After that quarrel with Father, Mother’s friend visited us.“Hey!” she exclaimed when Mother told her of the fight with Grace. This woman’s voice was strange: low and unsteady like that of someone who has just woken up from sleep and had dreamt he was chased by the devil; that kind of dream where one struggles but is unable to run and though one screams, one is hardly loud enough to call for help. “If it were me,” she continued; “I would have shown her pepper. You should have bitten her back.”
“I was held back by Mary,” Mother said.
“Are the two of them not birds of the same feather?” her friend countered.
“Ah far from it,” Mother disagreed. “They are only seasonal friends. Their friendship comes and goes like abiku. If you catch them quarreling, you will not believe yourself.”
“Normal thing,” her friend whispered.
“That harlot woman can not keep a friend even among women of her kind,” Mother said.“Soon, she will spit hatred from both sides of her black mouth like a cobra. Yet she expects to be respected as a senior.”
“Senior?”Mother’s friend asked. “Look, in this compound even if somebody married Mathias the day he was born, as far as we are concerned, you are the senior because you are the first to give him children. Which man wants to die and not leave his name on earth?”
“Don’t mind her,” Mother resumed. “Do you know she calls them toys?”
“Toys? If they are toys let her too go and buy some for herself, or does she not know where toys are sold?”
“Tell me, Charity,” Mother resumed. “If my toys were bought from Lagos, she would buy them; if they were bought with money, she would afford even better ones, so why is she not buying her own?”
“Instead,”Charity began, “she is hopping from one herbalist to another. Since when did herbalists begin to make toys?”
“That thing is not a woman,” Mother said. “She sleeps with every man she comes across and collects their money. Then she paints her face with all kinds of cosmetics like and object from Ife Arts,” she finished and they broke into a malicious, high-sounding laughter.
“And that kind of woman is killing herself to have children,” Charity said. “She thinks she can have it both ways.”
“Do you know she has been trying to bewitch me and my children?” Mother asked.
“She can not harm you,” Charity said. “Your hands are clean.”
“And I have warned Mark never to go near her and not to eat whatever she gives him,”Mother said.
“Fine thing!” Charity exclaimed. “But there is another thing,” she said.
“What is it?” Mother asked.
“You must make sure she doesn’t bewitch Mathias,” she said. “You know some of these women can turn a man away from his legitimate wife very easily.”
“Poor Mathias,” Mother said slowly. “He is too afraid of her to do anything. I think she has bewitched him already. What can I do?” she asked.
“I think so too,” Charity agreed. “I noticed he quarrels with you too often these days.”
“True,”Mother agreed. “And do you know when last we slept together? Long ago.”
“Now,”Charity said. “You must not let him wander off your bed. You must find a way of keeping there and you must make sure he tells you all his secrets because you are the mother of his children.”
“I know,” Mother said impatiently. “The problem is how?”
“Leave that to me,” Charity said. “If you mean it, then we can visit someone who can do it.”
One morning, Mother bathed me in warm water and dressed me in my little woolen jacket. She took Mark by the hand and we went to Charity’s house and asked him to stay there.
“Where are you going, Mother?” Mark asked her.
“I’m going to the market,” she said.
“I want to go to the market too,” he insisted.
“If you come, the big lorries will knock you down,” Mother said.
“Fine boy,” Charity addressed Mark. “Wait for us here and when we return, we will bring biscuits and sweets for you,” she said.
I looked into Mother’s face and smiled. Adults always thought themselves wiser. I knew she was not going to the market.
“Here,”the diviner said. “Come this way,” he pulled Mother to himself. They were both stripped to the waist. “You want your husband to sleep only in your bed, don’t you?” he asked.
“I want him to stop quarreling with me and love me as his wife,” Mother said.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,”the man broke into artificial laughter. “It is the same thing woman.”
“Yes Baba,” Charity agreed.
“What did you say is your husband’s name again?” the diviner asked.
“Mathias, Obi Mathias,” Mother answered.
The man arranged his beads on the floor and barked:“Mathias Obi, your wife Martha is calling . . . Yes your wife. Come Obi and take her straight to her bed. Sleep there tonight and always,” he said and paused. “Now,” he turned to Mother. “Take this,” he offered her a little bottle containing a liquid substance.
“When you bathe, pour a little amount of this thing into your cream and rub,” he said.
“Do not speak to anyone until you have spoken to your husband,” he resumed.
“Here, mix this powder with a previous night’s ashes from your hearth and pray around your hut every morning.”
“Do it when people in your compound have not woken up,” he finished.
The diviner’s prescription did not work, for soon another quarrel broke out between Father and Mother. That afternoon, a middle-height, young, fair-skinned woman came to look for Father who was not at home.
“What do you want with him?” Mother asked in a very bitter tone, then continued: “he is not here.”
“Where has he gone to?” the woman asked.
“I say he is not here,” Mother shouted. “Or do you want to go into my hut and see whether he is hiding in my bed? Shameless woman! You run after a man in all the paths in the village and the public places. Yet you are not done. You must come to his house in the hot afternoon and take him away from his wives,” she said.
“Look,”the woman said threateningly, “I have let you wag your tongue at me that way because it is in your house. Otherwise, I would have panel-beaten your mouth and no one, not even Mathias would have dared say anything. Mean woman,” she insulted.
At that moment, Grace came and pulled her away. “My sister,” she addressed the woman. “Come away. That mad woman is all mouth like bucket, and she runs her mouth like a waterfall,” she said.
“Take her away,” Mother shouted at Grace. “Who wants to see a face like an object from the museum? That kind of face can give my little children nightmares,” she said.
“And your mouth, like juju, can bewitch an entire household,” Grace turned and countered Mother.
When Father returned that evening, he confronted Mother angrily. “You dared chase a visitor away from my house?” he charged.
“I will not talk to you, dead man,” Mother answered. “Mistresses visit their masters in the market and not in their matrimonial homes.”
“You, Martha,” Father wagged a finger at her. “One day, I will tear away this rotten mouth of yours.”
“You can,” Mother said. “But let this be the last time any woman comes to this house looking for you,” she paused and then resumed: “the next time they come, I will not only tear their mouths. Mathias, that day, I will dismantle their hips. Hey . . . try me,” she threatened.
“You love being beaten like a drum,” Father said. “And one day woman, I will give you enough of it.”
“Hey, Mathias, the day you try me, I will bury you alive,” Mother said.
At that, Father landed her a resounding slap on the back.
“You will kill me today,” she said and seized a dead twig from the hearth. She raised it but before she could bring it down on Father, he bent down, lifted her by one leg and with one of his legs, dislodged the other. Mother crashed to the ground with a bang. “Kill me, Mathias. Kill me,” she sobbed and rose after him. Father seized her by the waist and pushed her. Her wrapper fell off as she staggered backwards. Regaining her balance however, she jumped at him in her pants leaving the wrapper behind. “Kill me, Mathias,” she cried. “Kill me.”
After this quarrel with Father, Mother was advised to consult an old wise man for help. “He doesn’t do divination but most certainly can handle your problem,” she was told. So Mother went to see him one evening.
“I will come to your house tomorrow,” the man said.
“My house?” Mother asked, puzzled.
“Don’t worry yourself my daughter,” he assured. “I know my way where a man and a woman are involved,” he said.
“Okay Baba,” Mother conceded.
“I will come along with some prescriptions for you,” he said and paused. “You say you have already been to some seers but their solutions have not worked?” he resumed thoughtfully.
“Yes Baba,” Mother answered.
“Fine,”the old man said. “Go now, but remember to keep quiet if your husband starts a quarrel with you.”
“I will, Baba,” she agreed.
“And if my prescription works for you,” the old man resumed; “come here and tell me,” he said.
It was this old man who came to our house that afternoon and found me lying on a mat Mark had spread under a Mango tree in our compound.
One morning, Mother strapped me to her back and led Mark by the hand as we went to see the old man.
“My daughter,” he called. “You remembered to come back?” he asked.
“Yes, Baba,” Mother answered.
“So, the prescription,” he resumed; “did it work?”
“Yes Baba,” Mother confirmed; “it worked very well,” she said, smiling.
“You always put it into your mouth and closed it whenever he started a quarrel with you?” he asked.
“And you did not open it until he fell silent?”
“And he no longer fought you?”
“In that case,” the old man began thoughtfully; “My daughter, the problem is with you.”
“With me?” Mother asked surprised.
“Yes,”he said; “with your mouth.”
“How Baba?” she asked again, still confused.
“Look there,” he said and pointed to a cotton tree.
“Yes Baba,” Mother said and looked.
“What I gave you was taken from that tree,” he said and paused. “It was ordinary cotton wool.”
“Yes, it was,” he resumed; “and if it worked, then the trouble is from your mouth.”
“Your mouth, when you open it,” he said. “If you can learn to say better words with your mouth or keep quiet when there is a quarrel, you will save yourself from trouble. My daughter . . .”
“There is a log in your eye,” he resumed. “Remove it first, then you can see clear enough to remove help your husband remove the speck in his own eye.”
“Thank you Baba,” Mother said and came out to where Mark was looking after me. “Let’s go home,” she said and strapped me to her back again.
As we went home that evening, I thought in my little mind about the log in my mother’s eye.