Ehhhhhh Woooooo, Ehhhhhh Woooooo!
That was the unmistakable scream of Ihuoma. I lifted myself up reluctantly from my sleeping mat and strolled lazily to the entrance of the family hut to find out what the cause for alarm was this time around. Ihuoma was my sister in law and village gossip, the whole village was used to her false alarms over everything. This evening I was tired and wasn’t in the mood for her problems. Gently shifting the worn curtain, I stood at a safe distance watching her . She stood in front of her hut with the wrapper tied loosely around her chest almost exposing her sagging breasts and her arms spread towards the sky. Her husband had not returned from the farm yet but the other women had surrounded her trying to find out what the problem was. Sighing reluctantly, I left my lazy perch and strolled towards them. If no one asked her what the problem was, she would stand there wailing for the rest of the evening wailing as if she had been slapped by a witch.
So far Madu was the only human on record in my village who claimed he had been slapped by a witch and further scratched on the face for keeping late nights! Believe me, Ihuoma’s share of that same slap was hopefully not very far, being a public nuisance. Everyone could do without her noise for one evening. She was such a drama queen. Even though I worked in the city, I loved visiting the village from time to time. Nothing beat the simple life, the morning smells, night cries and rising smoke and when I drove my car away, the little children who ran after it until it vanished in the distance. These little things were priceless. I didn’t mind sacrificing the city hustle and bustle, noise and filth for life’s simple blessings of village life, since it was only an hour’s drive from the city where I lived.
On close enquiry I shook my head and walked away amused, trust my sister inlaw to weep more than the bereaved. Her brother stood beating his chest and his wife also joined Ihuoma in wailing but in her own case, she was rolling on the floor! News had just come from abroad that Andy their only son had married a man ! So why was Ihuoma weeping and rolling on the ground? Wasn’t her nephew a grown man already? As I walked away, other neigbours hurried past me to sympathize at the agony of the neighbour’s son who had gone to a foreign land and married a fellow man. Come to think of it what was marriage anyway? There were no fixed nor hard and fast rules about the institution these days. For a very long time it had been one man with as many women he desired but with the coming of foreign ways, new religion and economic hardship, most men were opting for the safer and more economical option which was one wife .Some men still married more than one wife which wasnt really a big deal but they were men of means. I thought back at the weddings I had witnessed this past year.
When Kamara a distant relative of mine came of age, a family came from the next village to marry her for their son Buchi who lived in the city. The last time we had seen Buchi was when he was a boy running around the village with his catapult hunting lizards, rats and birds . He had left for the city in search of greener pastures after secondary school. He hardly ever visited but he sent money regularly to his family in the village for their up keep and had also built a house for them. When the men in their family came of age, they also went to join him in the city and he introduced them to his business. We heard he sold generators at the city market and sometimes went all the way to China to buy them.Kamara’s parents agreed since his family was a good one and from the picture of Buchi dressed in a slim fitted suit bursting at the seams standing next to a big car, his father held out, they could easily tell he was doing very well. A date was fixed for the wedding ceremony, and this was the day her bride price would be paid. On the day of the ceremony, she sat beautifully adorned and surrounded with gifts, her groom was not present at either the proposal nor the wedding ceremony because he was too busy working. His brother had to stand in his place, pay her brideprice and dance with her but everyone called her Buchi’s wife and when it was time for her to leave, she was put on a bus and accompanied to the city by her new in laws to begin her new life as a wife. Wasn’t courtship important for any relationship? So far things had been good ,it had been almost a year and from what we heard, they were getting on just fine and she had since had a baby.
Maybe Talatu’s was better, at least the groom had been present at the wedding, but he was as old as her grandfather ! She was still very young and sat trembling as the marital vows were made. He was a rich man with many cows and her parents felt they knew what was best for her, so they had chosen her spouse for her. In Ade’s case the bride was old enough to be his mother and guests gossiped that she had been his Sugar mummy and claimed he was marrying her for her wealth as she was past childbearing age. But he seemed happy and the Sugar mummy didn’t seem to mind that her groom was old enough to be her grandson. Since when did old age in marriage become a problem?
Zi’s was different, the only son of a great family had died without an heir and his family had married Zi to his spirit ! So she could produce children for him, who would carry on the family name. We all knew she would be impregnated by other men, or could dead men or their spirits carry out their conjugal rights? All that mattered was that any children she bore would belong to the dead man and carry on his name.
Old Chichi had been married for many years without giving her husband any child.When she hit menopause still childless, she had married a younger woman she called her wife, who would bear her husband children.Shouldn’t the young wife have been addressed as the husband’s new wife if she was going to give him children? No, she was Chichi’s wife because Chichi had married her to help her have children for her husband.
Last Saturday, Poju had taken Pelumi to the altar and made her his wife. We all sat listening as the Priest read from the Holy book and explained, man and woman become one forever and ever. How could this be? When he was also at the ceremony where our chief had chosen his fifth wife and we had all eaten and drank to the wishes of a happy marriage and many children for the couple. How could he stand there and say forever? When Tessy had been divorced and married three times? And is still regarded as a married woman to her new husband. Same as old Omono who has been married to the same man before my parents were born. Least I forget, the priest had no wife, I was told he was married to God just like Sister Margaret.
Also there is Rhoda the Lawyer, who has been living with Baraka in the city. The women gossip that she is an immoral woman because she not only lives with a man who is not her husband but has children for a man who has paid no bride price.Yet everyone acknowledges the fact that they live together and whenever she visits, both grandmothers struggle to spend time with their grandchildren! Since they disapprove so much of their children’s cohabitation, why not deny the fact that the grandchildren are theirs since they were conceived in sin? In my parent’s time when a man fancied a woman and made his intentions known to the family, if the girl refused, she was caught by a group of hefty boys from the man’s family and taken forcefully to his house and when she got there, a hunters’ gun was fired into the air. The gunshot signified to the whole village that the girl had been taken to her rightful place and she couldn’t ever go back to her father’s house after which other formalities would follow but that marked the beginning of her marriage life .
Just the other day, even though long before that I had heard the women whispering loudly about my single status. On one of my numerous visits , my mother had reminded me that I was almost past the age of marriage and still not brought home a son in law to introduce to the family. In sarcasm, I feigned innocence and explained my confusion over what was expected of me. As the institution had no definition to me.
It’s intricacies was another world in itself, since Andy had married a man like himself, and Kamara is still regarded as Buchi’s wife even though it was his brother who stood in as the groom at the wedding while young Talatu is married to a man her grandfather’s age and the list goes on. I am still confused, I explained to my mother as I cannot explain or understand what my fate or marital union would be like as all these are unions in their own rites.Who or what would I end up with? Will my bride price be paid? Would my spouse be younger or older? Will my union be temporary or forever or maybe I would be bridenapped like the young women in my mother’s time? Maybe I shall stand alone and wed myself or something more interesting might happen before then to determine the type of union I would have.
She had looked at me in annoyance and snapped, “You are not a child, you know what to do.”
A woman is like a flower she advised. When you are young and fresh and blossoming all the bees come trying to suck your nectar and once you pass the stage of bloom when the bees have stopped hovering around, finding a decent man would be more difficult. One would have to settle for Mr Available as there would be no choice to choose from.
I couldn’t kidnap any man and force him to marry me could I? What happened to God’s time? Wasn’t that what all the women said when they were consoling me over my single status? I stretched out on the mat, enjoying the coolness of the hut just in time to hear the revving of a car engine, inclining my head at an angle from the pillow, I saw Sam step out of his car. Sighing, I adjusted my blouse over my jeans not moving from the spot.
Sam was my latest suitor and just would not give up because he felt since we were from the same village , it was practically a match made in Heaven. He was nice but I just wasn’t feeling him and my mother couldn’t understand what I meant by not feeling him. How could any reasonable woman in her right senses say she was not feeling Sam. A man with a good job who could take care of her?
Sam walked into the compound carrying a blue nylon bag like he always did. I could hear him greeting my mother and instructing one of the children in the compound to go to the trunk of his car to pack out the onions, yams and plantain he had bought for her. I heard her bless him before hurrying into the hut to ask me to look presentable for my guest. She put out a bench in the yard and served him Palmwine on a small stool and he waited patiently for me to join him as he helped himself to the drink.
He stood up when he saw me approach him, handing me the blue nylon, he sat down watching me inspect its contents. I was touched by his kindness but I was still not interested in dating him.
“Sammy, you don’t have to spoil me with gifts, you know.” I complained as I sat next to him examining the bottle of perfume he had bought.
“Anything for you Baby,” he smilled. “ We would go and have Peppersoup after this,” he pointed to his full glass of Palmwine.
I shook my head and lied to him that I was on a diet. Why did courting a woman have to be about eating and all the little gifts you could buy her? Sammy as we fondly called him wasn’t a bad man, he was nice with his big round tummy and thick moustache. He had done very well for himself and owned an Import and Export business in Lagos. At present he was building a very large two storey house for himself in the city. This was the only way he knew how to woo a woman. It was unfortunate, this wasn’t what I was looking for.
“You women and your endless diets,” he grunted patting his belly. “I like you just the way you are so why are you bothering your beautiful self eh ? I feel you need to put on more weight, you are too skinny.”
I shrugged but said nothing.
He went on, “ Did you hear about Nana Lagos?”
I nodded, who in the village didn’t know Nana Lagos ? Nana and I were about the same age, she was called Nana Lagos because that was the name of her restaurant in Lagos. She was a very hard working woman who had met an unfortnate end a few months ago. The news of her death had spread through the village like wild fire.
Despite my nod, he went on, “ You know she got pregnant for that Banker man and he took her for the abortion which took her life and when her body was brought home, her family had insisted he wed her corpse as their daughter would not go to the grave in shame.”
“Oh,” I refilled his now empty glass.
“Oh yes,” he seemed happy he had my full attention. He took a gulp, “All the people used to sit and gossip that the woman had been wayward in the city and had died in the line of her ungodly trade.Trust people to judge the poor woman, she had been unfortunate to make a wrong descision and it had cost her her life.”
“Very unfortunate ,” I agreed with him. “ If this Banker man had been serious about her, he should have just married her.”
“I hear he was married.”
“Poor woman, well it serves him right. It was good he went through the traditional rites of marriage to her corpse before she was finally buried.”
He emptied his second glass and turned to me, “So Baby what are you saying? Why wont you just say yes to my proposal? We can get married in December.”
I shook my head, “like I said the first time you asked me to marry you, there’s more to marriage.”
“Baby,I can take care of you, with me you would not need to work unless you want to.”
I shook my head, “Sammy lets just remain friends. I am content with that.”
He frowned disappointed as he grumbled, “I’m loosing patience ooo. I’m loosing patience.” He took time emptying his glass, I sat watching his Adam’s apple move in rhythm to his gulps.
A year later, I fell in love with a man of a different colour whose name was Johnny Washe pronounced Wash. My family thought it was a mistake and my friends felt I had struck gold since the man was an oyibo.What was all the fuss about? Wasn’t he a human being like everyone else? Even though he had blonde blonde hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen, a sharp contrast to my charcoal black skin, kinky braids and brown eyes, his skin wasn’t exactly white, it was soft caramel and had been bronzed by the harsh African sun. What on earth were they complaining about?
My father on hearing his last name Washe had asked in sarcasm if my Johnny came from a lineage of Wash men and if he knew about and respected our ways! Since all our traditional names had meaning, this had to be the only explanation for the name of this washman with a different colour and eyes like the colour of the sky I was bent on marrying. I ignored the old man amused. Was there anything wrong with his skin being a different colour from mine? I agree cultures are different but our values could be the same. Isn’t the only constant in life change?
We had met one hot afternoon at the provision store where we purchase our house hold necessities in the estate where I live in the city. From the moment I walked into the shop until I left, his eyes lay on me in adoration. I ignored him and went about my business and as I left the shop, he followed me saying he loved my dress. I looked own at my Adire lost for words. It was a simple tie an dye cloth I wore casually most of the time, why was he looking at it as if I had just cut it out of a magazine? He asked if he could see me again and if we could have lunch together, I shrugged indifferently and at the same time , impressed at his directness , what harm would it cost me. New friends were always welcome and I didn’t fail to notice people around the shop watching and listening even though they pretended to be busy doing other things.
For our first date, he brought me flowers and I wore an Ankara dress this time around. He was a Doctor and also took strange photographs that earned him big money. The pictures were strange tMo me because I couldn’t understand how the pictures of the things I saw everyay and took for granted could fetch so much money when enlarged, glossed and framed and sold to the international market. For example, he had taken a picture of children playing along the beach with others hawking their wares neatly arranged in trays carefully balanced on their heads. Someone had paid a lot of money for this picture? Hmmm, my Johnny Washe was an interesting man.
He would hold my hand and we would go for long walks, at other times we would just sit and talk about everything as he ran his fingers through my weaves affectionately.He even brought me flowers which I had no use for but I appreciated the thought and not the cost. He made me laugh and he was kind, this man of mine of a different colour.
When he visited my family with me, the little children on seeing him in the car ran after the car singing, “Oyibo pepper, if you eat pepper you go red more more !”
He smilled in understanding as he explained to me, “Believe me I have heard worse.”
He held my hand as we walked towards my family compound. In his other hand he carried the basket of fruit he had bought for my mother and I held on to the bottle of wine he had bought for my father..
My parents cast disapproving looks at us and my father wanted to know what this was all about and why I was sitting here with an oyibo man with a funny name who spoke through his nose. When I had men like Sammy worshiping me , why did I need to bring them an Oyibo? We hadn’t run out of rich eligible bachelors from our town had we?
I sighed shaking my head, wondering what the problem was. With all the sometimes ridiculous unions some had called marriage that they had supported in the past year, it was funny they felt they had the right to sit there and disapprove of my choice. They sat there and made it clear that they didnt approve, they felt I could do better with someone of the same colour as me. What difference would it have made, they were all men weren’t they and love and kindness had nothing to do with the colour of a man’s skin.
Not that I was carried away by little things. The truth is that sometimes we do not have the luxury of choosing the people we fall in love with.Fate and destiny blows our missing halves our way to complete us. So if my missing half is a different colour from me and I am happy.Does it really matter? They said our children would fit in no where as they might be brown or cream skinned with blue eyes like Johnny or brown eyes like mine. Here they would be treated normally but what happened when they visited their father’s home? What if he decided to take us all with him to live in his country, then I would be lost. My parents sat raving and ranting and I couldn’t care less that my chilren would neither be black or white. Love would keep us strong. Isn’t that what should be important?
Well, I am still in love with this man of a different colour from me and he makes me happy, my parents blessings were important and I was going to get these blessings from them them come what may before I became Mrs Johnny Washe. Sitting beside me, not understanding what was being discussed in my native dialect as my parents decided not to speak English, he boldly took my hands comforting me. From the corner of my eye, I could see neigbours gathering in small groups and little children peeping through the window at the white man I had brought home. I am still inlove with this man of a different colour as he makes me happy and that is all that matters.