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Ugochukwu Anadị | A Widow’s Happiness Is Her Daughters

It was another evening after work and Mama Nkechi was sitting on the verandah of her fenceless house looking, without seeing, the passersby using the small path in front of her house. It used to be smaller but with no demarcation to obstruct them, part of her compound had been encroached upon to make the single-lane footpath a double lane so that the farmer coming from the north and the market woman from the south can pass without perceiving each other’s smell.

A group of three women returning from the market halted in front of her compound to greet her but Mama Nkechi neither saw nor heard them. The most generous of them observed that Mama Nkechi’s skeletal system had defeated the muscular system in a fight that started shortly after Papa Nkechi died; that she looked sad and dejected; that her children, Nkechi and Afọma, though, looked well-fed. The second woman said that Mama Nkechi is not someone to be pitied for she was not someone that asks for pity; she was a strong woman who could withstand any blow no matter how deadly, for which blow can be deadlier than the death of a truly beloved one? Was she not the same woman who stood and reminded her husband’s people that a man’s assets naturally go to his wife who struggled and suffered with him to build them up? She was the one who insisted that she was not leaving her husband’s family house after her husband’s death and that whatever was her husband’s was hers; that when she rejoins her husband, she would bequeath them, no matter how almost non-existent they are, to her own children. Her lovely daughters.

The third woman, the least gracious of the three, spat on the ground, disgust drawn across her lips and talked about the institutionalization of abomination. Arụ gbaa afọ, ọ bụrụ omenala. For it is true that when a taboo is not treated immediately as one, it ages to become a tradition. If not, when did a woman start contributing, deciding even, on matters concerning land, okwu anị? Mama Nkechi was not even a nwaada, for it was only the daughter of the soil who had the special privilege to, in extremely rare cases, intervene on issues pertaining to land and inheritance. No. She was an alụtaradi, an unworthy woman married into the land, more reasons our sons should be stopped from marrying these girls born to mothers who do not kneel to serve their husbands in lands where priestesses are more in number than priests.

But she didn’t decide alone, the first woman reminded the third. Mama Nkechi had the support of one of her husbands who said it was inhumane to remove a widow from her husband’s place only because she has no male issue.

Which of her husbands do you speak of? The third woman interjected. That boy that stayed in Nsukka only for five years and lost his head. You know Professor Oziọma, the one that lives near the market? (Who in this village does not know Professor Oziọma, was the reply to a question she’d intended to be rhetorical). Professor Oziọma had stayed in Nsukka for thirty years. Thirty solid years (not thirty months oo), yet he never stopped living true to his name. He is always spreading the good news. Don’t you hear his early morning cries whenever he is around? (I thought you said the other day that he disturbs your sleep with his early morning noise? the second woman asked, a question which was well ignored). With all his learning and exposure, Professor Oziọma still believes in God. But that boy only spent five years in Nsukka and now calls himself a humanist. The boy you are talking of does not believe in God!

Not only that (wonders shall never end, my sisters!) do you know that that boy said that we cannot conclude yet that Mama Nkechi has no son. That Afọma is only six and who knows which gender she would identify as when she is sixteen. (My sisters bikonụ, have you heard of people choosing their own gender? Mba, was the reply. No). Ohoo, the same way you haven’t heard is the same way I have not. But that boy almost gave me an ear infection. He said we were the ones who assigned Afọma female-at-birth. We are now class teachers who give their kids assignments, ọkwaịa?

They all laughed including the second woman who recounted for them the well-known story of Agadi. Agadi was a childless widow who suffered all sorts of indignities from her husband’s people till her death. In the spirit world, when it was time for Agadi to reincarnate and re-enter the human world, Agadi begged ChiUkwu, the Supreme Divine Deity, to allow her to reincarnate as a man and so it happened that Agadi reincarnated as a man with a woman’s spirit, an effeminate man. Depending on who was telling the story, its moral lesson could be that humans’ destinies are predetermined and any attempt to change them by humans end up in disastrous, undesirable results; or that human destinies are like pencil-drawn figures. With crayons in our hands, we can erase that which we wish to erase.

Or, in the case of the second woman, that gender is fluid. That since the spiritual influences the physical in Igbo cosmology, the Igbo person may be able to choose their gender just like the Igbo spirit, Agadi. And when the third woman wanted to object, she asked, remind me, was this boy not the one who you called a hero for saving you from lynching when you were accused of being a witch because a dead cockroach was found in a plate of soup you served the man who rejected you in your buka?

The third woman hissed and walked faster away from her group. Behind them, Sandra just entered Mama Nkechi’s compound and with a slight touch jolted her back to reality.

“Nwanne m nwaanyị, at this rate you are going, you will kill yourself oo. What are you thinking again, gbọ?”

“Sandra, my sister. Ah, I didn’t even see you enter.”

“How would you when you have dragged all the troubles in your workplace to your house? Don’t you think it’s high time you quit that job?” In a very mellow voice, “Don’t you think you have your right to happiness.”

“My sister, the hen does not make the kwom sound because she is the head of an orchestra or because she enjoys it. No! The thing is, if she leaves it, with what does she feed her children? Ọkụkọ hapụ kwom, o weredị gịnị zụọ ụmụ ya? Do you think I can be happy when my children are starving? Have you quickly forgotten that a widow’s happiness is her daughters?”

“And what of a daughterless widow?”

“You know we have a childless widow here and since she is not yet mute, I can’t claim to speak for her. So, tell me Sandra, what gives a daughterless widow happiness?”

“She. She is her own saviour. And maybe some new lover too.”

Mama Nkechi gave Sandra a mock slap on the back while both women laughed their way into the house.

———

Image: Bianca Van Dijk Pixabay modified

Ugochukwu Anadị
Ugochukwu Anadị
Ugochukwu Anadị is the Book Review Editor at Afreecan Read. He also judged the IHRAF's African short story prize and can be reached via his email address anadivincent4@gmail.com.

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