“…So that my husband will praise me”
“I hated cooking. Despised it! Sweeping too. Not because the smell of the Egusi was nauseating, or because I found the heat in the kitchen suffocating. If anything, my pre-positioning ensured that I always knew which meat was the biggest, and how to properly hide it underneath all that sea of boiled leaves and spices. Good times.
Mother had five lovely children. Clever kids. All of them geniuses in their own right. And worlds.
Of the five, I was the third and only girl. Mrs. Arike Olaolu taught all her children to cook, no child of hers would starve to death just because he didn’t know what to do with a pot, fire and ingredients. No Sir.
She would call us each by name, especially when an unmissable TV program was on — her timing was impeccable — and give us step by step tutorials on what to add, when, and in what order. I especially enjoyed the time she taught us how to make Amala.
**“E je ki omi o ho gidi gan. Ni gba yen le o wa da elubo si. Ti elubo yen ba ti to, e wa mu orogun ke mo ro die die. Te ba ti ro bai, te se bai, ati bai — ” At this point, she would make silly clockwise and counterclockwise motions, shaking her bum bum in the process, as she stirred the fast thickening black substance that was to become dinner. She would use a wooden stick, known as an Orogun. It was narrow at the handle but flatter and wider on the other end — the part which stirred the Amala. “Oya Wale omo mi, wa dan wo (Wale, my child, come and try it)” She would say, “Segun iwo naa(You too Segun)”. And one by one, we would try to use the orogun to stir the black substance.
**for non Yoruba-speakers, Mrs. Arike is saying:
“You will allow the water to boil very well. That is when you will now add the yam flour to it. When the elubo(yam flour) is enough, you will now use the orogun to stir it little by little. You will now do it like this, and like this, and like that — ”
When mother was done with her little lesson, she would let everyone go. Everyone but me. Not because she had any use for me, but because I had made the mistake of coming to this world as a girl.
“Ma binu oko mi (Don’t be angry my child), women must stay in the kitchen because this is our domain, and it is the secret to getting a good husband” Mrs. Arike would say as I pouted. “Leave your brothers, let them go. They’re boys”. I would frown even more, hating the thought of missing the football match I was enjoying — my team, Chelsea, was winning!
This was why I hated cooking. What was a choice for my brothers was a full-time job for me. A prerequisite for determining my value in the marriage market.
When I was 13 years of age, I had my first menstrual flow. “Mummy I’m going to die,” I cried as I knocked on her room door. I rushed inside as the door gave way, brandishing my white, cotton night gown like a banner. There was so much blood.
After the first ten seconds it took mother to be fully awake, she hugged me. Is this woman mad? I’m dying here and she’s there hugging me, I thought.
“Don’t worry my child, you will not die” she said, “You have now become a woman.”
“O — kay.”
I smiled, not understanding.
Mother noticed my befuddlement. She grinned. “Come, let’s go and wash it off,” she said, explaining with pride what great thing had just happened to me.
From then on, I could not play with boys anyhow. Any boy that smiled my way and wanted to hold my hand was to be sternly shunned. Mrs. Arike’s words, not mine.
“You have to stay pure till you go to your husband’s house, that is the only way he will respect you. Stay away from those useless boys o!” She said as we trekked home. I’d been caught talking to a boy when she came to pick me from school. That was the first of many repetitive adjurations to keep my virginity I got. So that my husband will love me. Respect me. Praise me.
I sat at the huge dressing table my Dele got for me when we returned from our honeymoon. Opening my vanity case, I checked to see if there was any of that Alison Raffaele True Concealer left. Brother Segun got it for me when he came for my wedding last month.
“Oh thank God!” I heaved a sigh of relief. I couldn’t miss Funke’s Owambe for any reason. As her best friend, I had to be there. I wouldn’t miss it even if my two legs were cut off! I would crawl if necessity demanded it.
“Nothing will keep me from this wedding,” I said, to no one in particular. Not even this. I dabbed the concealer with the foam and applied it underneath my eyes, using babylike force.
Dele’s punches are getting harder. I can’t even feel my face.
I thought mother said he’d respect me when I gave him my purity.
I thought the Egusi, the hot Amala, and even the Ofe nsala I had to learn to prepare would make him happy. I let go of Obinna because Mrs. Arike said God told her he wasn’t the one. After all, mother’s always right.
Let me go with this concealer remover sef. I will branch at her house after this owambe.
Branch so that I can ask her.
Can question her.
Can enquire at the hands of Mrs. Arike Olaolu:
“ Why does my husband not praise me?”
If you liked this Short Story, please give it a “heart”. Don’t forget to share too! Inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele”.