On December 16, I arrived home on the same evening that uncle Faster was released from jail, arranged by his lawyer, in order for him to marry the girl and avoid prosecution for rape and adultery. He did not have the money for bail.
Out of curiosity, I went, uninvited, to the pre-arranged village ceremony where my uncle was supposed to marry the girl. I had been there before with mother and my brother Oyaw five months earlier. Once again, the entire village of people and animals of the girl’s village was there waiting for my uncle, Elder Mannoc presiding. I could not look my uncle in the face as I sat several yards away from him and my mother.
When his name was called at the village square, Faster began with his signature practice. He pledged two bags of money to each of the elders, which instantly drew whispers and murmurs of condemnation among the women. Bribery was forgivable where and when appropriate, but bribery with a pledge? Public bribery of the elders who were the custodians of community morality? The elders themselves, seemingly stunned, opened and closed their mouths, then waived him along. He, instead, swaggered into the crowd, handing out paper money to the women, who were not impressed. They took the money anyway, for, you must understand, that in our land, to accept money from a man even when you disapprove of him or his conduct are two separate matters, neither of which should trouble you.
The crowd was neither excited by the free money nor by his patented swagger, which normally extracted excitement from bystanders. He would take two quick steps forward, pause very briefly, then two steps, then pause. One. Two. Pause. One. Two. Pause. Each time he paused, the only excited young man in the crowd shouted “Faster! Faster!”
The adults who knew him by reputation saw his quick steps as a residue of his experiences running from the tax collectors; and yet, with no sense of contradiction, they saw his brief pauses also as a remnant of the same taxing days. They saw no inconsistency in this because, as we say in our part of the world, no one is ever cured of madness; that is to say that once you have suffered from madness, you are forever a madman; thereafter, raise your voice in public and your friends will whisper that your madness is resurfacing, but keep completely quiet and they will still whisper that quietness is a known symptom of madness. That is why, in the eyes of the public, no one ever recovers from madness.
So when the crowd saw Faster’s strident one, two, pause, one, two, pause, the image of the man bolting from the taxman began to return. Was this not the man who….
“Hold it!”, Elder Mannoc interrupted, “Hold it! My son, what do you think you are doing?”
“I’m distributing money”, Faster responded with a startled look, offended by the interruption. “What do you think I’m doing?”
Murmurs and whispers of astonishment among the women grew louder. Now Elder Mannoc was not your usual amiable elder. He was a man who had served in the English man’s war. The name and year of the war and the geographical region of the battles was not known; The Elder had limited education and couldn’t care less about geography. But ever since he returned from the war, he had become the loudest and boldest man in the surrounding towns. Murmurs and whispers among the women did not subside.
The Elder started to call for a recess and dismiss Faster when his colleagues quickly pulled him aside and whispered to him soothingly. He calmed down.
“Young man”, he said to Faster, “would you stop your foolishness and return to your seat?”
Faster peered at him for a long minute, hesitated, then swaggered back to his seat.
“Now, young man, as you know, we don’t tell an adult to come out from the scorching sun – that may be his choice. By the same token, we shouldn’t have to tell you what to do or say on this occasion. Please proceed.”
Faster did not appreciate the lecture. He frowned.
“What do I need to say or do?” he asked, in a tone which indicated that he really did not want an answer, and drew more murmurs of disapproval. An elderly woman, carrying her walking stick, abruptly got up, began to walk away, muttering something about today’s thoughtless youth who need some education about the seriousness of wooing a bride. When she came close to Faster, she raised her stick in a mock attempt to strike him. The entire crowd went wild with applause for her and jeers at Faster. She walked away, still talking to herself.
Again, Elder Mannoc wanted to dismiss Faster right there and then and call a recess. The other elders counseled Mannoc to give Faster another chance. Scold him, they said, but do not dismiss him; our daughter needs a husband.
“Do you have a name, a town, family? What is the purpose of your presence here? Those are the types of information you need to address first before we ask you further questions. There will be time enough to spread your wealth later. Now proceed.”
With an outward display of anger and wounded pride, Faster himself rebuked the elders. “You know who I am. Everyone here, indeed everyone in the whole country, knows me. This is a waste of time for me. Please produce the girl right away and let me know the bride price. Whatever the price, I will pay. In fact, I’m willing to pledge…”
“What nonsense!” announced the Elder, shouting down the belligerent suitor. “You’ve proven our forefathers adage that a heedless fool will not need to bribe his way to his destiny for he always gets there sooner than later.” The elders looked at each other and nodded their heads. Words were not needed because, as we say in the village, further discussion of an issue already settled is done with the nodding of heads.
As everyone began to disperse, you could hear the women heaping insult and jeers on Faster. The pregnant girl, a young woman of nineteen years of age, who apparently had suffered enough without the assistance of a husband, suddenly ran out of the house and into his hands. Faster’s wife of ten years, who had been sitting near me, away from Faster, sobbing, suddenly ran to the girl and embraced her. Thus, without ever paying the bride price, which my uncle certainly did not have, the girl, Faster, and Faster’s wife, hand in hand, went home with him.
Taking the girl as a second wife; marriage, no matter how unusual, no matter how incomplete, was, apparently, all that the law needed to keep Faster from going back to jail. When I saw them the next day, they were all happy and my mother was at peace.
As soon as I returned to the U.S.A., I placed a call to my brother Oyaw in New York. “My brother,” I said, “you won’t believe what story I brought back from home…”
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