Igbo men have this funny fetish with their women marrying from their kind.
If possible, the woman has to marry a man from her hometown; in fact, from the exact village she is from. Tell an Igbo man that your name is Mrs. Ifeoma Adewale and watch the stereotypical reaction he would likely give you. Watch the way his eyes would look down your body from head to toe gauging if you are worth continuing the conversation which might likely turn bloody; watch the self satisfied smile that would creep into his face when he deems you argument and disdain-worthy; watch his eyes narrow in suspicion as he asks, “you mean you married a Yoruba man? Those people that speak gbo-gbo-gbo like they don’t know what else to say.”
“Oh yes I did.”
“E-en? But why? Didn’t you see all this fine fine Igbo boys around with cool cash that can take care of that your fine body?”
“I did oh. In fact there were many but I love my husband so I agreed to marry him,” you would reply trying not to be offended at the leer that would travel down your body again, this time, slower.
“Mm hmm? The love of a woman is in the depth of a man’s pockets. Ah-ah, where was your mother when your father was collecting wine from a Yoruba man? Na wa oh. You these girls of these days, you people are something else. Don’t you know that…”
The conversation would go on and on and on until embarrassed, you would quietly slink away while holding back an exasperated groan.
Yes, Igbo men hold their own like the mistletoe holds the orange tree. I was caught in such a conversation recently. Why I bothered wasting forty five minutes of my time on the phone, I will never know. Maybe I was just bored that day or maybe I was too amused to drop the phone. Good thing though, it was his credit not mine.
I received the phone call sometime about nine p.m. I had just returned from my office few minutes earlier after suffering an excruciating two and a half hours journey shuffled in between a woman who used my shoulder as her pillow and a man who seemed to have taken talking-Viagra before entering the bus. I was too tired when I got home and just wanted to eat if I could manage it and sleep in preparation for another day stuck in the famous Lagos traffic. So when I received the call and saw that it was a number that I had saved as ‘that Igbo man’, I groaned.
Kelechi had called me twice before during the week. The first time was to introduce himself adding the usual, “I am from the same village with you,” as if just the uttering of the words would make me fly in through the phone and give him a hug.
“Your cousin Onyinye… you remember Onyinye that got married to Nnamdi during Christmas?”
“Yes I remember. I attended her wedding.”
“Ehen. She was the one that gave me your number.”
Mental note: Call Onyinye and tell her…no, scrap that…warn her not to give my number out to any stranger even if he claims to be the president’s first son or the heir to the throne of England (might reconsider sha). Kelechi said that he was a businessman – importing and exporting paint products and building materials. Did I know his brother? He mentioned a name. I said I had not heard of anyone by the name. He gave the kind of laugh you would give an adult who said he had not heard of Michael Jackson.
The second time he called was to proceed to the next level. He told me that he had heard so much about me.
“I saw all your pictures. Very beautiful. Asa nwa,” he said his words dripping with heaviness as he rattled on with Igbo-accented English. “I could not stop looking at your picture. How is school?”
This question usually threw me off because…well, I still had issues with people looking at me and assuming that I was still too young to have completed the university so I replied with a frosty, “I am no longer in school. I work.”
“A graduate?” he exclaimed and gave another uneasy laughter.
He asked me several other questions and I replied as best as I could. I could have disconnected with a snap, “don’t you have better things to do with your money?” but he had used the famous line ‘I am from the same village with you’ that was as binding as a signature. He said my cousin knew him very well. Chances are my parents might know his family and if I got rude, I might end up tarnishing the image of my family forever. At that moment I was thinking of my dad, a man whose roots were buried deep in the village soil, who had threatened that my traditional marriage (all his daughters) MUST be held in the village without compromise. So, I patiently answered Kelechi’s questions and wished him good night when he decided we had talked enough for the day.
The third time he called, I was in no mood for small talk. I was still trying to get over the ringing in my ears from the guy who had talked at 250km/hr beside me in the bus. My head ached. My body throbbed. I needed sleep. Plus I was hungry. When he called I let the phone ring till it stopped but at the third ring, I knew that he was not going to stop till I picked up.
“Hello?” I injected a weak voice that sounded pitiful even to my ears.
“Ah Ify, how are you now? How was work today?”
He started with small talk asking how home was, have I heard from my parents, what work did I do today until he must have sensed the way I was giving one-word answers so he plunged into the real talk.
“Eh, Ify when are you coming to visit me now? You have not agreed yet. See ehn, if you come on Saturday, we will be able to meet my brother.”
I asked him why I would want to meet his brother.
“Look, let me tell you. I am not that kind of man that will be talking rubbish. I am a man that goes straight to the point. I want us to be close, very close oh, more than friends. And later, I will meet your parents. Who knows? We might be celebrating our wedding this December.”
Whoa! I almost yelled at him to apply the brakes but I forced myself to remain calm. Did he think that I was like those girls who would start jumping like a monkey at the mention of the word ‘wedding’? I bristled.
“I am honoured,” I began as carefully as I could, “that you want us to get to…to well, be more than friends but I already have a boyfriend,” I finished in a rush.
He snorted. “Stop all that talk. Ikwuzine ihe a, biko. I am offering you the real thing not play play like all those other boys oh. I understand that you have a boyfriend. Even me, I have a girlfriend. She comes to the house, cooks, cleans and then she leaves but I cannot marry her. Mba nu. But you, I want us to get married, you will have my babies. No need for you to be working at…where did you say you work again?”
I repeated the name of my work place.
“Ehen. No need oh. I will take care of you well well. See eh? My brother goes abroad every time and very soon, I will join him in going abroad. Then you will be a big madam when we marry. Eh?”
“I am sorry. I am really sorry but my boyfriend and I are serious about our relationship,” I said with patience. Forced patience. My teeth were jammed together like a closed trap.
“Look, a man cannot be serious until he takes you to his parents to say this is the girl I want to marry. Okay, let me ask you. Is he Igbo?”
There was that question again. That question that stings my insides like a bedbug. I knew what would follow but at that moment I almost wished that my boyfriend was another tribe, say Hausa or Yoruba or even from another country. It was what I used to fantasize at the university; I still wished that I would marry someone from a different tribe from mine. There was something exotic about seeing an intertribal couple that made me really want that but anytime I mentioned that in school, my girlfriends would shout me down with arguments about in-laws from hell; in-laws that would embrace you while smiling and whisper curses in their language into your ears.
“He is Igbo,” I replied.
“E-ehn? Is he from Anambra?”
“Yes he is.”
“Okay, is he from our village?”
Haba! I wanted to retort that he is from my compound. In fact, he is from my father’s house. No-oh, from inside my room.
Instead I said, “no. He is from another town.”
I mentioned the place.
He shouted like I had told him that my boyfriend was from a village of cannibals or a place where people danced naked under the moonlight.
Then he replied, “why now?” His voice was a whine like I had just switched off his favourite television channel. “All you girls of nowadays, you will leave your town people and go and marry from far away. When they maltreat you, you will come running back home and report to the same people you looked down on.”
“But is it not where love takes you that you will go?” I asked.
“Forget love,” he snapped. I could almost feel the spit in the venom he spat out. “Let me tell you, they use sense to marry if not you will suffer. So you think that we are not good enough for you, eh?”
“I did not say so,” I replied.
At this point, I became amused and wanted to giggle because I could picture him pacing around the house talking into the phone and gesturing widely with flailing arms just to prove his point. I could imagine the frown that would mar his features, the way his chest would heave because his argument was getting him out of breath. I could imagine that he would pick up a pillow and squeeze it with his hand hoping that it would turn into my neck.
Mercifully, my cousin came into the room to tell me that dinner was ready. I motioned to her that I was coming.
Into the phone I said, “Kelechi, I really enjoyed talking with you but I have to go now. My aunty needs me. I do hope you find someone you really like but that person cannot beme. Take care of yourself.”
He was silent for some seconds, perhaps chewing the inside of his mouth or looking at the paint on the wall or still squeezing that pillow tight. Then in a single breath he puffed, “goodnight” and disconnected.
If words could freeze, I would have been an ice sculpture by now.
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