Obiajulu stared at her mother-in-law in utter shock. Had she just asked her to commit adultery so as to give her son a child?
“Stop staring at me as if I’ve asked you to do something unheard off.” Mama Ije, that was what everyone called her, said in reproof. “It is not exactly forbidden in our culture. A husband can give his wife the permission to go out and conceive for him. Afterwards, she will be cleansed to prohibit any repercussion.”
“Mama Ije,” Obiajulu struggled to gather her thoughts. “But you’re asking me to do this, not my husband.”
“I am your husband’s mother. Your husband’s family is your husband. Don’t talk like you don’t understand our culture. Obi, we are women, and know that the blame for childlessness in marriage is often cast on us.”
“But I’m not to blame. His sperm count is too low, that’s what the doctor said.”
“And I know it. We know it, but does the world know it? No. And many are looking at you as if it’s your fault. Obi, you will not be doing this for him alone, you will be doing it for yourself too. A woman needs the honour of having given her husband a child.”
“Not at the detriment of losing my honour as his wife. No, Mama Ije, a wife’s true honour lies on the praises her husband sings of her. What praises will Eze have if I’m guilty of infidelity?”
“You won’t be guilty because you have our permission. And he will not only praise you, but thank you. You will be giving him the greatest gift he craves. Or have you not noticed how heartbroken he’s been since you saw the doctor?”
She had noticed. She was heartbroken too. “I can’t do it, Mama Ije. It’s an abomination. It’s impossible. What will I tell Eze? Did he tell you he wants me to do this?”
“He doesn’t have to tell me. I am his mother and know what is good for him. You are his wife and should do what is best for him.”
“Sleeping with another man is what is best for my husband?”
“Giving your husband a child is what is best for him. A wife’s duty is to make her husband happy.”
“But how can infidelity make Eze happy?”
“Stop talking about infidelity, for that is not what it will be.” Mama Ije’s voice was sharp as she once again reproved her. “Look at what you will be giving him. A gift. A gift he yearns for. They say the end justifies the means, and that is true.”
But nothing justified wrongdoing, Obiajulu thought.
“Obi, my daughter, I know it’s difficult. No good woman wants a man other than her husband to touch her. You have been a good wife and we love you.” An affectionate look came into her eyes. “Think about it. If you’d quickly accepted this, I would have questioned your morals. But think about it. Pray about it.”
“Pray about it? Mama Ije, God will never tell us to commit adultery.”
“No, he won’t. But God is the one who blesses us with children. He wants everyone to have a child.”
“Then let him give us a child. Let him perform the miracle. Nothing is beyond him.”
“God works in mysterious ways. He can choose any way to bless us. Any way at all. Think about it, my daughter, and then return to me with your decision.”
Obiajulu thought that there wasn’t anything to think about. Yet her mind replayed Mama Ije’s words over and over all through her drive back home.
When she got inside the house and found Eze in the living room watching TV, a curl of guilt tightened around her heart because it felt like she was thinking of being unfaithful to him.
“Welcome back. How’s Mama?”
“She’s well.” She debated before giving in and coming to sit beside him. “She wanted to talk to me about something.”
The sound was non committal. What had she expected, that he would show a certain knowledge of what his mother had spoken to her about?
“She’s worried about us. You know, about the baby issue.”
He didn’t respond. It didn’t surprise Obiajulu. He’s become withdrawn since they saw the doctor and the blame if their infertility was cast on him.
“Eze, I think we should consider adoption. I think that would ease everyone’s worry.”
“Adoption, a shout to the world that your husband is incapable of impregnating you. Is that what you want, to tell everyone how unmanly I am?” Not just his voice was bitter, but his eyes were as they stared at her.
“I don’t want to tell the world anything, Eze. I haven’t even told my family the outcome of the visit to the doctor. Adoption is our only chance to have a child, and especially since we can’t afford IVF.”
“IVF would be pointless, wouldn’t it, since I have no viable sperm to contribute.”
“Well, they could use an anonymous sperm donor. They do offer such services and people accept them. No one, but the clinic and couple, knows who truly fathered the child.”
“Is that what you want, Obi, another man’s sperm giving you the child I can’t give you?”
“What I want is for us to be happy again, Eze.” She wanted to cry, to let out the awful pain that threatened to choke her. “Marriage is not really about children. I mean, children are important, but the true reason for marriage is for companionship. White people understand this, that is why they don’t kill themselves when they don’t have children.”
“You can’t say what White people do or don’t do. Besides, we’re not White people. We are Africans, Nigerians, and children are important to us. They are a big reason for marriage.” For a few seconds he was silent. Then he murmured. “I want a child. If only one. A son, a daughter, it doesn’t matter which, I just want a child.”
There were tears in his eyes and they tugged at Obiajulu’s own. “What do we do then?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
She didn’t know either. Or did she? Her conscience pricked even as her heart rejected the thought. There had to be another solution.