Agbudu Village, Southeast Nigeria, December 27, 1956.
The kitchen was a semi-enclosed, wooden structure with matted roof made from leaves of palm trees, built a short distance from the six-bedroom bungalow which was the Aneke-Onyia’s residence. Smoke emitted from the makeshift stove – stones arranged in a three-legged way to make space for firewood by each “leg” – but Oluoma was immune to its eye-smarting powers – and the occasional twinge of pain in her lower back. She studiously pounded the yam she was preparing for her husband, Sunday.
Having cooked the onugbo soup, she needed to get the yam to a smooth paste just the way Sunday liked it, in time for lunch.
When Sunday had come home from London, the only lawyer from their small village, and come for her hand in marriage, everybody had rejoiced, happy for her. A few had sighed and murmured: how predictable. Oluoma was beautiful: possessed of glowing dark skin, a tall, trim but well-endowed body and the longest legs for miles. It was hard to dislike such a paragon of beauty who equally made it very hard because she always had a kind thought, word or gesture for everyone.
Suitors had come from the surrounding villages of Obinagu, Amokwe, Umuaga and Umuabi, but her father kept turning them down, until Sunday, the handsome and charming son of Aneke-Onyia came home to pomp and glory – the only college-educated, masters-degree-holding man from Agbudu-Udi, and asked for Oluoma’s hand in marriage.
Nnoka Ene promptly rolled out the red-carpet: he harvested fresh garden-eggs and kola-nuts from his garden alongside a big jar of juicy palmwine from his prized palmwine tree, and brandished the list of items for the ime-ego and igba-nkwu ceremonies that will tie the bride and groom in marriage.
The traditional and white weddings – both lavishly prepared and well-attended – were on the tongues of the villagers for months.
That was five years and four miscarriages ago. Sunday had turned from charming to grumpy, finding fault in everything Oluoma did. Worse still he had started drinking, a habit which sharpened his acidic retorts to near cruelty.
A proud and competitive man he couldn’t understand why his beautiful wife couldn’t carry pregnancies to full term, and make him a proud papa. He had done things by the book: instead of marrying his sexy, college-educated, Scandinavian classmate and lover in London who was keen on settling down with him, he had gone home (White-women, it was rumoured, made poor wives for African men. They mock the uncouth ways of life of their husbands’ families and never adapt to life in Africa), taken a virgin bride a few months shy of her eighteenth birthday (one selected by his mother- albeit a bright and beautiful one), and settled down to married life.
It was an added bonus that Oluoma made life easy: she never talked back at him or complained when he was abrupt with her, and their sex life was all he ever wished for, for – unconventionally -she was passionate and loving.
But, his friends were down to their third and fourth even fifth and sixth kids, and his wife couldn’t deliver even one son for him. An only son of influential and royally connected parents, he was under pressure from relatives to take a second wife but although he wasn’t in love with his beautiful wife he loved her and was averse to causing her pain. Still, he was used to getting everything he wanted in life, except, now, his own children; this sent him into depression. He did his work well, becoming the most sought-after lawyer in Enugu but he hated his childless life. The fact that his wife was pregnant and (for the first time) close to full-term didn’t sweeten his disposition. It made him weary, thinking: will this baby survive?
So, when Oluoma went into labour, during a Christmas holiday, while preparing his lunch, and his mother ran about readying things for the birth, he sat in his parlour, tense and tipsy. When Oluoma screamed his name in terror and he ran to her side, instead of being terrified for her, he was emotionally numb. He merely held her hand and soothed her, promising her trips to Nairobi, London and Paris.
When, seven excruciating hours later, Oluoma gave birth to twin boys, he could only smile at a tired-but-happy Oluoma with tears of joy streaming down his cheeks, while his proud mother shouted and danced gleefully, calling on villagers to come rejoice with them.