I was born the fifth of seven children, and the only daughter of my parents, on October 2, 1940, in the small village of Aku. I was told by my mother that the rain poured heavily on Aku the day I was born. She said she was surprised at my strength and inability to cry even when Mama Ebuka, the woman known around the village to make newborns cry lacked the ability to make me sing out. She never forgot to add that maybe God had added my tears to the rain that bathed the crops and animals that fateful day each time she re-narrated this story. I grew up hardly ever shedding a tear and some said it was because I grew up amongst six boys, but others believed I was just heartless.
I had friends; just enough to chat with on my way to fetch water from the stream nearby and back. Besides running errands and playing with my friends I spent each day doing chores at home while my brothers attended the Grammar School a few stones away. When the missionaries came to open the school, they went from door to door telling all who cared to listen about the school. It was going to be a good opportunity for the people of Aku to go to school as the nearest school was in faraway Abiaku. My father liked the idea and asked my brothers to attend but said I would remain at home to help with the chores. He said I was a girl and would one day get married and books had no business with the kitchen and raising kids. No girl in the whole of Aku was allowed to attend the school, only the boys did.
Like my mother, I grew into a beautiful woman. The women of Aku were not as endowed as the women of Eru. My mother was half-Eru and half-Aku and people blamed her ample bosom and rich backside on her mixed background and I was no different from her. Daily, men flocked my father’s compound asking for my hand in marriage. Men from Aku, Eru and faraway Ekempu. Of all these men, I liked Okoro. He was tall, dark but not too handsome. He was from Ekempu, the only son of the famous warrior, Ekene of Ekempu. I told my mother I liked him and I think she told my father. She cried the day Okoro was asked to forget about marrying me by my father because “Ekempu was too far for him to come visit me as he planned”. But I still did not cry.
The day I was handed to Obi as his wife, my mother cried. She knew I was unhappy but like every other woman of Aku, who had been stripped of freedom, she said and did nothing. That night as Obi mounted me, my stomach churned in disgust. He smelled of old sweat and the room smelled worse. I wanted to cry so badly but I did not. I only hated this man I was to love even more.
The first day I genuinely smiled at him was the day Ona came. I was lost in her charm that I did not realize when I looked up and smiled at Obi, one that emanated from the deepest corners of my heart. Like her name, she became my jewel. After months of having her in me, she glided out smoothly. She was a beautiful baby with a head full of hair and a set of bright eyes. I watched her grow in delight. I was bound to this child.
On a day that seemed so perfect, Obi rushed into the room demanding that I stop spoiling Ona. He said that was why I was unable to give him another child. He said he wanted a son and until that happened, Ona meant nothing to him. These words broke me. My Ona was almost four years old. My blood boiled within. I battled against anger and conscience and found peace in the choice to fight for Ona’s freedom. I knew she was a woman, but what I refused to know was how she was less than a man. I was determined to prove my point that Ona was no different from a male child and that was how it all began. I fought for her to go to school. Somehow I won. She became the first woman of Aku to go to school. I took it a step further by talking to other women of Aku. Fights broke out in different homes. The same fights which got resolved by some of the girls of Aku going to school. I was just tired of seeing our women hide beneath this man made cloak of womanhood that kept our minds and mouths shut.
The day Obi was summoned by the rulers was remarkable. They had sent guards who dragged him like a goat they had stolen from a place to the presence of the rulers. They said a man who could not put his wife in check was not worthy of respect. Somehow, Obi was let go and he returned that night. He sat quiet in our dark room, lightened by a candle whose light swayed to an unknown song played by the night breeze. He stared at the floor for long that I just wanted to disappear. That night he said nothing. That night I almost cried.
Today, Ona got married to Eze, a man of her choice and I did cry. A lot about this tall, dark, man with pointed nose from Ekempu reminds me of Okoro, the man I wanted to marry. Though unlike Okoro, Eze is strikingly handsome. Looking at the way he was all over Ona, one could tell he truly was in love. Ona unlike the rest of the women of Aku was marrying a man who loved her and not one who was hand-picked and I was more than happy. My Ona unlike the rest of the women has a voice and I am proud of that. They both leave for the city at daybreak and Eze has promised to take care of my jewel. She wants to be a doctor and Eze said she will attend one of the schools in the city. Eze is also what they call a “university graduate” and soon Ona will bear that name too. She said she will return to empower more of the women and so just the way we hear about the exploits of the Western women, one day the women of Aku will be heard of in a foreign land.