Source: Edited from Whatsapp, author unknown.
I am awakened by loud banging and shouts outside the door. I am momentarily confused until I see Odinaka hurriedly putting his clothes on, his eyes wild with fear.
“Chei they are here! We are caught!! Oh, may our Chi have mercy, we are going to die today! They will kill us both!” he sputters. He stumbles over his clothing as the shouts grow louder and the banging fiercer. My mind is still dulled by sleep, my body too shocked to make a move to get up from bed & get dressed.
The door crashes open and I see a group of men rushing in. They seem to pass Odinaka and run toward – me! One of them slaps me across my face as the other pulls my hair.
The force of my hair being pulled is enough to drag me out of bed, my nakedness apparent for all to see. I gasp in pain and taste blood on my lips.
“Cover her up,” I hear one voice say, “At least let a bit of modesty be preserved before we finish her off.”
“Why cover the harlot up?” another cruel voice that I recognize as Udoka, my elder brother, hisses.“ She has brought shame upon us all and should die like a dog, in shame!”
I use the opportunity to pull the sheet around me loosely. I look around for Odinaka . He must have used the ensuing chaos to flee and preserve himself. Just like everyone in my life. So much for love and standing beside me through thick and thin! A smile curves on my lips and a small humourless chuckle escapes before I have time to stop it.
Another slap cracks across my face. This time I cannot stop the quick tears that come to my eyes as a result of the pain.
“Shameless baggage!! You even dare to smile and laugh over your sin?” my brother, Udoka spits. “You are nothing but a harlot. A whore! You have been so from the day of your conception and you will die as one!”
I am dragged out from the room, through the house and thrown out on the street. I barely have time to recover when I am dragged to my feet, beaten mercilessly as I am shoved and pushed forward.
The crowd, holding bows and arrows, cutlasses, and all manner of cudgels, slowly swells as other men, full of righteous indignation, join the ranks of my accusers. Women look out of their windows, pointing fingers at me and cursing.
I can hear some of them jeering. “Where is your beauty now, ‘onye-akwuna’… harlot?” “Shameless woman! Be grateful you are barren, for our Chi has spared your children the shame of having a mother such as you!” and the shouts went on.
I fall down again and feel a kick in my side. I push myself up only to be slapped and punched again. I feel my right eye swelling.
The physical pain is overwhelming but it is the pain in my heart that threatens to undo me. I remember my life: the misery, the betrayal and pain I have had to endure over and over again. I remember. I was cursed with beauty. It was my burden.
I have raven black hair, rich and abundant. I also have almond shaped eyes, with luxuriant black lashes and a full red mouth. I was born to seduce and tempt.
Or at least that is what I have been told from the moment I was 12 years old. I remember my father, a high ranking member of the council of ndi-iche; chiefs, being told by his friends, “You had better marry that one off quickly before she tempts a fine young man into sin.” I didn’t even know what sin they were talking about. Then my brother’s friends and even my father’s friends gazed at me with lust from the time I was 14 years old. That made my brothers seeth with rage and my sisters to boil with jealousy.
I tried to be modest, following all our customs to remain proper and decent but to no avail. Short of covering my face entirely, there was nothing I could do.
At 15, I was married off to Mazi Ukanna, a man closer to my father in age than me, an upstanding member of the council of ndi-iche. I didn’t like him.
He looked at me like I was a piece of prized palm kernel, a hideous glint in his eye. I remember weeping the night before my wedding, begging my father to release me from the betrothal. That was the first and last time my father slapped me.
“You will marry him and give him many fine sons,” my father said, his eyes as cold as the driest harmattan breeze at night.
Thus, my marriage began. I could not endure Mazi Ukanna’s forced caresses. There was no love, no tenderness, only lust and anger.
When he saw my lack of response, he took to beating me. Then, of course, there were no sons or daughters..that was all attributed to me.
“A curse on you, barren woman!” he would shout often. His whole family blamed me for my lack of children. I was distraught. I knew nothing of love. I had not received more than anger and jealousy at home so I knew nothing else.
Until I met Odinaka. He was my husband’s nephew. He came to stay with us under the tutelage of Mazi Ukanna, with hopes of becoming a part of the ndi-iche. He was tall, handsome and showed me what I thought was love.
He spoke tender words to me under the moonlight in the garden when the rest of the household slept and my husband was off gulping away in palmwine with his friends. I felt Our Chi had played a cruel joke on me, and then left me to my fate. I felt that all members of the ndi-iche and indeed society in general were hypocrites – exhibiting righteousness in public and behaving no better than wild oxen in private.
It wasn’t long before I let Odinaka into my heart and then into my bed. I knew it wouldn’t last but I had not expected to get caught presently, I feel myself being thrown to the ground.
The crowd has swelled in size. I knew the end was coming soon. Then I heard Udoka shout, “Onye nkuzi anyi..Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law, our fore-fathers commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?”
Onye-nkuzi? Oh, yes, it must be that fearful, but gentleman that the elders call a dibia, but the youths describe as a jazz-man on account of some unbelievable miracles he had performed.
He was quite a popular character. I had seen him briefly once, in passing. He was a rather non-descript fellow – a typical righteous man with dark brown hair, beard who had the bearing of one accustomed to manual labour.
I hear he was the son of a handyman from another village. People said he performed miracles and was full of wise sayings beyond his years or experience. Well, maybe he could perform a miracle for me now and make me disappear, I thought wryly.
I was determined to die with dignity, I was not ashamed. I had had a brief taste of love and if I was to be punished for that, then so be it.
I lifted my chin up, determined to be proud till the end. I wasn’t afraid to die, indeed it might prove to be a sweet release for me from my miserable life. By now, my right eye had swollen shut but I looked up.
My eyes met briefly with those of Onye-nkuzi’s and my heart stopped.
Never had anyone looked at me that way. Not with lust, or hate or jealousy. But with love and tenderness so pure it seemed otherworldly. And there was something absent in his eyes: condemnation.
I felt tears spring up as inexplicable feelings coursed through my veins. I felt shame, fear at the same time. I wanted to throw myself at his feet and beg, not for my life, but for forgiveness. He then stooped to the ground and ….
He said, so softly that if not for the deathly silence He may not have been heard.
“Whichever one of you has a clean heart and clean hands should shoot the first arrow or slash her through with your cutlass.”
I thought I heard a hiss and someone turn around to walk away. The same thing filtered into my ears as I awaited a piercing arrow or slash. I prayed death would be swift. It sounded to me like I heard footsteps turning around and walking away.
And then, I heard, “foolish prostitute,” and a familiar loud hiss. It was definitely Udoka!
I heard his steps walking towards me as I relaxed, lifting up my neck with closed eyes for the ultimate strike of his cutlass. He stopped in front of me as I whispered my last prayers. I felt a splash of spittle on my face. He turned and walked away.
I heard as other steps walked away in the distance.
I looked up when I could no longer bear the silence. It was just Onye-nkuzi and I in that narrow alley. I slowly got up, every fibre in my body aching.
He straightened up and stood. Our eyes met again and I had the overwhelming feeling that I was standing in the presence of someone great. I wanted to fall to my face and pay homage.
He then said softly again, his voice like the soft humming of the breezy wind after the evening rain.
“Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”
I shook my head and answered, “No one, Sir.”
He smiled softly and exhaled, total forgiveness in His eyes. “Well, then. I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” And just like that I felt the burden of my past drop from me like dead weight. Not just my adultery but my pain and anguish. I felt new. I knew I had no home with Mazi Ukanna or my family but I was not panicked. I had felt the very presence of our chi, the True Chi!!!
I felt like shouting with joy! As I gathered my wrappings around me I looked up and saw Onye-nkuzi anyi walking away, some men joining him. I wondered if I could follow him. Perhaps I could for I heard there were some women in his party, one of them, da Philomena, distantly related to my side of the family.
I could now understand why the gentleman was so loved and reverred; why the elders in their fear and jealousy called him a dibia. Why the young men who called him a jazz-man also described him as a Son of Chi. He surely behaved like true royalty, without the pride and arrogance. He was majestic, in spirit and in actions.
For me, I subscribe to his Sonship to that Chi everyone talked about, but had never. I was convinced I had met Him.
My mind was made up. I would go to da Philomena!