Just when her live – in lover finally decides on marriage, death comes calling. Mariam Yusuf is left to provide for their two kids. Read the story of her life and struggles.
by Sonia Okere
As the evening casts her dusky gown and the wind becomes fresh and restful, most Ipaja residents are seen returning home from work. However, for Mariam, while others are closing for the day, the time for her daily hustle has just started ticking.
On a very busy street, she sets up her table and chairs in a small corner by the roadside. On the table, you will find small chops like bean cake (popularly known as akara), buns, doughnuts, etc. The aroma of her delicacy attracts everyone, especially those that are hungry, and after the first taste, they keep coming back for more.
“Madam, you no go put jara for me?” an appreciative customer asks in pidgin. He wants a little extra for his money.
“Aaahhhh, customer, no vex ooo. You no say things don cost for market. We just dey manage to do this business, but I don put jara for you sha.” She replied, complaining about the tough business environment.
Mariam and her assistants continue to serve the customers until the bright sun disappears and darkness takes cover. Then, after packing all the cooking utensils, they return home feeling exhausted. They had been at work for eleven hours. Are you wondering who Mariam is? She is a chubby 40-year old woman who has had a fair share of life’s misfortunes. She was born into a polygamous family, and her father had sixteen children. She is the eighth child. Although she hails from Ankpa in Kogi State, her early childhood was spent in Kaduna State.
She had her primary education in the northern part of Nigeria, but life wasn’t so favourable over there. Her mother was running different petty businesses, but the amount of money earned wasn’t enough to sustain the family. Apart from the hardship, the level of insecurity in the north was very alarming. So, after considering the pros and cons, they decided to relocate to their state of origin because “there is no place like home”.
In life, we don’t get the chance to choose the family we are born into. So, we grow up to accept our background and every member of the family just the way they are. After Mariam’s family returned to Kogi State, she was enrolled in a secondary school, but she dropped out when her mother couldn’t afford the school fees anymore. Mariam’s father didn’t contribute to her education because he had the mindset that girls shouldn’t be educated. He believes it is a waste of resources to educate the girl child because she would end up as a housewife. According to him, a girl child should be taught how to carry out domestic chores and take care of children because if a girl has good home training, it will be easier to find a good husband for her.
In most cases of a polygamous family, the major responsibility of raising the children always falls on the mother. Although Mariam’s mother was very hard-working, the financial burden was too heavy to bear, so she decided to send her daughter to live with her sister in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
Mariam arrived in Lagos in 2002. At first, she felt life would be rosy because she had heard many stories about the city. She also felt that she might get the opportunity to further her education and become a nurse. However, when she arrived, she discovered that her dreams were totally different from reality.
Her aunt was a good and hard-working woman. She trained her like her own daughter. She taught her how to run an akara business because she couldn’t afford to pay for her education. While Mariam was learning how to fry akara, yam, and other things, she never knew that she would manage the same business in the future.
Mariam’s love story started when she first set her eyes on a handsome young man named Sodiq. He had a lovely smile that swept her off her feet. Every girl in the neighborhood liked him because he was very jovial and had some cash to spend. When Sodiq noticed that she was falling for him, he decided to reciprocate her love.
While the love birds were dating, Mariam desperately wanted to settle down with him. However, the young man wasn’t ready to propose to her. When she kept asking for a ring, he told her to get pregnant first before he would consider marrying her. Really? I thought that men often complain about women trying to trap them with pregnancy. Why did he ask for a baby first? Was he lying about being in love with her?
As a young and inexperienced girl, Mariam sought the advice of her aunt, and these were her words:
“My dear daughter, I know that most men are deceitful and that Sodiq could still abandon you after you get pregnant. Therefore, I would advise that you follow your heart because you know him better than anyone else.”
It was a very tough decision, but after thinking about it for months, she accepted and got pregnant. When she told Sodiq that she had missed her period, she expected him to make a gesture of excitement, but guess what? He bowed his head down without saying a word. Mariam became so confused and when she continued to ask what his plans were, he asked for some time to think about it.
Sodiq made no commitment until the baby was born? Everyone assumed he might pay her dowry thereafter, but he didn’t even visit her parents. Mariam was heartbroken. At that time, she was still living with her aunt, and her new baby was an extra expense to cater for. Also, the people in the neighborhood had started criticizing her for having a child out of wedlock. So, after considering everything, she carried her luggage to Sodiq’s house. And contrary to what he had promised her, she went there as a baby mama, not as a wife.
After she moved in with him, she kept reminding him to pay her bride price, but he kept postponing it. Due to her baby mama status, she was receiving insults from people. Some of them were ladies who wanted Sodiq to date them and even some of her family members told her that while her sisters were getting married to rich men, she couldn’t even find a man that could pay her bride price in full. It was a humiliating experience.
“There was an incident that happened while we were living in a one-room apartment. Most of the women in that compound were jobless. They were always gossiping and quarreling, and when I refused to join their association, they hated me.
“One day, I had finished washing the general toilet and was returning to my room when one of them – Mama Rashida blocked my path. “Did you wash that toilet very well?” She asked. She didn’t wait for me to respond before saying, “I know you didn’t use any detergent because you can’t afford it. I would have told you to tell your husband to give you money, but you don’t have a husband. You are a stupid woman that keeps opening her legs for a man that will not marry her. What are you still doing in his house? Madam, pack your bags and go jorrrrr.”
“When she finished ranting, I was weak in my bones. I wanted the ground to open and swallow me. I looked around and saw other tenants laughing. I wanted to speak, but when I opened my mouth, no word came out. With my head bowed in shame, I walked into my room quietly and started crying. A few minutes later, I heard the same woman’s voice screaming outside. Then I peeped out through my window and saw her lying on the ground. Her husband was hitting her mercilessly, and guess what? The neighbors were also looking at them, and no one tried to stop the fight. Actually, I don’t know what she did to provoke him, but whatever it was, I felt she deserved the beating she received that morning”.
From days to months and months to years, Mariam continued to live with Sodiq, and in the process, she had a second baby. After the birth of her second child, her dad gave her an ultimatum to bring her husband. He also threatened to deal with Sodiq if he failed to perform the marital rites. At that point, he accepted to marry her and went to her village to collect the marriage list. After collecting the list, he started purchasing all the necessary items.
Meanwhile, Mariam was so happy that her shame was about to be wiped off. She contributed all her savings to the wedding preparations but something terrible happened after she bought her wedding dress. Death came knocking, and when the door was opened, Sodiq was forcefully taken to the land of the spirits. Yes! The groom kicked the bucket at a very delicate time in his life. He left his two children and bride to face the world all alone.
Mariam cried a lot on hearing the news of his death. She saw her world crumbling and didn’t know what to do. Why did he die so suddenly? Why didn’t he complete the marriage rites before dying? While people were assuming that she might be an ogbanje, her major concern was about raising her kids without their dad.
At first, Mariam felt she wouldn’t survive the loss. She was broken to a point that she wanted to die, but her love for her children gave her a reason to live. It has already been four years since the death of Sodiq, and Mariam sweats day and night to fend for her kids. Her first child is 7 years old and the second is 4 years old. Both are in school and doing well.
For the past twelve years, Mariam has been running an akara business. She comes out to the roadside every evening and never misses a day because that’s the only source of livelihood she has. Whenever she is sick, her assistants fry the small chops but she still comes out to supervise the work. The only time she doesn’t sell is during Christmas or Ramadan because people prepare enough food at home.
One major challenge she is experiencing is that she is always exposed to high heat temperatures while frying and sometimes she gets burnt in the process. If everything falls in place, she hopes to stop the business because her health is at risk. Her dream is to open a big supermarket and she has tried to get funds from her brothers, who are educated and rich. However, after several failed attempts, she decided to depend solely on God.
Mariam is grateful for her life. Since the time of her birth, life has never been rosy, but she has been experiencing gradual growth from one level to the other. She has moved from the level of abject poverty to a point where she can take care of her family single-handedly. Gone are those days when they had to starve or beg for bread. She is happy because God has blessed her business and they are living a fairly comfortable life with her little income. She even supports other people who are in need because she understands how difficult life can be sometimes. Mariam’s struggles have made her philosophical.
“If life was fair to everyone, I don’t think anyone would choose to be a single mother. Contrary to what people might say, I believe single mothers are very strong. Did you know that some women pass through the eye of a needle to provide for their children?”
Mariam has been a single mother for many years now, but she is still praying for a husband. It might seem impossible to find a man who would accept her and her two children, “but with God, all things are possible.”
However, while she waits for a king, she will continue to be the queen of her kingdom and a SUPERMOM to her children..