We Are Not Cursed #17

PART SEVENTEEN

Edited by: Darlene Jones 

An Igbo compound in pre-colonial times (pic source: nairaland.com)
An Igbo compound in pre-colonial times (pic source: nairaland.com)

Placing the mat beside her father, Okuoba sat down on it and fixed her gaze on him. She had always viewed her father, Ichie Umeh, as an intelligent man, a fighter who would give his all for a just cause. At this delicate moment when her family was focused on finding her brother’s killer, she wondered if her father had come to seek her own advice on the matter. She was just a female and going by tradition, her view should only be applicable to relatively lighter issues.

“I remember the day you were born. Afor, it was. On that day, I was working over there with your uncle and some of the older servants.” Umeh gently pointed in the direction of the large barn in their backyard. “Upon hearing that your mother had gone into labour, we abandoned the ongoing construction of the barn.” A smile lightened up his mood a bit. “Your arrival was met with joyful shouts and dancing by the midwives.”

When his eyes locked on Okuoba’s, a chuckle escaped his lips. “My daughter, you came during a season of plenty. Our biggest harvest. Ever.”

The feeling of being special washed over Okuoba. But she couldn’t get herself to brag about this. She never had.

The birth of a child during a bountiful harvest was of great significance to her people. Her mother, she recalled, took much delight in narrating the same story. Lasting blessing from the gods, she called it. No wonder she was named Oku oba—fire of a barn. In other words, her name meant keeper of good fortune.

“Your happiness and safety means the world to me. What would have become of us if you had been abducted?”

“We owe my rescue to Dubem—he acted very bravely. We ought to thank him properly, Papa.”

The near-cheerful look on Umeh’s face recessed into a frown. He took a long deep breath and turned away. With his thumb he scooped some tobacco from his snuff box, waited as if he was now contemplating further indulgence in the dry dark-brown substance. Replacing the tobacco in its container, he focused ahead, tight-lipped and serious.

Okuoba was perplexed. She couldn’t understand the reason for her father’s abrupt withdrawal and silence. Curiosity, however, compelled her to lean forward.

“Papa?”

“He’s just a servant.”

“He saved my life. What difference does it make if my rescuer were someone else, a freeman to be precise?”

Her father glared at her. The look instantly made her feel like the servants working for him—they were entirely subservient.

“I’m sorry, Papa.” Okuoba lowered her head. With slightly trembling hands she began to stroke the light brown fur of the wrapper, made from goat pelt, which covered her lower region. “I regret the rudeness,” she added.

She stole a glance at her father, this time, wondering if his paternal gaze—still fixed on her—meant that he perceived that there was more behind her question.

Could he sense her budding love for Dubem? That, of course, had fuelled her assertion about the young servant. If so, did such desire please him? Would he go ahead and give her to Dubem in marriage? Her heart constricted at the thought that the male servant could be exiled or beheaded because of her.

“It’s all right, child. You’re entitled to your own opinion.”

A reddish-brown bird, almost the size of a pigeon, perched on a side of the dwarf mud barrier surrounding the obi. After a brisk short movement, it beaked the insides of it wings, then made a cursory inspection of the father and daughter. It chirped briefly before fluttering away. Until it was out of sight, Okuoba was stuck admiring its dynamism and ebullient nature. How she wished she could experience that same freedom. To bare her intimate feelings and not to be bound by the traditions governing marriage in her village.

“I blame myself for your brother’s death.”

Okuoba cocked her head. “I don’t understand.”

She watched as her father closed his snuff box and placed it on the floor. He crossed his legs and placed both hands on his thighs. “I shouldn’t have sent him on that errand …”

Feeling she now had a grasp of what he meant, she said, “Papa, it’s not your fault. Whoever went on the errand would’ve been killed. Really, that’s the way I see it.”

Umeh coughed. Grimaced while tapping his chest. “Let me explain: Your brother and a few servants were sent as an entourage to welcome a group of men from Isiochie village. As those men and I had earlier agreed, they were coming with the intention of formally asking for your hand in marriage.”

Okuoba couldn’t believe her ears. She was stunned that such detail had been kept away from her this long. Even though by custom it wasn’t her exclusive right to pick her marriage partner, she thought she at least deserved to know about the intentions of these visitors before now. To make it even harder for her to bear, her brother had been murdered in the process.

Looking remorseful, her father compressed his lips into a thin line and gesticulated with raised hands. “So you see … it’s all my fault. I thought that if I gave you as a wife to a wealthy man’s son from any of the neighbouring villages, that would help create an alliance between both villages—perhaps save our bloodline in an event of war or epidemic. But as it stands, I don’t think that’s possible. Maybe it is the will of the gods all along that your husband should come from our village, so that people may also refer to you as Nwa Ada—just like your mother and the other women, who bear the same name because they were born here and are married to men from this village.”

Umeh positioned his body to face Okuoba. With bent elbows resting on his thighs, he leaned forward, concern in his eyes. “My daughter, after the Mputa ezi ceremony, it’s widely expected that you and other maidens will get married. It’s my duty to give you in marriage to a nice man, who is not just responsible, but is also rich. I regret not telling you about the intentions of those men from Isiochie. But I’d like to make things right by being open with you this time: I’ve arranged for your marriage. Your would-be husband will be at the Mputa ezi ceremony.”

 PART 16||PART 17

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32 thoughts on “We Are Not Cursed #17

  1. I enjoyed reading the exchange between father and daughter, the hint of tenderness as Umeh admitted his guilt and his attempt to make things better by telling Okuoba about his intentions for her marriage. Poor Okuoba, bound by tradition, longing to be as free as a bird. Though born in a different time, many women today are still bound by limiting traditions.

    I feel sad for the love birds- Okuoba and Dubem. Perhaps it is not meant to be… or perhaps we will see. I’m hopelessly romantic! Until next week, well done Uzoma.

    1. You reward me with such a heartwarming comment. Truly, women are still bound by certain traditions — not just in marriage alone. This brings us to “gender equality and rights for women.” These issues should be given greater priority than what is present in certain countries.

      I feel for Okuoba and Dubem. Fate served them a “meal” they couldn’t resist. Now, it threatens to take this away from them. How sad!

      Thanks for taking the time to read this part — I feared the length would be a set back.

  2. Beautifully written, I felt the bond between the two, but thank God those traditions are now a thing of the past. I wonder how I would feel if my parents had chosen my husband for me!!! I wonder who Umeh had chosen for Okuoba… I love the progression of the story Uzoma. Great job brother!! 🙂

    1. I am delighted to learn that your parents didn’t choose your husband for you. I wouldn’t be happy if mine took such a key decision for me. Well, thanks to education and modernization — certain traditions have staked.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, sis. Blessings.

    1. Ha! It’s been a while, Phil. I am doing OK and hope all is well with you. Now you are back (’cause I observed you’ve not posted for sometime), I will definitely head over to your blog for some good reads.

      1. It’s great to hear from you. I had been away from these streets for a while, but I am back. Keep up the great writing.

  3. I appreciate how you have crafted this so skillfully and thoughtfully, Uzoma: offering a couple of succinct reminders of the major players; changing the dynamic of the dialogue with the bird, that then serves as a symbol for Okuoba; humanizing Umeh with his disclosures to his daughter, and of course, the description of local traditions (love this part!). Like your other readers, I am pulling for Dubem–perhaps a little deus ex machina (er, deus ex Uzoma :))? As always, you leave me with the compelling cliffhanger–cannot wait to read the next chapter. Bravo, my friend.

    1. Oh dear, oh dear, I read your comment over and over again, smiling, nodding my head in appreciation of your wonderful comment. No doubt, each chapter/part comes with its own demands and in order to make the narrative believable (at least, I hope that is what it is) one must pay attention to details in and around the characters involved.

      Deus ex machina … hmm. I love that! Dubem fits the description and though he’s not my favorite character (’cause I have a natural love for “bad” characters in fiction), his role is vital to how the rest of this story goes.

  4. This episode brought to the fore paternal authority and Okuoba’s ready apology to Umeh for being “rude”. As an Asian, I can understand such family hierarchy and the father picking his daughter’s husband. Obviously, its all changed now, here as I’m sure in Nigeria too.

    If one has been following this story and imbibing all the nuances, one should not be aghast regarding the bombshell Umeh dropped – that he’s decided on a husband for Okuoba.

    I wonder who it can be –

    1. Oh I never knew that such tradition once existed in Asia, too — thanks for the enlightenment. Yes, the tradition of a father choosing marriage partners for his sons or daughters no longer exists in Nigeria, though the unmarried can ask for parental help in finding their marriage partners.

      Fate may have been cruel at some point to Umeh and his family, but it is the strong-willed that pull through. As the writer, I somehow feel for his daughter.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this rather long episode. I am so grateful.

  5. Back to following and itching to see Okuoba’s reaction to who ever her father has chosen. Uzor is there going to be hope for Dubem at all? By the way, I love his name- Dubem.

    1. Hello Funmi,

      It is so good to see you here again! As it stands we can only cling to a fragile hope that things will eventually swing in Dubem’s favour.

      I am SO happy you like Dubem as a name because I do, too. It is the short for Chidubem/Chimdubem, which means ‘May God lead me/May my God lead me.’ Back then it meant ‘May the gods lead me/May my god lead me.’

      Thanks for your unwavering interest in my storym

  6. Oh I have much to catch up with, Uzoma, cliffhangers in both directions since I’ve been out of the blogging world! I especially enjoyed Okuoba’s focus on the twittering bird during the tension of conversation.

  7. Ichie Umeh’s fear that his daughter would become déclassé by marrying a servant is palpable. There also seems to be echoes of the Eleusinian Mysteries both in the bountiful harvest and the abduction, albeit foiled.

    1. Well said, Prospero. Fate has dealt a severe blow on Umeh’s family. He can only hope that some sort of respite will come when he gives his daughter away in marriage. To the right man, of course.

  8. Nicely written. Very quiet and tender between them, even with Okuoba’s inability to talk with her father about her feelings for Dubem. The big questions are, of course, who has her father chosen for her and how will she escape a marriage she doesn’t want???

    1. Hellooo Allyson!!! *missed you and your blog*

      I’m happy your felt the emotions pouring in despite the restraint caused by the African tradition. We can only hope that Okuoba is given to the right man, or else … ?

      1. Hello to you, too, Uzoma! Ah, Okuoba has a way to go yet, I fear (the Reader in me hopes she will be given the right man, but the Writer in me knows it cannot be so simple).

        I missed you, too. I hope all has been well with you.

        1. All is well — thanks for asking. I’ve been pretty busy with work. But I am happy I’ve returned to read the blogs I follow, the blog I love — yours inclusive.

  9. I’m glad to be back to this story, Uzo. It felt like drinking fresh palm wine after such of a long time of being lost in the wilderness; it’s really been long time since I read a story or book.

    I like the exchange between father and daughter. Now I can’t wait to see who Umeh has chosen for his daughter. Good job, bro. 🙂

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