Madele had never been lazy. She was well known for her industry and commitment to everything she laid her hands on. Her parents were poor, and they barely managed to support her education up to her O’ Level.
She did not do well in her high school leaving examination and so could not get admission for further studies. Her mother fried akara, yam, and plantain at the roadside near their house. She also fried buns which Madele would hawk when she got back from school.
Madele decided to focus on helping her mother with the roadside food business, and this way, she saved up enough money to retake her school leaving certificate examination and this time, she passed. She attended a local polytechnic and received an Ordinary National Diploma (OND). Shortly after, she was employed as a Catering Officer in the civil service in Menge State.
Madele’s first marriage was to a colleague she met when she was on a catering training programme. He too was a civil servant, working in another state. They got married, and they were happy at first until pressure started mounting on them to have children. Five years and one pregnant mistress later, Madele found herself without a husband or roof over her head.
Madele moved in with a relative of hers while she tried to put her life back together again. Fortunately, she had never stopped working in the civil service, and because she was good at her job and quite pleasant to work with, she did well. She teamed up with other caterers and took on catering jobs on the side over the weekend.
The extra work brought in surplus income which Madele invested in catering equipment of her own, and she also started travelling to places like Dubai and China to buy and sell items ranging from clothing to catering goods. Madele was so successful, she wanted to start building her own house, but her relatives advised her not to because she had no husband or children and she would not find another husband if she appeared too prosperous.
Madele met Simon, a local secondary school teacher, at the church she attended. Simon had never been married. He told her that a woman who he dated for six years jilted him a few weeks to their wedding and left the country with another man to live in the United States. Since then, Simon had been wary of women and was not very trusting.
Madele felt she had met a kindred spirit who had also known pain, so she opened her heart to him. Two years after they were married, Madele and Simon had a daughter, Patience. As can be imagined, they were both over the moon. As the years went by, they tried to have more children, but when this did not happen, they decided to be grateful for the blessing they had received in Patience.
Madele was by now a senior catering officer in the state civil service, and she was one of those responsible for running the kitchens in the Government House. Working for the First Family of the state was considered to be the crème de la crème of government postings. Civil servants schemed, lobbied, and visited Pastors and the like to secure such coveted postings.
Madele did not have to do any of those things, her work spoke for her, and over time, she served three First Families. Simon decided to leave his teaching job because of the low pay and went into farming. When that did not go well, he started a printing business with a friend. Soon, that business started going south too, so Simon decided to focus on pastoral work and became one of the pastors in his church.
Madele was always willing to help Simon out with capital for his ventures when he needed it. They also started building a house together. When Madele paid for the land they used, she did not think twice before putting Simon’s name on the documents. Whenever Simon had money, he would contribute to the construction costs, but Madele paid at least seventy per cent of the cost for their house. Most of Madele’s income went towards either supporting Simon’s business ideas, running their home, or building their house.
Madele started noticing changes in Simon’s attitude towards her once their house was completed. Madele spent most nights during the week in her official quarters in Government House, which was the usual practice, to have oversight of all the kitchen and domestic staff. She would go home for weekends to spend time with her family. Simon also visited her in Government House occasionally. It was Patience who dropped a hint that another woman was visiting their home during the week.
Madele did not confront her husband at first. She made enquiries and found the information to be true. When she spoke to Simon about her findings, he became violent and asked her not to come back home. By now, Madele was fed up with Simon’s belligerent behaviour and his never-ending business failures. However, because she did not want to be mocked as a failure at marriage for a second time, she kept things to herself and pretended all was well and avoided Simon by staying at her government quarters.
Madele was not sure when she started noticing changes in fourteen-year-old Patience. The bubbly, talkative adolescent who always had a smile on her face, and who usually did well in school, became sullen, short-tempered and was almost bottom of the class. Something was wrong.
When Madele asked Simon about Patience and the changes in her, his response was to become more possessive of Patience than he had ever been. Patience was no longer allowed to visit Madele on weekdays. Weekends, Simon would find an excuse to be out of town on “pastoral duties” and would take Patience with him. Madele was unhappy, but she rationalised it as Simon needing to spend more time with his daughter to make sure she was not going astray.
Then Madele’s world came crashing down all at once. The government of the day changed and the First Family, who had found her services so valuable and had provided her with many opportunities for her catering business to grow, was no longer there. Her bosses in the civil service who had looked out for her were changed and the new ones were very hostile and had “their own people”.
Madele was posted out of Government House to one of the technical colleges owned by the state, far from the capital and other side business opportunities. This meant spending even less time with Patience. In addition, the new government was not paying salaries regularly and this meant more hardship for Madele.
One morning, Madele got a call from someone in the state social welfare department. It was about Patience. One of Patience’s teachers had found her crying because a friend had told her that if a man puts something inside a girl, she will get pregnant. The teacher was, of course, curious to know why this information would be of concern to Patience and asked her if someone had put anything inside her. Long story short, it turned out that yes, someone had been having sex with Patience. It was her father, Simon.
Madele literally lost everything. Her daughter. Her home. Her house. Her livelihood. Her sanity. The case against Simon fell apart when Madele refused to testify against him due to immense pressure from families of both sides. Their church members also waded in and begged her to “leave Simon to God”. For the second time in her life, Madele did not have a place she could call her own because of a man. She initially took refuge in a church for a few months.
A relative of hers took Patience away to another state to attend school there. Madele was taken in by one of her former employers but that did not work out because she was always doing or saying something wrong. Madele’s friends managed to get her another job running a private restaurant, but she was so troubled that nobody wanted to work with her. She became a totally different person – cantankerous, paranoid and delusional. For the past three years, she has effectively been homeless. Meanwhile, Simon lives on in the house they built together, with another woman.
Recently, an intervention was made by former benefactors to help Madele put her life back together. She now has an apartment of her own. She has started a new job. Only time will tell if she will fully recover from the ordeal she has lived through. Patience has been doing well in school and thankfully, she is beyond her father’s reach. Someone noted that it is possible that Madele knew about the systematic abuse of her daughter but was in denial or too scared to do anything to stop it. It is hard to know for sure, but it cannot be ruled out.
I decided to share this mostly true story because sometimes we might have an opportunity to change the narrative. How could you have changed Madele’s story? You could be the relative advising a prosperous young woman not to provide for herself because she needs to wait for a man to do so. Are you the in-law pressurising a wife in the family because she has not given birth? You could know of a minor being abused by someone they trust. You can choose to speak out and refuse to be cowed into silence. Or you could be the observant teacher who discovered a young victim of incest. We can all change someone’s story. Maybe not the entire chapter, but most times, we can start from changing a sentence or paragraph and other people can take it from there. As we all reach out to the Madeles around us, may we also find succour in our own hour of need.
The essay MADELE is in ‘Where is Your Wrapper?’ Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, published by PRESTIGE, Farafina books, October 2020.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com