I was in my early-thirties and newly married when my father married a 19-year-old girl.
Yes, I am telling you the truth. My father was an Imam. He was popular in his area and he was also not poor, you know, he was doing quite well; lived in his own house, had two cars and well, at that time too, my mother had passed on several years before but Alhaji, that is my father, had one woman a widow, we call Hajia ‘taking care’ of him which was why I was surprised that he married a 19-year-old child; tell me, what was the man looking for?
I felt ashamed of what he did; I was in my thirties and was just a few months old in marriage without a child and I felt it was wrong for my father, who at that time was about 67 years, then, to even consider marriage and if he would, marry a girl that could easily be his own grand-child.
I was my father’s last child of four; our eldest brother was in his early forties so imagine our shock when my father married a 19-year old child!
In order to show him my displeasure, I called him on the phone asking why he would marry a child old enough to be his granddaughter without informing us his children? After a few minutes, I realised he was not listening to me, neither was he particularly pleased with my attitude, he just cut me off.
I went to see him at his house a few days later and tried to reason with him; if he must marry, wouldn’t a much older woman be suitable? What of Hajia? The widow, the woman who had been ‘taking care’ of him since our mother passed on? We knew he’d been sleeping with her. Hajia was more age appropriate; she’d had three kids before her husband passed and she was already past child bearing age, she was just the right fit.
On the other hand, this 19 year old would soon start having children, these would be children my siblings and I would be saddled with should anything happen to Alhaji… again, our conversation became a shouting match.
That was when I told him he was disgracing us his kids and that we would cut off from him.
When I left Alhaji’s house, Hajia who also witnessed our fight, called me and begged me not to fight with my father; she told me it was the girl’s family who brought her to Alhaji and insisted she be married to him. I found it hard to believe; she said the family of the 19-year-old believed her destiny was with a Muslim cleric like my father.
I left them to their affairs but I felt ‘vindicated’ when months later, news of the death of my father’s new bride came to me.
She got pregnant, I think maybe she didn’t do proper antenatal and there were complications…anyway, she died and left a baby behind. So my father became saddled with a new born and mourning a young wife. Did he need that sort of complication to his life?
What of Hajia, you say?
Won’t you leave a man who takes in a younger woman to replace you after serving him for years? She left of course and with my approval!
As is our culture, I had to go and pay a condolence visit to my father. As soon as I came down from my car, I saw a few people outside the compound and my voice must have carried into the house, as I was greeting people on my way to the sitting room. I heard Alhaji telling the people surrounding him that they shouldn’t let me in.
Me? Shouldn’t be let in, why?
When the commotion was too much, I said, ‘Ok, sorry o, I came to condole with you but since you don’t want me in your house, Alhaji, may the soul of the departed rest in peace.’ And I left.
Hummn, a few months later, word got to me that my father had married a new young wife; this one was said to be in her 20s. According to Hajia, she is also the cousin of the one who died!
What kind of nonsense was this? who does this?
I mean, what would my father, as an imam be preaching? If he was going astray, it behooves of us as his children to guide him back or at least tell him a few truths. I felt sad that my own father was among those Alfas we read about who molest children, so I was quite angry with him. with the benefit of hindsight, I should have been more circumspect like my brothers who had chosen not to to speak to him again, at that time, I felt it was my duty to reason with Alhaji.
I went to his house regardless of being told not to come in and I tried to impose my reasons on him; then he told me I came to gloat over the loss of his younger wife and that I was hoping the new one too would die at child birth. When he said that, I just laughed, why would I gloat?
Why would I wish another man’s child dead, it was totally ridiculous.
My father didn’t find it funny, in his anger, he cursed me. He told me I would know the pain that comes from not having children…
I felt he was being too harsh! What did I do to deserve this?
But hear me well, in 12 years of my marriage, I lost seven pregnancies! I was looking for a child; I would get pregnant and lose it, my body simply refused to hold a baby for long. Everywhere I went to ‘search’, they would say I should go to my father. I didn’t understand at first later, my husband told me to call a respected family members to go beg Alhaji on my behalf.
They stood up for me, and so he then invited me to his house a few years ago; he prayed for me and my husband and today, we have a two-year-old son.
I am 46 years old already, I don’t know if at my age I can still bear another child but one is more than enough for me. So you see why I say may your parents never curse you?
I wish I had known years before that I ought to have got elders to go and beg Alhaji for me. If my mother had been alive, all of these wouldn’t have happened to me; but Allah be praised, I am someone’s mother today.
As for Alhaji and his wife, they have two small children; I mind my business and I keep my thoughts to myself o.
(series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)