For the previous Tale of lakin, kindly click here
Chikere rolled the stone closer to the fire and sat on it. Bending over, she began to blow the heat trying to ignore the fumes burning into her eyes. If she didn’t know any better, she would have sworn that her ancestors didn’t want her to make lunch. The fire-woods she and her sister Chidinma had picked from the bush few days ago were still wet from the persistent drizzles of the rain.
If the rain wants to fall, let it fall properly and stop disturbing people, she lamented beneath her breath as she sat up and began to cough.
“Chi Chi!” she heard her mother yell out her name as she strolled out of the house with a grimace look on her face. Her leg was getting worse, Chikere observed as she watched her mother walk towards her with amped difficulty.
At the news of their father’s death, their mother Adaoke had fainted, slumping to the ground, only to wake up few hours later to find out that her leg was no longer functional. The medicine man, Ichie Okorobia had been able to provide some medicine to relieve the excruciating pain but all efforts to make it work as properly as before had proven abortive.
“Where is your sister?” her mother asked glancing around their largely spaced compound which was fenced about with palm fronds. There was a big coconut tree at the far end of the compound beside the bambooed entrance gate; Papa’s favorite tree! It had been his relaxation spot before his untimely death. Under that tree was where he would sit and watch every activity going on in the compound and also be dishing out orders. The spot also provided him the luxury of spotting his approaching visitors and even fleeing from the ones he didn’t want to see. The shadow it provided at night could conceal him to pure extinction. Reminded Chikere of the evening, Maji Okonkwo had shambled into the house asking for their father at the top of his voice.
“Where is that rubbish man? Where is he?” he yelled as he adjusted his wrapper and glanced around the compound fuming in anger. He was a rather brief man of forty-three with structure as bristle as an Iroko tree. He had been a wrestler in his youth days, throwing down men that were far taller and stronger than him until he lost his first wife Ijeoma to typhoid fever and became betrothed to palm wine ever since.
“He is not in, Maji Okonkwo” N’ma had rolled out of the hut startled by the sudden outburst. She had never seen Maji Okonkwo in such a state except on the wrestling sands with an opponent. Chikere, Chidinma and their younger brothers Chinedu and Chimezie had come running too to find out what was happening.
“What is the problem? I hope there is no problem?” N’ma had inquired almost in a whisper.
“There is a very big problem. Where is your husband? Go inside and tell him I want to see him now. It is me and him today…call him for me!” Maji Okonkwo spatted out.
“But he is not in, Maji Okonkwo” N’ma pleaded rattling in fear.
“You lie! You lie, tell him to come out now o. Unless! Unless!” Maji Okonkwo threatened.
N’ma with look of despair looked from face to face and then back to Maji Okonkwo’s. His was sparklingly red. He pushed her aside and dashed into the hut. After few minutes of yelling out Papa’s name, he rolled out of the hut and paced around the compound pouring out insults and threats. After going up and down without any success of finding Papa, he stormed out of the compound, leaving them in a puzzled daze. After fifteen minutes or so, Chikere spotted her father walking out from the coconut shade with a smirk on his lips. N’ma noticing him too, ran towards him.
“Obim, didn’t you hear your friend screaming your name at the top of his voice? What happened? What did you do to him?” N’ma queried as her frown deepened with concern.
“Me? Ha! Woman, didn’t your parents tell you that it is wrong to falsely accuse your husband? Nne, I have been sitting over there watching him like a hawk. I was sitting there pondering on why a mother hen would lay and hatch more chicks than its feather can contain. When the hawk descends now to steal one, they will say it is evil. Do you know that Maji Okonkwo’s wrapper from behind, was torn up to his anus and I could see his backside glittering in the moonlight?” Papa asked in a serious tone which sent everyone guffawing like hyenas “I am very surprised you people did not even see it” Papa mocked joining them in the laugh. Chikere allowed the memories pace through her mind as a smirk painted on her lips.
“Chi chi! I asked you a question” N’ma asked impatiently jolting her back to the present.
“Oh sorry N’ma. She is inside, sleeping” Chikere replied resuming her earlier task of sieving the bean peas. The flame was now finally up and hot with the large pot of water dancing to the rhythm of the heat.
“Sleeping? By this time of the day?” her mother roared as she stared at Chikere in disbelief. “Isn’t it her turn to cook instead of you?”
“Yes N’ma but she begged that I help her, saying she is not feeling too well” Chikere explained as a sad look covered her face. She couldn’t defer what was wrong with her sister. Maybe it was the flu. An epidemic of chicken fever -as Ichie Okorobia liked to call it- had recently broken out in the village. It had been announced by the village crier few nights ago and Ichie Okorobia had since been making a lot of shillings from it. He had even employed new maids to assist him. Chinelo had told her this while fetching water from the stream that morning.
Who could have thought that those his tasteless concoctions will be sold for five shillings?
“Ehen?” her mother queried “let me go and see for myself what kind of ailment has befallen my child” she answered as she began to limp towards their hut only to stop abruptly as they both spotted Chidinma rushing out of the hut. Chikere jolted to her feet and ran towards her.
“Dinma, Ogini?” Chikere asked in Igbo as she caught up with her sister, vomiting almost all her guts into the vegetable leaves they had planted behind the hut.
“Dinma! Dinma!” N’ma called out as she caught up with them. “What is wrong with you?
Chidinma didn’t answer; instead she wiped the remains on her mouth with the back of her hand and began to breathe in slowly.
“Dinma! Am I not talking to you? “N’ma asked as an eyebrow rose with her question.
“N’ma, I don’t know o. I’ve been feeling like vomiting since morning which is why I begged Chichi to help me cook today. Maybe it is all this small small rain that has been falling since or maybe the Chicken fever that has now taken over the village. I will go to Ichie Okorobia for medicine later in the day” Chidima explained almost tearfully.
“N’ma, don’t worry I will handle the cooking till Dinma gets better” Chikere assured their mother as she began to lead her sister into the hut.
“Not just till she gets better. Till the end of the nine months of vomiting” N’ma suggested sarcastically as she pulled Chidinma back and landed a slap on her face.
“Who got you pregnant?” N’ma yelled at the top of voice as she stood rooted at Chidinma’s face. Chikere stood shocked as she stared from her mother to her sister with her hand over her mouth. “Do you not know that it is a taboo in this village to get pregnant outside marriage?” N’ma asked with all the sweet features of their mother gone with the wind. She was about to place another slap on Chidinma’s face when Chikere interjected, dropping to her knees between her mother and sister.
“Would you get out from the way, Chikere? Let her tell me who she committed such an abomination with or do you know who the fool is?” N’ma roared as raised up her walking stick. Chikere nodded.
“You better tell me this afternoon if you do not want me to drag you to the Igwe’s palace myself” N’ma yelled turning her gaze back to Chidinma whose face was already foaming red. By then, their neighbors were beginning to crowd the fence curious to know what was going on. N’ma pulled Chidinma into the hut with Chikere following behind.
“Ha! N’ma biko na..biko..” Chikere pleaded as she got into the hut and turned to their mother. “Mama, please na…she will tell you…biko hapụ ya aka.
“Chidinma, what have I done to you? Is it my fault that your father is late and that you have decided to bring shame to our family?” N’ma asked ignoring Chikere’s pleas.. ”what will I tell them when they ask me? What am I going to say? You all know what happens when a woman gets pregnant without a husband eh! Chidinma! ” N’ma wailed dropping her stick to the ground as she threw her hand over head….
“Dinma, tell us now…who did this? You know very well what will happen if people found out. Do you want our brothers to be sold into slavery? Do you want mama and me to be exiled?” Chikere asked as the tears began to flow uncontrollably down her face. “You know how strict our Igwe is o”
“It is not my fault Chichi. It was N’ma’s suggestion” Chidinma finally spoke wiping off the tears from her eyes.
“How do you mean?” Chikere asked confused as she looked from her sister to her mother who had suddenly stopped wailing and was staring at Chidinwa with jaws agape.
“It’s not true…It’s not true!” N’am yelled out in frustration obviously understanding the little Chidinma had said.
“I don’t understand…what happened Dinma?” Chikere asked still lost “did someone force himself on you? Chikere asked further in shaking voice
“Yes!” Chidinma blunted out in a whisper. Chikere trying to contain her yell, cupped her mouth as she started to sit on the floor. Almost like a flash, she caught a quick glance between her mother and her sister. Curious, she asked again “but how is it N’ma’s idea?….Dinma who is the person that did this to you?”
Chidinma hesitated and began to stammer.
“You didn’t see the person’s face? Was it late in the night?” Chikere asked confused as she glared at her sister’s puzzled face
“It was Lakin” her mother finally chipped in.
Chikere went mute
“Yes…Chi Chi…would you believe it. He forced himself on me!” Chidinma added suddenly bolder.
“That’s not true”, Chikere laughed in disbelief.
“It is my daughter” N’ma answered shaking her head and resting her hand on her shoulder.
“How do you know that? Eh N’ma? Were you there?” Chikere asked hotly shaking her mother’s hand off her shoulder.
“No I wasn’t…but I was the one who suggested to your sister to get his attention” N’ma answered rather coldly.
‘What?!” Chikere jolted from the ground and stared at her mother with mouth wide opened.
“Yes.” Her mother answered “the idiot came here four moons ago insisting that he wanted to marry you and I told him clearly that it was impossible”.
Chidinma nodded affirmatively.
“Why?” Chikere asked confused. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Because it is our family tradition that the first daughter must marry first before the second and besides, your father had already given you to Maji Okonkwo. You are his betrothed.”
“I told your sister to try and win Lakin’s affection. Instead the fool forced himself on her…He will see what will happen. He must pay for this” N’ma threatened as she picked up her walking stick and began to limp out of the hut.
Chikere watched in disbelief..