Chapter 2: LIFE AS A WIDOW
Finding herself on the horns of a dilemma, pushed to the wall by her present condition, and tempted to take the painful path, Obidiya regretted somehow marrying Eze her late husband in the first place. She wished the future was shown to her that all these would happened, she wouldn’t have tied the knot with him.
Back to her parents’ home, she strived to make ends meet but luck was not on her side. Her children had to change school even though it was the same reality; changing from one local community school to another. Yes, much financial demand was not high in her children’s schooling but she had to feed and clothe them as well.
Her parents were not all that buoyant enough to meet all her needs and want together with that of her children. They were only peasant farmers and petty traders in one of the village market called ahia nkwo (Nkwo Market). She involved herself in petty jobs like cutting of grasses for people in their farm, periodical weeding in people’s farms, and the like. Ashamed of what people might say, her father advised her instead of spending more time in his own farm activities, it would be better she engaged herself in other people’s own so that at the end of the day she would have some penny to live on.
“Mma when are we going back to our house?” Nnenna asked her mother one night while they were eating. She looked at her daughter with an eye of pity. The question was like a reminder to her that her decision not to leave with her late husband’s brother was like a mortal sin. “My lovely daughter, don’t worry, very soon we will go back,” she said. The look in Obi’s face was already a signalled to her that she was lying. Immediately, she asked them to take plates inside the kitchen and wash. This was to prevent any question coming from Obi that might look like a bombshell to shell because at least, he had a little knowledge of all that trespassed between his mother and his uncle Ani.
For three years, the rhythm of life had been the same with Obidiya. Going from one farm to another, cutting and weeding grasses. Things were not changing for good. As each day passed, she saw herself progressing in poverty and misery. Many were already making mockery of her. Her present condition made her to believe to a larger extent that her refusal not becoming a wife to her late husband’s brother was the cause of her present predicament. “But how can I live under the same roof with a man that killed my own husband? Even though it is a men’s world, we women still have some say apart from giving birth to children and looking after our homes,” she asked herself.
It got to a point that some of her friends started suggesting to her to go back to where she was supposed to be as demanded by their tradition. “Who knows if there, you will find the peace and comfort you are lacking now,” one of her friends told her. “Since he had gotten what he wanted, he might be lenient to me and my children,” she told herself.
One morning while Obi was working in the farm with his maternal uncle, he asked him: “Uncle, is true that it was uncle Ani that killed my father?”
“Will you keep your mouth shut! Who told you that? Don’t mind what people are saying. Only God knows who killed your father, my in-law,” he replied.
“But my mother told us that he was the one that killed my father.”
“How dare you say such a thing? Continue doing what you were doing, the sun will soon come out with all its strength.” He said to Obi.
He thought how obi would be feeling deep in him since he knew already the murderer of his father. He imagined him growing with such an idea in mind. “Who knows what he will do to Ani when he would come of age. Something must be done to reverse that idea in Obi’s mind,” he said to himself as they walked back home from the farm. He felt pity for Obi – a boy losing his father at that tender age and fully aware of the truth in the whole event.
Ani was living a peaceful live to the eyes of many even though people said there is no peace for the evil one. An opportunity given to him, he made very good use of the land property given to him. His barns were filled with tubes of yam of different species. Almost everything was at his beck and call. He ruled over his friends and even some members in the council of elders. He blinded them with wealth and gifts of different kinds. With this type of life style, the village authority was peace with him and they all forgot about the terrible crime committed in Eze’s house and the quest for the culprits.
Ani’s first wife Uzoamaka was not all that comfortable with her husband. Being the first wife, she had grown so hard in the heart and mind that confronting her husband was no more a problem to her as compared to the second wife. One day, she openly told her husband that nemesis would catch up with him if he didn’t resist in doing evil. That day, all hell broke loose. He nearly sent her to her untimely grave. The intention of his in-laws calmed the matter. Since then, Ani started confiding more on his second wife and gave her more privileges than the first. His second wife never interfered in any of his affairs whether good or bad, what she was only after the wealth of her husband and nothing more. For this, her husband saw her as the best wife.
Since the house of her late husband brother’s house was still empty, Uzoamaka told her husband that she would like to go there and live with her children. The thought came to her as a result of the ill treatments she had been receiving from her husband since the last time she confronted him. The idea was joyfully welcomed by Ani. At least, it would give him peace of mind and ample chances to enjoy his life with his second and beloved wife. A week after her decision, she left with her children to live alone in Eze’s house.
One night, while Uzoamaka was sleeping, she had a dream. In her dream, Eze appeared to her, pleading with her to help him look after his wife and children that they were suffering.
She saw herself asking Eze this question: “Why are too good? Can’t you revenge your death?”
“He is still my brother. I love him and will continue to love him,” Eze replied.
“But he was the one that killed you, that you know and your wife also is aware.”
“I know. But evil can never be repaid with evil, even though evil prevail sometimes in your world,” re retorted.
“Please help my family.” These words kept echoing in her dream and that was what woke her up. She thought it was real but later realised that it was only a dream. She felt like crying but didn’t allowed it to happen. “How can a man be so good even after death? God you must do something, otherwise our enemies will laugh us to scorn,” she murmured to herself with the fear that her children might hear her. Thereafter, she slept off.
Since Eke left for Nkerefi, his mother’s village still in the eastern part of Nigeria, nothing was heard from him. Obidiya thought of paying him a visit but her financial state was her only obstacle. She really pitied for him and his family. Eke was everything for her – a man who risk everything just to bring peace to her home but was only rewarded with evil. “Indeed evil has triumphed,” she said to herself while she cried bitterly. It pained her to see herself helpless in the whole situation. Nobody was there for her, nobody was bold enough to reverse the sentence given to him even though he was wrong. The main evil person was shielded and given glory, while the innocent one was condemned and rejected by all.
The tension and pressure were heavy on her. She found herself on the horns of a dilemma. She thought of going to the city to look for a better job. But who would look after her children? She asked herself. After thinking over the issue for some days, she made up her mind to share her thought with her parents.
Obi and Nnenna were not all that growing like their counterparts in the village. Obidiya knew very well the cause of their problem. Though sometimes she blamed it on the consistent malaria fever they normally had but the real problem lied in nutrition. The children were not eating very well. She was tempted to go asking for help from her late husband’s brother. “That would be the last thing you would do,” was the replied given to her by her father and other friends.
Relatives and friends took it upon themselves to help Obidiya after seeing how her children were badly fed. This happened one Xmas period, when almost all the family members returned home for the great feast. People gave her gifts of different kinds, even to the extent that she was tempted to tell herself that widowhood paid sometimes. The gift items she received that very period was enough to take care of their needs not excluding her aged parents.
Even while still having what to live upon for some time, the thought of going to the city to look for a better thing doing was still in her mind.
“Obi, go and buy some kerosene from Mama Ebuka.” A voice Obi heard while playing with his sister at the back of the house.
“With speed, he took the container and left. In a twinkle of an eye, he was already back.”
“Ewoo! Are you still here? Look at this poor creature I asked to buy me kerosene, smiling at him as if I am Father Christmas.”
“Mma, I am back,” he said to her.
“You are what? What is it in that container you are holding? Water or kerosene?” she asked.
“Is kerosene Mama,” he retorted. “Did you run or fly to mama Ebuka’s place?” she asked him. “Ah! Mama, I can run oh! That was how I ran with Nnenna that night those men came to our house,” he replied her with a beatific look and went to drop the kerosene in the kitchen.
The last reply of her son made her to freeze. She stood still like a tree, totally lost in her thought.
“Mama, any problem? Why are you standing like that?”
She immediately regained her full consciousness. “Yes, my son, there is no problem,” she said with a hunted look. Her mood that very day was totally different from other days. Again, she had been reminded by her own son, the very day cruelty visited her home and took away the other half of her life. As one who had been partially initiated into the new religion then, she believed that Olisa (God) would one day fight for her course.
One fateful day, Ani’s wife Uzoamaka came to pay a visit to Obidiya without her husband knowing. As a courageous woman, she was the type that suit the kind of characters her husband had and with this thought, she didn’t worry herself what would be her hate if her husband should come to know about her visit to his late brother’s wife.
She was given a warm welcome. “Our wife, hope all is well,” Obidiya said while giving her a seat. “What a surprised visit!” “Yes, indeed, it is,” she replied.
“Where are my children?” She asked. “They should be in the neighbours’ houses playing with their friends,” Obidiya said with a faint look. “Hope they are still going to school, even though villager teachers preferred sending the children to work in their farms instead teaching them.”
“My sister, they have turned their farms into classrooms for the wards. The other time, I heard my neighbour saying that over her dead body would she send her children again to that school due to her the teachers were exploiting the children. She said since the school classrooms were now farms, better for her children to work in her own farms, at least at the end of the day, she would be sure of getting something good out of it than working in teachers’ farms in the name of teaching and learning,” Obidiya said. Uzoamaka nearly fell to the ground while laughing. Later, remembered that she had almost forgot to greet her in-laws. Immediately, she dashed into the house waiting to hear a word from Obidiya.
“Ututu oma mma (good morning mother),” she said making a low bow. “Oh nwa! (my daughter), ututu oma. How are you? But you never told us that you were coming,” she said.
“Mma, where is papa?” She asked. “My daughter my husband went to see if some of the palm fruits are ripped already. He will soon been back. Don’t tell me you will be leaving soon,” she said emotionally. “Nbanu (No) Mma. I am still around. I will not go without seeing him,” she replied. “That is very good of you my daughter. You are not like your junior wife, whose conscience had been bought by your husband,” she said to Uzoamaka. “Mama, don’t mind them, only God will judge us all.”
The two women chatted for long. It was not a welcoming news for Obidiya. But one thing stroke her in mind that she was perplexed about. She asked herself why her husband had never appeared to her in any of her dream even while she used to think of him almost every blessed day she came to see. “But all the same. The message had been delivered already,” She told herself in her mind. Before Uzoamaka left, the children were called to say hi to her. They were excited to see big aunty once again after a very long time. Unfortunately for her, she was unable to see her host’s father before leaving.
The message of her husband to Uzoamaka was beginning to come true when she, Uzoamaka started making contacts with some persons in the city who could be of help to Obidiya. Being someone from a very poor family, Obidiya had to struggle to make ends meet seeing that gifts from her Christmas benefactors were about to be exhausted. The load was more on her now. At home, she was taking full and total care of the need of all. She engaged herself more in many manual and tedious works. What she was earning was like a drop of water in an ocean compare to her problems. Her menial jobs took a different dimension and speed. Now she had to work all day under sun and rain just for her to have something for her entire family. The pain, depression and frustration in her were all over her, visible on those parts of her body that her clothes as a woman could not cover while her wrapper showed the whole world how skinny she had become. Life continued like that with her until one fateful day she told her parents that she would like to go and stay in the city in search of greener pastures.
At first, her parents were not convinced and happy about her decision. Their problems were on the children and what would people say. For them, many would say that their daughter had gone to the city to sell her body for money since she was still young and pretty even though nature had dealt with her mercilessly in bringing out the little ugliness in her. They thought of how she would cope with her children right there in the city. At the end of the day, they came up with the idea that she would go alone first, then later, when she must have settled down a bit, her children could then come to stay with her.
This idea was totally rejected by their daughter. She insisted to go with her children. For her, she would prefer to suffer and die with her children than to leave them behind in the village to suffer and die miserably without her.
On that fateful day, she was accompanied by Uzoamaka to the Eke motor park. She waited until Obidiya and her children had boarded the bus travelling to Enugu from Agbani. Just as the bus was about to leave, both embraced themselves warmly. Uzoamaka nearly shed tears but that of Obidiya was obvious. “Ije oma (safe journey),” she said as she waved at them.
Life in the city was something else for her since it was her first time. She found a small house at Akuke closed to 102 Motorised Battalion Barracks Garki Enugu. Accommodation there was affordable since must of the houses were still made up of bricks made from clay. She found it difficult to adapt initially. Die to her financial state, she was unable to get a better place. All she was after for was just a place she can sleep with her children at night and during the day, the outside world became her home as she struggled with menial jobs here and there especially in place building constructions were going on.
Rain, sun and cold became like her adversary due to the nature of her house. Many times, Nnenna her daughter used to fall sick due to cold. It was if she was allergic to cold. On several occasions, rainwater had driven them from their house. In all these, the poor widow never gave up. She strongly believed that one day God would see her through and bless the works of her hands. Obi, being the man of house, was really in an active service, always available to help out in any situation.
The joy of coming to the city made him almost forgot his academic life. He admired almost everything he came across. The new friends he made saw him as a village boy and to this, he had never for once cared about or quarrelled about it. On several occasions, his mother had warned him to stop going to peoples’ houses any how since they were still new.
From the little money Uzoamaka gave her, she was able to small plastic bags which she used in hawking cold water at Garki Park. This she did with Obi while Nnenna was under the custody of her neighbours. As time went on, Nnenna was gradually initiated into the trade of hawking waters and other wares. Through one of her neighbours, she was able to obtain some loaves of bread on loan from a bakery close to her house, which after sale she would pay off her debt and went home with her little profits. Due to the number of hands doing the job for her, her profit was increasing almost on daily basis. Obi mastered the trade very well and was happy doing it but his mother was not. How she wished her children continued in their education as soon as possible was her major concerned. She promised herself to act quickly before the quest for money robbed her children’s future from her.
After two years in the city, life became manageable for them. She was able to find a better place to live, paying her house rent from the little profit she was making in hawking bread, groundnuts and sachet-water. She was sincerely concerned about her children’s education but the financial demand was an obstacle for her. Schools in the city was not like those in the village. It was true there were schools owned by government. But they were almost the same like those ones in the village where teachers hardly come to teach, children were allowed to play throughout the day without learning anything, teachers sitting down and gossiping in the staff room from morning till closing hours, and the like. She needed to send her children to a private school that would be less expensive since they are of different grade and standard.
Mama Apkan was Obidiya’s neighbour. She was from southern part of Nigeria precisely from Cross River. She was friendly to Obidiya. Conditions and situations of life cemented their relationship strongly that none could do without greeting the other every morning. They shared many things in common. Her house was the only house that Obi and his sister were permitted to go and stay at any time of the day.
Many a times, Nnenna used to laugh whenever she heard mama Akpan speaking. For her, the language was like that of Chinese with a very funny intonation. She had been warned severally by her mother but to no avail. She couldn’t control herself laughing even in public whenever Akpan or any of his siblings were talking in their dialect. Many understood because she was still a child then. Sometimes her mother would beat her in public not only to tell people that she too was not happy with her daughter’s attitude but also to correct the attitude before it became a vice in her.
It really took her time to decide which of the private school her children would be enrolled. Nnenna was already introduced fully into her mother’s business. She was hard working like her mother, doing the trade almost like a man in terms of the energetic aspect of it. As a woman, her mother mentality and philosophy of life in the women’s world were fully in support of her daughter’s progress in her business. As one who grew up in a culture were women were meant only to bear children, work, and feed the men in the house, her daughter was doing the right thing. Apart from hawking groundnuts and sachet-water, Nnenna used to hawk other seasonal foodstuff. Although, initially, she was not comfortable seeing her daughter hawking at that age but when she consulted other women to hear their own point of view, the answers she got were in favour of what she was doing. The only difference was that other children used to help their parents in hawking their wares after school but hers was just the opposite.
One morning, the poor widow went to a nearby private primary school to know what were the criteria needed to enrol a child. The requirements were things she could afford with her little earnings. The good news was given to Obi and Nnenna that very day in the evening during supper. They were excited that soon, they would join their friends to be going to school. With the happiness that they would start school, both became more active and engaged in their mother’s business, making more sales for her than before. Her mother was excited about it and it was a kind of consolation to her.
On several occasions, Nnenna had asked her mother about her father’s whereabouts but her mother kept promising her that one day they would go to see him in their village. For her she thought that her father was her maternal grandfather. She never knew that her real father was already late and no one had ever told her.
A week before they would start school, something terrible happened. It was already time for her children to return home from the day’s hawking. Obi was already at home even before the normal time of arrival. Maybe luck was on his side that day, for he sold all his wares. But his sister was yet to come back. Though a little bit disturbed of what might have held her daughter so long in the market, she decided to ask Obi to go looking for her. Immediately, he went, heading straight to garki market. He took the normal narrow and short path they used to take when going to market, hoping to see her along the road. He search for her in the whole market until only few persons were remaining, busy lucking up their stalls.
A call from behind said: “Obi what are you doing in the market at time?” he turned to see who the person was. It was mama Akpan, who came to pick some few foodstuff. Normally foodstuff used to be cheap towards evening, as many sellers would like to sell their perishable food items at low price instead for them to get bad and been thrown away. “I am looking for my sister Nnenna,” he replied. “Nnenna!” She exclaimed. “Yes, Nnenna my sister. She had not returned home since she left for hawking,” he said to her. “Are you sure? Abasi mbong!” She asked. Obi tired and worried of her constant questions kept quiet this time around. Serious search was going on in his mind where his sister could be and that was his preoccupation at that moment in time and was not in the mood of question and answer talk. Both engaged themselves in the search. They searched every nook and cranny in the market but all their efforts were futile.
While they were still on their way back home, Obi’s mother received the greatest shock of her life that evening while she was preparing supper. The news was like a bomb when she was told that. Her only daughter was found lying dead somewhere in a bushy path close to Ebony Paint. She was very demented. She screamed, tore her wrapper, and was rolling on the ground. She was half-naked. Suddenly, a woman ran, removed one of her own wrappers and tied it on her waist. A few minutes later, the corpse of Nnenna was brought to her house. Seeing the dead body of her daughter, she fainted instantly. Through the help of three young men, she was revived. They took her into her house and kept close eyes on her in order to prevent her making subsequent moves that maybe detrimental to her life.
The true story about Nnenna’s death was that, while she was hawking along an isolated bushy area close to Ebony Paint, she came across some young men, who pretended as if they wanted to buy her wares. Bending down to drop her tray on the ground, one of the young men held her on the waist and dragged her into the bush and there, they molested her and disappeared. She forced herself to stand and walk but she could not. She wept. She struggled and rolled herself out of the bush, close to the road but there she gave up the ghost after passing through hell.
Mama Akpan and Obi were surprised to see people around their compound, going in and coming out with faces filled with grief. The mood and facial expressions form those around were a good sign to them that something bad had happened. Everything was made crystal clear to them when they saw Nnenna lifeless body lying down on the floor covered with a transparent white linen cloth. Approaching where the lifeless body of Nnenna was laid, she screamed: “Abasi mbong ooooh!” who did this us?” Oh! My lovely Nnenna, why must you leave us now! The world is wicked.” She walked like someone whose strength has been exhausted, scrubbing her feet on the floor to meet Obidiya where was sitting down and surrounded by sympathisers. She just sat close to her and didn’t say a word. Her friend and neighbour Obidiya was just looking at her like one who was dumb.
Obi who was now eight years old, the whole scene was like a dream. I was totally dumbfounded. People were surprised seeing the small boy not shedding tears. He just sat close the dead body and was caressing. He recalled the good exciting moments he had with his only companion and sister. One of the sympathisers said: “Look at how brave he is. He is not crying.” Obidiya gave a sudden load scream again and wanted to stand up with force and move. But she was held back by some three women who was sitting beside her.
People sympathised with Obidiya very well, seeing how nature and human beings have dealt with her mercilessly. The news of her daughter’s death reached her family in the village. They came and took the body of their daughter for burial. None of her late husband’s family member came for the burial of her daughter except Uzoamaka. Nnenna was buried in her mother’s compound after a long and strong debate from her late husband’s family.