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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I smile. I put down the novel and close my eyes for a few minutes, trying to obey the coach in the novel who’d just told his junior league team to take five. As I expected, the thoughts came. They were so frequent and powerful these days; wrapping round my heart with their gnarled fingers, threatening to squeeze the life out.
I’m not sure.
I have a husband who loves me. My first daughter just got married, my only son is about to complete his Masters degree abroad and my baby girl (I smile as I remember the way she cringes when I call her that in public) will soon start her penultimate level in university. She’ll make a fine lawyer one day, that one.
As managing director of Mainstream Bank, it can be said that I’ve done very well for myself.
What is there to regret?
I’d always wanted to be a writer; and write I could. I remember telling my Mama whenever I finished reading a new novel that she’d brought home that I was going to grow up and write stories for the whole world to read. I excelled in essays and even won a few competitions here and there. Pre-NYSC, I did a bit of editing work and wrote for a couple of magazines. My parents were happy; they liked that my hobby made me small money on the side.
Post-NYSC, I got a bank job because everyone knows that you gotta get a real job after NYSC. Right? So I did. But I had a plan. I would work for a while then get married. If my husband wasn’t earning enough to support the family alone, I’d wait till he was and then I’d quit and venture out into my writing career properly. It was a foolproof plan.
I met Tunji right after NYSC at a friend’s birthday gig. He was…nice. He looked nice, spoke nice, smelled nice; he was the quintessential nice guy. He was a mid level employee at a small private company at that time with hopes and dreams and potential. And he loved me to bits. I was very comfortable around him and we became fast friends. From the beginning, I knew he wanted more and so when he kissed me after the movies that first day, I didn’t stop him. I didn’t kiss him back either. Somehow he didn’t give me butterflies. We kinda started dating sometime after that. We broke it off -or rather I broke it off- a couple of times but somehow we always got back together. I did love him in a way, and we were so used to each other. But he still didn’t give me butterflies. It didn’t come as a surprise to me or everyone around when he asked me to marry him three years later. We had indirectly talked about it. We had met each other’s families. I told him I needed time. He said to take all the time I needed. Nice, sweet Tunji. I didn’t have butterflies. I thought about all the other guys that wanted to marry me. Most of them had more money. One of them was heir to a fortune. I thought about my sweet, loving, considerate Tunji.
Chioma said butterflies only happened in the movies. Bimpe said no grown woman needed butterflies. My mama said what was important was that we loved each other. Biology said that, at 28, my time was running out. Why give up the man in one hand for a winged creature you haven’t even sighted yet, no matter how colourful it may seem?
Our wedding was…nice. I kept my bank job, waiting for his potential to turn into kinetic. The children started coming. I continued waiting. Diapers, cribs and preschool. Still I waited. Thirteen years into our marriage he lost his middle level job. Like a good wife, I told him not to worry that I’d cover for him while we waited for him to get another. Maybe it was God’s way of moving him to something better. Maybe I would finally quit this job that was draining the life out of me slowly. Perhaps I’d still get to write that novel. So I covered. Boarding house, tantrums and Masters Degrees. I kept covering. Covering and waiting, covering and waiting. Day after day, when he’d come home crestfallen after another day on the streets trying to get a job, I’d be there smiling with open arms, hot food and open legs. Even though I hated my job with every vein in my body, I did more than endure it; I excelled at it. I was determined to be the perfect wife and mother.
As we grew older, he stopped seeking employment and came up with all sorts of business schemes and proposals. I continued in my role as the good wife; smiling, cooking, sexing and funding the harebrained schemes.
Its 32 years after and I’m still smiling. Not as brightly though. My dreams of being a famous novelist were just that: dreams. The novel I was just reading is the first I’ve read in decades. The only reason I’m at home and have time to read it is because I had to take a compulsory leave after I collapsed at work last Tuesday. “Fatigue”, the doctor said. Unhappiness, my heart corrected. I hate my life. I love my children. My husband. I love him. And then I hate him. I hate him for being the reason my heart flutters a little each time Chinedu Ubaka comes to my office. You see, Chinedu is an extremely successful business man and one of the bank’s most important clients. He is very well spoken, well read and well travelled. He is also divorced. And he likes me. He’s put it out there but he doesn’t push it; he wants me to “take my time”. I feel him watching me whenever he comes in for a meeting. I wonder if he notices that I’m freshly made up every time. I can’t help it, I like him too. Or I like the idea of him, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the idea of his success that I like. Maybe if Tunji was successful I wouldn’t feel this way. At least if he was successful, I wouldn’t be working at the bank and I wouldn’t have met Chinedu. But I’ll never know because I can never cheat on Tunji. I think.
So I hate him. Because I love him. I hate him because I love him. Every time he looks at me with failure in his eyes I physically fight the urge the grab him by the collar and shake the lights out of him, screaming, “Get up off your sorry ass and turn your potential into kinetic, dammit! This was not the life you promised me!”
They say the ‘fairy tale’ happens only in the movies. So I settled for real life. Shouldn’t real life pay off? I did the right thing and married my ‘Nice guy’. I did not follow the other guys with their money. I could have been wife to the bloody heir to a fortune. I did not hold out for the man that would give me butterflies; I settled for common sense. I followed the rules. I should be happy.
Shouldn’t I be happy?
I open my eyes and look at the time. My five minutes is up. It is him. Standing up, I pick my novel off the floor, smoothen out my dress and walk towards the door.
And then with my hand on the knob, I put my smile in place.
Margaret Osuji is the name I go by. The good wife is who I am. Smile is what I do.
Pour three gallons of Expectation in the pan of Potential.
Throw in your Bird In Hand, plucked and fine and ready.
Then add two Gold Bands. Leave to boil on your Hopes for years.
Next, ten pints of Disappointment and Regret, stirred in slowly.
Don’t forget all the resentment; add Bitterness to taste.
Simmer for another couple of years; then take out the fire.
Leave dish to cool on your resignation. Serve with a smile.
SO THANKS FOR READING. TODAY, IT’S A WEEKEND. SEEK YOUR MOTHER OUT IF SHE’S NOT AFAR OFF AND LOOK IN HER EYES. IS SHE HAPPY?
AND THEN ASK YOURSELF, IS HAPPINESS TO BE DISCOVERED ON THE SAFE, COMMON PATH?
THE AUTHOR ASKS
HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO LET GO OF YOUR BUTTERFLY? OR ARE YOU STILL HOLDING OUT FOR IT? HOW MANY SMILING PEOPLE ARE REALLY HAPPY
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?
FIND THE ART OF @Ms_Dania here
and the art of @UcheAnne here
N.B. The project still goes on for the following three days. Tomorrow we have The Seventh Decade by @BoukkieO plus a special surprise by @Aeda_ soon after.
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