“How long have you used these products for?” Adaora asked after Mina finished her story.
“Tayo’s friend got them to me, at work, a little over four weeks ago and I started using them immediately,” Mina said.
“We saw each other three weeks ago and you never said a word.”
“I couldn’t, Ada. I knew that you’d be worried and there’s no need to be. They are not diet pills.”
“Do you know the long-term effects? Are there records of that?”
“Ada, why do you always have to second-guess everything? They work right now and have no side effects and that’s all that matters. I’ve been working out too so that I don’t have to use them for too long.”
“Mina, you’ve always been a very beautiful woman. Even when you were heavier, you still looked amazing. I’ve never been able to understand where your obsession about your weight comes from.”
“When your husband reminds you that as the manager of the customer care department of a large multinational telecommunications firm, he comes in contact with a lot of beautiful women, you just might understand what my obsession, as you term it, is all about. Abeg, leave me o. Na person wey wear shoe know as e dey take pain am.”
“Mina, tell Baridi about the last time or I will,” Adaora said, quietly.
“Threatening me now, are you?” Mina said, heatedly. “How dare you, Ada?”
“I dare because you’re one of my best friends and I love you dearly. I dare, Mina because I won’t stand by and fold my arms while you go down a path that may hurt you terribly.”
As Mina was about responding, the doorbell rang and Adaora got up to get the door, leaving Mina muttering to herself.
When Azuka came into the room with Adaora, Mina glanced at her and said, “Hi, Zuky.” She quickly looked away, but not before Azuka had seen the mutinous look on her face.
“What did I miss?” Azuka said, glancing at Adaora, before slowly lowering her body to the sofa across Mina. She was eight months pregnant and found that she had to move slower than she used to. She always told them jokingly now that she finally understood what Mina meant by waddling.
Adaora sat opposite her before speaking, “Mina is on some weight-loss drug.”
Her baby kicked at that moment and Azuka rubbed her belly and said, “I came here to eat, biko. Don’t give me news that’ll spoil my appetite.”
“It’s not a drug,” Mina said, eyeing Adaora before continuing, “They are herbal supplements.”
“One of those that seem to be the rave now?” Azuka asked. When she got no response from Mina, she said, “You shouldn’t even be thinking about stuff like that, you know.”
“She said that Baridi had been putting more pressure on her to lose weight,” Ada said.
“Is that enough reason for her to put her life at risk, again?” Azuka asked, almost angrily.
“You don’t understand,” Mina said, turning pleading eyes on her friends. “I have to do all that I can to keep my husband attracted to me. If he wants me slimmer, getting slimmer’s not such a big deal is it? I’m not putting myself at risk of anything too.”
“How can you say that to us, Mina?” Azuka said heatedly. “I was the one that found you, remember? It is a big deal, don’t you get it?’ Turning to Adaora, she said, “I’m sorry, Ada, I have to go, abeg. I can’t deal with this senseless drama now.”
As she stood to leave, Mina quickly got up and held her hand, “Don’t go, Zuky. I’m so sorry, guys. I did what I thought was best in the circumstance.”
“Zuky, abeg no go. I slaved in the kitchen all morning and if you leave, who wan chop all that food? Dozie’s out with the kids and they won’t be back till evening. Mina’s starving herself so she won’t eat much. Moreover, I made special food for my god daughter,” Adaora said.
“My god daughter,” Mina corrected, still holding Azuka’s hand.
At that Azuka started laughing and hugged Mina. “You have to stay safe, Mina. You just have to.”
With her head on Baridi’s chest and one of his arms draped across her back, later that night, Mina dreaded what she had to do. She had promised her friends to have a talk with Baridi and no matter how she felt about that, she knew that was one promise that she couldn’t break.
“Babe, I need to talk to you,” she finally said.
“Hmmm. That sounds serious. What’s up?” Baridi said, stroking her hair.
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
His hand stilled. “What has got you this worried?”
“You remember when I had Soprinye and had to supplement with infant formula?”
“Yeah, I do. You said he ate a lot and wasn’t getting full anymore.”
“He did eat a lot but the reason he wasn’t getting full was because I wasn’t producing enough milk for him.”
“Hmmm. It’s not a big deal, really. He thrived beautifully, in spite of that. Don’t beat yourself up because of that.”
“You don’t understand.” Mina said, pushing away from her husband’s body to sit.
“What don’t I understand?” Baridi asked, in confusion.
“It was my fault that I wasn’t making enough milk for him, only I didn’t know that at the time.” When Baridi wanted to speak again, Mina held up a hand and said, “Please let me finish.”
“I started taking diet pills when he was nine weeks old,” she started only to be interrupted by Baridi.
“Diet pills? Whatever for?”
“I had started gaining weight after I had him, have you forgotten? You even teased me a number of times about that. The day you made a crack about my tummy still looking like Soprinye’s twin had been forgotten inside, I decided to do something about that. During my post-partum check-up the previous week, the doctor had told me that I could start exercising so I quickly registered in a gym. Two weeks later, I hadn’t noticed any difference so when I overheard one woman telling her friend at the gym about how she had dramatically lost weight while on some diet pills, I spoke with her before I went home and got the name of the drug. It was very easy to purchase as it’s an over-the counter drug.”
“Why did you not tell me about this?” Baridi asked, sitting up now.
“I couldn’t!” Mina exclaimed. “The pills worked because almost immediately, they suppressed my appetite so I couldn’t eat so much even if I wanted to. I finally started losing the baby fat and you started paying me compliments. So, how could I have told you that I was cheating to get those results? I was still going to the gym to get toned so you assumed that was why I was losing weight. I didn’t want to correct that impression.”
“But you were breastfeeding at the time? Are you supposed to take such things while nursing a baby?
“I wasn’t supposed to but I didn’t know that. All I noticed was that my milk supply dwindled drastically till I had to supplement Soprinye’s feeding with formula.”
“You put my son at risk, just so you could lose weight?” Baridi said, through clenched teeth. At this point, he was sitting with his legs swung over side of the bed and his back to Mina.
“He’s my son too!” Mina said, heatedly. “Do you think that I would have taken those things if I had thought for a second that they could harm him in some way?”
“Why are you telling me all this now? You kept it a secret for so long, already,” Baridi said, after a while. Almost immediately, he turned and cast a sharp look at his wife, “Wait a minute. You suddenly stopped breastfeeding Sotonye and you also have lost an amazing amount of weight. Are you taking them again?”
“No way! Not after what happened to me the last time I did.”
Turning fully to face Mina, Baridi asked, “What exactly happened to you?”
“I had taken then for about two months when I started getting headaches. On occasion, I would become nauseous too. I even took a pregnancy test at some point. I never thought the pills were responsible even when I started getting diarrhea all the time. I just became more careful of where I ate because I thought it was caused by food poisoning.”
Mina covered her eyes with her hand as she said, “I can’t believe how ignorant I was, really.” She paused for a while and let out a breath before opening her eyes to look at Baridi again. She continued, “The weekend you were away in Abuja, for an N.C.C. convention, Azuka dropped by on a surprise visit. Mrs. O. was with Soprinye in the living room when she came so she told Azuka that I was upstairs, in the nursery. I had been putting away Soprinye’s clothes into his drawer earlier. Zuky came to the nursery and found me on the floor, unconscious.”
“She quickly called Ada to come over, while she tried to rouse me. By the time Ada got here, I was already conscious, even though I was still on the floor. All I could remember was that I had experienced a sudden tightening in my chest before my heart had started beating very fast. Zuky and Ada rushed me to the hospital immediately where tests were run. When I was asked if I was on any medication, I remembered the diet pills and told them about those. It turned out they were the culprits. They were responsible for the other symptoms I had been experiencing all along. I was ordered by the cardiologist to stop taking them. Fortunately, there had been no lasting damage as all those other symptoms gradually went away as soon as I stopped taking the drugs.”
“I came back from Abuja two days later. Why didn’t you tell me anything?” Baridi asked, sadly.
“I didn’t know how to tell you. I was too ashamed, particularly as Ada had to come back here to bring Soprinye to the hospital for tests. I thank God he was fine. I don’t know how I would have lived with myself if I had hurt him in some way.”
“Why did you tell me this today?” Baridi asked, afraid of what he would hear.
Baridi paced the floor of their room as Mina told him about the weight loss supplements. At a point, he cut her off and thundered, “For such a smart woman, how could you do something so stupid, Mina? I came close to losing you, without even knowing it. Yet, you found it easy to do the same thing again?”
Tearfully, Mina said, “Babe, I thought I had no choice. After our last fight about my weight, I felt that I had to do whatever it took not to lose you.”
At that, Baridi stopped pacing and stared at his wife who had started crying miserably. After a while, he came over to her, knelt and pulled her from the bed and into his arms. “I’m so sorry I pushed you to this,” he said over and over again.
When Mina’s tears had subsided, Baridi stood and gently pulled her up from the floor. Holding her by the hand, he led her to the wide ornate mirror on one of the walls of their room.
Together, they silently stared at their reflections till Baridi said, “I see a very beautiful, smart and unbelievably sexy woman who did me a big honour by agreeing to become my wife. I see the beautiful mother of my children. Mina, you’re not just beautiful on the outside but on the inside too. You are kind and you are warm. That’s all I’ve ever needed you to be. Don’t ever forget that, even if a very stubborn and sometimes annoying man, who thinks he knows it all, tries hard to make you to.”
“Hey, that’s my husband you’re insulting,” Mina said, smiling through the tears that had started flowing again, as Baridi pulled her into him arms for a long hug.