Monday, 14 November 2011

Dawn in Ụmụogu

Part 3

Udobata had gone to tap palm wine in his farm close to the river two months after Urenna was found to be pregnant when he met his untimely death. Urenna craved for palm wine that fateful day and he could not get it from any of the sellers in their village; they had marginalised them because of the allegation of incest, despite the fact that the issue was yet to be decided by the Igwe’s council. Udobata had successfully tapped the first palm tree and was on his second when he slipped and fell heavily on his back. Due to his bulky weight he could not get up and so lay with excruciating pains almost all day. When Chineze got tired of waiting for his return she set out to look for him only to find him gritting his teeth in pain and unable to move his body. She instantly shouted and ran back to the village to get help. By the time they finally got back, Udobata was almost gone. He was finding it difficult to breathe and talk. After three days of medication, he passed away; was buried without burial rites due to the pending incest case.

Meanwhile the villagers did not believe Urenna was raped but maintained she Obidi is the only logical explanation, if the incest was to be eliminated. She could not tell how the cat was let out of the bag about her relationship with Obidi; she did not even tell her close friends Kosi and Añụlịka. Now, she knew that the walls had ears and eyes. But on this occasion it went blind; her predicament was orchestrated by her enemies. When confronted by her best friends about the allegation, she swore to them she was a virgin until the rape incidence but because she admitted being in love with Obidi, the whole village concluded she made up the story. So while they waited for Igwe Ọnọchie, the reigning ruler of Alaukwu , and his cabinet to decide their fate, Chineze and her daughter mourned her husband and father in bitterness. It was during their agony and sorrow that Ifeatụ came into their life, to be a shoulder for his sister-in-law, and father to his niece. He was determined to stand by them no matter the outcome of the Igwe and cabinets decision. For one thing, he had never doubted Urenna’s story because he knew his late brother and his wife gave her the best upbringing.

“And just as we expected, they gave the banishment on the grounds that if it was rape, then it was incest, and if it was Obidi’s, she would still face the consequences. Either way there was sure punishment,” Ifeatụ said.

“Did they not see the wounds on her body?”

“Self-inflicted they called it.”

“That is ridiculous. What about the people responsible, if it was incest? How sure they these people were are even from Ụmụogu?” she spat out.

“Same questions I asked. Your mother and grandmother felt there were people behind it. Anyway Obidi was equally banished and after many years he came to take mother with him to the east. Unfortunately, Urenna had joined our ancestors,” Ifeatụ said sadly as he watched the sixteen year old Akwaugo take the horrible details surrounding her existence.

“What happened to my mother and grandmother?” she asked, her eyes fixed on the sand she was drawing on.

“Let’s leave it for tomorrow. For now we need to find something to eat because the clouds are gathering,” Ifeatụ said in other to dismiss her.

“I have already prepared dinner, washed the lamp and put out the pots for fetching water. You promised me this story and I made sure nothing would distract us once you start. Please, papa, I really want to know what happened,” she pleaded.

Ifeatụ sat back, hesitated and then continued. After the Igwe gave his verdict and the banishment by ostracism was given, Ifeatụ took Chineze and Urenna to their maternal home True to his word he stayed on and as a result he was equally banished due to his association with them. It did not bother him because he was always treated as an outsider by the village due to his different views to the things they did and said. He left the village at one point in search of greener pastures and only came back when he heard of his brothers’ demise. Since his wife and three sons lived in Ọnịtsha and did not want to face similar fate with him, they decided to stay put while Ifeatụ visited them privately.

Chineze became a walking corpse after her husband’s death. It was no surprise she was not bothered by the ostracism. What else did she have to lose when the sun that lighted up her world was quenched. She was left to fight darkness with its upheavals created by Ụmụogu over Urenna. They had never liked her awesome beauty. When she was still a baby, some said she was an Ọgbanje, daughter of the water goddess or the sun goddess. It is believed that an Ọgbanje is a child who came to deliberately plague her family with misfortune. Ụmụogu believed that was the logical explanation to Urenna's beauty. Many times, her death was predicted but to their greatest surprise, she lived. There was nothing strange or abnormal that happened in their family since her birth. Udobata and his family were aware of the gossips being peddled but gave deaf ears to them; hence they did not have many friends. People only came to look for what would become another topic for gossip in the village. But secretly they envied Urenna's beauty and wished they had a daughter.

In her delusion she became weaker by the day, refusing to be consoled; she would stay awake most nights weeping in agony. She lost her mind and could not cope with living in that isolation, away from normal people. She felt locked up with a daughter that reminded her of their predicament, and a brother-in-law that would not understand the agonies of a widow. After Urenna and Ifeatụ tried to put her in the right frame of mind, she began to sober up and have meaningful conversation with them. She begged for forgiveness on her insensitivity towards their feelings. Few days later, Chineze passed on quietly in her sleep.

Chineze’s death devastated Urenna and subsequently affected her health condition. She felt guilty on the reality of the fact that her father died in his bid to satisfy her needs, while her mother died on account of losing her soul-mate. For these reasons, she felt responsible for their death which made her wonder whether the things said about her being an Ọgbanje was actually true. Until now, she began to consider the possibilities of being an Ọgbanje.

Few weeks after her mother’s death, she went into labour due to the emotional stress she was passing through. She had a premature baby. She never recovered from her poor health. She barely managed to nurse her baby for few months before joining her ancestors.

“Your name means precious child. Your mother and grandmother often talked about how precious and innocent you would be, even though you were being punished for no fault of yours,” Ifeatụ told her as he held her hands and looked into those innocent eyes of hers. He saw the pain and hurt lurking behind her radiant beauty, but she was holding strong.

“Thank you papa for telling me this story,” she said giving him a hug. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she said, “You will always be my grandfather and best friend. Thank you also for bringing me up and teaching me all I know. It hurts but then there is nothing I can do about who I am,” she finished as she got up and went back into the house.

That night, they ate in absolute silence listening to the pelting rain fall. It brought with it refreshness and coolness. Ifeatụ did not know what his granddaughter was thinking about but wanted to give her time to digest the story. On her part, Akwaugo could not wait to lie down on her mat and wrap herself up, allowing the built up tears to fall where nobody would see her cry till she falls asleep.

... to be continued

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