The D-day had finally arrived. Early in the morning as is the custom, all the girls in the village who were in Nnedi’s age group gathered in the Okekes’ compound to help with the preparations. Nnedi sat in one corner of her mother’s room, taking in the flurry of activities going on around her. Her mother was completely in her element coordinating and directing the preparations while supervising the cooking. She could tell that her mother was out to please her specially and that made her happy even though her happiness was tinged with a bit of sadness when she remembered the reason for the marriage in the first place. The women who were going to dress her came not long after and Nnedi was carried away with the excitement of trying on new, colorful pieces of attire.
At about noon, the groom, Ogbuefi Ihenacho arrived with his entourage. He was dressed in a white traditional shirt and wrapper tied toga style. His wives were dressed identically as well. Ihenacho brought with him cartons of soft drinks, a dozen or so bottles of liquor, two goats, yam tubers, pieces of brightly coloured fabric for the bride as well as food cooked by his harem of six wives. With the welcoming formalities concluded at the entrance to the compound, Ihenacho and his family quickly made were ushered to a canopy that had been prepared just for them and their friends.
Soon it was time for Nnedi to process out of the house for the traditional maidens’ dance. She was wearing a white wrapper tied over her chest as she displayed one dance step after another to the admiration of her husband to be and the guests who rewarded her with a sizeable wad of naira notes which her second cousin, Chinyere tied up in a handkerchief for safe keeping.
The second time Nnedi appeared in the open, she was wearing a white blouse and George wrapper. Her neck was adorned with beads from her paternal grand-mother’s prized collection of corals. Nnedi sashayed gracefully to the canopy where her father and his kinsmen sat, directly opposite Ihenacho and his people. She stood with her back ramrod straight, her eyes unwavering.
One of her father’s kinsmen handed her a wooden cup of palm wine. As is the custom, Nnedi was required to walk around the venue in search of Ihenacho while his male relatives tried to distract her; inviting her to serve them the wine. When she finally found him, she served him the wine kneeling down as a mark of respect for her husband. Ihenacho drank all of the wine to show the he completely accepts her. This symbolic gesture was greeted by loud applause from the guests after which Nnedi and Ihenacho both made their way as a couple to where Nnedi’s father and uncles were seated for blessings.
Nnedi’s grandfather, Pa Oni was called upon to bless the couple while they knelt down; the eldest man in Ihenacho’s entourage was also called upon to bless the couple. With the blessings and prayers on the couple concluded, it was time for the dancing and merriment to begin. Once again, Nnedi displayed her superior dance steps even though she kept bumping into Ihenacho’s bulging stomach which made her very uncomfortable. His other wives and some guests joined in on the action in the middle of the compound and they all danced well into the afternoon.
As the sun made its way to its western hideout, Nnedi began packing what was left of her belongings. She had done the bulk of her packing the previous day with the help of her second cousin, Chinyere. Her mother, who was heavily adorned to match the coveted position of mother of the bride, watched her intently as she moved around the room.
“Sit down for a minute, my daughter”, said Oriaku
Nnedi moved to the bed and sat on the edge.
Oriaku continued. “You are now Ihenacho’s wife. I have raised you well so please don’t let me down. With your brother’s illness eating us alive, promise me you will come to see us as frequently as your husband permits”.
“I promise ma”, replied Nnedi
“God be with you my daughter”
Nnedi was escorted to her husband’s house by her aunties, friends and cousins. There was even more merriment and fun-making in Ihenacho’s compound. She was shown to her personal quarters by Ihenacho’s sixth wife, Chiamaka. She quickly arranged a few of her belongings and went back to join in the festivities.
As the last of the sun’s rays disappeared, the crowd began to thin out. Ihenacho and some of his friends sat on his front porch drinking palm wine and discussing.
“Shouldn’t you be out of sight, ensconced with your new wife”, one of the men asked
“Such a pretty maiden should be sampled quickly”, added another
Ihenacho waved them off saying, “A woman is like a blanket: If you cover yourself with it, it bothers you; if you throw it aside you will feel the cold.”
This last statement was received with laughter from the group of men.
Ihenacho was arguably the richest merchant in the village. He owned the biggest shop in the market where he sold everything from school shoes to matches.
Nnedi retired to her quarters and took her bath. She donned one of the night gowns her mother had bought for her from her trip to the market. It was a pink number, knee-length and had frills on the sleeves and hem. She shoved her feet into a new pair of rubber slippers, picked up her hurricane lantern and made her way to Ihenacho’s living quarters. Nnedi noticed in the semi darkness that the four-poster bed was neatly made. She lay on the bed to wait for Ihenacho, she could hear him and his friends still talking loudly and wondered how long she would have to wait. Soon exhaustion took over her body and she fell asleep.
She woke up to calloused hands running up her thighs. She had fallen asleep with the lamp still on and now it cast shadows on Ihenacho’s form as he hovered over her fondling her breasts through her night gown. Her mother had told her she would experience some discomfort but nothing prepared Nnedi for the pain she felt as Ihenacho drove into her with urgency. His brutal thrusts caused her to cry in pain which he mistook for pleasure and increased his pace only to fall on her in an exhausted heap as soon as he was done. It was his snore that signaled that he had gone to sleep and Nnedi gently rolled him off her. She gingerly sat up reaching for her wrapper and tried to walk to the door but stumbled twice wincing in pain. Her thighs were stuck together by sticky, virginal blood. With the light of the hurricane lantern, she made her way to the bathroom at the back of the building and cleaned herself up.
When she returned, she put on her night gown and lay down beside her new husband. The word husband felt alien to her. Just then Ihenacho mumbled something in his sleep and his right arm landed across her waist. Her breath stilled for a moment and she tried to wriggle out of his embrace but he simply snuggled closer. She tried to fall asleep but sleep would not come. She thought about Chidi and how he was unable to partake in the wedding ceremony. She worried that the money for her bride price would not be enough to treat Chidi’s illness. She wondered if every night of her married life would be like this and how much of this disgusting physical ritual she could tolerate. When sleep finally came, it came slowly but surely, cuddling her in its gentle grip.
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