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Pariah

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“Which home?”

“Ibadan, of course.”

She switched to her Canadian accent. “To come and die?”

“I must have died and been reincarnated then.”

“I’ll sue you for bigamy.” Her voice cut like sharp glass.

He giggled. “Where would you file your suit? Quebec? Send the court papers to me with UPS.”

“You’re a disappointment to your children.”

The voice he heard next was Fadeke’s. “Hello, Daddy? What’s happening over there?”

“I needed a companion.” He slammed the receiver, then took the phone off the hook and went downstairs.

The steward, Taye, sat on the sofa, his long legs stretched out on the plum-colored rosewood coffee table, watching a video. The marble floor glimmered under the bright silver chandelier. Oloye Bab went to sit at the wine bar. Taye came by and brought out a bottle of Malbec. His sleeves were folded up, revealing his hairy forearms. As the steward filled a glass for him, Oloye Bab watched the bubbles rise and burst. He gulped the wine, which trickled down his chin to his pajamas. Who had told his wife about his soon-to-be-held traditional wedding with Moyo? He’d wanted the wedding held before she found out.

***

Moyo’s heels clicked along the walkway that led from the house to the garage.

“When will my car be ready?” she asked her mechanic.

Taju, the gangling, uneducated mechanic fixing her Jeep Cherokee, lived in poverty at Ile Ero, the three-story tenement house in front of Moyo’s duplex. He lay on a runner as he worked under the front of the car. “I am soon to finish, Ma.”

“Finish quickly. I’m going out with the first lady.”

Sometimes Moyo reported to Mrs. Felicia Etomo instead of her office at the secretariat. Who would question her? Her husband was the Governor’s man, which had even gained her a promotion, hoisting her from Grade Level 10 to 13. Once, she’d accompanied the first lady for two weeks without seeking the permission of her immediate department head. When she returned, the permanent secretary queried her about her absence. She informed Mrs. Etomo, who in Moyo’s presence gave him a verbal thrashing, threatening to fire him from the Service.

Sidikat emerged from the house. She stopped midway and tutted. Joining them, she asked, “Why is he taking so long to finish?”

“He is too slow for my liking. I won’t use his service again,” Moyo said.  Sidikat and Moyo could have been twins: Both wore white iro and buba organza lace and red head-ties; they had kohl-lined eyes, jeweled fingers, and wore diamond-studded pendants. They had first met at the entrance examination for the Civil Service. When the Service had posted successful candidates’ assignments, they had both been assigned to the Ministry of Education, where their friendship had blossomed. Four years later, Sidikat was transferred to the Ministry of Health, but that didn’t stop them from seeing each other and talking as usual about hair-dos, men, parties, and fashion. Later, Moyo was transferred to the Governor’s Office. She had two other friends, Kofo and Motun, but Sidikat was the only one around with whom she could strip to her panties. And it was Sidikat who encouraged Moyo to continue with the pregnancy that had led to the stillbirth.

Taju slipped from beneath the car, sweat streaming down his pockmarked face. He scratched his scar-mottled scalp.  “Mommy, please use me. I now finish.”

“Don’t call me mommy. Don’t let my husband hear that. I have no son anywhere.”

He jumped behind the steering wheel. Revving the engine, he grinned as if he’d been told he could have the car.

Sidikat knocked on the driver’s door. “Hurry up. Don’t waste my time.”

After he’d backed the car out of the garage and given Moyo the key, Taju stretched and flexed his spine, revealing the brownish, tangled hair of his armpits. Moyo paid and dismissed him.

Two minutes later, Moyo drove out of the gate onto their recently tarred road (the tar ended in front of their house, and her husband had named the road after himself – Babatunde Agbeja Road). Her friend was unusually quiet. Approaching a T- junction, Moyo asked, “Are you okay?”

Sidikat’s face tightened. “How can I be?”

“You’re feeling sick?”

“You made me feel sick.”

“What do you mean?” Moyo said, thinking, You sometimes talk in a funny way.

“You were proud to tell Taju that you have no son. Bearing Oloye no children might become your greatest undoing.”

“Oloye doesn’t want children. It’s as simple as that.”

Sidikat turned dark eyes on her. “Stop! The party can wait.”

Moyo drove on. The issue at hand didn’t warrant stopping the car.

“I asked you to stop.” Sidikat whacked her on her thigh. “I’m tired of hearing that Oloye doesn’t want children.”

Moyo pulled off the road. She pinned a gaze on her. Why was Sidi bad-tempered this afternoon?

“Wasn’t it silly of you to make that kind of agreement?” Sidikat pursed her lips. “One day, his first wife will come back and send you packing.”

Moyo laughed. “Impossible. We have the same rights in his house.”

Sidikat mimicked her. “We have the same rights in his house.”

“Sidi!”

“Prove it. Show me the evidence of the equality.”

“Evidence?” Moyo turned the word over with her tongue.

“Look.” Sidikat pointed to a young woman coming toward them. The woman cradled a little girl whom she shielded from the blazing sun with a small umbrella. “That’s her evidence in her hands. Where is yours? Listen, whatever you think you’re enjoying is only for the moment. You won’t have a voice in that house unless you bear his child.”

“He told me he doesn’t want any children.”

“Do you want to exit this world without leaving a child behind?”

Moyo was silent. She had accepted Oloye Bab’s advances with some skepticism. And when he had told her before their wedding that he did not want more children, she had seen nothing wrong with it. She had been on contraceptive pills ever since.

“What do you think I should do?”

“Get pregnant! Bear children for him.”

“I’m on the pill.”

“Flush them down the toilet.”

A prickling of unease passed through Moyo. Her husband might be upset if she got pregnant.

“I don’t want to offend him.”

“There’s nothing to fear.” Sidikat was confident, boisterous. “Tell him the pregnancy was accidental, that you didn’t know the contraceptives could fail.”

“How can I tell him all these lies?”

“I’m sorry. It’s been so long since I had a husband that I’ve forgotten it is bad for a wife to lie to her husband.”

Moyo glanced at her, understood her sarcasm. She leaned her head against the headrest.

***

Moyo sat in the waiting room of the Fountain Hospital, crossing and uncrossing her legs, unmindful of the woman groaning beside her. She waited for her test results. What would she do if it revealed her womb had been damaged? What would Sidikat’s next advice be?

Moyo’s sudden insecurity had led her to follow Sidikat’s advice after Oloye Bab made his first journey to Quebec. “It is clear that Oloye’s first wife is again uppermost in his heart. Now you’re no different than a spare tire to him,” Sidikat had derided her.

So Moyo had stopped taken precautions. It had been two months since Oloye came back, but she felt no life in her womb and continued menstruating normally. She had initially discarded the thought of visiting a hospital to have her uterus checked, because she feared hearing that her previous abortions had damaged it. Her jealousy at seeing Oloye regularly communicate with Yewande on the phone finally decided it: she would see a doctor.

Now Moyo’s beating heart roared in her ears, overwhelming the sounds in the room: the heavy breathing of the other patients, the wailing of babies, the clicking of heels across the marble floor. When her doctor appeared in the hallway and beckoned her to the consultation room, she imagined a monster was waiting to drive a dagger into her heart.

She sat across from him and glanced into his brown eyes. He handed the test results to her. Her hand jittered like an unbalanced blender.

“Don’t fret, Mrs. Agbeja. Your uterus is healthy. I suggest you tell your husband to come in for a test. Then we’ll know what to do next.”

She scratched her cheek. Impossible. She couldn’t ask her husband to come to the hospital.

Perhaps her husband’s sperm count was low. Maybe age affected its motility. She had to find a way to boost his fertility. Perhaps medicinal herbs would work.

From then on, she regularly crushed some fertility herbs into a powder and mixed it into his drink. She even added some powdered rhino horn into his food. Still she had no morning sickness.

One Saturday afternoon, she burst into Sidikat’s apartment and slumped into an armchair. “I can’t get pregnant. Things aren’t working out as I expected them to.”

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