THE AUGUST MEETING

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Every August, I try to post an August-themed story here. Last year I posted The August Proposal, you should read it if you haven’t (or read it again). Now, let’s do this.
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Three weeks after I officially (or traditionally) stopped mourning my husband, my husband’s father, his mother and uncle paid me a visit. I had formally stopped mourning by removing my black mourning dress and having it burnt, and going to church for thanksgiving. This meant I mourned my man for a mere three months. The mourning span used to be one year (my mother mourned our father for one year); then it became six months (my aunty mourned for six months). Now it is three months, some do it for a month, some do not even bother, calling it heathen.

But a year of wearing black and staying out of any activity that entails making merry wouldn’t be enough to mourn Mark, my kindhearted husband of six years. It was painful, shocking event, his death. One day, he was bubbling, overflowing with life, the next day he was ill and shaking like a bird on a thin branch; he died after a week. My heart was broken and my happiness crushed. I thought I would die, and would have let myself taken in the wings of death if not for my kids who would be left as orphans, and from whom I summon the will to continue to live. Additionally, fortunately, I am alive with my sanity in tact.

I was still in mourning mood when my parents-in-law came calling. I was still trying to get used to the mystery of widowhood and being father and mother to my three years old daughter and one and half year old son.

It was 9pm, my kids were asleep in the next room. I sat in the parlour, on the only armchair, facing the guests who were seated in my only good sofa. The lamp which lit the room stood on the table. After the ceremony of exchanging pleasantries, and my weak offer to fetch food was politely declined, my father-in-law cleared his throat. He was about seventy, tall and aging with dignity. A visit of this kind four months back would have made me nervous. But tonight, I felt nothing; whatever news brought them would never match the agony of Mark’s demise. I listened.

“My people say that it is only when a child receives a haircut that we know the real size of his head. Nneka, we have always known you as a brave woman but even we might have underestimated your strength because it demands only a woman of super strength to endure what you have endured. My son was kind, strong and responsible. We know you enjoyed him. My wife and I have lost a great son but we have the luck of other children, so the pain is a little lesser for us…” He sighed bitterly

The uncle and mother made sympathetic grunts. My father in law continued. “The tragedy has happened and we cannot sue God. But we cannot continue to look at one direction otherwise we will have stiff neck.”

I got closer to what he had in mind; but by getting this close I was further removed from the subject. I listened. “You have two kids, a daughter and a son. We regard female children highly but it is only a boy that will keep his father’s name. A girl grows to become a woman and marries out. So in the aspect of keeping our son’s lineage you have only one child.” He paused to let this sink in; if it sank in, my expression didn’t show it.

“My father used to say let my thing not one. If you have only one thing you have nothing. A man with one eye does not play with sticks.”

Now, I got what he was trying to say but I wasn’t so sure. I looked at my mother-in-law who smiled benignly. She was a small woman in her early sixties she was what we call “every year young” and looked fifty. She said, “It is true that the unexpected defiles the strong, but the unexpected is the test of strength. A great harm has befallen you but you have endured it well. You are still young and in the height of your fertility.”

“My husband is dead,”  I said in a small.

“Yes,” she agreed, “but as long as we do not ask for our bride price, as long as you still live under his roof and bear his name any baby born by you belongs to him. That is the custom.”

“That is the custom,” the uncle affirmed. He was the younger version of his brother and wearing a black shirt over something the manufacturer had designed as skirt but sold as knickers in the last minute.

I didn’t understand. “Why should I have babies?”

My uncle in law answered. “Because we do not know tomorrow. The fowl says it will eat and eat until it becomes too dark to eat, because it does not know what tomorrow will bring. You have only one boy. We do not pray for anything to happen to him. In fact, nothing will happen to him but getting him more brothers will put our mind at rest.”

A wave of anger swept from my chest and filled my head with gaseous fury. “I do not understand what you are saying. How can I have more children now that my husband is no more?”

My husband’s father smiled. His teeth, too white for his age, shone. “Your husband is dead and buried but for the mortar to get food it must turn its back to the ground.

I see; I should turn my back on my husband, I should abuse his memory, interrupt my mourning and open my legs for a man (any man) to give me children to keep my husband’s name. I found the suggestion obscene, ironic, and my tongue burnt to hurl bad words; I bit it down. I took a long breath then sighed. I would bare my mind to them the way they bore theirs, with wise sayings, riddles.

“One does not use another person’s eyes to see the road. I had been married to my husband, your son, for six years and in that time I have conceived five times. The first baby died the day it was born, the second conception ended in a miscarriage; and the third died before it turned one. I am fortunate to have these two with me. My husband is dead and I am not going to look for, at night, the black goat I couldn’t find in the day.”

The silence that followed was long and imposing. They had come with the confidence of experience, assured in the faith of their message. They didn’t expect me to react the way I reacted. They praised me for being strong but wisdom was one thing they didn’t think to accord me with.

My father-in-law was the first to recover. He cleared his throat. I sensed a hint of pride in his throat. “You are a great woman,” he said. “You are equally intelligent. My son chose well. It is said that he who sits on the sideline does not know what the wrestler sees. You have really suffered in your duty as childbearer, and now you suffer the loss of your crown. But each time tragedy comes, you have beaten it back because you are a strong woman.”

I nodded in agreement but my words were clear. “Too much praise makes the brave fight with bare hands and soon his corpse is carried in a long basket.”

“It is the firewood a woman gathered in her youth that keeps her warm in old age,” my mother-in-law said. “We do not advice you to get more children out of our selfishness, we may not be here when they grow up. Most of our concern is born out of sympathy.”

“Yes, but when sympathy becomes too much it looks like mockery.”

“Young woman,” the woman said, trying to suppress her anger, “a child does not defecate in a place where the grass is taller than her. You…”

“No, no my wife,” the uncle said, “let us not quarrel over this issue. Scratching an itchy eye is done with great care. We must not quarrel. The tortoise said that slaughtering a cow for his mother’s funeral is the dignified thing to do but if you asked him to provide the cow he has none.” He shrugged.

My father-in-law spoke. “These things we are trying to suggest are not things that are not done. In plain words, my daughter, why are you averse to the direction of our voice?”

I sighed silently. They started with poetry now they wished to hear me speak in plain prose. No problem. “Firstly,” I began, “I have already suffered greatly in my childbearing journey. I do not think I can endure another conception…”

“An old woman is never old when it comes to a dance she knows how to dance.”

For a moment, I allowed my anger show at my mother-in-law’s words; I successfully overcame this with a painful smile. “You are right Mama, but it is only those who can afford it fight with their walking sticks.”

“Not speaking is the elder’s fault, not listening the child’s,” she fired.

“My wife, I said let us not quarrel about this. It is all about our young wife seated before us. She has the knife and she has the yam. The farmer says if he likes he would shoot his plantain with a gun. It is his own. We cannot quarrel with our daughter over something that has to do with her body.” He turned to me. “My daughter, tell us, assuming you can endure another childbirth, what else are you afraid of?”

“It is not about fear nnam; it is more about respect; respect. I do not believe getting more kids in the name of my husband will do him honour. You have said that for a mortar to get food it must turn its back to the ground. True, but a fowl does not forget the person who pulled its tail in the rainy season. My husband is gone but I still love him, and I do not think frolicking with other men will please him. Secondly, look at the economic hardship today. One must consider the size of his anus before swallowing udala seed. I am a teacher, and a part-time tailor; I have the little money left of my husband’s business. With these, I can effectively carter for my kids comfortably. It will be harder, if not impossible to add more mouths…”

“If I may interrupt you my daughter, but an adult who sends a child to catch shrew will definitely provide her with water to wash off the odor.”

My father-in-law agreed with his brother. “One person does not raise a child. Children belong to the community.”

I nodded. “But a goat belonging to the public sometimes die of starvation.”

“Young woman…” the old woman began hotly but I didn’t let her finish. “Do not say I am treating your words with disregard but I do not want to be like the lizard who went to have his teeth filed even when he heard of the man rat bit to death.”

The silence that followed was deep and suffocating. I shut my eyes and relaxed on my seat. I could hear the gentle hum of my children’s breathing in the next room. The sound pleased my heart and comforted me like a warm blanket.

Someone cleared his throat. I opened my eyes. The uncle spoke. “We have had a good conversation, we have spoken like family, and they are good words.” He swallowed something or nothing. “It is not in our culture for the younger one to close the talk so I will leave it for my brother to say the last word.”

“Thank you Deji, you have spoken like a true son of Nnobi. As a whole, every word we said here tonight is good. Our family is a good one, both we and the wives we marry in are sensible people. Our purpose of coming here is to talk to you our young wife, to let you know our heart because shit in the stomach does not smell. We have done our duty the way we deem it well. It is now left for you to do your part. You are not in agreement with our words but I implore you to sleep over it. Call yourself to a meeting and turn the matter around. You may be sure you understand all we have said, but I assure you that the snake is never exactly the length of the stick it is likened to. So think over our words. If you accept to do what we suggest, you are our wife; if you do not accept you are still our wife. The penalty for not dancing well is never applied to one who has legs. Thank you for opening your door and ears to our call.”

“Thank you sir.”

They rose to go. I stood up and walked with them to the door.

“Kachifo.”

“Ka’obo.”

I shut the door and bolted it. Thanks be to Olisa for keeping my sanity throughout this tumultuous meeting. I allowed a sigh of relief, crossed myself and made for the bedroom to check on my kids.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

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TWO STUPID CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AUTHOR (4TH SET)

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Stupid characters series are unrelated stories that defile common sense in uncommon manners. The most read post in this blog ever is the very first set of stupid characters.
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Innocent got married to Virginia in 2002. It wasn’t like normal marriages; there were no rites like knocking, engagement, wine carrying, wine tasting, wine hoarding, nothing. Innocent worked as a roadside motor mechanic in Kagoro Road while Virginia hawked banana. They met, seemed to like each other and became intimate, almost immediately. For, although he was Innocent and she Virginia, he wasn’t innocent and she wasn’t such a virgin, and it was not surprising that she couldn’t find her period two months into the friendship. Her aunty drove her out of the house to go search for it where she misplaced it. It was a tearful Virginia who came to Innocent’s room that fated drizzling Sunday night in July.

Innocent wasn’t living badly: his room was rugged, he had video CD player, a colour TV, a mini speaker, a large mattress and air freshener. Plus a handful of thousands in the bank. What else? He welcomed his woman and the marriage began. (He was thirty-one anyway (she a ripe twenty-two anyway)).

Innocent wouldn’t let his wife hawk, a whole Innocent! So Virginia stayed home to cook for him, wash his clothes and take care of the house, and, it must be added, gossip (she own a tongue for a purpose) or listen to gossips (for which God blessed her with two ears) (and in 2002, Kafanchan had the highest per capita gossips of all the towns on earth).

Three months into the marriage, in the first month of her second trimester, Virginia woke up one morning to feel her skirt heavy with blood. She shouted. Her husband woke up and with the help of neighbours rushed her to the General Hospital where her miscarriage was confirmed. The couple mourned bitterly. The baby had been the cause of their union and, even, its symbol. Now it was gone, taken away from them by evil people. Of course it wasn’t natural. Virginia wasn’t overworking and she was eating well, so there must be an evil deed done somewhere.

Few days after Virginia returned from the hospital a rumour emerged, from the gossip mill of the neighbourhood, that her baby was eaten by a wizard boy, Raba, from the neighbouring Angwan Bala. The boy, just six years old, it was generally accepted, had eaten many unborn babies and countless infants below the age of four in Angwan Bala and the surrounding streets. Virginia wept anew and demanded they pack out of the area; her husband, who wasn’t sure it was Raba but who was certain about some diabolical foul play began to look for a new apartment. They got a room and parlour in Angwan Rimi Road and moved there.

The doctor had advised they wait at least six months, but after a month and half Mr and Mrs Innocent resumed action. To make up for lost time, and lost child. 

One year passed. Nothing. They became worried. Why the delay? What could be wrong? They intensified their effort. Meanwhile, Innocent became more successful. He bought a generator, a bigger TV set and a second hand motorcycle. He was even hinting at going to see her people and making things formal. But he and his wife looked forward to the cry of the baby to complete their happiness. They worked harder in bed and prayed harder.

After two years, nothing. Confusion set in. What could be the problem? His manhood still function well, he lasted for an average of twenty-five minutes and could go five rounds in a stretch. She had never been involved in an abortion, so must have no problem with her system. They had conceived before, although the baby didn’t stay but it was the clearest pointer that they were clean. It wasn’t medical, this one.

They went to a ministry. The minister said it was because they were not married before God and man in holy matrimony. Three months later, Innocent had a mass wedding with his wife in the Catholic St Peter’s Cathedral. One year later, nothing.

Innocent visited a mallam. The mallam said a spell had been cast on Virginia’s womb by ajenu, not from her family or friends or enemies, just some random demons fighting mankind. The mallam said he could bind the spirit. Innocent provided the materials for sacrifice and the ajenu were bound. Man and wife went to bed and worked hard. Nothing.

They went to a prophetess who worshipped in the bank of River Wonderful. Nothing.

They went to see a native doctor in Benue State, nothing.

In 2008, the German Reinhard Bonnke held a crusade in Kafanchan, man and wife set up tent and lived at the crusade ground, even making a quick one there once, to tap into the atmospheric anointing. Nothing. They went home and tried and prayed and hoped. One year passed, nothing.

They tried harder, prayed louder, fasted more and hoped fervently. Nothing.

In July 2010, during the World Cup, Innocent had gone to the viewing centre to watch Germany Argentina. He came home to find his wife dying. She had emptied two wraps of rat poison in her teacup. It was a frightened, weepy Innocent that carried his wife to his car (he now had a second-hand car) and sped to the nearby New Era Hospital.

Virginia didn’t die but she stayed in the hospital two weeks and came home hopeless. She asked him to take a second wife that would give him a child. He refused, it was an abomination, an iniquity, but he began to commit the lesser sin of sleeping around. He had as much as six girlfriends at a point. It was expensive and emotionally sapping but he kept it throughout 2010 and ate into 2011. Nothing, nothing. He stopped after he was nearly killed during the post election violence on his way from seeing a girlfriend.

Virginia began to try. She began to bring men home whenever her husband travelled and he travelled a lot these days. He must have guessed what his wife was doing and didn’t wish to stand on the way. 2012 caught them at the game, yet nothing.

Man and wife held an extraordinary meeting in February 2012 and decided it wasn’t working. They had prayed to God and god, played home and away, no success. If anything was wrong with them, what about those countless boyfriends/girlfriends? Perhaps they had not been destined to have children. Now, they were grateful not to have contracted any disease in their perilous quest. They would dedicate the rest of their lives to making the rest of their lives happy.

In March 2012 Mrs Innocent, tired of nursing a persistent fever decided to check with a nearby laboratory and fainted when the lab man told her she was pregnant.

That day, Innocent ran all the way from Kagoro Road to Angwan Rimi Road when his wife told him the news on phone. He had a car and two motorcycles but he used his legs, dressed in his oil stained work cloth, running and shouting and crying. It was a great news, too much news for him to carry so his inner mad man came out to carry the great burden, and what a mad man!

On the 5th of November, Virginia gave birth to a healthy beautiful baby boy. Innocent had three bank accounts, he emptied two of them in sponsoring a great naming ceremony, that had half of the town in attendance. They were drawn by the great story and also by the food and booze. And half of them were carried home dead drunk.

The boy, Miracle grew up a cheerful, little bag of awesomeness. He began school and would recite all night what he had learned in school all day. He was as sharp as razor, his father said. The little Prof, neighbours called him. Last April, Miracle became ill. One moment he was running around playing, the next moment his body was burning hot. That was the beginning of a struggle to save his life, from Kafanchan to Jos to Zaria in search of orthodox medication, to as far Ijebu in search of traditional, metaphysical option. In June, Miracle came back alive, all bones and ribs, but alive and on his way to recovery. But there was a revelation, the witch doctor in Ijebu had said that the boy was a spirit child and that his destiny lay outside of western education, if he continued schooling his spirit lords might kill him…

On the 1st of August 2016, while schoolchildren returned to school for the holiday lesson, young Miracle followed his father to the mechanic workshop in Kagoro Road where they say his future lie.

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu

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