It was almost midday when Olamma arrived at Eke market. She surveyed the crowd of people bumping into each other as they made their way around the packed square, and she silently wished that she had not come. It was not as if she had a choice. She would have had to wait another four days to buy some of the things that she so desperately needed, as the Eke market, the largest in Umudiji, operated every fortnight. She walked towards the big ukpaka tree at the corner, half-hoping to see her friend, Adaku. She was not there. Olamma concluded that she must have gotten tired of waiting for her and gone ahead to do her shopping. They had agreed to meet there before the market went into full swing, that way, they would be able to buy from the wholesalers before the hard-hearted retailers bought everything up to sell at cut-throat prices. Who would she find to share a bag of rice with if Adaku was no longer interested?
Her mind was heavy as she made her way back to the surging crowd. If only her mother in-law had not walked in as she was getting ready to leave home. If only…she pushed the thought to the back of her mind. She could not bear that thought.
Olamma folded her umbrella, knowing that it would be impossible to leave it open in the market without, God forbid, plucking somebody’s eye out. She put it in her blue plastic shopping basket. The midday sun was high overhead, coming down with full intensity. Carefully, so as not to wake the sleeping baby on her back, she untucked the edge of her wrapped and used it to wipe her face. The baby stirred, trying to wriggle free from the tightness of the wrapper and oja that held her firmly in place. As Olamma gently rocked back and forth, she reached behind and rhythmically tapped the baby on her buttocks until she settled down. She clutched her purse tightly to her chest as she made her way into the market.
Olamma stopped and turned towards the voice. It was the man that she had just bought crayfish from. He was beckoning her over. She walked back, praying that the man would not, in broad daylight, deny that she had paid him. She had witnessed such occurrence at Ose market in Onicha.
“You forgot your crayfish,” the man lifted a newspaper-wrapped parcel, “abi you want to dash me?” he added jokingly.
“Ewoo, thank you… my mind was not there o.” she apologized and gratefully retrieved the parcel from the man.
As she walked away, Olamma realized that even though she had responded to the crayfish seller the way she did as a form of apology, truly her mind was not there. Just a few minutes ago, she had bought meat, paid the seller and forgot to collect her change. She was on her back to the meat stalls when she stopped to buy crayfish.
Her mind was, indeed, not there. How could her mind be there, after the shock that she had received that morning? How could her mind be there, when she knew perfectly well that she had no one to blame for her misfortune, but her chi. Was her husband, Ikeogu, not the first and only man to see her nakedness? She was not like those wayward girls who had removed all the male children in their womb before meeting and marrying their husbands. She had kept herself pure. Why then did her chi decide to give her five girls and no male child to carry her on husband’s name.
When she was pregnant with Nwanyibuife, the baby on her back, her mother had come to visit her at Onicha. She had brought some herbs which she instructed her to grind together with nzu. She was to rub the mixture on her stomach every morning before opening her mouth to any body. Did she not do exactly as was told, with the hope that she would give birth to a male child, if not twin boys. When the midwife announced that she had given birth to a baby girl, Olamma had turned her face to the wall and cried. Ikeogu did not oragnise an elaborate naming ceremony for the baby. They had quietly taken her to the early morning mass for water baptism. Ikeogu named her Obianuju, an indirect reference to the fact that she was a surplus addition to a house already filled with girls. In defiance, Olamma named her baby Nwanyibuife, which means that a female child is a thing of value.
Olamma was in the middle of a dialogue with the meat seller, trying to convince him that he owed her when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Adaku.
“Bring her out…bring her out,” she tugged at Olamma’s baby, “she is sweating like a Christmas goat.”
“Oh, Is she awake? I did not know.” Olamma loosened both the wrapper and the oja as Adaku pulled Nwanyibuife from her back.
After giving the baby some water from a bottle that she brought out from her basket, she decided to leave the meat seller to his fate. One day he would meet the person that would rob him of the money that he had stolen from her.
Adaku had hired a wheelbarrow pusher to carry her load, Olamma added her already heavy basket to the pile and they headed home.
“I waited for you this moning as agreed.” Adaku broke the silence. “When I did not see you, I figured that your husband must have come home unexpectedly and you people were enjoying oyibo sleep.” She gave Olamma a knowing wink.
“Hmm, my sister, the thing that is stronger than the cricket has entered the cricket’s hole o.” Olamma folded her arms across her chest. She wanted to go on but the wheelbarrow pusher seemed to be interested in what they were saying. She stopped walking and pulled Adaku back.
“What happened, are you people going back to Onicha immediately?” Adaku inquired
“If it were that, would I not be happy? What type of Christmas homecoming is this? Has six months not passed since Ikeogu left me and the chidren at home, with the excuse that he was looking for a bigger room at Onicha?” Her voice was rising.
“Jiri nwayo, my sister. Take it easy.” Adaku interrupted, trying to calm her down.
“Have I not been taking it easy, which was why I went ahead and enrolled my children in school here.” She stopped walking and faced Adaku, “I have just found out today that it is no longer what the music is playing that we are dancing.”
“How do you mean?”
“I was getting ready to leave home early this morning, like we planned, when my mother in-law walked in. I was happy to see her, thinking that she would agree to watch Nwanyibuife while I went to the market. I still cannot make head or tail out of what she said to me.” Olamma waved her right hand over her head and snapped her finger. She paused for a while and went on to respond to Adaku’s inquiring gaze.
“I greeted her and her response to me was…” Olamma tried to mimick her mother in-law’s shaky voice, “I am sure that Ikeogu has told you that he is planning to marry a second wife.”
“Tufia kwa!” Adaku shouted, in total rejection of the thought that such a thing would happen to Olamma.
“Hmmm, my sister, when she saw my reaction, she said that she knew that I had tied Ikeogu’s mouth and that was why she had taken it upon herslef to tell me.” Olamma spread her palms towards the sky and continued, “I thank God that I did not die on my way to the market, my brain was running in a million directions.”
“Do you think that your husband would do such a thing?” Adaku asked.
“As it stands right now, I cannot swear for anybody. I have decided to go to Onicha tomorrow and hear it from Ikeogu’s mouth.”
“That is a good idea, your mother in-law may have said that just to annoy you.”
“I hope so, my sister, I hope so.” Olamma sighed resignedly.
When they arrived at the enterance to Olamma’s house, she took her basket from the wheelbarrow and Adaku handed Nwanyibuife back to her. She wanted to open her purse but Adaku stppped her. She told her not to worry about paying the man.
“You can use it to make up for money that the meat seller stole from you.” she laughed, trying to lighten Olamma’s mood.
Olamma thanked her and they said their goodbyes.
Olamma had hardly set foot into their compound when her third daughter ran to her.
“Papa came home.” the little girl shouted excitedly.