I grew up in a polygamous house.
My father had six wives, though only four lived with him; my mother was among the wives that lived with him in a three storey building; each wife had her own apartment of a three bedroom flat and my father occupied the topmost floor. He rented out the ground floor; the first floor was for two wives, the second, same and the third, our father’s floor.
It was not a happy household. There was always fighting amongst the wives, bitter rivalry among us children and enmity sewn by our mothers against one another over real and perceived grievances. If you grew up in a polygamous home, you will understand what I am talking about.
My father didn’t help matters, he had absolutely no control over his household; he would say something now and later renege; like for instance; we the children all went to the same school and we were always in competition with one another, it wasn’t a healthy competition by the way; it was toxic.
If one child did better than the other, my father would buy stuff for that child. He would promise to do same for any child, regardless of who the mother was. Any child that did well was promised something; but when it came to the turn of some of us; my father would “change mouth”; he would say, the person only did well in one term, but the previous term, the person did not do so well, therefore did not qualify for a gift…Something as stupid as that would disqualify some of us from enjoying a bit of our father’s goodness.
But my older sister was a bright star!
She was always coming first. She represented our school several times during those days of literary and debating society..She was hot! She enjoyed most of my father’s attention, not because my father liked my mother better than the other wives, but because my father just had a soft spot for her. He said she was his mother reincarnated, that’s how my father showed his favouritism.
My mother was the third wife; being a middle wife isn’t anything special; she was not the first wife; so you couldn’t say my father married her because of love; she was not the last wife, so there was no special thing about her; just us her children that made her proud!
I believe my father must have been deliberately pitting one wife against tge other, he could tell one that he gave the other more money because she did this and that for him; the offended wife would now abuse the favoured wife over the said matter or abuse her kids. They would go and report to their mother and before you know it, there’s another fight going on.
We the kids never trusted one another; we bore the same last name but would never eat from the same pot. You get what I mean? For instance, none of my step brothers or sisters would eat from my mother’s kitchen, neither would I dare go to theirs to eat food their mothers prepared; we were that suspicious of one another; we believed each was out to get the other.
I have said these things to give you a general picture of the kind of home I grew up in.
Now, my mother is a loving woman; she is also a very fierce woman, she doesn’t joke with her children; I suppose most mothers are like that. But life broke her when my sister suddenly fell ill.
We thought it was malaria, common to us all. Then it grew worse to something nobody could define. My sister began to lose weight and shrivel as if something was squeezing the liquid off her and in three months, she was dead.
Of course before then, my mother ran from pillar to post; so did my father. My sister was his ‘mother’ and he didn’t want to lose his ‘mother’ twice.
First, they rushed her to the hospital; but when it seemed doctors had no clue why she wasn’t recovering even after several tests and drugs; my father suggested native doctors. It was one herbalist after another and you know these things can be like rituals…she practically dried up. shortly before she died, she was brought back home; she wasn’t the young girl that was taken out of the house weeks back; she had become smaller, wrinkled, huge eyes, big teeth…well, my sister didn’t live and my mother became a wounded lioness!
She still had three of us left! I heard through her cries as she swore that, nobody would ever take any of her children from her again.
I knew what she meant by that; she was sending a note of warning to the rest of her co-wives. she held them responsible for my sister’s death. Till today, we don’t know what the real course of her death was, she was 18 when she passed on.
Anyway, one day, I came back from school to our flat to see a sight that baffled my mind.
Ok, let me describe the way our house was built; I told you each wife had a flat. There was a staircase in the middle of the building and a landing on every floor with doors of two flats facing one another. When you opened the doors, you stepped in a long corridor with rooms; the corridor led to our sitting room.
In that corridor I saw something that freaked me out. It was a small calabash or more like a gourd suspended midair! Yes. There was no string holding it up, nothing carrying it from the floor; it was just there, in the air, not floating but static and just there!
I was afraid. When I asked my mother, she said I had nothing to be afraid of that it was meant to protect us; after a few days, I got used to passing either around it or under it and no harm came to me; same with the rest of my siblings and my mother.
A few visitors refused to come in, my step brothers and sisters and their mothers saw it and reported to my father. As usual, there was a lot of uproar; my father accused my mother of witchcraft, he accused her of being responsible for my sister’s death; he said she had donated my sister to her coven…it was nasty!
After a few days; I came from school to see my mother’s things thrown out of the house with everyone accusing her of witchcraft! That’s how we left my father’s house that day. It’s been more than 25 years now and my mother is still alive and caring for her grandchildren.
All I have to say is this, my mother is not a witch, she is just a woman who did all she could to protect her children!
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)