“I will not marry him, for God’s sake he is too old for me and he has many wives already”.
The room felt too small, she longed to open the windows to let air in, she didn’t even want to be in this room or to be talking about this matter but when your parents ask you to talk about a marriage proposal from the most important man in your kingdom, you do not refuse.
“My daughter this is an opportunity given to us by God, it’s the kind of thing we have been praying for since time immemorial, for a miracle like this!” her mother’s calm voice didn’t quench the fires that burned in her soul.
“But why will I have to be the one to save us from poverty? Why should I sacrifice myself on the altar of tradition to save this family?” Her voice rose.
“Will you shut up that stupid, stinking mouth of yours before Ayelala strikes you dead!” her father thundered.
“You will marry the Oba whether you like it or not if not I will kill you myself” he continued.
She ran out of the tiny parlour while her mother wringed her hands and a look of abject sadness settled upon her features. The man who was her father continued to fiddle with his radio, he did not look at his retreating daughter or his browbeaten wife, he did not consider the feelings of women as important in the grand scheme of things.
Three days later, Adesuwa was escorted to the palace by a large retinue who sang praise songs of the man who was marrying her. She wanted to sink into the ground and dissolve into the soil, the life that was about to be hers felt like a noose laced with barbed wire.
She had come to Benin-city to find work, her sleepy town of Usen offered none that would sustain a young woman who was the first of nine children. The big city fascinated her, she loved the energy that seemed to be transmitted in a frequency that buzzed everyone in the city. The noise didn’t frighten her, it made her smile instead and stifle the urge to dance in the street.
She had found a job easily, working as a receptionist to a very busy lawyer gave her the opportunity to earn good money- enough to send five thousand naira monthly to her grateful mother and to have a little nest egg for her future plans of joining Fredrick at the college of education at Ekiadolor. He was studying business education and hoped to attend the university eventually, she had no such ambitions, she wanted to get her NCE and teach at Usen Grammar school. Fredrick was the one with the big dreams but he was happy that she didn’t want so much.
“Women aren’t meant to be equal to men, they are subordinates and should remain at the background,” he liked to say.
She met Martina at church, she was a fast talking girl who had grown up in Onitsha. She wanted to be a millionaire before she was twenty-five and she was already almost halfway to her goal. She worked for a man who ran a cosmetics store at New Benin market, Adesuwa liked to visit her after work and they would chatter about other church members, their families, Fredrick and Martina’s lack of romantic attachment. The first time she went to New Benin market, Adesuwa had almost disgraced herself. A certain man was advertising for Bibles and he said “You with yellow shirt, rush here and buy your Bible”. She didn’t see him but she could see the store, so she literally ran to the store to get her own Bible.
“I want to buy Bible, the man said I should come and buy Bible” she managed to gasp.
The salesgirl giggled for a minute and burst into laughter.
“Why you dey laugh?” Adesuwa scrowled.
“The man saw me and said I should come and buy Bible, he saw me and said I should come. Where is he sef?”
The salesgirl howled with laughter and she stormed out of the store.
Martina also howled with laughter when she narrated the incident to her, in between gulps of laughter she explained that it was a recording that was played nonstop. He did not see Adesuwa in her yellow shirt, it was all a coincidence, a very funny one too. She would later laugh at herself anytime she heard the hoarse voice of the bible advertiser in New Benin market or at the Oba Market at Ring Road.
Because Martina worked in the market, she had access to the latest fashion at the cheapest prices. She was always present when the fairly used clothes dealers opened their bales on Tuesdays, she would select the finest pieces to sell in church the following Sunday. She made a tidy profit from that side business but she never added a kobo to the cost price when selling to Adesuwa, most times she gave her a hefty discount but she took care never to let her know this.
Of all the dresses Martina sold her, the one she liked best was a white cotton shift dress that showcased her best features- her legs. She was walking home from choir practice when she saw three black cars abruptly halt about fifty metres in front of her. Four men in white shirts and red Jorge wrappers jumped out of the cars and beckoned at her, her legs felt frozen while her mind raced from horrible scenario to terrible scenario at the speed of light.
“He wants to see you” the tallest of the men spoke in a voice that brimmed with authority.
She simply nodded at him and followed him to the car in the middle, he opened the back right door and an old man with a kind smile was sitting at the back of the car.
She fell to her knees and bowed her head, she would recognise that face even if she had taken leave of her senses. It was the face that adorned the centre of the almanac of the Usen Development Union of which her father was the provost, it was the face that embodied centuries of tradition and history. She shivered from shock.
She answered his questions in a monotone, with her eyes firmly fixed on his loafers. She was mentally accessing the worth of those shoes when he asked her if she’d ever been to the palace.
“Never,” she squeaked.
“You’ll come and visit me soon,” he said thoughtfully.
Her eyes flew to his face and he motioned to the tall man who had brought her to him. She stood up so he could shut the door.
“He wants to marry you, tell your parents to expect his emissaries within eight market days.”
Her lower jaw fell open at his words and she felt sparks pop in her head. They were still popping when they drove off and she didn’t close her mouth until a fly nearly made its way in.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK