Written by Bunmi Sofola - Nigeria
EVERY time Ireti visited her mother-in-law, her teeth were always on edge. Ruth, her mother-in-law is now in her mid 70s, frail and ailing, but as full of spite as when Ireti married her precious son 15 years ago.
"Ruth and I had always been at war," confessed Ireti, "but Gboye, my husband was unaware of this. He'd been the result of an affair his mum had with a wealthy industrialist who bought mother and son a house, but kept the 'embarrassment' of a love-child away from his family. In spite of this shabby treatment from Gboye's father, Ruth was always throwing his name around and telling people how much money he lavished on her. Ireti said, "After the man died, when Gboye was in his teens, his mum had poured all her love onto her only child. No wonder he worshiped her. Her frailness never concealed her razor-sharp tongue, especially when we're alone together.
"Gboye and I had gotten married when, we met abroad, so I was already a mother of two when we came back home. The first time I met her, she became hostile as soon as her son left the room, and instead of being intimidated by her hostility, my back was up! Who did she think she was? I was in the kitchen when she'd whispered to Gboye that he should have married a more suitable wife-only she was loud enough for me to hear. On our way home, I'd warned that if she would continue to be unfriendly, I wouldn't visit any more. But Gboye pleaded I should be patient with her that she was just over-protective of him.
That was hog-wash as far as I was concerned, and by the time I'd known her a couple of years, I'd realized how devious she was. To everyone else, she was a sweet old thing who doted on her son. To me she was vicious! My pounded yam was always lumpy. The house not clean enough and the children (now four) rowdy. I hated her as much as she hated me. Only, there was this silent agreement to pretend to get along for Gboye's sake. That was why I swallowed my rage at her catty digs, plastered on a fake smile when she visited. 'It's a relief to see both of you get on so well,' Gboye had observed with pride on our way from one of our visits to her. I bit my tongue hard to stop me from disagreeing with him.
"Shortly after this, Gboye dropped his bombshell-Ruth couldn't be trusted to live on her own. Her health was failing and he would love for her to live with us. What? On a permanent basis? All I know was that we'd be at each other's throats all the time if we lived under the same roof-that calculating dragon was bound to drive me round the bend? The news so caught me unawares that I burst into tears. Gboye was alarmed. Didn't I want his mum living with us? he asked, confused. "Of course I do," I lied. "The thing is, I've been having my own health problems lately and what with work and the children, I sometimes feel everything's just getting on top of me."
Gboye was now really concerned. He wanted to know what was wrong and I'd had to invent a disease, symptoms of which a friend recently discussed with me. He consoled me and seemed to have forgotten about wanting his mum to live with us. But I knew it would be a matter of weeks before that witch would bring up the topic again. Discreetly I visited Gboye's uncle who had always been nice to me and who was aware of the hostility between Ruth and I, and cried my heart out to him. He told me to dry my tears. His house was virtually free now the children were grown, and Ruth would be more than welcome to live with him and his wife. They had a couple of servants and I promised to chip in at the expense of Ruth's upkeep but he waved off the offer. He then suggested I shouldn't say anything to Gboye, he would make it look as if it was his idea.
"It was a relieved Gboye who came home a couple of days later to tell me what a wonderful option his uncle just suggested to him. Relief surged through me but I quickly hid it as we got ready to give Ruth the good news. 'I'm glad she would be looked after by her younger brother', Gboye enthused. 'She'll be fine, and knowing her, she would adjust in no time'. I'd won this battle! As we discussed the option of her moving in with her brother, she glared with pure hatred at me-but I looked through her. I wished I could stick out my tongue at her in triumph. Fancy living with that kind of a woman and for God knows how many years! People like her seldom die easily!"