Author: Lola Shoneyin
FIRST PUBLISHED: 2010
PUBLISHER: Cassava Republic Press.
Chiamaka says she hates it when I read books (In her words: ‘Do not ask Chimdinma about HAIR and BOOKS’). She thinks I get too personal with the books. I do not know what that means but I know I didn’t get personal with Measuring Time by Helon Habila.
This post isn’t about me and my love for the Afro or the magical creations that are books. This post is about BABA SEGI AND HIS WIVES. Words can’t even begin to explain what I feel for this book. I LOVE THIS BOOK. It is raw. It is a FUNNY moving story told with love and compassion. It is powerful. Unsettling. Violent.
And in the words of Ikhide Ikheloa “It is a triumph of life over adversity, a joyful ode to the sensual mystery and resilience of human spirit”.
For Baba Segi, his collection of wives and children are signs of his virility. All runs smoothly in the polygamous home until wife number four arrives. Wife number four is a soft-spoken university graduate who is quickly ostracized by her illiterate co-wives. However, she is determined to give Baba Segi the children he expects. Her failure to conceive exposes a dark family secret. This revelation has devastating consequences for the entire household.
Chinelo doesn’t like the rawness of this book; she told me that if she ends up writing a book she won’t be as explicit as Lola Shoneyin. I do not know why. But I love it. I want to be able to say it as it is. She says I’m getting corrupt already and adds that traces of this rawness can already be seen in my conversations. But then again, I do not know what she is talking about.
…he had boasted of his conquest: how Bolanle was tight as a bottleneck, how he pounded her until she was cross-eyed; and how she took the length of his manhood on her back – splayed out and submissive. He didn’t quite know how he would tell the men that all his pounding had proved futile.
Taju claimed that he’d beaten his wife senseless for letting his only son suck on a coin. This happened about a week after a male senator slapped a female colleague. The slap had resonated through all the quiet meeting rooms of the senate building and into the heart of every man on the street…men were slapping their womenfolk as if it had become a national sport…peeved taxi drivers prodded the heads of mothers who bargained with them; young girls were assaulted and stripped naked in the streets. Even in the labour wards baby girls frowned upon by their fathers. Taju too was inspired to throw his best punch.
Baba Segi only comes to deposit his seed in my womb. He doesn’t smile or tickle me. He doesn’t make jokes about my youth; he just rams me into the mattress…Do you want to remain a barren maggot? It must have been my vulnerability that aroused him because he returned at midnight to hammer me like never before. He emptied his testicles as deep into my womb as possible. It was as if he wanted to make it clear, with every thrust, that he didn’t make light of his husbandly duties. He wanted to fuck me pregnant. If there was ever a moment when the memory of being raped became fresh in my mind, that was it.
Men they are nothing. They are fools. The penis between their legs is all they are useful for. And even then, if not that women needed their seed for children, it would be better to sit on a finger of green plantain.
Your father left me for a beautiful woman. I told him I was pregnant but he didn’t want to hear it. He sliced me like okra and left. He pursued another woman’s hole and died inside it.
The world has no patience for spinsters. It spits them out.
The world turns and we do too, within it. Who can say what sins pursue us? – Bolanle
The choices we have to make in this world are hard and bitter. Sometimes we have no choices at all. – Iya Tope
When a plan does not go right, you plot again. One day you will succeed. One day you will be able to damage the person who hurts you so completely that they will never be able to recover. – Iya Femi (Main Witch)
‘A daughter can never be like a son…only a son can become heir’ – Baba Segi.
My fingers liked the feel of money. My eyes liked to see the piles of money swell. I worshipped money. Even when boys teased me over the flap of flesh that circled my neck, I wasn’t bothered. I looked at them and sniggered, knowing their father’s fathers could not have a fraction of the wealth I had accumulated. – Iya Segi.
…when the time comes for you to marry, take one wife and one wife alone. And when she caused you pain as all women do, remember it is better that your pain comes from one source alone- Baba Segi.
I think Baba Segi was such a terrible lover. He only wanted to ram his seed into his wives. Iya Tope even knew better, with her meat seller lover it was different …I will never forget the day or any other day I spent with him. He made my body sing. He made me howl when he bent me over; he made me whimper when he sat me on his belly. And when he took me standing up, it was as if there was a frog inside me, puffing out its throat, blowing, blowing and blowing until whoosh – all warm air escaped through my limbs.
Iya Femi knew better too…..That night, Baba Segi came to me. He sat on my bed and grabbed my breasts. I thought it was all quite amusing until he jumped between my legs and tried to force his penis into me…he wasn’t like Tunde at all. There was no sucking, no licking, no nuzzling, no moistening. Baba Segi was heavy; everything about him was clumsy and awkward. He heaved and hoed, poured his water into me and collapsed onto my breasts…
This book taught me a lot.
The first thing I learnt; not to be judgemental.
Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives begins its narrative as a tale told by the omniscient third person, and so while reading, your opinion is already formed and you are literally casting stern looks at Iya Femi and Iya Segi etc….but then, you stop when you get to the next chapter and Iya Segi or Iya Femi or Taju or Bolanle steps in and says ‘Hey, do not look at me that way. Let me tell you my story. This is what I had to endure…this is what I have been through…listen’ and they begin with the first person narrative. This is particularly what I love about this book – the switch in narrative.
Secondly, Ikhide Ikheloa’s comment comes to life again – a triumph of life over adversity…the sensual mystery and resilience of the human spirit. This comment brings to mind, the survival instinct of humans. To think that each character came from a past that influenced their present.
And the fact that the setting was Ibadan made me smile, it made the book more familiar. The market of Sango and its cemetery, the streets of Agbowo opposite the University gate and the residential areas of Awolowo Road and Osuntokun junction.
FINALLY: ILLITERACY IS A BIG SIN AND SO IS IGNORANCE.
I felt a rush of sadness as I got to the end of this book; I know I am going to caress the pages again someday. Just like Bolanle, the world is spread before me like an egg cracked open – I’ll fry the heck out of it. Nothing will hold me back.
I hope you enjoy reading it.