Every now and then, I like to try something new. This time the story is told solely from the first person’s perspective. Let me know what you think! Enjoy the rest of the weekend- Keni!
‘Your mother doesn’t like me.’
The words hung awkwardly in the air. I desperately needed him to deny it, for him to assuage my fears. I fidgeted with my nails for what seemed like eternity. Then I tried again.
‘Jeffrey, are you there?’
‘Yes, I am here’, he answered quietly.
There was that awkward silence again.
I had my answer.
I mumbled a quick ‘I will talk to you later’ and hung up.
I met Jeffrey’s mum earlier today. Jeffrey and I had been together for three years and yet this was the first time I was meeting her. I didn’t find it particularly strange because she was rarely in the country. I had seen pictures of her and almost every night that Jeffrey was with me, he spent a few minutes on the phone with her, telling her about his day. She had come back from Canada the night before and I was supposed to meet her that day.
I went through all my ‘appropriate for meeting the in law’ clothing twice and I still couldn’t find anything that was good enough.I desperately wanted to make a good impression. Jeffrey’s father had passed away when he was 17 and he was the only child. She was the only person in his life he looked up to. I had to get it right. I finally settled on a sleeveless yellow sundress and purple sandals. I pulled my hair in a bun and put on some lip gloss. Just before I left home, I splashed on some perfume- the perfume Jeffrey got me for Christmas.
Hopefully, I wasn’t going to send the ‘I am desperate for you to like me’ message, but rather the ‘I am the woman your son should marry’ message. When I got to the house, the atmosphere felt different- almost like how prep in secondary school felt when the senior house mistress was on patrol. Jeffrey tried to calm me down but the moment I heard her footsteps, the nervousness escalated once again.
She descended the stairs with such grace and authority that I had no choice than to scramble to my feet. By the time she had sat down, my palms were sweating and all the creative conversation starters had fled from my head. She was wearing a long flowing coral blue linen dress. She had a short weave on and she was wearing red lipstick. Her acrylic nails were also painted cherry red. She had enough gold on her to make Otumfuo look like a pauper- three rings, one bracelet and one necklace with two pendants- a cross and the letter J, probably standing for Jeffrey. When she sat down, she crossed her legs, revealing an anklet.
What sort of 60 year old woman wears an anklet?
‘Good afternoon, Auntie Valerie. You have a lovely home.’
‘Just how much of this home have you seen? Don’t tell me you have already been to my son’s bedroom .’
And no, she didn’t have a smile on her face.
‘Mummy! That’s not nice’
‘Jeffrey, don’t tell me that. It is a legitimate question. You are a handsome young man and you were living all by yourself. Is it out of place to ask that question?’, she said, all the while looking at me with disapproval.
‘Jeffrey, it is fine’, I said, desperate to move away from the shaky start.
I could feel her eyes scrutinizing me. They moved from my hair to my makeup to my dress and finally rested on my nails. I began to curse my stars for not quitting this habit of biting my fingernails.
This is a disaster!
‘Your perfume smells familiar. Estée Lauder, isn’t it? Jeffrey bought the same thing for me for Mother’s Day three years ago.’
I didn’t think she needed to add that, but somehow I felt like she was sending the ‘I was here before you’ message. I got the message, loud and clear!
What kind of the-Gods-are-not-to-blame* dilemma is this?
‘Are you staying for dinner?’
‘That’s a pity. You should come by for a meal before I leave.’
‘I will, thanks.’
Jeffrey was an amazing boyfriend- thoughtful, patient and sweet, but after thirty minutes with his mother, I also discovered that he was a mummy’s boy- the extreme kind.
What did she have against me? Was it my tribe? Or the fact that I was an orphan? Or probably just because I chewed my finger nails? And Jeffrey just sat there and said nothing, like some puppy seeking approval from its master. Aaargh!
‘I am the one you are marrying, not your mother!’
‘I know that, Selma. But she is my mother for God’s sake! How can I say no to her?’
‘You don’t seem to have a problem saying no to me. That’s where the problem is! It is always about your mother ever since she got back. At no point have you asked me what I want.’
This was the fourth time this week that we were arguing, and once again, it was about his mother.
At the beginning of this week, he had stood me up for a date because his mother needed company at her yearly women’s conference dinner. I would have come along if he had asked, but he didn’t. We both knew why- his mother didn’t want me there.
Every other time, there was always something.
My mother this, my mother that.
Each time I complained, his response was ‘Give it time. She will get used to you.’
This time, she wanted us to have a private wedding ceremony instead of the big church wedding we had been planning for the last fourteen months. I wanted a big wedding because I wanted my friends and colleagues there. They had become my family and I wanted them to share in my big day. Once again, Jeffrey had caved in. I was livid.
The day before she left, she invited me to dinner. I was determined to try one last time. I went early so that I could help her with the meal- cabbage stew and boiled rice.
After chopping up the vegetables, I washed my hands and subconsciously flung my hands in an attempt to dry them. Cruella de la Valerie took one look at the three or four drops of water on her peach-coloured floor tiles and coldly handed me a napkin.
‘In this house, we dry our hands with a napkin. This is not a village kitchen.’
I blinked back the tears and swallowed the choice Ga words that had risen to the tip of my tongue. I lived with some typical Gas once and they had given me a crash course on ‘Waging War the Ga way 101’, but it was not worth it. She was the mother of the man I loved, I could not just let myself loose- not for three drops of water on her precious kitchen floor.
We soon sat down to have dinner. She started telling a story about Jeffrey being allergic to groundnuts.
‘Thank God he is no longer allergic to them because I eat them all the time.’
‘You have been exposing my son to groundnuts?’
‘He has never reacted to them. I am sure he has overcome the allergy.’
‘Young lady, I have been his mother longer than you have even been alive. When I say he is allergic to something, I know what I am talking about. You can’t just waltz in here and change things. ‘
There was silence. It was deafening. Jeffrey kept staring at his plate. I felt the anger well up within me.
Weakling! You can’t even defend me when your mother is clearly bullying me.
I had had it. I folded the napkin calmly and got up from the dinner table.
‘Enjoy dinner and have a safe journey back.’
She looked unfazed. I could have sworn that I saw a smile subtly play around her lips. Jeffrey followed me to the door.
‘Are you just going to leave?’
‘Oh, surprise surprise! He has a tongue after all! Who would have thought?’
‘I didn’t want to make it look like we were ganging up against her. She is very sensitive about these things.’
‘So you would rather make it look like I was the outsider? Brilliant idea, Jeffrey. Simply brilliant.’
‘So long as you stay married to your mother, there won’t be space for another woman. I am clearly not welcome here. Goodbye Jeffrey.’
Turning on my heels, I walked off.
The entire time I was walking away, I kind of hoped and prayed that he would call me back, that he would choose me, but he didn’t.
I guess, between his mother and I, I was always going to be the side chick.
I saw them again today at West Hills Mall. He was pushing a cart full of groceries and her arm was cradled in the crook of his, bride and groom style. I was surprisingly indifferent and calm, and yet i was thankful that they didn’t see me.
I hope you are happy together…
*Mamaba- mummy’s boy
*the Gods are not to blame- a play written by Ola Rotimi, in which a boy ends up marrying his mother.