We often ask the Lord to deliver us from evil,’ the vicar said. ‘And we should. However we must also consider the unspeakable evils that we seek out by ourselves. What are we doing about the terrible evils that we can deliver ourselves from? Why must we always wait for the Lord when we are perpetrating so much evil with our own hands? Have we stopped to think about the evil we deliver into the world? The list is endless, but let me try to remind you: adultery, sloth, envy, jealousy, bitterness, anger, drunkenness …’
Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
I’ve had this book on my radar for a long while. When I talked to Zukiswa Wanner sometime back when Lola Shoneyin had visited Nairobi for the Artistic Encounters event, she recommended this book saying her London Cape Town Joburg book couldn’t match to the heart wrenching story behind ‘Stay With Me’ book by Ayobami Adebayo.
My interest in reading the book was immediately piqued and when listing down books for October, I couldn’t help setting it aside anymore. I was certain that it would turn out to be a heart wrenching book but didn’t have the slightest idea of what the story entailed.
Stay with Me’ is narrated by Yejide and Akin, a couple and the protagonists of the book. From the opening, readers can easily tell that something is wrong. Why is there packing of suitcases? You won’t have the slightest idea but a few chapters towards the end of the book unveil why. Getting into the second chapter, readers are now ushered to the weighty story behind the book. Yejide’s stepmother and Akin’s uncle have paid the couple a visit, accompanied with a young lady, Funmi, from the descriptions we are meant to believe that the she was more beautiful and had fairer skin compared to Yejide.
Funmi will be introduced to Yejide as her co-wife something that was planned by Akin’s family which he also knew about but had kept it from Yejide. This news isn’t received well by Yejide which is expected. The family thought that bringing Funmi will save the family line by bearing children something they faulted Yejide for. The typical African societal pressures.
“Well, our wife, this is your new wife. It is one child that calls another one into this wold. Who knows, the King in heaven may answer your prayers because of this wife. Once she gets pregnant and has a child, we are sure you will have one too.’ Baba Lola said.
What will follow this introduction and new twist of Yejide’s marriage will have you laughing your heart out, cringing to your stomach and gashing as to how you didn’t even see some of these events coming.
While reading this book I was reminded of Lola Shoneyin’s ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’ where the burden of childlessness is bestowed on women. Yejide realising that she stands to lose her husband, out of desperation, seeks the advice and prayers of Prophet Josiah who was referred to her by one of her friends who was also childless for quite a while. The narration of her visit to the prophet’s prayer place on top of a mountain is a hilarious one and frightening as well. Frightening because after a while, Yejide’s tummy protrudes and everyone around her except Akin believe that she’s pregnant. During her ultra sounds procedures, the results claimed something different from what was seen in the physical appearance of Yejide. For a minute I thought that Yejide was going to lose it and go completely mad because her desperation was so pronounced.
The sorcery, I want to believe that it was sorcery, almost drew the couple apart. Akin despised and didn’t even appear to show any interest when Yejide told him that she had gone to the mountain to be prayed for. Even when every sign indicated that his wife was pregnant, Akin stood his guns saying that Yejide couldn’t be pregnant.
He laughed. ‘So, this is an immaculate conception? And what shall we call this child? Baby Satan? When will a demon appear to inform me in my dream?’
11 months later, Yejide was still walking around with her ‘pregnancy’ and no signs of giving birth seemed to have struck. How was this even possible? Does this even happen in real life? Where a woman is delusional to an extent of her belly growing?
Yejide finally conceives three times and is blessed with two girls and a boy. The mocking from her co-wife, mother in law and her step mothers ceases and what she struggles with is more disheartening compared to her childless years. The uncertainty of raising sickle-cell anaemic children.
When Akin’s deep secrets are also revealed, I swear I dropped jaw because, it wasn’t anything I expected leave alone saw coming. I have to credit Ayobami for the prowess she executed, where readers think they know where the story is headed to only for it to take a complete u-turn!
Other than the two mentioned characters, there’s quite some interesting characters with their own weakness also featured who are well developed and spice up the story line of the book. I could go on talking about them but what good will it do to pre-empt the book without getting you curious to read it?
This book among others was shortlisted for the Baileys Awards but unfortunately Ayomabi Adebayo didn’t make it to the finalist. I haven’t read the other short lists so I can’t judge why this debut didn’t make to the finalists list but I’d strongly recommend it to anyone who looks forward to read a hilarious book which is also coupled up with horrifying eventful scenes.
‘Stay With Me’ has been set against the backdrop of a military coup and presidential assassination which captures scenes of Nigeria’s state in the 1980’s while tackling subjects like polygamy and the patriarchy ideology.
Have you read the other shortlist books in the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017? I’ve seen quite some interesting reviews of ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ by Madeleine Thien which immediately goes to my TBR but other than that, which book from the shortlist would you recommend?