Accidental second wives By Funke Egbemode ([email protected])

Are there really women whose main and original ambition was to become second wives? I mean, are there women who never once had a goal of meeting a fine young man whose first wife they want to be? Do some women consciously set out to be second or third wives? Take a look at your young daughter, your sister, look back at your teenage years, your female teenage friends, your classmates in the university, did you actually hear any of them talking about playing second fiddles in marriage? Yet, I’m sure some of them are today second, third and even fifth wives. So, do you also wonder, like me, if all second wives are willing second wives or accidental second wives? Of course, I admit that in some cultures in Nigeria, being or becoming a second wife is not seen as a major evil phenomenon and second wives are not treated like monsters but in the South, among my people who have gone to many ‘oyinbo schools’ and imbibed deep ‘oyinbo ways’, the concept of a second wife most times is regarded as one not too far from that of a blood-sucking demon. Or am I exaggerating?

Come on, second wives are regarded as home-wreckers, home-breakers, greedy women who come from nowhere to destroy good things between a man and the wife of his youth. Or how many second wives do you know that are welcomed with open arms, this south side of Nigeria? Second wives are bad news, people to be looked at with ‘corner eye’, generally. There could be a sprinkle of exceptions, perhaps.

However, we also know that when we remove our rose-tinted lenses of romance, relationships are hardly really ever what they seem. That man and the presumed wife of his youth are sometimes, at best just neighbours under the same roof and the presumed good marriage is just a façade where the woman hides her slapped face under impeccable make-up and designer eye-glasses to deceive everybody. The gentle husband is sometimes a harassed and depressed male whose wife has nagged into mental submission because he ‘cannot do what his mates are doing’.

On another lane is the accidental second wife who might just turn out to be a tired but well-brought up child, defeated by fate, trying to make do with what is available. Complicated, right? Yes, second wives are complicated women with complicated lives sometimes seeking to ‘uncomplicate’ things. Yet, marriage itself is one complicated institution. So it is mightily difficult to make it even look or sound easy, whichever angle you approach it from. It’s hard work already being a first and only wife, so you can imagine the life of a second or third or fourth wife. I’m sure you are following my train of thought. Yes, that there are accidental second wives, women who thought they had their lives all figured out but then life happened, throwing spanner in their works. Nothing fitted in the spaces they’d provided. Their beautiful lives’ dreams simply disintegrate before their eyes and they end up accepting the hand life dealt them.

I admit there are women who simply love dangerous adventures, those ones who perhaps never really outgrew the hide-and-seek and catch-me-if-you-can pranks of their youth. There are also the fast-lane girls with turbo-charged needs and ambition. They do not see the reason to use the staircase when there is an elevator. Why build a home with a struggling man when you can find a man who has finished struggling and has built a home you can just move into? These ones want meals that are not just already cooked but served and waiting for ‘little madam’ to simply sit and enjoy. Made men are most often married.

Joyce, my mischievous younger friend once said, ‘well, that he is married and made does not mean he’s unlovable, after all, his wife loves him, so why can’t I? How do you deal with such bling-bling logic of let’s-both-love-him? It’s even worse for the guy if he’s made, married and loaded downstairs. He’s totally endangered. The Joyces of this world and age will spin all kinds of webs in his path. They’ll ensure he falls.

However, never ever forget that men are usually willing parties in these matters, never raped, never forced to kiss. They just get gummed or glued in their own deception and ‘private practice.’

But there are actually many women who find themselves in the valley of polygamy by accident or circumstance. There are women who after many unfortunate relationships that never led anywhere simply settle for second place because all the first slots have been filled and the single men taken. Faced with the option of being single mums or second wives, they jump at the latter. Better a second wife than being no wife at all. I do not agree with that last part but it is what it is. Not all women can stand alone.

For this set of women, every other thing is in place except marriage. They are fine and fixed in the corporate world, their careers moving in leaps and bounds. The only gaps in their lives are created by the single men who just race past them. Or is it the successful girls who race past the men? Whatever. Finding Mr Right simply ended up being too hard a nut to crack than juggling two MBAs in the same academic year. So, they settle for Mr Available, in the absence of Mr Right. Like Mimi.

‘It hit me like a blow between the eyes when on the morning of my 40th birthday, my younger sister’s children, my three handsome nephews, raced into my room to wish me happy birthday. As they sang their off-key ‘we wish you many happy returns,’ I knew I had reached a point of tough decision. I was 40 and single. Successful business woman but not married. I did not have a child! My biological clock was not ticking. It was banging, very loudly. Men in my age bracket and those slightly older are all married with children. It wasn’t that I had not made any effort. I had prayed and fasted. You’d be shocked at the number of Prayer Mountains there are in Nigeria. I had even been to one in Jos. Yes, Plateau state. I decided it was time to take my destiny in my hands. I mean, my secretary was 37 and her first child just got admitted into the secondary school. It was like I was just folding my arms and waiting for the arrival of menopause. That was how I felt that morning of my 40th birthday.

‘I resolved to do what I needed to do as swiftly as I take my business decisions. I resolved to go off any and every form of contraceptive. I was going to seize the very first opportunity to become a mum, then I would think of the consequences later.’

And that was exactly what Mimi did. Her relationship with Otunba was supposed to be for companionship.

‘Otunba has a great sense of humour. He spoils me with gifts. I can run to him for advice and counsel on virtually every subject. We were great friends but because he was married, I tried to rein in my feelings. I insisted on him using protection whenever we got intimate, which he protested each time too. But after my 40th birthday, I got warmer and allowed him have his way. I spent more time with him and told myself what a few of my daring friends had told me: Otunba is a good man.’

As if the firmament was just waiting for Mimi to make up her mind, she found out she was pregnant four months after her birthday. She was shocked, happy, apprehensive, excited, all at the same time. It was too good to be true, pregnant just like that at 40 without having to even see a gynaecologist, run tests or do any of the assisted-fertility runs. But what of Otunba? They had not had the marriage or even baby talk seriously. Would he feel she was trying to trap him? Long story short, Mimi told Otunba. He had his reservations, naturally, but he wasn’t going to let his child be born without his name. He rented Mimi a bigger apartment, started picking her bills. Six months after her baby was born, Mimi found she was pregnant again. Now she has two boys. Otunba has gone and paid her dowry and all.

‘I didn’t plan to be a second wife, the same way I didn’t think I’d be having my first child at 41. But here am I, making lemonade from the lemons life threw at me.’

I know this is a sensitive subject but do you still think all second wives are usurpers, interlopers or some of them are victims of the hands fate dealt them? Do share your thoughts.

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