(By Ihunda Omodu) – Nne shuddered at the thought of what laid ahead of her. For a week now, she had been indoors, coming out only to use the rest room. She had been eating from broken plates, hadn’t had a bath or combed her hair. After the funeral, she would have to shave her beautiful hair. That was, however, the least of her concerns. Her greatest concern was spending the night with her husband’s corpse and drinking the water used in washing the corpse in order to prove that she was innocent of her husband’s death. These were all part of the mourning rites, the elders had explained to her.
“But I didn’t kill him” Nne protested to the elders. “The autopsy shows that he died from a sudden heart attack.”
“Well, that is the autopsy result which is different from our tradition” said one of the elders.
“Nne,” said another elder “I hope you know the consequences of disobedience which includes loosing all your late husband’s property.”
Nne knew it was futile pleading with them especially as some of them had their eyes on her husband’s farmlands.
“I need to make provision for my kids should something fatal happen to me” Nne thought to herself. “I need to talk to Papa and Mama.”
“Why is it that here, when a man dies, his wife is suspected of killing him but if it is the woman who dies, then it must be her time to go?” Nne asked her parents sadly.
“Nne,” said her mother, “it is such an obnoxious tradition that should be done away with.”
“I’m surprised at the elders” said her Father. “Councillor Ike told us at the last village meeting that the government has outlawed all harmful and obnoxious widowhood practices.”
“Nne, your husband’s love will guard you’ her Mother said consoling her.
“Anyway, if anything happens to me, please promise me you’ll take care of my kids’ said Nne
“Don’t talk that way, Nne” said her Mother. “Nothing bad will happen to you.”
“We are here for you” said her Father. “You can count on us.”
That night, as she was left with the corpse, fear gripped Nne.
“Tobe, why have you brought this upon me?” she whispered to the corpse.
Suddenly, she sensed a strange presence.
“Tobe, is that you?” she asked.
“If you can hear me, please watch over me. You know how much I loved you. Please, don’t let anything happen to me” Nne pleaded to the presence.
Fear gave way to courage and Nne slept peacefully, prepared for the events of the next day.
“Hmm, our elders and everyone here, I greet you” said Nne’s brother-in-law. “The time has come for Nne to prove her innocence and may our ancestors help her.”
Nne was asked to stand at the centre of the crowd. The cup containing the water used in washing the corpse was given to her to drink. She closed her eyes, lifted up the cup and called on her husband’s spirit to absolve her of any guilt.
As she was about to drink the water, there was commotion. People began to move away quickly. She opened her eyes to see what was happening and saw a group of policemen with Councillor Ike approaching the venue of the funeral.
Nne knew she wouldn’t have to drink the water anymore. She looked up and thought she saw her husband’s face in the sun’s rays smiling at her as if to say “I told you I would watch over you and I’ve kept my promise.”
Barr. Ihunda Oroma Omodu is an emerging writer based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. You can reach her via email:email@example.com