Tammy frowned as she looked at herself in the mirror. She thought about all the feel good, motivational sound bites she and her friends often repeated to support one another. ‘You are beautiful’. ‘The only opinion that matters is yours’. ‘Own your body’. ‘Look in the mirror and love what you see’. Well, she was looking at the mirror now and she did not like what she was seeing. Tammy shook her head as if to clear the negative thoughts and kept staring at her body. Her breasts looked okay, but just that, okay. Well, after three children what do you expect? she tried to assure herself. Do they look saggy? They are certainly not firm, but are they about to really fall down? Her tummy was not flat, but at least she had a waistline. She ran her hands over her thighs, across a number of dimples and ridges. She sighed and pulled out her bra, wondering if she should get one of those contraptions being advertised on Instagram that claimed to give you more of a lift. She was pleased with her bottom though, and shuddered when she thought of the current craze for surgical or plastic buttocks.
‘When did I become like this’? She wondered to herself. Like every woman her age, she had the occasional insecurities about her forty-two-year-old body, but they were just fleeting moments and she never felt the need to dwell on things like that. ‘Well, ever since you started feeling Jay is too distracted to pay attention’ the stubborn voice in her head told her. Her heart beat a little bit faster, and she gripped the dress she had picked up. She and jay had been married for fifteen years, and they were happy. Well, so she thought. With busy careers and young children to bring up, it was not rocket science that romance was not always a priority. She could live with not having the intimate moments she craved more of with Jay. What bothered her was the thought that if Jay couldn’t be bothered or thought something was missing, would he start filling the gaps? She wondered if Jay ever inspected his body in the mirror when she was not looking. She giggled at the thought.
Every time she got together with her friends for lunch or events, they compared notes and even though they mostly tried to keep things upbeat, there was always news that dampened their spirits. Bola’s husband, Jide, had a suspected side chick who often made cryptic posts on social media, turning Bola into a nervous wreck. Bola was spending time stalking her husband’s alleged mistress online. Gabby and her husband Bode were battling with fertility issues and Gabby felt Bode was not as desperate as she was. She felt it was only a matter of time before he started making other plans. Sandra’s boss at work was harassing her for a ‘relationship’, and when she told her husband about it, he demanded that she quit her job. The problem was that Paul’s businesses were not doing well so it was Sandra’s income that was keeping them going. So, Sandra was spending whatever energy she had on diplomatically wading off her randy boss and appeasing her resentful husband.
This is why they always tried to cheer each other up with words of affirmation and encouragement. They often joked that perhaps they were turning into versions of their mothers or grannies. They would then shake their heads and insist that they were not the same, but admit that navigating marital life required wisdom and patience. Tammy always felt better after their meetings, but as she applied her make-up, she realised that she was getting tired of always being hopeful that their partners would change and be more concerned about their feelings. Why am I always the one asking for attention? Why do I have to be the one listening to excuses for him coming home late? Or travelling at short notice and being left alone with the children? She started feeling a wave of anger pass over her. The pattern was not lost on her. The women were the ones struggling with insecurity, self-doubt, hurt, betrayal. The men? Yes, they were good and kind in their own way. However, beyond their endless excuses of having to be ‘breadwinners’, even when there was no bread to be won, they mostly just took things for granted, or so it seemed. Is it us? Is it them? Is it something or nothing? Are we expecting too much?
Tammy picked up her bag and walked out to her car. The driver had taken the children to school and Jay had left as early as 7am. Tammy wondered what it would be like to wake up and leave the house without worrying about preparing kids for school, forcing them to have breakfast without staining their uniforms and keeping them from tearing at each other over one thing or the other. She loved her children with all her heart and Jay was a good father, but she often wondered about their different levels of investment. She decided that all these thoughts were not a good way to start a busy day as she headed for her office. There was a board meeting today at her bank and she had to give a presentation as the Company Secretary. This was no time to hold a pity party in her mind.
The board meeting went well, and afterwards, someone said, ‘I hope you all have nice Valentine’s Day plans’. Tammy could not remember the last time she got a Valentine’s card or gift from Jay. Over the past five years it had been a terse text, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day. Love always’ or something along those lines. No special plans. No romantic dinner or getaway. No flowers or gifts. When she asked once, he just shrugged and said, ‘Do you need a gift to know what I feel for you?’. Instead of trying to redeem himself the following year, he stubbornly continued with the texts and she stopped asking. From talking to her friends, she knew it was mostly the same, except for Jide who knew how to play games with his wife and mistresses.
Jay had left that morning for a meeting in Benin, so he was not going to be around on Valentine’s Day. Not that it would have made any difference even if he was in town. Tammy sent a text to Bola, Sandra and Gabby. ‘Do any of you have Valentine’s Day plans?’. Jide was going to Abuja for a meeting with the Finance Minister. Bode had to speak address a Youth Seminar at church. Paul had a meeting with a potential investor. There were no Valentine’s Day plans. For the men, bread on the table came first, Valentine’s Day was just like any other day. The women agreed to have dinner at Bartells, one of their favourite restaurants. Tammy made the bookings. Again, the voice of doom started in her head. Why are four married women having dinner alone on Valentine’s Day? Tammy shut the voice up. If no one wants to show you they love you, you show yourself. We have a right to be loved in capital not small letters. And that love starts with you.
Bode looked at the message he got from Gabby, ‘Just agreed to dinner at Bartells with the girls tomorrow for Valentines’. He put the phone down and scratched his beard. Shortly after he picked the phone up again and made a call.
Tammy, Bola, Sandra and Gabby settled down at their table, giggling and trying to take selfies. It did not need to be said in words. This was a day for love and they were determined to love and be loved. For once, or at least for a short while, they were not giving that power to anyone. They had brought gifts for each other and they ordered a bottle of champagne. Just as the waiter was pouring the glasses, Sandra gasped and her mouth fell open. They all turned to see what it was she was staring at and they all reacted the same way. Bode, Jide, Paul and Jay were all standing there with sheepish grins on their faces and flowers in their hands.
The guys all got the same call from Bode the day before, the summary of which was ‘We all need to step up. Or are we waiting for when they will not need or want us anymore? Let’s get our priorities straight. I don’t know about you, but I love my wife. If you are interested, this is what I suggest’.
The four women kept staring at their husbands till they approached the table and as if rehearsed, they all went on one knee and presented their flowers. There were ‘Awwwws’ all through the restaurant and there was clapping. The waiters quickly expanded the table for all of them. There were kisses and hugs. There were whispers. There were tears. Amidst the laughter and clinking of glasses, there were many things unsaid but heard clearly. Assurance. Forgiveness. Gratitude. Hope. As Tammy leant against Jay, the voice in her head was back again, ‘every day should be Valentine’s Day. Every day should be love yourself first day. Love is not about one day’. ‘Are you not having any champagne Gabby?’ Sandra asked. Gabby gave her friends a wide smile and turned to whisper something to Bode. His eyes widened and he shouted, ‘What!!!!?’
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com