What Greater Woe
The little girl ran as quickly as her tiny legs could carry her. She was on a mission and nothing was going to stop her from completing it. Not the kids on the other side of the road who called out to her to come to join them in playing. Not the people who stopped and wondered where she was headed in such haste. Some called out her name in an attempt to feed their curiosity. Definitely, not the man she just ran into as she collided with the bag he carried by his side. This made her stop completely in her tracks as her body paid homage to the dry dusty untarred road. But this wasn’t going to stop her, she stood up with the help of the man. He had concern written all over the face as he kept asking question after question. She wasn’t paying attention to him or what he was saying. She dusted herself over and muttered that she was fine without making eye contact with him before taking off again. She needed to hurry for that was the one thing that kept echoing in her head — the voice telling her to hurry.
She was close but she needed to hurry.
Uloma screamed from her room. Her screams pierced through the walls of the mud house and into neighbouring compounds. Those who were close enough to hear her screams would have jumped out of shock, not for how loud they were, but because they could almost feel the pain that came with them. She held unto her wrapper tightly, as she laid down on her back on her bamboo bed, almost ripping it in two as Adaeze wiped down her body with warm water.
On any other day, the mild massages Adaeze gave her with the damp cloth would have been soothing but her body couldn’t feel anything else asides the excruciating pain. She felt another wave coming, took a deep breath and screamed her lungs out as it hit.
You would think that someone who had previously gone through it three times would have gotten the hang of it. This was what Obinze thought from his obi as he paced up and down the room.
His obi was the biggest hut in the compound and it housed his belongings with several animal skins hanging on the wall, a display of bragging rights and skills to show what a fine and well-experienced hunter he was. He was anxious, to say the least. He had anticipated this for months, and now that it was finally here, it felt like he couldn’t wait for even 5 minutes. He needed to know and found it hard to keep calm with every minute that passed.
Three, they said was the charm, but four has to hit the bull’s eye, right? Obinze thought.
He was about to find out and he couldn’t wait anymore. He picked up his mpi with palm wine still in it and poured everything down his throat in one swift gulp, wiped his mouth clean as he swallowed.
This did little or nothing to calm his wrecked nerves. He frowned as he looked around his obi, picked up the pot of palm wine and exited it with his Mpi still in his hand.
Obinze walked swiftly towards Uloma’s hut but halted when he saw the little one walk into the compound panting and out of breath while holding Nne, the eldest woman in their village. Nne, as she was fondly called by all, was a very energetic woman for her age and the only telltale sign of her old age was her thinning grey hair. She had years of experience for situations just like these and was right there beside Uloma the first three times. She walked past Obinze as eye contact was made and he bowed slightly in greeting.
She quickly swung into action as she got into Uloma’s hut.
“Nne ndo, gbasie ike,” she said to Uloma, in an attempt to calm her down.
Obinze had started to pace the large compound as he was deep in thought with his feet expressing how anxious he felt. He got to the usual spot where his chair was, stopped, stretched and slumped into it with an impatient look on his face. He closed his eyes in an attempt to relax as he enjoyed the shade and cool breeze from the mango tree. He was here again, he thought. The sun had begun to set and he could hear people returning home after a long day. The neighbouring compounds were full of life with loud voices of children playing and singing. He looked around his compound, a compound which he had inherited from his father and had improved on. A compound he knew so well and could navigate with closed eyes. A place of peace and memories. He sighed, stood up and began pacing again as Uloma’s screams kept on travelling alongside the wind.
It was over an hour and Uloma’s screams had reduced to little moans. Obinze was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice he wasn’t alone in the compound, a few neighbours had gathered. He also didn’t notice when Nne came out of Uloma’s hut until she was standing right in front of him.
“Both mother and child are well.” She said. There was a deafening silence as everyone waited for her to say more, especially Obinze. “They are asleep, please let them rest.” She finished before she turned to leave.
Obinze paid her no mind as he turned and walked towards Uloma’s hut. Everywhere remained silent until he came out and announced that it was a girl with the most disappointing look anyone could have. A few murmurs and hisses were heard as the crowd dispersed.
He went straight to his palm wine pot and found out it was empty. He sighed. He turned to his three daughters who had been right there by his side all through the ordeal.
“Go and stay with your mother and help her in case she needs anything.” He told the eldest, Adaeze.
“Go into my obi and tidy it. Once you are done, come out and tidy the compound too.” He said to the second one.
“Carry that pot and follow me” He pointed as he spoke to the little one, the most active of all.
Time was running out and he’ll have to do something to salvage the situation, he thought as he headed to buy more palm wine. Who was he going to leave his beautiful compound to, or teach his hunting skills? Who will take care of him when he’s old or give him grandchildren that were truly his own? Obinze thought about all these but never considered the fact that the compound was always kept clean every day. He had not noticed that the little one had a keen eye for hunting and was already catching rodents around the compound with traps she set. He never thought about how the pots were always filled with water, his obi always tidy and his food always ready when he returned daily from hunting, even when Uloma hadn’t returned from the market.
Obinze felt empty inside like a man who had no child because what greater woe could a man face than the lack of an offspring to bear his name?
He that has eyes and cannot see the value of a girl child, has no sight. The value of a woman cannot be truly measured.
Gbasie Ike – “Be strong”
Mpi – Tusk or horn of an animal; used in drinking palm wine.
Ndo – “Sorry”
Nne – “Mother”, can also be used to show respect to an elderly woman or as a name of endearment.
Obi – the dwelling of the head of the household in an Igbo family’s compound in Nigeria.
By George Okocha