Thursday, January 26, 2017 11:17 pm

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
Last week, I had a conversation with a young woman who had just finished reading my autobiography, ‘Speaking Above a Whisper’. She said the chapter that intrigued her the most was the one in which I described some of the influences that shaped my life from an early age. The chapter she was referring to is chapter three called ‘Choices’. I have decided to share an abridged version with you.

My mother was the oldest of thirteen children. My maternal grandfather, Pa Awoseye, had three wives. My father never got on with Pa Awoseye. My father felt that my grandfather had too many wives and had given birth to more children than he could afford to educate and care for properly. When we got back from England, my mother sent for one of her younger sisters, Auntie Ore to join her in Lagos. Auntie Ore did well in school, and when she finished her O’ Levels, my father got her a job in the civil service. When I started secondary school, my mother took in two other sisters, Durotola and Sola Awoseye. I was particularly close to Duro who was one year older than me, Sola was two years older. They were from different mothers, but had been brought up communally.

When my grandfather was told that my father had complained about the number of children he was having to bring up for him directly and indirectly, my grandfather retorted that it was his daughters presence in my father’s house that made it possible for me to go to University. My father was so furious with his in-law he did not speak to him for a long time. One day my father sat me down and made me promise that I would never marry a man from a large family. He said I would never be happy because my husband and I would spend all our resources and time attending to family problems.

In addition to my three maternal aunts, there was Auntie Cecilia who was an apprentice at the hairdressing salon where my mum worked. Auntie Cecilia needed a place to stay, and my mum was sympathetic to her plight. My mum brought Auntie Cecilia to live with us and she stayed for almost seven years. She was sweet and kind, and she was very fond of me.

There was also our maid Auntie Aduke. My parents made it clear that our maid was to be treated with respect and like a member of the family. Auntie Aduke became an apprentice dressmaker, and when she completed her training, my parents paid for her sewing machine and other tools of the trade. We all had chores assigned to us. My task was to wake up early every morning to wash my father’s car. The other tasks such as sweeping, cooking and laundry were shared amongst the other girls. The older ones mostly did the cooking, though as we got older we took over.

Auntie Ore, Aduke and Cecilia were all much older than Duro, Sola and I. We loved listening to the stories of the Aunties, particularly their romantic dramas. I began to question some of their positions about men, marriage and the role of women. Unlike what my father had been telling me, they believed that men knew everything and women had very few choices. I found these fatalistic opinions problematic and would insist that there had to be a way for women to say no to unfairness.

There was another Auntie who lived in the house next door. Her name was Auntie Bola. She was a student at the nearby Yaba Polytechnic. Her husband had been our neighbor for a long time. I loved being around Auntie Bola because she was very nice and fun to be with. Duro and I would finish our chores and go and hang out with Auntie Bola. As soon as her husband came home, Autie Bola would become a different person, nervous and fidgety. I would get the message and leave immediately her husband walked in.

Auntie Bola managed to finish her Higher National Diploma (HND) at Yaba Polytechnic. She was pregnant for most of the time she was in school, and she had three children in five years. Her husband was very abusive. When she started work, if she came home later than he liked, he would lock her out of the house. She would then come over to our house to ask my father to intercede on her behalf.
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