The road network to the psychiatric hospital was not tarred which made the surface rough. We took Okpu-Umuobo-Mgboko Road. As soon as we crossed the Later-DaySaints Church, we said goodbye to asphalted road. Enyioma was driving. She knew the roads very well but not well enough to dodge the pot holes. She did not seem to be a careless driver, but she was driving as one who had ten appointments to meet for the day. So, we fell into one pot hole and the other worst still, the vehicle had no good shock absorbers. Enyioma looked at me sardonically. I knew she had noticed my uneasiness and discomfort but she made no move to reduce her speed.
Cover your nose. You have a handkerchief.” She made her last sentence sound like a statement instead of a question as if to say: you should have a handkerchief.
I had a handkerchief. I brought it out and used it. I looked round and saw how cakes of dust covered the leaves. I became afraid that the journey could jeopardize my health. In that instant, we fell into another pot hole. Anger welled up in me.
“Sorry,” Enyioma apologized. “One got to be fast in this damned dungeon especially when one has a bank worker as a passenger.”
If that was a joke, it was not funny. My heart pricked at the understanding of the implication of Enyioma’s comment. The kidnapping incidents in Aba and the surrounding areas were recurrent news. Victims of kidnap were the poor and the rich, male and female, adult and children; no class was eclused. However, bank workers were the kidnappers main targets. I knew I had not much but bank workers were known or assumed to be as rich as the banks they served. My interstine wobbled inside my stomach producing sounds that made it look as if I had passed evuluvian. My heart beat skyrocked: all turned to anger and tension.
“Why did you pick me for the rough job?” I asked, pitying myself at the same time, I had the feeling that in a short time, some criminals or kidnappers would lay about us.
“A friend directed me to you; I told you before.” Enyioma said.
“A friend that had no form of identity. I wouldn’t be surprised if he-or was it a she?-lacked existence!”
“Why the fuss now? Didn’t seem to care to know who the friend was,” Enyioma said still racing. Her I don’t care attitude infuriated me the more.
“If I had known how unfriendly the road was, I wouldn’t have allowed you to coax me into this mundane escapade!”
I don’t agree with you on that,” she said wickedly. There was that confidence again: the confidence of a hunter that had his prey secured in his trap. I felt like jumping out of the car to prove that I could walk out on her. How much was the mad woman going to deposit with the bank that would make one throw off one’s life? But in that time, it occurred to me that, that did not explain the ugly feeling running inside me, shaking my entire being. In the banking industry and how we operated it, the interest was to get as many customers as pssoible. Every officer was out to edge out another to have a place in the Achievers’ Record. Even those outside marketing unit were also scouting for customers. According to them, every workers in the bank was a marketer.
Beyond the above, although difficult to accet and explain, I felt that Roxanna’s life and mine were thrown together. When the though first appeared to me, that was before the trip to Mgboko, I took the superficial view that it was because we were linked by profession and so it was natural to assist a colleage. However, I could have opened the account without to Mgboko. The banking operation system as we practiced it could allow me give Enyioma the documents involved to give to Roxanna to fill in and return. But I accepted to go to Mgboko. At the bak of my mind, I knew I wanted to see Roxanna; I wanted to know the woman who lost her husband to other women: not one, not two, but many women. If possible, I wanted also to see the man, the gigolo, who sent his wife to a mental home.
At the back of my mind too-although I accepted the journey willingly- I felt I was acting out another person’s script. I had no idea of the actor whose script it was, neither could I identify the script writer, but I was sure it was not Enyioma’s lines that were given to me to act out. She may seem to be at the centre of the actions acting as the programme assistant director. But I felt she too was one of the role artists.
“Even if I had explained the nature of the road you would still have come”, Enyioma continued heartlessly. “Unless, of course, the inscription on the wall behind desk was a farce.” She recited the words:
Wherever they are
Whenever they want us
And however they need us
My stomach rumbled loudly, I cast a glance at Enyioma and could not analyze her dispositions.
“Is she mechanical?” I asked myself inwardly, and my inability to know her beyond what she was presenting to me added to my sorrows at the moment.
Why was she taunting me? I knew the words she had recited by heart. I wrote them when I was transferred from the Personnel Unit to the Marketing Unit. I put them on a poster and posted it on the wall behind my desk. But why was she taunting me with the words now?
“Permit me to tell you that you lack compassion,” I snapped. “My goodness! You’re inconsiderate! It doesn’t matter to you how uncomfortable I am, that I have risked my life-for God-knows what you have up your sleeves in the name of helping Roxanna-to follow you to this God-forsaken village. It is difficult, indeed, to believe that one with a holey heart as your could go out of your way assisting Roxanna. It harasses my sense of assessment.” She had got on my nerves and as I usually behaved when I found myself in such a situation, I let loose my mouth and it ran amok. “Just look at my dress, my body; and to think that my entire blood and cell system would be corroded by dust as it has done to these innocent plants is disheartening!” as if that was not enough, I continued. “In the middle of this hell-bound village, you implied I could be kidnapped. This shows that you were aware of the risk you’ve exposed me to, yet, you made it so vicious that even a saint would tremble at its face value!”
It was done. Enyioma might be older than I was but that did not make me a baby and she had no right to treat me as one. What followed surprised me: she snaked her hand toward my seat and squeezed my back lovingly.
I was merely pulling your legs,” she said. The smile that accompanied the statement was heavely-or so I thought-giving her face a compassionate mien that would make one believe she had purity of purpose. “I could hide jokes in serious statements. Sometimes, I would flutter my eye lashes in accompaniment that everyone around would swear of how serious I was. There’s one person, though, who never failed to catch me on my wits. However, I am sincerely glad that you agreed to help Roxanna… and me.” We fell into a pot hole causing her to withdraw her hand immediately to control the steering. “You might not know the value you’re adding to womanhood,” Enyioma continued, “I sincerely hope that any woman that would hear the end of the story-that is if it ends the way I presumed-would appreciate your contribution towards the redemption of our image.”
Dear readers, it was at this juncture that I felt a scale drop from my eyes. Although I had realized that I was acting out a script-written by an unknown being. I knew I had been and was still in the dark.
Enyioma had plans. The writer of the scripts also had hers-or was it a he?- I did not know. I was the only one in the theatre that had no plans of her own. My thoughts began to run helter-skelter. My earlier thoughts that I was acting out somebody’s lines in a play script was confirmed by her last statement.
“But whose lines? Written by who?” I asked myself. “And who is Enyioma? Could she just be taken at my own face value as the assistant director of the acts?” I cast a glance at her. Her appearance exuded a kind of confidence that depicted she was staking in mouth and teeth to see to the successful end of the drama. Again, I asked myself: how did she want the drama to end? Suddenly, it occurred to me three might not be any Roxanna in the theatre; that all I had seen were nothing but Enyioma’s theatrics to abduct me.
“That would not be possible,” a voice in me had argued.
“What makes it impossible?” another voice queried.
“Can this be possible-can it? The first voice still argued, doubting at the same time.
I cast a glance at Enyioma. She looked innocent. Even in the midst of the confusion, I found it difficult to accept that she was capable of kidnapping me. Like I said earlier, I knew I had no kidnapping value and seemed not to give serious thoughts over the negative impulse.
“What if there’s somebody that wanted you out of the way? What about the friend that introduced her to you? Think about her refusal to disclose the friend’s identity. A friend that was supposedly doing you some favour should not be hiding, should not accept your going to Mgboko, a remote village just to open an account for a mad woman.” The second thought argued. I found the propositions logical. “My goodness!” I uttered loudly.
“What is it? Enyioma asked. “You look frightened and are perspirating.”
“Who sent you to kidnap me?
“ I asked and regretted it immediately. Enyioma lost control and the car ran into a pot hole, came up and swerved into a ditch. She let out a choking breath. She came our from the car. I followed. She spat into the open space and sneezed. The miens that came out from her nose had a red mixture. As if magnetized, I also spat and sneezed but into my handkerchief that had become tainted with heat and red dirt.
“Can you see the iron red sheet behind the building in front?” She asked pointing towards the north horizon. I stretched my neck to see the building. It was there; I told her I had seen it. “That’s the psychiatric hospital. “She observed me from head to toe and said “Pray that the care comes out else you’ll finish the remaining distance in a foot-benz.” She smiled wryly and I knew she would love to see me walk the remaining mile, if for nothing else, to punish me for assuming she was a kidnapper.
* * * *
The environment of the psychiatric hospital was serene and the building newly painted. One could still perceive the fresh coat of paint used in gracing the walls with green and yellow. I was elated. I did not know government hospital still receive attention.
“They just conducted accreditation exercise,” Enyioma explained. “It’s part of the Teaching Hospital.” We climbed the stairs. Clinics and wards occupy the upper floors while the ground floor was used as administrative offices. The inner walls were also coated with fresh paints but one could still see some cracks on the wall and some evidence of dilapidation and rot.
As soon as we left the stairs, we were overpowered by the fetid air of unpleasant smell. I dipped a hand into my bag and stared at the dirt on the handkerchief I brought out. I was instantly confused as to which one to prefer: the dirt and dust on the handkerchief or the smell oozing out from the mad people’s toilet. Then another air puffed out; it was if the lid to a can of fermented faeces was forced open and the air from the can violently exercised a long awaited freedom and lodged its first rest into my nostrils. I went for my handkerchief. Enyioma seemed unaffected, but she walked faster than I had known her to do.
“Learn to turn off,” she advised as soon as we came off clear the smelling area.
“It’s simple. Take your mind away from the environment and occupy it with a matter more exciting or a matter not yet resolved. It’s environment covering one’s nose which makes one struggle with life and environment. But occupying one’s thought with different thoughts allows one to pass the environment of difficulty unnoticed. Try it often; it’s my recommended therapy for some human problems as well.”
“You mean, it’s better to overlook a problem.”
“Not at all. When the problem fumes and seems to rend the blanket of heaven, to remain inert for a moment would give one the opportunity to think and plan. Sometimes, when the problem seems unnoticed, it passes. Some challenges, no doubt, demand our immediate attention, but once one diffuses thinking with calmness, better results is usually achieved,” Enyioma concluded.
We entered Roxanna’s room. She was in the amenity ward and had a room to herself. She was on the bed, writing something on a note pad when we entered. I wondered why she was allowed to use a pen. I knew that sharp objects were not allowed around mentally displaced people.
“One minute,” Roxanna said and continued writing. There was just one rubber seat in the room. Enyioma left it for me while she sat at one end of Roxanna’s bed. We watched Roxanna write and I wondered what it was that must be done with before we would be given audience.
In about ten minutes that looked like eternity, she looked up and released a heavy sign.
“I’m learning to commune with the muse herself,” Roxanna said sounding satisfied at what she had done. At the thought of muse being qualified with a feminine pronoun and at some other demonstrations by Roxanna, I cast a glance at Enyioma. She smiled encouragingly.
“In what form?” Enyioma asked. “Poetry, prose, drama, drawing, painting?”
“The first. And do you know to whom my first lines honour?”
“The usual,” Enyioma said.
“No, never the usual. Chukwuemeka wouldn’t like it. He prefers money to every other thing.” Suddenly, Roxanna’s happiness turned into gloom.
“What did Enyioma do or say that has coloured her friend’s emotions? I did not take note of any wrong moves or statements by Enyioma. I dismissed it instantly as one of the many habits seen in people in her condition. I had learnt that mad people switch moods at random.
“My first communication with the muse honours you. Isn’t it wonderful?” Roxanna’s mood returned, her eyes exhibiting love and happiness.
“My goodness!” Enyioma laughed from her heart. “It is very amazing. I’m indeed honoured.”
“Let me read the first stanza.” Roxanna said and began to read to my amazement:
“I stole a glance into heaven of heavens,
The abode of love wandered
Seeing not lust in love
A kind of love unknown to earth;
Not viewed in skies;
Spoken not by thunders.
I smiled and sighed
The relief: wholesome, satisfying.
“Oh no, let me not spoil it.” Roxanna stopped reading. “It’s supposed to be a gift and a surprise. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“Your gift will be appreciated,” Enyioma said. “Do I get you some dictionaries to aid you? I think where you have wandered, should rather be read as wondered.” Enyioma noticing the frown on the face of her friend, rectified her observation. “But of course, I may be wrong. You’re the one communicating with the muse, and you rendered the words as you received them.” Roxanna nodded in agreement.
Enyioma allowed a few minutes silence to reign for our moods to relax and return to normalcy.
“Roxanna, this is Ndidiamaka, my friend from Century Bank. She came to assist you run the account we discussed.” For the first time, she took cognizance of a third person in the room. Roxanna examined me from hair to tow, and then centred her graze on my face as if the contents of my heart were engraved on my face. Then, she shifted the gaze to Enyioma.
“I like Ndidiamaka; I hate Century Bank. It thrives in falsehood the bank, the staff, one lumineous shadow. They don’t worth a fillip when weighed on the scale of principle.” She paused, and cast another glance at me. “I like your name. don’t let them break you. A break in name is a break in being. Chukwuemeka never recovered since they broke him. What is Emeka without Chukwu, and Chukwu without Emeka? Who can be Chukwu if not God?” She shifted her gaze now to Enyioma. “You know, I warned him. I told him not to accept the division; he never listened. Where is he? Lost in the firmament of life, groping in the dark, searching for one of the divides.”
“It’s enough, Roxy. You can’t mourn his disappearance forever”
“I don’t mourn him,” Roxanna said. “It’s only the separation- the separation that confines us in different asylum. Do you understand what that means? You’ll never. You glory in your singlehood now. How short-lived that glory is! Is your friend married?”
The question unnerved me and I could not say why. Enyioma looked at me, having not the answer.
“About to,” I muttered.
“What’s his name?”
“Emeka,” I answered and for the first time, I noticed the similarity: hers Chukwuemeka, mine Emeka. “Is it here that our paths are tied?” I asked myself inwardly. “God forbid!” Emeka cannot behave like Chukwuemeka.” I tried to allay my fears. The confluence, if at all there was any, could be in their desire for money. Emeka was a spendthrifts. His school and private expenses were on my shoulders. We had an understanding on the matter. As soon as he completed his studies and became employed, we had agreed, he would take over three quarter of the household expenditure. But the one that never received my approval, which I was doing with a bleeding heart, was the annual September birthday party. As each birthday passes, I would begin immediately to save for the other. For the two times I hosted it, the celebration perforated my savings bag, creating big holes on it.
“Wholeness eludes him,” Roxanna began to ramble. I came back to reality but I did not know the noun replaced by him. “The union boat is a drift!”
“What was that for?” I asked annoyed.
“Roxy, please!” Enyioma eyed me not to pursue the matter, “I have appointment with joy by two. Let’s fill in the documents. Ndidiamaka will handle your account well.”
I brought out papers. Oxanna filled them and signed appropriately without mistakes.
“I’ll open another one with Chukwuemeka,” Roxanna said as soon as she handed back the documents to me. “Were you able to post my last letter to him?” The question went to Enyioma. She nodded. “I know you’ve been busy, but you’ve taken it upon yourself to help me escape from this asylum. How I hate it here. The mad people in the say I’ll leave here because it’s high time I left this mad house together with the mundane treatment I receive from the nurses, the doctors-away with Dr. Ike Odere. He keeps complaining of how I talk and how I sleep as if they are any of his matter.
“Dr. Odera has been helpful-“
Then tell him not to enter my abode with his untutored students. I’m not a robot to be examined. They invade my privacy. It is against laws of co-habitation!”
I’ll try to persuade him not to visit you with student doctors,” Enyioma promised. “But try to make youself happy.”
“In this mad environment with mad people scattered here and there-messing the lavatory in their dirty clothes.”
“All can’t be mad. Make friends with the same ones. You’ve got to cooperate with Dr. Odera to recover fast. You know as soon as Chukwuemeka gets your letters, he’ll come for you and I know he will not like it here”.
“My cubicle is usually made, except for the occasional invasion.”
It was true. Her cubicle, as she called it, was made. The neatness was a contrast to what I experienced at the staircase. Roxanna’s cubicle was neatly arranged. Here bed was made; her dress was clean though rumpled. Other articles in the room were well kept. Amazingly, her was well combed
“I like your cubicle.” I could not help commending her. “It’s better than the corners outside.”
“Yes, I got to be neat. Chukwuemeka may return any time. I must be ready for him; I must be prepared to receive him.”
Before we left the hospital, Enyioma cleaned the front windscreen of the car. The duster she used was dirty and therefore could not given the glass a shiny surface. We followed a different road network that Enyioma said would take us to the Glass Industry Road and then connect us to Ogbor-Hill. I was surprised to see the road better than the one we had plied.
As soon as we hit the main road, the Glass Industry Road, Enyioma began to apologize for all the inconveniences and Roxanna’s irregular talks. She promised to take me home in no distant time. I assured her I was delighted she took me to Mgboko, at least I had added something to my experiences. Roxanna was not as bad as I had imagined.
“She still communicates intelligibly, although, sometimes, she drifts,” I added.
“Her statements most times are innuendos. She never drifted from the subject of a discourse, although once in a while she’d introduce her own subject, depending on how her thoughts run.”
“I apologize for suspecting you a kidnapper.”
“Accepted,” Enyioma said. “The dust, the pot holes and the unusual serenity of the road were agents of fear and were capable of un-nerving even the crocodile Dundee, and my uncompassionate behavior worsened the case.”
The emphasis on uncompassionate made me feel ashamed. I smiled briefly and looked away from the vehicle into the environment. The Glass Industry Road at first looked like a continuum of the first road we plied, but after some bends, we joined an asphalted road that led us to a tarred road. The road was busier with human and non human traffic scampering here and there for want of food or other things. Women were seen pedaling bicycles with wares such as plantain, vegetables and assorted fruits. I admired them and wondered if I could pedal a bicycle for a mile. Then a thought hit my senses: why are we suffereing? Why are women, the centrepoint of the home being not heads of their families? These women, I thought further, had husbands who would always remind them of their head position. How come to head now preferred cozy life to soiled hands?
“Not all,” an inner voice defended. “Not all,” it repeated. I swallowed my saliva to soften my trachea that seemed blocked. I watched Enyioma from the corner of my eye and felt that her might be better off than those that were aggressive in marketing themselves; those not too strong in the competition of i-must-marry-by-all-means are better than those of us who feel we have deadlines, in the form of age, to beat and like every aggressive marketer, we end up beating guidelines thereby exposing the ugly anus of tradition. I sighed and decidedly resolved to pursue other interest.
Then I saw a woman, very lanky but strong pedaling her bicycle, the popularly called alakirija. She had three bunches of plantain on the bicycle seat and two others tied by the sides of the seat. The plantain lumps were big and strong. They were the type that would not take up to three days to ripen. Then I thought of stopping her t buy a bunch. Just as I opened my mouth to tell Enyioma to alight, something happened. The woman, together with her goods hit the ground.
“What happened?” Enyioma asked as she drove passed the woman.
“What?” I had asked, shocked at the way she craftily dodged but passed the woman. “You couldn’t stop to help the poor woman?”
“No. her friends are behind; they will assist her. Unfortunately, they will only help her get up, even remove some dust on her dress but they cannot make her stop carrying excess load. Instead, her friends will learn from her to top more loads on the ones they have.” I looked away from Enyioma and gazed into the horizon. I reflected on what Enyioma had said and found it difficult to understand. On our heads were heavy loads, yet, we still offered our shoulders for more loads.
Enyioma had said she was going to see Joy, Roxanna’s sister, for some information and had suggested she charter a taxi that would take me home. I had not said anything, I recalled. At the time, I thought of nothing but the strong desire to get home and take a cold shower to save my skin from any damage the dust would inflict on it. But as we journeyed to town, my disposition began to change. I felt a strong desire to follow Enyioma to Joy’s house. I wanted to do something to alleviate Roxanna’s sufferings. I felt, she was too decent to stay in the mad house.
“Can I go with you to see Joy?” Enyioma looked at me suspiciously, or I felt. Immediately, I felt uneasy. “I didn’t mean to pry. I just felt like helping, thought I wouldn’t know what I could do to help.”
“I’m not complaining,” Enyioma said flatly.
“But the way you looked at me made you –“
“Forget my look,” She interrupted. “Some people have learnt to live accordingly irrespective of how they look or are being looked at. Roxanna had the problem of measuring herself on other people’s scale and I believe, that landed her where she is now.” She paused and allowed some silence to reign before she continued. “Roxanna caught her husband pants down with another woman. He had collected huge amount of money from her to travel to Senegal, according to him, to bring back a car he had left there. Roxanna did not know that her marriage was built on dishonesty, lust and revenge. She lived for Chukwuemeka; she saw him as the sun that shone in her path, not knowing that she had walked away from light into steep darkness. She abandoned family for him. People’s scorn had no effect on her, so long as she had Chukwuemeka. Five days after Chukwuemeka had left for Senegal, Roxanna went for a conference at Owerri. She found Chukwuemeka in the same hotel the conferees had lodged, not alone but with a woman. The shock was great indeed. Her nerves snapped; her entire system revolted. Before one could cry Jesus, she became seriously ill. In less than three days in the hospital, she lost track of events and began to ramble. The kind matron in charge of her ward noticed it early and elerted the physician in charge of her case. She was immediately transferred to the psychiatric unit and the situation was arrested. She’s brave and is healing fast,” Enyioma continued. “Her case is somehow confidential. Not many people – I mean some friends and relations – know where she is or the exact state of her condition.”
“What’s your stake in it?” I asked, afraid at the same time of the answer. I had a strong hunch that Enyioma and I had more stakes in Roxanna’s case than mere humanitarian service. I had felt too that if I could know Enyioma’s nature of involvement, I would have a hint of what my involvement was. This I told myself.
“At first, I wanted vengeance. The one who did such a thing deserved punishment; I wanted to expose him with the aim of wounding his ego. On a second thought, I knew I needed much more: I needed to help Roxanna recover; I needed to help other women recover themselves from such men. Above all, I needed to help women recover themselves from themselves.”
I understood what Enyioma meant. My grandmother had asked me one day why was it that when another person combed out our tangled hair it pained us more than when we combed it ourselves. I did not know why and could not answer it correctly.
“It’s because it ahs been registered in our consciousness that threats can only come from another not from within. When one cuts oneself, the pain is not as excruciating as it is when another cuts one.”
There were a thousand and ten terms women use to express oppositions from men: maltreatment, marginalization, chauvinism, competition. The more these words rolled out from women parlance, the more women strove to maintain their camps, to shoe a firm grip on existence, etcetera. But when women hurt one another, they were lulled to sleep, while very deep and life- threatening cuts were made. For instance, I became conscious of this and started to assess the situation properly. I belonged to the Nigerian Association of Female Bank Workers, Aba Municipal Chapter. Many a time we held meetings and workshops. We were taught the ethics of banking. We were also taught not to fear oppositions from men, and were encouraged to give them a fair competition.
At such meetings, many of us would not utter a word. On such occasions, I would be lost in thought thinking about what it meant to give men a fair competition. We had staked in body and soul; I wondered what else remained to be thrown into the competition. I would also be thinking about the competition that went on among women, for that was the heart-rending one. The competition among women cuts across all the areas of our lives: dresses, shoes, face adornments, even the undies…all face competition, and so we spent heavily, very heavily to remain trendy. The bottom lines was that we had to earn more and more in order not to shy away from competition. There was then the need to stake our earthly all to meet up with our yearly targets and if possible, engrave our names in the Achievers’ list. This had to go as far as sleeping with other women’s husbands. After all, were they not the ones with the type of money the banks needed? Even when we knew that our colleague was in a man’s list, we would still beg to be included. My conscience would prick at such thoughts.
“Modern girls, especially working class ladies like us spend heavily to be married,” Enyioma continued.
I eyed Enyioma and wondered if she was referring to me. I reflected on my situation and remembered I had asked myself this question: why did I need to spend so heavily to woo Emeka. I had just spent more then two hundred thousand naira to organize a birthday party for him. I had to make sure he wore clean shirts, clean undies to look good. Many a time, in my sober moments, I had considered my relationship with Emeka unnatural.
“Roxanna was duped because she a woman,” I told Enyioma refusing to limit the rendezvous of the modern women to working class ladies. “You wouldn’t know the price girls in the village pay to woo their men.”
“Roxanna was duped primarily because she had money to spend, not because she’s a woman. African women are wooed, married and maintained by their husbands, not the opposite way!”
I burst into laughter. I laughed in order not to be provoked, and to cover some guilt. I laos laughed because I did not want to receive the blame for what was happening among our folk.
“You’re old fashioned! Mgbeke!!” I said still laughing. “When one looks at you, one sees the new face of modernity but a close contact changes all that. The African women you referred to – that is if they still exist – are premature in orientation and primitive. They undertake less paid jobs and lack the zeal to compete in world markets. These women can afford to lie and wait to be wooed.”
“The principle is still intact both for the working class and for the non working class,” Enyioma said.
“No,” I countered her. “It’s no longer intact, not with the type of orientation we receive: pursue, overtake; don’t let them make choices for you; look for what you want and get it at all cost. We’re no longer waiting at our traditional posts; we have entered into competition with the opposite sex. We now lie in wait ready to capture whom we feel we can live with. We have learnt to do those things men do in offices and other social spheres, including in marriages. What says the holy writ? Every mountain shall made low and every valley exalted. It’s so because God in His infinite wisdom wants the horizon to be lateral.” It was Enyioma’s turn to laugh and she laughed heartily. “Yes, relationship have become lateral. We now have more women breadwinners than men, more women workers.”
“No matter how far we stretch the society,” Enyioma said, “it cannot snap; instead it tremendously adjusts and releases to us what we give it.” I watched the hand that controlled the steering; it was relaxed, restful. “Your theory is worthwhile to listen, I must say, but it never explained why women had chosen to swap roles – the hunted becoming the hunter. In choosing their game, they destroy their very existence.”
What Enyioma said was the truth of what was happening in our time. I reasoned that it was the hunting and consequent hunts that defined our existence, our time and space. It was not in me or in any other man or woman to change the situation. And what is society, I reasoned further, if not a set of ideas in operation – a set of ideas that we labeled space and time. Was it not the same society that made such a difficult demand on us that we must get married come rain, come shine? The woman is blamed for not getting married, blamed for not having children, and now blamed for striving to fulfill all the social rites by all available means.
I smiled wryly but at myself. “Let the society snap if it like,” I muttered in wardly. “I love the game; it’s fun so far one has the means. I have it and have decidedly signed into the game.”
“Your theory is philosophical,” Enyioma said later. “I’ve been thinking on the difference between ‘lie in wait’ and ‘lie and wait’. I think lie and wait suits my sense of African – Igbo maiden. I have to change positions. Lying in wait makes it look as if we are opportunists.” We both laughed out, but I knew Enyioma was serious.
“I’m happy with my chosen game.” I told her. “Emeka respects me and I love him so much. It doesn’t matter who foots the bills of the family. He has promised to shoulder his responsibilities as the head of the family as soon as he graduates and gains employment.”
I detected a sense of pride in my voice. After all, I was on the verge of gaining the prized crown – marriage. It is the traditional among women to sing the song. On many occasions I had introduced Emeka as my husband. Why not? Was marriage not said to be a union of two hearts?
“Our modern sense of being wooed is unAfrican,” Enyioma said. “African-Igbo woman is wooed; she does not necessarily lie in wait but she waits to be wooed. She still prepares herself, by looking neat and attractive and by doing many other things that will send the right signals that she is ready for marriage.”
“Do African men understand this?” I asked. “However, I believe that women should be seen in the same light globally.”
“My dark skin gives me space and time –“
“That’s a hell lot of limitations,” I interrupted her. I was not prepared to be caged, not by culture, even though it regulated my existence.
“You may be right at that.” Of course I knew I was right and happy she acknowledged it. “But think about the identity we wear: not African, not Western, or Asian. In our imperfect limitations, we hung a blank ID that defined nobody.”
“One should move with the events of one’s time, though.” I said returning to our initial line of thoughts. “A woman should position herself very well – especially in the open – where she can easily be seen and wooed. Think about it. Women nowadays give men a hard competition. Why aren’t you married?” I asked suddenly. Enyioma stopped laughing and gave me a smile that not reach her heart.
“As you said, I’m primitive. I’m still lying and waiting.”
“You’re not totally primitive.” I shook my head at the same time. “You bought this car and probably live in a clean and comfortable apartment. You’re simply stubborn and worse than our set.”
“Why did you say that?” She asked. I could see that she was amused.
“You belong to the set of women that insists men should perform their traditional roles of seeking and finding their women even when they have left their traditional positions for other earthly pursuits. Modern women are no longer on the seat carved for them by tradition so as to receive their men peradventure they eventually come for them.?
“You ought to have been married before now,” Enyioma said. “With this kind of philosophy, you ought to have bought yourself a man.”
“Will soon be married and to the one I love.” I said ignoring the part of buying, the part that hunted me day and night, the part that whenever I recalled it, my stomach would wobble sending bitter taste to my mouth.
Enyioma let out a bitter sigh. I looked at her quizzically. But what I saw was not a look of envy; it was a look that depicted sadness in a heart struggling to say something but could not say it.
“I pray he loves you as you love him,” she managed to say. I sat back and breathed out, relaxing my nerves.
“You’ve had it rough,” I said.
“Not so rough,” she shook her head. “Not so rough. My mistakes are not many yet, my account not being too fat to sponsor modern men in their exploits. History may not pause to record my story, but, my story- if it ends as planned-would make men pause, ponder and wonder.”