I began a fiction series in May that I intended to run weekly on Fridays, sadly I wasn’t consistent at it. However I have finally finished it and I’m putting it up today. Because I’m such a fabulous person, I’m putting everything here in one post. There’s no need to jump here and there to refresh your memory of the story or get acquainted with the story.
This is Adesuwa’s story, I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
“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 furnace 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 tiny Adam apple bobbed.
“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 wrung her hands and a look of abject sadness settled upon her once beautiful 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 and perhaps become a councillor at the Local government headquarters. He’d told her that all she needed was her NCE from the college so she could teach at Usen Grammar school. It felt good to have a boyfriend who was so wise and knowledgeable about the world.
“Women aren’t meant to be equal to men, they are subordinates and should remain at the background,” he liked to say in between swallows of hot pounded yam and okro soup while she looked at her feet.
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 and her skin felt strange.
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.
Adesuwa’s niece was born on her wedding day, Itohan had run away to live with Osarodion the village hunter and occasional palm wine tapper. When Adesuwa asked her sister why she would commit such a foolish act, Itohan stared sullenly at her.
“Answer me, I say, before the gods scatter you to bits and pieces” Adesuwa shouted.
“I am not beautiful, my head cannot carry book and I cannot even trade. What else is there for me than marriage?”
“But this is not marriage, you ran to him and told him to take you. How will he respect you?” Adesuwa was livid.
“Na respect I go chop? Abeg free me jare and talk about better things”
She remembered that conversation when the news of her niece’s birth reached them as they bustled to make the compound presentable.
“God has done it for me!” her father shouted repeatedly
“Double miracle, Boom-Boom like cannon rocket fire. Uwese Osanobua” he’d clap his hands in a funny rhythm as he alternatively shouted and muttered to himself.
When the royal visitors came, he recounted how his daughter had a baby that morning although he didn’t mention that the child was illegitimate. He told them he had named the girl Goodluck because she brought Goodluck from heaven. The men and women bent their faces to hide their laughter, they felt sorry for the wretched man who lived in a cocoon woven from threads of fantasy and the silk of illusion.
Adesuwa interpreted their gestures correctly and was upset that they mocked her father so callously, he might have been greedy and dense but he was still her father.
Even Adesuwa was impressed by the gifts they brought for her, brought to marry her. She carried images of the sewing machines, deep freezer, two giant refrigerators, cartons of soap, boxes of clothes, racks of dried cod which everyone called “okporoko”; in her head for a very long time.
She had spent two long months in the palace before she summoned the courage to ask her eunuch Osaretin, about the women. There were six of them, all of them middle aged women. They would stand near the southern wall and sing heartbreakingly sad songs about finding love and losing it in the cruellest manner possible.
“Who are they?” She whispered to him on a Saturday morning after she’d stamped down her curiosity for too long.
“Why do you ask?” he begun tracing patterns on the soil with his staff.
“Because I am curious.”
“Curiosity is not a good thing in women, remember how Eve was curious about the apple.
“O! Will you stop calling it an apple!” she snapped.
“What should I call it Queen Adesuwa? An orange?”
She lowered her head in consternation, he only called her Queen when she’d upset him. Osaretin was about the same age and build as her beloved Fredrick, the same Fredrick who had calmly allowed her leave his life and even asked her to remember him in her kingdom. He didn’t even pretend to be sad, he just said it was her destiny to be royalty.
“They are the wives of the former ruler, the father of your husband” He said finally.
“But they are so young!” She cried, “They must have been young enough to be his granddaughters!”
He looked at her pointedly and her heart fell to her stomach.
“I can’t live like that”
“It is not a bad life, they live in the lap of luxury and get anything they want,” his voice was weary
“But they are confined to this walls, their husband is dead, he has been dead for more than thirty years. Are you telling me that they haven’t felt the touch of love in all those years?”
“You can’t miss what you have never known” he said curtly.
“You mean, you mean…” She stammered.
“Have you felt the touch of love, Adesuwa? Have you writhed with the passion that a man and a woman shares?” His voice was rough and his eyes blazed.
“But he has been sick, when he recovers…” She scratched her head.
“No wonder they say women have fish brains, can’t you see things as they truly are?”
“I cannot imagine the alternative, I’d rather die than become a wailing wailer like these women.”
He stretched his left hand to her but let it fall before it touched her, she turned her back to him and walked to her chambers slowly while he watched her. When she was out of sight, he looked to the sky and asked God for help.
Two weeks later Itohan came to the palace to see her sister, she was to collect money for her father’s surgery and school fees for their younger siblings, their brother Efosa came with her but he was only allowed to see her in the general courtyard, he couldn’t even hug her. When Adesuwa asked Itohan to follow her to her room, she raised an eyebrow but Adesuwa’s resolute face brooked no questions.
“Give this bag to Mama, don’t let Papa see it. There’s money in it, plenty money; Mama will give you two hundred thousand naira to start a trade with. The money will come in bits, fifty thousand first and as you need money she will give you. I know you said you cannot trade but please look for something that even YOU can do. My niece cannot grow up how we did, in the kind of poverty that we were immersed in from birth.”
“Uwese Sister!” Irohan gushed.
“I will call Mama and tell her how to disburse the rest of the money but please ensure that the money is well managed and that all our siblings will go to school and live good lives.”
“Sister why are you talking like this?”
“Itohan no one knows tomorrow, anyway I have paid all their school fees to the end of secondary school at Maria Goretti”
“Adesuwa that must cost heaven and earth” Itohan barely managed to whisper.
“Tell Mama that I’ll call her in the evening, tell Efosa that I am so happy ab0ut his admission at Uniben. Ask him to come to the palace tomorrow so that he and my eunuch will go to the bank to open an account for him, his expenses per year will come from there.”
Itohan fell to her knees and thanked her sister, Adesuwa said nothing but her eyes were bright, very bright and wet. When Itohan told her mother all that transpired, her mother said nothing. She collected the bag solemnly and counted out fifty thousand naira and gave Itohan who was too excited to notice the tears staining her mother’s cheeks.
On the day Adesuwa was buried, it was so hot that people wondered if the ozone layer had finally given way. No one from the palace was there, even her maidens were not allowed to attend the burial of a woman who had killed herself and the priests were cleansing the palace so that the king’s recently departed soul would not encounter any problems as a result of the abomination. The ceremony was short, there was no reception or party of any kind and no one shed a tear to avoid the wrath of the gods.
Her name was scrubbed off from the records of the wives of the Oba and it was forbidden for anyone to make any kind of reference to her, her apartment was razed and a shrine to the god of war was erected on that site. Osaretin left the palace and was never heard from again, discovering her body and dispatching it for burial in the river of the goddess of the sea was enough to make a man lose his mind and he was also quickly forgotten by the inhabitants of the palace.
At the time Adesuwa was buried, Martina was sitting on a bar stool and tapping her left leg against the counter. Her back was to the beach and to the bright blue waters of the Atlantic, it felt almost sacrilegious for her to enjoy the scenery while her best friend was lowered into the earth but Adesuwa had made her promise that she’d go come to this place for her birthday. At the time she’d thought that Adesuwa’s wistful expression was because she couldn’t come with her, she was imprisoned in opulence after all. The silly idiot was probably already planning her death, Martina thought bitterly.
She hit the counter surface with such force that the barkeeper looked at her in alarm, she waved at him dismissively and continued to fume. She was certain that on judgement day, the first thing she would do would be to give Adesuwa seven brain resetting slaps and then hold her for eternity and a couple of extra eternities just in case one wasn’t enough
“There’s someone waving at you from the beach” The barkeeper’s voice floated into her daydream.
“I don’t know anyone here and I do not intend to socialize”
“She’s still waving Madame” his heavy French accent grated on her nerves and she raised her head to tell him to stuff his information at the posterior end of his alimentary tract when a flash of white from the beach caught her eye.
“I thought she said she didn’t know anyone here” Francoise said through curled lips as he watched her run towards the slim figure on the beach.