Stay With Me is a story about Yejide and Akin, a couple in love but struggling to have children and when they finally do, the children die. The mother-in-law believes they are Abiku, spirit children who have made a pact with the spirit world to die young. The novel which is set in the 1980s into 2008 against the political tumult in Nigeria is delicately laced with everyday struggles with characters mirroring society as we know it.
The narration moves back and forth in time revealing what is, what was, and how it came to be between Yejide and Akin. The story is written with expert precision, a true testament to Ayobami`s exceptional storytelling ability.
Yejide is desperate to give her husband a child and her mother- in -law a grandchild. Her longing for a child leads her on numerous attempts that can guarantee her a miracle. First, she visits a priest with her mother-in-law to be cleansed. The priest believed she had been cursed by her mother before she died. She was instructed to go on a seven-day fast but on the third day, she did not resurrect with power but fainted and was low on strength. She had to be rushed to the hospital. Her mother–in–law`s response to her baffled me. `She said I wasn`t ready to be a mother yet if I was fainting after three days of fasting.’ Who decides the qualifications of motherhood?
The second, third, fourth attempts, the inexhaustible medical tests to prove her fertility and that of her husband all came to one conclusion: everything is fine. You should be able to have children.
The fifth attempt, a visit to the Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles. `Mrs. Adeolu had assured me that the Prophet Josiah, the leader of this group, was indeed a miracle worker. Her protruding belly was convincing evidence. I needed a miracle fast.’ Yejide treks to the mountain where she dances with Prophet Josiah and his men into a frenzy which ignites her belief, that when she is told to feed her baby, she opens her top and bra and feeds. When she descends the mountain, she insists she`s pregnant despite the insistence of her doctors that there is no baby. Akin intervenes and she`s introduced to a psychiatrist when she`s diagnosed with pseudocyesis. Yejide like many women urgently desires to experience the secret joys of motherhood while giving her husband and his family an heir. She seems to throw all caution to the wind in a frantic bid to appease her people. She must get pregnant at all costs even if that cost comes at the expense of her mental and emotional health.
When all attempts at giving her husband a child fail, in walks tradition inform of Fumni, another woman brought in to do what she has failed to do. `Yejide, I as a person, I want to praise you. I want to appreciate your efforts to make sure that our son leaves a child behind when he dies. This is why we know that you will not take this new wife like a rival.’ The narration is burgeoning with compassion revealing what we all know; tradition has its place no matter the level of modernity you acquire. However, tradition has a way of working against the woman while leaving the man unscathed.
Ayobami interrogates the impotence of men in a society that stokes the embers of patriarchy. Mounting blame on women for failure to give their husbands children as if are a baby manufacturing corporation. This one-sided narration is seen throughout the book with Moomi and the rest of the family demanding a child from Yejide. No one makes mention of Akin or asks whether he is functioning like a man ought to function in order for his women to get pregnant.
Akin tells a story his Moomi used to tell him and Dotun growing up, `He who has children rules the world.’ The story speaks of the incompleteness of a family without a child. The promise of joy unending when a child is born. But Akin realised it was a lie. `It was the lie I`d believed in the beginning. Yejide would have a child and we would be happy forever. The cost didn`t matter. It didn`t matter how many rivers we had to cross. At the end of it all was this stretch of happiness that was supposed to begin only after we had children and not a minute before.’
The children eventually come but die in quick succession due to sickle cells, a factor that wasn`t considered in Akin`s grand plan of getting Yejide pregnant. The children who ought to be their pride and joy bring them nothing but heartache.
As the good book says, a talebearer reveals secrets, Dotun, Akin`s brother reveals secrets that he had no business revealing in the first place. These revelations rock Akin and Yejide`s fragile marriage triggering doubt about whether Akin ever loved Yejide. These secrets seem to undo a marriage that started out well forcing Yejide to question why she stayed with Akin despite everything.
My only fault with the book is Yejide`s naivety. I found it hard to believe that Yejide couldn`t grasp Akin`s lies. It was appalling! Right from the start, she refused to question anything Akin-related. Her silence when the women in her salon discussed sex was heart-wrenching. She basically endured things she should not have endured if she had walked to someone.
Stay with Me explores the ever-existing pull between tradition and modernity, patriarchy and the old definitions of femininity. The novel is fast-paced which makes for a compulsive read with the right dose of suspense, and humour.
Ayobami weaves a sensitive tale about love and loss, the fragility of marriage, the power of redemption, and the attempts we make to keep those we love happy. She writes with depth of grace and compassion.
Ladies, would you say yes to a man if you found out he was impotent like in Akin’s case (he couldn`t get it up)? Men, would you tell your lady that you can`t get it up?