Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Osugiri-Iro Ezichi Franklyn

It would be the night of an afo, the second one after the seventh new moon when the women came and Obiageli put the blunt razor to your hair, shaving carelessly until you scalp and it was to the odd-toned songs of the other women. You did the ritual tears of igba-mkpe; your legs straightened and crossed before you by the fireplace. Akujuobi had fallen and you should show the world, his people, the clan, who had been silent while you died that your proven hands are finally clean. Flood the flowing waters of Aniocha’s deep valleys with your tears, you just should not fall with that coffin, your own coffin.

The smell of your burnt hair mingles with ash and your head aches. You could feel blood trickle from the striations and start to congeal somewhere above your right ear, you sneeze raising more ash into your red swollen eyes; it itches, but twenty-eight years of stooping by this very hearth may have conquered, so you don’t scratch. You would rub otangele before you sleep, if ever it came. You tell yourself again that the tears are for him, you pinch your skin, you are now a nwaanyi isi-mkpe, a widow, his own proven widow, and the tears should be his. You wonder how these years have flown; only yesterday, just then when womanhood had begun to tingle fresh in your nipples, and his woo fed the milk of your full erect breasts, you had knelt to take the wine from the frail palms of Akunna your late father and watch yourself become his when he gulped it all. You had been happy, you had smiled and even now, you still know that was the last time you did.

You are half-listening when the women begin to say ‘ndoo, be strong’. Some pat your shoulders with an empathy you did not feel, the others nod their heads, their hands clasped tightly across their chests as though they too felt this cold which ate you even by the fire- and you would wonder what truly sat behind the cloak of their eyes, what thoughts truly twirled in the hollow of their chests. ‘It would be well, O ga-adi mma,’ it was the voice of Obiageli before the night assumed again the void embrace you had always known but now would feel differently and somehow, it reminded you of that night; the one you had born Odika in. You don’t remember how much time had past but the owl now hooted her grim songs- you had seen her one time and another on the ugba, in the most recent nights when you slept by the fireplace while Akujuobi feasted in between the wet thighs of his lover.

You now eat your cold meal with the unwashed left hand, just as you had the others and would all your days of mourning, dipping the hard fibrous yam slices in bland red oil. Then you would wait for dawn,  when the clansmen would come and pour libations at your feet, rip off the loose clothe that hide your breasts and in the shame of your palms covering your naked womanhood, you will walk alone the rugged path that came to Aniocha for your first bath, screaming all the way in your own sorrow to the world who may care to listen that you are now bare, that you are now his widow; Akujuobi’s widow and it would your own burden be, if either the pervert sons of Echefu waylaid you in the shadows of the bamboo. You are a woman, just a woman but Akujuobi never did you well in his lifetime. You had seen how Nnanyelu mourned your father, how she sat by the fireplace to pour ash on her hair,  eat bitter kola with snuff and curse the malevolent spirits she alone saw. “She has gone mad” and even you, had found it hard to doubt until she fell to the mat and would not rise again, and the world would from then be just you and this child who had for you willed himself to live. The name was Odikamma and it meant ‘it is too well’- maybe your chi had thought of you well after the blood of seven flowed down you legs, so he stayed even after you had nearly by Akujuobi’s fist, missed again to kiss the dust.

The rustling of dry leaves send cold chills down your spine just as the mundane chirping of crickets, begun wearing the heavy omen that would break with dawn.

“You would not mourn this man, nne” Odikamma had told you the night after Akujuobi died in his sleep. “I forbid it for the sake of whom he was and the church forbids it for our sake, your sake, that you should do ndakpo-ozu. You will not jump over that body nor will you drink its bath water, who even drinks the bath water of a living man, not to say a dead? You can count with five fingers how much you knew his bed in his lifetime, why then now should you lay with it?”

You had been quiet, watching his face; his fine stubble and slant eyes, he looked painfully like the man you loved in his father

“You are saying nothing nne” he shuffled his feet, tucking the excess of his white soutane in between his legs.

“What should I say?” You found your voice and when it quivered, you had not liked it

“Say you will not mourn him nne. Tell the umunna ‘mba’ and let them spit on my own face.”

You chuckled; a mirthless chuckle, then you were laughing, tears stuck on the edge of your eye.

“Enough spit has been thrown Odika and worse when you chose to go to that convent, when you chose to become Fada. I would not let them anymore. The camel’s back now, is too frail for one more straw”

“You would mourn him nne?”

“Some things are bigger than we see nnam, and this is one. I would mourn Akujuobi, I would mourn your late father and let the world see that it was still the cat who tortured the frail rat, that belled himself.”

You cried easily these days and you were crying when he watched you with that pity and muse smeared on his face. You had told yourself once that you would never shed another tear for Akujuobi and if he happened to die before yourself- a thought you had laughed at when you looked yourself in the enyo and saw the reflection of death, you would dance at his funeral; but your limbs now betrayed you.

You would mourn him nne? the thought hits you again and you push the plates away, you had barely eaten.  The night was suddenly bereft of the owl’s queer hooting and you hated unusual calmness and even more ever since you had stayed by Akujuobi’s corpse for three market days in that dark room barely lit by a smoky lantern.

“You say your husband, our brother, died in his sleep akwa ya?” Ozoemena had asked you that evening of the third day after his death. You were kneeling before the umunna and Odikamma leaned against the door jamb. You knew he did not like the old men, their lean questions nor the way you knelt in quiescent meekness, but you don’t look at him

“He did not wake up” you replied, spitting the words through clenched teeth. You wonder why they were making a fuss out of it; they knew Akujuobi, they knew ‘their brother’ and never had they made a small deal of the complaints you brought before them when he was alive. They only said “dibe ya, it would be well. We would speak to him.” And later when Akujuobi returned with fury in his eyes, he stood by the door of the usekwu and watched you blow the smoldering logs to flames, then he would go to the front yard, break a branch from the orange tree and peel the leaves; drag you by the hair into his room, lock the bolts and flog your skin until they were sore with the redness of Danjuma’s ripe tomatoes.

“Hmmm.” and he was silent. “If you say so my child, let your chi prove you right. Okeke bring the Calabash.” Okeke was hesitant, then you watched his short hands pour out a portion of the pale liquid and sprinkle white chalk in it. Scrunching his nose, he placed it before you.

Ngwa!” Ozoemena begun “Take the Calabash in both hands and drink.”

You remember Odikamma rush down from the threshold screaming “o gaghi eme, it is not happening!” but you had taken up the portion wincing at the odour that slapped your nostrils and just when he was barely away from you, you poured it down your throat, spilling a little on your chest. Odikamma stalled and for the short time that passed, he walked the disgust in his stare between the old men and your grimacing self before he left the compound. That was the last you had seen him.

Your eyes itch worse and thick liquid runs down your nose. You unroll the head end of your dirty wrapper, you had folded into it a small tin of otangele. The calmness stiffens and you think you heard footsteps from the backyard but you ignore it and draw your eyelids across the thin line of the black powder.

It was well past the roost of chickens that night when Ozoemena and some other men of the clan came to tell you that your three nights with Akujuobi would begin and you said nothing. You had followed them into what used to be his obi, but it now was darker and empty except for the dim smoky lantern and his body stuffed with tissues, lying on the large black woven mat in the center.

“Obiageli would bring you food twice” at least that was what you heard Ozoemena say before he touched your shoulders and you heard the lock click shut from the other side. You had wondered what you were supposed to do with his body lying helplessly on that mat, and for once you felt the urge to strangle him; this only time he appealed frail, but the longer you stared at it holding the lantern over his figure, his belly slightly distended and his face almost inhumane in the brown embalming paint, you realised again that he was dead and with you in a locked room and his spirit may be snarling at you from a dark corner, wielding a stronger orange branch or the perpetual sharp edge that was his machete.

You had clung to the furthest edge of the wall, enveloped in the fear of the stillness and listening to your dancing heartbeats, sweating and breathing in the smoke of the lantern and muttering dissonant curses at whatever seemed to move in the dark room. When Obiageli brought you the half portions  in chapped clay plates, you only saw her hand push it in through the slightly opened door, but you had not touched  them until they had pushed open the door on the fourth morning almost tipping the plates over, led this time by a bare chested old man in red loin cloth with a rafia frond between his lips. You were sprawled on the floor, too weak to sustain watching them but you only remember the old man chant words and two young men carry the body away. Nobody muttered a thing to you and when they left, leaving the door ajar, the sick hue of the sun kissed your bony face and you had slept off.

The steps in the backyard draw nearer and you are sure someone was around. You sit quiet all the while it approached, counting the paused time to your own death. You had nothing to lose anymore but your life after Odikamma left, and you would give it for nothing- your corpse may be enough to pave the way for Akujuobi’s funeral by overmorrow.

Nne it’s me” you are startled by the deepness of the familiar voice before he peeks his head in. As you stare at him and then the dog collar hanging loosely around his neck, tears welling down your eyes, you realize how tired you were of everything. Maybe he was right all the while even when he chose the convent against the lineage of his father. So when you take his hands, you don’t argue. You knew then how much you needed this life, his life and that coffin maybe was never yours.


Afo    A market day

Igba-mkpe  Widowhood

Otangele    eye powder

Nwanyi isi-mkpe Widow

Ndoo  Take heart

Ugba  Oil bean

Nne   Mother

Ndakpo-ozu Widowhood usually when the rights directly involved the corpse

Umunna  Kinsmen

Mba. No

Fada Eye dialect for    Father(priest)

Nnam My father(could be a praise name for a young man)

Enyo Mirror

Akwa ya “Is that so”

Dibe ya Endure

Usekwu Kitchen

Ngwaa To not hesitate

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