Solomon Johnson was a good husband and father. In my ten years of being married to him, I had never had any serious reason to complain about anything serious. I had never had issues with him and other women, nor with money for he worked very hard and provided for us to the best of his ability. Of course we had our human misunderstanding which was normal in marriage and relationships, but the problems had never been serious enough for me to need to call a third party to our home to make peace between us. Never. So I had no reason to distrust him when he stayed out late some nights or was gone some mornings before I and the children woke up from our peaceful slumber to get ready for school. We lived happily until I brought up the issue of visiting his family.
We were blessed with four children, three boys and a beautiful little girl. His family was a very personal and touchy issue for him. He never spoke about them and that was the way he kept it. The children and I had never met any of them. All we knew was that most of them lived in his village down South and his father had died when Solomon was little. He had gone to live with an uncle who had passed away many years later. He told me he had left his village and headed North as a young man after a family land inheritance dispute and had not gone back since then. That explanation was not good enough for me. A man needed roots, as without roots, a man was as good as a wandering vagabond. It was much easier for a woman because women got married and left home to belong to another family.
When we met , courted and married, the closest people to him I ever met were his friends who he had met in the city where he had settled. I knew I should have insisted on meeting what was left of his family or visiting his village, I was too blinded by love to see sense and my Uncle’s wife too wanted me out of her family as I was an extra mouth to feed and my bride price would go a long way helping out with the family finances. As a mother of three boys, I thought giving my boys a sense of their roots was a priority.
The idea struck me one night as we lay in bed and I snuggled close to him and mentioned it as we made small talk. I felt his body tense and turn cold. His hand dropped from my back and laid flat on the bed.
“Why won’t you just drop this issue?” he grumbled.
“It is important,” I pleaded. “I’m doing it for the boys. It is important for them to know where they are from.”
“But your family didn’t have a problem with that when I came to ask for your hand in marriage,” he complained.
I sighed not giving up, “Remember they complained, but seeing that I was so happy and in love with you, they were willing to make do with the friends you brought as uncles and relatives. Plus my aunt wanted me out of her house. I only found out you were not related to them after we got married.”
“What’s it with you and your relatives anyway ? No man is an island you know.”
He had grumbled and pulled me close .
The next evening, I prepared his favourite meal and watched him park his car under the big tree in our compound. He rolled up the four wind screens like he did always. Then taking his bag neatly off the seat, he gently shut the door and headed for the front door in his well ironed shirt and trousers with a slight limp. He told me that limp had been caused by an accident he had years ago. The children ran out to welcome him, taking his bag from him. He smiled at them and reached into his pockets and brought out sweets, sharing it among them.
I stood by the kitchen window, watching them. Solomon was not a rich man but he was rich in spirit , love and kindness and I couldn’t understand why a man with so much love in his heart would not want to have anything to do with his family. I had tried asking his friends but all they seemed to know was about his life here in the North and nothing before here. He took off his shoes at the door and undid his tie, then came to embrace me.
“So what do we have for dinner?” he cleared his throat as he made himself comfortable on the bench.
“Your favourite,” I smiled opening up the bowls, displaying the contents.
He smiled washing his hands and digging into the generous portion. As he devoured his meal, we made small talk and I waited patiently for him to finish his meal. After taking a long drink of water, he let out a very loud belch and rubbed his belly in satisfaction. I brought up the topic again and he got annoyed and stormed off to the bedroom.
It went on like this for months until he finally gave in December. All he said was, “Since you really want to meet my family, we shall spend the Christmas with them in my village. Everyone will be home for the Christmas, that way you and the children would get to meet them all.”
I was so happy, I embraced him and began to make preparations with the children. We shopped, packed and unpacked and then the day came, three days to Christmas, we rose early and on impulse I slipped our family albums into my box and the six of us bade our neighbours goodbye and hit the road. The onions, tomatoes and other little gifts we had bought to share among relatives weighing down the trunk of the car. The children sat at the back singing and chattering like little monkeys until they fell asleep. I tried to stay awake to keep Solomon company as our car ate up the miles as we headed down South. I noticed unlike his usual jovial self, he was very distant and cold all through the drive, answering my questions in monosyllables. I wondered if I had made a mistake by insisting we visit his home town.
“We’ll be at my family house in about thirty minutes.” This was the longest sentence he had made in the past nine hours he had been driving. Since we had taken off from Kano at 5am that meant we should be at his family house at about 2pm.
“Are you alright?” I noticed he was sweating profusely and his hands were shaking.
“I’m fine,” he croaked. “This place just brings back so many bitter sweet memories for me.”
“I’m sorry,” I tried to sympathise with him.
The children were yawning awake as he pointed out his primary school to us, further down was his secondary school and the office where he had first worked as a young man. I found it amazing that I had been married to this man for almost twelve years and practically knew only what he had told me about himself which was practically nothing. As we approached a large house with a very large compound he began to breathe heavily. I wondered what trauma he had suffered as a child and a young man growing up.
He stopped the car a few meters from the entrance and asked me to knock on the door and let him know if anyone was home. I thought that was strange. It was his family and his duty to introduce us to them. I obeyed without complaining, this visit had been my idea in the first place.
I walked slowly to the door and knocked, I could hear voices inside. I knocked again and a young woman opened the door. I introduced myself as Solomon’s wife. She stared at me as if I was speaking a strange language. She let me in and led me to the living room full of relatives I guess. Taking in the environment, his family seemed rich. She introduced me as Solomon’s wife and everybody looked at me as if I was crazy.
“You say you are Solo’s wife? “An elderly woman stepped forward.
“Yes ma.” I replied cautiously not sure what to say or do next.
“I am his mother and that is his father,” she pointed at an older man sitting with a stick.
I thought his parents were dead? Before I could ask questions we heard screaming from outside. We all hurried to the door and saw two young girls pointing at our car and screaming. My children were crying.
When we got to the car, Solomon was not there. The car keys were still in the ignition and the engine was still running. My children looked like they had not just seen a ghost but several demons.
“Where’s your father?” I enquired confused.
All they were just doing was pointing with sealed lips. The other two girls where shrieking, “Solo ! Solo! We saw Solo! “
I was confused, what was going on, why were these girls acting funny, why were my children crying and where was my husband?
I turned to his mother helpless. She shook her head, “This is Solomon’s home but he died fifteen years ago.”
I stood there frozen. It couldn’t be I had been married to this man for almost twelve of those fifteen years. It couldn’t be. I gathered my children around me, they were still shaking and crying. Where had their father gone?
The week we spent with his family went by as if I was in a trance. The children told me one minute their father was with them in the car and the next minute he was gone as soon as the two girls saw him. They looked through the family album and agreed that was their son I had wedded but the story still remained the same that he had died in an accident fifteen years ago. They took me to the spot where he was buried and there was his picture smiling back at me on his tomb stone. They still had some of the posters of obituary neatly folded and tucked in a drawer in the living room.
Who had I been married to all these years? Did people really come back from the dead and start new lives? As children, were told stories of young people who had died and reappeared in other cities, settling there and making new lives for themselves. To me, these had just been stories elders told young children to scare us all, until three days to Christmas when I visited my in laws.
Who had I been married to all these years? Who had held me close, eaten my food and fathered my children? Was this visit all a big mistake or was it his time to go? Was there a possibility that he had relocated and started a new life for himself with someone else? Or was he roaming about homeless since his secret had been discovered ? I did not stop loving him, but would I be bold enough to take him back if he returned? We had ghost marriages as part of our tradition but that was understandable as a woman was married on behalf of a dead man to bear children. But that was it , she bore children by different men and these children bore the name of the dead man and she was free to leave when she wanted but I had been married to a ghost, loved a ghost, lived with a ghost and mothered children for a ghost.
A week later I was back home with my children. Two of his siblings had been kind enough to accompany us back to the North, to see where their dead brother had lived. Everything was still the way we had left them, his clothes still hung in the wardrobe, his shoes neatly arranged and his towel carelessly hung over our bedroom door. What would I tell the neighbors, his office and friends when they started asking questions? The only identity I was sure of, was that I was a mother for I wasn’t sure if I could call myself a widow because I hadn’t been married to a human.