His Only Wife is a novel by Peace Adzo Medie. Afi is a young woman living in Ho, outside Accra. It’s been 10 years since her father died and she and her mother have been on their own. After Afi’s father’s death, they had to move out of their home, which was provided by her father’s employer. The oldest son, her father’s brother, was expected to provide for them after his father’s death. However, he was offended that her mother hadn’t allowed some of his children to stay in her home while his brother was alive. One of his wives allowed them to move in with her. Her daughter, Mawusi, was Afi’s best friend. Later, a rich woman in the community gave her mother a job and a place to stay.
When Afi did not qualify to attend a public university, her mother wanted to take a loan, so she could attend a private university. Afi would not hear of it. She apprenticed in a sewing shop and then got work as a local seamstress. Aunty gave her an electric sewing machine as a gift. Both Afi and her mother saw Aunty as a blessing and someone they owed a lot to.
The Wife Plan
Aunty hatched a plan to marry Afi to her middle son, Elikem. Eli had met a woman in Liberia and the family did not like her. They found her independence and lack of willingness to follow their customs personally offensive. Their plan was for Afi to bring Eli back to his family, away from the “wicked” woman and her (his) “sickly” daughter.
Afi and Eli had a traditional ceremony, a wedding that Eli did not attend. He called Afi to tell her he was busy with work and could not get away. Despite this, the wedding was a grand affair, with many gifts brought to the bride’s family by the groom’s, more than the list of what they had requested. Gifts were given to the family members including the “father”, a role that her uncle relished for this event, her mother, and herself.
After the wedding, a driver brought Afi to her new home. Richard, the groom’s younger brother, showed her around the new flat, a place grander than any she had been to before. Her mother had come with her to bring her to her new husband, and they were both in awe of the place.
Building a New Life
Eli was not there to greed Afi, although he called her every day. Afi explored their neighborhood, went to the mall, talked to the guards to learn the local gossip, and waited for her husband. When he finally showed up over 8 weeks later, he only came for a meal. Although they barely spoke, he asked her what she wanted to do, and she confessed that she wanted to go to fashion school. He left soon after but called her every day from then.
It was two months before his next visit. In the meantime, Afi was given money every week and a driver and car to take her around. She didn’t have much money to spend things on and was able to send some to her family and to her mother to build her own home.
Starting Fashion School
The very next day after his first visit, Eli called to tell Afi that he arranged for his sister, Yaya, to take her to some of the fashion schools, make an introduction, and help her select one. She and Yaya began spending time together and socializing as well.
Afi selected to go to Sarah’s fashion school even though it wasn’t grand as she expected, and her driver drove her to and from school every day, waiting for her during the day. She used to send him off during the day until Richard told the driver should wait in case she wanted him to take her somewhere during the day.
Afi enjoyed working and studying with Sarah. Sarah was a professional and studied in London. Afi was impressed with her designs. She was there from 8am to 5pm, with an hour for a lunch break. She often bought breakfast and lunch nearby. One day, Efi was waiting to take her to lunch.
Afi Gets a Chance with Eli
Afi and Eli had lunch at a hotel after he showed up to her school one day. Eli said that he wanted to be with her and was working on making that happen. They shared their first kiss and Afi was excited, looking forward to life with her new husband.
After lunch, Eli and Afi started spending more time together at home. He started sleeping over, and she felt like they were getting closer. However, she was concerned that she was in a flat in a building owned by his older brother and not his main house. She tried to bring up the other woman, but he would get mad and clam up. He only brought up his daughter Ivy occasionally. However, the relationship between him and the other woman, Muna, was a constant stress in their marriage.
On a trip with two other couples, she overheard a conversation between him and his friends and realized that he was still with Muna and had no plans to leave her.
Before Afi found out she was pregnant, she and Eli had a disagreement over him going to America to bring Muna and Ivy back from their vacation there.
A Crowded Marriage
Throughout the marriage, from the beginning, Afi is clear what is required of her. She speaks with her mother daily to let her know the details of her marriage and the progress she is making with Eli. Her mother reports to Aunty. When her husband goes to America to get his other family, this is the first time she makes a decision before first consulting her mother or Mawusi. Instead, she went to Evelyn for support.
Although Richard didn’t tell her, Afi first found out about Evelyn from the security guards. Evelyn was Richard’s girlfriend and lived in the apartment next door. When Evelyn and Afi met in the elevator one night, Evelyn invited Afi to come over the next day.
Initially, Afi was curious about Evelyn but also suspicious of her. From Evelyn, she learned that the times when Eli stayed with her regularly were when the Muna was out of the country. They were still together. Evelyn also explained how Aunty tried to control her children.
Evelyn knew that Richard would never marry her. Aunty disapproved of her because her father (who was dead) had offended her by refusing the price she offered him for palm nuts over twenty-two years ago. She thought that Aunty was manipulative, controlling, and vindictive. Her sons were weak and could not defy her, and Yaya was a miniature version of her.
Evelyn knew that Richard would never oppose his mother and marry her. She was, like Muna, unacceptable. Eventually, Richard starting dating a woman his family approved of. She knew that her time with him had its limits, and she was seeing a lawyer in addition to Richard.
Mother of the Son
When Afi got pregnant, she figured that would change things and Efi would finally leave Muna. The fact that she was carrying a son made her even more confident. Despite the advice of Evelyn and Mawusi to be patient and appreciate that she was the wife, she gave Efi an ultimatum. She would not stay in Accra with him except in his house. Upset, he left their home and didn’t return that night.
Running Back to Ho
Disappointed by Eli’s response, Afi packed two suitcases and went to her mother’s house in Ho. Her mother was not pleased to see her and exhorted her to go back to her husband, telling her to not worry about the other woman since she was the recognized wife, the married woman who he provided for. Despite the exhortations of her mother, the whole family, and Aunty, she refused to go back to Accra until her husband came to get her and brought her to his house. She said the same to Eli. Aunty made her mother pay by telling her to stay home from work and away from the Women’s Guild at church until Afi returned to Eli.
Afi’s mother was worried about her work and home, but Afi had been sending her money and she had almost completed building her own house. This gave partial relief from Aunty’s coldness and the threat of her retaliation.
To The Main House
After eight days, Eli came to get Afi. They drove home in silence, Eli upset with her. He drove her to his home. After installing her into the master bedroom, he moved into the guesthouse that was the furthest from her. He left early for work and returned home late at night, often after she had gone to bed.
Upset with how her driver was treating her since she’d left her husband and returned to Ho, Afi decided to go to driving school. Even when Efi forbade her from doing it, using her pregnancy as an excuse, she continued and got her driver’s license. After some time, she got a new driver as well.
Efi was mad at Afi and kept her at a distance. Then, after a fight about the situation, Eli lost her balance on the way upstairs and struck her stomach on the stairs. Afi insisted on taking her to the hospital and having her spend the night for observation, even after the doctor said everything was fine. When they got home, he insisted on bathing her. From then, they started to spend their nights together.
Both Evelyn and Mawusi had told her to wait and not push Eli, but they celebrated her success with her. Eli took her to social events with him and introduced her to his friends.
Birthing New Life
The first son, Selorm, was welcomed by the family. The grandmothers doted on him and loved him. Eli and Afi were happy together.
Afi went to work 6 weeks after giving birth with her mother helping her with Selorm. She hired people to work with her and hired an apartment from Richard nearby to use as the workshop for the boutique. Eli helped her fund her business. She quickly made a name for herself as a designer and started making money but Eli was still paying for the rent. It’s a bit hard to keep track of time in His Only Wife but my impression is that the boutique opens and takes off quickly.
Afi wanted Ivy and Selorm to get to know each other. She hoped that Ivy would come to Selorm’s first birthday party, but she did not.
The Ending of His Only Wife
With reliable help in the boutique and Selorm being old enough to be left with Afi’s mother, Eli and Afi planned to go to Paris for a week. Afi looked forward to going to Paris to visit all the sites and get boutique ideas for her store. She planned to propose to him for a recognized church wedding as well.
A few days before the trip, Eli said he was going to Nigeria on business. Evelyn had an ad agency and was planning the second school for Afi’s business at a beach house. The shoot was supposed to happen after the trip, but Evelyn moved up the timeline to make use of a space that she said was available due to a shoot being canceled at the last minute.
Shaking Everything Up
At the beach house, one of the employees had hit a child to get her to leave the background of the shoot. Afi went next door carrying her son to apologize to the mother. She thought the woman was the darkest and most beautiful woman she had seen. As they were talking, the woman’s partner came out of the kitchen to see what was happening. It was Eli. Further, it was clear that Eli had been taking Selorm to Muna’s home when he reached for the woman.
Afi finished the shoot and went home. Eli did not follow her right away but showed up after she got home. When her mother brought a crying Selorm to her, he had one of Eli’s many phones. He loved playing with real phones. Noticing the phone was unlocked, she checked his calls and messages. She found many loving messages to Muna, some of them while they were recently in bed together. Afi confronted Eli.
The End of A Marriage
Eli said he loved both her and Muna. This is when Afi realized that Eli would never marry her for real; he wanted two equal wives. His only concession was that she would be the first wife. Afi did not want to be a wife; she wanted to be the only wife. She realized there was nothing wrong with Muna, just that his family didn’t approve of her. When Eli refused to choose only her, Afi asked for a divorce.
Afi’s mother and the rest of the family tried to change her mind. Yaya and Richard also came over and Yaya berated her, telling her she was nothing and is still nothing.
Evelyn advised Afi to get what she needed, a house, a car, and property in her own name. Afi said she would think about it. She moved out of the house into a room in her workshop, a 3-bedroom apartment that she rented from Richard.
Uncle Pious was like Afi’s father since her father was dead. He expected her to send money to him and was greedy and had no qualms about asking. He even sent two of his children to live with her, but Eli sent them home. When they started to cry, he found out why. He then offered to provide them with resources, so they could keep going to school and have more food; he also promised that they could come to visit during holidays.
Points of Questioning
Afi, early on, I wondered why Efi didn’t just take her daughter from Muna and get rid of her if the child was what was keeping him with her. Why wasn’t she worried he would take her son when she divorced him?
Both Afi and her mother were dependent on the Gangyos for support and for their livelihood. At the beginning of her marriage, Afi doesn’t make any decisions before first checking with her mother. As the marriage goes on, we quickly see her becoming more confident, defying her husband, her mother, Aunty. The change seems to be quite abrupt, in the span of less than a year.
Once Afi has her boutique, it is incredible that she succeeds as a designer so quickly. Is this due to the political clout of Fred’s brother, Fred, and the rest of the Gangyos?
It’s surprising that Afi decided to divorce Eli despite the stigma of divorce and the disapproval of both their families as well as society. She requests nothing from him except help with Selorm’s upkeep and is not sure if she will accept his offer of a house and a car. This seems extraordinary even though I don’t know Ghanaian culture well.
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