Decades II – very much like the original Decade project – explores the wholesomeness of womanhood as lived in ten-year intervals; Girls; Ladies; Women; Mothers; grand and great-grand mothers all. They live the same life we live, experience the same joys and pains unique to their decades and maybe we can learn a thing or two from them. Find the subtle connections that link their lives together and get lost in stories told. Decades II.
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With a divorce from a childless marriage notched under my belt, I was ready to take on the world.
Where to start?
A year past the big ‘Four-Oh’ and I didn’t look a day over thirty-five; a big accomplishment for me considering the fact that I hadn’t accomplished anything worth mentioning in my life. As my ex-husband would ‘fondly’ say during our arguments, “Even ordinary children, umuazi! You cannot have! Useless woman!” Who could fault him? I knew my worth; nothing.
I had accepted barrenness as my portion and was ready to move on with my life. Was it too late? Although I was given a proper divorce settlement, I couldn’t get over the snide comments other well-to-do women at church threw my way during our C.W.O meetings.
“…MY company is ready to refurbish that part of the Parish…”
“…I’d have the girls at MY media organisation deal with the publicity…”My! My! My!
All I did was throw around my husband’s money, nothing I had made with my own hands. Things were going to change! I was going to make a name for myself! Well, that was the idea. I started by globe-trotting. What better way to garner ideas?
My forty-second birthday caught me in New Delhi, taking a short business and managerial course. “India is the place to be!” My best friend Nkiru gushed when I told her my plans. She was wrong. I hated India. The food was terrible! Sticking to a vegetarian diet was probably what kept me alive. Hia! The men weren’t even desirable. I could not stomach the thought of their hairy bodies, rubbing against mine. Their breath? Mba! My apartment was beside a mosque. What was I thinking? Five a.m. every morning, I was woken up by the loud noise of the speakers, calling faithful to prayer. The people were so hard to understand, with their annoying head shakes . The school was the worst! Everyone already had a business running and I had to endure the pitying stares when I told some of my course mates I was unemployed. I was left out of most conversation. What did I know? I couldn’t take it anymore. I left India, half way through my course, kissing my thousands of rupees goodbye. I was ashamed to return home with my tail between my legs, but that was my next destination. Who needed classes to teach them how to run a business anyway? Biko! Experience is the best teacher.
After much argument with Nkiru about my ‘attitude’, she introduced me to a friend of hers, Chief Ogbogu. “He’s into importing and exporting. He would be able to help you immensely”. Well, Chief wasn’t also into that. She forgot to mention he was a chronic womaniser! That old goat! I complained to her and she wasn’t fazed. I became suspicious. Had she also been ‘helped’ by Chief? “Its either you take this opportunity, Rose, or you let it go!” Ehn? Me? No way! This was one opportunity I wasn’t going to take!
Again, Chief proved he had yet another layer to him; vengeful little man. I started up my store, without his help, at Aspanda, Lagos. Two weeks after the successful opening of Rosie Shoes, rumours began to circulate. I was oblivious until my ex-husband called me.
“Listen, woman! I don’t know what you’re doing, but whatever it is, please use your maiden name and stop dragging mine into the mud!”
“Hia! Bia Fide! O gini kwa? What is this now, eh!”
“Mechie onu osiiso! I’ve heard how you sleep with all the young boys in Aspanda. Ashawo! Ihere mekwa gi! Ntiibachaku! Ohuru mmuo…”
I cut the call, tears brimming in my eyes at the insults. Mmuwa bu Rose? Sleeping with men? Those sweaty things at Aspanda? I sat in my office and cried my heart out. As I was about to ask myself who would have formulated such nonsense, the answer came to me. Chief Ogbogu. Furiously, I picked up my phone and dialled his number, screaming insults at him immediately he picked up.
“I chere na inwa anya? Aga m emegi ihe na Aspanda,” he said menacingly.
You think you’re smart? I’ll deal with you in this Aspanda.
Things went downhill after this, and months later I closed down, disheartened. I ended my friendship with Nkiru. She wasn’t a good person at all! All alone, I cried myself to sleep every night to my forty-third birthday. “Why me?” I asked the mirror that birthday morning, dying the grey strands of hair showing themselves in my beautiful head of hair. The stress had given me wrinkles and I stood there, in my underwear, unsuccessfully pulling my frown lines to smoothness. Facelift. The only answer.
My vanity took me to the US, and there I met Mark. He was as sexy as sexy could be! A self-made young man, introduced to me by my friends at a friend’s party in New York.
“I like older women,” he had said naughtily into my ear as we danced, the beginning of our whirlwind romance. After a week, I moved in with him.
“How would you like to work with me?” He asked sweetly one morning as he prepared to leave for a business trip. I could not believe it! I agreed, ofcourse, and the next day I was in his office, receiving training. *Big sigh.* I should have known something bad would happen. I should have prepared myself.
Mark lost his life in a plane crash just a week before his thirty-fifth birthday. I was heartbroken. I lost the only man who cared for me. I lost my job, thanks to his partners who had never taken a liking to me.
My time in the US was up and it was back to ‘Naija’. My forty-fourth year passed in a blur of trials and failures, and at forty-five I was running out of ideas. My bank statement scared me. I was running dry. Grovelling at the feet of my ex-husband, I was able to get a steady paying job. I was too grateful to complain about the nasty way the sexy manager/new wife treated me. Besides a few crow’s feet at the sides of my eyes I was still supple. Nothing make up and the occasional facelift couldn’t handle. I had even found another younger sexy thing to amuse myself with. ‘What could possibly go wrong now?’ I thought to myself one night, smiling.
The Cosmos answered
What started with swellings under my armpits escalated to fevers, hot flushes, swollen and sore breasts.
“Menopause,” a friend of mine at the office said, dismissing my worry.
Menopause at forty-five? I wasn’t sure if I was too thrilled about it. I knew ladies over fifty who hadn’t had theirs after all!
“Go check it out,” my toy-boy said after a particularly lackadaisical love making session. I wonder now if he had really been worried about me or just put off by the fact that I hadn’t been fantastic in bed that night. I took his advice anyway and got a medical once-over.
I had breast cancer. My left breast had to be removed to avoid it spreading. Somehow, I wish I hadn’t gone to the clinic. I wish I had remained in the dark. But then, wouldn’t I have died? Dying with two breasts beats living with one… didn’t it? Then it hit me. Five years after vowing to accomplish something, I was still living off my husband.
Treatments started. I had to quit my job, and soon enough my account went red. Predictably, my toy-boy was on the high road, waving me goodbye without even a glance at my ravaged frame. With my parents dead, my younger brother was my only family and my saving grace. We managed; somehow we just managed.
Luckily, my cancer went on remission. A cancer survivor at forty-seven! Ekene dirikwa Chukwu! I co-founded a breast cancer foundation with my friend Tayo who had been just as lucky as I was to survive. We were ‘Team No to Cancer’. This was what I was born to do; reaching out to women and explaining the need for regular health check-ups. Two years later and our foundation was going strong. There were talks of government aids to help us expand to West Africa.
Contrary to what I preached, I missed three monthly check ups. Getting so caught up with running the foundation, I kept putting them off, even though I knew better.
A trusty friend came calling.
‘Hello there! How are you?’
I slumped during a presentation in Abuja and was rushed to the hospital. Cancer fatigue. According to the doctor, I might not survive the battle.
‘Hello there! How are you? Remember me? Yeah! I took your left breast! What a coincidence! We meet again! Can I get you a drink? Maybe talk about old times, no?’
I’m in the best hospital in India (yes, bloody India!), in a private ward, on my sick bed. So alone. My brother just left to tend to business. Again, he was funding my treatment. Tayo would be dropping in next week. You see, it’s my 50th birthday next week. I’m wondering if I’ll even live long enough to see it.
Miss Rosemary Ndubuisi brought out her rosary from within the folds of her hospital gown. She had always worn it merely as an accessory, though she did go for Mass every Sunday.
“Where’s God when you need Him? After everything I went through; childlessness, sickness, failure. Where was He? Chineke mmuo,” she whispered, jerking the beads off her neck and watching them rattle on the linoleum floor.
This life I’m living
I’ve lost it searching for its meaning
hoping, praying, believing
The end is nigh, it has to be
Surely there’s no more to it
Because everything I have, I’ve already given
SO THANKS FOR READING. TODAY, LET’S TALK ABOUT A WOMAN’S BUSINESS, A LIFE WITHOUT CHILDREN AND THE IMPLICATIONS OF A FAILED MARRIAGE (YES! MARRIAGE AGAIN).A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?
FIND THE ART OF @weird_oo here
N.B. The project still goes on for the following three days. Tomorrow we have The Sixth Decade by @Ms_Dania.
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