CHAPTER 1 ELI
CHAPTER 1 ELI
It is about 5pm in the evening on a Thursday and I had just arrived from the farm with mum after a tiresome day of working under the sun planting new yam heads to wait for the rains. I didn’t get to go to school today so I could help on the farm as it was our only source of livelihood. I had planned on relaxing on the hammock for a little while and mum had gone to the kitchen to cook but there was no water for the evening meal so my nap was interrupted with me to get water from the stream to cook the yam we brought with us from the farm for dinner. There are no pipes here and the entire village rely on the stream which is a long way off on the outskirts of the village. It will soon be dark, going alone wouldn’t be advisable as the paths are spooky with overhanging trees which acts as frightening stilettos in darkness and there is little to no light here. I passed by my friend Eli’s house so we could go together and have a little chat about school along the way as I was absent today and play games in the stream as we always do. Eli was my childhood and only friend and we are so fond of each other, she lived a few meters away from our house and was frequently normal for anyone of us to call the other for a play or the stream. As I approached her house with my pot under my left arms and a shred of cloth hanging around my neck whilst eating a guava I picked from the tree next to our house, I realised there were unusual number of people gathered at the front side of Eli’s compound. I was quite surprised about it and wondered what was going on and broke into a trot to reach there fast; on getting there I was met with the shock I wasn’t expecting so soon. It was Eli’s marriage ceremony to the man she was betrothed to. A man old enough to be her grandfather who already had three wives and children about the same age as her mum, this was the kind of man her parents were marrying her off to and frankly I wasn’t surprised as it was the norm of the society I lived in. I pushed my way through the crowd with the aim of getting in front to catch a glimpse of Eli. There she was, sitting on a low stool with puffy eyelids from visibly prolonged tears and her head hanging low uninvolved in what was going on around her. She must be engrossed in her own thoughts as she couldn’t see me weaving vigorously to get her attention when she briefly lifted her head to survey the growing crowd. I wished she could have looked up again and saw me but she didn’t. I felt pity and prayed briefly for her and myself that I don’t fall in the same fate at least when am not prepared.
My eyes lingered off to the old husband to be with his white moustache and brown teeth obviously from the kolas-a traditional fruit eaten as a snack and lack of brushing even with the local tooth stick. Getting a close look at him I realised he didn’t look familiar. I don’t know where he is from as I haven’t seen him in the village before.
’Isn’t this Mr. Abas? The Shea butter refinery owner in Tumu? I heard a middle age man ask Adaku the know it all man in the village. He replied in affirmative ’yes he is, can’t you see the expensive bride price? Tumu is a long way off from our village which will really be a problem as it will mean I wouldn’t see my friend again. Sitting right next to him is Eli’s father with his pot belly and a smile widely across his face from the happiness of marrying his daughter off with an enviable bride price. Directly opposite them was Eli’s mum who was now decorating Eli’s hair with the traditional marriage beads and in the centre of the small circle they had made with their stools was a heap of yam, fowls, palm wine and a cows purposely as the bride price; I guess that caused the grin on her father’s face, greedy man. Around them was Eli extended family and onlookers who came to admire the bride price and not to despise the child being married off. Bride price; it’s really just like its name….the price for the child bride. I realised it was getting too dark and I hurried off to the stream with thoughts of Eli on my mind ignoring my fears of it been late. I grew up with her and she was my play mate. We attended the local primary school and we are the same age. She always wanted to be a lawyer to fight against child marriages in our community. We had practiced it out at the stream everyday and when we meet at schools on role playing games. We know we will be married off but didn’t know it will be that soon for Eli, she had just turned 12 years as me a month before and told me she will run away before she got married off but It didn’t turn out well for us and her sad face lingered on my mind on my way to and from the stream. I worried about her and what she knew about marriage or child birth as we both haven’t started menstruating yet.
I couldn’t eat well that night which really didn’t alarm mama as the news of Eli’s marriage was making waves for the wrong reason, being the bride price. Nobody really cared how she must be feeling all they cared was the price paid for her and how expensive it was. I went to bed worried about my own fate.
Growing up in a society where there are still inhumane old cultural practices going on despite the efforts some advocate agencies has made to abolish it is traumatising. I have watched my sisters, friends and cousins being betrothed to men old enough to be their grandfather at a tender age of 12 due to poverty and also to quack traditions or so they call it. I don’t see any honour in child marriages but the society I am born into, it’s all around and I couldn’t escape it no matter how hard I tried.