As I lay on my fiancé’s bed that night, I became worried about meeting him. Zimuzo was ten years older than me, and we had scarcely exchanged more than ‘amam ma’ between us since I grew breasts. Before then he had loved to tease me and call me isi-opioro. He would point me out to his friends, grown boys like him who were in the form of gorgeous gods to me then, “Don’t you think that child’s head is shaped like the green pointy mango?” And I would take it as a compliment. Now I wondered, should I continue to call him De Zimuzo?
“So, you’re my wife,” said Zimuzo, arriving a night early.
He startled me out of my sleep. There I was, mouth probably hanging open with foams of saliva at one end of my mouth as I snored away, only to see the beaming shadow that stooped over me.
“Good. Very good.”
And then he had kissed me, the first man to do so.
I did not sleep that night. I just could not, no matter how hard I tried. I had never in my life been that close to a man. To see him draw breath, exhale, inhale again, and observe how his murmuring interrupted a snore before it could tear into the night. The strangeness of it rattled me, and “DON’T LET HIM TOUCH YOU!” reverberated in my head every time he brushed his thigh against mine, which was all the time. One time, he ran a finger across my navel. I swear, if he had done it a second time, I would have screamed. It was at this point that I shifted to the edge of the bed, thinking it was the respectable thing to do. Who knows how a man reasons? I might think I was being shy and resisting when I had cut short the kiss, not knowing that he had interpreted it to mean I could not wait for him to ravish me. He could even be wondering how many croppers had intruded his farm.
But Zimuzo pulled me back into his arms. When I attempted to move away again, believing we were playing the hide and seek game that was given between men and women, he scolded me.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Then, where are you running to?”
He put my head on his chest, and said that I would sleep better that way. But, his armpit was right in my nose! Also, in hiding my lips from him so they do not entice him to kiss me again, they were now right before his nipple. I pursed them, disconcerted by the unexplainable urge I had to press my mouth against that darkened spot.
After what could be a millennium of steeling myself, I wriggled out of his embrace and whispered that I needed to ease myself. When Zimuzo did not respond, I stole out of the bed and spent the rest of the evening on the cold concrete floor.
In the morning, I woke up sneezing and it disturbed Zimuzo’s sleep. He scolded me even harder for behaving like ‘a small girl’. Did I want to give myself pneumonia? What if a scorpion had bitten me? De Ozuruonye dashed into the room while he was yelling and rescued me. Who told him he and I could sleep in the same room, she shouted back at him on my behalf. When he saw I was there, should he not have gone to his brother’s bedroom and allowed me to get the rest I needed? Young men, she admonished, will they ever learn to wait for the pot of food to be brought down from the fire before they rush in to eat?
Zimuzo, whose countenance brightened once his mother entered the room, hugged her. He quipped that she should know better than to come in the middle of a quarrel between a husband and his wife. De Ozuruonye told him that privilege was only for those who had paid bride prices, and they both laughed.
Mother and son bantered, while I sat at the corner of the wall where I had been gaping at Zimuzo, too stupefied to react. What sort of man was this that I agreed to marry? Agbawka had a saying: you can tell the sugariness of faeces from the aroma of fart. Was I being forewarned about how our marriage would be? Him hectoring; me cowed? How different was that from living under Nne?
Zimuzo, as exuberant as he was tempestuous, scooped me up before I could dwell on those thoughts. He kissed my neck and collar, made me forget that I had shrunk from him a moment ago. He put me down after spinning me around twice, and made me sit on his lap as he pelted me with questions. I noticed that De Ozuruonye, although she was laughing and contributing to my answers, was looking at me with compassion. She might have sensed my apprehension, which had reduced since the outburst but had not gone away.
“Nwadinma, please, let me borrow your wife for few minutes,” she said to Zimuzo.
“You don’t want me to show her how to cook the type of soup you like, Dike?”
“Why didn’t you do it before now? You should leave us alone for the whole of today.”
“Hewu, Agu! When did we begin doing things upside-down in this family? How can we tell a girl to cook for you when her father hasn’t said, ‘let’s hear what you’ve to offer’?”
Humph! De Ozuruonye had three special names for Zimuzo? Nwadinma. Dike. Agu. All for one person? I could not even boast of half from Nne. Osy, which was rare for her, did not count. Anyone could call me that, and it did not have to be out of affection. Yet, here was Zimuzo behaving as though his mother would have to beg him with a cow before he would oblige her.
“Don’t worry, Nwadinma.” She stroked her son’s back. “We’ll be fast. Then, you can tie your hips to her own.”
As I chopped the ukazi leaves and De Ozuruonye stirred ukwo into the soup, she began speaking with a casualness that confused me at first. I was not sure if she was speaking to me. Her son has a loud voice, she said. He does not always know when he is shouting. I should not let it trouble me. The best way to handle him is not to pay him any attention. He would calm down when he had fumed to his heart’s content, and then I can present my case. Did I say anything to him this morning while he was talking? No, I replied. Good. She nodded and smiled.
“You are wise. Now I know you’ll enjoy my son. Just try to avoid the things that could make him annoyed with you. His father is like that, but has anyone called you before to say she saw him beating me on the road? No! Men are like snails. Touch them the way they don’t like, and they’ll hide the sweet part of themselves from you.”
Then she declared that even a mad man has that secret place an insightful woman can tap and he’d become water in her hands. In the mean time, until I have understood the in and out of managing Zimuzo, I should not hesitate to report to her if he goes out of order. I told her I would, but did not mention that her son struck me as a person who could never be anything but rock in anyone’s hand.