“Ah, ah, I am an Ijaw man” he burst out. This was the justification for the chronic womanizing habits of my Uncle Wilmot, he would talk as though it were an irrefutable fact that Ijaw men were incapable of keeping monogamous families, he would swear that having concubines around the country was the hallmark of true Ijaw manhood. Philandering was a tendency that Ijaw men were genetically susceptible to, and men who had a deficiency would be encouraged after been heavily chastised for not acquiring women. “I have twelve children” he would boast, then proceed to naming them all and their academic accomplishments. “my oldest daughter is studying medicine in overseas, her younger sister is here, studying law, she would graduate next year. Then my first son, has finished school now, but that Okrika woman pampers him too much, he’s just sitting at home doing nothing, he doesn’t want to bother himself with looking for job” he lamented, but soon after let out a laugh from the pits of his pot belly. “He’s very intelligent o, 1st class degree in economics, anyway I am not worried, his mother sef would soon get tired and force him to do something”.
Uncle Wilmot was a self-made man. He lost his father when he was nine, an only child of his mother. After Wilmot Senior died, his family members came to take everything their brother owned, except his child and widow. If the family members could dismantle the walls of the two bedroom bungalow that their brother had built, they would have torn it apart and shared the pieces amongst themselves. After all, they started coming unashamedly to take out the louver glasses in the back room. Uncle Wilmot’s aunt, even claimed that before the untimely death, her brother had promised to dash her the 1000-gallon Geepee water tank that stood in the backyard of the bungalow.
No one wanted to live in the house, after stories that the plot in which Wilmot Senior built his house on, was marked by evil spirits. “Wilmot would not have died so soon, malaria doesn’t kill people like that, I tell you that land his house is standing on has been marked”, the family spokesperson said. Uncle Wilmot’s mother struggled with the meagre salary she got from teaching at the government school. Subsequently, his mother’s younger brother stepped in and assisted them financially, paying for Uncle Wilmot’s education till University. He didn’t finish university though, he always attributed that to his irrepressible character, “they couldn’t contain me, and I couldn’t stand them either, so I quit”. He was an avid reader and had mastered the English language so well, that soon after dropping out of the university; he started writing for one of the newspapers in the town.
When the headquarters for the regional radio station moved to our town, Uncle Wilmot got a job there as a radio show host. The radio comedy programme “Mr & Mrs Money-Miss-Road” was the brainchild of Uncle Wilmot, this was how he made his name. Mr & Mrs Money-miss-road, were a nouveau riche couple who had acquired wealth through mysterious ways and developed a penchant for splurging on un-necessaries. The show was loved by almost everyone in our town. As little children, my sisters and I would scurry back from school so we wouldn’t miss it when it came on at 3’oclock in the afternoon. Mr. Money-miss-road always bragged about his luxurious escapades, he had the most bizarre imagination and most of the people he bragged to, were too illiterate to recognize that most of the stories he told were practically impossible and mere figments of his imagination.
The episode with the gold butter, stuck to my childhood mind. Mr. Money-miss-road recalled the moment when he and his wife lodged at one of the city’s exquisite hotels, where during breakfast they buttered their bread with butter that was the colour of real gold. “the butter was shining just like gold, see, just like that gold necklace on my wife” Mr. Money-miss-road narrated to his relatives, “oooh, eehnn” they all chorused-. I remember my sisters and I misunderstanding Mr. Money-miss-road and thinking he meant they buttered their bread with melted gold. We even got into a heated discussion about the feasibility of eating gold. We wondered what gold tasted like, at some point we came to the conclusion that it would taste like silverware, seeing as gold and silver were siblings. Mrs. Money-miss-road on the other hand was the resident rumour-monger at the beauty salon, every rumour fragranced with her superiority and the belittlement of those involved in her tales. Each episode always ended with Mr. & Mrs. Money-miss-road getting into a public embarrassment for the fictitious stories they told.
The lady, who played the voice of Mrs. Money-miss-road, ended up getting married to Uncle Wilmot. She was his first wife but divorced him, after she found out about his affair with the Okrika lady who was his typist. Uncle Wilmot married his typist, three years after he added another wife. He was known throughout the town to be hardworking and ever generous, most mothers wanted him to be their son-in-law, their trained their daughters to become competitors for Uncle Wilmot’s heart, which, translated in their terms, would be wealth.
He was a ladies’ man and a womanizer all the same. The ladies did not find his flirtations a bother, for this reason he didn’t have to cajole any girl into sleeping with him. They all offered their bodies to him heartily. His wealth was an obvious attraction to most of the girls, but what made most of them end up in his bed was his joviality. Uncle Wilmot was always cheerful and cracking jokes, girls would gather around him at the bars to listen to him, and end up having to hold their stomachs as they choked with laughter.
Uncle Wilmot eventually ventured into script-writing for a weekly TV soap opera. This work took him out of town. He then bought a house and acquired a new wife in the city to tend to the house. He came back to our town sometimes, then after a while when his wealth got into his head, he was scarcely at the radio station; even his town wives began to see less of him.
We all knew when Uncle Wilmot came to town, you could hardly miss his thunderous laughs that seemed to originate from the wells of belly. As he acquired more wealth, and possibly also from the delicacies of his several women, Uncle Wilmot’s belly began to grow like that of an expectant mother. My mother told us he used to be slim and was a good sprinter. The Uncle Wilmot my sisters and I came to know, was burly and pot-bellied, but his likable personality made up for what he lost in appearance.
We began to see less and less of Uncle Wilmot. Until one holiday, when my sisters and I returned from boarding school, our mother told us that Uncle Wilmot had gone overseas on self-exile, he had received multiple threats to his life, after he had written a satirical play on the politics of the country.
Years passed, Uncle Wilmot was making a name for himself in theatres overseas. The political situation had changed and it was safe for Uncle Wilmot to return but he didn’t, well, not as quickly as we wanted him to. When the news that Uncle Wilmot’s was planning to return hit town, we all gathered to plan a befitting welcome back party for our own local hero.
“Wake up, wake up,” my mother yelled a whisper into my sleepy ear. “Wilmot, has come to see you” she didn’t have to say no more, that sentence was enough to spring me out of the iron bed. “To see me, ke?” in disbelief, I whispered a question to her. “Since Wilmot came back, you are the one that he is always coming to see” she replied. “The poor man is waiting for you in the parlour, don’t waste his time, get up”. I giggled at her referring to Uncle Wilmot as “poor man”, she sucked her teeth at me. I grumbled a protest, then tied my wrapper over my nightgown and slugged to the bathroom.
I was hearing Uncle Wilmot’s vociferous laughs from the bathroom, where I splashed water over my face, with the goal of removing the sleep from it. My mother and Uncle Wilmot were up to something, ever since Uncle Wilmot came back he had started showing a special interest in visiting our place, and my mother would entertain him like everyday was his welcome back party. In the parlour, Uncle Wilmot had settled his bulkiness in the chair where my late father used to sit, which was carefully positioned adjacent to the radio, the radio around which as little girls my sisters and I would gather whenever the Mr & Mrs Money-miss-road programme came on. Uncle Wilmot had aged, and his opulence manifested even more on his girth. His jolliness had not faded, and he had become even wiser, almost everything he said was lined with unostentatious profoundness.
“Since when did you and him become recruitment agency?” I tried to sound irritated at my mother, but I knew deep down, she did not want to see her daughter hang around hapless and jobless in this God-forsaken town. After my first attempt at marriage failed, like a malfunctioning new piece of electronics that is returned to the store for a refund, my ex-husband’s people came to my family to demand that the bride price be returned to them, for their daughter was a malfunctioning new wife. The news of the details that led to the dissolution of my marriage spread like wild fire. We allowed shame to cover our faces for a few weeks.
My mother was ashamed at my stupid and tactless behaviour. “Upon all the hotels in that your city, it is in your matrimonial home you” she paused, “eh, but my daughter, why?” she burst into tears. I wasn’t quite sure where she was heading with her point, was I been reprimanded for my incompetence at keeping my extra-marital affairs discreet? “Now, see the shame you have brought to me, eh, thank God your father is not alive to see this rubbish”, tears continued to trickle down her cheek as she spoke. I knew people were talking, but I was tired of hiding my face. The divorce process would have been quiet and less embarrassing, were it not for my theatrical ex-in-laws, who were obviously having a field day with my situation. They were not in favour of the marriage from day one, but the name-calling and word-wrestling that went on the weeks following my return, put exaggerated stress on my already worn-out mother.
Uncle Wilmot was overseas when I got married and when I got jettisoned. He was a big man with a big heart, unlike the other small-minded people in the town he was willing to throw me a lifeline. I got employed at one of his radio stations. “You’ve got an appealing voice for the airwaves” he said. A radio-friendly voice that our children were bound to inherit.