…Gbemi visited the Bensons during the week as Boye suggested. He went to pick her up at home and once she got into their compound, the disparity between their worlds hit her again. Their house was really beautiful; she had not been to any like it before considering she did not have any other friends with a family as wealthy as Boye’s. She was actually scared. What if his parents didn’t like her? The only consolation was the fact that Lolade would be present. They got along well when they met in Ife.
The family was seated by the time they got in. She bent her knees to greet the parents. ‘Good afternoon sir and ma.’
‘Good afternoon, my dear. You’re welcome’, Boye’s father replied. His mother only nodded.
Gbemi imagined how her own mother would welcome any guest in their house, definitely not like that. Maybe she was trying to get used to the idea her son having a girlfriend; she made an excuse for the older woman.
Lunch happened to be more of an interview than any other thing. Boye’s mother grilled Gbemi about every aspect of her life – past and present.
‘So my dear where do you live?’
‘What do your parents do?’
‘Have you ever travelled out of the country?’
So many questions! Gbemi wondered if they all stemmed out of genuine interest, though a part of her really doubted it, something in the woman’s tone of voice made it difficult for her not to have such negative thoughts. The questions only ceased when Boye’s father intervened.
‘My dear, leave the poor girl alone and give her space to breathe!’ he told his wife.
While this was going on, she observed that Boye was uncomfortable and kept squeezing her hand which he held onto under the table.
‘Oh dear, I’m sorry to be a pest. I tend to ask too many questions, I’m only curious’, Boye’s mum said but her expression betrayed her. Gbemi wondered if the mother thought she was not good enough for her son. She had no reason to think so she debated with herself. The woman barely knows me, she thought. She is probably jealous and will be accepting later on.
After about two hours spent in discomfort, Gbemi decided to leave. She had felt like a fish out of water. She noted this to Boye as he drove her home.
‘Baby, don’t worry bout my mum, she’s just being protective and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you. Who wouldn’t like my sweet angel?’ Boye said to make her feel better.
‘Ok o, I choose to believe you but I was definitely reading wrong vibes from her. I don’t hope to see her anytime soon.’
‘Rest assured that you won’t have to see her if you don’t want to. They just wanted to meet the babe I’m dying for!’
Boye! She thought, he just had a way of making everything seem very easy and simple.
She sat back and relaxed. No need to worry about tomorrow, she told herself.
There was a heated conversation going on at the Bensons while Boye drove his sweetheart home.
‘You were so unkind to the poor girl mummy. What did she do to deserve such treatment from you?’ Lolade told her mum.
‘Would you stop talking to me like that?’
‘I think your daughter is right Mofe. You were not nice to the girl at all’, her husband put in.
‘Well, I have no cause to be nice to a gold digger. She was playing the part very well. I know one when I see her and that tiny thing is! She’s looking for someone to redeem her family from poverty. She had better start looking elsewhere’.
‘God! You surprise me Mofe. Remember where you started from. Were you a gold digger?’
‘My dear husband, you disrespect me. Call me a gold digger if you will but Boye will not bring that thing into this house again’
She remembered too well where she came from and that was why she had decided poverty would be very far away from her family. Her life had taken a wonderful turn when she married Goke Benson and she was not willing to travel down the road to poverty anymore. She would not even be associated with it.
Goke had sent her to a place where she never hoped to visit again, her past and so she visited for what she hoped was the last time.
Mofe was born in the village of Kosegbe into a family that had eight children. She was the last child and grew up fetching water from the stream and cooking with firewood. As the last child, it was her duty to fan the embers to flame while her mother cooked; a duty she resented with the whole of her heart.
Lack was a well known word as she grew up. She went to the village primary school and used to attend barefooted, where was the money for shoes? They kept whatever extra they had for food. Her school uniform had been mended in several places with needle and thread
Her father had been a struggling farmer whose only everyday clothing was a singlet with too many holes in it to be able to count and trousers that did not reach his ankle. They had been washed to the point where the fabric had thinned out. When he was not on the farm, he was sitting on a low stool with a chewing stick in his mouth spitting on the sandy ground by his side. She never saw him smile He always looked grim and was intolerant of the children’s mistakes; they avoided him like a plague. He always shouted that laughter and happiness belonged in the houses of the rich
To Mofe, her village only consisted of wretched people and she hoped one day to leave and never look back. She would never go back to Kosegbe once she found a way of escape. This was her secret dream and desire!
Two of her four sisters were married to no-do-goods in the village and were breeding like rats while the other two had been sent to the city with relatives to become house helps. Her parents were sent half of the money made by both at the month end. The money with meagre proceeds from her father’s farm produce was used to send the three boys to school. Female child education was not important to her father; it was a waste of scarce resources since they would end up in their husband’s kitchens anyway. It had taken a good dose of her own stubbornness and everything her mother could muster to see her through secondary school.
What Mofe longed for was an opportunity to spread her wings and she would definitely fly. The opportunity came when one of her distant relatives came to visit the village from Lagos during an important ceremony. She spent a few weeks and during that space of time, grew very fond of Mofe.
By that time, she was out of the secondary school, the maximum level of education her parents were willing and could afford to give her. She had gone with Sister Risi to Lagos and once she stepped into the city, she knew it was a point of no return for her.
Lagos had been an entirely different experience with the wide tarred roads, lots of cars and electricity. There were so many things she had not seen or experienced before and she was intoxicated. She could remember vividly how she begged Sister Risi to allow her stay even if as a help; she did not mind.
Sister Risi had told her she had no such agreement with her parents. She was only permitted to be gone for two weeks, her parents needed her to help with the house chores and on the farm; harvesting season was near.
Mofe watched her dream slip from her but was determined not to let go so easily. ‘I’ll be back very soon’, she had said, to herself and the busy city of Lagos.
Going back home was like having a very bad dream. It felt all wrong. Muddy brown walls, rusty brown iron roofs and brown soil compacted with barefoot soles surrounded her. It was like some absurd set for a really depressing dream. The colour brown had never been so repulsive. It was surprising how she had failed to see the poverty so clearly before now. ‘I don’t belong here, not anymore’.
Back home, she found her father very ill. His health had been deteriorating over the years but was never that bad. He was coughing so hard and occasionally coughed up blood. Her mother was convinced he was being attacked by his enemies and had consulted native doctors who concocted all sorts of repulsive mixes for him to drink.
Eight days after her father started coughing blood, he died. She remembered too well how much her mother had wailed, rolling around in the sand, and heaping curses on the enemies who finished her husband and left her with the children to take care of.
Although Mofe pitied her mother, she was secretly annoyed and irritated by her action.
‘Couldn’t she see that it was poverty that killed her husband? If he had been given good hospital care, like they have in Lagos, wouldn’t he have lived?’
She was not so sure about this but something told her he would have. Her father would have lived if he had been civilised and had money to go to the hospital when he needed to. She was angry, so angry at the situation. It was clear in her mind. She would not be poor. She would do all it would take to cross over to the rich side. Whatever it took, she would give. From the little she had learnt from her dead father and his miserable wife’s lives, hard work was surely not the answer.
Wish I could find a rich man to marry! That would be so easy, Mofe had thought. She remembered how she scolded herself for such childish thoughts, until the idea took root in her mind like a strong tree that wouldn’t be shaken easily.
Yes! Marrying into money was a good idea and she needed to devise a plan. Crossing the divide was not going to be as easy as wishing it. Education was an important factor if she ever wanted to fit in with the rich and famous, she decided. After all, they all knew book and most spoke impeccable English! She had to be in the right place and look the part, like someone going somewhere. She remembered what Sister Risi’s friends and neighbours were like back in Lagos. It would be hard work, another type than she was used to, but well worth it.
After her father’s mourning period, she would go back to the city and live with Sister Risi, find some form of employment and enrol in an evening school where she would be able to get some form of higher education. She could not help smiling as she thought about her plans.
The house was full of mourners, some women cried in a corner as though they were paid to do the work. Even her mother was tired of crying. Where did these women get the tears and energy from? Mofe wondered. Her mother just sat down on a well worn mat in a corner of the house nodding her head at sympathisers as they came in to express their condolences.
Forty one days after her father’s death, Mofe took the second journey to Lagos. With some apprehension, she had explained to her mother her reason for leaving the village. While she spoke, her mother just stared at her and listened. Mofe though she was not going to respond but eventually, she spoke:
‘I have always known you are different from the rest of us in this family. I see the restlessness in your eyes. I see that you are not satisfied. Go ahead and fulfil your dreams daughter, may God be with you.’
How relieved she had been. She remembered vividly how she left home without shedding a tear, after all the future was spread ahead of her and she could only see brightness!
The journey to Lagos took about four hours from her village. She woke up as early as four in the morning so she could join Baba Saka’s station wagon; the only available one from her village that made trips to Lagos. Baba Saka made two trips everyday to and whenever he was late on his second trip, he would spend the night. He was a neighbour and it was from him Mofe first heard all of the tales that fascinated her about Lagos and made her set her mind on living there someday.
As she sat at the front of the station wagon that must have done the work of at least two lifetimes, she remembered the stories. She had thought then that Baba Saka was fabricating the tales. Her very brief visit had confirmed them to be true and made it all the more exciting.
The wide roads in Lagos that were tarred, street lights, the lights coming out of the roof, water running out of iron called taps and a myriad of things added to the adventure for Mofe and she was so ready to make the most of it.
Sister Risi was genuinely happy to have her back. Mofe felt more at home in the room and parlour which Sister Risi lived in at Ojuelegba than she ever did in her parents’ house back in the village. This was her place of new beginnings.
Life started in earnest and Mofe quickly got used to living in Lagos. Sister Risi ran a restaurant and she helped out there during the day. There were so many male customers who made advances at Mofe and even gave her gifts but she was so sure of what she wanted and refused to fall prey to them. She had to marry right into a wealthy family. Working in the shop was only a means to an end.
After a year of living and working with her benefactor, Mofe had saved enough to enrol in an evening school which was what she did. Everyday, she studied late into the night to make sure she understood what she had been taught and at the same time she started practising how to speak proper English so she stopped speaking Yoruba, her dialect to most people. Her English language had to become impeccable.
Risi would usually advise her to take things easy.
‘Mofe, I think you’re driving yourself too hard o. Softly, softly, Rome was not built in a day’ and she would respond by telling the older woman not to worry about her, she could manage.
Apart from running a restaurant, sister Risi also catered at parties and Mofe used to go along as a helping hand. Their clients were mainly rich people who always had one thing or the other to celebrate. There was never a dull moment on the catering job.
On one of such occasions, about three years after Mofe moved to Lagos, Risi got a contract to cater for Grandma Benson’s fiftieth birthday party at their home. Mofe was one of Risi’s workers that dressed up to serve as hostesses for the occasion and fate dealt her a generous hand.
Goke Benson, one of the children had noticed and liked Mofe during the celebration. He walked up to her and chatted with her, when he asked for her address, Mofe was more than willing to give him. Why was he taking interest in her of all the young ladies there? She; Mofe Salako, who had just started warming up to city life was being admired by the heir of a wealthy man. She was flattered, or was she? Her secret plan had worked.
Not long after the party, Goke became a regular guest at Risi’s home. He would pick her up from evening school and they would spend some hours together after that. He was completely smitten and was not willing to let her go. She was more than willing to return the advances; her dream of marrying rich had landed at her feet on a platter of gold. She had not even needed to do so much work for it!
After a year of intense friendship and romance, Goke asked her to marry him and she said yes. Six months after his proposal, they became man and wife. The wedding ceremony took place in Lagos, all expenses footed by the Bensons.
Her mother and siblings came to Lagos for the ceremony and were amazed by how wealthy their in laws were.
‘Mofe, how did you meet a young man this rich? Eh? Iwo omo yi, mo ti mo pe oo ki n se ara wa tele. You have never really been one of us. Now, you have joined the rich.
She had been embarrassed by her mother’s words but only shook her head smiling shyly
‘Mama, e ma worry. God planned it that way’
She made sure she bought her mother complete set of aso oke with befitting jewellery and also bought the right clothes for her siblings. They would not come to her wedding looking like paupers.
Goke was already running his own business by the time they got married and she had taken up a teaching job after completing school which she continued when they got married. A few months into their marriage, Lolade was on the way. He had fussed over her and told her to leave the job. He would take care of her. Money was not a problem and he made good on his promise, making sure she never lacked anything.
Poverty was out of her life and it would stay there forever. Goke might have married her as a poor young lady, she was no longer poor and her son would never associate with poverty or any gold digging woman for that matter.
What she failed to admit to herself was how she had been a gold digger before marrying Goke.
The moment she found out they were going to cater at the Bensons, she had done her homework and found out they had a son that was old enough to get married but had no lady in his life. She decided to become that lady whichever way it would happen. She would use all her womanly endowment and make him notice her. It sure had worked after taking so much care to accentuate her beauty and making sure she found every available excuse to serve the people around him and to be close to where he was seated. She had kept flashing her perfectly white teeth at every opportunity, smiling at the most obnoxious guests that she could not stand under normal circumstances. She looked at him a few times and shyly averted her gaze when their eyes locked. She was the image of innocence and Goke had fallen right into her laps. It had been too easy.
He had noticed her alright and that resulted in their now twenty six years of marriage. Not that she loved her husband less, she completely did but it helped that he was born into money, made money still and now even owned a business empire. It definitely helped.
Her children would never know poverty and no woman would be allowed to use any craft on her son. After all, all women are manipulators in Mofe Benson’s book.
No! Her son would marry Omolewa Bibilari and their wealth would multiply and flourish. She only needed to convince him to see things her way and over her dead body would he have anything to do with that Gbemi or whatever her name was again…