Abu paced up and down the living room, thinking again about how he was going to confront his wife about the matter on his mind. He had been putting it off for a while, but the repeated jests of his friends were beginning to wear thin, and he decided that now was the time to deal with issue once and for all.
He remembered when he first met Halima at university. What had immediately impressed him about her was how smart and confident he was. He had noticed how during their lectures, she would politely but firmly ask questions which would tease apart some point that the lecturer had made, and which would create a lively discussion. But he wasn’t quite sure whether she would think that he was in her league.
“Abeg, go for it, jo”, Sammy, his waggish friend said. Sammy operated on a ‘take-no-prisoners’ principle, so it was just the advice Abu would have expected of him.
“But Sammy, she’s different from the other girls I’ve liked in the past. What if she’s not interested in me because I’m not good enough for her?”
“How will you know if you don’t try? Look, if you are not interested, just point her out to me so that I too can try my luck!’
“Hello”, he said, smiling at her.
“Hello”, she replied curtly as she carried on walking briskly.
Abu struggled to catch up. “I really like the way you ask those your questions in class. I found it funny today when you had the lecturer fumbling and scrambling for an answer.”
Halima stopped and turned to face him. “I don’t ask questions to purposely embarass the lecturer… that would be very petty. I ask because I really want to understand the topic.”
“Oh, no, that is not what I meant. I found it funny, but I also admire your courage in asking questions. Most people would just keep quiet either because they would not want to be made to look like a fool or because they would want to stay on the good side of the lecturer.”
She softened towards him. “Well, I suppose that I am a bit of a radical. I always like to ask why things are the way they are, and why they cannot be better.”
Abu grinned. “That’s interesting, because I am something of a radical myself. I ask myself the same kinds of questions – ‘Why should I be content with the way things are with me and you now, when we could go and have lunch together and get to know each other better?'”
Halima laughed, and allowed Abu to gently steer her in the direction of the cafeteria.
Abu smiled as he remembered how the relationship grew from there to the point where they were almost inseparable; he continued to be fascinated and charmed by her intelligence and her down-to-earth nature, and it was not surprising to their friends and family when they were married at a Nikah ceremony five years after their first meeting.
At first, things were fine. Halima worked as a teacher, but this didn’t hinder her from organising their home into a model of efficiency where everything was in its right place and they never lacked for anything because she was careful about managing money. Abu marvelled at how it all seemed to happen like clockwork, but then he gradually became used to it, and anyway he was so busy establishing himself in his career as an accountant that he was content to let Halima take charge of everything.
But after a while, he began to notice the comments.
“Abu, was that your wife on the phone again?” asked Jide, a friend of his who he had met up with one evening for a social night out.
“Oh yes. She just wanted me to get something for her on the way back.”
Jide shook his head. “Hmm… na wa o.”
Abu was puzzled. “What’s the problem?”
Jide carried on shaking his head. “Should you be accepting orders from your wife like that? After a while, she will start thinking that she is the boss in your house.”
“But she didn’t order me… she just asked me to do this.”
“That’s how it starts. Today she asks, tomorrow she will expect it as her birthright. And by that time, you will be so used to obeying orders that you won’t even know that you’ve been enslaved.”
Abu laughed and waved Jide’s remarks away. “My friend, you are what feminists would call a male chauvinist pig. Don’t you know that we are now in the era of equal rights?”
“Equal rights my foot”, Jide scoffed. “How can you have equal rights for unequal people? Women and men are not the same!”
“OK, OK, enough of your ranting. Let’s carry on from where we were before Halima called. Ehen, you were talking about how you were chasing this girl with this big bakassi…”
Then there was the time when he was entertaining Sammy at home, and they had been talking for hours and hours. Halima called him into the kitchen and gently reminded him that they had an outing to attend in an hour, and should he perhaps not wind up his time with Sammy?
Abu emerged from the kitchen and told Sammy “Oya, time up. Halima just reminded me about a prior engagement we have elsewhere, and we don’t want to be late.”
Sammy shrugged his shoulders. “Well, there’s always next time”, he said. But as they walked through the door towards the street, Sammy went on. “That your wife… hm.”
“What about my wife?”
“Well, should she be interrupting what you’re doing, enjoying yourself? So what if you have a prior engagement? Is it the first time in the history of the universe that someone will be late for an engagement? In fact, it is practically expected that people will be late – so why is she making such a song and dance about it?”
“Well, I personally don’t like being late. Honestly, Sammy, you are making too much of this issue.”
Sammy shrugged again. “Well, I’m just saying my own… Halima is a good woman, but sometimes I think that this her I-too-know is too much. You are supposed to be the head of the family, now – you should be telling her what to do.”
Abu thought back to this incident and other ones like it where people commented or joked about what they saw as Halima’s ordering him around. He hadn’t been unhappy with Halima personally, but he had begun to get very uncomfortable with the situation. He got tired of pacing and sat down, still ruminating.
After a while, Halima entered, carrying some shopping. “Hello dear”, she called out to Abu. “Can you please help me with this shopping?”
Aha, Abu said to himself. She is at it again. “Halima, please leave the shopping by the door. There’s something very important that we have to talk about.”
Halima was immediately concerned. “I hope your father has not had a relapse”, referring to Abu’s father who had recently been discharged from hospital.
“No, no, Baba is fine. This is something else.”
Halima dropped the shopping and went to sit down next to Abu. “What is the problem, dear?”
Abu came to the point. “Halima, I am not happy at the way your order me around in this house. I think you should remember that I am the boss, and as such, I deserve to be treated with respect.”
Halima was open-mouthed with astonishment for a few seconds after this pronouncement. Then she asked softly, “Abu, do you believe that I really do order you around?”
Abu was confused. He had been expecting resistance and denial, not this. But he pressed on: “Well, when you ask me to do this and that, I feel like I am being ordered around. I’m sure it’s different with other men and their wives.”
Halima opened her mouth to say something, but then she stopped, and was silent for a few moments. Then she smiled and said, “OK, Abu darling, tell me. Will you be happier if I don’t ask you to do anything? Even better, how about you giving me the orders instead? That way, you’ll be happier that you are the boss, the oga patapata in this house.”
Abu knew that in theory, he should have been feeling very satisfied. After all, wasn’t this what he was he was asking for? But he felt even more uncomfortable than before.
“OK”, he said uncertainly. “Let’s try that out and see what happens.”
A few days later when Abu returned from work, he found that there was no water in the house.
“We had been running low, but I didn’t have any money to call out the water tanker drivers and ask for them to fill up our tank”, Halima explained.
Abu was baffled. “Why didn’t you ask me for money as you usually do?”
“Remember? You are the boss – you’re the one supposed to give me the money and the command to order fresh water supplies.”
“Halima! I don’t have the time to be remembering all these details, now!”
Halima smiled. “Abu, I agree with you. In fact, if I was allowed to make a suggestion, I would say that it would be better to leave me to worry about these details, but in this new dispensation, I’m not allowed to do that.”
Abu sat down, exasperated. “OK, I can see where this is going. You are just going to make things difficult for me until I agree to do things your way, eh?”
Halima was conciliatory. “Abu dear, I don’t want things to be done your way or my way. I just want them to be done our way – the way that works best for of us. I know that you are a busy man – you yourself have just said that you don’t have the time to worry about or remember every single detail involved in running the house. I am good at this; and I enjoy doing it. So I think it makes more sense for me to handle this and only trouble you when necessary.”
“But when you are always planning and thinking of things, I feel as if I am irrelevant, as if my job is just to agree with everything you say”, Abu grumbled.
“But think about it, Abu. The reason that you agree isn’t just because you swallow my suggestions without thinking; it is because you have examined my suggestion and you have found it makes sense. When a sensible man examines a sensible suggestion made by a sensible woman, what do you expect?” said Halima, smiling again.
Abu smiled back, then frowned. “But what about what other people think? I don’t want people to start laughing at me.”
“What about what other people think? Are they the ones who are married to you? Abu, what works for other people may not work for you. There are some people who are only happy when they are commanding people around, and there are those who are only happy when they are being commanded around. Allah grant that both parties meet, fall in love and are happy with each other.
“But I remember when you first met me, one of the reasons you said you were attracted to me was because of my intelligence. I chose to marry you, because I wanted to be able to use my intelligence to make life sweeter for you. I also chose to marry you, because I believed that you would let me use my intelligence to make life sweeter for you. Why not let me continue to do that? As long as you are happy, why worry about what other people are saying?”
Abu smiled again. “Hm, Halima! All this your talk of your intelligence, your intelligence… should you be blowing your trumpet like this? What about me? After all, it is only an intelligent man that can pick out an intelligent woman to marry.”
“Only if the intelligent woman decides that she wants to be married by the intelligent man” said Halima, and they laughed together as they sat down to discuss how they were going to get by that evening without water.