Pangs of unrest and signs of troubles to come were gradually hovering around the thoughts and feelings of Ọnụ, for he felt things heavily when they’re about to come. Whatever it was, he wouldn’t know either. And he’d not want to give pessimism any chances in his mind. He had formally proposed to Onyinye a month ago and they had tentatively fixed their traditional marriage to come early in December. The month was still June. He had told his father that Onyinye was the daughter of Ibemeka Olisaemeka, a largely known rich businessman who owns businesses in Lagos, Enugwu, Uyo,Ọnịcha and other places in the Southern Nigeria.
Ibemeka was obsessed with anything Home that he opened up business outlets in Ihiala, his hometown and also in Uli, their neighboring town. He was known in Lagos for criticizing his kinsmen who had businesses all over Lagos but none in Igboland or in their hometowns. He would say: “think home, brothers, think home! For how many times shall we learn that this place isn’t our land and that Nigeria may break up into pieces one day? For how many times, ụmụ nnaa?”
Over the phone when Ọnụ told his father about his relationship with Ibemeka’s daughter, he had expected him to be excited. But his father rather sounded sober saying: “Really? Ibemeka’s daughter? Ehm, ehm… Anyway, we’ll talk later, my son”.
Unknown to Ọnụ, Onyinye had started receiving international calls secretly. Something she never did in the two or more years past. She answers the interlocutor with some kind of familiar affection whenever the calls came. Sometimes, the feelings would range from fear to fantasy to love to sexiness, or a mixture of both.
And sometimes, laid on the bed, she would use the left hand to press the phone against her left ear while her right hand snakes from her succulent boobs through her flat tummy down to her lower temples. And she would make some hissing sounds in hushed tones to someone’s hearing. It was Maduka, a very curious chap and the youngest brother to Ọnụ that got wind of such sounds one day, and would later hear it again and again.
Maduka had climbed the stairs to tell Onyinye that the Satellite TV connection problem they’ve been having for some days had been resolved. And that her favorite channel, Africa Magic, was airing a movie with Mercy Johnson, her model actress, as a lead character. On getting close to knock on the door, he eavesdropped and heard Onyinye saying something like: “yes, baby. Yes, baby…”
He knew his brother wasn’t in, so he wondered what made her prospective sister-in-law make such sensuous sounds like one making out with a man. Just as he wondered and worried outside, Onyinye angrily said while sitting up on the bed and looking at the phone in her hand:
“Haba! Which kain bad network be this kwanu? Mtcheew! See as e just spoil wetin I dey enjoy”.
She then dashed the phone to the nut-colored polished wooden table and asked Maduka to come on in. Maduka had immediately knocked on the door when Onyinye complained of the bad network. They shared pleasantries, joked and laughed. The laughter sounded faked and they seem to know it did. They proceeded down to the living room to watch the Africa Magic movie together. But Maduka would not forget that experience in a jiffy for he would eavesdrop into Onyinye’s phone calls the more, observe more and think everything through and deeply later on.
Ọnụ had driven in his two yr old navy blue Toyota Venza to Uli from Owere, Imo State’s capital city where he lived and worked. Ibụọ, his old but strong grandfather and his own father, Anyadike had summoned him Home. There were a few of the Ụmụnna that joined the meeting. The meeting had begun with discussions comparing the politics of Imo and Anambra States.
One of the Ụmụnna had tapped Ọnụ on his laps and said: “I heard Imo governor is doing well in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy and that teachers and civil servants are paid as at and when due”.
Ọnụ replied that the governor is trying his best but his oppositions are mounting stronger with the propaganda that he joined Hausa/Yoruba party – and many of his admirers are beginning to buy the cheap garbage.
Anyadike, Ọnụ’s dad, interjected.
“Isn’t it far better than having this one here who speaks like one who’s been strangled?” he said with some rising anger.
“I’ve been going through hell every week just to get my pension arrears paid off, and some fools here believe we are protected under what they call Igbo Party while they still complain behind about a lot of things done wrongly in this State. Fools that listen to some of their morally depraved Catholic and Anglican priests and bishops praising the governor after their consciences have been mortgaged with millions of naira and their mouths shut with road constructions done around their church vicinities by the governor who also has a Catholic priest and a nun as siblings. My friend, Udeke, who teaches in a secondary school complained to me the other day that secondary school principals have been so much bribed that they can’t agitate for increment in teachers’ salary, even when they’ve long fought for it in the years past. That’s your governor’s style here”.
He then waved his right palm off the air in his face and sighed loudly. Almost everyone sighed acquiescently with him too. Then a silence fell as if it was agreed. Sounds from animals in the nearby bushes could be clearly heard. Reptiles chasing each other – falling out of the bush to the sight of all and then running back again into the bush. Ibụọamaka, who was the oldest in the gathering, crossed his frail legs, chewed his akụ inu louder and cleared his throat twice while he planted his eyes in the direction of the Ụdala tree just before the large gates that led into their very expansive and large compound.
Anyadike drew his plastic chair a bit forward adjacent to Ọnụ, cleared his throat and assumed a serious look on his face. He went ahead to ask Ọnụ after Onyinye and Maduka, his last child. He also asked after his job and how stable he expected him to have been almost five years into the medical practice. He then dropped the clincher.
“My son, you can’t marry Ibemeka’s daughter”. Ọnụ was a bit confused to make a response. He didn’t want to give himself out so quickly, and so he took some seconds to process what his dad had told him. “Why can’t I marry Ibemeka’s daughter?”, he gently asked.
“Ibemeka dị ife”, his dad replied with an air of mystery in his declaration. Every other person nodded to that statement. The statement was a very brief but powerful way Igbo people describe someone who is rather mysterious – often in a very negative and evil way. Ọnụ understood the negativity that shrouded such a description.
He knew it implied something not far from evil and dangerous but he’d not want to buy into it for he had always detested anything superstitious but never failed to believe that mysterious things still happened around the world he thought was all scientific. He repeated the clincher to himself. “Ibemeka dị ife”. “Ibemeka is of something!”
Was it that Ibemeka was ‘something’? No, it wasn’t. Was it that Ibemeka was up to ‘something’? No, it wasn’t. Was it that Ibemeka was known for ‘something’? No, no, no! His own father, who knew Ibemeka too well, had declared before his own father, Ibụọamaka and Ụmụnna members that “Ibemeka”, the wealthy father of the lady he wants to take as wife, “is of something”.
Ọnụ’s mum, Ugosimba, had served a softly-made akpụ and ofe ụtazị. Anyadike, Ugosimba and Ọnụ fed themselves from same bowls. Ọnụ loved the meal but had lost appetite to eat more. His mum begged him to eat more when he rose up to wash his hands. His dad was engrossed in the pomo meat he fought to cut into two with his teeth.
“Nwa m, eat some more. You’ve not eaten what I cooked for some time now, only to eat this one like I was a bad cook. But you told me over the phone that you’d love to have ofe ụtazị”.
Those words from his mum tormented him instantly. But he resisted the emotions and walked away into his room.
It was about 2am and it was thickly dark. Ọnụ had only slept little and woke up again. He knew his dad would have to explain what he meant by “Ibemeka is of something”. The electricity supply had been returned around 12am after the outage last evening. The electric bulb in his room shone brightly, and revealed the dusts on the tables and old suitcases inside the room.
As Ọnụ was steeped in thoughts, Anyadike, his dad, knocked on the door and opened it at once without waiting for his son to ask him in. He sat on the edge of his son’s bed, bent his head down and breathed out heavily. He fondled his plastic torchlight, switched it on and off severally. He then turned to look at the face of his son who was tensed as to what his dad was going to say as well as struggling to remain strong as not to be taken unawares emotionally.
“Nwa m”, Anyadike cleared his throat and continued.
“The Ụmụnna members are not here now. It’s only you and I. It’s now an affair between father and son – a family affair. I chose not to be too detailed in the meeting maka ndị asịlị ma ọbụ ndị ga-asị na mụ sị. Our Igbo people say that if the ear is advised and it remains heedless; when the head is cut down, it goes with it. I and my own father, Ibụọ, would not be alive and see your head cut down when we’ve not talked to your ears.
I’m sure you’re aware that the girl you intend to marry doesn’t know her mum. Yes, she lost her mum to an automobile accident when she was barely a year old. She may or may not have told you this. You also may not know that the said woman was not the first wife Ibemeka married. She was the third wife after the first two had died in mysterious ways without giving Ibemeka a child.
The first wife died after two years in marriage without giving Ibemeka a child. She died of a sickness doctors could not diagnose. The second one died after four years of a childless marriage just like the first. She was said to have gone to sleep one night and couldn’t wake up again. Just like that, she became a dead person. Just like that!
From all these tragedies, Ibemeka managed to have one child who happened to be your Onyinye. For every death of all the wives Ibemeka married, there was always a boom in his business empire. Either he opened a new petrol station somewhere in Enugwu or he established another wholesale outlet somewhere in Aba and other towns around.
Even till this day, people still believe that your Onyinye escaped dying from that accident by whiskers. I remember you told me you attended to her in your hospital. My son, it’s only the tree that learned it would be cut down and never ran away, but a man learned he would be cut down and ran away. Like I told you yesterday; ‘Ibemeka dị ife’. I’d not want to go further.Think and retract or you think and continue with your decision. Neither I nor my father, Ibụọ would force our opinion on you. Ka chi foo!”
Anyadike rose up and groaned from the waist pain of his old age. He made for the door and closed it behind him.
Ọnụ had frozen to the marrow. He was tensed, cold and scared. But he still wouldn’t want to give up dissecting everything on the altar of mental and intellectual rigor. He felt alone and lonely like one holed up in the prison walls located in a no man’s land.
The next morning, Ọnụ drove back to Owere. He felt too light like he was about to fly from the steering wheel. He was lost in thoughts but was lucky to stay concentrated till he reached an area called Control in Owere. As he entered his house, he met Maduka sitting on the cushion with his face gloomy.
“Madu, kedu? Where is Onyinye and how’s she doing?” he asked.
Maduka handed him a written note. “This is from her. She left it for you”.
On reading the message to the finish, Ọnụ managed to hold back the tears clogging in his eyes. The world went blank in his mind. For the first time in many years, he felt pity for himself. “I lately discovered she has something up her sleeves. Brother, please, bear this manly. I’ve been waiting for you to come back so that I can let you know what’s in the offing. I didn’t know this was on the way. Brother, if you can, chefuo ya. Forget her!” Maduka consoled and fortified his senior brother.
Onyinye had dropped a note telling Ọnụ with all sincerity that her first boyfriend and First Love who had left for Malaysia six years ago, and had not kept in touch with her all along, happened to return to her life. She confessed how much she’s really missed him and wanted him be the prince of her life. And now, he’s back to her and is ready to marry her.
She mentioned the guy’s name as Ifenna. Ifenna had promised Onyinye to return to Nigeria soon and whisk her off with him to Malaysia since he’s made it and is now ready to settle down. And it seemed to have just happened within a space of less than 48 hours. Only Ifenna and Onyinye would be able to explain how it all managed to happen.
Ọnụ would later think for Ifenna; “how does he get to know all that my dad, Anyadike told me about the man he wants to marry his daughter?”
And for Onyinye, Ọnụ would think; “how much does she even know her dad? Is she really okay psychologically and emotionally?”
Those thoughts were born from a mixture of empathy, anger, automated ill-will, bitterness and jealousy.