Once you entered the permanent venue for the Umudara kindred meeting, you are instantaneously enveloped by a sense of awe. Situated in a cove that housed their family idols and mound, the meeting ground was surrounded by a line of luxuriant evergreen trees that gave shade all year round. Though it was not often said or written, it nevertheless hung there in the surrounding air like mist to be breathed in by all. Even when one was not in the mood for such romantics it was kind of forced on you by the ambient nature-imbued peaceable ambiance of the setting.
Okafor and his wife have been warned to stop disturbing the family meeting with their incessant quarrels time without number. In fact, cases between the duo now shamed the grown-up children of Okafor’s earlier marriages. They would sit through the meeting with bowed heads as their father and his latest wife skewered their linens on the cloth lines of their family meeting.
Today, given the emergency of their present case, they were told to state their cases before the meeting could commence officially; lest its sordid nature tainted the blessedness of the topic of the day’s meeting.
“Chinelo,” the meeting’s spokesperson opened up, “what is it again between you and your husband that you should not let him attend even our meeting?”
She sat tighter on her seat as though she was not the persona spoken to; as if, indeed, she was not the only woman in the gathering.
“Chinelo,” the former went again; “I’m supposed to be addressing you.”
Again she uttered nothing in reply, only lagging her head from side to side as if possessed by a shaman.
“Woman!” thundered a voice from the rear. It belonged to Omenankpo the hunter, no doubt exasperated with the ensuing pantomime. “It is like this your madness has reached market-square proportions. Do you think this is Okafor’s house where you can commit all impunity and get away with it?”
At this, a great tumult rode over the meeting with all contributing simultaneously to an unstated agenda. The spokesman for once assuming even his extra-judicial powers immediately swung into action. In a split half second, quietude reigned supreme once more.
“Let us take it easy,” Omemgboji, an elder seated close to Omenankpo intervened knowing what the younger man was equal to doing if unrestrained. “Has it gotten to you not answering questions put to you by the family?” he concluded turning to the wry-faced woman at the butt of the interactions.
Omemgboji had been the old man diplomatic enough to head the family delegation that had gone to her father’s house to pay her dowry – and this after much persuasion given that like all in the land he was aware of her particular propensities. At this Chinelo contrived her lips into a convoluted pout and as if her case was that plain asked that her husband who caused the whole problem be questioned instead.
“Is he not here with me?” she questioned at the end of the thinly-veiled tirade on her husband. “Let him say it now? Must it be me first? ”
“Okafor, our brother,” the spokesman resumed, “if it pleases you to, please tell us what the problem is this time.”
Okafor who had been mopping ahead like has become his wont ever since his last marital adventure for once came to life. Standing from his sitting position, he pointed his middle finger at his wife’s stomach.
“My people, it is not as if there is a problem but you people should ask my beautiful wife who is responsible for the baby she is carrying.”
Eyes popped on heads as all made to cover their ears from the sacrilege that the woman had just been accused of. It was unheard of in Hometown that a wife should get impregnated by another man when his husband was hearty. The enormity of the curse it would bring upon the land was better not imagined.
For once even Chinelo was touched. Perhaps, she reasoned in her confusion, that she should have stated the case like it truly is. But it was all too late now. As all eyes fixated on her in wonder, she broke down in tears.
The family spokesman was first to rediscover his voice. In a voice as solemn as advocacy itself, he asked Okafor to state his case more properly.
Again Okafor stood up. He recounted a litany of woes he had suffered from the hands of his new wife whom he loved so much and could not imagine a life lived without her. He rounded off by accusing her of infidelity, claiming for a repeated time that the baby she was carrying was not to his knowledge.
Chinelo did not wait to be introduced, seizing the mantle as soon as her husband was through, she attacked the problem as most frontally she could in her confusion.
“Okafor,” she called from the depth of her soul, “what are you saying?”
“I do not who put you in a family way!”an even more emboldened Okafor shouted.
The rout was complete. Chinelo wept like a child denied her due by parents that had ab initio dotted her like hell.
The onus now fell on Omemgboji to drop the inevitable hammer.
“Our wife,” he called out.
“Our father I’m all ears,” she answered in a quivering voice that summarized her trouncing in a nutshell.
“You have to, you just have to be. If the salt is not rubbed into the injury, its healing time is often extended. My daughter, Chinelo, do not make me say things that should never have been said in public though they may be common knowledge. It is the fool that catches a fowl the public is after but if the animal runs a bad race, a bad weapon can be fashioned for it. You are by no means the only woman to have been married into this family of ours. You are by no means the oldest, nor the youngest; you are not the most beautiful and by no means the ugliest. I can go on but you must be the most at something to be where you presently are. Use your tongue to count your teeth. You are no longer a child. Your age mates in the land of rodents would have gotten more than a hundred offspring. Has it ever crossed your mind that you ought to be more responsible than this? What impression do you think you are creating about yourself? Do you not think that what you do sometimes rub off on the people around you? Don’t you know that a relative’s bad dancing step afflicts one with shame? You are not on your own; nobody ever is.
“As to the matter at hand, I want you to realize how easily you can make yourself a scapegoat in the circumstances. Every dog eats feces but it is only the one home with it on its mouth that is stigmatized for it. The smith that does not know how to fashion a gong should watch the tail of a kite in flight. We do not see why of all the women married to this family it is only you that we have to be gathering for always...”
Omemgboji was well known for his speeches. Of all in the hall, he appeared the only one that yet had his head at an even keel. Turning to Chinelo after the slight pause, he threw the deciding question:
“Woman,” he queried in his softest of voices, “who is responsible for the weight in your stomach?”
Though delivered in voice so dulcet, it hit the space about like a tornado in distress. While the quiet audience sank into a lower decibel of silence, the iron lady on trial found her voice again:
“Okafor,” she cried, getting on her knees at her husband’s feet, “do you mean that you do not know about this baby?”
“Do I know about it?” Okafor retorted emboldened by a burgeoning moral superiority. “Do you ever let me touch you?”
“What of that day after the dance of the virgins,” she continued her voice clear like rain despite her intermittent sobs, “when you wanted some corn roasted and then there was a storm and I clung to you from a thunderclap?”
Okafor’s face at this lost some of its luster. Like a drowning man he clung at the only straw with the reach of his hands:
“Is it that once?”
The pin-drop silence resumed till Omemgboji resumed his duties.
“Chinelo,” the old man called, “did your husband ever have to protect you from lightening at any other time?”
She answered by keeping quiet leaving room for nothing else but the fall of the hammer.
“Woman,” Omemgboji’s voice acquired a stentorian bent on purpose. “Have you suddenly become deaf and dumb? Answer now and free yourself. Or do want to tell me that only a testis can put a woman in the family way? Will the product of such a birth suck only a breast? Woman why did you not let your husband sow the succeeding seed? You went and got it elsewhere? Isn’t it? Well we shall see to the end of this...
“Go home from here and pack your things. After this meeting we are taking you back to stay with your people till we can vouch that what is forming inside you is of us. While with your people we expect you to be of good behavior. If we as much as hear any problem as being traceable to you while you are there, we shall reverse this sentence for the worse.”
“Long live the gods!” the house roared as was the norm. This, though, as all of them still remembered like yesterday the judgement arrived by the same man at a different case that had almost the same antecedents as the present.