What does one call a multitude of husbands? A crowd? A flock? A collection? A group? A bevy? Nice touch, right? Bevy, it is. An attempt to ascribe a nomenclature to this body of individuals, is indeed difficult, however that was the interesting phenomena presented to me a few months ago.
Everyone knows that type of woman. The distinctly beautiful damsel whose loveliness does not diminish with age. The type of woman who has pulls crowds of men towards her, vying for attention and willing to do herculean (both physical and financial) tasks to gain her favour. Hers was a particularly interesting story, though not so different from many women around the world, burdened with the plight of both beauty, insight and restlessness. A dangerous combination, as I would later realise that not only did she know she was gorgeous, but she also knew how to use it as a tool in life.
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At the age of 56, she resembled a 32-year-old beauty who presented with a common complaint-that of bleeding after intercourse and with some degree of pain. I examined her and observed that her cervix (mouth of the womb) appeared swollen and reddish. Together with her history, I made a tentative diagnosis of cervicitis to rule out early cervical cancer. When she mentioned that she had been married six times, my curiosity got the better of me and thus, settled comfortably in my chair to absorb her story.
Like in most typical, rural northern setting, Maryam*was married off at the age of 13 to a young mechanic who was also her cousin. Her grandmother had arranged the marriage, once Maryam began her menses and was about to enter secondary school. The second of seven children, Maryam grew up in poverty with her grandmother and showed signs of beauty even at a that young age. Alarmed at the number of men showing interest, she was quickly betrothed to her cousin and a wedding hastily arranged. In retrospect, Maryam admitted that he was perhaps the best husband she had ever had, as he treated her with a kind of gentleness and kindness that was new to her. He did his best to provide for her and accommodated her many excesses as it was evident in the first few weeks of marriage that she did not reciprocate his feelings. She narrated how she cussed and hissed at his every remark, made outrageous demands and ridiculed him openly. Eighteen months of torture later, her husband divorced her after she threw a bucket of water on him while sleeping. Her temper in the village was legendary.
Husband number two arrived almost immediately. Men rushed to woo her and the term ‘Sakin wawa’ was thrown about in the air casually. This time, it was another young trader who promised her adventure. He promised to take her to faraway Lagos, where he sold fruits and vegetables at the market. Excitedly, she agreed and soon moved with him to live in Maroko, Lagos. She described her time with him as anything but exciting. He took her to the beach only once and after months of washing his clothes and enduring his beatings when he returned home drunk, she demanded for a divorce and returned home.
At home, her grandmother fed up with her antics, decided to send her to a distant cousin in Kaduna to work as a hired help. There she was in charge of sweeping the house and taking care of the children. Her cousin’s husband, a rich business man became spellbound the first time he set eyes on her. Suddenly, he stayed at home more and pretended to be friendly to all the staff who worked for him. Bewitched, was what his relatives described him as.
In Kaduna, she had a steady set of suitors but none was as rich as her employer. He opened her eyes to the perks of luxury and before long, the village belle with just a primary school certificate had married the rich man with a Master’s degree. Her cousin was enraged and left the house and before long Maryam settled in with husband number three with his four children. They were married for eight years during which Maryam gave birth to twin boys and a girl. When he died suddenly from a car accident, Maryam was besides herself with grief. Yet again, she found herself single- but this time, a beautiful widow with inheritance. Men trooped around her like soldier ants and before long, husband number four presented himself.
She was about twenty-five when a middle-aged man, with two wives, married her. He promised to take care of her and her children but years later she found herself at his mercy. Her cowives made her life a living hell and it was only at the end, she realised she had been conned. Husband number four had ‘borrowed’ almost all her money and liquidated her assets. He sold her house and put her up in a rented apartment for which he hardly paid rent. It became a perpetual source of embarrassment every time the landlord came knocking. Smitten by her beauty himself, he offered her sex in exchange for the rent. When she refused, he persuaded her to divorce her current husband and marry him instead. This time around she did her research and found him to be financially stable with one wife. She agreed and he became husband number five.
Husband number five turned out to be a philanderer and therefore increasingly insecure. He accused her of sleeping with his grown-up son, the security man and several of his friends. When he grew tired of her terrible temper and her taunts of ‘If you divorce me now, many more men will come after me’, he willingly accepted defeat.
At this point, I was almost certain it was cervical cancer. She had all the risk factors: sexual activity at an early age (when the cervix is just developing), several sexual partners and a history of treating ‘Infections’ (code name for STI). I asked her to go ahead and do a pap smear and colposcopy after which she would return with the results.
At our next encounter, the results returned showing signs of early cervical cancer and I was relieved that it could treated effectively. Cervical cancer is often curable when detected at an early stage. Due to its slow and local progression, the cancer had not spread beyond her cervix and she was quickly scheduled for surgery. Despite many governmental and non-governmental TV and radio programs encouraging women to have a pap smear (the screening test to detect cervical cancer at an early age), the number of women who have been screened in Nigeria, is abysmal at best.
The night before her surgery, I went to visit her in her room and met her chatting with husband number six. He was a distinguished looking man in his sixties and by the look of his shoes and wrist watch was financially buoyant. I smiled at Maryam (when he stepped out) and joked that I hoped he would be her last husband. That beautiful face of hers burst into laughter as she told me how she had already received three marriage proposals in her short stay at the hospital. She told me that she promised to stay in the marriage for as long he continued to provide for her financially.
‘I am already used to the good things of life’ she bragged ‘And I have discovered that my beauty should not be restricted to one man alone. Haba, it wouldn’t be fair! Ko ba haka ba likita?’
Life is what you make of it. Maryam eventually remarried and last I heard of her, she was on husband number seven!