My father made it a rule for every member of the family to eat Christmas dinner together which would make it the only time all of us would eat on a table in a year. My father married three wives, one died a year ago, she was my mother and the last wife of the family. My father was determined to make sure this dinner was successful and had enlisted my help, I was to sob and cry anytime things got intense. In other words, play the dead mother pity card to its maximum level.
Mama was the first wife and Mami was the second. Mama cooked goatmeat pepper-soup and fried rice while Mami prepared spicy jollof rice and fried chicken. We waited to see which one Father would eat first, I noticed my father’s shoulders tense as he resigned and took a piece of meat from the pepper-soup. I saw Mama’s smile and proud grin as she started eating. Mami sighed and served herself some food.
“Don’t touch me!” My older step brother Ele said to Maryam who was my step-sister. They were both first born children from different mothers which technically made them rivals.
“If you were not hogging all the plates of food, then I wouldn’t have to touch you.” Maryam hissed at him.
“You are still so disrespectful; I am glad that I don’t have to look at your face every day.” Ele smirked.
“Did you just insult me?” Mami croaked at him.
“No… he was talking to Maryam…” Gabee, Ele’s younger sister tried to explain but was shut up by Mami’s glare.
“Do not even try to use style and insult me by picking on my son! Hold your chest and face me if you want to face me. Coward.” Mama said all too calmly which fueled Mami’s anger.
I took a deep breath and inhaled the rich and spicy scents of the food as I thought about their dynamic. Mama was the first wife but Mami was older than her which made no sense since men usually go for younger women when they want to stray. I stole a glimpse at my father and I saw his hand tensed around the spoon he was holding. I don’t know what he thought was going to happen when he married more than one wife, it also doesn’t help that he was supposed to be a pastor. I cringed at the thought of the gossips that people must have been doing on our account.
“Please, can we just eat? It is a delicious meal… we don’t want it to waste like last year. Please Mama, Mami…” I wore my best innocent face as my father gave me a secret thumbs up when everyone settled.
My father in a better mood thought it would be a good time to make conversation.
“Atinuke my dear, tell me… How are you doing these days?” He asked me.
“I am very well Daddy, Gabee on the other hand won the national debate competition, she made us proud.” I grinned at Gabee.
“Is that so? That is good. You definitely took my brains.” He laughed loudly.
“No o… Sweetie, have you forgotten that when I was her age, I was also the combination of beauty and brains. Was that not why you married me?” Mama responded playfully but everyone could know it was a jab at Mami.
“If only beauty and brains could keep a man.” Mami muttered silently but loud enough for Mama to hear.
The awkward silence was filled by Unekwu, Maryam’s younger sister’s nervous laughter. It was a high shrieky sound that could be compared to a cock’s crow in the morning. No one else said anything for about a minute, only the chewing and munching of the food could be heard especially from Ele, he had a nasty habit of chewing loudly.
“For God’s sake, stop chewing like an animal!” Mami scolded him.
“No, no, no, no… if anybody will scold my son. It would be me so mind your business old cargo.” Mama replied Mami.
“How dare you call my mother that? All she did was correct Ele that kept chewing his food like a hungry goat.” Maryam defended her mother so fast that it flustered mama.
“I bet that Mama will be the one to flip the table this year.” Gabee leaned and whispered to me.
I shook my head at her “That is not a good thing to say about Mama, … My bet is on Father, he will soon lose his mind.”
Gabee grinned and shrugged.
Mama stood to slap Maryam but Mami was faster and caught her hand.
“Like you said, I will be the one to discipline my children.” Mami threw her hand away.
“My mother is not here…” I screamed immediately; I could sense my father relax.
“Can we please just have one peaceful meal? This would probably not happen again until next year. Please Mama, Ejor Mami.” I appealed again and everyone settled down to continue.
“I am getting married again.”
“Sarah is pregnant for me.”
It hadn’t been up to Thirty seconds when Ele and my father made an announcement coincidentally at the same time. There was a long uncomfortable silence. I gave up on my food and massaged my head.
“Ehnnnn, what? What did you say? Another wife? A grandchild?” Mama laughed out hysterically.
“Do… do you have a death wish?” Mami asked my father.
“It… it is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight.”
Someone chuckled at this and I realized that it came from me.
“Don’t drag God into your bullshit.” I said with a glare. Everyone pauses and goes into shock because while they might fight in my father’s presence, no one could ever confront him. He was a gentle man who had too much money and vigor for his age and a temper no one can stand but just in case he had forgotten, I am his daughter too, the only one who truly inherited his fiery side.
“After my mother’s death because you wanted another boy, it is barely been a year and you want to bring another woman when you cannot even manage the ones you have. Look… Just forget the matter, if you don’t want to lose your daughter and your new wife.” I eyed him.
“Are… Are you talking to me Atinuke!!!” My father screamed at me.
I stood and screamed louder.
“Yes…. Yesssss…. I am screaming at you! Will you kill me? You have already done that once; would it matter the second time?” I felt the tears in my eyes.
He looked shocked, I never cried… never… not even when my mother died, I was hospitalized for three weeks out of grief but I never ever cried.
“Why… what do you need another wife and child for? If it is more children you want, aren’t you lucky that brother Ele is ready to do the dirty job on your behalf?” I said with so much resentment. My father slapped me which shocked him as much as it shocked everyone.
I saw red. I had no idea when I flipped the table. I understood why people did that… it was so satisfying.
“You can hit me as much as you like but you are not getting married again and especially not to a woman that is old enough to give birth to mama.” I said to him while shaking with rage,
“Ehnnnn…. You know the woman? She is older than I am? Do you have a disease, Richard?” Mami screamed at my father.
“How did you know?” My father cleared his throat awkwardly.
“If you want to hide an affair from your children, I suggest not using the same church we all go to… people talk. You can do whatever you want but no more wives.” I said and sat back down.
Everyone looked at me cautiously.
“Okay, I won’t get married … but I refuse to accept the way you just talked to me. I am going out now, when I come back, I will be accepting an apology.” My father left the house in fury.
Mama and Mami checked to ensure that he had gone, when they confirmed, we all cheered and gave each other high fives.
“You are such a good actor!” Unekwu said to me.
“It was probably because there was less of acting than you speaking your mind.” Ele commented and gave me a smile.
“I told you, it would work. I am sorry we had to use the dead mother card.” Gabee said with a sad smile.
“It is okay, she would have approved.” I said and she hugged me, I felt Mami patting my head while Mama patted my back.
I knew then that I would never be alone.
“Sarah is pregnant for real?!” I heard Maryam scream at Ele and I chuckled into Gabee’s chest. This was definitely a Christmas dinner no one would forget.