|Photo by Ikenna Ogbenta|
We were saving money for the bride price. We were slipping it into the slit of the iron safe hidden under the bed. It was better to have it within reach than in a bank where we would live in constant fear of liquidation. We harboured no fear of people tampering with our bank verification number, then debit alerts. It was the trend in town. We had heard tales of white collar scammers, with a foreign accent, calling to say one's credit card has issues before demanding for the last four digits on it.
We started saving after Kalisia was made to kneel before the Umuada during her mother's funeral. They were the daughters of the land. Women with flappy chicken arms and stomachs gone large from excessive consumption of funeral food. They said she was a disgrace.
‘How can you live with a man that has not placed a single wine on your head?’
‘How can you beget children for him when you're still unmarried?’
‘Do you know we can take the children away from you?’
‘Twelve years! Tufia. We doubt you are one of us. Aguleri women don’t behave like this'
Their phlegm landed close to the spot where she knelt, tap tap, on the little pool of murky water.
They ignored me until I felt invisible. More like the fly perching on the leftover abachawhich had been their appetizer.
Kalisia, alone, bore the shame on her shoulder, her eyes a reddish hue that spoke of anger. Later when the canopies were bare and the plastic chairs stacked to a side, she let out her fury, slamming the hired stainless plates on tripods, kicking the empty gallon of Kings oil, her temper was a blazing inferno.
‘what do they know about marriage? What do they know apart from demanding for this and that during a funeral. Egbeenuigwegbagbụkwe fa. They should pay the bride price themselves '
But when we returned to Lagos, to our one room apartment, she painted the humiliation a shade darker, her eyes glistening with tears.
‘I can't take it anymore. Mba’.
‘imagine me been made a laughing stock n'irụọhanile’
Later, She bought the iron safe herself, from the welder at Ayetoro. A thin gangly man who became a topic of discussion that night.
‘He was just looking at me with his frog eyes. His kind can even trail you to your house, then carry the safe away months later’
‘That’s how they used jazz on Mama Nkechi. When she broke her safe, she only saw white papers’.
The first two months, we speculated that the money we saved was enough for the mmanya ajụjụ, the introduction which entailed few crates of beer and malt. We planned to present these items to her brother and the few Lagos based Umunna on an agreed date, in his sitting room. But Chiluba's hernia had to be operated. It was sore and painful, right above his penis, causing him much discomfort and torture.
We borrowed from the bride price fund to solve the immediate need by hammering the slit into a larger hole and shaking the money out through it. We were hoping for a better tomorrow, you see. It became a step we took oftentimes to solve our urgent needs. Like the children school fees, Chiluba's common entrance fee and even the standing fan in our home which replaced the faulty ceiling fan.
With each need meant, the slit became more of a hole, and the money fell out more easily. We promised to save more for the bride price. More and more, no more borrowing. But our promise was a lie that laughed at our faces, eyes tickling in scorn.
When Kalisia became ill and was diagnosed of cancer, the words that left her mouth as we left the doctor’s office, hands held together, were:
‘When I die you'll be coerced into paying double bride price. We need to pay my bride price before I die'.
Chinwendu Okafor calls herself a free spirited being, who laughs and writes all the time.