On Thursday afternoon, Stella branched off her normal route on her way to pick the boys from pre-school. By this time tomorrow, Edwin would be home for the weekend, but she was too overcome with vexation to feel excited. Since arriving back in town three days earlier, she had been giving him the silent treatment and refusing to pick his calls. Today, as she made a stopover at Mr. Aigbe’s place, she had just one request to make.
‘Talk to your son,’ would be her plea to the older man. ‘He was a bachelor for so long, that he sometimes forgets what married life ought to be like.’
Mr. Aigbe was not at home to hear her complaint. The help, who answered the door, informed Stella that only madam was around and asked if she would like to see her instead. Disappointed, Stella shook her head. The two women got along with much less ease than their husbands did. There was no bad blood between them; it was just that their meeting had not exactly been an ‘Edede experience’.
‘No, don’t bother,’ she declined, gingerly retracing her steps.
But the help had failed to mention that her madam was tending to houseplants along the corridor, within ear shot of the front door and when she suddenly emerged, arms akimbo and demanded, ‘So you don’t want to see me, ehn?’ Stella almost jumped out of her skin.
‘No, no ma,’ she stammered. ‘It’s not that at all.’
Feigning offence, Mrs. Aigbe ushered an embarrassed Stella into the house with a look that said she had no choice but to see her now. She was cordial and offered all the comforts that a guest could expect to receive - a chair, a chilled drink and a chat. Yet, try as they did, it seemed that their small talk only served to pass time while they waited for the man of the house to return. Finally, after a very awkward fifteen minutes, Stella opened up and told her about the disagreement with Edwin. Her host listened quietly till she had finished talking and then shook her head.
‘If he wants you to wait here with the boys, then you’ll need to wait,’ she said in a matter of fact way. ‘Because the Lord has put him in charge.’
Stella’s shoulders dropped. She had hoped Mrs. Aigbe would take her side.
‘Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t have an opinion,’ the older woman added.
Her shoulders stood upright again. ‘Can I show you something, ma?’
‘Please do,’ her host replied.
Reaching into her handbag, Stella brought out her journal. ‘This is my soul, bared in black and white,’ she explained. ‘It contains my innermost thoughts, expressed over many years. The book has become rough and scanty and is barely presentable anymore. I’ve struck out a lot of the things I wrote in there earlier. If I were still in school, I would probably get a scolding for not keeping my notes neater.’
Truly, her precious little book had suffered much wear and tear. The inside was defaced from cancelling various lines and paragraphs. Even whole pages had been torn out, particularly those where she had penned her fantasies. It was slowly becoming obvious that a lot of those things were not going to happen. Flipping randomly through what remained, she asked. ‘Would you like to read some of it?’
Mrs. Aigbe took the journal from her, turned it round quickly without opening it and then handed it back. ‘Hold on to that,’ she said. ‘Every soul deserves some privacy and I guess the good Lord had a reason for not making us wear our hearts on our sleeves.’
‘Well I haven’t shown it to anyone yet. I’ve been planning to show it to my husband for years, but he’s not in my good books right now.’ She took it back and placed it on her laps. ‘Creating all those fantasies is like trying to communicate in a strange language. You throw out a lot of sounds, but they don’t come out the way you planned and none of it makes sense to the other person.’ She paused and bit her lips pensively. ‘One would think that Edwin and I should understand each other better, this second time around but we still have so much ground to discover. There’s a lot I did not see coming. For one thing, I never anticipated we would be living apart. He says it’s just temporary but it’s going on three years now and when I point that out, he tells me to stop whining.’ Sighing, Stella shut her eyes lightly. ‘Edede called us a rematch made in heaven. With everything we’ve been through, I had hoped the storms were behind us and we were in for a smooth sail.’
‘The quest for unending bliss, ehn?’ Mrs. Aigbe cooed, in a teasing tone. ‘Even I have not attained it after all these years. I guess that’s what you mean when you talk about speaking in foreign languages.’
Stella stared at her. ‘But you both speak so beautifully about your lasting union. I must admit that I’ve often wondered where your secret lies.’
The older woman appeared to relish the compliment. ‘Oh, well I guess we don’t speak as much about our beauty secrets,’ she replied with a laugh. ‘It’s a lot of work, I must tell you - the patience and the sacrifice – and don’t think it gets easier with time. You can’t stop working at it because as you age, there is the tendency to take each other for granted. But I know you both have what it takes inside of you.’ Turning to face the younger woman, she asked. ‘Do you know why Mr. Aigbe likes your Edwin so much?’
Stella shook her head. Even her husband had given up trying to find out why.
‘It’s his work ethic,’ Mrs. Aigbe revealed. ‘He sees so much of himself in your hubby. He would often say to me: “that young man is no bum”. When they first met, Edwin offered to make him an outfit free of charge in hopes of clinching him as a long term client. Well, the rest is history.’ She paused and let out a deep breath. ‘As for you, your frustrations hit so close to home - my home, I mean. The adversary has no new tricks up his sleeves and your experiences are not rare.’
She leaned back into her seat, wondering where to begin recounting all the highs and lows of her years as a young wife. She and Mr. Aigbe were so different from each other that even being in the same room always seemed to spark a misunderstanding. At the slightest disagreement, he would attempt to shut her up, by bellowing:
“You must submit!”
And she would take him up just as quickly, yelling at the top her voice:
Mrs. Aigbe laughed in recollection. ‘Our battles never went off the deep end. Thank God, we are both too tender for a physical altercation. But we frequently challenged each other to shouting matches; screaming and cursing until the wearied neighbors advised us to either shut up or pack out.’ She narrowed her eyes mysteriously. ‘Can you guess what happened next?’
Her guest could hardly imagine and again, could only shake her head.
‘What followed, my dear, were long periods of intermittent silence. Whenever next a dispute arose, we would not speak to each other for days. Our house became gravely quiet during those times. Let’s just say we took the neighbors’ advice about shutting up, a little too seriously.’
Stella giggled, first at the stern-faced woman’s sense of humor, and again out of relief that such an experience was not peculiar to her.
‘I’m not sure which was worse,’ Mrs. Aigbe noted. ‘The rebellious noise or the stubborn silence, but I know that the combative atmosphere was wearing us out. Back then, we used to ask ourselves what we had gotten into. We stopped asking a long time ago, when it became clear that there could be no logical answer to such a silly question.’
‘So, you resigned yourselves to fate?’
‘Not quite. A lifetime is too long to succumb to whatever wedlock brings. So, like you, we went searching for veterans in the game who could stir us aright.’ She shrugged. ‘Over and beyond the voices of reason around us, we learned to listen in quietness to the Lord. It’s an art you’ll both need to master sooner or later. Mr. Aigbe and I can’t dictate what decisions you should make; we can only tell you how best to go about making them.’
Stella nodded as she ruminated on her host’s reminiscences and what the latter defined as ‘their secret’. Edwin had once remarked that the Aigbes shared a sensational resemblance with each other. He obviously saw something way beyond their looking physically alike: more of a synergy between them. Stella saw it too - at least she hoped she did.
‘So I guess over time you figured out how to be more like each other?’ She attempted to clarify.
When the older woman vigorously shook her head, the younger one realized she had missed the point and pursed her lips together apologetically.
‘Ah, but you are mistaken,’ Mrs. Aigbe declared. ‘Mind you, I too once thought that such likeness would be the pinnacle of our union, but a dear friend said to me, “When the two of you start to think, talk and act the same way, then one of you becomes unnecessary.” ’ She paused. ‘The idea was never to be like each other. I think that’s why Mr. Aigbe objects when people say we look alike. I disagree with him though. I believe we really do look alike. But I also think it’s the acceptance and regard that we have for our differences that people now see as a matching picture.’
‘Wow’ Stella declared. ‘That’s deep.’
‘Thank you,’ Mrs. Aigbe chimed, looking pleased. ‘It’s taken me four decades to come up with that one.’
Their hearty laughter filled the room. As the older woman continued speaking, the tense muscles in Stella’s body slowly relaxed of their own accord.
‘We’ve been able to move from the two extremes of hot and cold war, to find that middle point where we respect each other’s opinion and can respond with softness. It certainly doesn’t mean I agree with a lot of things he does, even till now. Forty four years on, we’re still working on achieving the best alignment possible. We’re not there yet but we hover close to the center.’
‘Do you think you would ever hit the bull’s eye?’
Mrs. Aigbe thought for a moment. ‘When next you visit our home and see us looking like identical twins, then you know we’ve gotten it perfectly right.’
With a laugh, Stella picked the old journal from her lap. ‘Edwin and I won’t aim for your forty something years,’ she said. ‘We’ll take it one day at a time and aim for a lifetime. From now on, I intend to capture only the great moments in here.’
‘Capture your triumphs over the trying times too.’ Mrs. Aigbe advised. ‘You never know who might need it. As for me, I keep my greatest memories in here.’ She tapped at her heart. ‘I can’t remember them all but if you come over every now and then, I can share the ones that are dearest to me with you.’ She reached out and squeezed Stella’s arm. ‘Don’t be a stranger,’ she advised. ‘And when next you come, be sure to ask for me specifically and don’t let me catch you hesitating at my front door.’
Stella left feeling calmer, without having waited for the man of the house to return. She was calm enough to respond when Edwin called later in the evening; and when he spoke of his intended arrival the next day, she resisted the urge to snap: ‘Just stay where you are!’
He arrived late on Friday afternoon, but had to hurry out again. Mr. Aigbe, he explained, had asked to see him as soon as he got into town. He wasn’t sure the reason - whether business or personal. Stella widened her eyes and kept quiet, suspecting that he was being summoned on her account. She was surprised when, before he left, Edwin handed her a brand new leather-bound diary.
‘I thought you might need a new one,’ he said before heading out. ‘I noticed the one you’ve been using has become old. Though I’m not sure I will ever understand your fascination with writing those notes.’
His gift to her was quite huge, with more pages than her scribbling could exhaust in a long time. She filled the first few lines with thoughts surrounding his gesture.
Up till now, I never thought he took this hobby of mine seriously. As unromantic as I have deemed him to be, he does have a way of touching my heart.
Edwin did not say anything about his visit to Mr. Aigbe, and Stella did not ask. Yet the atmosphere that weekend allowed for kinder exchanges between them. In between it all, Stella finally told him she was pregnant.
Their third son was born seven months later, on the 8th of December. Joboy was an adorable baby. Like his brothers, he threw many into the same hot debate over who he resembled more: mum or dad. This particular debate, though, did not last for too long. Over the months a consensus was reached, when it became obvious that, unlike his elder siblings, Joboy’s features were all his mother’s own. Stella’s triumph at having clinched the resemblance of one child out of three was propelled to new heights when her youngest son turned two and Edwin finally decided it was time to relocate the family. She hadn’t anticipated that the move would take this long and when it finally happened, she was more than ready for it. This time, she was mindful to let the neighbors know that they would be leaving town for good.