Edited by: Darlene Jones
After a close look at the roasted gazelles drooping from the ends of the pole across Ibeabuchi’s shoulder, Okuoba said, “They’re big—very big. Our hunters hardly find such during this period. This should make you a proud man and your family will enjoy feasting for some time to come.”
Ibeabuchi shook his head in nervous excitement. “These are not for them. Neither are they for trade.”
He let the meat slide onto the nearby grass.
“You must be joking.” Okuoba’s brow creased in disbelief. Another look at the roast and she asked, “What do you intend to do with them, then? They’re not rams, goats, or fowls and therefore are not sacrificially acceptable to the gods. Above all, they have already been killed.”
Ibeabuchi clasped his hands and then leaned in with an ear to ear grin. “They’re for you.”
Okuoba’s eyelids fluttered. Such magnanimity toward her was his first. Nevertheless, she placed his large family before herself. “Thank you. But … I think your family needs them more than I do.”
She blinked a sign to the servant girls beside her to continue with her toward her father’s farms.
“Look”—Ibeabuchi stepped in her way—“It’s true I’ve not yet dropped by to offer my condolences to your family. But presenting you with a gift first isn’t entirely a bad approach. Or is it?”
Okuoba heaved a sigh.
The recollection of her loss had just filled her mind with a nostalgic vibe; a yearning to spend time again—even if it was brief—with her protective brother. She let her vision travel in the direction of Dubem and the other servants clearing the field of her father’s largest farmland; dry grasses had been heaped here and there and firewood gradually gathered in bunches. She hoped that with her eyes still averted, this would hint to Ibeabuchi of her lack of interest in what he was offering. By the gods, there were many mouths to feed in his father’s house; it was hard to imagine that they would go from season to season without voicing their discontent at the little they had. Ibeabuchi’s family, unlike hers, didn’t have the luxury of slaughtering an animal for meat every fortnight. To top it all what would her father, a man of inflexible purpose, say to such a gesture especially now that she was full-grown? Her father hadn’t spoken well of Ibeabuchi since she was a child.
Ibeabuchi used his frame as an obstruction to Okuoba’s view again, causing her to look up at him.
“Please…” he said.
“No. I can’t.”
He wrinkled his nose. “You’re angry. I can see that.”
“Angry?” A chuckle escaped Okuoba’s lips. “With you? There is no reason why I should be.”
“Then why do you refuse the gift?”
“I’m…” Okuoba caught herself. She hadn’t expected Ibeabuchi to press further.
She scratched a side of her plait, pretending to sooth an itchy spot on her head while her mind searched quickly for a way to consolidate on the reason behind her refusal.
“Your siblings, half-brothers and sisters … they all need this. How do you think they would feel if I, a wealthy man’s daughter, am the sole beneficiary of such gift from you? Surely you don’t expect news of this kill to be hidden from them forever. You and I know that a hunter’s success—no matter how small—moves so fast around the village like a wind.”
Ibeabuchi tilted his head. A contentious smile spread across his lips as he asked: “And what if I tell you that my family is feasting already on another kill?”
Okuoba didn’t know what else to say; it was clear to her now that she was boxed in. She searched his face desperately for the slightest sign of falsehood, came up empty. His dishevelled look was just another story. The unkemptness of his beard and hair were rather the evidence of a man who had been away from home for sometime, a man who had been so engulfed hunting that he seemed to forget his looks.
“Can’t I still give you something—at least for old time sake?”
A couple of beats passed and her shoulders slumped in acquiescence. She asked the servant girls to take up the meat and head for the largest of her father’s farms. “Ibeabuchi, thank you once again for your immense generosity.”
Okuoba offered a weak smile. “I’ve to go now. My mo—”
Ibeabuchi restrained her. His grip around her arm was strong, his fingers digging into her flesh. “I’ve something important to tell you. You’ll do well to hear it.”
Surprise soon turned into anxiety for Okuoba. She tried to stay composed on the outside, though. “What is it?”
Ibeabuchi released his grip and gestured with both hands. “Let’s walk.”
Pointing to one of the udala trees standing close to her father’s largest farm, she said, “We can sit over there.”
“No. Someone may be listening.”
Part Eight||Part Nine