For Baba Segi, his collections of wives and children are signs of his virility. All runs smoothly in the polygamous home until wife number four arrives. Bolande is a soft-spoken university graduate who is quickly ostracised by her illiterate co-wives. However, she is determined to give Baba Segi the children he expects. Her failure to conceive exposes a dark family secret. This revelation has devastating consequences for the entire household. With sardonic humour, Lola Shoneyin unravels the rotten innards of this polygamous household in a cleverly-plotted story.
Don't get my wrong, I didn't only come here to get away from my mother; I came to escape the feeling of filth that followed me. If I stayed at home, I know the day would come when Mama would open my bedroom door and find the pools of blood at my wrists.
After everything happened, I tried hard to continue being myself but I slowly disappeared. I became Bolanle - the soiled, damaged woman. Except that was hard too because Mama kept trying to make me do all the things the old Bolanle would have done. Don't you think you should get a job, Bolanle? Won't you apply for this bank job in the newspapers, Bolanle? Didn't you see the handsome boy that was looking at you, Bolanle? How could I tell her that I had failed to preserve my dignity? I was too ashamed to let her see the fickle shell I'd become. Inevitably, it became unbearable. The more she pushed, the more I resisted. I didn't want a job! I didn't want a white wedding! I just wanted the war between who I used to be and who I'd become to end. I didn't want to fight any more.
Somehow, it all made perfect sense when I met Baba Segi. At last, I would be able to empty myself of my sorrow. I would be with a man who accepted me, one who didn't ask questions or find my quietness unsettling. I know Baba Segi wouldn't be like younger men who demanded explanations for the faraway look in my eye. Baba Segi was content when I said nothing.
So, yes. I chose this home. Not for the monthly allowance, not for the lace skirt suit, and not for the coral bracelets. Those things mean nothing to me. I chose this family to regain my life, to heal in anonymity. And when you choose a family, you stay with them. You stay with your husband even when your friends call him a polygamist ogre. You stay with him when your mother says he's an overfed orangutan. You look at him in another light and see a large but kindly, generous soul.
"The gods forbid it! We forbid it! We will not let it happen. Look what I have brought you." Iya Segi slipped me a small plastic bag bound several times over with a rubber band.
"Iya Segi, you have the heart of a lion and the wisdom of a tortoise. What better day to bring that monkey to justice?"
"Keep your voice down." Iya Segi peered out of the back door. "Iya Tope must not hear of this. Who knows where her weakness is leading her?"
"Yes, it is between us. We must settle this matter. And God will help us."
"Listen to me. Place Bolanle's portions outside her bedroom door like we normally do when she doesn't join us. When she returns this evening, we will greet her as if all is well so she does not suspect anything."
"How quickly does it work? Will we have cause to rejoice by tomorrow morning?"
"Mr Taju said the medicine man who sold it to him promised immediate results. He said it was collected from the fangs of a cobra. Taju lied that it was for easing life out of an ailing dog. When the poison turns her belly, Baba Segi will be forced to take her to her father's house."
"You can count on me, Iya Segi. Evildoers should get what they deserve. The Bible says so."
As soon as Iya Segi left the kitchen, I tore at the bundle impatiently. The Lord is going to use me to conquer my enemy. The mantle of justice has fallen on me. Ha! I am blessed.
"I know the reason why Bolanle has not conceived," she continued, "and it its not one that a thousand doctors can cure. Yam cannot cook itself. It needs a careful hand that will slice it and expose it to raging heat."
Baba Segi gasped in confusion.
"I am not quiete sure I understand you." Dr Dibia wanted Iya Segi to spell things out for her husband.
"That is because you are young and do not know the ways of the world. I was a young wife when I found myself in a cloud of sadness. I was childless and restless. Every time I saw a mother rocking a baby on her back, my nipples would itch to be suckled. My husband and I tried everything. He did not let my thighs rest but leapt between them every time dusk descended upon us. Even his mother was hungry for his seed to become fruit. Then, I had and idea. It was a sinful idea but I know it would bring my sadness to an end. In fact, it was more than an idea; it promised to be a solution. If my husband did not have seed then what harm could it do to seek it elsewhere?" She shrugged her shoulders. "So, I found seed and planted it in my belly."
Baba Segi turned his side to his wife and looked at her through one eye only. His arm was raised in defence as if to shield himself from the odious suggestions hidden in her parables.
"Are you saying your husband is not the biological father of your first child?" Dr Dibia asked. Eureka!
"Not my first, not my second."
Baba Segi ducked as if someone had taken a swing at his face. "Woe! It cannot be!"
"And the other wives? What about their children? Dr Dibia asked. It might as well come out in one big gush; better that than in dribs and drabs.
"I misled them. Perhaps if I had not shown the second one my way, this shame would have come out sooner. But you see, they were so desperate to be fruitful. They knew that my husband valued children above all things so when I saw their desperation, I took pity on them and shared my secret. They also followed the same path."