Effiong had been living in Sokoto city for about forty years. He arrived the city when he was about 19 years old as a dashing young man. He began working in the groundnut fields and worked his way through life. He finally settled down in Goronyo local government area. The village chief had given him a considerable portion of land to farm and he planted sorghum and millet. He went on to be one of the most influential traders in the northern province. He made regular trips to Niger Republic on business and built a very successful empire for himself. He turned into a Muslim when he arrived Sokoto and lived as a Muslim. He changed his name to Ibrahim and married a lovely Muslim girl, Zainab and had four beautiful children from Zainab.
His children grew up in Goronyo and travelled to Sokoto for studies. His first daughter attended Federal Government College, Sokoto and went on to study medicine at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. She began to practice medicine in the general hospital, Sokoto and finally left for university of Ibadan, Oyo state to do her post graduate studies. While in Ibadan she met and fell in love with Sule. Sule was doing a research project on some aspect of toxicology. Sule had graduated from Federal University of Technology Akure as a toxicologist. Their relationship grew and blossomed and then it was time to take the relationship a notch higher.
Sule proposed to Zainab and Zainab accepted his proposal. Sule’s father was a professor of history at University of Ibadan, he specialized in the pre-colonial history of the people of the south eastern part of Nigeria. Sule had laid down one rule for all his children. Any of his children who wanted to marry, must perform the traditional marriage rites and this must be performed in the village of the bride. This sounded fair enough for the children. Sule the oldest son once asked “dad, what if we fell in love with somebody, who does not have a village that we can go to, to perform the traditional marriage rites, what would happen?”
“Well in that case, we must work around the situation. We must meet as many of her kinsmen as possible” Prof. Oando responded.
It was all excitement when Sule finally brought Zainab home to meet with his family. They fell in love with her at first instance. She was so down to earth and there was no airs around her. Perhaps what struck them, the most about her, was her simplicity to life and keeping things real without pretenses.
“So, young doctor, tell me where are you from?”
“Where is Goronyo?”
“Oh wow! You mean you are from Sokoto State?”
“Where is your mother from?”
“Wow, so your daddy did not want to even step out of his village to take a bride?”
They all laughed.
“But where are you originally from?”
“Ask your daddy, where you guys are originally from and he will tell you.”
That was the statement that stalemated everything. It stalemated the excitement, it stalemated the joys of the evening. It was like one of those old cassette players. You were listening to one of your favourite songs and all of a sudden you needed to visit the loo and you tried to keep it together till the track finished but your bladder had other plans. In order for you not to miss a single beat, you pressed pause and dashed off to the loo, hoping that by the time you got back you wouldn’t have been a loonie. Un-paused the player and continued listening to your song.
Was this going to be one of those scenarios? Where everything started off in such a fantastic note until that statement was made, then the pause button was pressed?
“Listen Zee, it doesn’t matter what my father thinks I love you more.”
“It wasn’t so much of what your father said that bothers me, but how he said it. Matter of factly.”
“I understand. But I am sure whatever he says is out of perhaps genuine curiosity, you know he is an expert in these things.”
“That’s the point. He is an expert in these things. He has seen through my past life even. He is questioning my identity.”
The next morning, Zainab was on her way to Lagos to catch the next flight to Sokoto.
“What brings you home so unexpectedly?” Ibrahim asked his daughter. “Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted to see you as always and your mother will be happy to see you too.”
The drive of about 90 to 100 minutes seemed like an eternity.
“Father the way he told me ask your daddy, was loaded. Tell me the truth. Are we from Goronya?”
Ibrahim was perspiring in the cold air of the Mercedes 200 car. His palms were sweaty and a thousand thoughts flashed through his mind.”
“No daughter we are not originally from here.”
“Why did it have to take my potential father in law, to get me to know this truth. Why couldn’t you tell us this truth way back to arm us on how to deal with life? The embarrassment is too much now. It is dodgy. The man is a professor of history. There must be something he has picked up about me that I do not seem to know. Sule had told me that his father had said that any girl that he has to marry, they must go to the girls’ roots to do the traditional rites. Where am I from?”
“Calm down, let’s get home and get your mother and we can have this discussion.”
“No dad I need to know now.”
“Zai, calm down, I am going to tell you the story. Let’s get home first, to meet your mum and siblings. I will call a family meeting and tell the story.”
“When I was 18 years old, I committed an abominable act in my village Itaad in Akwa Ibom State. I slept with my father’s wife accidentally. In protest all the married women in the community, went on a march topless in the village. This was my banishment from the community. I can never go back there.”
He paused, and that feeling of the cassette being paused in the midst of a favourite music track came back. There was tension in the room that could be cut with a knife. It was dense. People’s breathing could be heard loud and clear. Heart beats could be sensed. The twitching of muscles on people’s faces were apparent; the beads of perspiration on the occupants of the room were visible. Everyone wished the ground should open up and swallow them. Everyone silently wished this was a nightmare and one would wake up and come off it. Alas, it was real.
“I was a young boy then. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was told that I was being remote controlled.”
“What does that mean?” Yerima asked.
“It means when you are being manipulated to do an act and you don’t have any control over what you are doing?”
“I don’t get it,” they all seem to chorus in unison.”
“Put it this way. You see a toy car that has a remote control.”
“Yes” everyone chorused.
“That car can be manipulated to move to any direction, true or false?”
“Exactly. That’s what happened to me. I was like that car. I didn’t have a say in the matter. I was controlled from a remote location to act and do what I did.”
“What?” said Yerima.
“That’s strange” said Gusau.
Zainab was silent all through. She seemed lost in a different world.
“Didn’t you say you were sorry?”
“As soon as the news got out after being caught in the very act. The women protested in the community for my banishment. When once they go topless and march the streets in the view of everybody. That meant banish him from homeland. I was severed from my roots. The curse of all those women having to go topless because of an act I did is hanging over me and my descendants. That’s why I can’t go home.”
“What did you do afterwards?”
“I sought for a new place to start a new life and that was why I travelled for 1284km to Sokoto from Itaad to start a new life, where I could be repudiated from my previous life. I took up a new religion, got a new identity for myself. My real name is Effiong Udoima Mkpese. Ibrahim Sanusi is the new name I adopted for myself after being exiled from my roots.”
The silence could be seen and not just felt in the Mkpese’s household.
“Did you know about this mum?” Zainab finally managed to ask.
“Yes darling, I knew.”
“Did you know about it before dad married you or after he married you?”
“I knew about it before he proposed to me.”
“I had no option than to marry him. I loved him. I was rejected as a child. I was an orphan. I needed a home where I could call mine. I needed love and Ibrahim provided that for me, so I didn’t’t care about his past life.”
Sule did not know what had happened to Zainab. She was not answering his calls and not responding to his messages as well.
“Dad, I don’t know what has happened to her? She is not in her flat and she is not responding to my messages. I think it’s because of what you said to her. You caused this dad.”
“Son my advice to you is be patient. Time will unfold clarity.”
“But I love her dad” Sule argued.
“What do you understand about love son?”
“Someone you care deeply for that you cannot live without that person.”
“Good. What makes you think that you cannot live without her?”
“The thought of separating from her tears me to pieces. I think of her all the time and want to be with her all the time.”
“Listen son. Listen to the voice of your progenitor. In life, we all feel like that. Those feelings are momentary. They are temporal. Love is a choice. You can chose to love someone or not to love.”
“I choose to love her dad. That’s my choice.”
“Ok, that is to be respected and I want you to find that true love in her. But for you to get my blessing she must show you her true identity. We must go to her roots for the traditional marriage rites lest you go and incur a wrath on yourself. That is the power of tradition that I will hold on to, even to the last breath in me.”
“Does that matter dad?”
“Son, it does. That is why I am particular about it. There are some tell- tale signs that the roots will show you. It will be a clear sign for you to proceed or halt. If she is from a family that has a history of lunacy, you will be advised to restrain from marrying into that family. If the family has genetic disorders that could portray danger to children unborn, you will advise yourself against that. If she comes from a family that has a record of incurring the wrath of the gods, you will have to advise yourself against that. That is what getting to know the roots does. If after knowing the truth and you still want to proceed, the choice will be yours son. Then you will have exercised that choice in light of the truth.”
Uwem Mbot Umana©2018