When Nene came to the house much later that afternoon, she met Violet and her children relaxing in the parlor after a lunch of spaghetti.
“Why did you leave as soon as she came out?” she asked when they came out to sit in the balcony, leaving the children inside the house.
Violet pursed her lips. “Simple, I don’t like her. ‘Madam I-know-everything’.” She crossed her legs at her ankle. “What did she say today?” With the arrival of the third woman, Njide, she was certain that the topic would have been about Oyim and his girlfriend, Benny.
“What else will she say? That she saw your husband again with a girl, but this time she said it is not the make-up girl.” Nene’s eyes remained on her face as she spoke.
In Violet’s chest, a fist was tightening around her heart. She licked her lips and opened her mouth to talk, only what came out was a croaked sound.
A helpless look came over Nene’s face. She reached out and took Violet’s hand in hers.
Violet pulled her hand away from the clammy hold. “Did she say what the girl looks like? Is she slim?”
Nene slapped the back of her right hand over her left palm. “Nne, why are you killing yourself with this thing eh?”
Violet eyes were red when they looked at her. Nene wished she could take back the words “So I should just ignore it? Turn a blind eye to it? And my husband will be going out with small girls when he has three children at home. Is it fair? Tell me, is it fair?”
“Nneoma, I didn’t say it is fair. Of course, it is not fair. But look at everything you have done—you lost weight, you got a job, look at how you are glowing, it still didn’t stop him. What else do you want to do? Go back to twenty years old. It is not possible now.”
Violet could see the sense in her words. She had really tried her best. She could remember the first time she felt truly scared since she got married. It was a Saturday. She had left the kids at home with the maid that came in during the day to clean up the house. She and the other women sat in front of the saloon. They were five, she could vividly remember. She was complimenting the hair of the customer Loreth was plaiting when a red jeep passed. Silence descended among the women until the car turned into another street.
It was Nelo that broke the silence. “Is this woman wise at all? See how she leaves her house for a maid to take over.”
The red jeep belonged to Gloria. Violet didn’t know much about her except that she often drove the red jeep out in the evening and returned the afternoon of the next day. None of them knew where she worked, they had guessed but which job allowed a woman not to be sleeping in her marital home? It was no secret too, that a maid was in charge of taking care of the house and the children in her constant absence. A number of times, the maid had brought one of the children to make her hair in the saloon and the women never failed to prod her on what was going on in the house.
“Some women are just too stupid, later they will be complaining that their housemaids are wicked. Look at how she just turned the girl to second-wife material.” Another woman, Maureen said.
“But eh, come to think about it, even if she doesn’t leave the house, the man will still find a way to cheat. Don’t you see the way she behaves? I’m sure she doesn’t even know how to cook,” Njide remarked. She gulped down the remnants of the bottle of coke in her hand and belched loudly.
“With those nails, I bet she cannot even cut simple onions.” Violet had put in with a snort of laughter.
“That is the thing, even if she can cook, I still think the man will cheat on her. Haven’t you seen the husband before? Hmm, he comes out to jog in the morning and with the way he talks, you will just know that he has a flock of girls outside.” Njide continued. The wrap of the gala creaked as she opened it.
“Yes, the man has come to my shop before.” Faustina had a provision store a few blocks away from the saloon. It was patronized by many people in the street. “He was just firing English at my girl. Before he left, he told her her hair was beautiful. Did you see her face?” She snapped her fingers. “The girl was just smiling like one monkey. ‘Thank you sir.’ If you had heard her voice. I never knew that girl can talk like that.”
“You see those kind of men, fear them o.” Nene said. “But what if he is not cheating on her? I mean, one of my friends thought her husband was cheating on her. When she investigated, nothing came up.”
Njide clucked her tongue. “Don’t talk like that. You see most of this men eh, especially the ones in this estate, they use to visit that hotel near my restaurant. You always see them there even though they have wives at home.”
“My husband is not like that.”
“Don’t put all of them inside the same pot biko. My husband is good.”
Njide met their opposition with crude laughter. “Fausty, are you serious? Violet, are you sure?”
An uneasy silence descended on them.
“Stop that joke, Njide. It’s too expensive,” Nene warned.
Violet laughed nervously. “Yes. Stop joking with us.”
“Okay o. I’m joking.” Njide agreed with them but her tone was contradictory. Joke kwa? These people don’t know anything at all.
Nelo brought up another topic, which school to send her daughter that was about to enter secondary school and pulled their attention from the awkward conversation.
It was good, albeit poor idea on her part, but the seed had been sown. Violet felt uneasy and when she looked at Faustina, the sick look on the woman’s face had confirmed that she knew about it and it was not Njide joking with her.
That day, she had stayed in the saloon until the other women left. When Njide stood up to go, she followed behind her.
“Were you serious?” Violet had asked.
Njide was more than happy to reply her. Violet remember tasting bitterleaf in her mouth as Njide advised her to just ignore her husband for peace to reign in her marriage, going on to talk about a man that had beat his wife because she confronted him about cheating.
The next few days, Violet didn’t go to the saloon. She remained at home, scrubbing the tiles until they shone, washing all the curtains in the house, playing with the twins who were about a year old and watching comedy movies. When Oyim came back in the evenings, she became more inquisitive about how his day went, who he met at work, she spent minutes smelling his clothes trying to detect any foreign scent. It kept eating her up, the fact that her husband had another girl outside.
By the end of the week, she was certain that Njide had only been lying to her because she was jealous of her happy marriage. Her husband could not do that to her, not the man that brought her fresh coconut bread and shawarma when he returned from work, not the man that spent the larger part of his time at home chasing his children at home.
When she went to the saloon with a renewed confidence, she was glad she didn’t see Njide. She made this announcement to a smiling Nene who assured her that her intuition had been correct. Her husband was not cheating on her.
“But even if she saw him with another girl, does that mean Benny is out of the picture?” Nene drew her back to the present.
“It’s better when it was just Benny. But who is this girl now, eh? Where did she come from? Why does she want to add to my troubles?” Violet was frustrated. Nene tried to say something but Violet continued, “Wait, do you think I should confront her? I wanted to go to Benny’s place a number of time, but I decided not to. But this other girl-”
“Nneoma,” Nene called sharply. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Stupid? Anything stupid? Nene, don’t provoke me this afternoon. How many years has it been, eh? Four years. Four years since I saw that stupid girl dragging my husband around as if he is her pet-dog and you expect me to remain quiet? There is so much one can take.” How could Nene understand? The things she had done in the past five years to make her husband take his eyes from the girls outside? The hours she had gone hungry because she wanted to get rid of the excess fat that made her ugly or the times she had almost collapsed as she was running on the treadmill behind the house. What of the weird things she had done to resurrect the sexual relations between her and Oyim? Watching porn videos in the toilet and trying new styles that threatened to break her bones. Of course it worked. She gave her husband the satisfaction he wanted, becoming so adventurous that even she began to look forward to their nights together. But that was where it stopped. It did nothing to stop her husband from going after those younger girls.
“Nneoma, what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t kill yourself over this thing. Look at your children, look at what you have turned yourself into, a teacher and a mother, a hot one at that. You did well with how you handled it when you found out that your husband was cheating. You worked on yourself and tried to become what you think he was looking for, but it didn’t change anything. He is still cheating on you. Look at Njide, why do you think she is bent on just talking about your husband? Because even though he is doing wrong by going outside the marriage, he is still playing his part as the head of the house, taking care of you and the children. He come back to the house every single night. He plays with the children, he jokes with you. He still calls you ‘Asa’. How many men are there that do that? Tell me. I can’t remember the last time Jide dressed up and said, ‘come let us go out and relax’. Your own is different, every Sunday you go out as a family and spend practically the whole day gallivanting around Awka. Not every woman can boast of that. Nneoma, what I am saying is that you should be grateful that you still have a huge part of your husband. Even if he goes out, he will still come back to you and sleep in your bed. No girl can come and steal that from you. He is your own, your own. Forget about all those small girls that are crying ‘bae’ ‘boo’. He is your own boo. It is your ring that he is wearing. It is your name that is on paper with his name, not theirs. So stop killing yourself over this.”
Violet looked at her friend, really looked at her. The wrinkles that were beginning to spread from her eyes, the tiny spots that dotted her forehead, her dried lips with a hint of white at the edge. It was then she realized that she had been so caught up with her new life that she overlooked her friend.
“Nene, tell me, how is it with you and Jide?” Violet saw the look of pain that crossed Nene’s eyes and was certain that she had asked the right question.