Ifeoma was in high spirits. She was incapable of hiding her excitement. One look at her you would think her a teenager going on her first ever date. But then, you wouldn’t blame her. Today was going to be a first for her as well. After all the procastinations and postponements, the day arrived and she couldn’t wait. Today, she would set her eyes on her father for the first time. The man who had disappeared from their lives when she was just three months old. She had heard so much about him, how she was his spitting image, her eyes and temperament same as his. Today she would confirm all these details for herself. She swirled around in the yellow-background floral princess dress she wore, which accentuated her curves and contrasted sharply with her dark skin tone. She had bought this expensive clothe at a boutique when the date for this meet was finally fixed. In her twenty-four years, she couldn’t remember the last time she was this expectant.
“Ifeoma come and eat your food!”
“Am coming ma, let me retouch my make up. I didn’t draw my eyebrows very well,” she said. Udoka hurried into the room and inspected her daughter.
“You look perfect and dazzling my dear. Stop behaving like this! You are starting to make me feel like someone swapped places with you on your last holiday. Better behave yourself.”
Ifeoma obeyed her mum and went for her breakfast. She knew her mother was worried and didn’t want to stress her further. She had overheard Udoka confiding in her sister Ijeoma how she feared that Ify would abandon her for her father once they met. Aunty Ijeoma had wisely advised her to have some faith in the daughter she had bred. Finding herself lacking appetite that morning, she ate the much she could and jumped into the car, ready for the journey. Ten minutes later, they were on their way to the airport.
The young woman and her baby were crying uncontrollably. The little child, six months of age, couldn’t understand why her mother was so distraught, and sensing danger, was crying for attention. The woman on the other hand, was lamenting her fate in her young life. Raised an orphan, her luck had seemed to pick up after a life of suffering when Ikenna walked into her life and married her. All was bliss until three months ago when he walked out abruptly as he had come, leaving her with her three-months old twins. And now, one of them, Nwaoma had just died. Why would the world conspire against her so? She didn’t notice a young widower standing with his son at the entrance to the ward, watching her. Ifeoma drifted out of her daydream as the car came to a halt at the ever busy MMA 2 airport in Lagos. She sighed. The young man, Bankole Olarewanju had taken her and her mother under his wings and cared for them. She grew up to call him father, and believed him to be her father, until fate decided to intervene once more in their lives. Her mother had told her the truth when she was about ten years old, but all her life none of her paternal relations had tried to contact her until recently. The calls started coming once news spread that she was about to get married. This, coupled with the fact that her American husband was going to come to Nigeria to perform her marital rites. At first, she thought it to be a joke, until by chance, she met her paternal aunty, Ikenna’s elder sister at the Ikeja Mall in Lagos. They had been introduced by a woman, her aunty’s friend who attended the same church with Ifeoma and her mother. The woman was surprised that they didn’t know each other, given that Aunty Ebele lived in Lagos also. What aunty Ebele had told her in the mall stuck with her: “whether a crayfish swims the big ocean or small stream, it will end up in the soup pot. The chicken must come home to roost, no matter what. Your father is your father, our culture says he must be the one to accept your brideprice, if not, the marriage isn’t valid.” As she boarded the Air Peace flight to Enugu, she smiled. The chicken is coming home to roost.
Ikenna strutted around the compound like a peacock. His face was all smiles. He took time to greet all the visitors warmly, shaking their hands and clasping their backs, all the while exposing his perfect dentition in a hearty laugh. The gods have been merciful, he meditated. He had feared that today would never come, but now he was still in a daze. His daughter was coming to see him for the first time. Her mother had disagreed, but he began to hope that all his sacrifices to the family gods on this matter were accepted when he heard it was the girl pushing for the reunion, vowing that it must happen before the impending marriage. Ah, a daughter as stubborn as her father. He poured libations to the gods once more before drinking the palm wine Agbo Obeta had tapped that morning. Oshinta d’r’oyi, n’oruya g’, (if it starts to get better from today, then it isn’t too bad) he thought. More relatives poured into the compound to await the august visitors.
The house was a beehive of activity. He had killed two goats and ten fowls, which would be used to prepare ofe nsala for the celebration. That will go with the almost thirty tubers of yam the young men were pounding. There was palm wine to go all round for everyone. He had spent a lot of money today, but it was worth it. It would be chicken change compared to what the oyibo man will pay for bride price. He would ask for it in dollars. Dollars! Ego igwe! He suddenly started to jerk his head to Mike Ejeagha’s Onye Ori Utaba as the DJ began to do what he was paid for.
The flight landed barely an hour later at the Akanu Ibiam international airport. They came down and met the emissaries that were sent to meet them at the airport, amongst which were her uncle, Udezue. Udoka refused to greet him or acknowledge him as he called her nwunye m, my wife. It was still like yesterday when she had visited him to beg him to help her get her husband back, and if possible lend her some money to carter for the children in the meantime. He initially sounded sympathetic, until she turned down the motive for his sympathy: he wanted to sleep with her. He had then pursued her out of his house, calling her a witch who’s spell over his brother had been broken. Carrying both kids, one in her hands and the other on her back, she ran for her life. Nwaoma had died less than two weeks later. The group then started the one hour journey to the village, Owerre-Okpu, Orba, in Nsukka. Bankole had used his military connections to arrange for some personnel escort to the village, so the siren from the escort vehicle added to the carnival feeling in the group.
Bankole had fallen in love with the woman while he took care of her and her baby. He found her meticulous and observant. He had rented an apartment for her in Ikeja and visited them daily. Initially, he was at loss as to how to approach her to express his intentions, since he didn’t want to be misconstrued as trying to take advantage of her. When he opened up to her, she had accepted him but refused all entreaties to get married. She had borne him four children, but it was the girl, Ifeoma, who had surprised them all. The young chap had taken to her books and turned out to be very brilliant. By the time she had finished her degree in medicine, she won a scholarship to do her masters at Harvard Medical School in the US. At twenty four, she had bagged her PhD already. It was while at Harvard that she met Philip Owen, a young brilliant entrepreneur who was into IT and software development. Bankole found himself thanking God everyday for leading him to the hospital that day twenty-something years ago. When the calls had started coming, he had called Ifeoma and her mum and told them his mind.
“I am not going to come between you and your father,” he had said to Ifeoma. “I can only spend the rest of my life thanking God for leading me to both of you that day. Seeing you all grown up and successful is the highlight of my life, it’s a memory I will cherish. So, I give my blessings on this your journey, get to know each other. You will have plenty of stories to tell each other, I’m sure.” He was smiling, but they were already in tears. Ifeoma looked up, they were past Orba junction and approaching the compound.
The deafening shots of the local gunpowder guns greeted them as they alighted from the cars. There were local drummers and dancers welcoming them, ushering them into the enclosure that formed the compound. People milled around, trying to catch a glimpse of their ‘wife’ and ‘daughter’. The mood was festive. Ifeoma loved highlife music. Ositadebe and Oliver de Coque had been her icons in her younger days. With reckless abandon, she threw herself in the midst of the dancers and showed off her amazing dance steps. She had come prepared. The crowd were thrilled and the mood was celebratory, jubilant. It was only her mother that stood aside, watching her daughter in dismay. Is this how all my efforts for the past two decades will just go to waste? She thought to herself.
It was the shouts of joy that alerted Ikenna and his family that ndi ana eche erutego, those they are waiting for have arrived. He came outside to find a young girl dancing in the midst of the paid dancers.
“Ikenna!” someone shouted, “your daughter bu omekannaya! Like father like daughter!” His heart swelled with pride. Oh, he had been the best amongst his agemates then and for sure, he knew he still had it. Ngwanu! He entered the fray. The crowd were thrilled. Father and daughter dancing together in their first meet. Chai! It is in the blood, screamed someone in the crowd, referring to the dancing. Udoka placed her hands on her head and was near tears. Seeing them dancing together, she told herself the truth: “blood does not lie”. She knew there and then that she had lost the battle.
Inside the sitting room, the family member gathered. It was clear that the only person who felt out of place was Udoka. Ikenna was beaming with pride. His wife was running around serving everyone whatever they wanted. Get the girl, get the dollars, her husband had told her last night. We must get both. Or we can take the dollars and leave the rest. After a few minutes of hearty banter, Ndulue, the eldest man in the family raised his hand, motioning for silence. The moment of truth, thought Ebele, eyeing Udoka with a smirk.
“Cha cha chchchchchchccha Orba kwenu!” he chanted.
“Iya!” they chroused.
“Iyoooooooooo!” Everyone was smiling and laughing happily, while crunching either goat meat or chicken. The feasting started even before the item on the agenda was broached.
“Our people say that a snake never begets something short, it’s offsprings must be long. My daughter, you have shown that you are really the child of our son. You and your mother are welcome.” ‘Welcome’ chorused as well from all present. Udoka rolled her eyes. Ifeoma was clearly enjoying herself. Udoka was beginning to feel something was amiss. She was beginning to sense a bit of mischief in her daughter’s flair.
The old man continued, “It is a happy thing to see a family reunited once again after such a long time. Ifeoma my daughter, do you know you were conceived under this roof? This is the house your parents spent their first night together as husband and wife.” Ikenna punched knuckles with his younger brother Ekene.
The man droned on, “I had warned your father not to marry your mother. Even after the marriage, I still told him that your mother was not a good woman and encouraged him to leave her. But today, you and your mother have proven me wrong, I am very proud of that.” Ifeoma winked at her mum, notching up Udoka’s level of unease.
“Let us allow the man of the moment, Ikenna, to speak to us about what is happening today.” Cheers all round.
“Nd’ b’anyi eklee m unu o! I greet you all! In fact today is a very remarkable day in my life as a man, as a father. I have never been so proud to be a father. That my daughter, whom another man has claimed to be her father has been returned to me is the work of my Chi. It can only be my Chi that can work miracles like this. My Chi has declared that I cannot lose what I rightly own. It has been more than twenty years that I haven’t seen her, but today, you can see how we blend together so much that there is atom of doubt she’s my daughter. Beyond the colour and resemblance, you can see how she dances so well. She got that from me,” Ikenna was beating his chest proudly. Aunty Ebele punched her fist in victory.
“That day when I left them in Lagos, I was greatly disillusioned. It was the work of my enemies. They beclouded my reasoning. But today, my Chi has put them to shame. They will not laugh at me anymore. My only source of sadness, is that my wife, who’s bride price I paid, couldn’t wait and pray for me, she threw herself into another man’s arms…” Echoes of dismay and pity punctuated the air.
“But today, all is forgiven. I am a very benevolent man. All I ask is that my wife apologize to me for not waiting for me, and all is settled. I will take her back as my wife. As for my daughter, I have no quarrels with her.” All eyes turned to Udoka, who by now was red with embarrassment. Ifeoma intervened, indicating that she wished to speak. They granted her audience. She stood up and greeted them with the traditional ejaculations. This thrilled them. They had expected her to behave like onye agbaelu, an outsider. However, she has shown clearly to be one of them, down to her command of the dialect.
“I greet you my fathers and mothers, and I thank you for allowing me to speak. I am truly thrilled to be in your midst today. May you live long,” she paused to gather her thoughts, while they applauded her, shouting “iseeeee!”
“The toad they say, does not run in the daylight for nothing. We came here because I wanted to meet all of you,” she said, gesticulating at all of them. Turning to her father, she continued.
“I came here specifically to meet you, and to tell you to your face,” she paused for breath, “How disappointed I am in you.” The big smile on Ikenna’s face wavered, and then lit up again. Of course she has every right to be disappointed. They can share hugs after the speech. Ify continued again, looking around the room.
“I am disappointed in all of you. For twenty-four years, none of you have bothered to look for me or my mother, to know how we are. For twenty-four years you didn’t bother whether we lived or died. But today, you are here to eat the food prepared by another man and enjoy the fruits of his labour. Shame on all of you.” Mummurs rose in the room, but she plowed away, noting that her mother now had her head in her hands.
“Our people say a worker deserves his dues. They also said one reaps what he sowed. Do you go to the farm to reap tubers of yam when you planted vegetables? Onye gbaa boolu, olacha orome,” she reminded them. Ekene was getting agitated, but Ikenna was aghast, his jaws dropped open.
“So, because you helped my mum conceive under this roof, you believe you are entitled to be called my father when you have abandoned me all my life? Fine and good. You want me back, I am here, but it is my turn, so I denounce you as my father for the rest of my life. You are nothing to me. You now remember that you are my father because I’m getting married and you want to collect the dowry? Such pettiness! Such audacity! Who told you you are my father? You are merely a sperm donor…!” At this point Udoka screamed “Nwataa egbugo m ooo!” But a fired up Ifeoma continued nevertheless.
“So you think because you had a fuck, it means you can lay claims on me whenever you want? Wake up man. Wake up. I have a father. His name is Otunba Bankole Olarewanju. So if you think all your petty threats against my marriage will make me shiver, think again. Where were you when my sister died? Do you even remember her name? Listen closely, carrying out a penile function doesn’t make anyone a father, it is the hardwork that follows that makes you a father. I hope I made myself clear to you all?” she said, casting a side glance at aunty Ebele.
“What about the bride price?” someone shouted. Ifeoma turned, it was Ikenna’s wife.
“Bride-gini? Bride ko price ni. Come to Lagos and collect it, you hear. And here,” she brought out some money from her purse and laid it on the table before a dazed Ikenna, “This is the bride price you paid for my mum. Now, I know this is supposed to be done by a man in her family, but since none of them are here, I do it on her behalf. We are returning your money. Traditionally, you are no longer her husband from this moment on. By the way, thanks for the nsala and pounded yam, I must confess I never had it any better than this. Enjoy your feast gentlemen. Mum, let’s go.” Udoka jumped up from her chair ready to dash outside for some fresh air and escape the tension in the room.
“Where do you think you are going?” bellowed Ekene, recovering faster from the verbal assault than others. “Will you sit down! How dare you try to walk out on elders like this? How dare you talk to the elders in this manner? Imagine the…” Whaaaaaack!!! Ekene never saw it coming. He would testify that all he saw was a blinding light like Paul the Apostle, and then realized he was lying on the ground, whereas he had been standing. It was when his cheek began to burn painfully he realised he had been slapped. A pair of boots materialised before him and his brain made the connection: they had been escorted here by soldiers, and whoever this is, came with them as well. As a sharp guy, he laid back down on the ground and held his breath. By this time, some others had started sneaking out of the room.
“Madam, what do we do about this one?” the sergeant asked, pointing at Ikenna. Ikenna felt the hot liquid pooling in his loins as he looked at his daughter in horror.
“Leave him alone. I think the realisation that today didn’t go according to plan is enough punishment.”
Udoka sat in the car staring at her daughter. How could she have misjudged her so? How did she miss all the signs? It is true she resembled her father in all aspects physically, but she had inherited her guile from her mother. She had planned and played this to the last. Her heart was bursting with pride. She had resigned herself to fate, even thinking already about how the journey back to Lagos would be without her daughter, but Ifeoma had, with one swipe, cut all ties decisively with her father’s family. Such a class act. But something bothered Udoka about all this.
“Did Bankole know about what you were planning?”
“No mum,” Ifeoma replied.
“Why did he insist on soldiers going with us?”
“I persuaded him, I told him it was just for our protection, nothing else.” Udoka sighed. Children of nowadays, ah!
“You know, I thought I have lost my daughter, with all the excitement you were showing. I forgot you always tried to hide your nerves by pretending that you are excited.” Ifeoma snuggled close to her mother.
“Aunty Ijeoma told you to have faith. You really should try that sometimes.”
“I won’t envy Philip at all if you get all cranky on him when you are married.”
“Talking about marriage, mine isn’t happening until you do the right thing with daddy and marry him. He has been waiting for twenty-four years now.”
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