Here is a new story I wrote for The Musty Corner. It was edited and published by them first, but I decided to publish it here also because i do not want to deny you wonderful people the chance to read this story which i enjoyed writing so much.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much.
A few months ago Priye thought she was the luckiest woman alive. The state of utmost contentment she was in made her not to want anything else or aspire to a greater situation. She felt fulfilled, happy, satisfied – quite complacent if you like, but she was comfortable with that. Everything was good.
In the present moment only the presence of Santan gives her anything close to joy, one that is pathetic when compared to her previous state.
Clingy, selfish, demanding Santan. Priye was not unaware of the look of irritation bestowed on Santan when people thought she wasn’t looking. If she was another’s offspring, not hers, Priye would have felt and acted the same way, but there’s something about the love a mother has for her child. It does not diminish, not even if the child were born with horns and a tail. Only a mother will understand this feeling.
Closing the hard cover book she held and stiffening momentarily at the noise it made, Priye set it down on the small purple plastic table beside the bed and looked down at the face beneath hers. Flat, winged nose, set in the center of a face so black, tiny rosebud lips bracketed by round cheeks, Santan was so beautiful in an unconventional way. Priye let her hand rest lightly on the thick tangled mane atop her daughter’s head that broke combs and elicited screams until they were left alone to lock on their own.
The Elf and the Shoemaker was tonight’s story. Other children fell asleep when bedtime stories were read to them, not Santan. She stayed up, asking questions and demanding you read them several times over. Six times it was read tonight and her eyes were still bright and distant, like she was seeing the story in her head. Priye resorted to taking the easy way out and began to blow air into her eyes until she blinked and slept off.
“Dream of angels.” Mother wished before her child was delivered into the grip of sleep.
“No. I will dream of daddy then when I wake up he will be back.” She countered.
Santan was at a stage where there was no demarcation between dreams and reality; fantasy and real life. She believed she could imagine anything and it would be. Priye had always encouraged her. This time she didn’t, but she didn’t discourage her either.
She kept the situation with her father away from Santan, letting her believe instead that he was still in Germany and will be back to visit. It was disconcerting for her to deal with the change in her life and she hoped she could keep very little from changing in her daughter’s life, but that choice was about to be taken from her.
When you marry a man you marry his whole family, every African woman knows this, but Priye was coming to realize that when you are no longer married to a man, you do not instantly stop being viewed by his family as their wife.
The first time Chetachim’s mother saw her wedding finger free of a ring, she eyed Priye and told her “I’m sure you know that we have not demanded wine back from your family. You are not a single woman.”
When Priye travelled for the ceremony to take off her mourning garb, this realization was made to sink in. The night before she was to return home, Mma walked around clucking and hissing and when it appeared that Priye was not reading the signs of her disapproval finally decided to use her words.
“Who are you going to meet in Abuja, mgbo? This is where you are meant to live now.”
Fear and outrage kept Priye mute for a long time as she realized what was being demanded of her. Her desire to return to Abuja, to all that was familiar heightened, leading to panic. Her daughter was left with her mother before she travelled, to the annoyance of her mother-in-law. Priye explained to her that it was because she did not want Santan to know of her father’s death, but in truth she had done it because she feared they might try to take her.
Pretending the suggestion was not distasteful to her she tried to reason with Mma, telling her that they needed to sort things out in Abuja first and that it will not be helpful to pull Santan out of school in the middle of a session. Mma had agreed but told her not to take long. She had other duties to fulfill.
“As an only son Chetachim cannot be without a son. Is this how his name and lineage will just disappear? Who will take over this compound when I’m gone?”
Priye did not see how that could be remedied. Cheta was dead and had been buried for six months.
“Mma, if Cheta had lived maybe we might have had a son.”
It was then that Mma revealed to her a way through which the Ezeora surname could be revived. Priye was to remain in Cheta’s family as his wife, get pregnant and bear a son who will bear the family’s name. Mma delivered this monologue with a straight face, like her suggestion was as commonplace as feeding.
When Priye jumped from her seat, incredulity slacking her jaw, Mma shouted her down and told her she wouldn’t be the first to do it. She cited examples, calling names of others in the village who had done it.
“Vicky was married for Anyannaya after he died. After. She never knew her husband for one day, but what has happened today? She has given Mgboye many grandchildren, male and female and you are here doing sme sme. Did I tell you that I will be the one to choose the man for you? Give us a son, no. Now get a man to plant his seed in you, but you are doing like a woman that has never known a man.”
Forgetting courtesy, Priye told Mma that she would prefer to give up her rights as Cheta’s wife than live as they wanted her to. Mma threatened to find someone else who will be willing and that every property of Cheta’s presently controlled by Priye will go to the new woman. That was how they parted that day. Mma did not stir as Priye prepared to leave the next day, neither did she answer when Priye went in to tell her goodbye.
Mma made good on her threat. Emissaries from the Ezeora family came to the house in Abuja one month after. Priye was given till Christmas to hand over everything that belonged to Cheta. She did not mind giving up the life she had become acclimated to, but there was one she could never let go of and the pending loss filled her with dread.
When dejection began to threaten her ability to function, she considered calling Ichie Ikenga, the most revered chief in the town and her nnaochie, to intervene, but she dreaded the outcome.
Though his children were Priye’s closest cousins, Ichie Ikenga is a man who prides himself on upholding customs without sentiments. She knew from experience that once the elders sat and reached a conclusion on any case it was final and not even the law of the English people could rescind it. And from experience also, she suspected what direction their judgment would lean towards.
The first time she had been dissatisfied enough to question the decision of the elders, she had been a little more than a child, newly intrigued by the image of her fast growing breasts in the mirror that she gazed at it often, lost to all else. That day, conversation between her mother and another nwaada resident in Abuja drifted in to rouse her from her fixation.
Nwakanma, a young widow and mother of three, though lacking in comeliness, had surprised all by having suitors vying to court her just after her mourning period. Taking a likeness to one of them, she expected everything else to go smoothly with the blessing of the family she now belong to, instead they had put their foot down and wondered what more she could possibly want from a man when she already had two sons and a daughter.
The elders got involved and, after three months of deliberation, reached the decision that they would not want to stop her if marriage was what she wanted. Marry if you must, but leave the children for the owners of the children.
Priye frothed at the mouth, her helplessness to change the situation weakening her. They were her children too, she reasoned, as though her protest in her room could reach the elders or change their mind.
“If you think about it well, they are their father’s children. It is his name they bear.” Priye’s mother said. The lack of emotion on her face spoke of one who was unsatisfied with but resigned to this way.
“If it were me, no one will try that rubbish. Don’t I know how to run away with my children?” She declared and her mother was up, wiping her palm across the abomination spewing mouth, forcing her to take her words back before they went too far with the wind.
Priye said the words her mother wanted to hear, but in her thoughts kept repeating what she really meant.
Now it is happening to her. Better not to court the same outcome by calling on the elders.
There was only one person left, one person who will be fair and just, and above all, whose words will be revered by the elders.
Reverend Father Amos, a priest presiding over one of the parishes in Jabi district and a kinsman of Chetachi, listened to Priye as she related her plight. Her in-laws wanted to take her daughter, four year old Oritsejuremisantan who cried when anyone tried to carry her or take her away from her mother and found it hard to socialize with her peers. Her temperament stretched one’s patience to the limit and she was uncontrollable when she began to throw tantrums. Priye knew no one else could handle her moods without trying to break her. She could not trust anyone with the care of her daughter. She also could not bear to have her daughter grow up feeling like she abandoned her.
Father Amos was leafing through the Bible as she spoke and when she was done turned it to her and pointing to the words asked her to read aloud.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Her heart sank.
“Why are you tormenting yourself over nothing? Give the child to them. She is a girl after all, soon she will be married and it is you she will call to come for her omugwo. I am sure this is what your husband will ask you to do if he were here. It is what he will want.”
There was a time when Priye took pleasure in meeting Cheta’s wants, now watching Santan’s chest rise and fall, knowing she will be needing another story read to her tomorrow several times over, a need Mma would never humour, Priye decided the needs of Santan mattered more to her and that she must meet.
She left her daughter’s room for hers; her eyes taking in furniture and fittings which had become a part of the house that she had stopped noticing them; appreciating them more now that she was to give them up. Overcoming the temptation to bag the more portable of them, Priye put only the essentials into a box Cheta bought five years and some months ago as one of the required items in The List when he came to marry her.
She refused to dwell on the misery that thoughts of her dead husband evoked. Tomorrow they will be here to take Santan and lock up the house. She must leave with her daughter before dawn.
Determination comes with a certain arrogance, the type that makes one believe their case to be different from everyone else’s and that things will turn out different for them. Priye believed this too and did not stop to think thoroughly. If she had she would have wondered why this system has worked for generations. Was she the only mother with this idea of fleeing to keep her children with her? Will a family demand for what they consider theirs and sit back waiting for you to present them meekly like Abraham did with Isaac?
But Priye was not thinking, only acting out of desperation, unaware of what awaited her outside as she planned her escape. Downstairs, Garba stood at his post by the gate, eyes trained on Priye’s silhouette against the window upstairs as she packed, thumbs dialling on his new smartphone, a bribe from Jideofor, Cheta’s cousin, who told him to call if he noticed madam trying to leave. It is what Oga Cheta would want him to do. And call he did.