She was the main wife because she was the one he took to church. The others—they were his wives because he was a man who was in constant pursuit of happiness.
My father met his first wife when he came to the city. He was fifteen years old; a man in search of a better life and a new identity. I don’t think he was ever referred to as a boy. No. He was never allowed to be a child. Right from when he was born he was a man. And as he lived all through his life he wanted to embody that man.
While in the city he slept in abandoned vehicles at the mechanic site where he served—learning how to fix cars and drive as well. He never once complained. A man knowing that in order for him to see the light, he had to walk through the dark—so he married her with the money he was able to save after he started working with a transportation company and living began.
She gave him four children. They had problems, and she left him and married some other man. The kids begged their father to bring back their mother and he did. When she came back, they had three more children. My father could bear a lot of things considering the way he’d lived, but one thing he couldn’t stand was an unfaithful woman. Little did he know that she’d gone back to her old ways.
The second wife joined the family portrait after the first wife left. She was already married when she came in. She’d left her husband and married my father for the little nothing he had. She also brought her two children from her last marriage along to share his silver coins with her. They had six children; four strong sons and two daughters. She also wasn’t faithful so she left him. For the second time my father lost. He would soon realize that he was never winning in this pursuit of happiness after he married his third wife.
She met him after the second wife had left him. She had a daughter from her previous marriage. She later gave my father three more children; two daughters and a son. They said she was problematic; the absolute worst. Father began to lose more weight and gaining more weight on his already tender shoulders. She always caused him trouble. The man had many issues and demons that were after him and on his mind and all he wanted was a home where there was peace.
One afternoon, a tall beautiful woman was passing by the road side, he heard her speaking in her native dialect and he was instantly impressed and drawn to her. He was surprised to see a Tiv woman in the North where he went for a transportation course. Their meeting wasn’t all pleasant. This woman was a sassy and feisty lady. When he’d first approached her she’d insulted him. But after he’d pleaded his case and succeeded in winning a smile from her, she told him where she lived and later that night he visited her.
That night, he allowed himself to be moved by something other than comfort. He wanted love. Was he averse to it? Was he cursed to never feel what it meant to be loved? My father in his flirtatious ways said to her, “You insulted me and called me names—no one ever insults me and call me names so now Priscilla, I must marry you.”
Six months later they got married—in a church. And a year later, I happened. My mother later gave him three other daughters. This time, he was happy.
When he lost his job with a hauling company, everything seemed to be against him again. But after six months he acquired an even better job with an oil company. We were all happy again until that afternoon when we received the call that shattered our world.
They’d sent him on his first assignment and they were on their way to Abuja when they had an accident with a vehicle that carried fuel in its tank. His body had busted into flames and nothing… nothing was left.
I guess now he’s finally at rest. He never did have a chance to settle between finding love and the many women in his life. He wasn’t even buried. We couldn’t identify him. There was no body and no funeral. A man who had lived all his life trying to be somebody couldn’t even be identified by the ones he loved the most. He was finally lost. And I was found—a man at twelve.
I remember selling soya milk and pure water along the streets while my mom sold vegetables at the market so we could survive. We had to move out of the family house; too many of his lost children came back to claim their father’s property almost as if they’d been waiting for him to pass away. My mom who couldn’t stand to see my siblings and I suffer at the hands of the fate that the world had thrown at us gathered her papers and her pen in a bag and began schooling again.
The truth is—I don’t believe it all. I think he’s still somewhere running away for a better life and purpose. I think he’s still in search of God so he can claim back all his lost years. I would prefer he’s in the arms of another woman receiving five minutes worth of pleasure than to have him gone forever.
So you see Priscilla, it’s not that I don’t want to love you, or that you’re not lovable; it’s just that I can’t love you or anyone. I am not capable. So don’t ask of it from me—from a boy who never received any—from a man who should have been his first love—who doesn’t even know what love is? Or from a man who can’t even bear to have his guards and his tears down.
No. Don’t be selfish like my father’s many other wives. Because even if I slip this ring on your finger, it’s not strong enough to keep me grounded. I could turn out to be just like him. And in order to keep that man from rising back up, I have to keep running—far and far away from your kind.
Credit: Ufuoma Otebele, naijastories.com
Are you a writer? Interested in sharing your short stories on this platform? Be our guest on our Short Story Fridays segment.