Something told Nnedi to run and in that instant she sprang from the bed and headed for the door. It was only when she got to the door that she realized she was still tying a wrapper on her chest. She loped back inside the room to put on some clothes, took a bag and put some more clothes in it. She also took her wad of naira notes where she had hidden it and proceeded to stuff it in her bra. She peeped out of the room; the entire house was dark and quiet. She felt her way along the corridor to the back door and let herself out into the warm, balmy night. As she darted across the compound, she wondered where she would go. There was no way she could go back home, by morning the whole town would be awash with the news of Ihenacho’s demise and she would be a wanted person. She would only end up bringing shame and disgrace to her family.
As she continued on the road to the center of the town, she heard a dog bark in the distance. She shivered and almost turned back but steeled herself against such a foolish action.
“It is already midday and our husband and Nnedi are not up yet”, said Chiamaka worriedly
“I bet they were up all night savouring each other”, Chinwe the first wife replied spilling vitriol. “That brat of a girl comes into this house and sways her waist around because she is young and beautiful. When I was bearing children by Ihenacho her mother was still a girl.
“Haba, mama Adanma, that is not the way to talk about your husband’s new wife”, said Chiamaka
“Not when that wife is younger and more beautiful than I am”, Chinwe retorted.
Chiamaka sighed. She didn’t envy Nnedi one bit. In the early days of her marriage to Ihenacho, she had found it really difficult to cope with his fierce lovemaking. She was glad that she was finally out of the limelight as Ihenacho’s latest wife, even though she pitied Nnedi. She found Nnedi quite easy to relate to than the other wives, their nearness in age proved to be a binding factor for their relationship. God help Nnedi she prayed silently as she continued sieving garri.
She looked over at Chinwe, Ihenacho’s first wife who was pounding palm nuts for the afternoon meal. Age had been cruel to her, true she had once been young and beautiful but that beauty was now hidden by wrinkles and folds of flabby, aging skin.
The other wives; Chizoba, Nnena, Ijeoma and Ugonwa in order f hierarchy were spread out in different positions in the large compound carrying out their chores. Chizoba was spreading yam flakes in the sun to dry, Nnena was washing her children’s clothes, Ijeoma was doing some needlework under the shade while Ugonwa was tending to her nine month old baby. All the wives shared the same vacuous kitchen even though they cooked in turns for Ihenacho.
“Everybody is working and that lazy mouse is still curled up in bed by midday”, Chinwe hissed to no one in particular
“I will go and check on them”, replied Chiamaka standing up.
She knocked on the bedroom door but no answer came from within. She turned the door knob and it gave way. She stood outside, undecided whether to go in or close the door. She hoped to God that she wasn’t interrupting anything.
Finally, curiosity got the better of her and she pushed the door wide open, familiarizing her eyes with the darkness of the interior of the room. In that instant she noticed Ihenacho on the bed in his death sprawl and no sign of Nnedi.
“Hawu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” she screamed
The other wives and some of the older children rushed towards the source of the scream.
The women burst into tears at the sight that greeted them. Soon neighbours arrived and the children were herded into one corner away from the room. The neighbours also assisted the women to cover Ihenacho up before the arrival of his brothers.
When Ihenacho’s brothers arrived, they requested to see his body and Chinwe the eldest wife took them to the room.
“Where is she?” Okoye the eldest of the three brothers asked
“Where is that witch of a girl?” he roared
“We can’t find her”, replied Chinwe
“So that little slut thinks she can kill my brother and run away. She is playing with the wrong family”, he continued marching out of the room
The women had retreated to their private quarters to mourn. The children who were too young to understand what was going on were outside in the compound playing hide and seek while the older children stayed with their mothers.
Ihenacho’s three brothers Okoye, Nwafor and Orji were seated in the living room. Other members of the family had come as soon as they heard the news.
Okoye addressed the group, “What did my brother do to deserve such a shameful death? Is it now a crime to marry a young wife? She was clearly overworking him; didn’t you see how his equipment was shrunken?”
The other men nodded in assent. Some grunted
“Our brother’s death will not go unpunished. That girl must be found and she must suffer for bringing shame and disgrace to this family” he reiterated
He turned to his brother, “Nwafor! Take some men with you and organize yourselves into search parties. Make sure you comb the town thoroughly”.
“Consider it done” replied Nwafor as he got up to carry out the task.
“Now we shall go to Okeke’s house” he said addressing the others.
Before he left, Okoye sent for Chinwe. She came into the living room, her eyes all puffy and red.
“Take heart, my dear”, he said, patting her on the shoulder.
She sniffed loudly and he let his arm linger on her shoulder.
The group was greeted by wailing at the Okeke residence; however a temporary hush was experienced as soon as the group of men entered the compound. Umuaku was a small town and news travelled fast.
Okeke was seated stoically in a chair surrounded by his kinsmen while his wife sat on the floor in the company of other sympathizers. The sympathizers could not help but note how unlucky the Okeke’s were. First their son was struck with an unknown illness. Then their only son-in-law died under mysterious circumstances while their daughter had simply disappeared.
Okeke stood up to greet them as they entered.
“You are welcome, my in-laws” he said. “Please sit down”
“We do not sit in the home of murderers”, Okoye replied brusquely
“Listen to what I have to say. We have sent out search parties to look for your disgrace of a daughter and when she’s found, she shall pay dearly for the misfortune she has brought upon our family”
“As for you Okeke”, he continued, “You and your wife will do well to stay indoors lest you incur the wrath of my family and indeed the whole town”
With their business done, the men filed out into the sunset.
“Nnedi has killed me oh!!!!!!!!” Oriaku sobbed afresh
As Oriaku sat in the dust, she replayed in her mind the events of that afternoon. It was just after midday when one of their kinsmen, Asikogu, who happened to be Okeke’s neighbour, came to inform them that Ihenacho was found dead in his bed and Nnedi had vanished. According to Asikogu, Ihenacho was found naked and there were tell-tale signs that he had been making love to his new wife when he gave up the ghost.
What kind of love-making could kill a man, Oriaku pondered. So this was what Nnedi had been going through. No wonder during Nnedi’s visit yesterday she had noticed a hint of sadness in her daughter’s eyes. She knew something was amiss but she couldn’t place a finger on what it was and Nnedi’s pregnancy revelation quickly dispelled whatever queer feelings she haboured.
“But why will Nnedi run away”, she asked no one in particular. She strongly believed Nnedi did not kill Ihenacho, not with the realization that she was already pregnant. She wondered what would become of Nnedi when the search parties found her. She feared the fate that would befall her daughter and her daughter’s unborn child
One by one, the sympathizers dispersed to their homes as darkness engulfed the town. Oriaku went into the kitchen to prepare supper even though she knew neither she nor her husband had a taste for food. She served some food for Chidi and took to him in his room. He asked her what the wailing was about and she lied that one of their distant relatives had lost her baby at childbirth. She couldn’t risk telling him about the calamity that had befallen them so close to his surgery.
The sadness that hung in the air that night in the Okeke household was palpable. Sleep eluded the entire family, even Pa. Oni who usually went to bed with the chickens sat in his chair in utter silence with his pipe hanging from his lips.