I casually joke with my kids about how I must have been an award-winning actress in my previous life. If you haven’t watched Empire yet, you probably should because you’ll understand why sacrifices aren’t necessary sometimes. This is in reference to the series matriarch, Cookie Lyon. My life is nothing short of a movie and her character embodied that. The plot thickens every time my husband is out of sight and the drama heightens every new episode. I’m on edge waiting to see what the scriptwriter, my endlessly ever-surprising husband, has in store in his closet.
Rukia, his second wife came wrapped like a little bundle of surprise. I had spent several nights on the sofa, snorting, trying to kill mosquitoes by clapping my hands and sleeping with a heavy heart. I’d wake the next morning with cold food on the table, mosquito bites and flu because I didn’t cover myself all night. My excuse? I was waiting for my husband to come home. To be clear, he rarely did and when he did, he left me in the cold while he tucked away in the bedroom. Ali never cared to touch my food.
She called that morning, sounding alarmed, and for the first time since she joined our marriage, I felt something. A feeling. An emotion. Besides the feelings of hate and disdain, I felt something different but wouldn’t label it as concern, worry or care, but something other than the familiar feeling registered in my mind with her name.
“Hey, Rukia here. Can we talk?” I sneered silently. She should have asked to talk, before moving into our husbands’ house and announcing her arrival like she were the queen of Sheba. The disregard was still present. It was the feeling assigned to her name in my heart, in our marriage.
“Talk about what? Did you two fight?” I asked.
“No. It’s more than that,” I listened more keenly.
“We have a problem mama Zainab. Our husband is the problem.” She wanted to rub it in, but I had resolved to be the bigger person and never stoop so low, so I responded prudently. After all, the reality of the matter is, he is our husband. The number might increase at his pleasure anyway.
“Listen, if you guys fought, you need to iron issues out on your own. Don’t drag me into it.”
“He’s gotten my younger sister pregnant. She says it was consensual but I highly doubt it. Maybe he forced himself on her and she’s afraid of speaking up. We need to sit him down…”
“What did you say?” I interjected. “Are you sure about these allegations?”
“Can we meet at your house in the evening? It’s your turn this week, so I believe he will be home after the evening prayer.”
“Have you talked to him about this?”
“What makes you think he will come to meet us if we tell him beforehand? We should ambush him.” Rukia responded. She talked as if we shared a friendship, an understanding even, which is very far from the case. What we share is knowing. We know this man we both call our husband and probably, each other’s intimate secrets. Since she came, Ali does these new, different things in the bedroom, I still wonder if her sexual prowess is the reason she married her, because thanks to her, things got better in our bedroom. These are the thoughts that were running through my mind when I opened the door for them that evening.
They sat next to the door leading to the kitchen. Her sister bore so much resemblance to her, apart from the fact that she seemed rather too comfortable given the situation. It validated me, to see my co-wife troubled by our husbands’ character as she kept on ranting about his behaviour. She never thought about me when they brewed their illicit affair, yet she sounded like she could skin a lion alive because the same man had put his hands on a different woman, her baby sister.
I distracted my mind, looking around my house. Rukia was sitting on the very chair I had sleepless nights in, waiting for my husband to come home while she worked her magic in places where their love blossomed, to the point that she was invited into our marriage. At that time, I was eager about making marriage work. It’s one of the things that I always wanted to get right, until our husband walked in, scanned the room and lay his disgusted eyes on me. I knew then that even the little hope I clung to restore our marriage was all in vain.
“What are you doing here?” his eyes were fixated on me. He must have thought it was my idea to assemble all his women in one place and question his sexual escapades.
“Rukia called and asked if they could come. She should explain further.”
Even then, having known about his extramarital affairs, a part of me craved his approval. For his recognition as the better wife. The calmest. The one he could come to when he needed a wife. The one that most people could term as his favourite. The one he treated differently, or held in the highest regard. Maybe this expectation is because of how quickly I forgave and overlooked his shortcomings. I wish someone had told me I was digging my own grave. Still, I desperately wanted to prove to myself that I’d always be his favourite wife because I could never be his only wife.
“Ali. My sister is pregnant by you. Do you care to explain why and how you two got involved?” Rukia asked, sounding a bit too dramatic.
“Where are the children?” he directed his question to me.
“They are in their rooms,” I replied.
“Nancy is my wife now. Unless you have any reservations you would like to bring to the attention of the Imam?” he asked, looking at Rukia, her sister and then me. He did it twice. He was silent like he was waiting for a rebellious child to rebel against their parent so he could put them in their place. Rukia is the rebel, I admire her for this.
“You can’t marry her Ali. It cannot happen. Our parents cannot agree to this.” Rukia was already speaking at the top of her voice. Nancy was quiet, smiling under her breath, looking at our husband. As they got into an argument, a harsh exchange of brutal words, my mind wandered off. Emotions swept through me like a turbulent. Feelings of inadequacy, inefficiency, unworthiness and doubt clouded my mind. I felt incapacitated, to the point that my husband had to get himself two other women to make up for my incompleteness. To date, he has never shared what he finds wrong with me. I still have never gotten the perfect way to make him explain to me, his endless desire for other women.
Nancy took the reigns from her sister pretty fast. She and Ali had already talked about their marriage plans, so it didn’t come as a surprise to them when Rukia tried to stop the marriage. Their first child came soon after, but Rukia has raised her like her own ever since. Unfortunately, she’s never had children of her own. In my lone moments, I think it would have made it easy for me to end our marriage had it been the case because my children are the reason I still lay beside Ali, roll off and sleep on the rug when he tries to touch me, I don’t remember the last time we made love, not that I care either way.
The next time Rukia called, it was the same case. Same script, with a different cast. It was during the holy month of Ramadhan and the entire family was religiously observing the calendar, only to realize that our dear husband, was going out with a woman around town.
“Zainab! What aren’t we doing to have this man keep it in his pants?” Rukia screamed on the other side of the call.
“What?” I asked.
“He’s been seen at a lodge with David’s wife.”
“I don’t think that’s true. Its Ramadhan remember?”
“Is that what he tells you because he doesn’t want to sleep with you?” she hissed. It stung. Ali and I have grown apart over the years. It all started when Rukia came into the picture, and he had to spend two weeks in my house and the other two weeks at her monthly. Then when his third wife joined the chart, he spent more time at her place which made me jealous. News of his affairs floated in the air, but I choose to act dumb for peace of my mind.
Rukia assembled us in his third wife’s house that night. The woman and her husband are in tow. Soft-spoken, calm, concerned man who in his conversation left everything in the hands of God.
“Please, take our husband and give us your own. Because you think he’s better than your husband, please have him, we will take yours.” Rukia implored her. Her husband was rather calm, warning Ali from ever touching his wife again and ruining his family. “David’s wife apologized and vowed never to get involved with Ali again, but I’ve never cared to follow up whether they ended their affair or not, I bet Rukia is doing much of that.
The last time Rukia called, she was briefing me on some rumours about Ali’s affair with an opportunistic woman that had already sired two kids with him and was demanding that he marries her immediately. Honestly, the only surprising thing is how this affair had thrived under Rukia’s nose. She gets wind of stuff rather early and tries to control it. However, it turns out that word got out because Ali had decided to end the relationship. He bundled Nancy, his third wife with the two children.
He does this. When we got married and our son turned five, he came back home with a beautiful baby girl that looked everything like her mother. She was my best friend in high school. We fell out when she started spreading rumours, our biology teacher then, a fresh graduate had seduced her. He said she made advances, it was a moment of weakness and that’s how Subira was conceived. I’ve raised her diligently. But now, I regret never listening to my best friend. I would have dodged a bullet.
When the doorbell rang in August last year, I guessed it must be another one of his wives when I saw Rukia pacing on the verandah.
“When does he ever stop?” Rukia said, removing her shoes with so much force.
“Who?” I asked.
“It’s like I pick out women for him, bring them to the house and he marries them,” Rukia said as she sat down.
“Its the Ugandan househelp. She was being rude and lazy with her work. She blurted to me about our husband when I was reprimanding her. She’s already pregnant. Could you imagine that?”
“Rukia, I’m not surprised. Honestly, that’s his problem. The people he owes explanations are his children. I’m just glad I agreed to the tubal litigation when he suggested it many years ago. I’d hate to be having children concurrently with his other wives.” Rukia gave a disturbing look, and I gathered it must have been insensitive to her.
“Do we confront him?”She asked.
“What difference does it make?”
“Have you thought about a divorce?”
“Ever since you showed up. But my children. They are my joy and are worth all these troubles.”
“I have to, but how would the world receive me? A barren, opinionated divorced woman. What’s in the world for me?” I wanted to tell her about the stories I read on Reddit of women turning their lives around, but if I didn’t have the audacity to make that bold step, how could I convince her to? So I hugged her. For the first time since the onset of our marriage in 2004 and it relieved me. It was warm. In that silence, we saw each other’s pains with empathy. When I bid her goodbye, I wondered, if it would always have felt calm, and comforting as it did, to reach out to someone that understood you and held you there, calmly, letting you feel seen and heard.
This morning, it’s Nancy that called.
“I cannot raise another of his children again. Especially, not the child of a mentally ill housemaid from a land full of witches. I’m worried for my children’s safety.”
She didn’t bother to greet me, she just went ahead to relay her message.
“That’s a conversation you should have with your husband, you have the wrong number darling,” it felt so good. Rukia called when I had just dialled her number.
His new wife is running naked in the streets. He has managed to put her away in a mental hospital, but I’m wondering, does this mean another wife to make up for the submissive maid, that served him on her knees?
As I told you earlier, Ali is the scriptwriter. We can only imagine his next move, but until then, stay tuned. I’m driving his old Volkswagen, on the edge of the seat too.
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