Diary of a Nigerian Single Mum: Coping with the term ‘Madam Single Mother’
I usually went for my marketing rounds on Wednesdays. With an envelope full of proposals and some sample energy light bulbs, I would go from office to office introducing my company and our products. I’ve been lucky enough not to have had any doors slammed in my face so far. What I have had are a lot of curious stares, and sometimes bored stares, but I ignore the looks and carry on with my sales pitch. On a few occasions, I have had to do more than introduce my company, I’ve had to introduce myself. Some people – usually men, would want to know if I was single or married, dating or just having fun. With no relationship to what I had come to sell, I would try my best to ward off their advances by mentioning my children.
“Oh so you’re married then?” One had asked me, not giving up easily.
“I’m a divorced single mother,” I had answered. His polite smile had been immediately replaced by a lewd grin.
“Hmmm single mother. Wow. So who is doing the honours now?”
“Honours of what?” I had asked, even though I could already guess where the conversation was heading.
“Honours of servicing your engine,” Inside me I imagined slamming a couple of light bulbs over his head and piercing him with the bits of glass. But who would bear the cost of that?
“Excuse me sir, are you interested in buying our rechargeable lightbulbs or not?” I said angrily standing up and gathering up my parcels. He looked at me amused and probably feeling very powerful. He was after all a very wealthy man with a large company, and I was, well… I sold light bulbs for a living.
“Oooh you have a temper. I like that,”’ He smiled at me without saying anything before putting his hands up in mock surrender, “Fine fine, come back on Monday and see me and we’ll take it from there,” He said getting up as well.
“Maybe then you will tell me the answer to my question. Goodbye Madam single mother.”
I walked out without giving him a backward glance. I didn’t want to see his face ever again.
But that was just one isolated incident, I encountered many more as a female marketer. I realised that once I introduced myself as a single mother, men thought I was easy prey. They would look at me as a lady desperate to make a quick buck to feed her children and to maintain a certain lifestyle that only “having a man” can provide.
Working as a marketer, I realised the stigma that was associated with single motherhood was all too real. People reacted differently when they found out about my status. The women immediately saw me as a threat to their relationships and the men tried their hardest to get me to accept their advances.
I did not like my job and what it exposed me to but it was better that being dependent on my mother or friends. So I developed a thick skin and learned how to handle the different characters of people I encountered on the job. I dubbed them occupational hazards and thought nothing more of them. One day my young cousin, aunty Nwando’s daughter came into my apartment. She needed help with a cake for her birthday.
“Oh I can help you with that. I’ve been baking for so many years” I told her and made a list of ingredients for her to get. “Oh really aunty? Thank you so much. I don’t have a clue about baking”
“You’re welcome. Now just get the things on the list and we’ll get started.”
She hurried off and I was left alone. Something had occurred to me while she was talking and I sat down slowly. ‘I had been baking for so many years. So why on earth haven’t I turned it into a business?’
It was a Eureka moment for me. I would open a cake business and grow my clientele one day at a time. Sitting there all alone, I suddenly couldn’t contain my excitement. I could almost already see how much more lucrative it would be. My cousin came back with everything for the cake and we got to baking with a kerosene stove. As I worked with the ingredients, I remembered the joy of baking. It calmed me and pleased me to no end to see my own creation.
That night I spoke with my mom and aunty about my intended business venture and they were both excited at the prospects and promised to help as much as they could. I went to bed staring up at my ceiling and smiling, even though I didn’t know where to start. At least when my business was open, people would address me properly. I never wanted to hear “madam single mother” ever again. I hissed in the dark as I remembered.