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                                                          Soon, Akirika had a hut of his own in Osuala. Everyone helped everyone in t...

Soon, Akirika had a hut of his own in Osuala. Everyone helped everyone in their small, tightly knit community. As soon as the rains came down, he was planting yam, corn and cassava on his own plots. Most nights, he thought of his parents and Eririmma. “I want to go to Umuaba to ask Eririmma to come and join me here,” he told Olokoro and Ikedi, his closest friends in Osuala. “How do you intend to do that?” Olokoro asked. “I don’t know. Is there a way? I need to see her. I need to talk to her. I need to know if my parents are still alive. They were very ill when I left the village.” “You could find a way to talk to her, but you and I know that the chances of her marrying you are almost zero. You joined us here because the other alternative was death. She is not faced with the same choices, so I see no reason why she would love to marry you,” Olokoro explained. “He is right,” Ikedi added.

“Let me talk to her first. Please help me arrange that. Can you help me please,” he pleaded with them. “So you did not rape that woman?” Olokoro asked. “Never. I did not,” Akirika insisted. “In that case, you can have Aforu, the high priest of Osuala perform some rituals to Igundu to avenge your frame up. We will find a way to get you to talk to Eririmma. I have to say again, it won’t work, but we will try,” Olokoro emphasized. “Once a year, after the harvests, we are allowed to trade with other Osu villages at Orie market in town. We have our small section on the edge of the market. You could come with us. You are still fairly new so a lot of people from Umuaba would not know that you are now an Osu. That way you could send a message through them to Eririmma,” Olokoro suggested.

Aforu slaughtered a goat to the gods and placed yams, corns and raw fufu, which Akirika had brought at the shrine of Igundu. “I have spoken to Igundu about your wrongful expulsion from the village. Igundu has heard your plea. All we can do now is wait and listen,” He explained to Akirika after the ritual. On the eve of orie market day, Akirika could not sleep. He tossed and turned until morning. They set out early. The market was already teeming with humanity when they arrived. He went ahead of his folks from Osuala and scoured Umuaba end of the market. After a brief search, he found himself frozen. Eririmma was seated on an old log of wood with her wares in front of her, displayed on a raffia bag. She was as beautiful as the rainbow, glowing with radiance. She wore goat skin around her waist, carefully decorated with multi-colored beads. Her hair was neatly braided and her forehead bore neat dots of uri. She looked up and saw him. Her hands shook. She had dry fish in her hand, which she was wrapping up in dry plantain leaves. The fish dropped out of her hand to the raffia bag. He gazed upon her, unable to utter a word. “Can I still get the fish for which I have paid you two guineas?” The old woman buying fish from her asked angrily.

“Sorry mama,” she apologized. She quickly gathered herself and wrapped the fish for her.” “That is how you all go crazy when you see young men. Wait until you are married and he will work you like a donkey,” the old woman said sarcastically as she left. “Please, would you be kind to walk over there where there is no one so we can talk briefly?” Akirika asked politely. “Yes. Yes Akirika! Please Nnenna, watch my wares for me.” “I will take care of them,” Nnenna replied. “I am sorry to surprise you like this. Biko gbaghara m (please forgive me).” “Of course I am...I am glad to see you.” “What did they tell you?” “I heard you raped Ulumma, the girl that lived alone near your father’s compound. And that you ran to Osuala to escape punishment.” “Did you believe that?” She looked at him. She was fighting back tears. “Look me in the eye and tell me if you believed that I would do a thing like that. You have known me all your life. Do you think I would do that?” “No Akirika. I don’t believe it, but I was not sure that I would ever see you again. So...so...I got married.”

Akirika wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. They were standing in a bushy area not far from the market. They made efforts to make sure that people who knew Akirika did not spot them. “Who are you married to?” “Duruji. I had to...he was persistent and my parents wanted me to get married quickly, so I would no longer sit around at home and cry about you.”  “Do you love him?” She shook her head. Slowly, she raised her hand and wiped the tears that streamed down her face. He wanted to reach out and hold her; wipe her tears, but he felt inhibited - she was married and he was an Osu. “It was not your fault. I am really sorry all these happened. I never raped Ulumma. I was framed up by someone. I have thought about you every day and night. I...I...wish...I wish there was a way you and I could be together. All I can think of now is to return to the village and kill myself,” he said, very sadly. “You must not talk like that.” She looked at him through misty eyes, and then lowered her face as another tidal wave of tears blew by.

“I guess I have to go now,” he said. “I wish...I wish I was going with you.” They looked at each other. Even though they were together, they felt far away from each other. “I don’t love Duruji. I am hoping that someday I learn to love him, as my mother said. He does not treat me very well...like you used to. I don’t know why life has to be like this; why my life has to be like this.” “Well, if you ever want to give away your current freedom, I will be waiting in Osuala for you. I have no plans of getting married soon. You will always be in my heart!” “And you too Akirika!” “Go! Go now before someone spots us.” He watched her turn and slowly walk away. She stopped midway, looked back at him for a moment and said, I am going to be very sad tonight...tomorrow and the days after.” He said nothing in response. He watched her as more painful tears rained down his face.

“I am sending you back to your parents! You are no longer welcome to my compound. How could you talk to an Osu? Someone who was thrown out of the land for rape? A coward who chose a life of shame and seclusion in the land of the rejected...the untouchables...I am ashamed to be called your husband. Leave now and never come back to my compound again. Tomorrow, I will come and talk to your parents,” Duruji was shouting at the top of his voice. “I did nothing with him. I just talked to him briefly. Please Duruji don’t do this to me. I did not even touch him if that is what you are thinking. Please!” “They are pariahs left to serve deities. They are not to mingle with us in any way. How could you? Especially one that committed incest and ran away.” “He did not do it!” She shouted. “What? You are taking his side now? I should have known your heart was always with him. Now get out before I beat you into the ground.” He threw her wooden box of clothes outside in the rain.

It was an unusual rainfall at this time of the year. She tried to gather her items together, but for everything she picked up, Duruji threw another one out from the hut. She packed all she could and began to walk home. She cried all the way home, drenched in the rain. “But why would you talk to him Eri my daughter?” Her mother asked. “Mama, I just had a chat with him and that is all.” “But we are not allowed to even talk to Osus, and given the things that he did, you should try to forget him my child. “How do I even explain this to my kinsmen? We can’t even let another pair of ears hear this. By merely talking to him, you could be thrown out of the village. It is a taboo,” her father said in a fit of rage. She cried until morning.

When Duruji arrived at her father’s compound in the morning, he wore a scowl on his face. “I think you and I can sort this out Duruji. Yes, my daughter made a terrible mistake, but we have to forgive her naivety. She is remorseful for what she did. You know, this is just between us. She did not even touch him, so we can let the talking slide by. Please my son, let us patch things up. We have spoken to her. She has learned her lesson,” Eririmma’s father explained pleadingly.  “I no longer want your daughter back, Mazi Igu. I do not want the curse of the gods on me. You can keep her for all you want.” Without any further words, he stood up and left. A stabbing pain tore through Igu’s heart. Eririmma and her mother were listening from outside the hut. They ran into her mother’s hut just before Duruji stepped outside. “What am I going to do mama?” She cried. Her mother held her and consoled her.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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