The minstrel was chanting mbem in praises of Omenka at the far end of Nnabuike’s compound.
O gba aka ari Oji
Onye Akpu ka Oji huru kpoo isi ala!
Oke Arusi e ji mbazu afacha eze, ekelee m gi!
Ubochi o ghara mmiri na agu asaa ime ego nwanyi, o kwa o ji Inyinya kworo enyi ma jiri nkata kporo ego.
Omenka, egwu m ekelee gi!
Egwu m egwu ojemba enwe ilo!
Odogwu Omenka na ekpiri m ekelee gi ooo.
Ojemba, unlike Okwudiri his rival does not mix gravels and grains together in the name of music or the mbem that can make a man jump over the divide between the land of humans and that of the spirits. He is a man of proportion and does not believe in flattery. So, to sing that Omenka climbed an Iroko tree with bare hand; that the Akpu tree bowed to him was never out of place. If he had even sung that every tree knew Omenka by name, it would have been helping nature to speak where it needed help. With his voice serene and sweet like Ichoku bird that had filled itself with fresh water in the morning, he made good use of metaphors as his rattling ekpiri ran through his palms and fingers.
Were Amaigbo and Omenka’s people not amazed at the number of tubers of yam and kegs of palm wine that he presented? Omenka had secretly made arrangements with Umuji, a neighbouring town to Amaigbo to supply seven hundred tubers of yam to Nnabuike’s compound on that day; and Udi to bring five jars of palm wine. They only set out from home with three hundred tubers of yam tied on ukpa, two jars of nkwu ocha and a goat as the age long Amaigbo custom demanded.
Big faeces is not defecated by how big one is but how well one is fed. Omenka might look poor, but he is the dried meat that fills the mouth beyond expectations, ‘anu kporo nku na-eju onu.’ After all, no matter how heavy a dead pregnant cricket is, it must pass through the tiny hole of ndanda ant because ndanda wanted it. Ojemba was not wrong too to sing that Omenka saddled an elephant upon a horse and came with a basket full of money. You do not mock a man who slept and woke before the sun of a new day, for the Chi that gives a poor man ji mkpa, certainly would give him a digger with which to harvest the yam. Like the little nza knitting its nest reed by reed, Omenka had prepared diligently but silently for a day like this.
A day Amaigbo will never forget as she passed home with a heavy stomach through the carved door at the entrance of Nnabuike’s compound. By now it was as if some shadowy guests were creeping in over the wall. Udekwe shook Omenka who was relaxing as if he were reclining in his obi; it was time to go, so that they would come back again. The seductive moon had fallen and even swept the pathway through which they would go back to Umuokwe.
“Ka hunehune di otu a, kedu ka hunehune ga- adi”, shouted the fox after a taste of a chicken’s faeces. “If it is this delightful, how much more delightful would the creature that dropped it be?”
Amaigbo did not need to be reminded to gather again in Nnabuike’s compound the next day. It was the day the ‘white fowl’ shall go out with the roaster and Omenka’s people would come en masse too to traditionally take Mkpurumma home.
And the day finally came; food lay like sands on the sea shore, and every guest was served with the dishes and wine of their choice. Mkpurumma would take a cup of palm wine from his father, sip a little and then show Amaigbo and Umuokwe who her husband is. As Nnabuike poured out wine into Iko nkwu from one of the kegs his in-laws came with, they began to lick their lips! It smelled very much like the handiwork of Okeataigwe. Nwanze was counting the spillage, unbearably smacking his tongue. He staggered to a stand and spurted,
“Bia Nnabuike, I don’t know which adjective with which to quafily you. Do you know how many much liquors of ingredients you are wrecking here…?”
His friend Nderi tried to calm him….
“No, don’t try to pour me down Nde, or I will nderiminate you! Is it not the same waist with which you Nnabuike, only knows how to climb women, that Okeataigwe the great lapped the palm tree and…”
He would have said more had the daring face of Obierika not shut him up. He knew him and his thundering prowess far and beyond. If not for Udekwe and some other elderly voices, Obierika would have transferred the anger meant for Omenka on Nwanze in measures of blows and bumps. Elders do not stay at home and a goat gives birth at the tether. However, if the drunken chicken knew it would meet the mad fox on its way, it would have checked its excesses before time. Inwardly, Nwanze thanked his Chi and remained calm in his drunken state. Ogo bu chi onye, so one should be at peace with his in-laws. But then, it is abominable that Nnabuike did not know how to pour wine because it is an art which every youth should have learnt while attending to the elders in his father’s Obi.
“One has to shake the keg very well, slant it side-ways with the left hand and then pour it out gently into the cup without spilling a drop. After all, it is by drops that the palm wine is gathered. Are you not aware that every bit of that prized liquid is as important as a jar of it?” Nwanze murmured in his humbled state.
His words held no water because they were considered a drunkard’s uttering. But Nnabuike’s wealth had overshadowed his naivety just as the pumpkin leaves covered the anyu pod. Yet this single act betrayed his early year’s prodigality. Mkpurumma carried the cup of wine with reverence and proceeded to look for her husband. As she ceremoniously walked past, Nwanze beckoned on her to give him the wine. Hardly was one cured of agwu spirit and murmuring at the same time too. Any way what he did now is customarily tolerable as some other’s including Udekwe did the same. Her stride was like the dance of a goddess, and to say she was beautiful would be stating the obvious with an aching limitation. Mkpurumma is beauty!
As she scurried through in search of Omenka, who of course was not far from sight. Njelita stood and shouted,
“Hey! Elewe ukwu e gbuo ewu!” His spittle splattered as he wiped his droll with his back hand.
There was no need to be surprised, for what is good for a pregnant woman is also good for the man who impregnated her. That Njelita stood in the neighbourhood of imbecility and normalcy did not in any way affect his judgments on what is good. Mkpurumma’s beauty truly deserves that a goat should be killed in its honour.
As for Omenka, he had already drunk the wine of her beauty and refused so tenaciously to indulge a thought that she might not find him. With his eyes, he shot dead all who gestured on his Mkpurumma including Udekwe his uncle. The palm tree in the compound belongs to the child’s father, but the kernel which he breaks with his hands, is his rightful possession. No body however, would take the cup but the fear of the unknown kept Omenka feverish till Mkpurumma came before him and knelt. She gently sipped the palm wine and passed the cup to Omenka. A loud ovation erupted amidst excitement and laughter as he gulped it as a child who was afraid that the elele given to him would be taken back. Nwanze tip-toed to a height, from where he stood watching Omenka while Njelita swallowed lumps of saliva that were due to fall out like drops of stones in a deep pit.
All these while, Uzubodu was running in and out of her mkpuke making sure that all the food to be served were well cooked. Ndi nwunyedi helped out one way or the other. Neenu, the eldest of them, and widow to Nnabuike’s late brother sat on her nwanyinoduruokwu stool and issued orders. Despite her age, she could tell from the ripples of the soup, and when the fires should be stopped or stoked. A woman, without doubt is not too old when it comes to the dance step she knows too well. Neenu is not only an authority in food preparation, she could besides her unimaginable neatness, tell the blind housefly from among full-eyed ones!
“Nnee” she called on Uzubodu, “go and eavesdrop, at least you know what they do before they give away our child for toro. Our husbands sometimes lose their brains before jars of palm wine.”
The women laughed at her humour. Such laughter could make a man think he had shit on his loin cloth. No wonder men do not pay casual visits to the kitchen! Once they sit on their nwanyinoduruokwu, that dwarf four-legged stool, and true to its meaning, they sit on words and could speak out words that could walk like nanny goats. But Atu was a different man. When he was alive, he would go in with his Oche ozo and sat few yards away from his wife, Neenu.
“Nne m, here I come with my own nwokenoduruokwu to count the items you put in the soup with my eyes…. Is that not isi Okporoko? Let me see how it will sink again without recovery. A whole head of stockfish, going down our soup pot without my teeth telling my mouth that a feast was prepared. Ahize Chukwu I came to see for myself.”
Neenu would curse until she gave Atu a chunk of smoked Okpo,
“Take, ‘longer throat’ and be gone; and if you have forgotten what your mother looked like, let me draw it on the ground with mkpisi for you”
He would gradually chew on the dried fish till the meal is served.
It was told of an evening, Atu sat in his Obi calculating how the farming season would go and forgot to go over to the mkpuke. Neenu waited till she could no longer and went straight to the Obi, greeted Atu and carried his Oche ozo. As she waggled off, Atu stared steadily at her back, rose to his feet and followed her.
“Nne m, my mother, I am right behind you.” He followed her to the mkpuke.
Atu now knew why Udenkwo his mother told him that his wife is his mother the day he married her. That was the last thing she said to him too before she died. She had blessed Uzubodu for standing by her in her sickness and asked Omumu to give her fruits of the womb. He knew why she came and didn’t disappoint her.
“Ee, the other day, you said that the bush meat I gave you drowned in the soup pot, I think the one I gave you today had better have a ship wreck in my mouth…”
Neenu hid her pleasure under a feigned disturbance and cursed. She straightened her hand in a calabash containing washed bitter leaf, scooped up a handful and squeezed out the water.
“Take onugbo and eat first. If I give you fish now, you will eat and go”.
That evening, they went in to the Obi together, Atu carrying the foo foo while Neenu had the soup and water.
Uzubodu made to go to the Obi, she took a look at herself but she was still as beautiful as udara mmicha. She had taken time to take her bath in the morning just like she usually does, brushed her heels clean on a stone lying on the palm kernel shell floor and combed her hair with a wooden comb. Nnabuike once asked her if she bathed her kinsmen one after another as to spend such amount of time bathing, but Uzubodu believed that a rushed bath was a waste of water. So, she would scrub her body well with ogbo – a sponge made from a pounded wild creeping crop. With Ude aki so evenly rubbed on her smooth body, her skin will remain shinny all day long. Satisfied with the thoughts of still being presentable, she went over to the Obi at the time her in-laws had finished eating. When a python swallows a goat, it finds it very difficult to crawl. Best imagined than talked about, their legs would weep considering the distance they would have to walk with their protruded stomach. Yet, behind those smiling faces of satiated mouths, were wearied teeth that cannot count the amount of meat they masticated. But it was about time they left, so they stood. Uzubodu thanked them for eating and prayed that the legs, with which they would go, shall be better than the ones they had come with.
Nwanze who had drunken to stupor stood up and swayed to a perfect staggering posture. As he felt he had balance, he stepped outside; a stream of urine ran downward his clothes and he shouted,
“A bia ha! Amaigbo, your rain-makers are impotent! They can not stop us from taking our Mkpurumma to Umuokwe! If it is your game plan to force rain water on us, I tell you I am the Okwe game of Umuokwe. I….”
Obierika scooped him like a kite and moved towards the gate. That did not shut Nwanze’s mouth as he still ran his mouth,
“Omenka na-aputazikwanu, I am leading the way. High Chief, Nwanze 1 of Umuokwe. E bukwa m n’isi ka a na-ebu onye ocha!”
Irritated unbearably by his spurts, Obierika dumped him on a stump of a tree and left him there. There was no use beating a man inebriated by wine, so he felt he had just kicked a frog and helped it take a leap.
Chinelo, Neenu’s third daughter wept as Mkpurumma carried an empty jar of wine. Traditionally, she was sending back the jars, on which course she would stay for otu izu with her husbands. In Umuokwe, every woman on ije di was ‘my wife’ to all; not that the dowry a man paid on his wife was on behalf of the rest. Otherwise, it would be a deliberate washing of hands to break kernels for fowls. Hence, from the secret assessment of her behaviour, within these four days, she would either stay or go. She would not only please her husband, but also the husband’s kinsmen and most importantly her mother in-law. In most cases, men are like children. You can win their hearts through the kitchen and on the mat; but if their ageing mothers do not approve of you, you are hopelessly treated like akwuna, a prostitute. Old age is indeed something to contend with and as such, no young wife prays to have a bad nne di as mother in-law especially an old scolding witch.
But the gods have spoken that Omenka and Mkpurumma would stay together.
Odiukonamba was a mother in-law to the core of her name, a scarce commodity. On the first night Mkpurumma slept in Umuokwe, her mother in-law bathed her herself, brought out one Obidiya, a valued wrapper worn only on big occasions, from the bottom of her wooden treasure box and covered her up. She then danced around and displayed several ukwe dancing steps till her voice cracked with the joy of a mother whose son has grown.
Mkpurumma na I di anyi mma!
Mkpurumma na I di anyi mmaa
Onye Chi mere eze
Na mmadu apughi I nara ya
The cock crew…
Mkpurumma was carrying a beautiful baby boy in her arms, while she was pounding nri ji in the kitchen. Her daughter in -law had chosen to take pounded yam and nsala soup when she asked her what she would eat. The soup was boiling as Omenka and his friends perceived the aroma of fresh fish and uziza spice while drinking for the birth of a new baby in his obi.
“But the cock had crowed,” thought Odiukonamba.
It was then that she realized it was only a dream. She sighed like a snail cast into a fire and slept away again from the nest of her imagination. However, her dreams always come true, right from the moment she began to say ‘I dreamt’ in her childhood. It was a natural endowment, believed to have been inherited from Ngige her father; though it took the oracle of Afa to convince her folks especially her mother that she was not an Ogbanje. Ngige could tell how many eggs a pregnant hen would lay, and the number of chicks that it would eventually hatch. She would always remember her father telling her,
“there are many things under the sun that we cannot explain and I certainly cannot explain this gift we have.”
Gradually, the sun awoke from the womb of dawn. Oduko was about to turn her head when she heard some noise and footsteps from the compound. She reached for her mkpo and supported herself to a stand; her joints cracking like a cob of maize by the fire. She emerged from the little door of her dark hut and rubbed her hand over her face in disbelief as she watched Mkpurumma sweeping the whole compound with some dry palm fronds the goats had eaten which is kept for that purpose. The sequence and the variance of the lines they made on the ground; with her intermediate foot prints as she swept shone back to the early morning sun.
“Mkpurumma nwa m, what is it. Do you want to kill me? Hei! Mma m, drop the kparamkpa and go back to sleep”.
“Odiuko nne m, I putago ura?” Her set of white teeth glistened like melon seeds. She greeted.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she looked lovingly at her daughter in-law
Mkpurumma dropped the brooms and hurried to hold in a warm embrace,
“Nne, what is it?” She asked.
Their shadows lay faintly behind them as if peeping in suspense to know what the matter was with Odiukonamba,
“Omumu has finally blessed my womb with a female child and my son with a mother”, she said softly
“My wife, they are only tears of joy,” she assured Mkpurumma as they slowly moved towards the kitchen.
The day was no longer young; people began trooping in, especially those who were unable to go to Amaigbo with Omenka. Nwanze came in as early as possible to meet up with the over night palm wine.
“We have come to see our new wife, with our own eyes once more”, “he declared as he knocked his wine cup on the mud floor.
Why would the dogs be chased away from feasting on faeces when humans would not touch it, or will you eat it? Call Nwanze akpa nkwu, scavenger of wine, you would not be wrong; but the most baffling thing is that no matter how dead a strong wine has stricken him, his legs would definitely wobble him to his ramshackle hut. On one occasion, having drunk his wit off, he had picked a stick and flogged his staff. Then, he left it behind and told it to find its way home to his house. Nevertheless, he was a different person when there was no wine running in his veins. True to his claim that with wine, the crooked and rugged paths are made plain, he was a man of insight and vision. Humane and humorous, and could offer useful pieces of advice too in times of need. Otherwise, at other times of occupation, wine got animated and spoke through him.
One who intends to gather all the pods that are on an Ukpaka will certainly fall from the branches. And as so much food and wine had found their way into the stomachs of those gathered, they began to disperse in clusters with gestures of approval for the day was getting quite old. But then, people still go by such names as Emetuwamma, Onyedimmanazu, Ochiabuto to describe how hard it is to please human beings.
“Come to think of it, when did being dark in completion become evil, and being slender an abomination?” Such were the content of Uchechi’s soliloquies as she fell upon a lonely path way towards her home. “I wonder if this village would accommodate us with this tall black and thin thing. Or should we run away because Mkpurumma is married? No, a man should not sit in his house and squash his testes!”
Yet the unfolding moon hung overhead and smoothly led them all home while casting a bright glow that made Omenka’s compound a sight to behold. Odiuko could not remember the last time she told tales at moon light, of course to Omenka, when he was a child. She paused in her thoughts as she took an appreciative look at Mkpurumma, who sat at her feet, listening with rapt attention even as she continued with her tale,
“….that is why you should first clear away the ash before making a fresh fire in the morning. But the Spirits did not kill or make Onwuelo mad. They only warned her not to put off the fire entirely after cooking at night; and to deposit the ash where they would find it in the morning. It is said that ji mmuo does not roast that fast like other yams; and sometimes when the ancestral spirits on guard were unable to get their meal ready before humans
wake, they would leave it, and wait for it with the ash at the cocoyam farm.”
The night was getting cold, and from the entrance, it looked like a giant monster with one glowing eye, thought Odiuko as she paused to look at the Urimmu lit a few yards away to keep the smoke off. It was flight of the winged termites towards the Urimmu that cut short the tale she was about to begin. When aku mkpu go on wings, they bring forth riches from Ani, the earth goddess and Odiuko was not ready to let it pass her by. As she gathered the winged creatures with her daughter in-law, Omenka who had been eavesdropping in nostalgia sighed and stretched to rest. He knew it was aku, his favourite especially when mixed with maize paste and cooked; but he would have preferred they went on nuptial flight another night than tonight. He sighed once more and slept off in hopeful assurance of Igbagbu oka after the aku mkpu must have been fried.
It was as if Odiuko sat by the passage of days counting them one after the other; wishing she could turn some back as to prolong the Izu. She had so impressed Mkpurumma to her heart that the thought of her leaving the next day was a nightmare. Oyi m, bia yiri m was a call to a bosom friend to become like me and like Odiuko, Mkpurumma had found a home in her and Omenka, that it was obvious that Amaigbo and Umuokwe would know she was treated well.
“Mkpurumma nwa m, Oyiridiya, you shall go, so that you will come back” She held back her tears as they prepared their winged catch in the morning.
Her consolation was that the dead would never complain of insufficient sleep since she would live with them forever after nkwu nwanyi. A ripe corn is known by its look as it is definite that the traditional marriage would be fixed once Oyiridiya reported back to Umuokwe. By now the goose pimples on them had fizzled away by the fire as they fried the delicious winged creatures. Shadows were slightly tilting left when Omenka emerged from an enclosure wound with a tender palm frond. He had woken up earlier too, for he must have been contracted to carve a masquerade or a work that should not be seen either by children or women. The omu tied around the ogige spoke it all. It was here that he carved the Adaugo maiden masquerade and other works of his fame. He walked to a bitter leave shrub and picked some leaves. He chewed a handful and squeezed out a green substance from a few which he placed on a slight cut he had on his left thumb. The tail end of his eyes betrayed his pains as he stalked towards the kitchen. Oyiridiya walked up to him, kneeling as she greeted him. He patted her back and helped her up.
“Odiuko nne m, I greet you. I hope both of you slept well?” He asked them.
“Whoever woke up to a new day, should thank his Chi, for it was not all those who slept woke to stand on their feet.” Odiuko replied.
As he slightly rubbed his hand on Mkpurumma’s hips, the sharp eyes of Odiuko could not fail to have noticed.
“Omenka, you should have said you were feeling cold there or do you want to eat some aku mkpu from the agbada before they get down from the fire?” Odiuko teased.
Oyiridiya excused herself and went to serve her husband. She scooped a handful of the delicacy in a piece of earthenware and brought it forth. She knelt and served him. Omenka smacked and gathered some into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully,
“Are you sure this is aku mkpu, or did you fry it with stock fish oil?” He asked as he subtly gestured for more.
“Have you not seen your sweet heart, Oyiridiya, would he be the woman who asked her nwunye di to give her oil to eat her osukwu palm fruits?” An enthused Odiuko questioned. Aku mkpu of course has enough fat to think of frying it with oil.
The day glowed with that mood but soon glided into reserved gloom as the thought of the ndu oku that must take place the next day threatened. Obioma had just entered with a basket on her head. She left very early to Oye market to meet up with the wholesalers for better purchases. Odiuko welcomed her and helped unload her wares. She picked the piece of cloth with which she saddled her load to clean her sweat. Oyiridiya was ready with a cup of water before her and as she drank, Obioma knew it came from an earthenware pot buried to the neck in the ground. It was only water from such pots that could be as calming and refreshing as the one she just took. As Omenka walked in from behind the house, he stopped briefly to admire what Obioma had bought but the nightingale couldn’t have sung better as Obioma’s rejuvenated voice raised in a song of greeting,
Omenka I di anyi mma
Mkpurumma I di anyi mma
… mbommm mbomm
Ndi chi mere eze
Na mmadu apughi I nara ha ya
… mbomm mbomm
She sang as Omenka happily danced to his Obi to give way for the women.
“That is it our husband, ije ngala! Who would make a fuss about a man who married mma si olu, beauty from far away land?” Obioma said as she disemboweled the content of the basket. “Oyiri m o, please fetch a flat basket so we can place the azu nko on it” She called out to Mkpurumma.
“How much did you buy it, it must have been the biggest catfish in Ozuo River.” Odiuko questioned with a feigned suspicion over her brows.
They laughed hilariously as Obioma continued to bring forth other items among which were aka, nha, jigida, olongbo olu, azu asa, hot drink, snuff and local cosmetics. Oyiridiya would be led back to Amaigbo tomorrow with these as gestures of appreciation and acceptance. Everything was profusely intact. Indeed, when it had to do with nobility and accountability, Obioma is one to rely on in Umuokwe. If she said that something was green, then that thing was incapable of being another colour. On this account she was contracted to provide stuffs on major occasions like this. However, it is not news that the stride of a chicken is a great displeasure to the kite.