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In the midst of plenty

‘Yes, assalamu alaikum’ she said holding my palm in hers. ‘But there is nothing to apologise about really. I kept myself entertained watching the news.…

‘Yes, assalamu alaikum’ she said holding my palm in hers. ‘But there is nothing to apologise about really. I kept myself entertained watching the news. How are you and the family Hajiya Bint?’ Zainab asked.
‘Alhamdulillah, we are well. It’s hard to believe you only live right across the street from me, when you consider how long it takes us to see each other. It must be up to three months or more since we last met.’ I observed sitting next to her on the settee.
‘Yes it is. I’m very sorry I’m so poor at socializing. Even now I must admit that I just didn’t come to see how you are, rather I came show you some things for sale.’ She confessed.
‘Really, well I had no idea you were into buying and selling. Since when did you become another home-based merchant?’ I joked, reaching out for the small suitcase she dragged from her side of the chair.
‘I wish I was Hajiya Bint but these aren’t mine. They belong to a friend who has been sending me things to buy and been accusing me of refusing to buy them. Today an idea occurred to me so I told her daughter, who brought them, to go and return later. I decided to show you and a few other neighbours before she comes back. And your house is my first port of call.’ Zainab explained.
‘I see, and why do you never buy from your friend, are her things too expensive?’ I asked, going through the shoes, bags and other accessories that are in the suitcase.
‘No, at least I don’t think so, but I can’t afford them. I am always so broke I can’t afford to buy anything by myself but my friend just doesn’t believe me.’ She complained.
‘Pardon me if I sound like your friend. But I also find it hard to believe you are always broke. I mean in a mansion like that and with a husband as rich as yours?’ I asked.
‘Well it is true Bint. I am always broke because my husband doesn’t give me money he buys everything for the house. The little he gives me as personal allowance is just enough to take me and my daughters to the hairdressers twice a month. The rest of month I am not better that a pauper.’ She lamented.
‘But why is this so?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know except for the fact that he doesn’t want me empowered.’ She replied.
‘Did you ever sit him down to discuss your financial situation or the lack of it?’
‘Yes, several times but he just doesn’t want to see things my way. I have told him of the times visitors will come and I won’t even have the money to pay for their transport. And the times I will get invited to a ceremony which I will be forced to turn down because I had no money to buy a present. He listened to all this and said I should be asking him whenever the need arose. I reminded him that he wasn’t always around and I don’t particularly like the idea of begging for every little thing.
 I then suggested that he should allow me to go out and work. I said to him that if I were to begin to earn a living I will be able to handle some of my needs but he won’t hear of it. His argument was that it will be shame to hear that as rich as he is his wife is working for others. So I quickly suggested something else. I told him that I can be self-employed if he could give me the money to start something of my own. He laughed at the idea and said ‘What can you do? You are not business-minded.’
I tried to convince him otherwise, telling him of all the ideas I had, like setting up a restaurant, or making frozen snacks from home or travelling abroad to buy household or feminine things for sale, like this friend of mine is doing but he wouldn’t buy any of them. Frustrated, I said to him that if he doesn’t want to give me the start-up funds let him at least allow me to go to a bank and get a loan. Again he laughed and said no bank will be crazy enough to give me a loan without collateral. Moreover, any loan I get might end up being squandered by me and he will end up having to pay back. “No Zainab, forget about starting any kind of business, you aren’t cut out for it.” And with this sentence he ended one of the lengthy discussions we had on the subject.’ Zainab concluded, unhappily.
‘Why do I get the feeling that your husband is just making excuses to prevent you from standing on your feet?’ I asked.
‘I believe the same thing too Bint. I remember telling him about my many friends who are pursuing some sort of business from home but he waved all my examples aside and kept insisting that I couldn’t do it. I think he is just too very happy having me on my knees, begging for small change, that he doesn’t want anything to change.’ She added.
‘But tell me, how will it harm him to have you empowered? Wouldn’t it be a load off his shoulders to know that you can fend for yourself sometimes and in case of the unexpected?’ I demanded.
‘I don’t think he’s allowing himself to think like that. All he can see is me getting financially independent and no longer having to beg. And that’s the image he can’t tolerate. So while he is getting richer and richer, I often pass him by making phone calls and talking about investing 20 or 30 millions into one thing or another, I only keep remaining poorer. At such times I often say to myself, who will believe that I have no 20 thousand naira to my name, when my husband is dealing in millions daily?
And these days my biggest nightmare is when friends or relatives show up to invite me to weddings. They bring their Ashoebis and confidently expect me to buy because, living in that big house, they just don’t expect me to be too poor to afford it. Last month I had three weddings, which meant three Ashoebis and three gifts to buy. Do you know that I had to sell my gold bangles to afford them? Of course he didn’t even notice because I don’t use them always so he still thinks they are somewhere at the bottom of my wardrobe. But this is how bad things are Hajiya Bint, I am just wallowing in poverty in the midst of plenty.’ Zainab disclosed.
‘I am very sorry to hear this dear neighbour but things must not continue this way. You have to report him to his elders or close friends or anyone you think he’d listen to. It is one thing to tolerate poverty when your husband is poor but to be in such dire straits when you are living with a multi-millionaire is not acceptable, nor is it healthy. We must get someone to convince him to empower you. As his wife and the mother of his children, he should know that empowering you is an added insurance for the family, in case anything unpleasant happens. And even without that, having you solve your financial problems without rushing to him always can only increase respect between you too. Yes Zainab you really must identify who among his relatives or friends is fair-minded enough to be entrusted with this task.’ I advised.
‘Yes I will Hajiya Bint. I will use this day to consider them all then by tomorrow I should be able to decide who is the best candidate for the job. Thank you so much. I’m feeling much better already.’ She said, smiling confidently at me.

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