WHEN Sikemi’s daughter’s 10th birthday approached, Jide, her ‘husband’ of over ten years arranged for his first wife to be informed of the impending celebration. “Jide always insisted we gave Dorcas every respect she deserved,” said a sombre Sikemi. “In her early 60s, Dorcas was the perfect matriarch and hostess”, when we called at the old family house – fussing around ensuring we all had a lot to eat and drink. But the circumstances could not be more awkward for me – I do not deserve to be made so welcome in this kind, accommodating and unquestioning woman’s house. “As we left, she stood alone on the doorstep and cheerily waved us off I had to turn my head away.
In today’s society where husband-snatchers are more or less the good ‘guys’, is Sikemi for real? Now in her early 40s, she’s a co-founder of a marketing services company with her partner, Jide who’s almost 24 years older. “We have two lovely children,” she continued, “and all we could want materially and all would be perfect were it not for my abiding remorse over appropriating another woman’s life. Dorcas came from a family of strict Roman Catholic and she’s a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage, so divorce was out. In fact, Jide became a knight of the church several years ago. “Though I would have loved to get married,I know that divorce would hurt Dorcas more than being married to the man I loved would make a difference to me.
As it is now, I remain haunted by the fact that Dorcas hasn’t had a relationship since she and Jide split and doesn’t want one. In short, she’s on her own because of me. Jide was the boss of a commercial bank when I joined aged 23 and fresh out of the university. Sophisticated and greying with fancy cars and sexy physique, he was hugely attractive – the 24-year age gap only added to his allure. “It was easy to fall in love with him when he pursued me with all the trimmings. Two years into our affair, he professed his love for me and his wish for us to live together. When he finally plucked up the courage to tell his wife about us, Dorcas was genuinely shocked. She said it was the first she knew of our affair, though Jide maintained he had told her many times how unhappy he was in their marriage.
And although she ranted and raved at him, she was too proud to confront me, for which I was grateful. “Their three children, aged between 24 and 20 were outraged and his only son barely spoke to his father for two years. As we moved into one of his modem houses, shock waves went through the bank we both worked – we’d done a good job of hiding our affair from colleagues – and Jide was tormented by the hurt he’d caused his family. He went on to use money to assuage his guilt, and even paying his grandchildren’s private school fees when the time came. I managed to convince myself that, because his family were financially comfortable, they weren’t suffering because of me. He visited them regularly which eased my conscience.
Whenever he left however, I would sit at home, feeling like the mistress again, and would search his face on his return, expecting him to announce he was going back to his first family. “Over the years, Dorcas and I tried to be civil towards each other but it wasn’t all that plain sailing. The most challenging occasion was when their first daughter was getting married. I didn’t really fit in anywhere despite wearing the same ‘aso ebi’ with the family and his daughter made sure I wasn’t in any of the photographs.
Then, a couple of years ago, when Jide suffered financial catastrophe at the start of the financial crash, I discovered that underneath the brave front Dorcas put up, there was still a very raw wound. Jide was no longer able to afford school fees for his grandchildren and also had to reduce the generous financial support he was giving Dorcas, forcing her to downsize her home.
In the end, she was persuaded to move into the specious bungalow at the back of the family house so she could rent out the main building and use the cash. It was a bit humiliating for her and for the first time, she blamed me for her plight. “Thank goodness the company is now picking up – and my children are now teenagers, asking all sorts of questions. I always let them know that it’s not marriage that keeps parents together but love, and that their daddy and I love each other very much.
But a part of me is aware that, despite all these years together, Jide still isn’t wholly mine. We had a native law and customs ceremony, but it’s not like being the legal wife. If I could go back to advice my 23-year old self, I would tell her to steer clear of married men, particularly if they already have a family. Affairs cause too much heartache for everyone. “Yet if I hadn’t met Jide, I wouldn’t have my beautiful children, who are more than worth the emotional price I’ve paid … “