guess Muslimah is busy with her ‘spy mission’. Plus, I think she mentioned she had a test today.” Hadiza exhaled. “As for Jemima, I’m here with her. Didn’t want her to be alone, you know? She’s sleeping now.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you H. Give her my love, ok?”
“I will. Talk to you later?”
“Sure. Assalamu alaykum.”
I ended the call, my thoughts never leaving Jemima. I understood Hadiza’s fears and it made sense that she was with her, seeing as their homes were only a few blocks from each other. Finding Jemima in a near-hysterical state the day before had been hard for all of us. Even more jarring was learning about Abdul’s ruse. If finding out had such an effect on us, her friends, I couldn’t begin to imagine the shock Jemima was currently living. Being 8 months pregnant complicated matters too, and I feared for her baby.
Whispering a du’a for ease for her, I made my way out of the estate.
Three days later, I returned yet again to Mama’s abode. I reported to the gate every single day after closing the shop. The day before yesterday she’d answered the bell, raining insults upon me. Yesterday she’d ignored me completely. Her constant rebuffs hurt me greatly, but I refused to give up.
Today I would try another tactic. If she refused to see me face-to-face, then she would listen to me. I even arrived there two hours earlier than the usual time. As soon as I pressed the bell I began to speak.
“Assalamu alaykum, ma. My apologies if I’ve been a pest these past few days but I need to talk to you. We can not continue living like this. Wallahi it hurts me and I know it does Gaffar too. Please ma, tell me what I have done to offend you so I can make amends…”
“Hello, who is this?”
Taken aback, all I could do was stare at the intercom. The voice I’d heard did not belong to Mama. Compared to Mama’s voice, this was soft and soothing. Hearing her speak calmed my nerves somewhat. My guess was that it belonged to Mama’s host.
“Hello. Are you still there?”
Recovering from my initial shock, I replied. “Y-yes ma. Forgive me, I thought I was speaking with Mrs. Gbadamosi.”
“Oh, she’s out at the moment.” There was a pause. “Would you like to wait for her?”
“Yes, ma,” I said quickly before she changed her mind. I could hardly believe my luck. Mama was in for a rude shock when she returned from wherever it is she had gone to.
“Do come in please.”
There was a buzz, then the door opened slowly. Hardly believing my luck, I stepped inside. The yard was beautiful, with well-tended bushes to the sides. Flowerpots lined the steps leading to the front door where a plump woman in spectacles waited. Grey hair peeked out from beneath her iborun and I estimated her to probably be between her late-fifties and early sixties. She was dark too, and I couldn’t help but notice how the rhinestones on her lace iro and buba twinkled as they caught the sunlight.
She smiled- a kind smile that transformed her entire face. I felt at ease in her presence.
“Please do come in.” She said again.
I followed her into the house. Inside, it smelt like vanilla and strawberries, most likely from the numerous scented candles placed around. Several pictures and artworks adorned the walls, right from the hallway which we passed, until we reached the living room, where a T.V played soundlessly, and a small breeze blew in between the open windows. The room felt comfortable enough for me to almost forget the reason why I was there.
“Have a seat,” she said pointing to a sofa.
“Thank you, ma”
“Would you like some refreshments?”
I shook my head. “No, thank you ma.”
“You’re Gaffar’s wife, aren’t you?” She asked gently.
At my nod, she continued. “I inferred from your words earlier. That’s why I allowed you in. I’m Mrs. Bola Folarin, and this is my home. Sade—that’s your mother-in-law— is my dear friend. She’s told me a lot about you. To be clear I do not agree with her refusing to speak with you however, I guess it’s your lucky day today.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I thanked her. “Thank you, ma.”
“Make yourself comfortable. She’ll be back soon. If you’ll excuse me.”
With that, she left me alone in the sitting room. I wondered what Mama must have told her about me, Good or bad there was nothing I could do about it.
Not ten minutes later, the doorbell rang. My throat tightened. The time of reckoning had come.
Mrs. Folarin appeared and spoke into the intercom. When she confirmed it was Mama, she let her in.
“I’ll go and meet her. You just relax dear. It’ll be fine.”
Mrs Folarin would never know how much her words reassured me. Soon I could hear raised voices coming from the front door.
“Bola, Mi nife si nkan ti os e yi o, I don’t like what you did. I told you I have no interest in listening to her. Is it by force?”
“Sade, calm down. Are you forgetting that this is my house, and I can invite inside whomever I wish?”
“Ah, if you put it that way, I’ll leave your house then. I’m supposed to be your best friend and you should support me in whatever decision I take’”
“Even if it’s the wrong one?” They had reached the living room now. Mama pointed at me, eyes shooting daggers.
“Iwo omo yi, you this girl! You’ve schemed your way in, abi. Oya, get up and get out now!”
I shot up from my seat, ready to leave. Mrs Folarin came to stand between us.
“Sade, stop being so stubborn! At least hear her out. For Allah’s sake.”
I held my breath, praying for a miracle. Mama stared at her friend, undoubtedly debating whether to persist in her stubbornness or give in. A few agonising moments later, she spoke.
“Bola, o je ola e o, ati ti olorun. I’m only agreeing to this because of you and for Allah’s sake.”
Alhamdulillah. I let out the breath I had been holding. Even Mrs Folarin heaved a sigh of relief.
“Alhamdulillah. Ose ore mi, thank you, my friend. May Allah honour you too.” She turned to me smiling “Sit down my dear.” To Mama she said. “I’ll leave you both to it.”
“No, Bola. You will stay for this. After all, you convinced me to do it and there’s nothing you do not already know.”
Mrs Folarin shrugged and settled into the seat she had occupied earlier. Mama joined her there. I sat back down gingerly, half-expecting Mama to swoop down on me at any moment. Sitting right in front of them, it felt like I was awaiting sentencing for a crime. Frankly, I was glad Mrs Folarin was present. She had proven that she could curb Mama’s excesses.
“Ehen, let’s hear what you have to say,” Mama said in a mocking tone.
“Erm, Mama, I only wanted to. That is…”
“Please make haste. I haven’t got all day, jare!” Mama shouted.
Mrs Folarin laid a hand on Mama’s lap. “Farabale, calm down Sade. O ti ko omolomo laya je, you have intimidated the poor girl.” Mrs Folarin looked at me then, a gentle smile on her lips. “Dear, relax and gather your thoughts. You have no reason to be nervous, okay?”
“Yes, ma. Thank you, ma.” Closing my eyes, I concentrated on slowing my breathing and calming my racing heart. A’isha, this is your chance to finally have peace in your family. You need to take it by the horns.
Feeling a little calmer, I opened my eyes. Mama was shaking her feet, a storm in her eyes. Mrs Folarin still had that gentle smile on her face. I dredged up every ounce of courage I possessed and began.
“Thank you for agreeing to listen to me. Mama, if only for today, I would like you to not think of me as an in-law but as your daughter. You elders say that when a woman marries she does so not only to her husband alone but also to his whole family. I love Gaffar with all my heart—” Mama snorted at that. I paid her no mind. “—and I want our family to be as one…”
“You should have thought of that before deceiving my son!” Mama cut in. She shifted in her seat so she could face Mrs Folarin. “She has no child for Gaffar o, yet she has been hiding one from him all these years!”
I crossed over to them and crouched right in front of Mama. I looked straight into her eyes. “Mama, wallahi, I deeply regret what I did. I should never have hidden my son from Gaffar. I made a mistake, and I am truly sorry.”
At this point, I bowed my head. I wanted her to see that I was truly remorseful.
“It’s alright. Please rise.” I could hear the reluctance in her voice.
“No ma. I prefer to remain like this.” I raised my head again. “Mama I know what I did was wrong, and your anger towards me is justified. However, we both know that that isn’t the real reason you ha-dislike me. Mama, you never hid your disdain for me from the very first day we met. You even disapproved of my marriage to Gaffar. Please ma I want to know why, so I can make amends. For Allah’s sake. For your son’s sake. Please.”
“No, no, no.” Mama was shaking her head vehemently. “Get up and go home. I have forgiven you for your transgression, okay?. I will pray that Allah grants your request for a child.” She looked down at me. “Abi, is that not what you want to hear?”
I shook my head. “While I’m happy to hear that, it still doesn’t answer my question, ma. Please Mama do not let me leave this place without knowing. I sincerely want us to foster a loving relationship and we can’t achieve that if you still harbour ill will towards me…”
“Ahn, is it by force?!” Mama pushed me aside and left her seat to stand by the window adjacent. “I said I’ve forgiven you. Now go!”
This reaction from Mama proved to me that she would always hate me, no matter what I did. After all, she never denied my assertion. Was I foolish to have hoped that I’d be able to convince her or that we could coexist peacefully?
“Sade, ranti wipe agba o ma ki n binu tan, an elder should not bear grudges.” Mrs Folarin went to join Mama by the window. “Why not clear the air, put an end to this animosity that threatens to split your family asunder? Would you rather be absent from Gaffar’s life henceforth?”
Mama remained silent. Unyielding.
I was unable to describe it but a sense of calm spread through my entire being. So be it. There’s no use pursuing a lost cause. Pushing myself up from the floor, I dusted my clothes and wiped the tears from my cheeks. With shoulders squared and chin high, I faced Mama.
“I will do as you wish ma. I’ll leave. Allah bears me witness that I have tried. I have asked, pleaded, and beseeched you to no avail. Be rest assured I will never come between you and Gaffar, but I will not let you come between him and me.” I picked my bag from the sofa. Mama still had her back to the room. “Farewell Mama. Thank you for your hospitality, Mrs Folarin.” I headed towards the front door. Perhaps I was foolish to still harbour hope in my heart.
“Wait!” Mama’s sudden call stopped me in my tracks. “You want to know why I can’t stand you? Why thinking about you with my son makes my skin crawl? I will tell you. Then you can decide if you would have acted better than I did.”
Apprehension caused goosebumps to appear on my skin. The moment I had been waiting for had arrived and suddenly I realised I wasn’t ready. Nevertheless, I retraced my steps to the living room. Mama was still looking out through the window. Mrs Folarin had her hands around her shoulders. She smiled encouragingly at me.
“I knew someone from your tribe once.” Mama began in a quiet voice. “My stepmother. Ometere, she was called. The Doer of Good.” Mama snickered. “She was the opposite of everything her name means. In and around her dwelled evil such as I’d never seen.” Mama looked back then, right at me. Her eyes bore into mine, accusation, and loathing apparent in her gaze. “My stepmother maltreated me and my brother. It got too much that my baby brother left home never to be seen again. Omotere betrayed my father. Ruined him completely. She stole EVERYTHING he worked for and ran away with her lover, leaving us in penury. My father was never the same. His heart gave out soon after. He died… of a broken heart, I’m sure. Leaving me all alone in the world. I had no one. One time, I even swallowed my pride and went to her. I begged her but Omotere scorned me. I fought my right to survive and clawed my way to the top, determined to show Omotere that she didn’t win.”
I flinched every single time Mama mentioned that name. My name. In a way, I empathised with Mama. Her bitter experiences were better imagined, not lived. I understood why she was filled with such hatred and spite. But I wasn’t the Omotere she truly hated, no matter how much she wanted me to be.
Mama shrugged Mrs Folarin’s arm from her shoulders and began to advance towards me. “Now tell me, Omotere, what you would do if one fine day, your beloved son came to you and introduced as his intended bride, a woman who bears the same name as the one that destroyed your life?” She stopped in front of me. A mocking smile on her face. “Would you open your arms and accept her?
I stood my ground. “Mama I am sorry for what you’ve been through. It was horrible and undeserved. But I am not your stepmother. I will never be her.” I finished gently.
“It’s true, Sade.” Mrs Folarin added, coming to stand behind Mama.“A’isha is not your stepmother. I ask you to look past your grievances…”
“I can never forgive that woman!” Mama sneered.
Mrs Folarin put her hands up. “That’s not what I am saying. I want you to look well at A’isha. Really look at her. Look beyond her tribe, and her name and see her for who she truly is. I believe she’s a woman who loves your son and you, apparently. She isn’t without her flaws and has made her share of mistakes but who hasn’t? In the end, she only wants what any person would want: A loving home for their family.”
“No, I can’t. I won’t. They are all the same…”
Mrs Folarin touched Mama’s arm. “One person does not define a multitude. Do not crucify a tribe because of the actions of one. Please, Sade. For Allah’s sake. Remember the hadith on tribalism? Do not fall into error on account of your stepmother. If you do, she has already won. And you would have gained nothing but the ire of your Lord.”
The room was silent after Mrs Folarin’s plea. I waited with bated breath. Mama’s still looked defiant, but she also looked uncertain. I could tell Mrs Folarin had managed to reach her.
Ya Allah let her see me for who I really am and not some evil crone from her past.
Mama walked back to the window. “It’s going to be hard. I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Yes, you can Mama.” This time I joined her by the window. “I am not her and will never be. Please Mama you must see that. I love Gaffar and would never hurt him in that way. Never.”
Mama’s shoulders slumped. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. There was no animosity in her gaze now, only regret and pain.
“I do see you, A’isha. However, it’s a struggle for me to separate you two. Whenever I see you, I’m reminded of all she did to me and my family. It didn’t help that you were quite the opposite of what I thought you’d be. That angered me. I knew that it was wrong to punish you for someone else’s sins, but I guess I felt if I couldn’t punish the real Omotere, you’d have to do.”
Mama reached out and touched my shoulder, the first contact we had ever had in years. “I do see you, A’isha,” she said again. “And I apologise for my past deeds. I promise to treat you better. It will take some time, but I will try. Will you forgive and accept this from me?”
I nodded, too overwhelmed to speak. Without thinking, I pulled Mama into a hug. She resisted at first but finally she relaxed.
“Thank you, Mama,” I whispered.
“No thank you A’isha.”
At that moment—with Mama and I sobbing against each other and Mrs Folarin looking on with tears in her eyes—everything was good and right with the world.
I met up with Gaffar outside Papa Baasit’s later that day.
“How did the visit go.” He asked.
I grinned. “It was splendid. Mama and I now have an understanding.”
“When is she coming home then?”
“Well,” I began “…she said, and I quote— ‘I left of my own accord and will return when I am ready’. I guess we have to give her some time.”
“Okay then. I will call her at home in shaa Allah.” Gaffar said, fidgeting with his keys.
“Are you nervous?” I asked knowingly
He groaned. “Is it that obvious?”
I chuckled. “Yes, it is. Although maybe it’s obvious to me because I know you well.” I took his hand and kissed it. “Don’t worry. Maalik is a good boy. He won’t be much of a bother you’ll see.”
“I know. Remember I met him before.” He sighed deeply. “Okay let’s do this.”
We went inside. I hugged Papa Baasit and Maalik. Gaffar shook hands with them both. We were led into the dining room where Papa Baasit had pulled out all the stops. There was Jollof rice and smoked turkey with peppered snails and fried plantain. For dessert, we had puff-puff and pineapple juice.
While we lounged in the sitting room sipping our juice, Gaffar broached the real reason we had come to visit. He took my free hand and squeezed it. I squeezed back.
“So, Maalik have you given any thought to our offer?”
Maalik looked from Papa Baasit to me and Gaffar. I smiled at him. “Go on darling it’s alright.”
Maalik smiled back, looking relieved. “I have thought about your offer sir, and I appreciate it, truly. But I will agree only on one condition.”
“What is that Maalik,” Gaffar asked again.
Maalik’s eyes never left my face. “I want to meet my father.”
The smile slowly faded from my lips. I’d always known that this moment would come.
Phew! Hit me with your comments! Do like and share too. See you in the next one