Life

WILTED LEAF

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She sat on the threshold of her thatched mud house. She had been wailing and rolling on the red earth of the compound since Nwogu- the herbalist, spelt that which would forge a new reality for her. Nana had wailed also, wagging vigorously its brown tail. Her well-tied wrapper had loosened during her sorrowful display. She knotted it. It was now drenched in salty tears that had torrented ceaselessly from her sagging eyebags. She sniffed. Her first wail was stimulated by the shock- the shock of Nwoye’s death. But the sob that came thereafter was moved a different chord. The thought of what widows passed through in Idere was something that triggered off her madness. She was only left to the comfort of her new mates. Idere widows. Nana was there too.

But all these would not console Bianca. She saw it usual- Idere widows were always there to comfort their new ‘converts’, and Nana would always exhibit its dexterity in tail-wagging, whenever she was in melancholy. People were sprawled here and there. They formed groups. She saw the umuada- her husband’s sisters, gesticulating and their lips moving like a mammy-wagon with failed breaks.

“They must be narrating various rites they will put me through. It is their field day. ” she muttered.

They stood under the huge mango tree that bore only sour fruits annually. Nwoye’s brothers sat opposite; perpendicular to the small earthen kitchen. Anobi, the eldest, was addressing them. Others formed gossip groups- stealing glances at her intermittently. She couldn’t repel them.

Two days before Nwoye’s passage, Anobi had come to the house. The late evening torrential rainfall had began to die down into drizzles when he entered.

“Dee, you are no longer getting younger, you know” He began after normal exchange of pleasantries. Unsurprisingly, this was the usual direction their conversation took during such late evening visits. Bianca always excused the men, but eavesdropped from the inner chamber.

“We understand you love your wife so much and have insisted on letting her stay.” He continued, “But why you have also waved the advice of getting a second wife who would bear children for you is what I am yet to fathom. Even your wife, I understand, have given her consent but you are still hesitating.”

Like most often, Nwoye merely sighed and said he would think more about the matter, and they went on to discuss other issues.

She sniffed again. Most eyes were on her, but she cared less. Trepidation caught the better part of her, drawing her away from her immediate environment.

Not the hooting owl- taloon-gripped on the crooked Pear tree branch that cold morning, not the sympathizing Ifemelu and Obiageri at her sides- widows themselves, not her wrapper loosening out again, nor the troop of mourners filing into the hut to see the corpse, shaking their heads- in seeming pity or shock or both, dropping kind words with her, having something good to say about the dead- about the prosperous farmer he is, his kind gesture, his easy-going lifestyle, some even talked about minature details like his smile, his firm-handshakes and his bald head; but the plight, the plight she was to go through as a widow in Idere, occupied every space of her mind. She knew she would be having a bumpy ride. She was already looking banal and deshaved.

Idere widows were treated with contempt, with severe disdain. Pre-funeral, you would be completely shaved, and tortoise excretea, mixed with ginger, shaken with salt water, would be applied on your head- ensuring no hair sprouted again, or at least, for a long time. You will be made to sleep atop your husband’s corpse for two days. You won’t see the next daylight if you had a hand in his death, they said. You would also be compelled to drink waste water from the corpse bath during these days. You won’t survive the stomach-ache if you had a hand in his death, they said.

Then, the Nsacha and Ikuchi rites after the funeral. The Nsacha rite entailed you dance naked before the umuada, bearing a lamp in your two hands, staying cautious the light didn’t go out. If it went out, it meant you slept with other men when your husband was alive, and you would be driven away- away from the family, away from the village, without an item of his property. The Ikuchi was meant to be the final bout. It demanded picking one of your husband’s brothers to matrimonize. Refusal customarily attracted ostracism. Widows seldom rejected this ‘huge privilege’, considering the aftermath of non-acceptance.

But, what Bianca was to meet now were several notches above all these. She’d been at loggerheads with her husband’s people for years. Sixteen years. She had no issue. But she was not barren either. At least, she’d conceived severally, but would lose it before the 8th month. Four times. Nwoye was a loving husband. Understanding. Unbent by all pressure. Searching between herbs and divinations for a solution. But all his efforts now lie dead, just as his corpse.

But not his people! They would rain curses and abuses on her at the slightest iota. She was called names identified with witchcraft. She ate her children before they saw the sun, some said. She was cursed at birth by her mother for causing so much pain during delivery, a few others said. She was from a lineage of outcast, the rest concluded.

She had always pitied Idere widows. Their pain, their anguish. Now, she would walk down that creaky slippery road of widowhood herself, and feel the excruciating agony she had always pitied.

Her eyes ran through the vast compound, as though she searched for something, someone in particular. They finally rested on Nana. It stared back at her and wagged its stirring tail. She got the message, her lips making to twitch. It would be gruelling for her.

By: Omoha Daberechi Joseph

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