It was an Eke market day when traders from the eight villages that make up my clan converge at the popular Ekeikpa market to display their wares. Big traders from cities like Aba and Umuahia and Okigwe also came to buy farm produce at cheap prizes. After drawing water from the nwogba stream with my younger brother, Nkem, I joined mother at the market. It was a day we experienced what my Igbo people call ‘akanchawa’ for the “okporoko”, and other variety of fish that mum took to the market were all sold before sun set.There had been scarcity in the city and the reserve stock she had ,turned became an essential commodity. Mum was overjoyed that she bought me a second hand dress from one of the “okirika” clothes seller who had come from Ariara Market. It looked good on me when I tested it at his shop.
We got back home at twilight, since we needed to buy all the foodstuff and other things we were to use for cooking “ofe ogbono” which daddy loved so much. He would lick his fingers with a smack each time mum prepared his favorite dish; pounded yam with “ofe ogbono’. While mum and I worked in the kitchen that night, dad and three men, who were strangers, drank palm wine in his “obi”, a small hut adjoining mum’s. As the, ‘Nze’, a leader appointed by the Eze of our village, who represents my kindred at Eze Okonkwo’s cabinet, he received visitors regularly. So I thought they had come to seek his counsel like many did. His obi is more of a courtyard where he settled land disputes and other squabbles among my kinsmen. People loved him for his wisdom and skill in peace-making, but mum would say dad was a lazy man. His barn had little yam compared to Uncle Chikwendu’s who is a wealthy farmer, yet dad’s younger brother who got his first seeds from dad’s farms. The burden of training my eight siblings had proved too heavy for mum to shoulder. Dad hated farming and always spoke English because he was the cook and steward to Father Howell, an Irish priest whom he served for many years with no possessions or money to show for it. He saw himself as a white man, and not many can speak like him the reason why Eze Okonkwo respected him.
They laughed loud as they drank from the gourd of palm wine the men brought. Mum after greeting them, later served dinner from the meal she had prepared that evening. It was two market days before our new yam festival and the moon’s smiley rays brightened the night. It reminded me of the days when I and my childhood mates listened to “akuko ifo”, short stories at the play ground. We gave riddles and jokes and played hide and seek with the boys. One mischievous boy, Obinna would hide behind the “oji” tree to make spooky sounds with his lips just to scare us away. Yet, we all enjoyed it. After the meal, mum and I joined them at the instance of dad. I wondered why he did that for he would never want us around when men came around, especially young men.
“Mama Nkiru” he said with a glint of joy on his wrinkled face, “these men have come for good. They are from our neigbhouring village, Umuchukwueke, and have come to ask the hand of Nkiru in holy matrimony.”
Mum was shocked, and I wondered what matrimony meant. He liked to speak like the reverend father at the catholic parish in our village. I was confused as mum’s face tightened. The young man who came with them stole roving looks at me such that I blushed and avoided looking his way.
“Papa Nkiru, agaghim ekwe nkea’ she retorted. “Nkiru must finish her secondary school before she gets married. Nkechi got married like that, and now you want Nkiru to follow suit.” Her voice was forceful as she resisted dad openly for the first time.
“This young man is coming from Abuja and he is a land lord. He built a bungalow at Karimu in Abuja. So money would not be a problem at all. He and Nkiru will not be suffering like two of us. He said he has a shop at Wuse Market in Abuja and goes to Main market Onitsha and Idumota Lagos to buy his goods. His oga whom he served is a contractor of general merchandise also in Abuja.”
” I won’t agree” mum insisted.
“It’s not easy to (have) young men come from the city to marry like that again oo. I don’t want Nkiru to miss this chance ” he argued.
The two older men joined in the defense of dad as they persuaded mum to shift her ground. One was the young man’s dad and the other his uncle who had come to persuade my mum to change her mind. Unknown to me, the talk over my marriage has been on for too long, but mum never told me. I later learnt that many suitors had been coming and dad would accept the wine, against mum’s protestations and uncle Chikwendu’s. Weeks later, and after much pressure, mum agreed to give me out in marriage to the young land lord, Emeka, the son of Okorie from Umuchukwueke village.
I came to like Emeka with time especially the way he smiles at me during his visits. He also bought me things that made other girls in the village green with envy. Our traditional wedding; “igba nkwu” was the talk of the village. Emeka came with his fellow traders from Onitsha, and Abuja for the occasion. Some came in from Lagos and wore long traditional dresses, long beads hung over their neck, and they rode in big cars like Mercedes Benz. While Emeka and I danced, they sprayed money like people who had their own banks. The Naira notes were so crisp and clean unlike the ones mummy got at the market. Emeka had bought mum a very expensive hollandis wrapper, while dad wore a long and embroidered chieftaincy dress, a red cap with feathers and an Italian shoe.