People could tell if a girl wanted to get married by the way she treated her in-laws. They would know if she had got to the stage of ‘visiting’ boys by the time of the day she spent inside their hut.
They would want to see her relieve her mother-in-law from removing the scales from fresh engeke, tilapia from Lake Victoria, to mingle obusuma, the sorghum and cassava flour paste, so she does not worsen the pain of age in the old woman’s joints.
They would also watch if she had started scouting for the piece of land where she will grow her cassava and where she will sow her millet and her sorghum. Twice, food was sent to her in the esimba, but she declined, instead came out to eat with everybody else.
Teopista’s presence transformed Odwori from boy to man. Whenever the elders gathered over a pot of freshly brewed malwa to sip from it with their wooden tubes and impart their wisdom in solving the numerous clan conflicts, he got invited.
It was uncommon for a girl to run away from her family to marry a boy. Let alone her family failing to encourage her brothers to arrange a counter kidnapping.
An emissary soon delivered a message from Teopista’s father, expressing ‘anger’ at how her daughter had been stolen from his house.
“His fathers must come and explain to me why they took my daughter without my permission,” he said.
“Eeh, my brother is a strong man,” Aserena said, flashing a treacherous smile.
“I used to think he was a boy, how does he…you know?” she asked.
Teopista gave her a feigned look of shock and good-naturedly brushed it away. She went on collecting pieces of firewood amidst the bushes of lantana, the sister leading, making sure the wife learns the bush tracks properly.
“So when is my brother going to make me an auntie?” Aserena continued
“Aiih, that boy will make me old before I find a suitor!”
Teopista said, “Sister, you are too beautiful a woman, men are watching.”
“I just want to be as happy as you are,” Aserena said.
Soon the old men visited to officially notify Teopista’s father that their daughter was in safe hands. Arrangements to formalize the union were in high gear.
Teopista’s first pregnancy came two months after her cousins had escorted her with cooking pots, dried meat, mingling sticks and other items that would help her in taking care of her husband well. The six head of zebu cattle that had been driven to her family’s ehonge, the kraal, had done the trick.
She thought she had conceived on the day, she officially got married, one of the things that convinced Odwori that women ran mad when it came to matters of bearing children.
He could not understand how a human would crave for fresh red soil from an anthill.
Eating soil, everyday.
The cravings were the most maddening thing, changing every few weeks and sometimes, every few days. Roasted maize, raw white ants, undiluted malwa, pumpkin leaves, whoever conceived the idea of women conceiving was not thinking practically.
The regular discharge of spit.
She began to hate Odwori, gravitating slowly towards Aserena and her mother-in-law.
“See what happens when you do bad manners to your friends,” Aserena would tease him.
She had never really come to terms with the idea of her younger brother becoming a husband. She was proud of him. She promised herself that she was going to lavish all the love and care she would have had for her own child on that thing growing in Teopista’s womb.
A strange idea randomly filled her head when she noticed the detached relationship that was quickly developing between the soon-to-be parents.
She imagined she avoided him in bed, temporarily considering the incestuous idea of helping him out. She imagined a strong vibrant Odwori on top of Teopista and subconsciously made a wish. A cloud of jealousy momentarily enveloped her but was quickly succeeded by a personal secret shame.
What she did not know was that Teopista had only two instinctive needs from her husband at the worst of her newly induced revulsion of him. When the baby kicked, she wanted him to feel it, to listen to it, holding his hand onto her belly.
To her this was the miracle that was the reward for that firm decision she had taken to elope. The other was these crazy moments in the mid-afternoon when she would leave her under-the-mango tree spot, summoning him urgently to their hut as if she was going to get a miscarriage.
She would beg him to thrust into her. The heat of the afternoon intermingled with that of the urgent passion. In those moments she behaved like a starved animal. She wanted him for herself. If it was possible she would have eaten him whole, like a cannibal.
He worried for the baby often, but in such moments she appeared not to. After those episodes, Odwori would burn up with affection for his wife and unborn child.
Yes, he feared her new wayward tendencies, but he understood how the pressures of motherhood would turn such a calm person into an easily irritable tigress.
As soon as her mother would recommend the latest wild leaf or root to be searched for in some far place, crushed and mixed with her bath water “for a safe delivery and good health of the baby,” he would immediately be on his way.
One morning, she woke him up, to tell him not to expect a boy, and warning him resolutely never to love her any less than he would have loved a boy.
What she didn’t know was that he wanted to have a girl.
(To be continued)