In The Hush of A Market-Day Afternoon
Omemgbeoji re-enacts his elemental self best when at the head of conjugal missions. He would be seen then first at the best of his carriages, swaying in importance as if to a music only himself heard. He was however also not to be found wanting when the shot missed the mark and the issue resulted to a paternity dispute – like in the case at hand.
The setting was heavenly. The sun’s sudden dive down the horizon was now steady. Hitherto it had appeared to stagnate like never before since its abolition of shadows at midday. As the eventuality of twilight became most apparent, the visitors arrived in one spirited drove behind the frightened lass for whose dignity they undertook the otherwise shameful trip. With her stomach already bulging at its seams, her carriage suggested a hint of never having envisioned the trip. They sat facing their already seated hosts on wooden benches lined out for them to an uncanny silence that enveloped the room without announcement.
The seriousness of the matter at hand hung in the stilled air of the open hut. The hosts welcomed the guests in muffled tones. The principal in the matter, a rather ebullient young man barely of marriage age, sat on his side of the divide as visibly abashed in the least about the trouble his penis was causing everybody.
“Our in laws,” Omemgboji called, clearing his throat as well as calling for attention in tandem. “I welcome you to our midst, though we are still unaware of the reason for your visit.”
A hum of voices from the visitors’ side suffused the room. Rising and falling like it came, it gave the speaker ample time to hone his words some more.
“O yes,” he continued on cue. “If it is not to you, it is to me. How many people drank from the quarter keg of palm wine with which your brother came to fix this appointment? Or did he not give you a feedback? And is that why during the festival of the new yam, when in-laws visited with adequate gourds of wine none of you deemed it fit to cross these shores? Were you here Nwokedike?” he asked point blank, gesturing at the head of the opposite delegation whose teeth had not been seen ever since they arrived.
“All the same, we welcome you like we should. After all, an in-law is always welcome to his in-laws’, however often, whatever the season...
"Kola is here presented.”
He progressed to hand the small wooden mortar containing a couple of kola nuts and heads of alligator pepper to Nwokedike who in deed was an in-law of theirs on account of one of his son’s being married to a girl from the kindred. In turn, he presented the kola to his own people in an order evidently known to every one of them. At the end of the brief relay, the kola returned back to base to be broken by the eldest man after a short prayer about the gathering. It is then further cut into smaller pieces after an announcement of the number of lobes it had originally from the creator.
This was significant in more ways than one. The one presently broken had three lobes. Ordinarily this would have translated to longevity in the vernacular but the situation at hand made some of them recall that tone marked differently, the same number of lobes could mean being in hot soup.
At the end of the pagan communion, Nwokedike cleared his throat in return, this time, to state the reason for their out-of-season visit.
“A toad does not engage in a daytime jog for nothing,” he started after rushed protocols. “My in-laws, We have given each other equal returns of goodness. We have often come to the aid of each other in times of trouble-”
“Why not come to the point of your visit,” Omemgboji interrupted, “enough of this beating about the bush.”
Nwokedike surveyed the last speaker as if in monocle before resuming his presentation.
“Omemgboji, my in-law,” he beseeched, “we know we are in your place alright. You have the yam as well as the knife, but please afford us just a place to stand. This is a plea.”
The entire assembly did not wait for the addressee to reply, urging him to go on as if nothing else transpired as the interruption was not seconded by them.
“As I was saying,” Nwokedike resumed, “we are good in-laws to you; almost as good as you have been to us. We should not lose sight of this as we make progress today. Our reason for coming is simple. A teenage son of yours put a daughter of ours in the family way without obsequies.”
He ended his diverse submission by urging the girl to stand up and state her case personally.
The frightened girl stood up groggily, as if acting out a scripted part. Her heaviness in the stomach was no longer the type to be hidden from even an unwary eye.
“Tell them what he did to you!” Nwokedike reiterated.
“Em, em,” the girl muttered unable to find her voice. “He told me to visit him one market day. That I should wait till the market was in full session, that I should come alone and that-”
“And you went,” Nwokedike prompted.
“Yes,” the girl continued. “I went and he took me into his mother’s hut and, and-”
“And what?” Nwokedike asked this time sternly.
“And he entered me,” the girl managed to out before breaking into uncontrollable sobs.
“Go and sit down,” Nwokedike said taking over once more. “So my in-laws you have heard it all. Whatever is done underneath the pot that caps the thatch of a hut must be revealed in due course from the top of it. What your son did to our daughter has resulted to what it should result to and we are here to present her to you. After all, your son is up to the task.”
Another lull filled with the subdued mutter of inaudible voices persisted for a while before the hall fell into a deafening silence allowed by Omemgboji for effect.
“You did not tell us who this boy that did this thing to you is,” Omemgboji averred.
“Omemgboji,” Nwokedike intervened, “perhaps you want us to spend the whole day here. Is this case up for first mention because you did not partake in the drink that announced it last market week?”
“Little girl,” Omemgboji continued as if he had not been interrupted, “who was this boy that did this thing to you?”
Rather shyly for one already pregnant the girl pointed at where Okonkwo the son of Okeagu was sitting.
“Okonkwo,” Omemgboji called, “stand out here.”
The boy strolled out with a face twisted like a climbing rope.
“So this is the boy that entered you in the hush of a market-day moon,” Omemgboji asked for emphasis as he progressed to cross examine the girl.
“Yes,” the girl answered.
“Where did you say the event took place?”
“In his mother’s hut when she was away at the market.”
“You came all the way from your own father’s house to see him?”
“When you left your house, what did you have in mind you were coming to do?”
“To visit him.”
“And do what?”
The girl uttered no reply.
“And you Okonkwo,” Omemgboji said turning to face the boy where he stood at a corner as farther away from the girl as possible. “How many times did you enter your accuser?”
“Old one, it was only that once.”
“And here in your father’s compound?”
“Yes, old one.”
Omemgboji bowed head in thought. When he raised it, he wanted any person that had a question for the two lovebirds to come forward with them. When all held their peace, he ordered the visitors to leave them for a while.
Silently they trouped outside, leaving their hosts to take the all-important decision for which they made the impromptu trip.