“Nnennaya, your husband’s people came yesterday o. It was surprise visit. I didn’t even have anything special cooked.”
It was 9.50am, twenty minutes to the start of staff meeting. While the rest of the office was moving into the conference room where the meeting held. A couple of them raise their eyebrows at Okwuoma, sitting there behind her desk and talking on the telephone like the meeting has nothing to do with her. She couldn’t tell them it was her mother on the line. It would only lead to further explanation as to why whatever it was she had to say couldn’t wait till after the meeting. Which was that her mother didn’t call just to chit-chat. That, as far as older woman was concerned, if she should ever go against the natural order by being the one to call her first daughter, when the girl was a big company executive – and in a Abuja for that matter! – lived in a flat, and drove a Mercedes Benz, then honor demands that she drop everything and accord her mother the respect due her. Besides, Okwuoma knew all too well that her mother never calls her ‘Nnennaya’ (her pet name, because her paternal grandmother was said to have reincarnated into her) for the fun of it.
“Which people?” Asked Okwuoma, fidgeting that she was going to be late for the meeting, but still curious to hear what her mother had to say.
“Ah ah. Okezie’s people now. His parents and his senior sister. Kai, that his father na fine man o. Even his mother, asa nwanyi. My dear, those people are folks to reckon with. Titled, good lineage, everything. The sun is really shinning on our path.” She was simply ecstatic.
Okezie was a medical doctor who worked in London with Okwuoma’s elder brother, Ikenna. Six months ago, Ikenna had made an august call to Okwuoma to tell her that Okezie was in search of a wife, and had seen her picture and wished to get to know her. At the time, Okwuoma wasn’t in a committed relationship, and didn’t think it would hurt to meet a new man. Her first impression of Okezie was that he must be older than her brother’s thirty-five years, for he spoke in that calculated way ‘old’ people did. He lacked the carefree sense of humor of the youth or at least the young-at-heart. And he had an Igbo accent, like someone who was still a stranger to the English language. Nevertheless, they have been speaking regularly since then, that is if a twice a week routine communication could be termed that. Not at all the frequency one expected of a man supposedly in love. That was four points against him. But, at thirty-two, Okwuoma was not exactly in a position to be too picky. Age and lack of exercise was catching up with her. Her hips had flared out with such vengeance that they couldn’t be contained in her clothes anymore. Her tummy and waist had thickened too, and she was gradually developing ‘Christian Mother’ arms, fleshy and sagging. The graceful svelte she used to be was now looking stout. Thankfully, her face still had a lot of offer.
“But, Okezie didn’t mention it to me.”
“It seems he didn’t know either. His father said they were on their way to see a sick in-law when it occurred to them that their son’s wife was from somewhere around, so they said let them come and say hello. Did you hear me, Okwuoma, they called you their son’s wife! Anyway, you know me now. I can never be caught unawares. I filled their bellies with delicious meals. Assorted kwanu – ụgba o, eju, ngwongwo, rice, pami, trust me. By the time they finished, the mother confessed that she’s never had it like this before. That they must surely pluck this flower they’ve seen.” The older narrated, giggling with delight at her accomplishments. “All is well. Nnennaya! You made a good choice, nwa m.”
“Yes.” Okwuoma took the credit, but immediately felt like a thief.
Okezie had not brought up marriage with her yet. He may have hinted at it a couple of times, asked questions to ascertain her wifeliness, but that was it. That his people visited her parents meant they had the latest update on the progress of their relationship. Although she acknowledged that as a good turn of event, was it right that they knew about it before her?
Lately, all that mattered to Okwuoma was that she walked down the aisle ASAP, regardless of who the groom was, so long as he earned more than her and wasn’t already married. Okezie was all right, if one looked past his heavy pronunciations, and conditioned the mind to credit his personality with more spice than it had. At least, he was thinking of marrying her, and her mother had just pronounced his father cute. Though, if the truth be told, she distrusted her mother’s judgment more than she did Okezie’s pictures. Anxious to see her to her husband’s place, it was too much to expect the poor woman to see properly.
Many times, her mother, and indeed everyone she knew, wondered how it was possible that Okwuoma had remained single for so long. Growing up, she was the best-behaved child, sister, student, gbogbo ti gbo. She was shy, soft-spoken and always did as she was told. Never was she seen or rumored to be seen with a man in a compromising manner, nor kept late nights. And she was such a beauty. With a complexion as smooth and alluring as gold; face, oval; lips, thick and shapely; eyes that shone in their whiteness and honesty. What had gone wrong?
Even Okwuoma didn’t have the answer to that. Until she was twenty-two, she had avoided men altogether unless they were blood relations. Afterwards, she had had few boyfriends – the affairs were all brief and wide-apart. Her ex-s unanimously agreed that she was selfish. ‘You think only of yourself’ Segun, lover number three, had spat. How could they say that? When the entire relationship had been all about them, what they wanted, what pleased them? The only time she was tired of licking their asses, and wanted things done her way, they freaked out. Was it wrong to insist that once, just once, she should actually count? Then, again, was the issue of sex. If she didn’t give it to them, she was frigid. If she gave it to them, she was still frigid. There was no satisfying them. It was a good thing Okezie lived abroad. With any luck, they would be married before they both realized what it was they were going in for.
“Ok, my dear,’ said Okwuoma’s mother, after giving her a detailed account of the occasion, and suggesting that she did everything within her feminine powers to keep Okezie coming for more. “It’s well now. We’ll shame all those who ever imagined that you’d be an ọtu na aka nne ya. You shall marry, my daughter. Say amen.”
“Amen.” Acquiesced Okwuoma.
“And you’ve found a good man. Our enemies shall not prosper.” Okwuoma repeated amen, for lack of something else to say. “Yes, we’ve defeated them. So Nnennaya, I just said let me call you and share this joyous news with you. It was too much; I could not keep it to myself. If not that they left late and I feared you’d be asleep, I would have called you last night. But, it’s ok. Don’t forget to read your Psalms this night till the day they come and do something on your head.”
“I will, ma. Thank you, ma. Eh, I’ve to go now. Greet papa for me. Hopefully, I’ll visit during Easter.”
“Yes, that would be nice. But we’d prefer it if Okezie’s people came before then, so that you can come too. Easter is a little too far now. The sooner, the better you know.” Easter was only two months away.
“Of course, ma.” She was looking at her wristwatch. It was 10.05am.
“Have faith, my child. Nothing is impossible with out God. Bye bye.”
Okwuoma dropped the receiver and sprang up. “Christ! I wondered if she’d be talking forever.” She muttered to herself as she assembled the things she needed for the meeting from her files and drawers.
Just as she was about to climb upstairs to the conference room, the telephone at the reception rang. The front-desk girl was at the meeting, as was every other person. Okwuoma deliberated whether to let it ring or answer it. She decided on the latter. After all, she was late; what difference would a minute make. Moreover, it could be an important client. It was a young lady, quite out of breath, who asked for Dozie, Okwuoma’s immediate boss.
“I’m afraid, Mr. Nwankwo is in a meeting. You could call back in an hour’s time. Thank you.”
“No, no. Wait! Please, this’s urgent. I’m his wife’s sister. I’ve been trying to call his mobile phone but it’s switched off. Please, please. Can you tell him to call me back right now? Please. My name is Chinwe.”
“No problem, I will. But, calm down. Everything will be fine.”
In the conference room, the meeting was in full swing with Dozie speaking. Not wanting to distract him, Okwuoma wrote down the message in a post-it note and slipped it to him as she walked past him. He glanced at the note, opened and read it, while still addressing the staff. Soon enough, he rounded up and beckoned Okwuoma to see him outside to explain the note. Two minutes later, she was back to the room without Dozie. As she took her seat, by instincts, she looked up to find Mandy staring darkly at her.
When the meeting came to an end, Mandy came up to Okwuoma where she stood with a colleague. She was smiling, but it did not get to her grey eyes, which would been a lighter shade. Mandy was a British-born Hungarian and the next person after the CEO. She wasn’t remarkable as far as physical appearance went, but she was nice to Okwuoma.
“Frances,’ she preferred to call people by their baptismal names, if they had English ones, or the shortest form of their nicknames if they didn’t. “May I have a word with you, please?”
Okwuoma excused herself and walked behind Mandy as she marched to her office.
“What was that all about?” scolded Mandy, the minute they were alone. Something, Okwuoma didn’t know what, had seriously upset her. “You now pass notes to Gilbert? Have you any idea how suggestive that looks? I’ve been observing you all month, and your new-found friendship with Gilbert. You always find something to say to him, speaking your language whenever I’m present. What’s all that? Do you fancy him?” she was all red and trembling with fury.
Okwuoma then understood what the fuss was all about, but replied in a whisper, afraid someone might be listening, “Ha! Mandy, Dozie – sorry, Gilbert is from my place. I’m just fraternizing with a fellow Igbo person. There’s nothing more to it, I swear.”
“I don’t believe you. If it’s as you say why then do you treat me the way you do? You’re ashamed of me, right? You never show any sort of emotion in the public with me. You’re barely friendly.”
“Mandy, this is Nigeria! We don’t do our things like that.” Okwuoma exclaimed, exasperated.
“Oh really? Well, just before you go running off to Gilbert or that silly chap of yours in the UK, remember all your horror stories about men, how I kissed your tears away, and above all, that you love me in a way you could never love them.”