Akunna’s hut stood at the edge of the village. As if that was not enough, she had a dog that she treated like gold. True, the dog had belonged to her beloved late husband but still that was no reason for her to prefer its company to that of humans. It was easy for the people of Akuna’s village to blame her for being anti-social and forget how she had come to be that way. It was easy for them to forget how much she had suffered from their accusations of murder or their meanness to her after the sudden death of her husband. It was the way of the world after all; to injure and then to turn around and blame the bearer of the wound for their carelessness.
All the villagers knew was that young women were not meant to live alone, less so at the edge of the village, and more especially not at a time where marauders and slave traders crisscrossed the area.
Many men had offered to take pity on Akuna and marry her. They would protect her from evil people who preyed on vulnerable women. They would till her land and ensure her roof did not leak in the rainy season. They would take good care of her and buy her wrappers rich with the stories of their people. But Akunna had turned them each man, despite their lofty promises, down. It was inconceivable and nobody could understand the young woman’s stubbornness. Only Akunna could explain why she refused man after man. Soon the villagers began to whisper about her pride, for what else would cause such a young woman without children not to take the first man that tried to wed her.
Every market day as she passed through the different stalls, her curvy hips swinging to a rhythm no one else heard, the other villagers would converse in low voices and point fingers. Akunna paid them no mind. She would wait for the right man. Death would not rob her twice; once of her beloved husband and second of her choice.
Didn’t she want babies like other young women her age craved? Did she want her late husband’s compound and farmland to go to weed? Most young widows performed the perfunctory three month mourning and immediately took a virile man into their huts. A couple of months later and there would be a child to help ease the loneliness. This was the way of things. Akunna had been even luckier than other widows to find men willing to give her their last name and yet there she was, behaving as if she was too good for the rest of them.
The other women ignored her and she had no friends. The men ogled her and bet amongst themselves on who would be the first to lay her. Her family groaned collectively whenever her situation was brought up in family meetings. But she paid them all no mind.
The dog had been her husband’s hunting dog. It was female and like its owner, it was full of pride. It did not play with the other dogs and barked threateningly when any suitor approached the compound. The dog followed its owner everywhere and on many occasions, Akunna had been heard to refer to it as ‘Nwam’. The woman was clearly a disgrace to the village.
Not too long after Akuna refused her thirteenth suitor, the village went into battle with a neighboring village. The thing about Akunna’s village people was that they didn’t know their own strength or lack of it. They went to communal meetings boastful and derisive of the other villages. This time, they had gone too far and an aggrieved village decided to teach them a lesson. The battle was quick and the warriors of Akunna’s village were hastily shamed. In order to appease the people they had insulted, Akunna’s people offered the victors, the piece of land that stood at its edge. Of course, Akunna’s compound was part of it.
Akunna didn’t mind. She would still own her land; she would only become part of another people. She was weary anyway of the meanness of her people.
On the day the victors came to stake their claim, the sun shone down brightly and the birds sang prettily and Akunna knew everything was going to be alright. The chief warrior of the victorious clan led his people with songs and drums to claim their prize. He too had a dog, an animal trained to kill. Upon reaching Akunna’s compound, the warrior’s dog started to bark at the sight that greeted it. Akunna’s dog was in front of the compound and before you could say ‘Nwa’ the two dogs had fallen in love and forgotten they were from enemy camps.
The chief warrior had never seen anything like it. The dog he had trained all these years to be a cold hearted killer was flirting with a mere hunting dog, from the enemy, no less. How could this be? The warrior issued all the canine commands in his repertoire but to no avail. He had no choice but to stand there, looking lost and foolish while all around him the other warriors danced the victory dance.
All the commotion and shouting of dog commands drew Akunna out from the kitchen where she had been preparing her evening meal. Right in front of her gates stood a man who was everything she had beseeched the gods for since her husband died. Her heart beat faster when he smiled sheepishly and pointed to their dogs. Akunna smiled back and turned around to go into her hut, the evening meal all forgotten, her hips swaying to a new beat.
The warrior had never felt so disarmed or unprotected. He signaled to his second in command to carry on with leading the celebrations. This was a battle he had lost without even unsheathing his matchet. He followed the woman into her hut and there she took him by the hand and led him like a little child down the age old path that most people never recovered from. It was then and only then that he understood what had happened to his dog.
The dogs stood guard while their owners explored the wells of love.