MYSTERIES OF TRADITION AND THE DIARY OF A WIDOW
BY Chucks Dominic Morsi
The fading luminescence of the evening sun had gradually worn off, now revealing a sky dark in color reflecting a quiet and somber mood of the night in Ama-eke Village. Meanwhile, after the last meeting with the elders, Ugorji had accepted her fate this time without complaining. She was though emotional and almost devastated as she keenly listened to the chief priest: “You see, we have not had the opportunity to talk like this since you came into this hut. But now that we have the privilege to talk, my daughter, I shall answer all your questions.” The priest replied warmly.
“Thank you the wise one”. Ugorji said with a relief as she smiled benignly, readjusting her sitting position. The priest clears the lumps in his throat and continued.
“About the question you asked a moment ago whether the white-man also has the power of clairvoyance same as we African traditional dibie, yes they do. They are human beings too like us, except for the color of their skin that makes them different from the black man. Talking about the things which are ordinarily beyond the human perception, we the chief priests see and know the things of the spirits. Talk with our ancestors from time to time and they grant unto us whatever we ask”. The priest said.
“But familiar spirits and wizards, I was told is associated with evil, otherwise, how does someone die and buried just like my husband Obidike and his spirit still remain alive and visiting people…” she asked inquisitively.
“You may not understand. That is part of the mysteries of the gods and our tradition. And don’t forget that one of the major reason we are carrying out this traditional rite of bringing you into this bush, was to get Obidike your late husband’s consent before you will be allowed to remarry or remain a widow forever. Peradventure when he visited and he had said ‘no’ you can’t marry his younger brother and that would be it. But now that he had given his approval, we at least have something to take back home to our kinsmen that would gladden their hearts that our stay here was not in vain”. The priest happily explained.
“I am happy that I am free but I am still very concerned about marrying my younger brothers’ age and call him my husband!” She laments.
“Let the will of the gods prevail.” He said.
“The wise one, did you know that I almost froze when my husband appeared and spoke to me…?” Ugorji said perplexedly.
“Even the king as we were told, fainted when the spirit he desired to see came. Ghosts are not mere people.” He said.
“Yes, I learnt that long time ago from …” she replied.
“He was a man and as a woman, you were really strong and bravery. In the past, some women had died in this hut without completing the rites. As for the king, we were told that he lost his strength that night, coupled with the fact that he did not eat food all the day, nor all the night he waited to see the phantom. He was seeking for power from the spirits”. The priest said.
“I almost lose strength too, when my husband’s spirit appeared”. Ugorji said still perplexed.
“The gods are with you. You have also found favor in the sight of your husband. He loved you when he was alive and even at death, he still cares!” the priest remarked.
“Yes the wise one. I love him too and may his gentle….” Before she could finish the word, she broke down in tears. “That is alright. You can now go back to the hut and have some rest. It is not dawn yet.” The priest pacifies her as she turned and walked towards the hut sobbing.
Now the fourteen days and fourteen night’s rites were over. As usual, the priest had a goat and killed it, sprinkled the blood on her as a way of appeasing the gods. He plucked some leaves from a growing Iroko tree near the hut and kneaded it into a calabash filled with water with which Ugorji had her bath after abstinence from water throughout the days as she was forbidden while the ritual lasted. The priest did other necessary sacrifice to bring the rite to a final end. And they both went home that night. By this rite, Ugorji was now free. Her mourning period was over and it was now time to settle down and face life squarely.
Three months later, Ugorji was struck with a strange sickness. She becomes terribly sick. And before the end of the fourth month, she died and her two children became orphan. She was a tactile woman in many ways than one; she touched people’s lives generously. Even after her death, her good deeds were still remembered.
One year later, Ochonogor, Ugorji’s daughter was given out in marriage at the age of fourteen years old to Idika a popular village clown. Amobi was sent to learn a trade. Later, she was married to Chikelu. They both had no basic education because nobody cared for them.
Agwu and Idika arrived at a drinking hut, own by Ukadike. It was near Ezeudu’s compound, where the men of Amanzi village often had palm wine and peppered soup. By coincidence, the men and Onyemeze had arrived at the hut exactly the same time. They exchanged greetings with their fellows, who were already seated around the table swigging wine from a gourd, making sardonic jokes and howling with lively laughter – talking with one another in a light familiar way – their laughter raised the roof.
“I am glad to see both of you again and in good condition too”. Igbokwe said chortling with delight and took a slurp from his palm wine cup.
“I am happy too, Igbokwe, thank you. As it were, you already know how it is nowadays, life is struggle. And, we must keep the hands busy. In a cultural dance, the hands that claps loudest, usually take the accolades for the rhythm of the beats. As the saying goes also, it is fun to practice madness in the streets, but the only headache, is the constant trekking involved.” Ndika said, and they both laughed hysterically.
“You and proverbs, you are exactly like your late father Iwuji. He was a real man full of wit and sense of humor.” Igbokwe said stifling a yawn as his lips twitched with amusement.
“That is true. It’s been awhile since you and Agwu came here…” Osita expressed surprise.
“Oh, thank you very much Osita. Nothing to it really; it’s just that for one to eat, he must work. So, we were busy finding food for the stomach else it‘ll complain peevishly.” Ndika responded jokingly and with a casual conversational tone – dishing out an alluring smile as they had a good natter.
Osundu was sitting at the other end of a long bamboo-made bench at the hut slouching against the wall dosing somnolently. He gave a little cough to show that he was not fast asleep as Agwu tapped him by the shoulder. He opened his eyes drowsily, took a deep breath, stretched his body and yawned, feeling rather bleary. He managed to stand up in order to greet Agwu and Idika and suddenly winced as a sharp twinge of arthritic pains shot through his right leg, which was slightly swollen. He had banged the swollen knee against a nearby table as he made effort to adjust his legs in an attempt to stand up. He was clearly in pain. He gets this usual niggle in his right knee, especially during the cold season.
Agwu and others, felt sorry for him. Ukadike quickly went for a local balm stretched out his right hand and hands over a small bottle to him at once. Osundu gently opens the lid and robs the aromatic ointment all over his knee cap down to the ankle, excruciatingly distorting his face in dismal expression due to the severe pain. In a moment he felt calmer. Now he sat down, crouching over the table in front of him, still feeling restless and irritable with slight pain in the knee.
The wine bar was now brim- full and high-spirited with babble of voices. Hurricane lamps were lit. It was already getting dark. The lamps gilded the whole environment which had now become brighter. Earlier, tens of Young pigeons belonging to Ezeudu played around the hut pecking at crumbs on the ground. They suddenly made short fly into the air and then a comeback each time they sensed there was an intrusion on them. Robin and other birds too, gave accentuating voices in harmonized tunes, making the evening sweet and beautiful. Their voices were made in distinctive recognizable tunes such that when canary the songbird gave its common thrush, like a songstress, everywhere came alive with its exuberant melody. The troop of birds had just flown in, landed and stayed on the orange tree branch at the back of the compound, a few yards away from the hut. That was where the birds came each night to roost and nest their young ones. The little birds nestled snugly at the top of the tree while waiting for their mothers who believe there is dignity in labor in providing food for the young birds. Immediately the mother birds arrived, the young birds began to make noisy cry calling for either attention or that was their natural way of welcoming their mothers back home – opening their mouths and that way, their mothers put food into it. A congregate of finch, sparrows and storks had flown past the hut, retreating to their place of shelter too – trilling away happily in the starry sky.
In a short time, three local dogs, belonging to Amadi, looking malnourished, fierce and emaciated had just strolled in to the hut loitering around in search of fish and meat bones leftover. Their eyes were sunk with a hungry look in them. That obviously reveals that their owners too, might have not enough food to eat, let alone, feeding the dogs to be in good fettle.
By chance, the dogs found few pieces of bones on the ground and suddenly, they bare their teeth at each other and growled as they struggle over the bones; as it was said that a hungry dog is an angry dog. Eventually, one of the male dogs which had a kink in its tail and suffering from what looks like mange infection, won control, devouring half of the bone in one bite like a hungry man who for days had not eaten. It continuously chewed between the teeth, making crunching sound as it gnawed the bones.
Meanwhile, stale smell of tobacco billowed from outside and through the doors and windows of the hut, which were widely opened for ventilation. The whiff of smoke rushed into the bar like a fog as, Nneji Okagbue and Achike who had the habit of smoking tobacco pipe, gathered under an umbrella tree, beside the hut, close to the window already covered with grime and color of soot. The firewood stand where Ukadike’s wife and her two daughters assist their father to prepare the bush-meat peppered soup meal, was just a distant away; the firewood smoke had ingrained the window frames and left a part of the bamboo wall too, in color of black coal.
Inside, the hut is spacious and airy. Apart from the stench of tobacco smoke, the hut also redolent with the smell of pepper soup aroma and palm wine flavor. The flavor kept oozing out from wine gourds placed at a corner close to where Osundu was seated and slowly dripping a mass of bubbles in its mouth – pestered by small insects – and no doubt, wine tasters like Opara and Ofulue, particularly found that kind of small bubbles appealing as they were able to judge between good and a bad wine just by the foamy quality it produces. Ofulue was an alcoholic. He sips his palm wine placing his cup precariously on the edge of the table. Whenever, he was drunk, he does things he was not supposed to do – prattle on about his children and wife.
The arrival of Ndika and Agwu at the hut was still causing flurry excitement and good humored atmosphere. Both men are magnificent bunch of jokes, and so, they were anxiously waiting to savor the best of their famous jokes – just in time, Agwu made the people laugh and the bar was practically lively. Their friends at the bar were particularly excited with warm smiles because for some time now, Agwu and Idika had been absent from the bar but coming over that evening, was another opportunity for the people to hear some rib-cracking jokes, which had been missing since their absence. Idika in particular was a good joker. The people liked him for his hilarious and good sense of humor.
Onochie’s feigning indifference was very obvious when he pretended as if not knowing that Idika and Agwu entered; thus he pays no attention as he was busy chomping away on a sizzling hot plate of pepper soup, his face covered with beads of sweat. The thick sweat drops from his bald pate head down his freckled face already forming wrinkles caused by age. He brought out a strip of cloth from his pocket, which served as his handkerchief and wipes the sweat on his face and the flow running down his nostril too – and, slowly he sipped his palm wine, and carefully listened to the other men argue between themselves.
Naturally, Onochie is a reserved man with a happy-go-lucky attitude – never mindful about the future – because he believes that tomorrow will always take care of it. As a result of his quiet nature, he often found his fellow’s jokes at the bar coarse and rather vulgar, especially if the conversation was obscene, he showed no interest. He truly hates smutty jokes. He wasn’t a moralist per se, but to some extent, he was. He had always wanted standards of morality upheld both in the public or private places within the village, rather than allow it drop. For that, he often gets into trouble with his friends. They saw him as a sanctimonious antagonist with holier -than- thou type of attitude. And so, his friends resisted him repulsively. They felt that sometimes, he made them look like fools who had depraved minds; and are therefore, assumed to be morally bankrupt people; especially in their habit of using foul languages at the bar, which made him very displeasured and uncomfortable.
Chima stretched across the table leaned over and whispered something in Ezea’s ear. It was a gossip about Onochie: “…What is morality got to do with palm wine parlor? After all, if he was as morally sound as he portrays to be, then what on earth was his business with drunkards like us at the bar often? Besides, the other day, he drank himself to stupor and was picked up by the road side. I think he is beginning to feel like a watchdog over us. And I don’t like that.” He said maliciously with a suppressed pent-up feeling on his face. Chima was naturally a grouchy person and often found fault in other people whom he does not particularly like. His utterance did not surprise Onochie who heard all that he had whispered. As far as he was concerned, Chima’s words were nothing but a mere crap. Thus, he grinned at the gossip they inveighed against him, which was not true, but meant to despise and make him look ridiculous before everybody. Chima’s thoughtless words irked him though, but he handled it with a brooding silence. He continued to lick his peppered soup.
Meanwhile, Idika draws his attention: “Onochie, this way you are rushing the pepper soup like a greedy-eater, I hope you will still be able to eat your wife’s food when you get home tonight?” Ndika said jokingly. Onochie giggled at the joke.
“Don’t even joke about that. You might be making a mistake, if you ever think that a plate of pepper soup was enough for me to give away my night food. Besides, I might be asking for trouble, if I dare reject Ukamaka’s food”. He replied politely, putting up a friendly smile, slowly he ate the peppered soup savoring every mouthful.
“I wonder since when you started caring so much about Ukamaka your wife”. Ndika made another jest at him.
“It’s not even that,” he said stoutly and continued, “You see, I try sometimes to run away from her incessant naggings and lots of headaches. It is so much for me to bear these days”. He ended with a feeling mingled with discomfiture and regret. At a glance, one can tell from the looks of frustration on his face was enough to suggest that he was near high blood pressure.
“Oh I see. All women are the same”. Idika expressed in fault-finding.
“Some are more unpleasant to be with than the others”. Onochie said rather dull.
“Yes. I think you are right. Sometimes, they lose control like someone who is mentally unstable” Ndubueze said.
“Moreover, it is only normal for women to be troublesome.” Kalu chipped in stating the obvious thoughtlessly.
“That may be true. My wife is one of those women with a loud voice, bad manners and loutish behavior.” Onochie complained whiningly.
“Onochie that is what those who went to school call a ‘fishwife’. They are bad and awful”. Igbokwe made a rude remark, unequivocally gave his opinion about women generally, typical of men who lack respect for the female gender.