“Oh. Agyapomaa…is this how you keep your room? No wonder my son didn’t fight me as hard when I demanded he break up with you.”
Madame Okoye kicked a silk blouse to the side with the tip of her pointed-toe pump. She gave Pomaa a side eye before speaking further.
“Not very womanly at all, wouldn’t you say? Shame. You should have been preparing to dress as a bride, but now you have to spend your wedding morning cleaning your room.”
Pomaa opened her mouth to respond, but only managed a guttural “uhm”. She was frozen in place, fossilized by hatred, anger, sadness and a healthy dose of shame. Had this woman no heart nor compassion? What was she doing here?
“What are you doing here, Madame?” Frema asked. She was still clutching the red t-shirt and jeans plucked from the wardrobe moments before. Her words were like coals. The temperament was not lost on Madame Okoye, who responded sweetly.
“I only came to wish Pomaa goodbye-ooo,” she was clapping her hands on every syllable. “And to give her this.”
She fished out an envelope and waved it in Pomaa’s face.
“Two tickets out of Ibadan to anywhere you want to go in the world,” she snarled. “My son said that they were for your ‘honeymoon’ and begged me to give them to you. And as you know, I would do anything for my son. You can have them. Go. Get out of Nigeria! Go anywhere you want.”
When Pomaa didn’t move, Frema snatched the tickets from Madame Okoye’s hand and spat on them.
“If you would do anything for your son, why couldn’t you let him marry the woman he loved? Eh? He and Pomaa would have been happy! But you are just another selfish, meddling…”
“Frema. Please. That’s enough.”
Ernestina had risen from her perch and gently pushed Frema from Pomaa’s side. She whispered in her daughter’s ear.
“Sweetheart, do you want this woman to leave?”
Pomaa nodded; afraid to look in her mother’s face for fear that she might burst into fresh tears.
“Madame Okoye, my daughter has asked for you to leave. I think you must go immediately.”
The tips of Ernestina Agyare’s ears turned red in a manner that Pomaa had only seen when the gardener had snipped her rose bushes too far back. Sensing tension, Monifa Okoye shifted her Luis Vuitton handbag on her shoulder and stood her ground. Pomaa noticed her attire for the first time. She had covered herself in every name brand you would imagine: Marc Jacob shoes, a Burberry head scarf, the Anaïs Anaïs applied too liberally. She was showing off! Pomaa might have missed this detail, as she had been so busy looking at her face – a face she would have had to spend an eternity looking at if Femi had not…Oh, Ewurade!
“It’s your own fault, you know, Pomaa,” Madame Okoye said, taking a step closer to her prey. “Hei! Pomaa! I’m talking to you! If you had been a little more compliant, I could have allowed it. I could have passed you off as an acceptable wife, but you are too stubborn.”
Pomaa open and closed her lips. She was stuck; stuck between the cultural requirement to respect this woman and the intense need to throttle her.
“Oh? You want to know ‘why’?” Madame Okoye seethed. “Take a look in the mirror. Look at that your hair and skin! You are so…black. And your hair looks like a fetish priestess. How can my son take a fetish to important company dinners?”
Madame Okoye tightened the grip on her bag, her face contorted in pain and the very thought. Her voice broke in anguish.
“I tried to give you cream to lighten your skin. You refused. I offered to take you to my salon to straighten your hair – or at least, do weave on. Look at Ayo’s hair! That is the way a woman of distinction should look! “
She paced the room like a woman set on fire.
“I even asked your own friend – Lucinda – what the chances of you giving birth to dark children were. DO you know what she told me? ‘One in four’! And if you have girls, I’m sure when the time comes you won’t perm their hair or advise them to also lighten to improve their chances as I have also advised you. Oh, and let us not forget that you have never left Africa before! How could I explain this to my important friends? Chei! How can I have a daughter-in-law who will not take my advice? Oya, the pain you are feeling is your own fault!”
Lucinda shrank when 5 sets of eyes turned to look at her. She stammered something about chromosomes and DNA before slinking into a corner. Pomaa looked wounded beyond healing. But it was Ernestina who had enough. Clearly, Pomaa wasn’t going to fight for herself. Where was the feisty child she had raised, who always had a sarcastic word for anyone who got in the way of her goal? She stepped in between Pomaa and Madame Okoye, speaking ever so quietly.
“I really think you should go, Madame Okoye because mebro wo tese kraman wo ekwan so – I’m about to beat you like a dog in the street!”
Monifa Okoye dropped her handbag and began shrieking.
“Heh?! Old lady like you! You think you are the only one who has a local language to insult someone in, eh?”
The two women circled each other like caged panthers, hurling insults in words not spoken from their lips from school-girl days. In the heated stew of Yoruba and Twi, Pomaa made out the words “cat”, ”mother” and “swine”. Finally, the moment came. There was no more talking to be done. It was Ayo who sacrificed herself and wedged herself between the two elder women. Her reward was a double slap, blows that had found an unintended victim.
Madame Okoye gasped in horror. Pomaa rushed to Ayo’s side on the floor.
“Ayo…Ayo, sorry o! I wasn’t trying to hit you. I wanted to beat this foolish old…”
“That is enough, Madame Okoye. You’ve delivered your tickets. You’ve said everything you’ve had to say. Don’t insult my friend with your weak apologies. It’s time for you to go.”
Pomaa had finally found her voice. It was composed and steady, and she was pleased with the level-headedness she had somehow conjured.
Madame Okoye sneered. “So you have something to say at last eh? Are those to be our parting words, after I have shown you so much generosity?”
“No, Madame, they are not,” Pomaa replied saccharinely. “Just remember this: Every time your son kisses your cheek, that’s me sitting on your face.”
She cocked her head to side and waited for the meaning of her words to sink in.
Chei! Chei, chei, chei!
The cloud of perfume stormed out of the room. The thunderstorm was over at last. Pomaa knelt on the edge of the bed and tried to gather her thoughts. She rested her chin on her knuckles, staring at Lucinda who was now busy fussing with a heap of discarded skirts. Oh no. She wasn’t getting off that easily.
“Ayo, you know my house. Will you take my mother to the kitchen to get a drink?”
Ayo nodded, nursing her reddened cheeks. Pomaa offered her mother a grateful smile as the two walked out of the wrecked bedroom. Frema was furious.
“?h?, what did that woman mean when she said she asked you about Pomaa’s unborn children?”
Lucinda shifted her weight uncomfortably. Why were they angry? She had done nothing wrong! The woman asked for her medical opinion and she had given it!
“All I said was that there was a chance this way or another that the kids would look like this, that’s all,” she said. “I didn’t think she would ever take it this far…”
“Lucy, are you telling me you knew Madame Okoye was going to do all this?” Pomaa asked. “And you didn’t warm me?”
“Pomaa, I swear to you, I had no idea she would take it this far!” Lucinda threw her hands in the air. “You know how that woman is. This is not my fault, eh? I hope you are not putting this on me!”
Frema sucked her teeth and began folding clothing and laying them on the bed. She did not like this Lucinda girl at all. This was not the type of conversation you should keep from your friend.
“So what are you going to do about your tickets?” Lucinda asked. “Will you leave Nigeria?”
“Of course she won’t leave!” Frema growled. “She has her business and her life here. Why should she go? It is Madame Okoye who should go!”
Pomaa chuckled. Frema was always illogical when she was this angry. Maybe Lucinda was right. Perhaps she should return to Ghana. But then there was the gossip mill to contend with. The thought hit her like hammer.
“Frema, how many people in Kumasi know I was supposed to get married today?”
“Not many,” Frema replied reluctantly. “The Bonsus, the Asantes, the Smiths, the Opokus…the Agyares.”
Pomaa groaned. “Basically everyone then?”
“Yes,” Frema conceded. “Your mother was very excited.”
“Of course she was,” Pomaa murmured. That settled it. She had made her decision. She would return to Ghana, but not yet. She was not ready to face the piteous expressions and invasive questions. Frema approved of her plan. Lucinda gave her support as well, albeit grudgingly.
Frema placed her right palm beneath her breast and motioned to Pomaa with her free hand. “Then I will expect you in Kumasi when the corn is this high, and when there is a scandal in parliament.”
“Quoting your great-grandmother again, are we?” Pomaa teased.
“She was a woman who knew the seasons. Show some respect!” Frema threw a pair of panties at her friend’s head and continued to clean up. “What I mean is that we will see you in June. Three months is enough time to lick your wounds.” She sucked her teeth when Pomaa hugged her from behind.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Frema. You’ve always been a true friend.”
Lucinda’s eyes darted away from the two women. She fixed them on a shattered photograph of Femi and Pomaa hugging and smiling on a park bench, their delighted eyes gazing at her in judgment. This was not her fault. It was not…