For a few seconds, Temi thought she was going to pass out. Everything and everyone was a blur. People around her were talking loudly, laughing, exchanging greetings and saying things to her. Her cousin Maggie was trying to whisper something in her ear. The loudspeakers were blaring and she could barely make out what the master of ceremonies was saying. There was so much noise, yet she could not hear a thing. It was also very hot. She began to feel herself lifting out of her body. Then she felt her eyes stinging. Her tears were trying to get through her make-up. Thank God for photochromic lenses she thought to herself. A voice in her head was saying, “Is this me? What am I doing here?” It then dawned on her that it was her own voice she was hearing. She stared at Maggie who by now had tears in her eyes too. Then Maggie whispered into her ear again, and this time Temi heard her, “I told you this day would come.”
Mama Tade was watching on television. She had tears in her eyes too, for different reasons. She was the older sister of Peter, Temi’s ex-husband. Temi and Peter were married for 10 years and they had two children, a daughter, Bola, and a son, Ponle. When Temi married Peter, life was good in the early years. Peter was a Customs officer and he also had a retail business selling building materials on the side. Temi was a teacher in a primary school, they both lived in Lagos. Mama Tade had never liked Temi. As far as she was concerned, Temi was not in the same league as her brother. Temi only had a Grade 2 Teacher’s Certificate while her brother was a university graduate. She was also from ‘up country’, a place where people were unsophisticated and not as ‘exposed’ as cosmopolitan Lagos. Temi had planned to go back to school but she foolishly got pregnant, and Peter felt obliged to marry her; that was the right thing to do back then. Peter made a lot of money. He liked parties, and he sprayed good money for musicians to sing his praises.
Temi was happy that her husband was successful. She, however, resented the effect all this new money was having on her husband, it started going to his head. He had various liaisons with women and, at some point, he stopped trying to hide them from his wife. The more successful he became, the more inadequate he made Temi feel. He seemed to be on the same page with his sister. He became belligerent and beat Temi at the slightest provocation. Then Peter fell ill. In spite of all the treatment he received, he did not get better. Mama Tade mobilized family members to point fingers at Temi, accusing her of poisoning her husband. “What could her motive be?” some sensible people asked. To kill him and inherit all his money, of course, was Mama Tade’s response. Peter’s plight was also said to be Temi’s revenge for the way he treated her.
One day, Temi came back from work to find that her sick husband had been moved to a location she did not know. Then Mama Tade showed up and gave her an ultimatum to leave the house. Temi ignored her, but she sent her two young children to stay with her uncle, till things cooled down. Mama Tade came back to the house with some thugs. They beat Temi up, stripped her almost naked and dragged her on the floor. Neighbours rushed out to prevent further trouble, and, after the intruders had left, they advised Temi to leave, for her own safety. Peter did get better, but made no attempt to reconcile with his wife. Mama Tade was only too happy to see Temi gone. As she remembered the past, Mama Tade bowed her head and cried more tears of regret.
Even though Temi’s family knew she had done nothing wrong, they still went to appeal to Peter and his family to settle their differences, all to no avail. Peter insisted that his children be brought back to live with him. Temi refused to leave her young children at the mercy of a stream of mistresses. Peter punished her by refusing to help with the children’s expenses. Temi’s uncle, who was known to family members as Baba Maggie, was very sad at this turn of events, but there was nothing he could do. He provided a home for Temi and her children. His daughter Maggie was Temi’s closest ally and they were the same age. Every night, Maggie held Temi in her arms as she cried. One night, Maggie said to a sobbing Temi, “A day will come when you will be vindicated. The world will celebrate you for what you are. A hardworking, responsible woman of integrity, who deserves to be treated with respect. Don’t think about him. Think about the future.”
Maggie’s mother was a matron in one of the local hospitals, a no-nonsense woman. Mama Maggie pushed Temi to apply to a College of Education and get a National Certificate in Education (NCE). Temi got her NCE and while she was working as a teacher, she did a sandwich program to get a bachelor’s degree.
That was 25 years ago. Baba Maggie moved back to his hometown in Mengi State and got involved in local politics. Temi did her master’s degree at the University of Mengi, where she got an appointment. She worked very hard and she got a scholarship to do a Ph.D in The Netherlands. She returned to the university where she continued teaching. After Temi was thrown out of her home, Peter remarried the same year. Then he was posted away from his lucrative beat at the Customs to ‘dry land’, where he was forced to come to terms with his salary as a civil servant. He was on the verge of becoming a vagrant when he won the US lottery and moved there with his new family. Temi had not seen him in years, though she encouraged his children to have a relationship with him, which they did reluctantly. Temi’s children lived with Maggie in the UK till they finished their degrees. Bola was an accountant and Ponle became a lawyer.
Temi tried to clear her head. She thought about what Maggie had told her long ago. Yes, the day had come. Temi’s eyes filled with tears again. Then she told herself, “No, I am not going to cry anymore. I have forgiven them. If they had not thrown me out I would not be where I am now. Maggie was right. This day has come. The day I am no longer afraid of those who almost killed me.”
And so Temi stood up and moved to the front of the platform, where all the high and mighty of the country were gathered, as the master of ceremonies announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please, put your hands together for Her Excellency, Dr. Temi Makinde, the Deputy Governor of Mengi State.”
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State and can be reached at [email protected]