“Erim”

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— Nnaemeka Oruh

Adankwo was a mountain of a woman. At six feet two, with broad shoulders and a bulky frame, she was a fearsome sight to behold.

Some said it was in the blood of her family. Her elder brother Ogwo, was a fearsome giant whom the ground shook when he trode on it. 

Ogwo was feared in the entire four clans that made up Ikwuano not just because of his frame, but because of his fiery temper that had seen him beat up almost all the feared strong men in the clan. There was also the tiny matter of him being a menacing robber, who would not hesitate to injure you if you dared surprise him while he was stealing your stuff.

There was a particularly popular story, whispered around about how Dee Tatulee—feared for his massive strength— of Nkalunta had bumped into Ogwo while he was harvesting his yams. A fight had ensued. Ogwo did not only leave him half-dead, but somehow, he had gotten Tatulee to never speak about it. Many had agreed that for Ogwo, only Kamalu, the feared god of thunder could put him in his place.

That fateful Ekenta morning, Adankwo was in her elements.

“Spineless cow!” she roared, trembling on her feet and towering over Mpama Iji, who was quietly seated on the ground in front of his Obi, cleaning his mouth with a long chewing stick.

The Okolo compound was a large one, home to six huge families, that shared one ama— playground— that opens up to the Aliche compound which then connects with the massive Ezioko, the lead playground of the Umuako kindred.

The Mpama Iji-end of the compound consisted of three huts, clustered around each other, with an open space. Iji Okolo, Mpama Iji’s father had married only one wife, Afunwa, contrary to common practice. Iji loved Afunwa to distraction and despite all entreaties saw no reason to marry another wife even though Afunwa could only give birth to one child. Iji was a very rich man who was ahead of his times, and had believed in love. So he had stuck to his one wife and son.

At Iji Okolo’s death, his only son Mpama had inherited his hut and obi, while his wife Afunwa stayed in her own hut, with Mpama’s wife occupying the third hut.

Mpama Iji smiled uneasily and tried to avert his eyes from the blazing fire balls that were Adankwo’s eyes.

“If you are a man stand up let us do it,” Adankwo shouted.

Behind her was her hut, barren of any decoration save the extra polishing given to it by Chukwuma during last harvest season’s re-scrubbing. Her faithful dog Leelee, was lying comfortably in the earthen fireplace.

From a safe distance, Mpama Iji’s relatives volunteered soothing words, begging Adankwo to take it easy that it was too early in the morning.

It had become a routine for them. Adankwo threatening always to beat up Mpama, with him doing everything to avoid her. A stout but short man, Mpama was known for always avoiding physical confrontations. Not that he had not won a fair share of fights, but those fights had always been the last resort. But when it comes to Adankwo, he had always avoided engaging in any physical altercation with her. Perhaps it was the fear of her size. Or maybe a nagging fear of what Ogwo would do to him if he dared raise his hands over his sister.

The story of how they came to marry was a bizarre one. Adankwo, avoided by many of the young men, had fallen for the soft spoken Mpama, after he had met her at Okpolo Ukwu, weeping from a beating she received from Ogwo. He had taken her home and cleaned her up. Adankwo had refused to leave after then. Mpama, ever the man of peace had taken a keg of Palmwine to Adankwo’s father and that was it.

“You always brag that you are a man, what do you have to show for it? Empty gourd that cannot retain enough seed to fertilize my womb!” Adankwo shouted. 

Their marriage was a concrete example of unlike poles attracting. The quiet unassuming and peaceful man, in alliance with the fearless troublesome giant. Mpama, had been the glue, always avoiding her when necessary, and peacefully paying fines, when Adankwo had been fined for her numerous fights. 

“Where is the sound of the laughter of children in your compound?” Adankwo was asking.

“For how many years now, where are the children that should show that you are not just a woman living in a man’s body?”

They had been married for ten years with no issue. Visits to several dibias had not yielded results. Even the famed Nwabuko from Inyila ,for once, failed to deliver a result. 

As the years went by, Mpama had learnt to recline in his own world and shun public appearances as much as he could. That was primarily because Adankwo, ever the loquacious one had gone to town with the story that Mpama only shoots blanks. 

“Adankwo, let me be, this morning, I have things to do,” Mpama said, trying to contain the situation.

“If I don’t leave you, what will you do?” she asked, poking her right index finger on his head.

“Agu nwanyi, let me be,” Mpama said, and tried to rise, from the mud bench his father had built in front of the obi.

Adankwo shoved him back.

At that moment, Mpama’s wiry old mother Afunwa, stepped out of her hut.

“Adankwo are you mad? Ara a la agbai? Don’t you know that that man is your husband? Eh?” she shouted.

The morning drama had woken Afunwa. These days, she was always waking up late. Her nights were filled with semi-sleep moments of interacting with her beloved Iji and all her dead friends. Unable to do much due to old age, apart from chasing away errant children, Afunwa had begun to cherish her midnight sujorn with her beloved.

“Stay away from this!” Adankwo shouted at her, her eyes blazing fire.”Amunsu, witch!”

Perhaps it was the insult to a mother he dotted on. Or maybe it was anger accumulated over the years. But fear turned to strength and Mpama rose quickly from the mud bench, and rammed his head into Adankwo’s face.

The impact was devastating, as all six feet two of Adankwo came tumbling to the ground, her lower lip split in two.

Mpama bestrode her and using his knees, pinned her arms to the red ground and began to pummel her with blows.

Mpama’s relatives barely said a word of caution. Neither did Afunwa, who watched with half a smile, until Adankwo passed out.

*

For three days, Mpama was no where to be found. After Adankwo was revived, he had ran away. Through close relatives, he had heard how Adankwo walked around the entire village crying and showing off her badly battered face.

Adankwo, having no friends, had nobody to go to for consolation. So she had walked from Mbaraegbu, where the Okolo compound was, to Azuahia, crying and showing whoever cared, her blood-rimmed face.

Ogwo, incensed beyond control had come to the Okolo compound and told everybody who cared to listen that they should tell Mpama that if he ever sets eyes on him, that day would be Mpama’s last day on earth.

So Mpama hid, until days turned to two market weeks. 

But his traps needed tending to, so he decided to go and check some of them out at Ajarata. There was no way, he reckoned, that he would allow his means of livelihood stay untended. After all, it was a domestic misunderstanding that even Ogwo, in his fierceness should have forgotten.

*

Only one of his traps had caught an antelope, but the antelope was half-decayed. 

Mpama cut off the decayed parts and put what was left into his raffia bag and headed back to the village. 

“ I will use this to prepare a nice pepper soup for Ada,” he thought.

He had climbed the first part of the double hill that connected Oba with Azuahia and was half way down the second when suddenly, Ogwo appeared at the tail of the hill.

“I have caught you today,” Ogwo roared, unslinging his raffia bag.

Mpama recoiled, eyes seeking for an escape route. Even as he searched for an escape route, he knew there was no way he could outrun Ogwo.

“Ogo m, my in-law,” Mpama began.

But Ogwo had dropped his raffia bag and unsheathed his cutlass.

“You are dead, Mpama,” Ogwo shouted, and began to run up the hill. 

Like an animal trapped, Mpama knew he was dead. He racked his brain for what to do. He looked up, and saw Ogwo, cutlass raised, fast gaining on him.

Mpama unslung his dane gun, and aimed it at Ogwo, meaning to scare him away.

Ogwo paused momentarily, and continued his run up the hill. 

Mpama pulled the trigger. 

He was a fine marksman, Mpama. 

*

The visitors from Awomukwu came in the morning of Orie-Ukwu, the market day of Ohia, Mpama’s village. They camped at Chief Aliche’s compound where they were entertained. After the drinks and food, they moved to the shade of the huge kolanut tree beside Chief Aliche’s house.

*

Mpama dressed up slowly, wearing his best Jorge wrapper. He wore his okpu egwurugwu and added feathers like a man going for an important event.

Adankwo , teary-eyed had treated him earlier to a fine meal of pounded yam and ukazi soup, replete with moulded melon and stockfish. It was the type of meals reserved for special occasions. 

As he stepped out of his hut, his kinsmen were around to bid him a safe journey. 

He greeted them glumly and set out. 

“Mpama!” his mother called out to him as he was about leaving.

He turned reluctantly.

“Mma,” he greeted her and walked dejectedly towards her.

Afunwa fought hard to contain her tears. She watched her only son, haggard looking and smouldering tears, walking down to meet her. And in that moment, she regretted that Iji did not take another wife.

Afunwa met him halfway and hugged him tightly.

“Go well my son,” she whispered, holding back tears.

Mpama pulled himself away from her and began to walk towards Ezioko.

As Mpama was walking past the kolanut tree in front of Aliche’s compound, two gun shots rang out, followed by Mpama’s shout of “Mma m o!”

His kinsmen ran out. 

“What happened?” they chorused. “Who shot our brother?”

Quietly, and in the the full view of Mpama’s kinsmen, the visitors from Awomukwu who had shot at Mpama, hung back their dane guns and began to walk away, unchallenged.

Mpama’s kinsmen picked up his dead body and began to walk the short distance back to their compound. 

It was said in those days that anybody who killed a relative will likewise die in the hands of strangers. That was the only way to appease Erim—the god of family justice.

Mpama was Ogwo’s relative by marriage.