Previously on ALL IN THE KNOWING…
Béisa sat back against the dining chair, watching Mike as he ate. There was a slow, methodical manner to the way he chewed, and it struck her at how ironic it was that he took more care with his mastication than life itself. A wry smile crossed her face. Mike was a gentleman, she had to hand it to him. That was one of the attributes she had convinced herself she had fallen in love with. Now she felt nothing for him; the remains of what had once been recognizable as love was cold as the embers of yesterday’s fire, the ashes gray, powdery and dull.
He looked up at her and cocked his eyebrow and she gazed back evenly.
They both felt it, the weight of a thousand unspoken words and accusations filling the air, the long detached glances and even longer silences.
She could barely conceal her disgust. Here he was, the father of her children, pretending as though all was well, murmuring niceties when necessary and never seeing past his own faults. He used women as a way to gloss over his own adequacies.
From other women, Béisa thought about Sandra. She knew she had given the girl enough of a scare to put her off Mike, but Béisa knew that wouldn’t deter him. He had never been one for learning hard lessons.
But this was past simple indiscretion: he had done the unforgivable and brought the war to her turf. He had forgotten one thing though; on her turf, she had the upper hand.
Mike struggled to swallow, feeling ill at ease, the sumptuous meal in front of him unappealing, food in his mouth cleaving to his palate in a congealed mess.
It was Béisa’s unnerving stare, that stare he had grown accustomed to over the past few years. But there had been a subtle change in her eyes lately, a mixture of triumph and warning.
She knew. She knew about the whole business with Sandra. And her eyes dared him to take the next step.
He remembered the time Béisa had confronted him about Sandra, asking if he had ever brought the girl into their home. He had. He remembered his hasty and insincere denial.
Béisa had been so cold and calm when speaking to him, condescension oozing out of her lilting alto voice. He remembered the feelings of unease and indignation at her easy dismissal of his status, her tone more than a little patronizing. There was also an unnatural edge to her voice as she levelled him with her accusation, like her throat had been sanded down and filled with gravel.
“Not my home, Mike. Never my home. Not in the full view of my children…”
He had felt emasculated on one end and vaguely triumphant on the other, happy that he had been able to crack through her seemingly impenetrable veneer of indifference. Outwardly, he had gone through the veritable script of denial. “Me? Why would you think that I would do that? Okay, I’ll admit I’ve not been as…forthcoming as I should have been in the past but I promise you I have nothing to do with this girl.”
Even now, he could see her face, carved and still as granite, her jaw clenching and her eyes narrowing. There had been something primal about her, a strength to her he had never seen and for the first time in their fifteen years of marriage, he had actually been afraid of her.
She had turned and walked away, her back ramrod straight and her shoulders stiff. He was angry then. How dare she walk away from him? He was the man of the house! Yes, she did earn more than he and he resented the fact that she had taken over the household, effectively neutering him in the process. He couldn’t even really face the children anymore let alone face off his wife. Her disdain was clearly evident for all to see and she made no effort to hide it. What had started out as a partnership of love had dissolved into a competition of sorts, with Béisa fast emerging the winner. And Mike resented it deeply. It wasn’t as though he had wanted things to end up this way but…Béisa was unstoppable once she had her mind set on something. And it seemed that the challenge for her now was him. He couldn’t deny the fact that he had loved her once, but now, he could barely recognize her. It wasn’t as though she wasn’t beautiful, because indeed she was – but her beauty now carried an underlining of steel and granite; like a samurai sword, beautiful and graceful but deadly when crossed.
He had tried calling Sandra a month ago to schedule one of their ‘meetings’. He had gone all out, arranging a weekend getaway for them at the Sheraton in Lagos. At first, Sandra hadn’t picked up his calls but then when he had persisted, she finally answered and told him in no uncertain terms that she was done with him.
“Mike, it’s over,” she had said, an unmistakable tremor in her voice; whether out of fear or sadness, he didn’t know.
“Over? Why? I thought we were having a good time,” he countered, irritated at his own whiny tone.
He still didn’t understand why – even though he counted himself virile and very much a ‘man’ – he still got petulant when he didn’t get his way with women. He was used to being the one in charge, and to have Sandra, the attractive yet insipid girl with whom he had had a brief but enjoyable fling, dare to end it with him stung in the deepest part of his ego. He was very much piqued that it hadn’t been the other way around.
“Look Mike, I had my fun but what we had has run its course. I don’t want to see you anymore, okay? Don’t call me or come to see me, you hear?” she had said, her voice low and controlled.
It had then dawned on him then that she was afraid: of something or someone. Realization crept up his spine in a chill, foreboding tentacles wrapping about his mind. “Sandra…does this have anything to do with my wife?”
He heard a sharp intake of breath and from that, he knew his answer.
She was silent for a moment before uttering a clipped farewell. “Goodbye Mike,” she had said and hung up immediately.
He’d stood with the phone in his hands, staring at it and wondering what Béisa had said or done to scare Sandra away. He couldn’t confront her with his knowledge of her scaring off his mistress, could he? He supposed he had been rather foolish, allowing Sandra access to their home. On one unfortunate occasion when Béisa was out of town on a business trip, Sandra had come over to the house. He had dropped the younger children off at his in-laws and the older girls over at their friend’s house for a sleepover, and had thought that the coast would be clear. Unfortunately, his eldest daughter Kimora had forgotten something and came by the house to pick it, happening upon Sandra in the parlour. At twelve, she was surprisingly astute and cast a jaded and somewhat accusatory look his way when he came out and tried to cover up, saying Sandra was one of his friend’s sisters. Kimora had just nodded and walked out of the house. He felt bad afterward, and went on to buy her a lavish gift the next day in a bid to purchase her silence.
“Mummy will get upset if you tell her about my friend’s sister,” he’d said. “She might think something bad. So it’s better if she doesn’t know, okay?”
Kimora had stared back at him with eyes so like her mother’s and responded after a moment, “Daddy…don’t worry, I won’t tell if it will upset her. But, if that girl was your friend’s sister, then mummy wouldn’t be upset, would she? She knows your friends, doesn’t she?”
She could see right through him…just like her mother. In that moment, Mike felt something akin to dislike for his daughter, an emotion that was quickly followed by shame. Even now, as he thought of it, Mike cringed. He felt like an utter cad for trying to use his daughter to hide his indiscretion. In the end though, Béisa had found out – from one of her many spies, he was sure. Esu, he suspected.
He couldn’t stand the man. But Béisa had insisted on hiring him as a ‘driver’.
“I really don’t like him, Béisa,” he had said. “He looks violent and I’m not so sure he’s a safe person to have around our children.”
“Haba, Mike…” she’d responded, with grating condescension. “Esu is perfectly safe. He can’t help the fact that he’s big and ugly. Besides, having a driver like that will serve as a deterrent for all those would-be kidnappers out there who might want to try their luck with the children.”
At that moment, Mike had wanted to choke her, to choke every drop of arrogance, condescension and pride out of her. She wouldn’t have dared to treat him in this manner if he were the one making all that money, if he controlled the purse strings. She would be a good wife, pretty and obedient, doing nothing but cooking, cleaning and going to the salon.
He remembered a time when she was as close to that as possible: the perfect wife. She had adored him, never complaining, her patience seemingly never ending. She had always worked, but then, she had never thrown the fact that she was the higher earner in his face; always asking his opinion on financial issues and deferring to his decisions. She had run the household with competence and efficiency and enjoyed being a wife and mother. The only thing that had bothered her, something she had mentioned on several occasions, was his roving eye. He had transgressed early in their marriage and she had found out. She had been heartbroken, but he pleaded and promised never to do it again, and she had forgiven him. He had two more affairs afterwards but she never found out, as he had learned to be more discreet. Things went on as normal for the next few years, until he did it again and got caught. What galled her most, she had said then with utter and disquieting calm, was that he had done so while she was pregnant with their third child. He saw then the change in her eyes, the change in her demeanor.
He really couldn’t understand why she behaved the way she did. True, perhaps going after women wasn’t the best thing to do, but he was only human. Women were his weakness and he was a man besides.
His own father had told him, “Son, respect your wife and make sure you provide for her. But understand that one woman cannot give you 100% satisfaction. Your wife can give you…maybe 60% but you have to source for the remaining 40% by yourself.”
And he sourced. He looked around him and saw more or less the same thing happening in the marriages of most of his friends – and their wives were complacent. Why did he have to end up with the stubborn one?
“My guy, if she misbehaves too much, beat her,” Okwi, one of his friends – a large man with a puffy face – told him over drinks as they all sat around in The Lounge, one of the popular bars in the town.
“Easy…easy,” said Gbenga. “It’s not every babe you can beat and get away with.” He indicated the sickle-shaped scar on his cheek. “This is a souvenir I got when I tried to beat up one of my former girlfriends.”
There were murmurs around the table with not-so-subtle snickers.
Gbenga cleared his throat as he continued, “Okay, I beat her up, but man, she scarred me in the process. There’s nothing more dangerous than getting into a fight with a girl who will tell you, ‘You must kill me today’, because she is ready to fight you till the end. That’s what happened with me and that girl. I beat her but she grabbed a bottle and nearly removed my eye. Not worth it at all. Besides Mike, that your wife doesn’t look like the type that will let you beat her easily. There’s something about her eyes…something dangerous. Oh boy, that woman fit kill you.”
Mike had laughed, trying to insert a good dose of bravado into his tone, but he didn’t succeed entirely. He had a niggling feeling that Gbenga was right.
He had never allowed himself to really consider how his actions had contributed in getting them where they were. As far as he was concerned, there was one way – his way. Men were just not meant to be monogamous creatures; it didn’t work that way. It just didn’t.
Written by Sifa Asani Gowon