PS: My apologies for posting this installment a day late. I had issues with my ISP yesterday. Anyways, enjoy…
Edited by: Darlene Jones
Amaefuna stopped his pottery wheel at the sight of his son approaching. With a small keg of palm wine clutched to his hairy chest Ibeabuchi staggered into the workshop, which was a thatched roof on four poles, his head swaying as if it was the burden he was trying to balance. “So Ichie Umeh doesn’t want me to marry his daughter?”
It had been more than two market days since Ibeabuchi, a lone hunter, was last seen. What was once the outline of his round face was gone, leaving behind sharp cheek bones, bloodshot eyes and beard as dark as the wild unkempt hair that covered his skull.
“I don’t remember telling you such a thing.” Amaefuna washed his mud-covered hands in a bowl of water before rising, a mixed feeling of care and concern taking root. “But then, this is not the ideal time to talk about Okuoba. We can’t make a marriage proposal to her family while they are still in mourning.”
“Nonsense!” Ibeabuchi smashed the keg on the floor.
Amaefuna’s eyes popped wide in surprise. Worried that someone else might have heard the resulting thud, he threw a glance at the road. To his chagrin, curious eyes looked back at him. He waved a hand in a dismissive manner to the passers-by who tried to get nosy.
When there was no one else in sight, Ibeabuchi came forward with an angry frown. “My mates are no longer in the care of their fathers. They’re now men with their own children … men who enjoy the warmth of their women whenever they choose.”
Amaefuna couldn’t understand what had gotten into his son’s head. However, he found himself afraid and racing for the right words to say. “I can arrange a quick marriage if you…,” he forced down saliva, “I mean, I can arrange with other friends of mine whose dau—”
Ibeabuchi raised a finger. “Don’t you ever!”
Ibeabuchi inched toward him again. “So you no longer find me worthy of her?”
Any further move backwards would knock down the earthenware freshly made. Amaefuna looked over his shoulder at his precious creations and then at his son—this time, meeting a set of ominous eyes that dared to eat into his soul. At this horrible point, his fear was so intense he could easily swear that the one who had just cornered him between his earthenware and jars of fresh water wasn’t his son—the first male child of the many children his three wives had born him.
“You … you need to calm down.”
“And watch as she becomes another man’s wife?” Ibeabuchi loomed over him. “I’ll claim what’s mine!”
Frozen with fear, Amaefuna stared at his son as he lumbered away.
“Okuoba, my love,” Ibeabuchi began to say, moving his hands languidly in the air as if caressing her face, “neither the sun nor moon can keep us apart. This fire inside me … it burns because of you.”
When his son was more than three feet away from the workshop, Amaefuna felt his old self return. He retrieved his voice and called out. “Ibe! Ibe, come back here! I say ‘come back here!’”
The human frame thinning away in the distance was his answer.
It was a father’s responsibility to find a marriage partner for his child. This abiding norm had seen Amaefuna choose Okuoba for his son, with the hope that both children would end up someday as a couple. To ensure that this was embraced in time, he’d drummed Okuoba’s name into Ibeabuchi’s head even before the young man hit puberty. To anyone else in the community, this was true parenting, hence one of the ways a man showed regard for the customs of his people. For Amaefuna, it was beyond the prospect of marriage. It was his best chance of keeping his entire family together—he had been wary of the size of his household, especially his many male sons. He’d feared that if he should wake up someday in the afterlife, his would find his male children fighting over his one piece of land. Coaxing his rich friend, Umeh, into allowing his daughter to be a wife to Ibeabuchi would help avert this looming war.
Amaefuna settled down on his low stool again. He wetted some clay and then threw it at the wheel with intent to continue from where he had stopped. But after spinning the wheel, he found himself in lag time. He could no longer find a good rhythm to his work—his heart and head had just gone to war over the possibility that Okuoba would not be a wife to his son. Long before now, Umeh, on three separate instances, had downplayed that their children should end up as a couple.
Amaefuna thought: Could there be another suitor for Okuoba; one who has Umeh’s interest?
The day’s work had to stop. He would have to address his son’s outburst. But first, Umeh had questions to answer.
Picking up his goatskin bag, another wave of thought hit him: Is Ibeabuchi already aware of this suitor? Has that knowledge now driven him to the edge of madness?
Part Six||Part Seven