It has always been an open secret. That the four siblings had deep rooted resentment for each other. Though they seemed to get along in the public under the keen watch of members of the extended family, everyone knew that the relationship was more like that of a cat and mouse. They would attend functions of other family members, but never those hosted by their father’s families. For they had different father’s. The first born and the last were sired by the same man while the two in the middle were from another man.
As members of their maternal family, we were always caught in the middle of the battle for loyalty for whatever it was worth. Over the years, the situation had grown worse long before my grand aunt, their mother, passed on a few years ago.
Before her death, several father figures of the family had made a series of attempts to get their mother to reconcile them or to persuade the children forget whatever might have happened in the past between their parents, but nothing had worked. Both sides held on fervently to their views of whatever they thought was responsible for their differences. So, on her demise, everything came to the fore.
As younger members of the maternal family, we were never involved in the direct discussions. We were naturally not considered old enough to participate in such high profile deliberations. But we sure were not in short supply of information on what was amiss. Unfortunately, the secrecy only gave room for the spread of rumours. Thus, many people had their own version of what they thought could be the real reasons, from the ridiculous to bare face white lies.
But story had it that mama, daughter of a popular Lagos fabric merchant was first married to her husband, an equally successful and famous Lagos socialite. Together, they had produced a lovely son. But after some years of secondary infertility, they decided to give God a helping hand by adding their own intelligence to His. So, they began talking to their friends, and most likely those they thought knew how or who could assist them.
One of such helpers was Papa’s close friend, another Lagos socialite of reputable pedigree. Papa’s friend was said to have taken the couple to consult at a few places but before long, they began noticing some strange things. Rather than my grand aunt focus on solving her problem, she added another and began openly singing the wonderful praises of her husband’s friends.
An open affair developed to the amazement of family and friends, which finally resulted in my aunt dumping her legitimate husband and young son, and moving into his friend’s house. All advise and admonition fell on deaf ears. But after birthing two children, she was done with him and wound her way back into the heart of her first husband and had another child. By now however, she did not have the honour of being wife number one but two.
She had lost the right to live in the big prestigious family house but in a rented apartment, and also lost the honour of walking by his side as his esteemed partner. This left everyone wondering why he took her back in the first place. Perhaps, to pacify his manly ego or teach her a lesson, or it was simply a case of everlasting love and good sex, no one can tell. But mama did not exactly live an affluent life style on her return. She also joined her mother’s fabric business like her other sisters and lived a modest lifestyle until her demise.
Fortunately, her two wealthy husband’s died before her and left properties for their children. But alas, her love for the two men left indelible marks in the lives of all stakeholders, especially her children who neither forgave her nor learnt to love each other as siblings. Their lack of tolerance for each other affected their mother gravely during her lifetime and after.
Because each family considered itself as not less important than the other, they could not agree on which of the names to write on the obituary, each insisted it would be a disgrace for them to post their mother’s obituary bearing a name other than theirs. They opposed each others’ suggestions and disagreed with every arrangement different from theirs. Even suggestion to write the two men’s names on it were turned down. They wanted different dates and venues as well as different churches.
One body, two camps, two burial arrangements. The gladiators were men of means and position in the society and lived largely on their family’s names, so protecting them was very important. The old hatred and rivalry between the two dead one time friends resurrected in their children and rather than honour their mother, they caused her disgrace and condemnation in the community.
Perhaps, her inability to reconcile her children’s lack of love for each before her death, stemmed from the fact that she might have also been consumed by guilt and shame because of her inappropriate behaviour and lack of self control between two men. I suspect that her affairs with the men might have caused so much enmity and suspicion between them such that they always had to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives, as well as make them the butt of jokes among their friends and business associates.
After several weeks of stalemate, the family had to step in and took over the arrangements for the burial. The obituary was printed in her maiden name and her children’s names were listed under. The old family church attended by aunty’s father on the Island was used for the burial service while they were left to sort themselves out for the after party. Still they refused to have the same venue on the excuse of their large number of guests. So it held same day at different venues and the matter was rested.
I have heard people say that having children for more than one man, rich ones in fact, is a way of acquiring wealth and property through inheritance. So, you find these women carefully choosing their targets and sowing one or two seeds there. A great investment for rainy days as well as old age. An unending access to resource and an easy way to reap where they did not sow. Many others might have been victims of this grand design by women to survive Nigeria’s harsh economy and social insecurity.
Even the poor and low income men are not spared from this grand design of the female pelvis as you often find three, four women and their children fight over a six room face-me-I-face-you bungalow on the demise of the owner. Some others believe it is a way of life for lazy women and women of easy virtues who have no desire to adapt to the challenges of married life in the real sense of it.
These women want to be married to enjoy the financial support and social security of the men, but desire the freedom to do as they please and never to have to wait on a man. Yet, at his demise, they want a large chunk of his wealth and all that the ‘poor’ woman (though, not in all cases is she poorly) at home have made all the sacrifices and weathered all the storms for. For these women, no child is more important than the other, is their watchword.
I am less bothered about who gets what as a survival strategy. I am more concerned about the children born under these strange circumstances. I often ask what would be the excuse of such parents when their children grow up to ask questions. In my great aunt’s case, what story would she and the men have told the children? Their relationship with each other up until now have shown that whatever the stories and excuses might have been, they were not accepted to their children.
There are so many bizarre stories of relationships that produced children that many of us have accepted as a way of life because children are assumed innocent and should not be blamed for circumstances that gave birth to them. But what about the parents? Do they ever feel remorse or shame for their actions? I just wonder! Do have a wonderful weekend!