There are times when I get calls from people who I haven’t heard from in a long while, bad calls. Calls about friends that had just left mother earth or what they were going through. I know how I particularly hate seeing one girl’s call, she only calls to give me bad news, the last time she did, I was out with my boyfriend and I was teasing him on getting me something I just saw and liked. So imagine smiling one minute, picking your call the next minute with trepidation and crying the very next minute. A close friend had died from child birth.
Then there are calls that don’t make you wary, calls from your family and close friends. Calls that you pick with a smile; calls from your parents, siblings, close relatives and friends. Calls with the potential to rip the joy from you in a moment and plunge you into a dark abyss.
My younger sister had just left twenty minutes earlier so a call from her was not out of order. She could have forgotten her glasses or even her wallet and could be calling to confirm if any of her missing item was indeed at home. Yes, she was that forgetful.
“Yes?” I replied picking my phone and trying to take a sip of my Lipton tea – no, I hate beverages; don’t give me Ovaltine, Milo, Bournvita and all the others except you want to put me to sleep and make me weak like Samson in the Bible, yes, even Enoquin has her weaknesses.
“God! Eno, has Mummy called you?” She shouted down the line.
What was this? “No why?” Her panic and gotten through to me and instantly I was trying to second guess who might have died. God forbid that it was anybody close like…God forbid!
“It’s Eka Maggi oh…Mummy just called…” She couldn’t even complete whatever she wanted to say as her sobs were interfering with her words.
Disconnecting the call, I tried my Mum’s line and it showed the busy signal. Just then her call came in on my other line.
“Eno, how are you?” She asked in a resigned tone.
“Mummy, I am fine. Good morning. What is this I am hearing about Eka Maggi?”
“Hmm my sister” I have always told her playfully to stop calling me that.
She only did that when we were gisting about things and in the thick of the gist, she’d say ‘my sister’ and I’d playfully point out that I was her daughter not her sister and she’d say ‘see your naughty head’ and I’d reply ‘As long as it’s you momma that gave birth to this naughty head, I don’t mind’ and then we’d laugh but not today.
“Nside?” I asked again
“Eka Maggi is dead oh…she died yester-night with udoh.”
“What!” The tears fell and I told her I would have to call her back. It was more than I had expected, it was a double tragedy. They were our family friends. We had first known the man for nearly three years before he got himself this woman as his partner.
I was there at the hospital when Udoh, the third child was born three years ago. I beheld him first before his father did.
The father an apprehensive man stopped going with his wife during labour after the first one, his daughter, nearly gave him a heart attack, so he always nominated one of us to go and then we’d place a call when the baby emerged. My elder cousin was there during the birth of his first boy, not in the labour ward but in the waiting room and I was there for the second. That was the first time I beheld a baby fresh from the womb and I can honestly say it was a humbling experience, so I had a close affinity to this one.
Later when I was much calm, I called for more details and was told that the bus they were in caught fire on Third Mainland Bridge and that the woman having escaped was going back for her son who had been dropped by the maid in the scramble to escape. That single act caused her dearly. The fire incinerated the boy and the mother got first degree burns. No hospital could treat her because no vein could be found and so she died in the hospital.
But that is not what this write-up is all about; the story is about what happened later.
My mother is a good story teller; she has this ability of always telling a story and pausing at the suspenseful part while we all waited for her next words with bated breaths. I am not sure she knows that she does it.
It happened one day that even my father – an impatient man – told her impatiently to our surprise to continue her story after she had done her famous pause. We hadn’t known my father was listening, he had ‘pretended’ to be absorbed with his computer. Funny couple
My mother had once told me about one of our crazy tradition in which families of dead spouses usually made crazy demands during the funeral of the affected child.
If you were a woman and was never liked by your spouse’s family, you would be accused of killing your husband and asked to drink his bath water to prove your innocence. If you refused, it meant you killed him, if you drank and fell ill it still meant you killed him and his ghost was taking his revenge out of you.
If you had only female children you were not entitled to a say or any right to lay claims to anything. You would even be asked to choose a male ‘protector’ from the family. This ‘protector’ would act as your husband. Your saving grace would be if you had male children; if they were young and you were still asked to choose a ‘protector’ you could choose one of your male children…no, you wouldn’t have to sleep with him or any disgusting thing like that.
Now if you were a man and you took a female into your house without making a honest woman out of her and she died suddenly out of natural causes or otherwise, you could not bury her till you had married her.
The marriage would allow the man bury the woman in his place as is the right of a married woman. The case was worse if it was an Adiaha (First female child). I support this particular tradition to an extent because it helps women keep their virtue and does not allow for unnecessary cohabitation except you were willing to take a gamble that the woman would not die till you made an honest woman out of her.
This tradition also has other consequences. In the event that the woman lost any member of her family or there was a celebration, she could not go with the man to any of these events as his contributions will not be accepted or recognised since no one officially knows his intentions.
Also if the woman got physically assaulted as a result of her co-habitation, no one could go to her aid not because they wouldn’t want to but due to the fact that the man in question could order peace seeking family members out or even beat them up and not get penalised that is of course till the woman dies.
This I guess is why the traditional bride price and its rites are usually hammered upon by elders. A man that physically assaults a woman whose bride price he had paid could have her family forcefully come to remove her from the house till the man’s people go to plead or beat the man up themselves…this is why an average bride price list usually includes every age grade, this job of a woman’s protection always falls to the youths.
And what if the man does not have the money for the bride price? He is advised to come for an introduction. This is to declare his intention and to get a bride price list. This would enable him beg off some items through the elders in his family and then work towards an agreed list by both parties. All this is so you would not have to forcefully marry their daughter’s corpse when she suddenly dies.
When my mother always told this story, I had always felt that she exaggerated a bit especially when she’d say that marrying the corpse meant that after the wedding you had to sleep with the corpse in a room at night as is done after every wedding before starting to prepare for the burial rites.
“How can you sleep with a corpse in the room?” I asked frightened at our customs.
She’d shake her head and say “Well my sister, it’s our tradition. And you would have to understand the feelings of the woman’s family.”
“And what if the man refuses?”
“Then the family could go diabolical. I have heard of two men refusing, one died suddenly, the other ran mad always claiming to always see his wife’s ghost.”
“So there is no way out?”
“Oh, there is. A stitch in time will save you all the unnecessary wahala. If the man that wants to marry you does not have the money, let him do an introduction first so that everyone knows that the man is yours…but that does not mean you should bring home a poor or an ugly man either.”
And before she’d launch into who I could and could not bring home, I’d make my escape.
Yes, my family friend suffered this fate. He paid his dead wife’s bride price and did the marriage rites before he was allowed to take her corpse to his village for a burial.
When I asked my mother if the man actually spent a night with his dead wife, she sighed and said that although the man begged using his double tragedy as a reason, his request was not granted because he was reminded of the fact that emissaries had been sent to him by his late father-in-law to come and do the right thing by asking for her hand – especially after the woman gave birth to the first and then the second child – and even during the father-in-law’s funeral where he was forced to do a quick introduction before he could be allowed to participate in the funeral rites.
In essence, he was forced to do an introduction during his father-in-law’s burial and then forced to marry his wife after her death.
Truly, as my Momma would say, a stitch in time saves one from all the unnecessary wahala but then I still advocate that some of our traditions should be abolished.