I woke up with a start. The cock crowing; the goat bleating, the dog barking. Oh! It’s only my father’s animals performing their daily routine in our compound this morning. Still, why this sinking feeling inside me? Ah! Today they come to pay the price. My bride price, or rather the cost price?
Today, Nze, the prince, son of the late Eze, along with his entourage will come to pay my dowry. What my father calls “The bride price.” For six hundred thousand naira I shall be bought. This body shall be bought by that beast-like creature in human skin.
I remember six market days ago when he came with some elders to make the final arrangements with my father. His eyes ravaged my body almost to nakedness. Like a…what was that phrase my teacher used in class the other day…? Aha! Like a fox ready to pounce on it’s prey. With his blown cheeks and potbelly, his ill fitted shirt tucked into his trousers belted below his belly, he looked like an underdressed clown. So this is whom I shall soon call my husband. He who shall posses my body. This vast body, which God created. I, Adaure, daughter of gold. Over my dead body! I’d rather die than be defiled by him.
Against my will I am being forced to marry this man. Father says he cannot afford to pay my school fees anymore and I have to drop out. Besides, he keeps falling ill these days. So if I marry the prince, I shall be able to complete my education.
Oh! Father, oh! Mother, I do not love this man. My heart belongs to another, and I you know it.
Uchenna my love, my life. He whom poverty decides to separate from me because he cannot afford my bride price.
Father says I am thick headed and selfish. Do I not consider their struggles and my siblings? Will love put food on our table and complete my education? Mother says I should not worry about love. After marriage to the prince, I shall grow to love him. But how can I love one man and grow to love another?
I get up from the bed and walk to the window. Mother has already started preparations outside with her fellow women who came to assist. With pots and pans clattering everywhere, firewood and tubers of yam heaped on the ground, a goat by the corner being untied by some young men, I knew food was underway. She says until our in-laws arrive, I am to rest and do no work at all. I look beside me, resting at the back of the chair near my clothes basket is the “Ngbaji” which I must wear around my waist today for the ceremony. An attire signifying virginity and fertility in its purest state.! My husband must find me a virgin on our wedding night.
Ha! Ha!! I laugh. If only they knew. A virgin indeed.
Out of misery and despair, I had persuaded Uchenna, my love, to meet me by the bush path on my way to the stream two days back. And in the sacred abode of our! Iove nest, I gave myself to him. My heart, my soul, my flesh, all in that painful-sweet sensation. Our reserved love for our future together had been consummated permanently all because of our oppressors. But I did not mind. I could cherish the feeling all my life even if we never saw each other again. Is it not money they want? Good! After the wedding ceremony, my husband would realise that I am a second hand commodity and perhaps in annoyance and with a bruised ego, of course, kick me out of his house and life. How interesting that would be. At least by then, his money would have made better the lives of members of my family. Who knows, I may even get to be with my first love at last and live happily ever after with him after all.
As I look on at the scene outside, with mother and those women making the fire at this stage, I just wonder… All these preparations for a “virgin” daughter? For me? I shake my head feeling a bit sorry for them. Tsk! Tsk!! If they knew. If only they knew.
Copyright © Chinwe Azubuike
Presenting a diverse and dazzling collection from all over the continent, from Morocco to Zimbabwe, Uganda to Kenya. Helon Habila focuses on younger, newer writers – contrasted with some of their older, more established peers – to give a fascinating picture of a new and more liberated Africa.
These writers are characterized by their engagement with the wider world and the opportunities offered by the end of apartheid, the end of civil wars and dictatorships, and the possibilities of free movement. Their work is inspired by travel and exile. They are liberated, global and expansive. As Dambudzo Marechera wrote: ‘If you’re a writer for a specific nation or specific race, then f*** you.” These are the stories of a new Africa, punchy, self-confident and defiant.
Includes stories by: Fatou Diome; Aminatta Forna; Manuel Rui; Patrice Nganang; Leila Aboulela; Zoë Wicomb; Alaa Al Aswany; Doreen Baingana; E.C. Osondu.
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