The sitting room was occupied by the genuine smiling faces of several men with an exception of a woman who pretended to be happy as she sat next to her husband. Her name was Ginika and this was the fourth time she was receiving guests who were interested in seeking her second daughter’s hand in marriage. The suitor who had come with three of his kinsmen and his mother was very elated. They had been served drinks and their gifts had been well-received. Her husband Okonkwo who was very happy soon leaned over and whispered to his wife to go summon their daughter so that the suitor and his people could feast their eyes upon her. Getting up without a word, Ginika disappeared into the room and returned a moment later. If her countenance showed how displeased she was, the guests never noticed. Soon, a tall chubby lady who had ample bosom and buttocks came into the sitting room, smiling. When the suitor looked up and saw her, his smile wavered a bit and when Okonkwo also looked up and saw who had come into the sitting room, he gave his wife a confused look.
“Bia Ginika, did you not hear whom I asked you to call or is this a mistake?” Okonkwo quietly asked his wife.
“I heard na, or is she not our daughter too?” Ginika asked in an annoyed tone.
“Of course she’s our daughter but this is definitely not the one the suitors and his people have come and you know it!” Okonkwo whispered.
“Why not ask them and find out!” Ginika shot.
“Ask them?! Why do you want to embarrass us this evening? Please, go in and call Nene out so that we don’t keep this good people waiting.” Okonkwo pleaded.
“I’m not going anywhere. Do what you are supposed to do or are you afraid? If you are afraid to ask them, let me do it for you!” Ginika said impatiently.
Before Ginika could speak out to the guests, Okonkwo quickly shushed her. “What is wrong with you woman?! Do you want to take the voice from my mouth?! Have you forgotten who the head of this family is?!”
“Then do what you’re supposed to do and tarry no longer!” Ginika almost snapped. “Act like it! They won’t beat you.”
Clearing his throat now, Okonkwo turned to nervously smile at his guests then said: “I apologize for the short delay. I was just having a very brief and important discussion with my wife here.” Then he cleared his throat again and said: “My soon-to-be in-laws, I welcome you once again. Today is really a blessed day for me because you people have decided to come and fetch a beautiful flower in my house. Anyway, I present to you, your bride to be!” He stretched a hand towards his first daughter, Adanna who beamed and tried to flaunt her bodily assets.
The guests gave the suitor who was more confounded a confused look and the young man quickly shook his head to indicate to them that he also had no idea what was going on. Then luckily, one of his uncles spoke on behalf of them all. “Erm… Okonkwo, I think there’s a little misunderstanding somewhere… Of course, this your first daughter here is equally beautiful. If we had two sons, we would have taken both your daughters, but our son here is only interested in one and that’s your youngest daughter, Nene. Where is she?”
Immediately the man pronounced the name, the happy look on Adanna’s face changed to that of disappointment and she glanced at her mother for help or comfort, while Iginika scowled at the men.
Okonkwo cleared his throat again. This was a bit awkward for him. Of course, he knew that Adanna was definitely not the one the suitor was interested in, but since his wife, Iginika had insisted that Adanna must always be shown to every suitor, he had no choice than to follow her wish lest she might make the house a living hell for all of them. “My in-laws, I understand that you are interested in my youngest daughter but this here is Adanna, my first daughter, and I can assure you that she’ll equally make a good wife like Nene.” Okonkwo pressed.
“Yes and we do not dispute that.” Another uncle said this time. “But Okonkwo, you really have to understand that we are not here to marry two wives but one wife. Why not give us the one we came here for so that we can all feast our weary eyes upon our wife-to-be. Or isn’t that why we are here, my people?” He asked his fellow kinsmen and they chorused or nodded in the affirmative.
“Your wife to be?!” Ginika suddenly exploded. “And this one…” She gestured with a hand at her daughter. “…standing here before you is a goat, okwia? It’s either you people are foolish or you don’t have good taste at all!” She stated and the guests gasped in shock, exchanging surprised looks among themselves. “How can you see something this good! Something this marvelous and you are still asking for Nene! Nene? Small Nene! Nene that’s even not mature! What could Nene possibly know about marriage?! Why is she your object of interest despite the fact that she’s still in school?!”
“Um… Ginika…” The suitor’s mother carefully began now. “As a mother, I understand what you are doing and I know that you are only looking out for your oldest daughter. But the Nene whom we have come to seek her hand in marriage is not a child. If I’m correct, she’s twenty-three years old and already in her final year in school. If you are concerned about her education, we can assure you that we are in no hurry. We’ll gladly wait for her to finish schooling before we proceed with the marriage preparations.”
“Bia, Uju, if you people like, wait from now till thy kingdom come!” Ginika slapped the back of her hand into her other palm on her lap. “Let me tell you people now, if you are not here to marry Adanna, forget it! Nene will remain under her father’s roof! Why are you people so wicked?! How can you come for a small girl when she has an older sister who’s seven years her senior still in her father’s house?! If you marry Nene now, what do you expect people to say about Adanna?! You want people to start ridiculing her abi? You want them to start calling her old cargo abi?! If you people know what’s good for you, better pack all your stupid gifts and get out of this house because Nene will never get married until Adanna does! Over my dead body will a younger one marry before the older one!” Having said this, she grabbed her daughter’s wrist and angrily walked out of the living room, dragging her sulking daughter behind her.
Okonkwo could say nothing. He wasn’t in support with what his wife had done, but he could not contradict her words either, at least, not before their guests. With his arms folded above his chest, his shoulders hunched and his head hanging down, he said nothing as his guests grumbled. As they rose to their feet, they made several remarks to show their displeasure at his wife’s attitude then took their gifts and left. When they were gone, Okonkwo leaned back into his seat with his arms still folded and his ankles crossed as he began to think of what had just happened. It was not the first time this was happening but it still felt new to him every time.
Soon, Nene came into the living room after peeking and making sure that her father was alone. She dreaded her mother and mostly avoided her. When Okonkwo lifted his head to look at his beloved daughter, he realized that her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were swollen. She was almost light in complexion unlike her sister who was bleaching. She was slim and tall and had dimples that made his heart melt whenever she smiled. She was the apple of his eye because she was very virtuous, unlike her sister. Nene was studying medicine in school because she aspired to be a nurse. She was the only regular church-goer in the house and had the kindest heart he had ever seen.
“Nene…” He called softly in concern, sitting up now.
“Papa, why? Why?” She asked in tears. “Why do you and mama keep doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? This is the fourth man that I’ve brought home now and you people have succeeded in sending all of them away? Why don’t you want my happiness? Why are you people so against me? What did I even do to deserve this from you and mama?! Sometimes, I wonder if you two are really my biological parents because of the way you keep treating me. I wonder if mama is really my mother!”
“Oh yes, I’m your mother!” A familiar voice said from behind and Nene spun around in partial fear to see her mother walking into the living room with Adanna who had an unfriendly look on her face, following from behind. “I’m your biological mother…” Adanna slapped her chest. “…and not only did I carry you in my womb for nine months, I breastfed you with my milk and my blood runs in your veins!”
“Then why are you doing this to me, mama?!” Nene indignantly asked her mother now after going to stand beside her father to avoid being slapped by her mother who was fond of doing so anytime Nene talked back. “Why do you keep chasing away all the men who wish to marry me?! What have I done to you, ehn? What have I done to you that makes you hate me so much?!”
“Hate you?” Ginika snorted. “I don’t hate you, Nene. I’m only an impartial and concerned mother who only wants the best for each of my her daughters!”
“You call this showing concern?! This is the fourth man you are chasing away mama simply because of Adanna!”
“Are you mad?!” Adanna stepped forward now. “Am I the one you just called by her name?! Oh, because men are now flocking after you, you think you can now talk to me anyhow without respect, okwia?! Mama, warn this girl o! Warn her l before I beat her up in this house o!”
“You’ll do no such thing, Adanna!” Okonkwo got up now to defend his youngest daughter. “Bia, Adanna, are you not ashamed of yourself?! Why would you connive with your mother to make your sister’s life miserable?! Is it her fault that she keeps having suitors?! After all, three men have come to seek your own hand in marriage! Three!” Okonkwo held up three fingers. “But what did you do? You and your mother embarrassed and sent them away because you feel that they aren’t good enough financially!”
“Papa, how would you expect me to marry those idiots!” Adanna grumbled now, partially hiding behind her mother. “Are those one men?! Men that are not properly educated, they can’t speak very good English, worse, they don’t even have cars, not to talk of houses, why would you expect me to go marry a man that’s not even in my level?!”
“Level?! You must be very stupid! Are you not just an NCE holder?! You are claiming level when you have nothing to show for it! You are nothing but a common teacher and you are still talking about level! When scholarship was available to go further in the university, all you could go and do was to go and get pregnant for one useless driver who was driving his boss’ car all around time, pretending it was his! You were so blinded by his fake life that you opened your legs wide for him without thinking twice! Now, we are left to take care of a nine year old boy in the house while the useless man who got you pregnant has fled, refusing to take responsibility for the little boy! Tell me, why won’t useless men keep coming for you when you have opened your legs for almost every man in this street and beyond?! Why won’t they keep coming?! Your mother keeps lying on your behalf that she gave birth to Ikenna and that he’s your brother. Whereas, he’s your son! Your son! Your own flesh and blood!”
“Papa, papa, don’t insult me o! Am I the first person to ever get pregnant out of wedlock?! You should be happy that I didn’t abort it, which means that I’m a good girl.” Adanna said.
“Good girl kwa? At thirty, you still regard yourself as a girl? You see why I say that your foolishness has no bounds?” Said Okonkwo.
“Ehnehhhhh!” Ginika quickly cut in, raising a hand to stop her husband. “Papa Adanna, stop it o! You are the one even making Adanna’s life miserable! She’s twenty-nine going on thirty, and so? Please and please Nnayi, mind the way you demean her! Don’t forget in a hurry that she’s also your daughter! Your first fruit! It’s not her fault that she got pregnant! She was careless, yes, but life goes on!”
“Ginika, you see why I say that you are responsible for this girl’s bad behavior?” He pointed at Adanna. “You have completely spoilt her! You keep encouraging her to do bad things, now look at her, all she does is consume the food in the house and covet her younger sister’s suitors!”
“But why is she the one always bringing good men home?! Why? Is it because she goes to a university? Her suitors are always tall, handsome and they have cars too! Why can’t I have that too?! Why?!” Adanna lamented angrily.
“Are you asking me?” Okonkwo asked. “Why don’t you rub the same powder your sister wears or better still, go and stand at the university gate and flag down cars! Onyoshi! Your sister does not wear makeup but you do. Despite all your nonsense assets, it’s only men that are still trekking that notice you! Stupid element!”
“Me, I don’t care how you people see this!” Iginika clapped her hands in a dusting manner now. “What concerns me is that if Adanna here does not get married, Nene can forget about getting married too! During our days, we dare not bring any man to the house for marriage until our elder sisters are married! That’s the tradition and it shows that you not only respect your elder sisters, you also care about their happiness too.”
“But why should I be held responsible for my sister’s inability to bring a good man home or attract one?! Is my destiny tied to hers? Why must I be deprived of my own happiness because of sister Adanna?! Why do I have to suffer with her?!” Nene asked, still crying.
“Bia, if you really care about your sister’s happiness, you’d have brought home a suitor for her a long time ago.” Ginika said to Nene.
“Mama, don’t mind her. All she cares is about herself. How selfish!” Adanna stated, angrily eyeing her sister.
“Ginika, you and your daughter should stop putting pressure on Nene! If Adanna cannot go and find her own husband, then let her stay home and take care of her son! After all, when we grow old, we will need someone to care for us!” Okonkwo stated.
“Ehn! God forbid!” Adanna quickly rebuked what her father had said. “Me, grow old in this house without a husband? In fact, God forbid again!”
“But papa Adanna, have you even bothered to ask your daughter why she’s such in a hurry to get married?!” Ginika gestured with a hand at Nene. “She’s only twenty-three o. Who knows if she has started eating the forbidden fruit and can’t wait to eat more of it!” Iginika said now.
“Mama, I’ve not tasted any forbidden fruit!” Nene quickly defended herself. “I can swear to God that I’m still a virgin and I intend to marry my husband as one!”
Adanna flinched her mouth at her sister in a skeptical and mocking manner and said: “Sorry o, madam Virgin Mary. Miss holier than thou. Always trying to act as if she’s better than I’m!”
“Will you shut up that mouth of yours, my friend!” Okonkwo scolded Adanna. “You should be ashamed of yourself that you couldn’t set a good example for your sister. And let me warn you now…” He shook a warning finger at Adanna. “It has come to my notice that you have been frolicking around town with Orlu, that shameless he-goat that sleeps with everything on skirt despite having a wife! See, if you dare get pregnant again, don’t bother coming back to this house because I won’t let you drag my name through the mud a second time! If you don’t have any shame, I do. Keep doing what you do best, but be rest-assured that you and your mother will surely bear the consequences of your promiscuity and injustice at the end!”
“Ehn, I’m not complaining!” Ginika nonchalantly said. “After all, it’s her smartness that brings money to this house, or where do you think I get all that money to cook you those good soups. If only this Nene will be so smart enough to join her sister, then we won’t have to suffer any more.”
“Mba! Don’t even go there! Since you have drawn one to your side and corrupted her beyond redemption, leave the only good one to me!” Okonkwo stated then turned to say to Nene. “Nene, please, don’t let your mother and sister ruin your mood. What I know is that your mother cannot keep chasing all your suitors away. One day, God will bring the right man for you that will be willing to stay with you no matter what!”
“Indeed… But not if Adanna is still in the house.” Ginika chipped in. “Nene, since you go to church often, just start praying that a good suitor should come for your sister because she’s your only key to getting married. If she still remains in your father’s house, you could as well just prepare your mind to be a Reverend sister.” Ginika stated and walked away while Adanna followed afterwards after putting two fingers under her eyes and sticking out her tongue at her younger sister.
Despaired, Nene slumped on the chair, sobbing while her father sat down with her and tried to comfort her.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa