One week after Nnedi’s miscarriage, Ik decided it was time to go back to work. As he got ready to leave the house that morning, he saw Nnedi staring at him like a wounded pigeon. He sighed.
“But I have to go and work for us to eat now”, he began without preamble
“I know”, she replied
“So why are you looking at me like that?” he queried.
“Do you want me to take you home to Umuaku so your mother can look after you?”
“Noooooo!!!!!!!” she cried
“You want them to kill me?”
He knew she was referring to her late husband’s people as “them”
He bit his lip and walked out of the room into the dawning day.
When he got to the park, his lorry was second on the queue. That meant he could get to Umuaku as early as possible and pay the Okeke’s a visit.
“My son, you’re welcome”, Oriaku greeted him delightedly
“How is my daughter?”
“Mama, I’m afraid I have some bad news”, Ik said somberly
“What is it”, quizzed Oriaku, a frown creasing her forehead
“Nnedi had a miscarriage a week ago”, he continued
“Tufiakwa”, spat Oriaku
“I asked her to come here with me but she refused. She said Ihenacho’s people will kill her.”
“A week, a whole week and it is now you are coming?”
“Why didn’t you come and tell me since, so that is how my daughter would have died like a chicken in your house”, Oriaku sobbed.
And it was in that moment of grief that an idea entered her head.
“Let us go”
“To where ma?” asked Ik in confusion
Ik knew it was useless to argue with her as she started walking briskly to his lorry. He followed her quietly.
The door to the room was ajar. Ik wondered why Nnedi would open the door so wide at night as if she hadn’t suffered enough in the hands of malaria-causing mosquitoes.
He heard his mother’s voice and that was when he knew something was wrong. He looked back at Oriaku and motioned to her to wait in the passage before he entered the room.
“Mama, why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“So I should tell you so that you can dissuade me from coming, isn’t it?”
“I saw the girl you’ve been cohabiting with in this Onitsha. I told her that whatever charm she is using on you it has failed today”
“Mama, where is she?” Ik thundered
“How am I supposed to know? I told her to take her things and leave”
“You what?”, chorused Ik and Oriaku who had hitherto been quietly watching the exchange between mother and son from the door.
It was Ik’s mother’s turn to be confused
“Who is she”, she asked her son, gesturing at Oriaku
“I am the mother of the girl you sent away without a second thought. Now where is my daughter?”
Ik’s mother’s eyes darted from side to side and that was when she knew she was in trouble
“Well…..I just told her to……..take her things………. and leave”, she stammered
“Before i knew it……. I did not see her again”
Oriaku pounced on her and the two women broke into a fight. They were pulling at each other’s hair and tearing each other’s clothes. Ik quickly reached for his battery operated torch light as the coming twilight had rendered the room dark. With the room clearly bathed in the light from his torch, he could now see both women rolling from side to side on the floor, modesty be damned. He tried to break up the fight and only succeeded after a few scratches and kicks from each of the women. He turned to see his neighbours who upon hearing the melee had rushed in to find out what the noise was about. He showed them out of room and shut the door.
He faced both women as they struggled to catch their breath and berated them in no slight terms.
“Both of you should be ashamed of yourselves. Imagine you old women fighting like two teenagers over a boy.”
“We will find Nnedi. She couldn’t have gone very far. We all need to calm down and think”
Someone knocked on the door.
Ik swore as he covered the distance between where he stood and the door. He was ready to tell-off whatever nosy neighbour that had the blazing effrontery to knock on his door after he had told them to leave.
He opened the door and was greeted by the sight of a fair-complexioned girl about Nnedi’s age. He caught a glimpse of even white teeth as she smiled nervously
“My mother is inside”, she ventured
Before he knew what was happening, he found himself being shoved aside as his mother pulled the girl in by hand and shut the door behind her.
She stood facing him, her back to the door and her hand still on the girl’s arm
“Ik, this is Uchenna. Our people asked me to bring her to you as your wife”
“Since you are in Onitsha making money and spending it on all those useless girls”, she continued, eyeing Oriaku.
“We have already married her on your behalf, whether you like it or not. She is a good girl from a good family and she will give you strong children”, she winked conspiratorially
She turned to Uchenna, “where is the akara I asked you to go and buy for us?”
Uchenna handed over the parcel she had been holding to Ik’s mother.
Still holding Uchenna’s hand, she guided her to the bed and they both sat down to eat the akara.
Ik watched them in stunned silence.
He felt rather than saw the movement as Oriaku lunged for him. She grabbed his shirt collar firmly in a vice-like grip almost choking him.
“Ik you must produce my daughter”, she wailed
“I thought you were a good person. You people have used my daughter for money ritual”
“God will punish you and your family”, she ranted, pinching and clawing at his face
As if on cue, his mother stood up from her supper to defend him against Oriaku’s onslaught
“Mama, stay out of this. You have already caused enough trouble for one night”
“Mama Nnedi, please leave me”, he begged
“It’s night already. Tomorrow we will start the search for her”
“She’s probably spending the night with one of her fellow sales girls from the shop where she used to work”
Oriaku seemed to calm down and she slowly let go of his collar.
She eyed his mother who seemed engrossed in eating her akara with relish and went to one corner of the room and sat on the floor.
“We will see when morning comes”, she hissed, snapping her fingers at Ik.
At the first cock-crow, Oriaku stood up
“Mama Nnedi, where are you going to so early?” asked Ik
“I’m going to look for my daughter”
“Please wait until it is bright enough mama”
She barely heard his last statement as she was out of the door already
“Let her go with her trouble”, jeered his mother
He gave her a withering look and locked the door.
Sleep eluded him after that and he decided to go and get ready for the long day that awaited him.
He went out to the bathroom at the back of the compound to shave and take his bath. When he returned, his mother and Uchenna were still asleep.
“I’m going to look for Nnedi”, he said aloud before he stepped out.
When he got to the gate of the compound he was confronted by Oriaku and two policemen
“Officer, this is the man who kidnapped my daughter”, she said pointing at Ik
“Sir, I am not a kidnapper”, Ik offered as one of the policemen grabbed him by the belt.
“When you get to the police station you will clear yourself”, replied the other one.
They hustled him into their van and drove off to the surprise of his neighbours and onlookers. One of his neighbours who witnessed the fight the previous night went in to tell his mother that Ik had been arrested by the police in connection with Nnedi’s disappearance.
It happened so fast. Before they came out, Ik was gone.