Note: I wrote this about a year ago for a short story competition. I didn’t win, but I thought I’d just share it here with you. It’s a satire; it was a way for me to try to understand what going on in the minds of women who are willing to be a fourth wife. It’s purely fiction, 3846 words.
The Fourth Wife
Everyone told me I was crazy. I was fifteen when I decided what I really wanted for my future was to be the fourth wife. Not the first, not the second, and especially not the third. It’s the fourth wife or nothing at all.
I was the first child with eleven siblings from four different mothers. Named after Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah, Mother’s wish for me was to be like the Prophet’s wife. Strong, loving, and for her whole entire life, she would just have one husband and her husband would only have one wife. If only anyone could guarantee that.
Mother insisted I should always aspire to be the first wife. A first wife, according to her, would have a place in heaven because of her patience in allowing her husband to take another wife. I told Mother I’d think about it. There’s no point in arguing with her when you’re fifteen. I love Mother but I couldn’t trust her wisdom on happiness. If only she knew I often heard her quiet sobbing during her night prayer, perhaps she would not be so adamant in telling me this was the way God intended for us.
I just didn’t think I could go through the pain of seeing my husband marry again. Three times. Mother wept all night on the day Father told her about Mother Second. She cried with Mother Second when Father told them about Mother Third, and she was in no less pain when Mother Fourth came into the picture.
In another world, I might become the only wife but I dared not hope for it. There was no way of guaranteeing it as a woman. How could I deprive a man of his right, given by God?
I prayed Mother would eventually understand. I had a feeling nobody else would. Even Mother Fourth looked at me like I had a contagious disease. At least Mother Fourth could be at least flattered I wanted to follow her footstep. I never intended to offend anyone, just believed it was the best choice for my future.
At University, away from my family, I tried to keep an open mind. I knew polygamy wasn’t a popular subject in anyone’s eyes, although it didn’t change my mind one bit. Some of my friends asked why Mother didn’t ask for divorce. I told them I had never heard Mother asking for one. Perhaps Mother loved Father too much. I knew Father would never even think of divorcing Mother. Although allowed in our religion, it was something God truly disliked. There was no way Father would do what God disliked.
At one point, I had to ask Father why he got married again. Did his love for Mother fade? No, he assured me. He explained something about his business expansions in other cities. He would rather take another wife than commit adultery. “That was the best way for all of us,” Father said. “The Prophet gave us a permit to do that, as long as I was capable of being a fair father and husband.”
I knew he was capable. Father was a fair and loving man. It was as if his heart grew four times bigger to accommodate his four families. I should never doubt him.
On my twenty-first birthday, it was time. I would soon graduate from University and I didn’t want to wait too long to marry. Fourth wives were usually the young ones. If I waited longer, I would’ve just been the second or third.
I wanted to tell Father myself so I waited until we went on our fishing trip. We sat on the side of the pond right under the shade of banana trees. “Father,” I turned to him after he threw his fishing bait. “I would like to get married.” I tried to sound as casual as possible.
“Alhamdulillah. It was time.” He was struggling for something but I couldn’t guess what it was. “Do you have a candidate already?”
“No! I was hoping you could find me a suitable companion.” He shouldn’t worry about that. I had no intention of dating. It was frowned upon in our religion.
Father’s face relaxed. Then he turned to look at me, eyes slightly glazed. “I would be honored. You are the best daughter a father could ever ask for and I am certain you would be a good wife.”
I leaned closer and hugged him. “I trust your judgment, Father. However I do have one tiny request.”
“I assured you he will have a heart of gold and an utmost love to Allah. We should never judge a man based on his looks and worldly things.”
“Don’t worry, Father. It wasn’t anything like that. I would like you to find me someone who already has three wives. I would like to be the fourth.”
Father looked at me with his mouth slightly agape. “The fourth?”
I nodded. I was anxious for his reaction. How would I defend myself? What if he did not want to do this for me? As my father, he had the ultimate say in my marriage.
And then as sudden as the snap of his bait as a fish caught it, his face looked completely normal. “I wouldn’t have guessed that but I will certainly do my best to find a suitable one for you.”
I was relieved. Father would look for my husband.
The first candidates Father gave me were all singles. He insisted that they were good matches. I didn’t want to meet them. Pointless. I knew my answer already.
“You can’t reject everyone.” Mother told me as I was about to say no to an extraordinary suitor. He was three years my senior and an active member of our religious community. He even had a steady job with a good income for his future family. “Your prettiness won’t last forever. What more are you asking for?” Mother insisted. I knew she knew the answer. But Father also wanted me to meet him, so I agreed for Father’s sake. True, he looked like a gentle loving man, a suitable father for my children. He even assured me that he had no intention in being a polygamist. I would be his only wife.
I wanted to believe him but I couldn’t. I’d seen Mother’s sisters being promised the same thing, and yet, now as they were older, their husband took a second wife. I had to refuse. Father was a little angry and disappointed, but I was fortunate he would not force a marriage on his daughters.
Perhaps Father never wanted me to be the fourth wife after all. I knew Mother still could not wholeheartedly agree to it. Then there would be no chance of Father finding me someone who met my criteria. I prayed for guidance. If this was to be my way, God would give me a sign.
That’s when I saw him on a newspaper article. Yusuf Abdullah. He was one of Father’s business partners. He just married his third wife. It might be too early to ask then, but in a couple of months he could agree to it. I slowly warmed Father up to the idea, reminding him how he used to praise Yusuf Abdullah. Father grimly agreed to my request.
We met on a Sunday afternoon at my parents’ house. Both of our families were there. We were given a moment to look at each other, briefly and under supervision. Just a glance and I knew it. This man was going to be my husband. And by the way he looked at me, I was sure he would want me as his wife. He was a few years younger than Father and aging treated him well with lines of maturity and sureness.
“Khadijah, are you sure you want to marry this man?” Father asked me. I nodded. “So, as you heard, Yusuf, that is my daughter’s wish.” Father said with a deep sigh. “You have my blessing.”
Yusuf shook Father’s hands. “Thank you my dear friend, then all that was left to do is the consent of my wives.”
My heart stopped. Father never had to do this, what if the first three wives didn’t approve? I wasn’t prepared for any arguments and my fingers started to shake.
The first wife was about the same age as Mother. The second and third ones were around the same age, possibly somewhere in their mid thirties. They politely introduced themselves to me and Mother. Wife One scrutinized me with her sharp eyes. Wife Two was gentle and very motherly. Wife Three was the prettiest. We chit-chatted and then out of nowhere, Wife Two commented, “I believe she would make a nice addition to the family.”
That was a good sign.
“But we agreed…” Wife Three cut in. Her eyes tried to meet Wife One’s.
Wife One turned to Yusuf. “Husband, I would also agree that she is a good candidate albeit her age. But you’ve been married to Wife Three not quite a year.”
“I know,” Yusuf said. “But this doesn’t mean I have to get married right away. The most important thing is to decide whether she would be a suitable candidate for our family.” He took Wife Three’s hands. “Please, what do you think my dear?”
I felt bad for her but I couldn’t take back my decision. Another woman would eventually take the fourth wife spot. I prayed she would trust me enough to be Wife Four.
Wife Three looked at Yusuf and me, back and forth. “Okay, then you will have my blessing if you would wait at least three months.”
“Oh but of course! Wife Three, thank you. I couldn’t even tell you how happy I am for your approval.”
Wife Three smiled sourly. I knew that smile all too well. It didn’t matter because I knew I would make it up to her later on. I would make her like me. A little waiting would be nothing compared to the lifetime of happiness. I would finally become what I always wanted to be.
We were married in the neighborhood mosque where Father was the prominent member. I sat next to Mother and my siblings, watching and listening from afar as Father and Yusuf exchanged vows. Finally Father gave me away to him and I was officially the fourth wife. It was the first time I stood close next to Husband. The first time I could look into his eyes without any guilt. He smiled at me, his slightly rough hands squeezed gently around mine. My cheeks warmed up. I was going to be the happiest fourth wife.
When we came back from our honeymoon, Husband took me to his home, a house complex of almost identical four buildings. A garden with a gazebo connected all of them. The spacing and the shapes convinced me that it must have been planned to be a four house complex from the very beginning.
“That is Wife One’s house, that one is Wife Three’s and the one with two floors is Wife Two’s. We had to get an extra floor there when we found out she had twins for the second time.” Husband explained as we walked towards a house. “You could have yours expanded as well, especially if you have four sons. I would really love to have a son.”
“A son? But every child is equal in God’s eyes!”
“Yes, of course!” said Husband. “But I didn’t have a son yet. I wish for someone who will be the heir of my business. If you were pregnant with my son, I would spend every Saturday night at your house.”
“To watch football.”
“Oh yes, of course.” I absentmindedly nodded. I didn’t realize just yet how valuable time with Husband would be. He took me to the house on the back corner and apologized because I couldn’t pick my spot. He joked about the other wives were here first. I chuckled politely and he showed me into our house, my part of the complex.
“So, do you like it?” he asked after we were inside.
I looked around trying to wrap my head around it. It was a nice fully furnished small house. The front door opened to the living room, next to it was the dining room. A kitchen and washing room was at the back of the house, along with a small space for line drying clothes. There were two bedrooms, one small and one big, and a bathroom.
“It’s wonderful, thank you Husband.” I loved being the fourth wife.
“Now, just settle in. The welcoming committee will be here soon.” He grinned. “I have to go to the office. I’ll be home by dinner.”
Wife Two came in with a freshly baked marmor cake. “Wife One and Three will come soon. You know, I really do like you, and I’m glad you are the fourth wife.”
I thanked her and put the cake on my living room table. I saw Wife One and Three approaching so I left the door ajar and waited for them to come in. The expression on Wife Three’s face was still tensed. I hoped she would not cry.
“Do tell us, how do you feel? You didn’t have to pretend anymore. Did your father force you into marriage?” asked Wife One as we all sat down in the living room.
I was surprised. “No, not at all. This is exactly what I wanted.”
“To be the fourth wife? Don’t lie to us. You are a smart and pretty young woman. Why would you want to be in a polygamist household?”
“She must have wanted to marry him because of the money.” Wife Three hissed at me. “I knew it from the first time I saw her!”
I couldn’t defend myself to her as Wife Three left the house sobbing. Wife One quickly followed her. I looked at Wife Two, waiting for her reaction. She stayed put.
“Well, then it’s just you and me. I won’t leave until I’ve given you the house rules,” she said, smiling.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize she would be this upset about it. If only I knew…”
“You would say no to the marriage?”
Wife Two sighed. “I wouldn’t think so. But what’s done is done, let’s just move on. Here are the rules in print, but I will point out the important things for you.” She handed me a piece of paper. “It would be helpful if you know them by heart.”
There were more than fifty points listed.
“This is how things are around here. As you see, each house is identical. Neither one is better than the other, although yours is obviously newer. Husband will add rooms as needed if you happen to have more children. All the furniture was the same set, again yours are newer, but you could arrange them however you want it. We’re all given the same amount of money each month based on the number of occupants of the house. How you spent it is up to you. Any expenses outside your monthly allowance need to be discussed with the whole family. If one of us needed more privacy during Husband’s time, it’s the other wives’ duty to take care of their children for the night. Any questions?”
I was stunned. This was new. There weren’t any strict rule with Father’s family.
“How did Husband divide the time between the families?”
“He would spend a week in each house. We’ll have one week each month, schedule adjusted based on your menstrual cycle.”
“So I wouldn’t see him for three weeks?” Father had no schedule, it usually all depended on his business trips and he could be in four places in one week. How could I live alone for three weeks?
“No, you’d still see him. We have the whole family dinner once or twice a week at the gazebo. Then you could talk to him. But no private time unless it’s your week.”
“Well, you were on your honeymoon, surely you know what I meant,” answered Wife Two sheepishly. “Dear, why do you choose to be the fourth wife of someone almost as old as your father?”
I stayed silent for a while, thinking of a good answer to give her. “Did you have a choice?” I asked her back.
“I wish I had. Husband made a good offer to my parents and he promised me he did not plan to have any more wives. He was quite a charmer back then.”
I wished she hadn’t said that. It irked me when people blamed others for their circumstances. I chose to be this because it was at least a control I could make to ensure I was the last wife. Yes, there was death and remarrying, but that wasn’t something a human being could control. I tried hard not to argue with her.
“In a way, I get it,” Wife Two continued. “Apart from marrying an older man, it must be easier being the fourth wife.”
I could sense a hint of bitterness in her tone.
“You seemed to be a good kid. But did you ever think of how Wife Three, and how the other wives must have felt?”
“Well, I…” I didn’t know what to say. There was some truth in her words. Nobody really wanted to be the source of someone else’s pain.
“I thought so too. You are too young, too idealistic, but very pretty. Of course Husband would say yes to your offer. I was hoping your father would’ve had some sense to say no, but then again what could I expect from a polygamist.”
“Wait. Don’t mock my father. He is a great man.”
“Despite being a polygamist?”
“Why do you say it like it’s a bad thing?”
“Because it hurts when you have to live with it constantly. It hurts to see your husband give another person the same affection he just gave you.”
“But isn’t the greatest love is to share?” I regretted that last sentence as soon as it flew out of my tongue. Wife Two’s eyes dropped instantly, her hands clutched the sofa cushion.
She smiled, fighting to hold back her tears. “If only you knew, my dear. Now please excuse me. I have some other things I have to do.”
And so she walked out of my door. She remained the friendliest wife, even though I rarely talked to any of the wives. I tried to knock on their door but it was always either they were not at home, going somewhere, or really busy doing something. I still met them during big family dinner but that was it. I would rather talk to Husband if he was there.
When it was finally my private time to be with him, I planned to make it special. I wanted us to get to know each other better and fall in love. I wanted us to share our story, our life, and our dreams. I pampered him, perhaps too much. He almost fell asleep instantly after his husbandly duty. I noticed the multitude of pills he had been taking and I asked him about it, but he dismissed me as being too young to understand. I hoped soon I could find a way to earn Husband’s trust, proving I could be his partner despite my age.
I traced his features as he fell asleep next to me. He was handsome, even with the wrinkle around his eyes, balding head, and protruding belly. I liked him, yes. I even enjoyed my wife duty. He was very gentle with me. I couldn’t love him just yet but I believed it would grow with time.
That next week started like any other day, chaotic in the morning but quiet after the children went to school. I was reading in my living room when the phone rang at Wife One’s house. I usually did not pay any attention since I wasn’t an eavesdropper. But on that day, she was loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Oh my God…” continued with a desperate scream.
I saw Wife Two and Three ran towards Wife One’s house. I dropped my book and instinctively followed them. Wife One was pale and in tears. Wife Two had to take the phone from her to know what was going on.
“Husband had a heart attack… he died on the way to the hospital.”
Heart attack? Those pills? Everything was a haze in front of me. I made sure Wife One wouldn’t faint and she held on to my arms tightly it bruised. People came and went, preparing a space for Husband’s body, preparing food, tea, for us.
His body was taken to Wife One’s house. I sat next to the body alongside the other wives. We greeted people coming to give us condolences. There were some I knew from our wedding. They hugged the other wives. Some of them hugged me as well briefly. The ones who didn’t, threw a vicious glance at me. It might be better if I could cry, but my tear ducts hadn’t got the signal. I felt painless, my brain was numb.
“Look at her. She’s not even sad that he passed away.” I overheard someone murmuring in the crowd. “She was probably the cause of his death.”
But that was nothing compared to what happened after the funeral. Husband’s family came to take control and claim his fortunes. They looked at all of us, the wives and daughters, their eyes filled with greed. “We will take some of it. Yusuf didn’t have a son. First we will take over the fourth wife’s house. They’ve only been married for less than two months. She shouldn’t have any inheritance.”
I screamed out loud. The widows and children still had some rights. If only he had a son, Husband’s family would not dare to take the possessions because everything would be divided between the children and widows. I ran to save my house but one of Yusuf’s brothers tackled me and pushed me to the floor. I left as soon as I could get up. I thought it would be better to fight later in court than with savages.
Everyone still tells me I’m crazy. I am twenty two years old. We went to court but there wasn’t much we could do. I showed the big bruise on my shoulder but it was their words against ours. I got my part of inheritance but I gave it to my late Husband’s daughters instead.
They told me it was karma for wanting polygamy. I don’t believe it. It was good to have other to share the sadness of death. Sharing the love meant sharing the pain too.
They shall see. I won’t be a widow for long. I have prepared my new list of possible future husbands. I will win the heart of the other three wives first. Next time, it won’t be so easy to kick out the fourth wife.