When Ayobami Adebayo released her debut novel, Stay with Me, a work that takes cognizance of motherhood and the trappings of deceit, loyalty and conspiracy within a marriage setting in what has been described as a “deeply moving portrait of a marriage” by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times Review, she revived a history of marital misconceptions where women are oftentimes rendered incapacitated owing to fertility issues.
She crafted her piece in a contemporary style sautéed in rich African tales, some of which she wasn’t supposed to be privy too as a child but popped in her ears from adult conversations. The impact, more of curiosity, led her on the path of creative writing. However, for a new generation writer, Adebayo’s first delivery strikes a semblance to Lola Shoneyin’s Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives in that they both draw from typical African family setting.
While Shoneyin has three volumes of poetry – So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg, For the Love of Flight, Song of a Riverbird and a children’s book, Mayowa and the Masquerades –The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, her first published prose work, Adebayo has just made a big entrance with Stay with Me.
Both writers upturn the family setting and its excesses, as they spotlight womanhood and the many battles she has to face to stay relevant in her matrimony even if she loses herself in doing so. Failure to achieve this status quo, she not only gets the blame but her upbringing is questioned as well. The two tales are inter- woven so much that it will suffice to say there is a tangy advocacy for women in the stories coming from a place of knowing and relativity.
In the beginning of Adebayo’s story, Yejide talks to herself about going back to the life she had left behind fifteen years back. As the story unfolds, what unceremoniously went wrong was her marriage to Akin. The practice in Af- rica is that, once a marriage is officially sealed traditionally or otherwise, the couple is expected to be with child within or under a year to prove that all is well with the union. When the contrary is the case, tongues begin to wag with an audacity that begs wisdom; most times the woman is at the receiving end of this lashing from strangers and acquaintances. The situation, with all its attending unsolicited sermons, advice and concern, is what Adebayo captures on literary canvas.
The main characters, Akinyele and Yejide, tell the story in a back and forth stance of how they met in their university days at Ife.
It was love at first sight, and getting married felt right after they almost lost each other in a student’s protest that took several other lives.
All was rosy until four years later they were still expecting child. It became apparent that the challenge was bigger than the couple, and the need for family members to butt in. Typical of in-laws, their idea of savaging the situation is to bring in a new wife – Funmi. Unfortunately, this only worsened an already bad situation.
Funmi played it cool at first until she began to act the rival part. She resulted to verbal attacks and invectives deliberately to hurt Yejide. At a point, she mentioned to Yejide that what she carried was a fake pregnancy. “This pregnancy of yours is over a year old now. Let me see what is there, because we have heard the news all over town that it is a calabash you are carrying about under your cloth.”
Central to the motif of the story is the acute deflection of what occurs when a woman experiences some sort of delay in child bearing or is barren in the worst case. A peek into Molara Wood’s Indigo reveals there is no escaping for Idera, the protagonist, from the prying eyes of a room full of women doting over the new born child of the Kolapo’s. Every opportunity that presented itself was taken graciously by everyone around to remind her about her childlessness and how they think it’s wise she needs to fix it by addressing it locally. Despite that her husband Jaiye had part of the blame; she sought out a solution all by herself. The price is always heavy for women faced with child bearing challenges with far reaching consequences, oftentimes leading to divorce or separation.
On a fuller scale, an exemplary implication is what we find in LoLa Shoneyin’s Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives. Baba Segi was losing sleep over his fourth wives childlessness. It seemed to him a taboo considering his band of children from him his three wives. It came as a rude shock to him that he was the sterile one more shocking that his three wives, had borne sons and daughter of strange men. Bolanle, in this hilarious yet assertive piece comes absolved; leaving the Alao’s to deal with their dirty open secret.
The theme of virility in these narrations stakes concern for marriages without children. It captures the traumatic experience that comes with protracted birth delay. Another significance of the narratives is the role of society that Pressures from all sides of the family and culminates into name calling just as Akin’s mother who believes women manufacture children tells Yejide she should be called a man since she couldn’t conceive. The lack of consideration for spouses, more particular the woman without considering if they are ready to bear children, puts so-called concerned relatives in a conceited self-entitled position, which takes away focus from affected couple. Two things also play out here: that society takes a biased stance blames the woman while absolving the man. Adebayo’s representative of this stance is painted when Yejide is asked to close her thighs accused of keeping her husband away from the new wife
The stereotype against women comes from a place of assumptions. Most times they are unfounded and need to be discarded for truth.
This has made us a society that pretends all is well when all that needs to be done is open up for solutions. Interestingly, reference to how the issues are attended in both stories requires visiting. While Bolanle ,being the educated one among the wives of Alao took the medical route leading to the discovery that Baba Segi had low sperm count . The shame of shedding body water for some test was totally unbearable and unthinkable for him. But that was the only way they could prove the cause of barrenness. Meanwhile in stay with me, Akin knew he could not get it up from his university days and kept it from his wife. To rescue them both from shame and guilt, he connived with his brother instead of own up.
More importantly knowledge seemed to help minimize the magnanimity of the issues. With the availability of medical facilities and wisdom applied, interpretive of the fact that in seeking a solution women do not have to go through the juju practitioner to beg seed from gods neither is it necessary to get someone else do the job, an unthinkable thing on the part of Akin.
The stories are pointers towards the need for change in the way primacy and fertility issues are addressed. Subtly but firmly, it tells us how certain presumptions internalised by the society should be discarded. It is more paramount to work with facts and approach situations based on these than traumatise families with high expectations based on unfounded reasons. Been unable to conceive for a woman and having society police you for it, can be quite exhausting.
Many women go through this and pretend to be fine simply because everyone who is privy to the situation is out to judge not listen. To risk been labeled a bad wife, women seek validation at the expense of freedom. Yejide speaks for most when she said “I stretched to accommodate every new level of indignity, so that I could have someone who would look for meifIwentmissing.” ItisthesamewayBaba Segi could not stand the ridicule of him being impotent. Fixing problems by fixing everyone else and stringing them along while we are in tatters on the inside comes across as a very disturbing trend in the African setting. This is quite clearly painted in both stories.
Shoneyin and Adebayo, in their stories, make valid cases for compromising self, a choice that doesn’t bode well in having meaningful and lasting relationships.
Luckily, the characters come to grips with the challenges and make the most of the situation in the end. This is meant to sharpen the readers thought process and attitude towards life. Both writers more than succeed leaving readers to an open ended conclusion to draw inferences from.
Ultimately, while there is need to look out for each other as a collective responsibility the way Africans have a knack for, it is important not to become totally involved in ways that may be crossing the bounds of individual rights. Ultimately, the lesson to take away from the narratives is that, while many things may go wrong when the truth is not embraced, there will be new chapters opened not necessarily to make amends but to brace up for the future knowing and choosing the right path to follow.