“Tradition demands that in the absence of you husband, one of us must become your husband.” Uncle John’s voice rang in my head. The type of things we women are subjected to all in the name of tradition, is baffling. Who was I going to be wife to?” uncle John, my late husband’s eldest brother who happens to be in his mid-sixties? Or the other two following behind, late fifties and early fifties respectively?
They gave me only three months after the burial of my late husband, Marvis Odigie, to mourn. Then they came, saying it is tradition that I remain in the family, hence, I must marry from the family. My only escape if I didn’t want to marry from the family, is to not re-marry at all.
The only people who could stand in for me and vehemently reject the custom were my kids. But look at them, just 4 years old and 2 years old respectively. well, not that I had plans to marry anyone else. So I cleared my throat and spoke.
“Uncle John, I have heard what you said. But I prefer to remain single. I won’t marry form the family and I won’t marry any outsider either”.
“Well. We understand your reasons to avoid this. You still haven’t gotten over the death of our brother, your husband. It is not a pleasant situation. But tradition aside, your husband’s last wish to me, before he passed on at the hospital, was that you marry our brother”.
“That is absurd!” I frowned, wondering where this was coming from. First tradition, now my late husband’s last wish? Did they think they were talking to a fool? Were they that desperate to have him dead so they could wife me? “If my husband wanted any of this, he would have told me himself”, I protested.
“He didn’t have the chance to. No one expected he was going to die”.
“Well, I will not do it.” I will not marry any of you”.
“What about me?” a familiar voice asked from the door way. I froze as its familiarity sank in. My brows raised and my heart beat suddenly took to a different rhythm, slamming hard against my chest.
No. It can’t be. I thought. It can’t be. I turned around slowly to confirm if what my heart told me was true. Yes. It was. Freddie, the first man I truly loved. Freddie, my late husband’s immediate elder brother, stood there. I had not seen him in six years. He relocated from Abuja immediately after Marvis and I got married. Outsiders didn’t understand why. But the family did. We all did.
Exactly 8 years back, Freddie and I met at a trainee program in Lagos, where we stayed for 4 months. The men had their own accommodations and so did the women. The only times we gathered together was either during training, lectures, or when we met together as a group to carry out various tasks.
I was in group D and he was the group leader. I was the assistant. The nature of the assignments made us work together a lot and in the process, we got to really know each other. We had several dates at the company cafeteria. On our off days, we visited the cinema. We were like 5 and 6. So close. Most people thought we were a couple.
However, Freddie sort to turn their speculations to fact. He asked me to be his woman. But I didn’t accept. I felt that though he was a nice guy, we were of different tribes. Freddie is the sort of guy who, when he makes up his mind about anyone or anything, it is final. He wanted a serious relationship that would lead to marriage. But since I didn’t think I had the strength to battle it out with my parents, as I already knew they wouldn’t support me since he was of different tribe, I told him no. It was for the best. Besides, I liked him as a friend and I insisted he took me as such. He refused at first. But later on, he accepted.
A year and 3 months after we had finished training and returned to our different states to build our lives and businesses, Freddie contacted me. He was at Abuja operating his own construction company on one side, and a consultancy company on the other. Business was good for him. He asked about my business and I told him it was picking up – a garment making factory.
We talked on the phone for a long while, before he announced to me that he had gotten married. His wife was heavily pregnant with his first child.
“Wow!” I couldn’t hide my happiness for him. I congratulated him
Since that day, we talked for about 1-2 hours a week. Gradually, it became everyday and then overnight phone calls followed.
A few weeks into our regular phone conversations, I notice an unusual sadness about him. Even his laughter was low. When I asked what was wrong, he said nothing. However, I pushed. I made him uncomfortable until he told me about all the challenges he faced at home and with his wife. He had tried to make things work out between them, all to no avail. quarrels had become constant and he didn’t think he could bear it anymore.
Months moved fast and I saw Freddie again. Although we still chatted online regularly and talked on phone from time to time, seeing him live was better. He looked really dashing and I began to look around, so as to catch ladies staring at him, mouth agape. I told him want I was doing. He laughed, caught me with one hand and pulled me into a tight and loving embrace. Obviously, he was excited to see me too.
We spent the whole of that day hanging out. It was during our last handout at a restaurant, he told me he was getting a divorce. He said he couldn’t stomach his wife’s excesses anymore and had it up to his neck. He didn’t want to drown in sadness all because of a wife who did whatever she pleased, insulted him and whomever she pleased, everyday.’ insulted his family and picked quarrel at the slightest provocation. She even went as far as tearing up some of his document which proved his entitlement to some landed property.
I tried to intercede for her but her atrocities were too great. Sadly, the more I begged, the more she went on to do something silly.
When I couldn’t beg anymore, I stopped. With time, and the opportunity to always keep in touch through phone calls, I soon found I had fallen in love with Freddie, despite still being married to his estranged wife. It was something I never thought possible – being head over heels in love with a man who had a wife. I kept my feelings to myself. But what I didn’t know was that Freddie still had Feelings for me. He told me about it. He wanted a relationship with me
During and after the divorce process, his wife came begging. She wanted her home back. The saying, you don’t value what you have until you loose It, came to bear. But even as she begged, most of her pleas sounded like she didn’t really care about Freddie. She only cared about still bearing the ‘married status’, and she missed the comfort and luxury she had. Things were hard for her, as Freddie only sent her money for the up keep of his only son.
At first I felt like a husband snatcher, a home breaker. I was about to get involved with a man whose wife was pleading for forgiveness. But when I looked at the situation again, I decided it wasn’t my fault. For if I refused him, he will go on to another who would accept him. So I said yes and the most beautiful love experience was what we had going for us.
Several times, I wondered what went wrong? Why was I so full of myself to have said no from the start. If only I had said yes, I would have been his wife – the mother of his son. I regretted letting so much stand between us from the start. Tribe? Pleasing my parents? Allowing the bad things people said about him form the basis for my decision? Why?
Freddie was a different sort. He’s not the regular guy. He is a rare gem, one that you value more than gold. Closer interaction revealed his true self and I was blown away.
But then, it happened. We had started to make plans for marriage when one morning, he announced that he couldn’t go through with it. He suddenly developed cold feet. He said I reminded him so much of his wife, although, in a good way. But he feared that my bad side will surface after the marriage, for that was how it was with his wife.
“Freddie please don’t do this. Don’t judge me or compare me with your ex”,
“I’m sorry, Gloria.” he sighed and looked away. “There were little things about my ex wife that I ignored during our courtship days. What I experienced with her, all in the name of love and marriage, is no joke and I don’t think it will be that easy to trust and rush into marriage again. I want to use my second chance well. If we rush and things don’t go well, my family won’t support me. They wouldn’t even listen to my complains”.
“Ok.” I said with watery eyes. Since you won’t get over your trust issues, what do you suggesting we do?”
“I suggest we just be live in couples and have our kids like that”.
“I love you, Freddie”, I said. “But I can’t. So I guess this is saying we are over?”
“Gloria no, please, we can’t be over. I love you…”
“But you don’t trust me. I feel there’s more to this. What is the real issue? Tell me” I demanded.
“Gloria..” he placed a hand on my shoulder, but I slapped it away.
“My family are equally scared that nothing good can come out of an Agbor woman. My ex wife was Agbor”.
I was stunned at what he said, “So you have judged me?”
I didn’t let him finish. I stood up and walked out of his house. It was the end of our relationship. Yes, it hurt. It hurt so much, considering the fact that he was the first man I ever truly loved. I spent my days crying. Business fell because my emotional instability made me unable to give it the attention it needed.
Freddie tried contacting me several times. He tried to get forgiveness. He tried to explain things to me. But I didn’t listen. He could go wherever he wanted and be with whoever he wanted, that was his own cup of tea.
Five months after our separation, I had to go to Abuja. I had recently gotten a client there who needed to set up a garment factory, something like mine. So I was going to spend 5 to 6 months there. I contacted Freddie, telling him about my plight. I had no place of my own and I also wanted to stay with a familiar face who knew the ins and outs of Abuja very well. Besides, no way was I going to spend money on hotel for 5 or 6 months.
Freddie was happy to accommodate me for the period. He spent his free days driving me to work and back. he did all he could to make me feel at home and I appreciated him for it. However, I noticed he was making subtle moves on me. I told him to stop, as any form of relationship was only going to lead to another sad experience.
Three weeks after I arrived , Marvin, Freddie’s junior brother showed up. I later learnt he and Freddie actually owned the house. He just had been away for business. When he arrived and met a stranger opening the door for him, he thought he was at the wrong house. we soon cleared the air about that and I introduced myself.
Marvin was taller than Freddie, chocolate dark, carried an afro complimented by well maintained side beards. He wasn’t the cute handsome type. Rugged and handsome best described him. Well, didn’t they say last borns are usually more beautiful or more handsome? I helped carry the things he brought into the house before shutting the door behind me.
Later that night, after Freddie arrived from the day’s job, they spent a lot of time in the sitting, catching up.
In the weeks that followed, I woke up to find Marvin always at the kitchen dinning table. He seemed to be attending to a lot of paper works. A cup of coffee always sat by the side.
We exchanged greetings and a conversed, while I prepared breakfast. This happened almost everyday. At some point, I started to think he was doing it just so we would spend time together. But I pushed the thought away. Our friendship quickly blossomed, as we talked a lot about everything. Sometimes, I woke up to him preparing breakfast. And at nights, when he was not so busy, he helped me prepare dinner.
However, one morning, Freddie joined us at the table. It was unusual, as he always got up early just to prepare for work. Ever since I told him to stop making a move on me, he had been a little withdrawn. So I was surprised he joined us.
The days and weeks ran fast. 5 months swiftly went by and I was at the round up stage of the project. At this time, I had come to love the city of Abuja and I was already missing It, even though I was still around for a while. During the long stay, a lot happened. Freddie made a move on me again. I rejected his advances and we quarreled bitterly afterwards.
Marvin did nothing to settle us. if anything, he seemed to be happy with our situation. I had a feeling it was for selfish reasons. But I didn’t give it much thought until one fateful Saturday morning. I was in the kitchen, thinking of what to prepare for breakfast when Marvis walked in. We exchanged greetings and then I returned my attention to the variety of food stuff in the small store room. I was still trying to decided what would make a wonderful breakfast when I felt two hands sliding around my waist and coming to clasp themselves in front of my not so flat tummy. Freddie came to mind.
“Freddie I told you I don’t want this”, I protested as I started to struggle to unclasp the hands.
“It’s not Freddie” the rich bass said, “it’s me, Marvis”.
“Mar…” I didn’t finish the words. I forced myself to bend over, then sank my teeth in his hands. He yelped and quickly unclasp them. I turned around and pushed him off. “What do you think you are doing?” Wriggling his hands, he answered, “What I have been meaning to do.”
It took a while for that to sink in. When it did, Marvis was directly in front of me again, giving me no chance for escape. What he said next left me even more confused.
“I love you, Gloria. And I have for a while now. now”
Was he nuts? Didn’t he know I was his brother’s ex? “I am your brother’s ex”, I reminded him.
“I know. He doesn’t seem to value what he has. And I’m willing to take you away from him”.
“No. Stop this. Please”. But his mind was made up.
Day in day out, Marvis never stopped to profess his love for me. He’d buy me gifts and sing me love songs. He gave me no chance to even put him off my mind, as everyday, he did anything dramatic to get my attention.
“Your brother is going to be so pissed when he finds out you’re wooing his ex – a woman he still has feelings for”, I told Marvis
“He already knows”, Marvis smirked. I was shocked.
“Yes. And I took permission from him, since he can’t seem to keep you”.
His words surprised me. I felt like a sack of garri being tossed from one brother to the other. I confronted Freddie about it and he confirmed.
“I can’t make you happy. And I don’t want you suffering. Marvis told me he was in love with you. I only gave permission because I know he is a hopeless romantic who, when in love, does everything to make his partner happy. I believe you two will be happy together”.
“But you know we, you and I, still feel something for each other”.
“I know. But I can’t give you what you crave. Marvis can. Besides, I’ve told him I’ll break his skull open if he ever makes you cry”.
My head hung low as I went back to my room. I spent the rest of the night locked up, as I needed to think.
It was two months later, after I returned to Agbor, that I finally said yes to Marvis. He was so excited when I told him yes. But I also made it clear, I still loved his brother and his brother still loved me. Unfortunately, circumstances wouldn’t let us be. Marvis didn’t mind. Instead, he decided on a rushed marriage/wedding ceremony, so he could quickly put his stamp on me.
Freddie couldn’t bear that his brother had done what he couldn’t do, despite family pressure. And since he knew that married or not, he would keep coming for me, making advances until I said yes, he left, immediately after the wedding ceremony. I never heard from him again, not even Marvis could tell me where he was or what he was doing. It took a long while, but I finally put him off my mind and concentrated on my husband and our marriage.
We were happy. Freddie was right about his brother being a pleaser. And since it is good to receive as you give, I reciprocated. We tried to out do each other in the aspect of pleasing. Bed mathics was another area where we pulled crazy stunts.The result was a girl and later on, a bouncing boy.
Years passed and our union, despite all the challenges marriages go through, was a happy one. We relied so much on each other and built together. But of cause, death lurked in the shadows, watching and waiting for a perfect moment to strike – to take away my husband. It succeeded one fateful evening while he was rushing back from work so he could take his family to the cinema. According to eye witnesses, a tanker came from nowhere and ran into him. He was barely alive when rescuers got to him and pulled him out of the damaged car. He was rushed to the hospital. He stayed only five days, during which we rallied around him. He strained to talk, as he still felt pains all over his body. The morning of the sixth day, I went to the hospital after dropping the children off at school. It was then I got the news. He had passed on during the early hours of the day.
The shock with which I received the news was so great, I didn’t know I had passed out until I woke up to see myself on a hospital bed. Marvis’ elder brothers and sister were by my side. But as I remembered why we were at the hospital in the first place, tears came rushing down my cheeks. My body shook violently and I knew I would never be the same again.
Now here we were, at a family meeting discussing my marriage to a new husband. Marvis knew he wouldn’t make it. Even when he was dying, he thought of my happiness and the kids’. And he chose for me a man he knew would love me and the kids unconditionally.
Freddie watched me from the door way. He hadn’t aged. He still looked same, save for a small scar at his forehead. I wondered if he had not re-married since all these years. Or at least, have a live in girlfriend. These were things I needed to know. Six years is not a short time. A lot could have happened. However, his expression showed he was scared I’ll reject him again.
“Hi” I greeted, getting to my feet.
“Hello” he smiled lightly.
“How have you been?”
“I have been good, enjoying one day at a time. You?”
“Well, as you can see, I’m still in mourning”.
“I can see”, he nodded.
“What about your wife?”
“I have no wife, for now”.
For now. That sank. In other words, he was waiting for me to accept him. I stood speechless, not knowing what else to say.
“I see you’re both off to a great start then”, Uncle John said, smirking. The second eldest, Uncle Sam, and the third, Aunty Rita, smiled too. I knew what their smile meant – their late brother’s dying wish will come to pass. And then he would truly rest in peace.
I can’t say what our union will be like. I only know that I was going to be the wife of the person I consider as my first love – the man who thought me how to love. He was going to be the new father of my kids, and from the way he carried my son, Elliot, I already knew he was going to love them as his own.