“What is the meaning of all these? We demand an explanation immediately!”
I have never seen my husband this vocal about his anger. I cringe as each syllable of his word flies out like a whiplash. It makes me pity the people to whom the words are directed.
“Our in-law… Biko… Cool your temper,” Leticia’s mother tries to assuage my husband, holding his hand and genuflecting. “They are just children. We will explain everything to you–”
“Exactly my point!” he lashes across her words, jerking his hand from the woman’s hold. “Who is this woman?” he snaps as he points at the gaunt-looking young woman Leticia had been fighting, and then at the two scrawny children who are now cautiously emerging from the shadows. “Who are they – these children? What exactly is going on? We need you to start explaining right now!”
“I am Chikaodili,” the young woman speaks up.
All eyes swing to her.
She had gotten off the ground. She has a patch of blood mixed with dirt on one side of her face, and the rest of her body and clothes have varying degrees of dirt smeared on them. But her demeanour sparkles with defiance as she continues, “I am Ogbenyeanu’s sister. And these are –”
“Mechie gi onu ebe ahu!” Leticia’s mother storms with a glare at her. Then she turns to my husband. “Bikonu, ndi ogo, let us go inside and sit down…” Her voice trails off as she observes the small crowd of visitors collect together and begin whispering amongst themselves, probably deciding the fate of her daughter.
“You can’t make me keep quiet anymore!” Chikaodili screams like a demented woman.
Her shrieked proclamation startles everyone’s attention back to her. She whirls around and darts to the little house, inside which she’d been held captive. The children see her approaching and begin to shrink back inside. But she pounces on them, grabbing each girl’s arm in hers and pulls them forward. The girls’ whimpers fill the air as they are forced into the glare of everyone’s rapt attention.
There is a momentary stillness, one which is shattered by a shocked cry.
“Chineke meee! Ogbenyeanu! Is this how you’ve been taking care of my brother’s children, ehn?” The reproachful words are followed by a woman emerging from the gathered crowd. She walks toward the two girls, looking them over as she approaches. “Ogbenyeanu, eh?!” She lifts one girl’s weedy arm and turns the other’s undernourished chin. “Ogbenyeanu!” She turns a livid stare on Leticia. “Ihere megbuo gi! My brother sends you lots of money from Germany on a monthly basis to take care of his children, and this is how you do it? I am taking them back to my house! You are a very wicked woman!”
“Chinyelu, you and your brother should better stop deceiving yourselves oh!” Chikaodili spits with a scoff. “These bastards were fathered by Mazi Ikechukwu!”
“Aaahhh!” the crowd gasps.
“You guys were just money banks for her,” Chikaodili continues, while exchanging a look with Leticia. Hers is rife with savage victory, while Leticia’s face is replete with venom. “I don’t understand how stupid your brother is, Chinyelu” – Chikaodili turns to address the other woman, who is still inspecting the children – “to have fallen for the same trick twice, but here we are. And he’s paying the price!”
“Wait – What!” a piercing voice shrieks. Another woman, plump and bedecked in a less glamorous traditional get-up than the first woman materializes from the crowd. “Mazi Ikechukwu nkem?” She has a hand on her chest as she fires the question, her eyes disappearing into the fleshy folds of her face in outrage.
“Yes o!” Chikaodili says, clapping her hands twice. “My akwuna-kwuna sister has been sleeping with your husband, and these children are his. Not that you can blame him. Since you failed to give him a child, what did you expect?”
Another gasp ripples through the compound.
“Nkita lachaa gi anya ebe ahu, Chikaodili!” Mazi Ikechukwu’s wife screams, advancing towards Leticia’s sister.
Chikaodili immediately retreats into the little house, promptly banging the door shut behind her.
Mazi Ikechukwu’s wife pauses moving toward her and whirls around, lifting her face and hands heavenward, clearly grief-stricken. “Oo gi bu Chukwu n’enye nwa, eh Chim?” she wails, before breaking down into tears and turning to briskly walk away from the compound.
Two women follow after her with flurried words of consolation.
“Kai! No wonder Mazi Ikechukwu left the compound immediately the fight started,” a young man says, snapping his fingers and shrugging his shoulders simultaneously.
“Ehn? So Mazi Ikechukwu’s wife is barren true-true? Cheiyaaa!” a middle-aged woman beside me mutters, placing her hand to her jaw and shaking her head theatrically.
“Who is Ogbenyeanu?” I turn to her to ask, sensing that she’ll be willing to dish the dirt.
“You don’t even know the name of the person you’re coming to marry?” she replies, rearing back from me in an exaggerated show of surprise.
“We know her as Leticia –”
“Leti-gini?” The woman’s voice carries as she cackles. “That is what they are now saying in her family. Nne ya gwakwara anyi the same thing. I’m just wondering how –”
“Will you shut up there!” Leticia cuts in with an icy tone. There is cold fury on her face when we turn to look at her. “Leticia is my English name –”
“Tah! Onye asi!” Chikaodili screams from her stage inside the house. “That’s not her name oh! Chaa-chaa! Aha ya bu Ogbenyealu!”
“Chikaodili, I swear to God, I will kill you!” Leticia charges towards the door. “I. Will. Kill. You!” she rages, as she repeatedly kicks and bangs at the door, until the two young men who broke up the initial fight come forward to drag her away again.
The elders from both families, after a hurried meeting during which a decision was made to let Leticia respond to the allegations stormed against her, ask us all to step back into the main house.
As every member of the crowd makes their way towards the house, I look around for a place to ease myself. Spying a small bushy patch by the side of the building, I walk towards it, stoop, and proceed to relieve my bladder of the pressure.
I freeze as I hear footsteps briskly walking towards me. I try to hurry up my pee and run before whoever it is finds me.
Just as I am done, the footfalls stop, very close to me, on the other side of the bushy patch. I know that I could be seen if I up and run at this time, so I keep very still, hoping whoever it is will move along.
But that doesn’t happen. Instead there is a huff and the sound of an arm being pulled from another’s grasp.
And then a familiar female voice snaps, “Don’t you dare manhandle me like that again.”
“Will you shut up and tell me what that was all about?” a familiar male voice retorts in a hissed tone.
I swallow the gasp that springs immediately up my throat, almost choking as I slap a hand to my mouth.
Leticia?! And him again?! What is going on? Is this another potential baby daddy situation? The plethora of thoughts rages in my mind as I angle my head to listen better.
“Is this about the children?” Leticia snaps. Her surly tone is unmistakable.
“Of course it’s about the children!” the other person hisses, clearly aggravated. “I pay you for their upkeep, because you wouldn’t come with them to live with me. Now two other people are claiming paternity! What is that about?!”
“Relax. They are your children,” she drawls with an unaffected chuckle.
“Listen to me!” the man snarls.
He must have put his hands on Leticia again, because she gives out a startled “You’re hurting me –”
“Listen to me!” he interrupts her harshly. “If you are lying to me, if you made me send away my wife because of kids that aren’t mine, I will kill you! Do you hear me? I will kill you!”
There is such a cold irrevocability to the threat that a chill begins to tread its way up my spine.
“I have told you…” Leticia starts protest.
“I will kill you, and no one will ever find your corpse, do you hear me?” the man reiterates, his voice clear and menacing.
“You’re hurting me!” she gasps breathlessly.
“I’m not now. But I will!”
I hear footsteps walking away. I wait a moment, and I don’t hear anything. But just as I start to rise from my stoop, I hear Leticia take in a deep, shuddering breath. I drop back into my stoop and wait, until I hear her walk away as well.
As I make my way to the main house, I try not to stagger under the weight of my discovery. Uncle Donatus is clearly another victim of Leticia’s duplicitous scheme. And he is clearly now a man angry enough to commit a crime. “Oh my God…” I say to myself, and clasping my hands up and over my arms as horripilations race over my skin.
“What were you doing outside with my uncle?” I hear Ifeanyi query Leticia upon my entrance into the house.
I do not wait to hear Leticia’s response. I have heard enough. I make my way to mercy, where she is sitting with Gabby on her lap. Upon seeing me, Gabby slides down from her hold and raises his hands to me, indicating that I should carry him.
“Noro ala, nwanta!” an elder from our side cautions Ifeanyi.
“What is going on? What did I miss?” I whisper to Mercy as I take the vacant seat beside her, before lifting Gabby on to my lap.
“I don’t really know. They say your sister-in-law was seen consorting with a man not long ago, who has been identified as an uncle from your side.”
“Oh,” I say simply.
“That woman” – Mercy leans towards me, while looking pointedly at a hawk-faced woman with pursed lips, who I do not know, but who I recognize as part of the party that came here with Uncle Donatus and our village elders – “was the one that spotted the two of them together. I think she overheard something that they said to each other. I wonder what it is.”
“Well, if she overheard what I overheard, then there’s a bomb waiting to explode here,” I say, suddenly breathless with anticipation.
“What did you overhear?”
Before I can respond, Leticia wails, “I swear I am a changed person!” In abject misery, she gets down on her knees before Ifeanyi. “All those things happened in my past! You have to believe me –”
“I don’t have to believe anything that comes out of your mouth –” Ifeanyi begins furiously.
He stops talking when the elder who cautioned him earlier lifts a wizened hand at him. At his restraint, the elderly man turns to Leticia. “We need you to answer the question. What were you discussing with the man?”
“My dear, this isn’t about you,” another elder speaks up. “We are trying to prevent an abomination from happening.”
“Ha! Abomination kwa?” Mercy leans in again to comment. “So, single mothers cannot marry again? All these senile old men sha!” She executes a hissing ‘Mscheewww’.
I opened my mouth to respond.
“But shouldn’t she have told you people about the children?”
I turn to my other side to see who had just contributed to my whispered dialogue with Mercy. It is the tatafo woman, who earlier scoffed at my confusion over Leticia’s name.
“Well, she should have,” Mercy concedes, “but, maybe she was scared of this same stigmatization that is happening right now.”
“Maybe I should change the question,” the first elder’s voice cuts through our three-woman tête-à-tête. “Whose children are these?” He waves a hand, and a young man moves the two girls gently forward to stand before the panel.
“Ndi ogo, iwe ewela unu oh!” Leticia’s mother speaks up. “But isn’t this question already answered? I mean, we concluded that –”
“Nwanyi, noro nwayoo,” an elder from their side admonishes her in a sharp tone. “Keep quiet! Did you see any woman talking here? This is how you have used your hand and rendered your daughter useless. I say, shut up!” Then he turns to Leticia, his rheumy eyes sparkling with anger. “Look, Ogbenyeanu, better start talking now, before thunder will fire you! Nee ka isi ete anyi ule!”
Leticia remains in her kneeling position, now weeping profusely.
I look around for Uncle Donatus, but he is nowhere in the sitting room.
I find that I have no sympathy for Leticia. Maybe I would have had a little if I hadn’t overheard her conversation with Uncle Donatus. She, it turns out, is the reason for Aunty Esther’s pain! I doubt that I can ever get over that fact.
“Nwata zaa ajuju ahu osiso!” the elder from Leticia’s side of the family barks, startling her.
She sobs a bit, before finally sniffling, “Mazi Ikechukwu…”
“But that isn’t what you told nwanne anyi, Donatus!” the hawk-faced woman accuses. She half sits, half stands, her sharp gaze on Leticia, looking very much like a predatory bird about to pounce. “I heard everything you said to him, and everything he said to you!” Turning to the elders, she proceeds to declare, “This woman swore to Donatus – the uncle of the man we escorted to come and marry her – that those children belong to him.”
A tumult of shocked cries and outraged hisses breaks out through the spectators in the room. Mercy turns a widened gaze and a slack jaw to me. I shrug at her, as if to say: See? Bomb waiting to explode!
“Did you hear that?” the first elder says to Leticia, his voice rising above the din. “Whether this is true or not, we are not interested. We cannot let our son marry you anymore.”
The declaration cuts through the tension with a finality of a whiplash. Teary protestations break out mostly from Leticia and her mother, but the collective minds of my side of this engagement has been made up. The next several minutes are filled with the activities of a people determined to leave behind the mess they have come upon. Since it is the custom of Leticia’s people not to touch anything brought by the in-laws until the introduction has been successfully concluded, they watch as some of the village youths assist in piling our drinks back into our vehicles. Before long, our entire party begins to drive away from the compound amidst plumes of dust.
The first several minutes of our homeward journey is made in absolute silence. We are even spared Gabby’s chatter, as the boy, exhausted from all the excitement, sleeps off in his car-seat.
From the back, I look intermittently at Ifeanyi, who is seated like a statue next to my husband. I really hate to say ‘I told you so’, but the many incidents of the day beg for the words to be said.
Unable to contain my incredulity anymore, I finally say with a snap of my fingers, “Nawa oh! Ihe na-eme n’uwa o!”
“So, this babe has been blackmailing people left and right with those innocent children, eh?” Mercy rejoins. It is apparent she’d been waiting for this rehashing to get started. “Kai! Some people get heart oh!” Turning to tap Ifeanyi on the shoulder, she queries, “Who do you think the real father of those kids?”
“If one man fathered the two of them,” I add caustically.
“Leave me please,” Ifeanyi growls, shrugging away from Mercy’s fingers.
Unbothered by his show of temper, Mercy turns back to me. “But ehn, Ada, that babe get good body oh! Two kids – and she still looks all trim and nice. You should take lessons from her, you know?”
The thoughtless remark stings me, and my brow furrows with annoyance. “Are you calling me fat?”
“No oh!” she objects with a laugh, before gesturing at me and saying, “But check it now!” She is still speaking as I cast about for a way to cut off her prattle. I pick up my phone and dial Chinwe. “Maybe she works out – do you think she works out, or it’s just good genes?” Mercy is still talking. “Her mum isn’t so bad…”
I lift my index finger, shushing her as I place the phone to my ear.
“Hello, Chinwe?” I speak into my phone immediately the connection is made.
I proceed to make the call last as long as my credit can take it. The airtime gets exhausted when Chinwe is right in the middle of the gist about something that Ebuka did. I hang up. Mercy opens her mouth to restart our conversation. Chinwe calls back again. Gratefully, I return to my call.
“I can’t drive at night yet. So, please drop me here. I will come and pick my car tomorrow,” I hear Mercy say to my husband.
I immediately end the conversation with Chinwe, promising to call her back.
“Nne, thanks for coming with us,” I say to Mercy as she alights from the car.
“You’re welcome, my dear,” she says. “We will see tomorrow.” She waves before shutting the car door.
“Be safe, good night,” my husband calls out before driving off.
Did I mention that I hate to say ‘I told you so’? I do. But sometimes, my entire demeanour can do that talking for me. I don’t have to say much when we got home, but my veiled comments and meaningful stares are all the arsenal I need against Ifeanyi’s conscience.
“Ada, I really should have listened to you,” he finally says as he follows me into the house.
I turn to face him, a sleeping Gabby in my arms and surprise etched on my face. Yes, I acknowledge that he should have listened to me, but I didn’t expect him to be this forward about it.
“Yes, you should have,” I reply, “but then, you wouldn’t have learnt the lesson you’re learning right now if you had.” I turn and start for the inner house to relieve myself of the heavy burden that is Gabby.
“She’s right,” I hear my husband’s voice behind me. “Relax, learn from this, and move on.”
Mechie gi onu ebe ahu – Shut up your mouth there
Ihere megbuo gi – Shame on you
Nkita lachaa gi anya ebe ahu – May dogs lick your eyes there!
Oo gi bu Chukwu n’enye nwa, eh Chim – Are you the God that gives children, oh God?
Nne ya gwakwara anyi the same thing – Her mother told us the same thing
Onye asi – Liar
Aha ya bu Ogbenyeanu – Her name is Ogbenyeanu
Noro ala, nwanta – Sit down, child
Ndi ogo, iwe ewela unu oh – My in-laws, do not be vexed
Nwanyi, noro nwayoo – Woman, sit down
Nee ka isi ete anyi ule – Look out how you have shamed us
Nawa oh! Ihe na-eme n’uwa o – Nawa oh! Things happen in this world o!
Written by Adaku J.