Njide, Nneka, Miss Nelly, and Oby relive their stories of passion, deceit, heartache, and strength as they push through life-each on a unique journey to attain happiness, self-respect and inner peace. But none of the women's journeys is without misjudgments and missteps. Njide falls in love at first sight, marries Tunji too quickly, and is dismayed when Tunji shows his true colors. Nneka once thought that she and Oji were the perfect couple-until Oji traveled to the United States. Miss Nelly is a kind and good-natured woman who allows everyone to take advantage of her-even her husband, whom she married only for his name. But everyone wonders why Oby and Mat even married at all, for their marriage was a battle from the very beginning.
The tales in Mirror of Our Lives: Voices of Four Igbo Women will inspire womenaround the world to never give up, to discover a sense of worth, and most of all, to learn to love themselves above everyone else.
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MIRROR OF OUR LIVESVoices of Four Igbo Women
By Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNjide's Life Journey Begins
After several years of studying music at the conservatories of Rome, Pesaro, and Florence in Italy, Njide is back in Lagos, working as a music producer at Radio Nigeria in Lagos. She is at her table at Radio Nigeria, in a room she shares with three other producers, when she sees someone coming through the corridor to her office. She recognizes him immediately, and surprised and happy to see him, she jumps out of her chair to greet him.
"Hey, Sam!" she says as her face lights up. "When did you come back?" They embrace, and she drags him into her office.
"I have been back for a while. Unilag invited me back to set up a music department at the university, and now I need teachers."
"Really?" She can see a change in Sam. He now walks with affectation and almost wears his degree on his forehead. "You have come to the right place," she tells him, and begins to give him the names of all the music producers working at Radio Nigeria.
"But it is you I have come for," he says, his voice haughty and almost condescending.
"Sorry, Sam, but I have a job already." She feigns indifference. She knows the old Sam, but not this one talking to her.
"I am offering you the post of a lecturer at the university," he says, enunciating the words. She can hear impatience in his voice.
"If that is true, where is my letter of appointment?" she demands.
"That will come, that will come ..."
She can almost see him patting her on the head as he speaks.
"Will you accept the offer?"
"Not until I see the letter," she says. She tries to change the conversation, but Sam is not interested in anything else. He has come only to find out whether she will be willing to join him at the university. After watching him leave, she lets her mind wander back through years past, to when she knew Sam before.
Njide was first discovered as a singer by Sophie at a concert in the Nigerian city of Enugu organized for winners of a song festival. Sophie, a Frenchwoman, was in Enugu with her husband, George, an engineer with the Railway Corporation Enugu. She was a socialite, not particularly beautiful but very likable. George was tall, lanky, and craggy. He was pale, with drawn-in cheeks, and looked a little sickly to Njide. Njide saw Sophie's house for the first time when she went there for a rehearsal; Sophie had started giving Njide weekly voice training, during which they rehearsed for Sophie's parties.
What a house! Njide thought that first time as she walked backward and in circles admiring Sophie's house. Sophie, who wore a sparkling white house robe, smiled up to her. She was petite and wore very high-heeled shoes when she socialized; Njide saw her only once without her high shoes, and she was so small. Sophie took Njide's hand with both of hers, welcomed her protégée to her house, and led Njide to a chair next to a white Kawai piano in the left corner of her velvet-draped parlor. Njide circled the piano, touched and admired the pastel white surface, and dreamed of having one like it one day.
Njide turned on hearing a noise and saw George as he came out from behind the heavy velvet drapes. He had on a silk robe and did not look too happy to see her. He said something in French to Sophie without looking at Njide. Njide smiled at him when he glanced her way, and he waved two fingers at her and disappeared again. Sophie had forgotten that Njide was coming and was not ready. Njide smiled at Sophie, who was happy to see her and who did not seem self-conscious about her attire. She settled Njide on the chair and hurried back to get dressed.
In Sophie's absence, Njide explored the beautiful parlor. She stood and went to the center of the room, awed at how beautiful the place was. She turned around slowly to take in her surroundings. A bar and two high seats were in the far right corner of this huge parlor. On the wall behind the bar was a rack full of assorted bottles of red, green, and yellow drinks. The carpet, grass green, was lush, like a field of well-combed grass. She looked up, and the high ceiling towering over her gave her vertigo. She quickly looked down again. The interior side of the door that opened up into the parlor had a mirror that distorted images. She looked at her elongated image in the mirror, smiled at how tall the mirror made her, and adjusted her skirt. The windows had beautiful see-through drapes that allowed the sun's rays to flood and brighten the parlor. The rest of the walls were covered in rich, luscious velvet curtains that reminded her of Arabian nights. As she watched, the curtains changed colors, from blue to red to purple, from the sun's rays.
She looked through the see-through curtains to the front of the house and saw a carefully tended garden of roses of different colors. The house was brand new, on a corner plot, and Sophie had a guard in front of the house to water and guard her roses.
Sophie gave lots of parties, and Njide was always invited to sing at her parties. Njide was at Sophie's that morning to rehearse for one of those parties. Sophie was going to make her a big name in Nigeria and in France.
But one day, Njide arrived at Sophie's for their usual weekly practice, and the place was littered with people in uniform taking boxes out of Sophie's house. Sophie was nowhere to be found. Njide stopped one of the men in uniform to find out what was going on, and to her surprise, he told her that George was dead of a massive heart attack and that Sophie had left Nigeria. Njide could not believe her ears! Was this the end of her dream of becoming famous? She never saw or heard from Sophie again.
If Sophie discovered Njide, Samuel Ude groomed her. Sam was the choirmaster at St. Barth's Church where she sang as a chorister. Njide was the best voice in the choir, and Sam, who was the first to notice her voice, groomed her for her first appearance at the song festival, known as the Festival of the Arts.
She participated in the festival for seven years, under Sam's guidance, and won first prize every year for seven consecutive years, as the best soprano voice. After those seven years, four of which she had spent at the Holy Rosary College, a four-year teacher training school, the Reverend Sisters offered her a scholarship to study music in Dublin. During her four years as a student at the school, she had done the school proud by winning silver cups and Certificates of Merit in music. After her graduation, Sister Mary Rose, the principal, kept her at the school as a music and math teacher, until she was to leave for Dublin later that year.
Her music exploits, in and out of her school, also came to the attention of the minister of education in Enugu. The minister, Dr. Orji, watched her as the character Nankipoo in the school's production of Mikado for Nigeria's independence celebration, and he was captured by her performance. Dr. Orji suspected that the sisters' intention in sending her to Dublin was for her to become a nun, and so he exchanged the scholarship by the nuns for a state government scholarship and sent her off to study music in Rome. She spent ten years altogether in Rome before returning to Nigeria at the age of thirty-four.
A year before Njide went to Rome, Sam received a federal government scholarship to study music at the Royal College of Music, London. He spent fifteen years in London and America before returning to Nigeria.
Two weeks after meeting with Sam at her office at the radio station, Njide receives a letter from the University of Lagos asking her to interview for the position of lecturer in music at the new department that Sam has set up there. She agrees to the interview, gets the job, and becomes a lecturer in the same department as Sam. She is happy with the job because it comes with a lot of benefits, free accommodations, a car loan, travel allowances, and much more, all of which her job as a producer could not give her. Additionally, Sam has set up a choir made up of practically every music lover and musician in Lagos, and she is a member of this choir. She sings with Sam's choir as well as runs her own band.
Chapter TwoNjide Meets Tunji
It is April 1977, and Lagos is buzzing, especially around the National Theater where the black world has gathered for the Festival of Black Arts and Culture, known simply as FESTAC. As the leading female artist in Nigeria, Njide is rehearsing with her ensemble to perform at the festival. Her Sweet Mama Band has been selected to feature at the festival. She will also perform, as one of the soloists, with the national choir.
Her background has taught her to be patient and observant. She is a woman of few words. She is fearless and speaks her mind. She knows how to control her emotions. She is the only girl in a family of boys, and she wears her hair cropped like a boy so that she will look tough. She is tall and black and has strong white teeth with a gap between her top front teeth, which she is very proud of—some people in her culture chisel their upper and sometimes lower front teeth to create gaps. She has beautiful legs.
She finishes her rehearsal, and while she is gathering her things to leave, she hears whispers and giggles coming from the girls. She turns her head to see what the commotion is about and sees a tall, light-complexioned, handsome man walk into the rehearsal hall. He has a two-headed drum slung over his right shoulder and walks with a swagger. He pauses, standing very tall in the center of the main hall, and looks straight at her. Njide is aware that every other girl in the room is trying to attract his attention, but he continues to look at her, or, she wonders, is he interested in her voice?
She turns around very slowly and looks back at him. She sizes him up, amused at his audacity. He has brown curly hair, brown shifty eyes, and a crooked smile. He is wearing peep-through sandals, the type that the shepherd boys wear, a silky purple shirt, and a really tight pair of pants. He has long, slender fingers and toes. She is used to men "awing" and "wowing" after they hear her sing, but she thinks to herself, This one is God's gift to women. Their eyes meet, and she lowers hers, lets out a faint breath, and puckers her lips in a smile. He reminds her of the man in her dream, the one where the man with the shiny ebony skin and white teeth one day sweeps her off her feet and carries her off to love land. He too smiles and squints his eye at her. She recognizes that crafty smile but ignores it. As a singer, she has come to recognize when men are leering at her and when they truly admire what she does. She notices the swagger again as he reaches her and offers his hand.
"I am Tunji Lamidi," he says in a funny accent as he smiles and squints. "You have a beautiful voice."
She nods her head in agreement but does not shake his hand. "I know another Lamidi." She corrects his pronunciation. "Are you related to Gbenga?" She looks more closely at him to interpret his smile.
He does not respond. Although he is looking at and speaking to her, his eyes flitter and dart around while he takes in everything else all around him. It is as if he is on the edge or afraid of something. Her instincts tell her to beware of eyes that dart and flitter around, but she does not listen.
Tunji sits down on the steps of the stage, crosses his legs, and starts to drum gently on his drum. He drums and sings her song "Uwam" ("My World") in a rich baritone voice. Njide sees Sam (Dr. Ude to other members of the choir), who, as the director, is still searching for good voices for the choir, run back into the rehearsal hall. Sam is clearly impressed and waits for Tunji to finish singing and then quickly invites him to join the choir, and Tunji just as quickly accepts.
He has a good voice, and for Njide, it is love at first sight. After that day, Tunji sticks around Njide a lot, and they go everywhere together. She learns that his real name is Thomas Mann, and he is an American who is in Lagos to search for his roots.
At first, she does not speak much when she is with him. She just listens to him talk. She is a good listener. She notices that Tunji loves to talk, as if he loves to hear his own voice. She listens and tries to know him through his stories. He tells her stories about his travels, places he has seen, and things he has done, but never about himself. He speaks with an accent that she suspects he thinks makes him sound Nigerian (and she later notices that he constantly changes his accent to mimic the accent of whoever he is with). She wonders about the fake accent, another warning that she ignores.
Njide observes that he wears traditional outfits from the north of Nigeria, fakes a few words of Hausa, and speaks his own version of Nigerian English by putting his accents on the wrong syllables. At dinner one night, Njide orders wine.
"You like wine?" His eyes light up.
"Yes, especially red wine. It comes from my living in Italy for all those years."
After that, he goes out of his way to shower her with flowers and wines. He works hard and fast on her, almost as if he is in a hurry to advance their relationship. When the topic of marriage comes up, she wants to know what he thinks of polygamy.
"Not all Muslims are polygamous," he says, on the defensive.
"I just want you to know that as a Christian, a Roman Catholic for that matter, I cannot be in a polygamous marriage."
Just three months after meeting, they marry. She believes that she has caught the big fish and is the envy of all the other girls. Tunji moves in with Njide in a duplex she shares with her non-biological daughter Oyoyo, whom Njide inherited when her sister died after Oyoyo's birth, and Dozie, her nephew, whom she rescued after the death of Njide's brother and his wife during the Biafran War; Dozie was seven when he came to live with Njide.
After they are married, Njide starts to probe more into Tunji's life, wanting to know him better. According to his story, he came to Lagos from the United States by boat through Senegal, his first port of call. There he spent six months learning the Koran. She is surprised that after six months in Dakar, he traveled south by road, through the West African countries, until he arrived in Lagos. From Lagos he headed to Zaria, where he became a Muslim. He told her the story of how one day in Lagos, he was so hungry that he bought this brownish succulent thing that he thought was food, from a lady who sold the stuff by the roadside, and bit into it. He did not know that it was black soap. He changed his name in Lagos to Tunji to blend in with the people.
She finds out that Tunji's favorite hangout in Lagos is Fela's Shrine, the nightclub of the world-renowned originator of Afro Beat music. He goes there every night to listen to Fela's music and to meet fellow Americans who have gathered in Lagos for the FESTAC.
It is a holiday weekend, and Njide has plans for Tunji and her to camp out at the beach for the weekend. She cooks a cooler of jollof rice and fried goat meat soaked in hot pepper stew, prepares another cooler of iced bottles of water and Fanta soft drink, and rents a room at the Beach Hotel.
At the beach they meet two American tourists, Amy and Shana, beautiful girls. Tunji immediately drifts away from her and joins the girls. Next, he changes his accent and starts speaking American English. She lets him go on for a while before she joins them. She introduces herself to the girls, stands around, and waits to be included in the conversation, but they ignore her completely. He acts as if she is not there. She can feel the tension, and she knows that if he could "shoo" her off, he would. She has seen him behave like this before and knows that he likes to be popular, especially with outsiders. In the home, he is very untidy. He walks out of his pants and leaves them there. Outside the home, he is a pleaser and likes people to think of him as a great guy. He hates to make mistakes.
Njide overhears him invite the girls to the raffia cabin that they built that morning for shade. He offers them her food and drinks, which she of course serves them. He hangs out with them and later escorts them to their hotel. What is he trying to prove to these girls? she wonders. That I am his servant girl or what!
Excerpted from MIRROR OF OUR LIVES by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko Copyright © 2011 by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1 Njide's Life Journey Begins....................3
2 Njide Meets Tunji....................9
3 The Saga....................19
4 Freedom Is Sweet....................37
5 The Final Showdown....................50
6 Ify's Early Years....................57
7 Nwanyi Di Mma (The Beautiful Woman)....................61
8 Izalafa (To Answer to a Name)....................73
9 A Marriage Made in Heaven....................89
10 The Battle of Wits....................107
11 The Lost Battle....................124
12 The Elopement....................141
13 The Meeting of the Paragons....................151
14 Fellow Women....................156
15 The Sins of Our Fathers....................159
16 Mat Bites Off His Nose to Spite His Face....................167