Nna anyi (our husband) doesn’t look particularly happy. Whenever he is in such mood, the children go into hiding. Even the goats and chickens in our compound keep quiet. I wish he could to open up to me. But I am not in a position to ask. No, not now…probably not anymore. My hands tremble as I place his meal in a tray and head for the obi (a roofed spot mainly for relaxation).
As his first, I now wonder if I have lost my place. Perhaps I no longer appeal to him as I once used to. This makes me pause on the way. My eyes fall on my bosom, then on my hips. It’s sometimes sad knowing he has two other wives now, very sad acknowledging that they both are younger and can cook him tasty meals and as well service him with more vigor and enthusiasm. Womanhood – what more can tradition ask of other women in similar position to mine?
In the obi, I curtsey and place the tray before him.
“What is this?”
“Ogbono and pounded yam, Nna anyi.”
He looks at me, down at the tray, and back.
God, I hope he doesn’t make me regret preparing ogbono soup. Thankfully he motions for me to hand him the bowl half-filled with water. This is a good sign that a man wants to eat what you have cooked. But I must not be quick to draw any conclusions yet. Nna anyi’s eyes are fixed on me as he begins to wash his hands. I can’t stand his gaze so I turn away. But it’s of no good. I find myself sliding once again into a state of want. Such has been my case for more than three-market days. I start to steal glances at him, at his strong arms and broad chest. And then I feel it—a warm heat gathering between my thighs. I realize how much I miss him. How I used to be—
“Take it away.”
“Yes—yes.” I instinctively reach for the bowl.
It is customary for a woman to sit by while her husband eats the food she has prepared. By doing so, she shows total submission and love for him. So I wait. He forms the first ball of pounded yam in his palm, dips it in the soup, and swallows.
My anticipation peaks.
I search his face for an answer, but end up with none. He is yet to utter a word about his meal. I follow the second white ball until it disappears in his mouth. All of a sudden, he starts coughing. Baffled, I quickly pour water into a cup and move over to his side. I urge him to drink, but he directs the cup away.
“But, Nna anyi, I—”
“Do as I said!”
I obey. Walking away with a sense of rejection is heavy. Even as I leave, I can’t help but turn to check if he is getting any better. Unfortunately he seems not. He doesn’t even look my way. In my hut, I slump beside my bamboo bed and begin to cry. It has been two full moons since I cooked for Nna anyi. Now that it’s my turn again, is this the way it goes down? Serving him an unpalatable meal means I have broken a marital vow. I am bound by tradition to appease him. Killing a white cock in order to do so doesn’t bother me that much. I fear for the larger consequence: what if he refuses to eat my food anymore, what if he decides to keep away from me from now on? This makes me sob out. I immediately get hold of myself when I hear the other women laugh rather mockingly. I want to go out and tell them to mind their own business. But how can I boldly confront them now that he would rather have them than me?
Light floods my hut. I spring to my feet.
“Where are our girls?” Nna anyi asks.
“They’re on an errand.”
The cloth serving as a door drops behind him.
“Where exactly?” His voice is closer now, and calm.
“The stream. I sent them to…”
I melt under his first touch. In the near darkness, his face is all I want to see now. Has anger left him, did he finally get to eat his food? He pulls me towards himself and I feel his hardness. His hands find their way around my back and slowly begin to untie my wrapper.
“The king has invited me to a naming ceremony. Would you like to accompany me?”
Author’s Note: This passage reflects the position of the Ibo Woman (in most Ibo communities) prior to the colonization of Nigeria by the British. Though love and submission is still encouraged in every Ibo marriage, certain traditions/rules are hardly common as they demean, or do not allow a woman to express herself freely.
In the real sense of the word Nna anyi means our father. But it is culturally accpetable among Ibos for a woman to address her husband as such.