They told him to take off his shirt. He obeyed. Next was his trousers. He hesitated for a while. He wanted to question their intention, but on a second thought regarded it as rude and inappropriate. If this was part of what their culture required, so be it. He was here for her. It was all that mattered. They rubbed some drying oil on his body before asking him to step out into the open where the rest of the villagers were gathered for the marriage ceremony.
Sighting her in the midst of her parents and siblings, his smiled. His heart began to dance in joyous circles. But it stopped the moment he realized that he was not the only one seeking her hand in marriage. As they tied him to a pole, he fixed his gaze on her other suitor—a man from among her people.
The villagers waited for the harmattan sun to appear. They let it come down hard on both men.
She loves me. I know she does, he repeatedly told himself.
She tried to smile whenever their eyes met. But he couldn’t understand why her eyes were teary as well. Perhaps her love for him was beyond words. Her father finally came up to where he was tied and asked him if he was prepared to marry her daughter. His boldly affirmed his desire. The question went for the other man and he replied the same. Without much ado then, the girl’s father asked the whip bearers to step forward.
So it has finally come to this? All because of you, my love…
He wanted her reassurance; he wanted her to look at him again. But she didn’t. She couldn’t stand the sight of what the man behind him was about to do. The whip rose at mid-air and descended with so much force on his back. He gritted his teeth and stiffened up his muscle in determination. The next one came with the same force and his body writhed. He sucked in air and tried to hold back from crying for he would lose her if he did break before the fiftieth lash.
Ten, eleven, twelve…thirty-two. The thirty-third lash almost caused his eyes to jump out from their sockets. His body quivered so badly. Tears, more tears began to blur his vision. He clenched his fingers in tight fists as he battled hard to stay on his feet.
I won’t cry. No, I won’t…cry.
The girl’s father, indifferent to his pain, squared off in front of him and asked if he was still willing to marry his daughter. He managed to nod. Two older women wiped his face with plantain leaves soaked in water. Thereafter, he saw her. Strong hands restrained her from coming to comfort him. The more she cried, the more the villagers urged the whip bearer to continue.
He called out her name. She did the same. Forty-seven brought him to his knees. Forty-eight finally broke his will. It all started with a sob. And as the villagers all began to laugh he broke down and cried.
It felt like a curse, but he certainly watched as the other man withstood all the lashes until the fiftieth. The villagers praised their own and quickly handed him their daughter. They handed the other man what he defined as true love. He watched as she went away with the crowd—a village blind to the modern way of life.