The next morning, it was the thought that my husband wasn’t dead that put a smile on my face. That smile was soon turned into a scowl after the impromptu meeting Kelechi’s family called.
I had already prepared breakfast, with the help of my sister, and prepared to go to work when my mother-in-law called my attention on the way out. She was seated in the living room with her husband. Sighting them like that made me know that trouble was lurking around, just like it did the previous night.
Out of respect for them, I decided to delay my trip to the office, grateful within myself that the meeting with Mr Richards was much later in the day.
I took my seat, watching them warily to see if I could read their faces to know exactly why they had called me. I hoped that whatever they wanted to talk about was important, probably relating to Kelechi, not about what happened in Nkechi’s room.
“Now, that our son is dead,” my father-in-law began after exchange of pleasantries between me and them, “you’ll have to change the name of every business document in his name to Ebuka’s.”
Displeased at his words, I narrowed my eyes at him. “Why?”
“Well, he’s my second son, and you’d have to marry him to continue Kelechi’s bloodline.”
“But, I already have children with Kelechi. I don’t need to continue Kelechi’s bloodline with his brother.”
“Yes, I agree you have children for him, but they aren’t enough. Besides, it’s only traditional that Ebuka marries you. We don’t want another family coming to lay claims to what’s rightfully ours just because you remarried.”
I stared at my father-in-law in disbelief. Where had his Christian morals disappeared to? How could he expect me to marry his second son?
Hold on. Why was he even talking about this when we had to discuss Kelechi’s funeral? I had actually thought that was what he and his wife wanted to discuss, not this nonsense.
“Papa,” I said, my voice a bit cold, “no offence, but I can’t do that: I can’t marry Ebuka.”
“And why’s that?” my mother-in-law said.
I glanced at her. “It’s doesn’t make sense: that’s why. I respect the Igbo tradition – really, I do – but it just can’t happen. I’m a Christian for God’s sake. I can’t marry my husband’s brother. Assuming I loved Ebuka, then I could, but I don’t. Besides, marrying Ebuka is an insult to all I’ve been through with Kelechi.”
“And what’s has being a Christian got to do with marrying your husband’s brother?” she said. “Or don’t you read your Bible anymore? Have you forgotten what happened to Judah’s sons?”
I couldn’t believe this: she was actually trying to defend this. “Mama, that’s different,” I said. “His sons refused to procreate, and that’s why God killed them.”
“Please, please, please, please. Stop right there. You want to be preaching for us after you killed our son, isn’t it? You want to run away with his money, isn’t it?”
I scowled at her. “I didn’t kill my husband.”
“Then why won’t you marry his brother? Why won’t you change the documents to Ebuka’s name?”
My gaze shifted from her to her husband. When it seemed like they weren’t ready to change their minds on this topic, I shook my head. “I had actually thought you people wanted to talk about Kelechi’s funeral, yet this is what you talk about. You didn’t even ask where his body is so you can see him. You disrespect him so much. If he heard you say this, how do you think he will feel? Do you think he’d like that you want to rip him out of existence like this?”
I stood, picking my handbag I had dropped on the floor. “It’s obvious you don’t have any tangible thing to talk about. I’m on way to work. When you are ready to talk about Kelechi’s funeral, you can call me.” And with that, I walked out of the living room.
It was bad enough that my morning was ruined by my in-laws. Now, my day was much worse. My company was on the verge of losing a contract all because I was a woman. If it wasn’t that my husband was alive, I really wondered how I would explain to Mr Richards that the meeting with my board of directors didn’t require Kelechi’s presence as I was the co-CEO.
Mr Richards and his board had arrived for the meeting, seeming eager to get down to business. Every member of the board of directors in both companies was already seated and ready to start the meeting when he said, “Where’s Mr Ezekiel?”
In my agitated state, I had raised my head from the papers in front of me on the desk to stare at him. Everyone had their eyes on me now, waiting for an answer.
I stared at them, not knowing exactly what to say.
“I asked where Mr Ezekiel is,” Mr Richards said.
I shifted in my seat. “He… uh… He’s not here.”
He frowned. “But his presence is required. We can’t sign or talk about the contract without him.”
“I understand that, Mr Richards,” I said, “but he’s not around.”
“Where’s he then?”
Mr Richards raised a brow, eagerly waiting for an answer.
I stole a glance at the rest of the board, seeing that none of his board members had eyes on me while mine did, looking curious about their CEO’s whereabouts.
“He’s not well,” I said. “He fell really ill over the weekend.”
Mr Richards relaxed on his seat. “Well that’s a shame. He really needs to be here for the meeting to take place.”
“But, sir,” said a lady from my board, “there’s a CEO here. I’m sure one is enough for the meeting to take place.”
He looked her way, appearing disgusted. “I make my agreements with men, not women.” He looked at me, narrowing his eyes as if he were warning me. “A woman’s place is not in the office; it’s in the house.”
“I beg your pardon!” I said, upset at his words.
“Look, Mrs Ezekiel,” he said, gathering the papers and folders on the table before him, “you probably can handle this, but I don’t work with women. Until your husband recovers, we” – he gestured to his board members – “can’t sign the contract and forge ahead with the plans.”
“Mr Richards,” I said, “given the time frame, you have to sign the contract now. Postponing it could delay the necessary, which would draw both companies back.”
He stood. “I understand, Mrs Ezekiel, but it just can’t happen without Mr Ezekiel. I usually don’t associate with companies handicapped like this. It’s unfortunate Mr Ezekiel isn’t here.”
He put the papers and folders in the brown bag he picked from the floor. His board members began to arrange their own papers and folders, putting them into whatever bags or bigger folders they had.
I stood. “Mr Richards, please don’t do this. We both need this. Don’t let my gender being here displease your ethics.”
He took the bag off the table. “That’s exactly the point: my ethics doesn’t let me discuss matters of great importance with your gender. I wonder why this generation let women to be equals with men. That’s why women these days do the nonsense they do in the name of feminism.” He glanced at members of my board. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen.” He looked at me. “I do hope your husband gets better quickly. The earlier he does the better for us all.” Immediately, he left the board room with some of his board members behind him.
One of them looked at me. “Don’t mind Mr Richards, madam. His reasoning is outdated; everyone in the company knows that. But there’s nothing we can do about it. After all” – he shrugged – “he’s our boss.” He nodded his head in a form of greeting before heading out, being the last of the board.
When I thought about how women in Mr Richards’s company would feel, I realised there wasn’t even one woman as a board member. I concluded that meant there wasn’t even a woman working there at all. He really was faithful to his ethics.
“The man’s right, madam,” a man from my board said. “You shouldn’t mind Mr Richards. You’re just as capable as Mr Ezekiel, if not more. No offence to him though.”
“Thanks,” I said, squeezing my mouth a little. “I’d let him know about this. Hopefully, we could reschedule to closer date.”
They all nodded.
“Thanks for coming,” I said to them before everyone began to arrange their files into folders.
The reason why the words ‘papa’ and ‘mama’ were put in italics was because they were said in the Igbo language. These are their transcription respectively: /pa:'pa:/ and /ma:'ma:/.