Okeke shut the door and with a sigh and slumped into the nearest chair his body could find. What had he just done? He had in fact just given his teenage daughter to that burly and sour man, because of money, seeing that there was no way to treat Chidi’s illness without the huge bride price which Ogbuefi Ihenacho was going to pay on his daughter, Nnedi. He shook his head in disgust as he took in the sparsely decorated living room; with the sagging, worn arm chairs and the old, brown carpet that was already threadbare. He was planning to use part of his pension to improve the standard of the house when Chidi suddenly fell ill.
The next day, Ogbuefi Ihenacho came as planned. Okeke and his brothers were already seated when they arrived. The marriage ceremony was fixed for the following Saturday
“Grandpa, can’t anything be done”, Nnedi pleaded tearfully
Pa Oni stared back at his granddaughter, a look of sympathy crossing his face. Pa Oni as he was fondly called by the inhabitants of Umuaku lived alone in a separate apartment in the compound ever since the death of his wife, Nnedi’s grandmother. He looked agile and sprightly for a man in his nineties which was not surprising considering the fact that he used to be a lumbar man. When the white men came, he quickly embraced their ideas and crossed the big river to the forests beyond in search of trees to fell. His barrel –like build came in handy for the hard work of cutting and chopping tress manually. Now retired, Pa Oni normally sat on his favourite chair in the middle of the compound smoking on his rusty pipe. The death of his wife was a big blow to him as they had been very close, more like friends than husband and wife. They had married quite early, Pa Oni at nineteen and Nne at fifteen. Nnedi’s father, Okeke was the third child of the marriage which was blessed with four boys and one girl.
Nnedi held onto her grandfather’s foot as he smoked his pipe in the middle of the compound, her tears wetting the dust at his feet.
Just then, she felt her father’s shadow tower over her and she looked up to see him scowling down at her
“You foolish girl”, Okeke barked
“What are you doing here crying?”
Nnedi hustled to her feet and exited to the back of the compound.
“Okeke, you are too harsh on the child”, Pa Oni chided
“Can’t you see that things have happened to her so suddenly?”
“Papa, I know”, Okeke interrupted. “But don’t you think that things have turned up suddenly on me too?”
“I have a right to be angry with myself and my lot in life. What did I do to deserve this misfortune, I can’t help it that I’m spreading my anger everywhere”, he grumbled.
“Okeke, you are a man”, his father replied. “Men must hide their emotions, including anger. Have pity on that poor child, she needs an adult’s guidance”
The sun had gone down and with it came the chill of the night. Okeke sat on his verandah brooding
“Nnedi”, he called.
Even by the dim light of the hurricane lantern sitting on the doorstep, Nnedi could see the lines of worry etched on her father’s face. She thought to herself that his broad shoulders which he had inherited from his father were hunched in defeat tonight.
“Papa I am here” she replied calmly
“Nnedi, I am sorry”, he began
“Papa don’t worry, I understand”, Nnedi interrupted
Okeke hated himself even more. Standing there she looked like a sacrificial lamb
Such courage in a young girl, he thought. She would make a good wife, he knew that. He trusted her to handle herself properly.
After working in the Ministry of Agriculture as a Forestry Manager and being in contact with the white men and their civilization for such a long time, he had hoped that Nnedi would get a university education and marry someone from the big city. He could see that dream going to dust now with Chidi’s illness. The doctors in the government hospital in the next village of Amazia, told them that Chidi suffered from a respiratory problem which in their medical parlance was called Pleurisy.
He raised his head to find Nnedi still standing in front of him.
“My daughter, you can go”, he managed to say. “It is well with you”
“Amen, papa” she returned
“Please come and help me with this bag” she continued handing Nnedi the bag she had just brought from the market
“My daughter, I decided to go to the market to buy a few things for you to take to your husband’s house. I paid for some and I bought some on credit. Let it not be heard that the daughter of Oriaku went to her husband’s house empty handed” she said
Nnedi looked at her mother. She seemed to have aged a couple of years since Chidi’s illness started. The stress of their predicament had taken its toll on her and her once golden complexion was more of a dusty hue.
“But mama, you shouldn’t have bought these things on credit”, Nnedi countered
“I see you are very ungrateful”, her mother hissed
“Mama, it’s just that you are putting yourself through all this trouble because of me”
“Never mind, the God we serve will not let us down even though it seems he has gone to sleep” her mother replied softening once again.
Nnedi sat on a chair in the parlour and rummaged through the bag. She found pots of various sizes, pans and other cooking utensils. In a smaller parcel were female underwear and yards of different colourful cloths. Her mother had also purchased a hurricane lantern and an article box for keeping sewing materials.
“Thank you, mama”, Nnedi said, hugging her mother
“Thank God my daughter”, she replied as tears welled up in her throat threatening to choke her.
“God help me”, Oriaku muttered under her breath and shuddered when she realized that by this time tomorrow evening, Nnedi would be in Ogbuefi Ihenacho’s house.