One night at the dinner table, Tobi went off on one of his "What if..." tangents. It went something like this: "What if you're married to someone, and they travel and you just never see them again, are you still married to them?"
At that very moment it suddenly occurred to me that I had two stories for him, one from each side of his family tree.
Back in the late 1940s Bayo's mom had been married with one daughter. Then her husband traveled and simply never came back. After about seven years, the village declared that her husband was dead. They did the mourning ceremony, and shortly thereafter she married Bayo's dad. She gave birth to a daughter with her new husband and later gave birth to Bayo. When Bayo was a newborn, her first husband suddenly reappeared! And he wanted his wife back!
Bayo's mother faced a tough decision. She had had a good life with her first husband. But with her second husband she faced a lot of difficulties, mainly because she was the second wife in a polygamous marriage. She decided to stay in the difficult marriage because of her only son, Bayo. If she left her second husband, she would have to leave her children behind because in African context, the children belong to the man. Bayo's dad already had four sons. It is likely that Bayo would not have been well cared for and probably would have died without his mother's care. So, she stayed. Later she had another daughter and two more sons.
From my side of the family, a relative's sister was married to a man who went out on a submarine mission in the 1960s. The sub did not return as scheduled. After a period of months, he was presumed dead. Sometime later she re-married. Her first husband has never been found.
Years ago I watched the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away which deals with this theme. The Hanks' character ends up on a deserted island after a plane crash. Four years later he makes it back home and discovers that his fiancee is married and has a child.
I think Tobi's question is one that we all stumble across at some point in our lives. These situations would literally be our worst nightmare.