COUNTERPOINT By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
When I got married on August 8, 1991, I was certain I married the right person. I fancied myself as some sort of an intellectual with a bias for the literati. I had the tendencies of the bohemian, with little regard for material acquisitions or longings for wealth creation. So, with that temperament, it was not difficult to realise that I had met a strong candidate, able and willing to meet and surpass the harsh criteria I had set for my wife-to-be. She was beautiful yet quick-witted (I used to believe the silly stereotype that sparkling beauty was not an associate of common sense). She was bold and strong-willed (it was sweetly strange that a woman could attempt to withstand my withering gaze and sardonic tongue, and throw in some of her own broadsides). She was cute and sensual (her dotting gestures and seductive aloofness made my head turn times without number). She could speak well and has a devastating laughter. To the ordinary eye, we were made for each other.
We had so many things going for us on the same road. Both of us graduated with Bachelors of Arts (English Studies) in the same year (she from Ile-Ife, (now in Osun State); and I from Jos, Plateau State). She came to Punch Newspapers one year after me; and we both worked in the editorial department.
We both cherished similar things; we were both comfortable with deep and prolonged swig of big Stout laced with “Coca-Cola”. While she could not smoke and I was a shameless chain smoker, she would buy anti-nicotine substances to activate my gradual withdrawal from the nauseating habit. Not once did she rage against my obnoxious habit, even when it was obviously provoking allergic disruptions in her health. Suffering and smiling in silence! That was almost mythical – a classic self-sacrifying radiance.
I can go on and on about how great this lady was as a girlfriend, a fiancée and new wife. Yet the first three years of our marriage, I felt the irrepressible (and now in retrospection, irresponsible) urge to stay away from her; from my tiny beautiful daughter, Ireoluwatomiwa; from her great culinary expertise (oh, as a veteran bukaterian, I should know, my wife is a magnificent cook) and from my house. I had a greater pull outside than all the love, care and peace in my home. Incredibly, I found reasons, countless and not altogether true, on the need to stay longer outside, and I would return at periods my people call “small, small hands of the clock’’.
Strangely, my wife would wait long after 12 midnight, without eating, because she wanted us to eat together…and there I was foolish with selfish indulgence, filled with one choice meal at one assignment or the other. Yet, I would want my meal warm and fresh… even at midnight! Well, more often than not, I tried not to let the food waste, or allow my wife to slump in distraught at not only starving while waiting for me when I was having my fill, eating like a “goat-head”. I had many reasons…which today, several years after, I am privileged to call irrelevant; just as many young couples of today may be in the same position right now. Our lies and schemes hardly change; the texture or environment may differ…the reason, the hunger, the lust… is still the same. A big pile of cards that will collapse scandalously on you, it’s just a matter time.
From the first quarter of 1991, my friends and I had been neck-deep in the secret planning and strategy for the birth of what we believed would chart a new path in general interest journalism. It was like a divine collaboration: each of us had a fast-growing reputation in the three major areas of general interest reportage: (Mayor Akinpelu was a major-general in high society reporting, cavorting with the “happening guys and gals”; Kunle Bakare was a master sleuth in celebrity reporting, a silent nightmare of celebrated “scandalistas”; and I was like an “Aliyu Gusau” of entertainment reporting – if you understand).
From April of that year when we set the outing date for “Fame Weekly”, we knew no rest… it was work, work, work; sleeping on chairs, raising hell here and there – all that, was to make the maiden edition a blast. We were determined not to fail as young editors; we didn’t even realise that we were publishers!
It was about that period that I decided to culminate my two-year relationship with Iretunde in a wedding. We fixed August 8, 1991. But two weeks to that wedding, and the magazine barely three weeks in the market, I was not sure where the wedding would hold (in the office or at the printing press(!)) because the gigantic volume of work, and the electricity of the moment were overwhelming. There was no time or extra energy to throw a big party, fete people who probably hated my guts, and couldn’t stand my presence beyond the casual “hello”. I didn’t want any distraction: so only Kunle (my bestman) and his girlfriend-now-wife, Desola Rajifuja (my wife’s chief maid) were involved in the “scheme”. And very few members of either families.
The times were so fascinating and engaging that it would not have been strange if I had missed my wedding! But I didn’t. I believe we had a presentation a day after at Insight Advertising, and I had to attend. Mayor was rightly livid with indignation at being left out of the whole wedding “coup”. And other friends and associates poked fun at my mafioso-like secret wedding.
So, from the very first day, my wife was contending with known and unknown “forces”, that were bent on sharing my attention and affection with her. As a first rate cook, she did not understand nor cared to accept why I would come home with a full stomach; and my explanations that I could not possibly refuse to eat when friends gathered in the office, or at special interview sessions where all sorts of dishes were begging to be consumed.
Years later, I realised how so insensitive I was; as she had sometimes sought to know what strange food I had dreamt of (and I was a radical with my stomach as no food however strange looking was beyond giving a trial). And the poor lady would go to the markets, seeking advice from Urhobo, Igbo, Edo traders of food ingredients. She would then perform the tasking experiment in her kitchen…and there I was, oh foolish me, arriving full to the brim; but I never stopped commending her for the nice aroma of the meal. I would nibble at the gorgeously laid meal, completely missing her looks of consternation and racking frustration.
How many times she would have imagined running out of the empty house – seething at the edge of madness? Then, my wife devised a “catch-him-fast” tactic that worked like magic: she would bring my lunch to the office in an elaborate garnishment of lovely picnic packs, and all… Come and see snails, ‘bokoto’ (cow-leg), ‘show-boy’ (the cow’s genital parts), goat meat…all of them dancing wickedly and irresistibly in my food flask. Of course, it worked – my outdoor eating dropped considerably.
And my friends started telling their wives to wake up and smell the coffee. Mule-headed as I was back then, it took some time for me to realise the knife-edge I was pushing my dream home to. Now, I know: whatever it takes, as long as the woman has made the meal available, never nibble at her food or declare that you are full on-arrival. It is guaranteed to break her heart, and gradually the home.
(To Be Continued)