“Mummy, shey we be Christian abi Muslim?” Ibrahim asked his mother. Nkiru, Ibrahim’s mother’s sister, let out a short, spontaneous burst of laughter.
“Abi o. Ask your Mama.”
Ibrahim’s mother, possessor of the sharpest wit in her father’s house, and a temperament that suffered no fools, promptly answered:
“Go ask your Papa.”
Ibrahim’s mother – or Adaku, since she was her parents’ first daughter – was a known and self-cognizant renegade. While she yet held forth as the family’s black sheep, headstrong and affecting every moral liberty that her folks forbade, but in reality searching desperately for a suitable husband, into her life walked the intrepid Jake, whose permissiveness would become legendary. Jake, tall, light-skinned and handsome, came from a family of nominal Muslims. Adaku’s family was staunchly Christian; her father, Mazi Okwuonu, had been a respected elder in the church. And so it was that Ibrahim, and his brother Ahmed, and his sister Rihanet, went to church on Sunday, but on Friday clapped on the Muslim prayer cap and fastened the hijab, and mingled with the Muslim kids at the Jum’uah prayers.
Mazi Okwuonu would not have permitted the marriage, had Adaku not gotten pregnant and hidden it from everyone until she was five months gone. When Jake was finally presented – as both the man who put Adaku in the family way and the man who sought her hand in marriage – Mazi Okwuonu was a man with tied hands.
So the nuptial negotiations proceeded, and Adaku’s kith and kin sought to make the prospective in-law break a little sweat, as was customary. They set down a long list of demands, to be satisfied in both cash and kind. But Adaku – true to nature – rose in fierce challenge.
“What is it?” she demanded. “Am I for sale, or have you come to your farms for harvest?” She then hissed loudly, walked away, and continued ranting.
Preparations for the marriage ceremony came to a halt. After several years away from the village scene, here was vintage Adaku, an Adaku many have even begun to forget. For those who recalled, it was nothing surprising that Adaku should create a stir, but that she had the gumption to cross the etiquette line and say those words, in that manner, despite the shame she had brought upon the family – a shame which everyone tried hard not to see but which was there nonetheless – rankled more than a few people. Harsh words flew about and soon a good-sized row erupted, in which ancient hurts were revisited and sides freely taken.
But blood is thicker than water, as Mazi Okwuonu liked to say. In the end, the quarrel was set aside, suspended. Adaku was forgiven for the meantime, some way was found to whittle down the list, and everyone settled to relish what honour and felicity was left in the situation. After all, Adaku was getting married.
Nkiru would not let go; she still chuckled, looking down at the tray of bean seeds she was sifting for the evening meal, as though the amusing thoughts came from there. She recalled the declarations of the inimitable Mr. Vikram back at Rohi Trading Company, where she had had a stint as a typist.
“Chrislam,” she said, without lifting her head. “Una be Chrislam.”
In every one of the various apartments that his burgeoning family had occupied, Jake had a prayer mat in a corner of the sitting room, where he knelt facing Mecca and performed his Islamic prayers. But that never stopped him from attending church whenever Adaku invited him to a special service, which was quite often. Some Fridays, the Alfa from the mosque came visiting. Some Sundays, the minister from Adaku’s church came. Jake was a free worshiper.
Adaku never went to the mosque, and Jake never asked her to, but she took delight in dressing up her children in Muslim attire. Then she would take them to the photographer and make them pose and grin as the camera clicked and flashed.
“Nne, don’t close your eyes.”
“Nnam, stay in the middle, you are the tallest.”
She fattened her family’s photo albums with the products of these sessions. She loved to see the wonder in the eyes of visitors as they flipped through. She too, was a free worshiper.