It was during the harmattan. The air was dry. The trees were solely dusty. The sand was too crusty while Odegwu and Nneoma stood on it. The hot sand was scorching underneath their legs and the dry wind blowing past them as they stood on the banks of the Umueze River when Odegwu said “I love you”. For once in Nneoma’s entire life, she genuinely believed him. Not because of the genuineness or trueness with which he said it, but because, no one had ever told her that before, in anyway, in a mocking, debilitating or jealous manner. She wasn’t bothered if it stemmed from his heart or only flattery, so long as he said it was the more satisfaction she had craved for in him.
Odegwu was well known and liked by the elders, women and youth. Whenever he was travelling back to the village from Onitsha he would buy burukutu and ogorogo for the elders of Umunnachi. For the women he would buy stock fish and wrappers. For the youth, he wouldn’t buy anything for them but would go to the bar to pay for all the drinks their head could carry for the day. Therefore, to say that he was liked by many would be an understatement. With his flamboyance and spending habits, no one would dare speak ill of him in the open. His actions were viewed from the lens of the elders, women and youth as the benevolent giver. In their minds, any misgivings of Odegwu would be slapped with the fairest hand of justice if not thrown under the carpet. One could say that his benevolence had shrouded their fairness for reasonableness.
His actions were supported, any actions at all by those who in one way or another had been beneficiaries of his benevolence. So, when Nneoma reported to the elders that he was cheating on her, they spit on the bare dust, squashed it underneath their foot and exclaimed “tufiakwa! Chukwu amanke,” meaning “God Forbid, God will not allow it!” At first she thought that they meant that God will not allow him cheat on her, or that they were angered, displeased and disappointed by his actions, instead they said to Nneoma, “You are lying. Odegwu cannot cheat on you. How dare you talk ill of him? Do you know the status he upholds in this community?”
The surprise that graced Nneoma was unforgettable, she knew fully well that they were not lie detectors, that their spirits or gods were not strong enough to have unveiled the truth as soon as she had told them. So, it was one thing and one thing only, that their sense of fairness had been shrouded by Odegwu’s benevolence, their ability to justify maltreatment had been tarnished by the hotness of the ogogoro and burukutu that streamed down their throats.
Even when she told them that he beat her, showed them the cut on her forehead, the deep bruise that cut into her skin when he hit her forehead with the kitchen pistol, the lines on her cleavage when he used his belt on her, the blood stain that settled in her left eye when he pressed both fingers into her eyes telling her that he would prefer if she didn’t see him again, they still did not believe her.
They wouldn’t believe her, even the evidence of marks on her body could not douse their lack of objectivity. The marks on her body reminded her of her junior brother’s words to her,
“I don’t like him.” “He is too proud and arrogant.” How could she have seen clearly or sieved the words of her junior brother, when Odegwu was the only one that had ever appeared genuine in saying the words
“I love you” and “I will marry you”
Nneoma had a fair and liberal skin. She wasn’t too tall or too short. She was average – the kind of average that made her plum body obvious. Before she started detesting men, in any range and kind if she hadn’t been raped by the two men in whose house her mother would send to go charge her phone for her. The men were construction workers who were tarring the Limca Road. They were working with a Chinese company that the job was contracted to. She was only fifteen and they spoke quite naughtily; the naughtiness she fairly did not understand as a teenager.
They said in a playful manner, “Plug it here and then come and cook for me later.” The other would say, “You are my wife, I will tell your mother that I am coming to marry you.”
She would smile at their words which she took for jokes cause they were older men whom she trusted would do nothing more but joke about the things she wasn’t quite aware of as a teenager; a ladies cooking abilities and the rights to marriage. So, the day they locked the door behind her like they had never done before with a sinister smile on their lips, like they had an agreement on what they were about to do to her when told her to lie-down on the couch and remove her clothes was the day she started to hate men.
Afterwards, she would begin to hate men and whatever they stood for; masculinity, egoism, superiority and everything that made men “Men”. Her mother, instead of calling the police, the elders or raising an alarm to anyone that could come forth to be of help, to seek justice, after she told her what had happened, instead she asked her “what were you doing there late in the evening.” The disbelief that met her pain was unmatched, the disbelief of the amnesia that might have caused her mother to forget that she sent her there in the first place, asking her why she wore the tight skirt that rounded her buttocks, the flimsy top that showed the linings of her bra. She didn’t remember buying any of her clothes or her under wears, if memory was not playing games with her mind she remembered her mother vividly buying all her cloths.
She couldn’t understand why her mother did nothing more than blame her for being raped by those sexual savages. If her mother had even confronted them in a bid to arouse neighbours suspicions, Nneoma would have developed a sense of ownership that at least her mother sided with her, raised a hand toward justice.
NEXT WEEK THURSDAY, Do not miss Part 2. Please leave a comment on what you thin about the story so far, click on the like button and subscribe to the blog. Thank you.