My older brother, Oyaw, lives in New York. In the summer of 2005 he went home to Naija to get married, dragging me along with him.
My mother had sent urgent message from home: the girl, to whom you have been engaged for five years is now pregnant, wrote my mother. You know she has been living with me. Come home now because she is ready to have your baby. If I do not see you soon I will die.
My brother did not bother to write to Mother to find out how the girl could have his baby considering that he had never even met her. My brother is educated but stupid. He even picked two stupid names for the baby, Sasha and Baba. He sent word back to Mother that he was on his way home. His American girl friend was not told.
Now, let me be straight with you: my hometown is not in the big city. Some pretentious cyber bobos and sisis always claim to come from Lagos, Abuja, Onitsha, Jos. No, not me. I am a village boy. I am from a real village. I am from the remote town of Okike, the little town of backward and distrustful people, the town where it was said that kith and kin never ate from the same plate in darkness. In the rest of our land, it is said that when kins are eating from the same plate in darkness, trust dictates that no one should ask for light. But not us; in my village we want flashlight, torchlight, candlelight, electric light if available, and you had better be ready to swear an oath when confronted that you are not eating more than your share. That’s my village. I am from the village near the big river where Nshiko the crab used to swim before he drowned in the old woman’s soup-pot.
But my brother Oyaw is not backward like my townsfolk and me. He has done well for himself. He had, at a very early age, been told that he was a true son of his father. As you know, to flatter a boy by calling him the son of his mother is not bad, but to call him a true son of his father is to honor him with the most prestigious compliment; and such compliment so intoxicated a young man that, long afterwards, he would walk through fire and hail storms happily, proudly, and fearlessly.
It was in those days that a certain young man from Okike, under the drunken influence of the true-son-of-his-father compliment, devoured a ten-day-old, rotten goat meat right in front of some disapproving market women. Insisting that wincing, flinching, and squeamishness were for little girls, the young man boldly declared that the maggots in the rotten meat were nothing but a bonus delicacy to be enjoyed with zeal. That young man was my brother Oyaw.
And so, drunk with that intoxicating compliment at an early age, Oyaw had gone far. He studied harder than his peers in elementary school and beyond, always holding his head up and his chest out, proud, confident, and above all, determined to live up to the compliment. He acquired so much education that, in every corner of our village and the surrounding towns and cities, young and old alike knew his name: B. Sc (London), MA, Ph.D., (Oxford), MA, Ph.D., (Harvard), Professor and Doctor of Philosophy, bla, bla, bla, bla,…He was even given chieftaincy titles in absentia: the fully-titled man of Okike, the Pacifier of Okike, the Soother of Okike, the Comforter of Okike, in essence the one who wipes away tears of his backward townsfolk.
But my brother was and is still a fool. Common sense escapes him when he needs it most. And so he dragged me along with him to Naija. As my senior brother, I defer to him, foolishness and all.
In anticipation of my brother’s arrival, my mother had sent the girl back to her parents, temporarily.
The very next day, following our arrival, my mother happily dragged my brother and me to the neighboring village to meet with the girl’s parents. When we got there, I was shocked to see the entire village of men, women, children, and even dogs, waiting for us. My brother, who is never shocked by any thing, acted as if it was the most normal thing to have an entire village waiting for you to express your interest in marriage to a girl carrying somebody else’s baby. For the first time, the incongruity of the entire occasion fully dawned on me and I wanted to vomit.
When everyone was seated, Oyaw’s name was called. A man used to pomp and ceremony, he took a very long minute standing, after rustling through his briefcase for unknown reason. When he finally stood up, he surveyed the audience with the regal assurance of one peering down at his underlings. He looked at his gold watch, perhaps only to draw attention to it, but a major blunder before the elders who knew that next to a funeral and child birth, marriage proposals were solemn, deliberately unhurried, affairs. Looking at one’s watch with its implication of haste was a serious breach of protocol. He greeted the elders in English – another blunder. Then Oyaw pulled out, from the inside pocket of his English three-piece suit, a sheet of paper, and began to read from an apparently prepared speech.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the…”
“That’s enough!” shouted the girl’s father, who could not take it anymore. The other elders nodded their concurrence with the girl’s father. The women burst out with unexpected jeering laughter. Our man Oyaw, the fully titled man of Okike, the man with enough education to suffocate his peers, quickly sat down, visibly embarrassed. He looked ruffled, puzzled, and uncertain of his next move.
The girl’s father directed his piercing gaze at Oyaw, an act of unspoken inquisition, which did not reduce our man’s appearance of embarrassment. For the first time, the elders assessed Oyaw from head to toe. They saw a picture of a royal bearing that reeked of counterfeit. They felt his condescension towards everyone. They noticed that his receding hairline, shiny brow, rosy cheeks, pot belly, and rather sturdy legs, betrayed an egregious contrast from the object of his desire. This man, they thought, was not half as good as his reputation had suggested. Indeed, was it not said that the cola nut is not as sweet as it’s crunchy sound suggests.
The elders waited for Oyaw, Mother, and me to depart. But we sat there. With their backs turned, they huddled and whispered their discussions among themselves to give us time to leave. When they looked back, we were still sitting there. They huddled and whispered, huddled and whispered some more. Our man Oyaw still sat there, looking round as if surveying the crowd. They could not decide if he was clueless or simply defiant. Even the women in the audience were puzzled that Oyaw was still there for was it not said that even a deaf man in the marketplace does not need to be told that riot has broken out.
One by one, the elders stood and left, the women stood and left, the children, laughing at us, stood around to enjoy our distress. Meanwhile, the girl who was the subject of our mission never came out of the house where she had been shielded from my brother’s eyes in order to bring her out at the right moment. But the right moment never came. My mother, my brother, and I finally left, dragging our feet, my brother still perceptibly puzzled, myself still noticeably embarrassed, and mother pitifully clutching a basket of gifts she had intended to present to the girl.
Two weeks later, Oyaw and I returned to the U.S.A. To this day he never saw the girl. To this day, I think I will wake up and find that it was all a dream. To this day, I am still sorting this matter out in my mind. The only thing about which I am certain is that, as a loyal brother schooled in the tradition of obedience to seniority, the next time Oyaw calls me to go with him, no matter how stupid the mission, I will obey.