It was a very sunny afternoon in the land of Nko. The men were coming with their machetes, while the women also trudged back with their hoes with which they had gone for lipela (weeding). The children usually seemed happy to see their parents come back as they ran to relieve them of their load.
Eko emerged from the bush also, with machete in his right hand, kakaw (tilling hoe) on his left shoulder and bush meat on his left hand. He was tired, but still walked with the masculine grace of a typical Nko man.
He was a twenty-six-year old dedicated farmer. He was tall and had the same thickset build as his father who died a peasant farmer several years back. His education stopped when he was in elementary six because of his mother’s inability to continue with the payment of the fees. Since then, he had taken to farming.
As a man, Eko was contented since he was able to produce enough food from his land to feed himself and his family and most of all, he could satisfy Nnanke, his guardian angel.
His mother, Muka, as she was fondly called, was outside the house breaking firewood when she saw him coming with the bush meat in his hand. Her elation was lucid as she dropped the axe and ran towards him with gusto to collect the animal. “Welcome my son,” she said.
“Good afternoon, Muka,” Eko greeted.
“How was your day?”
“Fine. I was able to clear the remaining portion of grass and till a considerable part of the land,” he replied as he dropped the cutlass and hoe.
”oh, that’s great. I’ll have to go and sow the cassava sticks tomorrow, then.”
“You don’t have to bother,” Eko said as he began to walk into the house. “I’ve done that.”
“You’ve planted the sticks?” She asked. “You are a hardworking man.” She started walking towards him, but stopped suddenly and looked painfully thoughtful. Eko was used to this recurring mood swings. She had been this way since the death of his father, Sir Ntagha. He walked to her and touched her shoulder saying, “Muka, you’re thinking again”
She looked at him with tears forming in her eyes, pain written all over her face and regret in her voice, then said, “If your father had been as hardworking as you are, we wouldn’t have been languishing in poverty.” As she said this, she rested her head on Eko’s broad chest and started crying.
Eko held her until she stopped crying, then they went into the house where she brought his food for him. It was yam crushed in palm oil. While munching, he thought of Nnanke.
Nnanke was a childhood friend of Eko. They grew up in the same neighborhood of Lekomkapil. Her father was also a farmer.
Nnanke was one that could be described as beautiful in every sense of the word. As radiant as a gazelle, she made everyone stare. She was a sculpture that wasn’t carved in a rush. The grace with which she carried herself could only be noticed in the Elizabethan ladies.
When she and Eko were teenagers, they were just friends that cared for one another. They were always in each other’s company. He visited her when he came back from the farm, and she also paid back such visits whenever she had the slightest excuse to leave the house.
It was in their twenties that the real love affair began. Then, they had become inseparable. Each of them realized how important the other was. When it was planting season for cassava, Eko would help her family with the tilling of ridges, while she sometimes helped his mother for weeding on her farm.
They were actually the envy of the entire villagers. Young men wished they could have a girl like Nnanke, while the young ladies also wished for a tall, broad shouldered, handsome and very caring man like Eko. The relationship blossomed like melon during rainy season.
While he was thinking, he unconsciously stopped eating. He didn’t hear the knock on the door which opened, ushering Nnanke inside. When she got in, she saw him on a stood at the far corner of the house. His eyes were facing the window, but his cognition was far away from there. He was in a different world of fantasy with her, unknown to him that in reality, she was with him in the room.
She walked over to him and patted his chick. He shook his head vehemently with a start and looked up to behold Nnanke, the object of his fantasies, “O Nnanke,” he said and smiled widely.
“Eko,” she called faintly.
“Womi,” He replied in Yakurr which means ‘my love’. Nnanke looked unusually sad and Eko noticed it. What could be disturbing his darling, he thought. Then he asked “Is there a problem Nnanke?”
She looked at him and then a teardrop strolled out of her eyes. Immediately, Eko stood up and wrapped her in his arms, released her again and stared intently into her eyes as though he could see her pain in them. “Nnanke, what is the problem? He asked again with his heart pounding.
Instead of replying, she cried more. The tears just kept trickling out her eyes which were swollen. That was an indication that she had been crying for long.
He took her face in his hands and wiped the tears, then he made her sit down while he went to get her drinking water. In the twinkling of an eye, he was back. “Womi, drink,” He said, bringing the cup to her mouth. She drank a little and removed her mouth. Then he knelt beside her and asked in a very soft tone, “Who has hurt you? Who has treaded on the toes of my beloved Nnanke?”
The tears had subsided now and so she looked at him with almost dried but swollen eyes and said, “Eko my love, as I speak to you, my father is planning to give me out in marriage to Eton, the son of Agaba, the wealthy car merchant in Nkpani.”
This news hit Eko’s heart with a colossal thump that invoked his rage in an inestimable degree. He couldn’t alter a word. His articulative power was instantly lost. He opened his mouth to speak but no word came out. His head had become too compacted with thoughts that made it seem he was loosing his sanity. How could her father think of such a thing, knowing full well he intended to marry her?
As hot as the weather was at that time of the day, Eko began to shiver like one that was catching cold. Nnanke became scared, so she stood up and embraced him saying, “My love, I will not marry him. I’ll rather live in the bush with you than marry a man whom I do not have an iota of affection for.”
Eko mustered enough energy to speak, “How far have they gone?”
“His elders are presently sitting in my father’s house with their gallons of palm wine and plates of mangala”
“What?! You mean they are in your father’s house presently?”
“Yes, I had to run away before they called me out.”
As soon as Eko heard this, his muscles hardened “This is madness. We have to put a stop to it before it gets out of hand.”
Eko thought for a moment and then said, “I will have to confront them right away.”
“No, Eko,” she said “That will cause a conflict. I think we should just leave them. But, I won’t go back there.” She said this final statement with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Nnanke, I have to confront them now. I really have to.” He released his hold on her and started matching towards the door, then stopped as he held the handle and said, “Make yourself comfortable,” And he was gone.
* * *
Sir Adola, Nnanke’s father was having the best moment of his life. The Agabas were in his house, seeking the hand of his daughter in marriage. He felt like he was most blessed as he sat in one of his wooden chairs and laughed happily with his guests while he enjoyed his calabash of palm wine.
Kebe, Nnanke’s mother, was beside him. Although, she wasn’t happy about the sudden change of suitor for their daughter, there was nothing she could do. When Adola told her of the intended visit of the Agabas to their house to seek Nnanke’s hand in marriage, she found the idea repellent. “What about Eko?” She’d asked.
“He would have to look for someone else of his class.” Adola said.
“But, we both gave our approval when he expressed his desire to marry Nnanke. Why the sudden change of stand?”
“Woman, Agaba’s son, Eton, will be a better husband to Nnanke. He is a wealthy man with western education. This could be an opportunity from God to elevate us from the stranglehold of poverty.”
“I think we should first discuss it with Nnanke,” Kebe suggested.
“You’ll be the one to do that. But, whether she agrees or not, she must marry Eton. I am her father and I decide whom she marries.” He said and walked out.
The visitors had sat for over an hour discussing while drinking palm wine and the mangala to go with it. They were getting anxious to see their potential wife and so Agaba, in his stylishly beaded and exorbitant dress, stood up to speak. “Uh! Uh!” He cleared his throat as is accustomed to big men, then greeted once more in Yakurr dialect by clapping his hand three times and shouting “kotom!”
“Ya!” everyone responded
“Ya!” The final time
“Yes, my people, as we all know, it is only a foolish man that invests his money in a business that he does not know.” He looked around at the faces of his would-be in-laws and relatives who nodded their heads in acceptance of his statement.
“We have made our intention known and right now, our anxiety to see our bride is very high. We wish to see the object of this very important meeting. Our fathers used to say ‘the sight of a new bride is like the first rain that touches the soil.’ ” As soon as he said this, his relatives nodded vigorously in approval. Then, he sat down.
Sir Adola, after having nodded and clapped for Agaba, stood up to speak. He was aware that Nnanke had disappeared from the house and so had to be diplomatic in his response. “My in-laws, you have spoken well,” He said. “It’s true that we should have presented our daughter for inspection. But, she went to her grand mother’s house this morning. She should be back any moment from now,” He lied. “While we’re waiting, let’s enjoy ourselves,” He smiled, looked around the faces uncomfortably and then sat down.
Eton was sitting beside his father, he wore a snow-white silk material that was heavily embroidered, and he looked very posh. He was a young man of twenty-six years old and a graduate of the University of Calabar. He is a manager in his fathers company in Nkpani.
From the look on his face, he wasn’t finding the tarrying condition pleasant. As a matter of fact, anxiety was written all over him. This was because he hadn’t met her but had been told of her unworldly and titillating beauty. So, seeing her would determine if his endless immaterializing fantasies would be brought to reality.
In the Yakurr culture then, parents could arrange marriages for their children. That was the case with Eton. His father was at Nko to witness the yam festival which was a very important annual celebration to the people of Yakurr. There, he spotted Nnanke. She was one of the dancers.
Despite the traditional costume and paint on her face, she still looked swell. He had to wait until the celebration was over to find out which family she was from.
He got back home and told Eton that he had found a wife for him. Eton, being educated, didn’t like the idea of his father looking for a wife for him. He wanted to oppose the idea, but of course, he knew the tradition, so he obliged.
While Eton was in his anticipatory mood, he realized his father was talking to him. He was telling Eton to stand up and speak to his in-laws.
Eton stood up. He was a tall man, like six feet-two inches tall. As he opened his mouth to recite the Kpa kotom greeting, the door flung open and an angry looking man appeared in his farming outfit.
Sir Adola’s cup of palm wine suspended in the air. He was about to take a sip from it when Eko busted in. Eton was so shocked at the sudden emergence of this unexpected fellow that he gaped. The rest of the guests were shocked. They looked at Sir Adola for explanation.
The glassy look in Eko’s eyes were undeniably scary. He looked at the guests, one after the other, then his eyes settled on Sir Adola. Then, he asked angrily, “What is the meaning of this, Sir?
“What?” Adola asked, feigning ignorance.
“Who are these people?” Eko asked again.
This time, Agaba interrupted before Sir Adola could speak. He asked, “Who is this…” while thinking of the word to use, he pointed at Eko, while staring at him from the unkept hair of his head to the rubber boot of his feet. Then he added, “riff-raff?”
While he uttered this last word, Eko stared at him, and for what seemed like eternity, their eyes battled until Eko turned towards Sir Adola? “Nnanke is not marrying anybody else but me. We are engaged. You can’t sell her to someone else and subject her to an eternal life of unhappiness because of money.”
“Shut up and leave my house this moment,” Adola said.
Eko still stood.
“Are you deaf? Leave my house, young man.” Adola repeated.
“They are the ones that should leave. They have enough young and unmarried girls in their village. Why should they come here to snatch mine?” Eko said and stood his ground.
“Nnanke is my daughter, and it is my responsibility to choose a husband for her.”
“I was the one you chose until these exploitative big men came into the picture.”
Agaba didn’t like the conversation as he asked Adola, “What’s your relationship with this idiot?”
“He works in my farm occasionally.” Adola replied.
Agaba put his hand in his Kaftan and with the swiftness of a professional gunman, he pointed a gun at Eko. As soon as the gun appeared, a little pandemonium broke in the room. Kebe fell backwards from her chair, Adola flew from where he was and found his bed feel backsword from her chair; Adola flew from where he was and found his bedroom. Some of the relatives stood on their feet in readiness for flight, while the rest ran out.
Eko was lion-hearted. He would never run from a pistol. He had a gun at home which he used for hunting. He stared hard at Agaba and said, “If you feel like shooting, go ahead. It will behoove you to do just that because I would rather die than watch your son marry Nnanke.”
Agaba walked closer to Eko while pointing the gun to his forehead. “Young man, I know how to treat obstinate fellas like you. He said, staring straight into the hardened eyes of Eko with the viciousness of an angry cat. Then he raised the gun and hit the butt on Eko’s forehead.
Eko’s eyes opened wider and his muscles hardened like he had just come out from the gym. He looked like he was going to hold Agaba and squeeze the breath out of his lungs. But then, the pain on his forehead overcame him and he slumbed.
* * *
After Agaba and his relatives had speedily ridden out in their posh cars, Adola peeped from his room into the sitting room. He was surprised when he saw Eko on the ground. But, he didn’t hear the sound of the gun. Why was Eko on the floor? He pondered. Then he crossed over to the other side of the room where Eko lay. Eko was dead.
* * *
Adola was beginning to get scared. If Eko died, what would he tell the people of Nko? This was his fear. He looked closer at Eko and noticed that his forehead was swollen. Besides that, he looked okay. Adola brought his right ear close to Eko’s chest and heard the sound of his heart beat. He made a short prayer then and immediately ran out of the door into the kitchen.
When he came out, he had a calabash of water. He walked straight into the living room, and without wasting time, he emptied the calabash on Eko’s face.
Immediately, Eko got up, wiping the water from his face with his hands.
“Eten ko leko,” Adola cursed in yakurr language, meaning ‘bush meat’. “I would rather offer my daughter to the gods as sacrifice than allow a wretched, God-forsaken man like you marry her.”
Eko could not stand the abuses. He just turned and ran out through the door.