BY KEHINDE MERCY
Welcome to Fiction: Exclusive short fiction stories by emerging authors from the global majority and beyond.
I stood by the window and watched the ceremony unfold. Soon, I was going to be escorted out of the room by the other women. It was the last time I would ever call the room my own. It was the last time I would be a young girl.
They were at the third phase of the ceremony, where the groom and his family were asked to introduce themselves. Oloye was an old man. He was older than my father because my father had always called him uncle. I knew how it would end. I had played it a thousand times over in my head. I had seen it a hundred times before, like now, standing by the window with my friends one after the other and telling them I can't wait to see their babies. Just that today, I was the bride and my friends all looked like they had given birth to me.
A knock and I knew it was time. As I walked out of the room into the midst of the crowd, I sought for my mother's eyes to tell me everything would be just fine. I felt a chill run down my spine when she suddenly looked away—and there, right there, I knew she had just told me everything. Would this ever end well?
My attire was beautiful today. But wouldn't a graduation gown be more beautiful? Another party would most certainly be held in my husband's compound in nine months, with the same faces I saw today if it's a baby boy.
The days fled like a hen running for its life, and I let them go past me. I wished time would speed up to the day when there is something to live for, but it never came. I sat on the balcony the whole time and looked at the new metal gate Oloye installed in the house. The other wives were jealous that he had made the gate a few days before my wedding. To them, it showed I was more important. I sat still, wondering if someone or something was coming for me to snatch me out of this life. Even if someone was coming, how would they pass through this wicked gate?
The other wives came around, and asked if I was pregnant yet, in not so many straightforward words: “Are you feeling dizzy?”, or “Are you a little sick?”. Or “Do you feel like throwing up?”
Sometimes, I answered them. Other times, I only shook my head.
The months passed by silently in Oloye’s house, until the tall light-skinned woman came out from Mallam's car. She wore a white sleeveless top on black jean trousers that must have been randomly cut with a razor blade. We looked from the window and I stared a little longer than the rest. Her hair was so soft that it flew along with the wind. When she smiled at us, I knew who she was. She was Oloye’s youngest sister, the rogue sister. She was twenty-seven and unmarried. But there I was, barely half her age, supposedly pregnant.
We met her with a smile. But she didn't greet us casually as other guests would. She hugged us all, one after the other. I could smell the sweet perfume from her clothes and I could only wish she held me a while longer.
In the evening, while I set the table for dinner, she asked how much my father owed Oloye. I told her I wasn't the maid, that I was Oloye’s fourth wife. Her expression changed suddenly. She wasn't surprised at the news, only angry. It was strange to me; no one had ever been angry that I was married to Oloye, not even my mother.
The next day, I knocked at her door to ask for her dirty clothes. “How old are you?” she asked. Her native accent was gone now. She spoke like one of the teachers that came in from the big city, maybe even better.
"Seventeen," I said in English.
"You should be in school. You should."
“Everyone thinks otherwise,” I said in my rough English. I could hear her breathe like she needed to let a huge lump out of her throat. Then her face lit up in excitement. "What on earth are you doing here?"
I smiled. I didn't have to answer her and she didn't need an answer either. We all knew this was what every rich man in Asereje did. Marry a Iyawo Kekere, a "Youngblood".
In the evening, she pulled some pieces of clothing out of a transparent bag. She called them "leggings." She was wearing some, and she laughed when I tried to pronounce it. I returned the garment to her. "Oloye will not let us wear this."
"Then wear it when he's not around." She winked at me.
The next morning, while Oloye’s car rode out of the compound, I removed the wrapper from the new piece of cloth I owned. I checked how fit the leggings were on my body. They fitted so well that I could see the curves of my hips. I almost tripped over when the door opened. It was Oloye’s sister. "Rogue, huh?" she said and gently closed the door behind her.
The next few days, we talked while I did the dishes, or while I picked beans. I watched her put clay powder on her face, while English Hip-Hop played on her phone. She asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her I wanted to be a doctor. But then, I knew what I wanted was to be like her. Just that.
The night that followed, I dreamed that I was in Oloye’s compound, bored as always. When I looked up to the sky, Oloye’s sister stood in the air and told me she had come for me.
One cold evening, she spoke about the big city of Lagos, how women were allowed to do whatever they loved, to marry whoever they wanted. I could see her face lit up and it made mine glow. She spoke about how she had run away from her parents’ village, and how she had never regretted her decision.
"Why did you run away from your father's house?" I asked. If her father was as rich as the stories said, I could only wonder why anyone would want to leave.
"I wanted to live, Omolayo."
She said something was calling unto her, and that my eyes bore the same flame hers did many years ago. She looked around. “These walls wouldn’t let me spread my wings.”
That was it. That was how I felt. Like her, my wings had been clipped together and I couldn’t fly. I wanted to run away with her at that moment, walk through that damned gate and never return.
Her words kept me up at night. I had asked her if I would ever live as she lived. I was stuck here as another wife of the richest man in the community. There wasn't so much to live for and I wondered what life had for me outside these walls.
"My brother is over seventy and you are still in your prime," she had said. "You still have a lot of time ahead of you."
I held her arm and my eyes begged her. "Will you come for me? Someday?"
She shook her head. "No, Omolayo, I already came for you.”