Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
Today’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is Nkechi Ebie, a 50-year-old Nigerian woman. She tells us why 22 was the most interesting age of her life, why she avoided committed relationships for many years after university and the pregnancy scare that made her retire from her party days.
What has been the most exciting phase of your life?
Definitely my university days. Age 22 was exciting for me. In Benin, I met friends who knew how to party well. I’d grown up with a protective older brother and two older sisters, so partying hadn’t been a part of my life before Benin. We threw parties on campus and clubbed around town, but my favourite part was being able to wear jeans. Unfortunately, when I had my first baby three years after NYSC, girls were into skinny jeans. I was 29, and as a mum, I couldn’t follow the trend.
Why did you feel that way?
I’ve always been on the big side, but I didn’t think a lot about my body until after my first child. Do I wish I never had kids? No. But I do wish I could go back to the Ngozi of my university days.
Don’t get me wrong. I could’ve worn anything I wanted to, but squeezing into a pair of jeans felt so unfamiliar after months of dressing in huge maternity dresses. I still put on make-up and wore gold hooped earrings. But I felt like the rest of my body needed room to breathe.
So what was the style of a 29-year-old mum in 2001?
For me, the style came in form of the corporate outfits I wore to work. The eight hours I was away from work were the only moments I was just “Ngozi,” not “Mummy”. I ended up as a banker after NYSC. And one of the things I loved was my skirt suits and bold red lipstick. My kids laugh at those pictures from 2002 to 2003, but they’ll get there soon.
LOL. Did life ever get as interesting after that?
Not really. It had nothing to do with not loving my kids. I was just mostly unprepared for how motherhood happened to me.
Towards the end of uni, I lost the man I wanted to marry. He was shot. We’d been together since my second year. I struggled with his death for a long time because I truly fell in love with that man. While I partied away in uni, I was very particular about sticking to one guy. I didn’t mind that my friends were dating around and hanging out with different guys.
Why were you particular about sticking to one guy?
Maybe it was my older brother’s strictness that kept me reserved when it came to sex. Sometimes, he’d show up at my hostel unannounced. I didn’t want to be hanging around many different people because I knew he’d make it a big deal. And once my mother got that kind of news, she would have been on the next bus to UNIBEN. I wasn’t ready for that.
And the man you ended up with? Did you love him as much?
Not in the beginning. I wasn’t planning a life with him when we got together. I had commitment issues and didn’t care to be invested in anything. I was too scared about someone I loved dying again.
I’m sorry that happened.
Thanks. It’s strange because I said 22 was great, but grief made me lean into being a full-on party babe at 26. And that turned out to be fun too. I didn’t want to feel anything too deep. Everything was casual. The sex, the hangouts, none of it meant anything to me. The guy I eventually married — Chima* — was just someone I happened to be constant with. He was a guy in my class who liked me and always wanted to date me, so I leaned into that comfort.
So when did things become official with Chima?
When I found out I was pregnant in 2001. I was done with NYSC in Kano and had gotten a job in Asaba. It was 2000, and I was partying more than I’d ever done before. My boss at the bank was a friend, and after work, we’d go out with other colleagues for a beer or two. If it was a Friday, none of us was going home. Chima and I would also see each other sometimes.
We used protection, and we were careful enough. I was still getting my periods too. So I didn’t realise I was pregnant until about three months in. We had been seeing each other casually for a year by then. How I realised I was pregnant was the most ridiculous event of my life.
LOL. Please, do tell
It was a typical day at the office. I was feeling sick, but I didn’t think much of it. I’d had a few pregnancy scares that turned out to be nothing, so I didn’t overthink. But by closing time, things got worse and I fainted.
My colleagues rushed me to the hospital, and that’s where all my wahala started. First, the man who took me to the hospital was friends with my older brother, who was living in Lagos at the time, while I was in Asaba. The guy sent me straight to Lagos to meet my brother the next morning.
Were you scared?
No. I was sure it was his baby because I’d been having sex with just him in the last six months. I knew my brother wouldn’t take it lightly, but he’d also been living with his girlfriend in Lagos. He didn’t have a right to say much. The fear was only triggered by the thought that I’d have to marry Chima. With my kind of parents, there was no way around that. Even I wasn’t willing to go through the stress of being pregnant and single.
And Chima? How did he take it?
He’d always wanted a serious relationship. I wasn’t surprised he was excited about it. In a matter of weeks, we were introducing our families and making plans for our traditional marriage. Everything needed to happen before my belly began to protrude. My parents were respected people in the Catholic community, so no daughter of theirs would be pregnant out of wedlock. None of my sisters had done it.
What made the transition bearable was the fact that I knew Chima loved me. He did. I was never as fully committed as he was, but that never mattered to him.
Were you honest about why you couldn’t commit?
He knew right from the start. The part I hid was how much I struggled with the idea of being with him when we finally got married. I felt so guilty. I was moving on with another man’s child when the person I’d planned a life with would never get the chance to. I tortured myself with “What ifs”.
Even after the marriage?
Yes. Chima would want to make jokes and laugh — normal things people do in the honeymoon phase. All I wanted to do was cry. It’s a miracle the man wasn’t fed up. When I had my baby and was happy, I felt that same guilt. I think that phase of trying to get used to being fully committed also made dressing up fun for me, especially after the baby. It took me back to when I had a bit more control. I had to get over myself after the first year of being a mother.
How were you able to let go?
Honestly, I never did. But after one of my long cries in the bathroom, I was tired. There was no point in my self-imposed suffering. I still think about him occasionally. Although when my daughter went to uni, I thought about him more often. She’s also going through her partying stage, and it reminds me of when I was 22. I like watching her Whatsapp stories when she’s away. She blocked me, but I have her younger sister who I recently got a phone for.
They’re ten years apart, so her sister is always home with me. When she comes back from school, we go through what her older sister shares. That age gap was the best decision I ever made.
LOL. That’s the only way I know what’s going on. Beyond that, watching her reminds me of a time I enjoyed. I don’t doubt I’m still that party babe who knows how to have a good time, but when you’re 50, you find other ways to enjoy life. One of those ways happens to be watching my daughter live out her 20s right now.
How about your style right now? What does a retired 50-year-old party girl wear?
When I get the chance, I mostly want to wear absolutely nothing. Everything is stressful to put on. I think the only thing I’ve become obsessed with as I’ve gotten older is bags. The bigger the better. Then, there’s the red lipstick for when I want to show people that being 50 doesn’t mean I’m too old for anything.