The dark clouds gathered in a heavy black soot in readiness for ushering in the persisting rain. The chicks flocked behind their dotting mother while it religiously scouted for food and indulged them and the he goat bleated in satisfaction. It had been feasting on yam peels since morning. Chidera had pounded four large tubers of yams, the best she could get from her father’s barn while her mother Iruka tenanciously prepared nsala soup with fresh fish and two big heads of stock fish, the type of soup that watered the eyes with it’s peppery spices and unclogged the nose whilst strengthening every strand of hair. Mazi Mba her father had encroached into the forest in the wee hours of the morning clutching a matchet and a rope to fetch the freshest palmwine.
Balmy in her stomach lay an edgy underlying fear of disappointment and uncertainty.
A woman betrothed to nwanyimmiri goddess of the sea wasn’t supposed to have earthly husband, she was supposed to be bounded to the sacred seal of singlehood as the chosen one but not her, she rebelled though she was a woman in a community that echoed women voice, A community where a woman was seen and not heard and her place belonged to the Kitchen soaked in sweat of rigorous pounding and kneading, greased in palm oil and immersed in scent of burnt embers and onions. she was different strong and opinionated. “I would marry a man of my choice and bear him children” she had said in the shrine of Ogbammiri and stormed out.
Nwanyi mmiri the water woman would not massage her aching feet after she had rigorously toiled for the days goodness neither would she immense her bed with warmth at dusk when the cold would sneak in. She wanted to love and be loved. Her mind fluttered to that night at the village square, she had noticed him staring at her in the crowd, he had singled her out and she pretended not to notice his insistent stares which she utterly avoided yet which made her aware of her femaleness.
A sense of nervousness beclouded her then she looked up and held his gaze unflinchingly and their eyes locked and lingered and it awakened emotions that she had buried to be forgotten. She looked away and when she looked up again she hadn’t seen him and she searched for him in the crowd sad that he might have gone then a hand touched the nape of her neck and she turned to the smiling eyes of her admirer.
“Can we take a walk?” he requested and she obliged awkwardly “my name is Okeke” he told her and that was the beginning of a beautiful love affair.
That night she went home in love which was watered down by fear and uncertainty. That night she dreamt of the hand that touched the nape of her neck and how it had aroused her and imagined what those hands could do to her.
It had been past noon and Chidera’s suitor and his people hadn’t shown any sign of appearance for her bride price and the sun was beginning to diminish from the sky. Akudolu pedaled into the compound with his well worn-out bicycle he didn’t alight when he halted in front of the house. He was Okeke’s favourite cousin, he was a farmer and a talkative, a man who hardly resigned to silence. He was the type of man that leaves one with two emotions, the semblance of peace and solitude or the yearn for more of his company there was no in between.
Akudolu hadn’t hidden his initial skepticism as to regards the union. He had been with his cousin when Alagbuso the witch doctor warned him to desist from his quest to marry Chidera and had advised his cousin to forget about Chidera and pitch his tent elsewhere but Okeke was a man blinded by beauty and drunk in love, the lightness of a robust smooth skin, the tiny waist and swaying of large hips, the high cheeked oval face that housed large almond eyes, the long never ending shapely legs that promised ecstasy. He doesn’t blame his cousin, Chidera was the type of woman you would wake up at night thinking of.
Chidera leaped on her feet and rushed to him
“Where is Okeke and his people?” hope he’s alright” she requested frightened and agitated.
“He was beaten by a strange red snake inside the bathroom this morning and is in a bad shape,the reptile was never found Akudolu replied accusingly.
“Alagbuso had been summoned to look at him” without another word he turned and pedaled out.
Shock gripped her and her lips parted in disbelief and her stomach knotted in pain, impatiently she sat on the pavement, folded her legs and heaved heavily resisting the urge to cry. Not again she shrieked, her mother sat beside her and patted her back.
“The dwellers of the water beyond has orchestrated their last straw of threat that I may not marry but to be nwanyimmiri water woman. They have confiscated my life to singlehood”.
“My daughter all hope is not lost he would be fine I’m sure the dibia would handle his case besides the day is not far gone and Okeke loves you so much” her mother pacified. “When he is fine he would come for you”.
“When?”Chidera requested exasperated.
“When the dawn is immersed in the belly of dusk it refused to break? When the moon glides to the place where waters resides? When the sun rise in the west and set in the east or when I stubbornly sends another man to the great beyond”.
“They won’t come Nne my fourth suitor had been dealt with by the goddess, I hope he recovers and not die like Mbanefo and Ogbaku”.I would never forgive myself if he died”
Then slowly hot stinging tears overpowered and streamed down her face. Her body shook in resonance with the sorrowful tears. She wiped her eyes with the back of her palms and called on to her father whom had sat on the shabby wooden brown chair looking into nothingness lost in the bleakness of thought.The first day Okeke came to seek for his daughter’s hand in marriage he asked him if he was aware that his daughter wasn’t marriageable and was the chosen one bounded to the sacred seal of singlehood. The young man smirked and looked at him and told him that nothing would stop him from marrying Chidera not even the gods.
He looked intently at the young man guaging his expressions yet impressed by his audacity. He would never understand young love and the intensity with which they followed their passion like the heedless fly which followed the corpse to the grave. He was not in love when he married Iruka his wife, he had been betrothed to her from birth and when he was of age his parents took him to their in-laws and paid the bride price. His commitment was more of responsibility and his wife never demanded of him any affection though with time he began to develop soft spot for her from mutual respect.
He stood up and paced about with his head bowed and hands folded to the back unsure of what to do. Going to Okeke’s compound would had been the right thing to do nevertheless it would be a bad idea it was like enchroaching on the lands of his enemies and he knew they would detest him. He wished he hadn’t consented to the union why would he think this would be different from others.
“Papa you can now go to the shrine and tell Alagbuso the witch doctor that I’m ready to tie the knots with nwanyi mmiri, he can prepare for the ritual”. Her father turned sluggishly to look at his daughter his eyes shimmering bloodshot wishing she had come to her senses earlier and embraced her destiny yet glad she finally made the decision herself.He hoped it wasn’t too late for Okeke and that Alagbuso could do something for him and salvage the situation.
She stood up and dashed out of the compound like a raving mad woman to Okeke’s compound.
“You are the last person they would want to see” her mother cautioned.
“He needs me now and I must be there for him after all I was the one that put him in his present predicament”.
“I will go with you” her father said and immediately they fall into step walking briskly to Okeke’s compound.
Okeke was lying on the pavement surrounded by his family while Alagbuso performed some incantations when they entered, he looked pale and limp and could barely speak. His family were indifferent on sighting them.
“The snake that bite him was the queen of the sea and he won’t make it to the breaking of the next day” Alagbuso said when he looked up and saw them.
“Is there any way I could save him” Chidera requested, her gaze never leaving her beloved.
“No it’s too late now his spirit is already in the boundary between life and death you can say your goodbyes now” Alagbuso said then he stood up and left.
His mother wailed and Chidera wailed beside her. She held his hand “maybe not today my love or tomorrow but I will find you soon in the after life and we would marry please wait for me i promise I won’t be long”