The moment you lay eyes on Morrison, something tells you that he is not the simple fellow your parents say he is.
It is an unusually quiet Sunday afternoon in Akulu. Occasionally, animal noises shatter the stillness, and also, the kwa-kwa-kwa noise of the stone you hold in your hand as it descends on the palm-kernels that litter the earth of the mud kitchen. Your mouth works a steady rhythm as you hum to yourself and grind the white nuts you have fed it.
“Okula.” It is your mother’s stringent voice.
“Mama,” you respond, instantly rising from the low stool on which you are seated. Mama gets angry if she had to call a person a second time. A third call always came with a hunch on its back; a hunch filled with face-slaps, forehead-knocks and ear-twists. Such is the regimentation under which you have been bred, all your nineteen years on earth.
“I am coming mama,” you call out again, smoothening your gown at the knees after you have used an unshod foot to gather the palm-kernel mess you have made into a dusty mound in the middle of the kitchen.
Raucous laughter draws you in as you approach your father’s parlor where your parents are receiving visitors.
You had met your parents and the visitors in the middle of the compound when you arrived from Sunday service. Three men and two women, all dressed gaily as if they were going to an idana – traditional wedding. They had obviously arrived in the shiny blue Mercedes Benz car parked outside your father’s compound.
One of them had struck a chord in you. That is Morrison. He is the youngest of the party, dark and tall and ugly, with hard little eyes that had bored a hundred little holes into your supple flesh as you had retreated to your living quarters amidst the booming voices, loud guffaws, and knowing smiles.
You had asked your younger brother – Okesi – who the visitors were, and the brat had responded that he did not know, but that whoever they were, he hoped that they took you away with them when they left. You had cursed him as you melted into your room, that may his insect disappear from between his spindly legs; and as you sat on your bed and took off your earrings and other pieces of clothing, a thousand thoughts had raced through your head.
Okesi may be a cheeky one, but his words were seldom empty. Also, the ten year old had been speaking from recent occurrences. The past two months had been riddled with mysterious goodbyes although it was not as if you had been given the chance to say goodbye to Raila. It was the following morning, as you and Ramat and the other girls were fetching water at the government pump that you had heard the news.
“They came for Raila yesterday evening,” Ramat had said, a note of foreboding in her voice. The other girls were quick to contribute juicy bits of gossip about the sudden exit of your mutual friend.
They came for Ramat two weeks later, and she had secretly sent her younger sister to give you the news.
You had watched from a distance as your friend disappeared into the vehicle that they had brought to whisk her away in. Ramat’s people stood at the entrance of their compound, smiling and waving at a daughter who did not wave back. From the distance, you could not see the expression on your friend’s face, but as the car sped sadly away, you suddenly felt a huge bulge in your throat, and no matter how hard you swallowed, it would not go away.
The bulge is there again as your father holds you by the hand and leads the way to his bedroom.
Your mother takes up the rear, imploring the visitors to ‘give us a few minutes ooo’, in the falsetto that she always assumes whenever she is trying to be nice to rich people.
“We shall be back with good news,” she sings, and they all laugh when the eldest of the visitors, a stately looking man with a luxuriant white beard remarks aloud that your mother reminds him of Tintolo- the canary with bright yellow plumage that sings with a titillating voice at dawn – and isn’t that symbolic since indeed, a new dawn was about to break on his son and indeed his family? They all laugh again.
Your heart beats audibly in your ear. You know your father. A summons to his bedroom is, like that of the hangman, never pregnant with good news. The coarse feel of his steely arm in yours sends terror-currents bolting through your system; you instinctively know that this is the moment you have dreaded, for the past two months.
You sit on the wooden chair opposite his creaky bed which he offers you with a wide-handed gesture while he lowers himself onto his bed facing you. Your mother perches on the arm of the chair on which you are seated, her arms draped across your shoulder. The chair creaks a little under the extra weight.
Father makes an exaggerated show of clearing his throat – “Okula my daughter,” he growls.
“Father,” you answer, your head bowed, your eyes fixed on the bare cement floor and its proliferating little craters. Pretending you did not know what was at stake would be akin to a bride asking her groom what the bulge in his trouser was on the wedding night.
“Did you notice that young man in the living room? The one with the blue cap?” Papa asks.
You answer in the affirmative, but you don’t add that you had noticed him only because he stuck out horribly like buckteeth, with those serpentine slits that he has for eyes.
“That man is Morrison; son of the soil, international trader. He owns the Mercedes outside and lives in the city. He has come to seek your hand in marriage, Okula.”
You do not say a word while papa and mama take turns inundating you with the obvious advantages of accepting the hand of a wealthy man like Morrison in marriage. Father rounds off his speech by reminding you of the ancient tradition of your people.
“A woman goes to live with a man for three years, three years in which the man will watch her, and decide if she is well bred, a true wife material. Remember, it will be to your eternal shame and that of your family for a man like Morrison to pronounce you unworthy,” father concludes.
“That is the same tradition that we followed in our time, and your father found me worthy, and paid the bride price. Be like me, and crown my efforts on you with glory my beautiful daughter,” your mother adds.
You say nothing in response.
The huge bulge in your throat finally dissolves into icy sobs, evidence that your parents’ admonitions were nothing but catapulted stones smashing into dreams built with clear glass panes.
You have never traveled out of Akulu before now.
The journey to the city was a long one, with your husband’s parents asking you questions about yourself all the way as you sat directly behind your husband who did the driving with his father perched beside him.
Your husband had said next to nothing throughout the journey. It seemed that his mind was elsewhere, and he could not be bothered with a little village girl like you.
Throughout the drive, only once had his eyes met yours in the mirror, and that when his mother had asked if you were still intact. You had nodded in the affirmative although you were not altogether positive that Senior Moka had not broken you on one of those hectic nights you had spent fooling around with him in the deserted classrooms of Akulu Community Grammar School.
The house strikes you as unusual and rowdy.
The sprawling grounds had made crunching sounds as the Mercedes had traveled over it and come to a sudden halt at the end of a row of cars.
This is the city, yes, but you refuse to believe that even city people live in a place as rowdy as this. Huge trees dot the landscape, with multicolor electric bulbs strung through the branches, appearing like luminous fruits.
Loud music issues forth from within the expansive looking building, and you see young women milling around in different states of undress. You avert your eyes as you catch a couple kissing in the distance. A man is fondling his partner’s breasts under one of the trees while she laughs wildly, dragging intently on a cigarette.
You make mental note to inform your husband that you do not like his place of abode, but of course only when the time is right and he is in a better mood.
He had dropped his parents off at their own place earlier, and it had seemed somewhat odd to you that neither of them had said goodbye to you, nor did they respond when you had bade them farewell. Morrison had also not asked you to move over to the front seat. He just continued driving, as if you were not there. It felt strange, but you had shrugged it away.
“This will be your abode,” Morrison had told you in his flat, cold voice as he deposited you into this near empty cocoon, and he had retreated without further ceremony, locking the door from without.
The only furniture in your new room is a metal bed, and you do not like the lighting in here. Red has never been your favorite color, and if ever a man felt the pressing need to decorate the walls of his wife’s room with wallpaper, images of Mother Mary or crucified Jesus would be a far better choice than those of copulating men and women.
You had not brought along any change of clothing as your husband’s mother had, in not so many words, informed your parents that there was no place for your home-bred rags in the constantly evolving couture culture of cosmopolitan living.
You walk over to the window, part the dirty curtains, and peer into the night. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the dense foliage that lies outside your window. The stars had withdrawn and sudden lighting tears the skies into shreds. You go back to your bed and drop heavily on it, your slender arms about you.
You listen to the distant din of a thunderstorm, and suddenly feel alone, afraid, and homesick.
It has been a month since Morrison had driven you out of your father’s compound and into the city. You know that because that is the first thing that he had told you this morning.
“One whole month, and you are yet to justify a ticket to Europe. What is wrong with you?” he had yelled, shaking you so hard you felt that your head would drop off your neck and roll all over the bed, rushing blood in its wake.
“I am trying, “ you answer weakly as he lets you fall on your back.
“How much is this? Twenty measly dollars! How far can this go?” He says, in his quiet, steel voice, towering threateningly over you.
“The Mandinga Indian man wouldn’t give more than that… please Morrison, I am tired…”
He is shouting and yelling and telling you it is not Mandinga Indian man, but either Mandinga or Indian or Man. He is pricing your legs apart with his hard, bare knees and probing between your thighs with his thing, his short thing.
After the Mandinga Indian men had rubbed their garlic smelling bodies on yours, ravaging you endlessly and baying like donkeys as they emptied themselves into a bottomless bucket somewhere deep inside you; every single night that you have spent in this haunted place.
Morrison also presented his thing in the morning as you submitted the night’s extra earnings to him on his daily round of ‘abodes’.
Raila had told you that he came to her ‘abode’ too, every morning.
As Morrison jerks and pokes you with his little thing, you remember how you had been reunited with your friend.
You had had no idea that Raila was in the same building as you until one night, your Mandinga Indian man had requested for a lalle swap.
“We swap lalle, “ he had said, in his stilted English.
“What?” you had queried, not comprehending.
He had stood up and left your abode, while another one you had never met had come in and promptly climbed you, his body still sticky with sweat and body juices from recent sexual activity.
You had occupied your mind with the thin wails of the lalle in the next abode as the new Mandinga Indian man tore through you. Then shortly before morning, the Mandinga Indian man with you had smuggled you into the abode next to yours, and the two men had asked you and Raila, the second lalle, to copulate.
And, for the same reason that every night (after Morrison had pinned you to the bed and pressed a massive palm over your mouth, and buried a long needle into your neck) you suddenly began to see the world through a thin, red slit, and events around you appeared remote, flowing as if in a sea of viscous lotion – you and Raila had descended on each other like dogs on heat, and had done unimaginable things to each other, for the viewing pleasure of the Mandinga Indian men whom you later remember that you had seen, also copulating like a man and woman.
It is in this same hazy frame of mind that you suddenly reach behind your back and pick up the ballpoint pen that had fallen out of the trouser pocket of your companion of the previous night. Your back had found it underneath the satin bedspread as Morrison ground you beneath him.
You watch his great, big head shake violently to and fro, the owner in the throes of rapturous ejaculation, and with a wolfish grin spreading all over your face like a septic gangrene, you aim your blow.
You are in a cell all by yourself, humming a slow dirge.
You had buried the pen into Morrison’s thick neck, buried it so deep that nothing of its metal length had remained visible. Then you had found peace underneath the dead weight of his lifeless body.
That was when this dirge had first come to you, and you had hummed it with all your heart until they had found you:
“One day, the tide of the world would rush again,
And push you in my path, o papa, o mama…”