(By Ihunda Omodu)- It was the month of December and the dry season. It was that season when the wind howled and blew around every light weighted thing in its path. The fog was dense making it difficult to decipher one’s surrounding. The leaves looked like an invincible hand had baked them making them very crisp. Trees lay bare, ridden of every covering though one could see a few still clinging desperately to leaves which barely hung from them. Dust filled the atmosphere and it was hard to keep the skin supple and the feet from being dusty white.
Somewhere, in a small village in Southern Nigeria, a young girl named Chike Nna was in a melancholic mood. She wasn’t usually this way. Chike was usually bubbly and full of life. She was beautiful in every way. Her skin was a lovely chocolate brown colour and very supple from the palm kernel oil she used meticulously day and night. She had a very curvy physique; the curves were in the right places. She had those lovely African feminine hips that swayed rhythmically with every step. She was soft spoken and a peacemaker.
Her family loved her because she was respectful and hardworking; and as the first child, she was a good role model for her siblings. Her friends looked up to her for she was a reliable and dependable friend. She was what one would describe as altogether lovely.
Chike was in deep thought with her chin resting on her right palm. Looking through the hole in her bamboo window, the dry leaves seemed to float in the morning mist. The instant downpour was incredible with the rains brushing against her room window and rattling it with such a force that it was nothing short of a miracle that the window was still intact. The rains seemed to be navigated by the wind that howled across the bushes nearby. The rain had suddenly and unexpectedly been aroused from its deep slumber and came with a fury unknown to Chike. It seemed to take everything in its path and was even shaking the foundation of her parent’s house. A few trees had been uprooted while some still stood stubbornly to the ground. However, the rain stopped as suddenly as it started, leaving a chill in the air which itself smelt icy and of rotten vegetation.
“This is strange,” thought Chike. “It is unusual for it to rain, especially this heavily, during this time of the year. This must be a bad omen.”
Her traditional wedding to Obi was just two days away. Preparation was in top gear and everyone was excited. But not Chike. She didn’t feel right about the wedding but just didn’t know why. All she knew was that there was an ominous feeling deep down in her and the sudden downpour seemed to give her feelings a stamp of approval. She thought of Ikenna who had promised to marry her but had just graduated from the university and was job hunting. Though he was the man of her dreams, his family was just as poor as hers. She loved him but didn’t think that love would put food on their table or bring them out of poverty. She needed someone who could end all the years of poverty her family had endured, thus she didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’ to Obi’s proposal. It didn’t matter that she considered him to be suave or the very personification of arrogance.
She was actually convinced that he slept and awoke in a state of arrogance. Nor did it matter that he strutted about like an overfed cock and expected everyone to sing “How great thou art” whenever he passed by. Just because he lived in the white man’s land, London to be precise, he thought of everyone in the village as backward and uncivilised. She didn’t think that she had any choice because marriage to Obi was the key that would unlock the door of a better life for her and her family. She owed that to her parents whom she had watched work tirelessly in the scorching heat of the dry season and stormy rainfalls during the rainy season just to provide for the family. Whatever future ambitions she had would have to wait.
“Maybe, Obi would help me realise some of my ambitions,” she thought to herself.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her Mother’s complaining in the backyard. When Mrs. Nna complained about anything, she would start with the issue at hand and then proceed to each member of the family, reminding them of sins they had committed the previous weeks or even months. At such times, her husband usually found an excuse to leave the house in a hurry. Luckily for her siblings, they were all away on various errands this time. She was complaining about the sudden rain and the incompetent rainmaker she had paid to withhold whatever rain any jealous rainmaker might want to bring down during the wedding.
“What kind of ominous rainfall is this, eh and what incompetent rainmaker have I hired?” shouted Mrs. Nna to no one. “I’ve just finished plastering the whole building with fresh mud and now it looks like I’ll have to do it all over again. I’ll have to go and see that rainmaker and he had better keep the details of his incompetence to himself.”
Mrs. Nna continued talking until she got to the room Chike shared with her siblings, which didn’t surprise Chike because she was expecting her.
“Didn’t you hear me talking?” Mrs. Nna asked.
“I did, Mama. But I didn’t know that I was supposed to do anything about it,” replied Chike not taking away her eyes from the window.
“That was the same thing you did two weeks ago when…”
“Alright, Mama. I’m sorry for ignoring you”.
“And why do you look unhappy? You’re meant to be over the moon. How many girls your age get married to our men who live in the land of the white man? My daughter, you should be in a state of thanksgiving all your life. Look my dear daughter, Obi is a very important man,” Mrs. Nna continued.
“Mama, how do you know that?”
“Didn’t you see how well dressed he always is? He also has an important job in London.”
“Eh, Mama, he never said so. He only said that he’s got a job there. He never said whether the job was an important one or not”
“Well, whatever. All I know is that my future son-in-law is an important man and you should be excited that you’re getting married to him,” said Mrs. Nna with a note of finality.
Chike knew it was futile to argue with her mother. To her mother, Obi’s proposal to Chike three months ago, when he visited from London, was heaven sent. He was rich, or so she thought, for any one who lived in the white man’s land must be rich. Or how else can one explain the suppleness of their skin, like Obi’s? Mrs. Nna loved him because he had promised to end their poverty. She thought he was handsome with a good physique suitable for the best village wrestler. Moreover, he talked like the white priests who served in the village parish. He was confident whenever he discussed with them and had even promised to help Chike speak like the white men.
The prospect of a better life was just too alluring. Who could blame her really?
Her family was barely managing to survive. With four children, two boys and two girls, daily life was a constant reminder of the harshness poverty dealt on them. It was difficult to put good food on the table. The farms were so difficult to till and the almost constant erosion didn’t help matters. The only fertile farmland they owned had been polluted by the recent oil spillage. They were yet to see any form of compensation, despite all the promises made by the government and the oil company responsible for the spillage.
Their family house was a two bedroom mud house with a thatched roof. The beds, the size of a single bed, were made from bamboo sticks and each had two layers of wrappers for cushioning. The four children shared a room while their parents occupied the other room. Sleeping at night was challenging whatever the weather. When it rained, the windows had to be locked, thus allowing for very little air that got in through the tiny spaces between the bamboo sticks they were made of. When the weather was dry and they could open the windows, they had to contend with the constant buzzing of hungry and ferocious mosquitoes. The kitchen was an open structure with a thatched roof supported by four long planks. Food was cooked on a tripod stand with sticks of firewood as the energy source and they had to endure smoke fumes getting into their eyes whenever they cooked.
They were fortunate to have a pit toilet at the backyard and didn’t need to go to the nearby bushes to empty their bowels like so many others did. The bathroom was a small one built with bamboo sticks. This was a far cry from the pictures that Obi had shown them of the interior of his house in London. It was big and had three bedrooms, all very spacious. The master bedroom was en suite and the kitchen was as big as the Nna’s entire house. As far as Chike was concerned, it was out of this world. She had never seen anything like it before. With that, she consoled herself that it was probably the wedding blues that were making her melancholic.
The wedding day arrived with a lot of pageantry expected of one living abroad. The entire atmosphere was festive. The drummers tried hard to out do one another with the hope that the important guests would show some appreciation by way of cash. Beautiful maidens with bodies patterned with lovely clay decorations swayed shamelessly back and forth, hoping to attract the attention of prospective bachelors. The older women, all gorgeously dressed, gossiped about the method they used to get their husbands to buy them the latest wrappers at the last market day.
After the ceremony, Chike and her husband left for his village with Chike promising to return to say a proper goodbye before leaving for the UK.
“We’ll leave for the city first thing in the morning,” Obi announced to Chike later that night.
“Oh, so soon?”
“Yes, I need to sort out your visa so we can leave together for the UK.”
“But I haven’t said a proper goodbye to my family.”
“You’re now my wife and I’m your new family now. That’s all that should matter to you. And I don’t wish to continue with this line of conversation again,” he retorted.
Chike was confused. She wasn’t used to this sort of behaviour. What was she supposed to do? Argue with him? Keep quiet and let it pass? She remembered her Mother’s admonition, “My daughter, patience is a virtue that one must acquire in marriage, especially as a woman.” She decided to let it pass.
Barr. Ihunda Oroma Omodu is a lawyer and emerging writer based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org