My entire extended family had waited all day for the suitor.
Sound the bells. Sound the bells. He arrived in such high drama, such colour, and such pomp so out of proportion to the occasion that even my grandpa and my uncle, Elder Obi, were mesmerized into speechlessness.
You could tell that this one would be trouble by his entourage: ten praise-singers, five wives, five cars, six bodyguards, four goats, five chickens, six baskets full of yams, and four bales of clothes.
While the praise-singers rang the bells, the five wives, as back-up singers, joined in the songs apparently composed for this occasion.
The impromptu crowd to our house, which had been alerted by the singing, jostled for positions. As heads and necks stretched beyond the acolytes and wives, beyond the goats, chickens and yams, there was no doubt that from the very last of the caravan of cars an important personality had emerged. The bodyguards surrounded him as he walked to the square where his entrance had been awaited for several hours.
His bodyguards weaved, wangled, pushed, and shoved through the men and women whose manners had been overcome by curiosity, until he was right in the center of the square.
One of the praise-singers, at the very top of his voice, broke into a laudatory song about a certain man, the only man on earth, whose five wives loved so much that they unanimously supported his desire for a sixth. Done with the singing, the sycophant knelt in front of the big man and called his name exultingly:
“The right Honorable Senator Kelechi E. Kelechi.”
The senator turned towards the crowd, obviously delighted, and raised his straw fan with which he had been fanning himself all along. Cheers of acclamation escaped from the crowd.
“Chief Kelechi E. Kelechi!”, the praise-singer called.
He turned again, waived his fan at each of the four corners of the square, and took his seat. Then he suddenly stood up as the praise-singer would not stop rousing him.
“The spirit that owns a nation!”
“That’s me,” he announced with a smile. His wives raised their hands to the heavens and clapped.
“The elephant that drinks dry an ocean!”
“You know me well,” he said, shaking his fan, happily.
“Aren’t you the very warrior that poked thunder in the eye?”
“Tell me more, brother me,” he said excitedly.
“The true son of Ananta!”
“You will live long, my brother.”
And with that, all the praise-singers broke into another blast of extravagant eulogy, with intermittent ringing of bells, that lasted for five minutes. Then everyone settled down before Senator Kelechi of Ananta himself sat down again.
Silence. Complete, uneasy, silence. The elders, overcome by shock, merely sat there and stared at the Senator. Even waiting for the ballyhoo to die down was unbearable eternity for them. If the hunted animal runs in an unexpected manner, the Igbo proverb goes, the hunter should shoot it in an equally unexpected manner. The problem here, however, was that the manner in which this animal had bolted was not only unexpected but unimaginable to the elders. If they were to shoot it standing on their heads, they thought, it would not be unusual enough to meet their responsibility. They sat there in arrested silence.
Several long minutes of uneasy silence later, the elders and grandpa huddled, whispering their analyses to one another, out of the hearing of everyone. It was true, they whispered, that many a woman would marry an already married man. But such women would predicate their decision on old age, desperation, loneliness, low self-esteem, blind love, financial insecurity, or plain ill-advice. Would a woman, such as Ikuku, their pride, who did not fall into any of these categories of impediments, contemplate marriage to a man with, not one, not two, but five wives? Five wives?
They wondered what this man was made of. A man with five wives who came seeking a sixth one? He had to be a man of unrivaled boldness, unusual ambition, and considerable confidence. For such a man to even approach their Ikuku, the pride of their townsfolk, the very paradigm of beauty and youth, he had to have the gift of extraordinary ego.
Yes, unmitigated ego was a necessary makeup of a man who would take all his five wives along on his mission to acquire a sixth. Whoever heard of such audacity? And then to underscore his overbearing confidence, he brought with him goods and livestock which no family would accept from a suitor at the first visit, or even the second or third, unless an agreement had been reached on the marriage proposal.
They agreed that this was indeed an unusual animal that needed to be shot proverbially, an
d shot immediately, in an extravagantly unique manner. Grandpa, as usual, had the task of delivering the shots.
As grandpa stood up and raised his hand to indicate his readiness to make an announcement, a trickle of sound, of revving motor vehicle engine, interrupted him. He and everyone followed the direction of the sound as it became louder and came nearer. From the dusty road behind the elders came a large motor vehicle tearing down to the square. On the sides of the vehicle was inscribed: Ananta Youths. It quickly came to a dusty, creaking stop. A train of dancers, young girls and boys, beating their drums and gongs, and blowing their whistles, jumped from the vehicle and promptly danced their way, in a procession, toward the Honorable Senator, who himself cheerfully stood up to waive his fan back and forth. In the midst of the new flurry and hoopla, grandpa and the elders quietly slipped through the crowd, kept going, never to return, for it was said, in Igbo proverb, that whenever you witness the type of stampede where women are running without holding their breasts, you should not wait to ask questions – you should also run for your life.
To this day, it is rumored that Senator Kelechi waited until midnight before going home because he could not believe that the elders, or any other person, had the galls to abandon him. But this was not rumour because I was there. The senator was immobilized from shock until midnight and my sister, to this day, remains sick from the experience.