Ezigbo was always agog with frenzy and indiscriminate excitement whenever there was any occasion. The people of the village liked to celebrate at every opportunity that presented itself. Hence, the village square was packed full today with adults, young boys and girls and children as they gathered to celebrate the coronation of four of the prestigious men in the village with new titles. The title of Nze was a very coveted title in this community, one that every man hoped to be endowed with in his lifetime. There was the mythical belief that anyone who got that title during his lifetime will sleep well with his fathers and be treated well in the world of the dead unlike those who died without such title and were said to keep turning in their graves.
Today Adaku’s father Mazi Okafor was one of the four men getting adorned with this title. Mazi Okafor had been one of the pillars of Ezigbo community, bearing the title of Ogbuefi at a very young age, especially with the landmark his mother, Adaku’s grandmother had laid in the community. For some reason, people of the community respected his mother for her wisdom, her ability to tell the most interesting folk tales, her strength even in old age, and the fact that she had refused to die and was the oldest living person in the village.
Adaku always believed there was something more than that though, that made the people of the village revere the woman so. She could see it in their eyes anytime they greeted her as they passed by their family compound in the morning. There was something akin to fear in their demeanour. There had to be something about her grandmother that people feared, she thought.
Today though, her grandmother sat right behind her son, Adaku’s father, with her red head gear towering a bit above Mazi Okafor’s head. In her immaculate white blouse and her dappled george wrapper, she looked like a woman just approaching fourty. Adaku could very well see the resemblance she had with her son, Adaku’s father. The slight twist of her upper lip that was always there, the protruding forehead, and then the resolve in her face. Adaku had always seen that in her father. A firm, blunt, resolve to get whatever he wanted.
Maybe she had gotten that trait from him.
‘Nkem, you look nice’ she heard a voice behind her. In one sift motion, she turned around, already smiling, to face a young man behind her.
‘Who is your nkem?’ she said wryly and then gave a slight chuckle, becoming self-conscious at his still-prying eyes.
‘You look really nice oh, I mara mma. Congrats to your father’ the boy said, his eyes roving from Adaku’s beautiful white lace and the small wrapper that amplified the curve of her waist to the beaded necklaces of different sizes that hung around her neck, admiring her.
‘Thank you Nnamdi, now where is your sister?’
‘You mean Kelechi, she has also been looking for you’
‘Eziokwu? Is that so?’ Adaku tried to look around, scanning a few faces to see if she would find her friend, Kelechi.
Nnamdi held her by her shoulder ‘don’t worry yourself nkem, she will find you. Move away from the sun, let us go and sit down somewhere.’
Adaku couldn’t help the smile that came on her face at that moment, yet she bent her head down to keep Nnamdi from seeing her childish amusement at his unashamed display of affection towards her. Nnamdi was one of the many boys in the village that had made passes at her.
The first time they met, it had been at their house. She had gone to visit her friend Kelechi, who happened to be his junior sister. That was when he saw her and she heard he began to ask questions. After that, it seemed like he followed her forever; the stream, the market, school, the village square- everywhere. And he always found her. ‘I will marry you nkem’ he had kept telling her, and the reassuring tone, careful voice and pained look with which he said it always amused her, even evoking pity sometimes. At such times, he looked like someone who needed badly to get something that was within his reach, yet he could not get it.
Adaku walked beside him now as they moved under one of the thatched shades in the square. His fingers were almost needling hers as they walked close to each other. At least she felt so. She didn’t want to give in to him, or anyone. It was still too early. She was not ready for marriage now. Besides, with this new title her father was getting today, she shouldn’t be seen with certain boys. Her father had told her this over and over again on those nights where she could see nothing but his green bottle of gin, when his face was hidden in the darkness, but his firm voice was unmistakable.
‘Adaku, where have you been now?’ she heard Kelechi’s voice from a distance. Her friend looked tired, as though she had been searching for her for a while, beads of sweat trickling down from her forehead to her temples. She wiped them away with the back of her hand.
‘Sorry oh, Kelechi, ndo’ Adaku said, surprising herself that she was apologising. Maybe it was because she felt guilty walking with Kelechi”s brother while Kelechi had been looking all around for her.
She moved away from Nnamdi’s side and went over to Kelechi
‘I have been waiting over there for you now, I didn’t see you’ Adaku said
It was Kelechi’s turn to apologise ‘Sorry o, I had to help Chinwe tie her head gear. You know her uncle is also getting the title today. Let’s go and see her. She was asking of you’
‘Okay,’ the two girls moved away from Nnamdi without so much as a word. Someone called Nnamdi away to serve drinks and kola, so he couldn’t call Adaku back.
The music in the atmosphere was now electric. Adaku could smell that the air now stunk of the locally brewed gin and palm wine. The local minstrels played and sung while some of the women dancers of the village shook their waists to the music as a form of entertainment. To one side was a masquerade engaging in a strange type of dance. The villagers also sang along and bobbed their heads to the music, while the more drunk ones were making funny dance moves and laughing at everything, funny or not.
Adaku stopped in her tracks suddenly. Her breathing became heavy and her heart beat faster.
‘What is it?’ Kelechi who had already gone up ahead noticed Adaku had stopped and was looking back at her ‘Adaku o gini mere? What is it?’
Adaku found she could not speak. Kelechi would never understand. No she would not understand that Adaku was now looking at the mysterious women that had chased her to the sheep market.
They were standing at the center of the square, dancing along with the entertainers behind the minstrels. Adaku looked around for a moment, her mouth wide open. No one else had noticed them.
They saw her and laughed in unison.