Chibuike Aganga was what one could rightly describe as a comfortable man. He had a good job as a photographer at one of the best modelling companies in Lagos; he was in his late twenties; had, generally, a good health; and not the least, he was dating an angel in human form - Oma. Oma meant good things in Igbo language; but the full name was Adaoma - a good daughter or damsel. A fitting description for the beauty that held his heart in vice-like grip.
He had first met her two months into his current job. That was in February. She had come, as a final year student at the nearby LASU ( Lagos State University ), in response to an advert placed by the company he worked for, FITEX GLOBAL, for prospective models. Of all the applicants that he photographed that day, she had caught his eye, making him snap a ridiculous amount of photos of her and taking it upon himself to prevail upon the Director to choose her, and her alone, as the new company model.
It had started from that simple act of infatuation. But like a seed buried in brown earth after a rain, it germinated - their relationship, that is. A week later, he was sending her long texts on WhatsApp, and love emojis, and buying okpa snacks for her whenever he came in the morning, and having hour-long calls with her when she went back to the university. She had been a bit hesitant to his overtures, even though she liked him. But this was with valid reasons: she didn't want to derail this new shot at earning extra cash and the associating fame as she prepared to write her final University exams, and she felt, initially, that he only was being sweet because he wanted to eat from her fruit. She had seen this tactic countless times. LASU course mates, and Lagos guys, in extension, had a distinction in it.
But as the months went by, they both got closer and closer that they became a defacto couple. Everybody called her Iyawo Chijioke - his wife - and to him, they taunted and called him justwoman wrapper. This didn't deter them though, as long as they were together. And together they were most of the time.
Things progressed so well that Chijioke began having these thoughts of popping the question of forever to her. He feared loosing her to one of these Lagos guys never regarded a lady in a relationship that wasn't marriage as taken. And as the mandatory year-long Youth Service scheme for fresh college graduates loomed, he got anxiety with the thought she'd meet someone else and forget the months of bonding they've built together.
There was also a fear that Oma was too good for him, and that, one day, or with the passage of time, she'd outgrow him and think that he wouldn't measure up to her, and the woman she was shaping up to be in the future. For, she was already making quite a name for herself in her nascent modelling career. Business executives always frequented the premises of FITEX GLOBAL, showering her compliments, same also as multiple fashion magazines and journalists, every now and then, to conduct annoying and unintelligent interviews with her, time and time again.
One day, Chijioke had gone and complained to the director about the number of interviews and unnecessary executive attention she got, that it wasn't good for her mental health and privacy. To which the stocky man, who only saw his perceived gain in any situation, admonished Chijiokie, telling him that " this attention is what thousands of other young, unknown models crave and need ", that his feelings had blinded him and ípp he'd rather cut ties with Chijioke than allow him to derail Oma's career with his thick head. Though the director had said it in a joking and reluctant manner, still Chijioke couldn't miss the scent of threat there. It always was business for these executives, after all.
And so, his anxiety threatened to consume him, just as the month of her departure drew closer. There was little he could do to prevent himself from worry. Even her reassurances that she'd remain faithful to him didn't sound sincere enough to his ears. She didn't know tomorrow. He also did not; but he had a general insight on how dogged attention from men swayed even the most reluctant of females. He knew she loved, or more fittingly, had gotten used to the attention, even despite her feigns of being bothered by it. She wouldn't feel alright in an environment that lacked it. And any guy could simply play in to this game.
So, one Friday, he took her to Film House Cinemas, for a movie night date. And it was there, in the dimness of the theatre, and in the midst of a long dialogue scene that he got on his knees, and asked her to be his wife, now, and after her year-long service, and till death. She had stared at him for what felt like eternity, before asking: " Have you told your family yet? "
" Of course not. Why should I have their consent before yours? "
" I think you should have done that first. " She replied with a hint of sadness in her voice. " Tell them about me first, babe. I'll always be here to give you my answer when you've heard theirs. "
That had confused Chijioke more than the embarrassment of not having received an answer. Why would she be so concerned about what his family thought? She was marrying him, not his family, he thought all through the tes6t of the now awkward date.
That night, he told his sister who also lived in Lagos, but in another part called Festac Town. Then called his parents in the village the next morning; in between his mother's excited squealing that her only son was about to further the family tree, Chijioke could imagine his father nodding in approval just as the wrinkles in his face deepened with wisdom and happiness. His father asked of her name and family's name, to which Chijioke promptly supplied as Adaoma.
" Eh, kedu maka afa nnaya? What about her family name? "
" Ndubueze, papa. She is even from our village, though she almost never comes home. "
" Ndubueze....Ndubueze....hmmn. " There was worry in his father's voice.
" What is it, nna anyi? Don't you know the family? It's okay if you don't. Like I said they haven't bee-. "
" It's not that, nwa m, " His father interrupted. " I know the family, very well even. It's just that - "
" Just that what, papa? What is it now? " He nearly barked. What was wrong with everything and everyone nowadays.
Whenever his father cleared his throat, Chijioke knew something heavy was coming. Growing up had taught him this.
" I don't think you can marry that girl, my son. Inasmuch as I don't know this girl in particular but her family name, sadly, precede her. I'm sorry, nwa m, but you can't. Not as long as her family name is Ndubueze from Amankwo village. "
Chijioke felt like dissolving into tears at that. The finality in his father's last sentence baffled him. There was this hate that seemingly steamed out from his words. This unnatural hate that had history behind it. Angrily, he had disconnected the call, and spent the rest of the night wondering and wondering.
His sister called the next morning.
" You are sounding down this morning, Jioke. What's it? I thought you should be happy this morning. "
" Nnem o, my sister, I don't know what to feel again ." Then he told her of his conversation with their father.
She paused, sighed, then said, " Nna eh. This thing is so bad. Don't you know the Ndubueze family and their enmity with ours? "
" Who would have thought that an obscure family like ours would be having a beef with another family? "
" Don't be ridiculous, Jioke. Our family isn't obscure. Just cause we've dwindled doesn't erase the history of prosperity we had before the war. I'm sorry, but I have to stay with father on this one. You can't marry that... er... girl. "
Chijioke cursed in anger. " Why? Why - tell me why I can't? "
" I'm sorry, brother but that's how it so since a femalemember of the family had tried to conscript the last remaining boy in our family - papa - into the ranks of the Biafran Army by force. I thought papa had told you this before, bro. "
" He never did. "
" Well, you never cared for history. "
" This is a load of bullshit though. " He fumed. " I don't care for no petty beefs. "
And she disconnected the call. He felt like flinging the phone to the near wall. Luckily his phone rang before he could do that. It was his aunt, Mama Nzube, who lived in Enugu.
" Good morning, ma. "
" Morning, nwa m. My son, I heard what happened. " Typical Mama Nzube: straight to the point.
" What exactly did papa tell you, auntie? " He asked.
" Everything. It's sad. I thought you should've known better. "
" Know better? As in how exactly? " He shouted. Literally, he shook with anger.
" Ndubueze family is a terrible family, especially to us. Their list of transgressions go back generations. " She explained. " It's not even because they once tried to conscript a ten-year old Mathew into the war. "
" What then? What's the real issue then? Can't everybody just reconcile? This is 2021 and not 1967! "
" That particular incident took place in 1969, late 1969. Not 1967. But that wasn't the genesis of the long enmity."
Chijioke suddenly felt an acute weakness in all his body joints. His head felt dizzy: his saliva bitter.
" What was the genesis then? " He sounded extremely tired now.
"It all began when a member of the family, he's late now, refused to fulfill his obligation to marry me, his bethrothed. It was the height of the insults my father could have taken then. It was scandalous. This was before the war; I think I was fourteen then and your father was five. The embarrassment made us a laughing stock in the village until the war broke out. And even up until now, when one is reluctant to participate in a fight he or she is said to be as spineless as the Agangas. If that is not embarrassing to you then I don't know what else will be. Our late father, there, swore that none of us would ever marry from that clan, ever again."
A week later, Adaoma travelled to the northern part of the country for her year-long mandatory youth service program. She didn't call him. He was too confused to call her too. The joy he once had withered away. He became a living shell. Even the Director at FITEX GLOBAL noticed it, and thought it as a result of the departure of his girlfriend, and so gave him a week leave to gather his mojo back again.
Days morphed into days. Chijioke Aganga stayed in his room all day. Not bathing or doing anything worthwhilejust eating, brooding, and not bathing again. Then on the penultimate day of his his week long break, he suddenly woke up, had an hour-long bath, dressed, took his wallet, locked his flat door, and walked to the motorpark and boarded a bus that was headed to his hometown.
Eight hours later, he was walking down the tarmac road skirting the sandy large expanse used as the village square towards his father's house. The evening rays had a melancholic hue to it. He was as calm as he ever was. Everything had to end on this day, he thought. One way or the other, he'd gain closure at the end of this trip.
His father was applying fuel gum to the soles of his black shoes when Chijioke walked into the compound, the creaking gate announcing his arrival.
" Ha, nwa m. My son, nno. Welcome. "
" Good evening, sir. " He greeted stiffly.
Soon his mother came out, and they hugged, and she asked of his work, and of the health of his sister, and of the general well-being of everyone at his company.
That night, after they'd had a heavy dinner of hot porridge yams - he only ate less four pieces of yam - his father called him out to the verandah, after his mother had sent in to take her night bath.
" My son, listen to what I'm about to tell you. I hope no ear ever hear this, and I didn't wish you to know this had it not been for the peculiarness of this particular situation. "
Chijioke nodded as he stared out at the village darkness that vibrated of chirping crickets and croaking frogs. He was ready to hear Papa's version of the reason he couldn't marry Adaoma. He hadn't spoken or texted with her since their parting that day at Filmhouse Cinemas. But he knew she was alright and settling in nicely in the north of the country judging by the multitude of photos she was posting on her WhatsApp statuses.
His father cleared his throat. Chijioke readied himself.
" The real reason why you can't marry from that family is because I'm still alive. "
Chijioke's mouth fell open in raw shock. " W-what? "
" Yes. A long time ago, after the disappointment and embarrassment meted upon our family by the Ndubueze clan for refusing to marry your aunt, my father had gone to challenge the head of the clan to a winner takes all fight. Mostly in order to regain the pride of the family. He called all the village people to this epic fight, but on the night preceeding this event he met the head of the Ndubueze clan, Mazi Hygi Ndubueze, on a lonely road path and challenged him to the fight there and then. Both had machetes, but my father was the more unstable and emotionally charged one. He was hacked to death. "
His father paused, and yawned. Before continuing:
" Mazi Hygi Ndubueze also sustained injuries, but he didn't bleed to death instantly like papa had. He became paralysed. And so no one knew what had happened, or people knew but just hid the details from the public and us. "
" Nna eh. "
The old man sighed. " Yes, it's a sad tale. With the loss of my father the world seemed to come to an end. It was around this time that the war broke out. And then there was that incident where an aggrieved woman of the Ndubueze family, I think it was Mazi Hygi's wife, who leaked to the Biafran soldiers that i was older than my age and was dodging conscription. "
There was a heavy silence after this. Chijioke felt like he was suffocating, like someone had tied a noose around his neck. This was too much to comprehend. Way too much.
" This is a sad story, papa. B-but, that's in the past. We need to move forward, especially we the children. "
" I agree. " Said his father, tiredly.
" Does that mean that you'll bless my decision?" Asked Chijioke, as he allowed a spark of hope flutter in him.
" No, I still won't. "
It was delivered with cold venom, the sort Chijioke hadn't heard in his father's voice in a long long time. "
" What then, papa? What then now? "
Chijioke was exasperated. He traveled all the way down to Amankwo to get a resolution but it seemed that it wasn't going to happen. It saddened him.
" For you to marry that girl, " began his father, his eyes were hard and the wrinkles on his face looked solemn despite the darkness, " for you to ever have the chance to marry that girl, then you have to kill me first. "
" W-W-What? "
" Yes, nwa m. I swore that none of my offspring would ever have anything to do with the Ndubuezes as long as I was alive. It still stand, sadly. I'm still standing. So, my boy, if you really love that girl like you say you do, then go inside now, underneath the bed in my room, and bring out the cutlass there. Strike me down with it. Kill me. Only then can you marry that girl. Only then, nwa m. "