MY NEW WIFE
I met Antonia at a wedding party in Akure in 2011.
The wedding party was inside a high-end hotel, where the big politicians and rich people stay when in Akure.
My friend who was a commissioner had given me a room in the hotel, because I was writing an exhibition catalog, and needed a place with good internet service and constant power supply.
As soon as I settled down in my cool room in the hotel, he knocked on the door. “Professor,” my friend said, “they have a big wedding here at the hotel. My friend, who is also a commissioner, would be honored to have you at the wedding. Even if for a couple of hours. He knows you are here. He is an ex-Ife too, just like us.”
“But I didn’t bring a wedding party dress,” I protested. “I just have my jeans and t-shirt here.”
“We already know you are like that,” he said. “They would be disappointed if you wore a huge agbada made of silk. Come on. Let’s go. Just for a couple of hours. And you can return to your writing later.”
I agreed to go. Took a shower, and pulled out an indigo adire top, to match my denim jeans, blue over blue. I joined the party.
I went into the large party hall, and they gave me a table. A moment later, they sat a young woman next to me. She said her name was Antonia. They instructed Antonia to take care of me, and provide me with “whatever I wanted or needed.”
Antonia nodded. She said, “Let me get you some food. They had bottles of red and white wine. They also have amala, semo and pounded yam with different soups. Or do you prefer rice? They have fried and white rice.”
“I already had dinner,” I told Antonia. “But red wine would be fine.”
“You may call me Tonia, she said. “You, sir?”
“No sir, I can’t call you your name sir. They say you’re a prof.”
“Then call me prof.”
The musicians were playing some poor imitation of Orlando Owoh music, and people were dancing like no tomorrow.
As soon as Tonia left to get the wine, two tipsy young men staggered to my table and insisted that I must pray for them.
Flabbergasted, I told them that I was not a priest.
“Baba,” one of them said, “just pray for us, sir. You look like a person whose prayer would be answered by God.”
“You are a man of God, sir,” the other said with a drunken slur.
They knelt down next to my seat.
I was embarrassed.
“Please place your hands on our heads, sir,” the one who looked really drunk said, “and bless us.”
I realized that arguing with them would just drag the matter further.
I placed my hands on their heads and began to pray for them.
I am not a praying person. My prayer is simple, “Olodumare, please have mercy on me.” I say it a million times a day. It has become part of my moments.
But these guys wanted a long prayer, so I began to improvise and did about two minutes of improvisational Yoruba poetry for each person.
They thanked me profusely and left. Tonia returned with two bottles of red wine, just as they were getting up to go.
“What did they want from you, sir?” Tonia asked.
“Prayer,” I replied.
“Ọ̀mùtí” she said. “Is this a church? They have been taking advantage of the free drinks.”
The music was awful, but it did not matter. People looked too happy to care. They were dancing in groups with the celebrants and they threw wads of money at each other.
After a while, I felt I had seen enough of the party. Tonia excused herself to visit the bathroom.
I grabbed the bottle of wine that I was drinking and fled before she returned.
I decided not to return to my room. The night felt cool and quiet, once I got out of the noisy hall. The full moon looked like a large orange ball in the dark blue sky.
Behind the dance hall was a row of flowers with a couple of folded metal seats. I pulled a seat behind the flowers and sat there hidden from view, my back to the dance hall.
I didn’t have a glass with me, so I gulped down the red wine straight from the bottle, staring at the moon.
A moment later, the flowers rustled, and there was Tonia standing in front of me.
“Prof,” she shouted, “you ran away from me!”
“I was bored,” I apologized. “Besides, my idea of a party was not to be praying for people.”
“Don’t mind those drunks,” She said. Uninvited, she took one of the chairs, unfolded it and sat on it.
“You want me to get you a glass? I have the second bottle of wine here too. Inside my bag.”
“No. I’m fine. How did you find me here?”
“Instinct,” she said, smiling.
She was an incredibly attractive young woman.
“How old are you?”
“I’m 30 years old.”
I thought she was not a day older than 20. She was telling me a lie.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a student at the university in Akungba.”
“You are telling me a lie,” I said.
She opened her bag and brought out her phone. “Let me show you my pictures with my friends at our school.”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “I believe you. But what are you doing here?”
“Prof,” she said, “to be candid, I came here to make some money. They drove a Mercedes to our hostel and told us there is a big wedding party here today. And they brought me and six other girls here.”
“Your parents think you are at school studying,” I said, and gulped down some wine.
“You can’t study without money, sir,” she said. “Our parents cannot afford the cost of sending us to school. We have to feed, buy books, and take care of our bodies. Everything costs money. My parents separated when I was very young. I live with my mother. I am the one feeding her and paying her house rent.”
“But you said you live on your university campus?”
“No, o,” she replied. “I live with my friends in a hostel outside the campus. But I go home regularly to our village where my mother stays. If she doesn’t see me, how is she going to feed”
“So, what do you do to make money?”
“Whatever I can do to make money,” she responded. “Beggars have no choice.”
“When necessary,” she said, frankly. “I’m not proud of it. But what can I do? I exercise discretion though. Not just with anyone. Only with the high circles of men.”
“That sucks,” I said. “You are too young for that sort of life.”
“Which is better,” she asked me, “to do it for money, or allow the boys to rape me for free?”
“Why would they rape you?”
“Because that’s what boys do,” she answered. “You get a boyfriend and he rapes you. Simple.”
“You have been raped before?”
“Many, many times,” she answered. “It was my dream to be a virgin on my wedding night. But my very first boyfriend raped me. Others have done so too. Those boys, you can’t say no to them. They force their way. The best thing is not to date them. They will rape you.”
I stood up. Pulled out my wallet from the back pocket of my jeans. I did not count the amount of money in the wallet. I brought out everything and gave it to her.
She took it and fell on her knees with gratitude.
I began to walk away into the darkness, in the direction of my room. She started to follow me.
“Please don’t follow me,” I said. “My wife is inside the hotel room.”
She stopped. “Prof!” she shouted. “Prof! Stop please. Don’t go….”
As I walked away, I was lost in thought. Gone are the days you could be a virgin at your wedding, in Nigeria.
You no longer stand any chance of keeping your body protected as a young woman, if you were not from a wealthy family with tall fences around your house.
I opened the door.
My laptop was my wife waiting for me in my hotel room. It is a new wife. I bought it used at a local market.
I opened it and started pounding the keyboards to continue with the catalog.
I remembered the red wine where I left it by the flowers. I couldn’t go back to get it. Tonia might still be there.