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Chapter 1

’I am going to get the cabbage we will sell today,’ Munachi told Kosi her sixteen-year-old daughter. ‘I did not want to cut them yesterday because I wanted them to be as fresh as possible. Bring the basket and come and help me.’

‘Okay, ma. Let me get my slippers. I don’t want ringworm to enter my leg,’ Kosi replied.

She laughed and watched her daughter disappear into the house. Kosi was her pride and her joy.

Munachi was a widow and a trader. She lived with her child beside the market street in Onitsha. She did not have a lot so she tried to make the one she had look as good as possible. She was content with that and refused to collect anything from her husband’s malicious people. When her husband died, her in laws took everything he had from her so she had to make ends meet and the ends were very far apart. Sometimes, they simply refused to meet.

Her cabbage was the best in the whole of Onitsha market and she wanted to keep it that way.

Together, mother and daughter went to the garden to gather the mature cabbage for the market.

Munachi at forty was petite for such a hard working woman. Her skin which had taken the brunt of the sun was wrinkled now, but one could see by looking at her that she was once a beauty. Her eyes neither large nor small were brown. It changed with her emotions. When she was angry, her eyes narrowed, and when happy, they were full of laughter. It was a very mesmerizing change.

Her daughter looked just like she did when she was still the village belle, but she was taller – a trait she got from her father – and her lips which were uniquely red was her beauty strength.

While harvesting, Kosi’s eye caught a particular cabbage. It was very big and enticingly fresh. Not for her to eat; she would never eat another cabbage if her life depended on it. She had been eating it all her life. She knew, however, that she could sell it at a very high price.

She packed the cabbage in a barrow and went for the market. Once there, she set that one aside and pegged it at six hundred naira, hoping to increase the price if the customer was well dressed.

It did not take long when someone approached and selected the big cabbage, but declined paying the huge sum.

Kosi, agreeing to the four hundred naira the customer bargained, chose a smaller cabbage and gave her.

‘I really want that one. It is so nice and yummy,’ the woman said regretfully, eyeing the big cabbage.

‘I know,’ Kosi replied. ‘I too want you to buy it but I won’t accept your price. You will agree with me that it is too big for four hundred naira. Thank you for buying from me.’

The woman left. A few steps away, she turned to give the cabbage another look.

Kosi felt sorry for her. Judging by the way the woman was looking at the cabbage; it showed that she really wanted it. Kosi shrugged and looked away. There was nothing she could do.

‘Are you the one selling this?’ a woman in very a beautiful red dress asked.

Kosi wanted to answer, No, it is my ghost and it went to eat, but decided not to be sarcastic. The woman might be the one to buy her priceless cabbage. She could see by the way she was looking at it that it was the one she wanted. She knew this kind of fancy people. They got what they wanted no matter the price. Kosi decided to see how high she was willing to go. ‘Yes. I am the one selling it. Who else? Or do you think I like standing here all day?’

The woman ignored the way the seller talked to her. Giving her a once-over and seeing that her old dress must have been handed down to her by her mother or grandmother, she merely continued, ‘I want that big fleshy one over there. How much it is?’

Kosi did not like rich people simply because she was poor. ‘The last price is one thousand naira.’

‘That’s very costly,’ the woman exclaimed. ‘It’s just a cabbage. Will you sell it for six hundred? That is what I am willing to pay.’ She picked the cabbage and looked at it, then pouted her red lips and waited for the seller’s answer.

Kosi shook her head. She was not about to sell it for her at that price. ‘I will give you eight hundred because I like your dress, but that is the last.’ Deciding to encourage her, she teased, ‘Why are you doing like Jesus Christ is not God. They are all the same, aunty. Buy this thing from me. I know you are more than that!’

The woman looked at her and smiled, thinking the young girl was beautiful and sassy in a charming way. She was aware the girl knew that she wanted that cabbage and would pay anything for it, but she wanted to know how low the girl would go. ‘Is that the last price? I really want this. Let me give you seven hundred. I have tried. I know that the cabbage is very good but it is not that good. I might be rich but I don’t spend that way.’

‘No, aunty. That is the last price. I can’t reduce it more.’

Tired of bartering, the woman gave in. She wanted to be done and head for Abuja. She did not have all day like this girl. ‘Bag it for me, then. I just want one. I am not a goat that eats grasses a lot. One will be more than enough.’

Opening her purse, she brought out three thousand naira notes and handed the girl. ‘Use the rest for the completion of your school fees. I just wanted to know how good you are at bargaining.’

Kosi jumped with joy and thanked her profusely. ‘Aunty, thank you so much. May God reward you! Please, may I know your name?’

‘Ozioma.’ She wanted to point out to the girl that she was not her aunty but decided against it. That would only hurt her feelings. She wrapped the cabbage well and put it inside the bacco bag she was carrying.

She was getting the cabbage for Emeka her husband. She liked salad but Emeka loved it.

‘Bye, ma. God bless you,’ Kosi chanted after her.

‘And you, too,’ she replied over her shoulder.

Ozioma Ani set the dish of fried rice she just finished cooking onto the dining table. Emeka was still upstairs in his room. The thought of going up to find out what he was doing wearied her. He was probably watching football. They had been married for about a year.

They lived in a decent three bedroom flat in Abuja. She decorated the flat herself and she liked her work. She removed all the traces of bachelor that Emeka left everywhere. The kitchen was where she overdid herself. She bought everything she wanted in the make she wanted it. She never liked to cook in a kitchen that did not please her with the utensils and she loved the ones she bought. The dinning was also very good but then, according to her; the pride of a woman should be in her kitchen and not in the dinning. That didn’t mean that she did pay attention to the other part of their apartment. She decorated it the best ay she could.

‘Emeka, please come down now and eat your food. Don’t make me come up there,’ she shouted, knowing he was waiting for her to announce dinner.

‘Yes, mummy,’ a coarse voice said from the landing.

‘Now it’s too late.’ She sounded like a mother. It wasn’t surprising; she felt like a mother to her husband. She loved him but he could be boyish sometimes. She heard him come down. He was making noise on the stairs as usual.

She loved Emeka a lot. He was tall and muscular and one thing she liked about him was his very perfect six pack abs. And men did he show it off! She met him a pool party and she fell in love with his abs before she saw his face and then she toppled in love with him and everything that he represented. He was very handsome. His nose was long and proud and he was very sure of himself. She also loved the way he carried himself. They dated for six months and soon were married. She still loved him after one year of marriage but she found out that Emeka was high maintenance for a woman. He lived his life so carefree that she was always picking up after him. She started feeling more like a mother than a wife. Like now when he would not even help set the table for food and juts watch ball or play game. But she loved him all the same.

‘What are we eating? I am so hungry I can eat you and still be hungry.’ He gave her a wolfish smile and sat down at the dining table, rubbing his hands together in glee.

He was dressed in knickers with no top. She enjoyed looking at his chest. When she told him that, he started going shirtless in the house. She liked it.

‘I made your favourite – salad, fried beans and rice. I also made plantain.’ As she mentioned the food, she lifted the lid of each dish.

‘Now I know why I love you. You know my heart and my stomach.’

‘I saw this fresh cabbage and I knew I had to get it for you. I know how much you love the goat food. I used it to make the salad for you.’

‘It’s not goat food and it is good for your health.’

‘I eat it alright but not the way you do.’

She sat down beside him to eat. Emeka did not talk until he had demolished more than half of the salad. He fed her from time to time but gave himself more than he did her. Ozioma did not mind. She just wanted to eat her share of the food before he finished it for her.

When he was done with the salad, and very little remained, he told her to eat the rest, patting his stomach to indicate he couldn’t find space for more. Ozioma finished the rest of the salad and took a little rice and beans.

‘I am full to the point of overflowing,’ he groaned, going over to where she was sitting. ‘I am now in the mood for other fun things.’ He looked at her like she was another salad.

She blushed. ‘Are you blushing? I will be damned. So what do you say? Should we go up?’

‘Let me finish the food. I’m still eating.’

‘Why don’t you leave the food? I will feed you with another type of food.’

After a little hesitation, she said, ‘Okay, let’s go up.’

She stood up, he went to her and kissed her passionately. The next thing she knew, she was in the air, in his arms, and he was climbing up the stairs. She laughed. Emeka was very mischievous. And she loved him for that.

In his room, he quickly undressed her and made love to her, his body throbbing with unusual excitement. She went along with him, glorying in his passion.

They were unaware of the actual content of the cabbage. It was the leaf that Gea landed on as she expired. After the couple had eaten the cabbage and made love, the spirit of Gea found its home when the earth intercessor, the child who would speak for the vegetation and for the human, was conceived that day.

Nine months later, Ozioma gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. It was a hard labour, but she made it. Emeka was so happy. She wanted to name the baby Madea like she had dreamed since she was a kid but decided not to. Emeka then said that they should name her in honour of his late mother. They named her Ola Nancy Ani Jnr.

‘Ozioma, she is perfection in a human form,’ Emeka, while peering at the baby in the cot, told his wife with pride vibrating in his voice. ‘You have made me the happiest man ever. She looks like me.’

Ozioma looked very tired and exhausted as she should be after giving birth to that very perfect baby. Her hair was dishevelled and she had no makeup on. Not that they were required for her to have a safe delivery. She was in one of the best hospital beds and she was very comfortable.

The room was filled with flowers from well-wishers, which came in while she was unconscious. Emeka even brought balloons to lift her spirit, not that it needed lifting.

Ozioma smiled weakly at her husband from her hospital bed. Trust him to start claiming his right as a daddy even before she was out of the bed. She looked at her husband and her new daughter and thought that she had never felt happier. She doubted if she would ever feel this happy again.

‘You are right,’ she agreed, ‘she is perfect and she is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. But she does not look like you, Emeka. You are ugly. She looks like me.’

Emeka looked haggard. His beards were overgrown and he had circles around his now happy eyes. His mouth was weak from smiling. He had been there all through the process of their daughter’s delivery. Indeed, Ozioma did not let him go.

‘If you say so, but I think she looks like me when I was a child.’ Emeka peered closer at his daughter. ‘Don’t you think she is a little green? She looks very small and shiny.’

The baby was not really green but she looked like she had a green hue all around her, like she was sick. A lot like the sick emoticons found in electronics these days. He did not like it but he did not want to think much about it.

The nurse, with Mary written on her tag, turned and looked at them when he said that. Everybody in the hospital also thought the baby was very beautiful child but looked sickly, and her colour was a little off. The doctor had checked her to see if anything was wrong, and found that she was as healthy as a baby horse. They did not know why she had a green colour. They hoped that it was not an introduction to something bigger.

‘Your baby is all right,’ Nurse Mary proclaimed. ‘She has been checked and confirmed healthy. There is nothing wrong with her.’ She smiled encouragingly at the couple, not wanting them to be worry on this beautiful day their first child was born.

Emeka heaved a sigh of relief.

‘I think she is that way because she is very special and she is meant for great things. And because you eat too much vegetables,’ Ozioma added jokingly. She lifted her arms. ‘I want to hold her.’

‘Darling,’ Emeka said softly, ‘I don’t think that is a good idea. Did the doctor say that you can hold her? I don’t want to risk anything.’

‘It is alright, Mr. Ani,’ Mary put in. ‘She can hold the baby as long she does not try to carry her and walk.’

Emeka reluctantly handed the baby to her. He did not want her to stress herself, but Ozioma was a very hard person to argue with. If she wanted to hold the child, wild horses would not stop her. It was better to give in to her gently.

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