As an enlightened person, she knew that there were barbaric customs and traditions practised back in her home land and she swore never to be a part of it. Unfortunately, some people whose roots were firmly planted in tradition brought these practises to the city and her parents were part of them
"So are you saying you are going to deny your father as well as your roots?" Her mother asked once when they were having the discussion in the kitchen.
"Yes mummy. I am too enlightened to do such things. The one that even angered me was what happened to Chinyere last year. Now she is dead, I hope her parents are happy?"
"I think she died because she struggled." Her mother replied without remorse.
"Mum, how can you even say such a thing? And you are a woman for that matter."
"Yes I am a woman, one who went through what Chinyere went through and survived."
"But really mum, tell me the truth, did you like what was being done to you?" Uju asked, curious to know what her mother felt at the time.
"I was happy that it happened to me, it was a sign that I was ready to be given out in marriage. I looked forward to being with your father and giving him children."
"Mum, sorry to say but, you are not being truthful."
"And how will my daughter know that?"
"Because she is a woman who feels."
Her mother laughed lightly about her comment and then warned her. "Whether you like it or not Uju, when your time comes, you will do as you are told to."
"This is a modern age mum, I will date the man I will marry, know more about him before marrying him and also, just to escape that stupid thing called traditional rite of passage, I will make sure I marry from somewhere else and not from home. Our people are barbaric."
"Say what you will my daughter, but what will be, will be."
With that they ended the discussion but Uju remained determined to follow her heart. She was yet to get over the death of her childhood friend Chinyere.
Last year when Chinyere came over to her place and happily announced that she was getting married, Uju was so happy for her and so was everyone else. What they both didn't know was that there were rites to perform and even though they lived in the modern city of Lagos, these rites were still carried out.
Uju was surprise when she went over to Chinyere's place to help with marriage arrangements. On getting there, she was told she was staying at the home of her in-laws to be for two weeks and would be back the following Monday.
By Monday when the girls saw each other, Chinyere explained to Uju that staying at the house was to enable the in-laws study her character. She said that in the past, it used to be for only four days but four days is no longer enough.
"Wow!" Said Uju. "But isn't it their son you are marrying, why must his parents, uncle, aunties and siblings be the ones to access you? Na wa o! Our tradition sha, it's something else."
"Yes it is o! But I have to go again." Chinyere said.
"Haven't they finished accessing you? What else are you going there for?"
"They want to know if I am a virgin."
"Haba! In this age and time they are still looking for virgins?"
"Yes o! That's why I am happy I kept my flower. At least when they see that I have reserved myself for the man I marry, maybe they will let me be."
"Chinyere, frankly speaking, your parents should be happy to have you as a daughter because if it was me, I would damn them all and walk away, na force to marry?"
"Uju!!!" Chinyere laughed. "You have never really liked tradition, but it's what we must do."
"No not we, you."
They laughed over it and went about for the day's activity.
The following day, Chinyere left again for her in-law's and came back at the end of the week. When Uju saw her, she noticed she was not walking straight.
"Obinna knows that after marrying you, he will have forever to use his tinky winky on you as he likes, he didn't have to be too hard the first time na." She teased. "See. You can't even walk straight"
"I wish it was his tinky winky that did this." Chinyere said. Her voice sounded pained but she tried to hide it.
Uju looked at her closely, she had been friends with Chinyere since secondary school and she knew her friend like the back of her hand.
"Chinyere what's wrong? And if Obinna didn't do it, who did? His father?"
"God!!!" Chinyere said as she burst into laughter, it was the first time since she came back that she had a reason to really laugh. "Uju you are so naive."
"Then tell me what happened." Uju said with a light head. She was happy that she could make her friend laugh.
"It was a small wood that was inserted in me. They say it helps to break the hymen easily, especially since I am an old virgin."
Uju starred at her friend in disbelieve. "You mean you opened your legs and let them put a wood inside you?"
"It's not like that and by the…."
"Oh stop Chi Chi! Just stop. You've made too many excuses for them. This is a civilised world for Christ's sake."
"Look Uju, you will understand when your time comes."
"Chinyere, I would never understand because I wouldn't be doing it in the first place."
"At least the good news is this; there is only one more thing to do."
"Oh! So there is still something else to do?"
"Yes." Chinyere answered with a smile. "I finally get to meet Obinna in his room."
"Meaning what? That Obinna finally gets to sleep with you before paying your bride price?"
"Oh come on. It's not like that. His family has spent so much too you know."
"On performing rites for me after I pass each test."
"Oh! So they call it test ba? Nonsense. These people need to be thought a lesson. Have you thought about what will happen to you if things go wrong?"
"Nothing will go wrong and by d way, you are just angry for nothing. Anyway, I have to sleep with Obinna to get pregnant, then the rite will be completed and we will get married as husband and wife."
Uju sighed but said nothing. Somehow, she knew this was going to take a bad toll on her friend but Chinyere's mind was made up. She really wanted to go through with the arrangement, so, she wished her luck and prayed that all will end well.
About a week later, Uju left her office where she worked as a secretary during lunch hours to see her friend. Chinyere was supposed to be back and she wanted to know how things went and also find out if she was pregnant. On getting to the house, it was another story entirely. She learnt that Chinyere was dead. Her friend didn't conceive during the one week period of sleeping with Obinna and so all arrangements were cancelled, Obinna wouldn't be allowed marry her. Chinyere on her part couldn't handle the rejection after so much humiliation. She went into her room and took an over dose of hard drugs. It was not until evening that they found her lifeless body.
"Are these people so naive?" Uju asked herself not for the last time when she got home. "How can a man sleep with his woman for only one week and expect her to take in? What if she wasn't even ovulating at the time they met? Can a woman conceive without ovulation? So after all the stress and humiliation, they cancelled the whole arrangement and rejected her, now she's dead. The so called Obinna will move on to another victim all in the name of looking for a girl to get married to.
Because of her friend's death, Uju decided never to have anything to do with marriage rites, especially if it was something similar to what her friend went through.
About six months after she had the discussion with her mother, Uju met Chika, a handsome man in his early forties. Chika was also a native of Owerri and although he didn't approve of such traditions, his hands were tied when his people, especially the elders, insisted that Uju perform the same rites Chinyere performed. She was very reluctant but because of the love she had for Chika, and Chika's pleas, she gave in.
Before they could get to the marriage stage, Uju was rejected by Chika's family because she couldn't conceive during the one week period given to her. Chika was so sad about the whole thing. He told his people he was going ahead with the marriage with or without their consent. He was sure Uju could give birth and he was enlightened enough to know that she was not ovulating when they met. And even if she was, maybe something else went wrong.
Against the wish of his people, he married Uju at a customary court about two months later with only his best man an Uju's parents as eye witnesses. About three months later, Uju's tummy began to protrude, a sign that she was pregnant but the news was different when she went to the hospital for check-up.
"I'm sorry madam" Said the doctor. "You are not pregnant. Your stomach is protruding because you are suffering from an infection. One that most obviously got in through your private"
"How is that possible sir?" Chika asked.
"I have seen cases of young women who went through some marriage rites and came out with this. Only a few are lucky. I have to say that whatever was inserted into your wife's private is what has caused this infection. It's almost like fibroid but it's not, this is something different. I am going to have to operate on her but I must tell you the implications"
"What is it doctor?" Uju asked almost in tears.
"I will have to remove your womb too."
"My womb? But doctor why?" By this time she was in tears.
"Believe me when I say your womb is infected too and of no more use to you."
Uju cried for the next one week and even though Chika did everything to console her, she was inconsolable. The day came and the operation was carried out. Chika refused to be away, he loved his wife too much and so he stayed by her side during the entire operation.
After recovery, the couple went to an orphanage home and there, they adopted three little kids aged 1, 3 and 5 respectively. Since they couldn't have their own children, they saw no big deal and taking care of other people's own. Soon, they had their own mother less baby's home and all the kids were properly cared for.
Uju was happy for the kind of man she married, Chinyere was not as lucky. Chika had stood with her through it all and when she suggested taking care of orphans, he didn't refuse her request.
If only Obinna had fought for Chinyere, maybe, just maybe, she would still be alive today.
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