Stay With Me is a delicate sandwich, a four-part bun that is a sure filler. It doesn’t drip. It is neither hot nor spicy. It is hearty, slow-cooked to near perfection, firm to the finish. It leaves you questioning the endless possibilities of marriage. Spanning the years 1981 to 2008, all the way from Ilesha to Jos, it tells the story of a couple that endures and eventually caves into the ruins of a turbulent love. The plot weaves through sweet university love, traverses marriage, transcends the accusation of barrenness, and climaxes at the despicable undertones of the birth of children who die too young to not be missed. The denouement – an unmasking of extreme aiding and abetting, revelation of a wet lie, and an unassuming reunion – is abrupt and revealing in the way expertly riddled plots are.
As a reader, I was angry at myself for not connecting the dots and adding up the signs all along. But, the poignancy of the final scenes put my emotions at bay and then set them ablaze. When a mother who thought the last fruit of her womb – before she numbed ties to motherhood and marriage – was dead like the ones who came before, only to discover, after fifteen years, that this child had stayed alive, conquered illness, ridden the wave of single parenting, and grown into a wide-eyed precocious youngin, she couldn’t help but surrender (finally) to all the emotions that both herself and readers like myself had bottled up throughout the book. This book – with winding, interlocked themes of deceit, detachment, gender biases, and twisted family onuses – made me one with that mother: Yejide.
I read Stay With Me in early June, when the intensity of “6-months to-2020” chants were yet to sizzle. I was approaching my graduation and I was, failingly, trying to soak up the last few days of collegiate excitement and fun, planning dinners (which never happened) with my friends, and avoiding a looming desire to simply retreat into myself. This book marked my transition from an over pushed bubbliness to an intentional thoughtfulness. It nudged my inevitable introspection under the weight of a looming estrangement from friends and juvenile stability at college.
At different points in the plot, images from my past and present coloured the cream pages of its red paperback, the most resonant of all being the scene when Yejide visited the Mountain of jaw-dropping miracles to meet a prophet to cure her alleged barrenness. She got strapped to a goat and was asked to breastfeed its bundled contraption. The despicability of this scene threw me back to the fall of 2017 in whose early days I shuffled hospitals without assurance of what actual disease was trying to take my life away from me. ✚
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Okwara studied at the African Leadership University in Mauritius, where she was an Editor at a campus publication. She aspires to live a life that epitomises the French sentence, “On est bien la.”