The sky was clear and the weather beautiful. It was indeed a wonderful morning for Ene. She had not felt this way in a very long while – happy beyond words. She was happy because her father, for the first time since she grew up to know him, was making an effort at becoming a changed man, at becoming the father she and her siblings had always craved to have; a father whom they would no longer be ashamed of.
It was indeed a thing of great joy for the family when Otseme announced just yesterday morning that he wanted to start farming as a vocation.
Aladi, their mother had called them together, immediately Otseme left the house to go and see Pa Idoko, and requested that they give thanks to the gods of their forebears for touching his heart at last.
As Ene made her way back home through the bush path, the birds in the trees tweeted so loud and clear. It was, she felt, their way of registering solidarity, and she too hummed a familiar tune in appreciation, the pieces of firewood carefully balanced on her head. She would tell Ogenyi about this new development in her house when next they met. Yes, Ogenyi must hear this! The young girl was sure her boyfriend would be happy for her. He was such a nice young man who showed her a lot of care and concern.
To be sure, not many of her peers in the village were willing to be friends with her because of the general belief that her father was a weakling hence his children equally bore the stigma.
Ogenyi, then, was the only true friend. She could easily confide in him especially about things that bothered her young heart. She could do this without the fear of being ridiculed as she was wont to be subjected to by others.
Ene got home and went straight to drop the firewood she carried on her head behind their kitchen where a few chickens were busy scratching the earth in a feeding frenzy. She could hear her father’s raised voice from inside the house. He was talking to her mother. It sounded as if they were arguing, but she was not so sure. She called to her sisters, but got no reply; it meant that they were yet to return from the stream where they had gone to fetch water.
She made for the house and as she got closer, her father’s voice rang out in angry expletives. She was used to hearing her father and mother quarrel. But what could be responsible for such altercation this morning? Only yesterday he had promised to become a changed man after what he had claimed was a revelation he got in a dream.
Ene instinctively quickened her footsteps towards the house, and as she got closer, she caught some of the words being exchanged by her parents:
“I will marry her off to whomever I chose in this village because I am her father!”
“You can’t be serious, Otseme.” Aladi said in equally as angry voice.
“We shall see who is not serious!” her father bawled.
Ene wondered what the argument was all about as she stepped into the house. She had never seen both her parents as angry as they appeared at that moment. Aladi stood facing Otseme in a brave and daring manner.
“You will do no such thing to my daugh…” Aladi’s voice trailed off on sighting Ene. But Otseme was unperturbed by her presence.
“I won’t allow you to stand in the way of my progress!” Otseme fumed, not seeming to care that Ene was around – he had never cared for anyone except himself, anyway.
“Mama, what is going on? Why are you quarreling with Papa?” Ene asked, going over to stand beside her mother. “I overheard Papa talking about marriage. Who is he talking about? Answer me, Mama.”
Aladi held her daughter by the hand and tears suddenly welled up in her eyes. With an emotion-laden voice she told the girl what Otseme was planning to do.
Ene thought she must be dreaming—her own father planning to marry her off to Pa Idoko? A man old enough to be her grandfather! No. it must be a bad dream.
“Please tell me it is not true, Papa.” she turned to her father with clasped hands and pleaded.
For a flitting moment, Otseme felt something like pity for them. But he needed to do this for his own good and for theirs too. He needed the bride price money which he hoped would change his fortunes and make him respectable before the people of Agila.
“Why are you making it look as if I’m doing something wrong? Is it a crime now to get a husband for my own daughter?”
“Just listen to what you’re saying, Otseme,” Aladi said through her sobs, “So you think Pa Idoko is the best choice of a husband for your daughter?”
“Do you have someone else in mind?” Otseme asked, “I hope you are not in any way already toying with the idea that she will get married to that son of Uzuza… what’s that his name again? Because I will never allow that!”
“Pa Idoko will not marry me, Papa.” Ene began to protest.
“Shut up! Who asked for your opinion in this?” Otseme shouted at her.
“Don’t mind your father,” Aladi reassured the girl, “He is not serious. He will have to kill me first before he can carry out this wicked plan of his. My daughter is not marrying any old and depraved man in this village!”
“For your information, I’ve already collected part of the dowry from Pa Idoko. And I intend to invest it in my farm without delay.”
“Oworitso Adah!” Aladi exclaimed in utter disbelief, “So you went ahead to collect dowry money from Pa Idoko without caring to seek for our opinion? You’re a wicked and useless husband, Otseme. God will punish you and that old man.”
“Thank you indeed,” Otseme chuckled in reply.
“You better return any money you’ve collected from Pa Idoko because my daughter will not marry him o!”
“Don’t mind your mother, Ene.” Otseme said and attempted to put his hand on her shoulder. But she cringed and moved away.
“I don’t want to marry Pa Idoko,” Ene cried, “I hate him. I don’t want to be his wife, Papa.”
“What do you know? I am your father, and it’s my responsibility to marry you off to the right man.”
“Pa Idoko is not the right man for me. I don’t love him.”
“It does not matter whether you love him or not, Ene,” Otseme asserted, smiling at her, “In fact most girls don’t initially love the men they marry. But after settling into marriage, they begin to learn to appreciate and then fall in love, see?”
“I won’t marry Pa Idoko.”
“You will because I have said so!” Otseme scolded angrily.
“You are joking, Otseme,” Aladi said, wiping her wet face with the edge of her wrapper, “I will fight you with everything I have!”
“Then you better start fighting from now because this marriage is a foregone issue as far as I’m concerned.”
Ene sank her face into her hands and began to cry piteously.
“And why is this one crying?” Otseme asked, with an air of indifference, “Why is she crying when all I’m trying to do is to better her lot in this life?”
“Shameless man, you’re only interested in what you can get from Pa Idoko without giving any consideration to how your family feels.” Aladi wept.
“I am not surprised that you’re talking this way, Aladi; you think I don’t know you’re acting as an agent for those fighting against my progress in this village? This is my time to shine and nobody, not even you, will stop me. Pa Idoko will marry Ene. Final!”
“He will not marry me, Papa -”
“Shut up! And mind you, I forbid you to step out of this compound from today until the marriage is concluded.” he gesticulated with his hand.
In despair, Ene walked out of the house and went straight to sit on the bench behind their kitchen, tears trickling down her cheeks. Her father was a very wicked and inconsiderate man. How could he think of such a despicable thing as marrying her off to that wrinkly old Pa Idoko? She thought of Ogenyi and the heaviness in her heart seemed to multiply. She wished he was there at that moment to wrap his warm friendly arms round her and give her sincere words of encouragement.