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It was his time of mourning.
The compound was full of his tribe, men and women who had come to condole with him, voices hushed in respect. Occasionally, in addition to the heavy sighs, a keening would lift and swell to die off in an eerie fashion that raised the hairs on one’s arms. Only the smallest children didn’t grasp the import of the day as they played, watchful eyes alighting on them every now and then.
Mbeki was not a young man. As the firstborn son, he had been head of the family for many years since the demise of his aged father. The youngest of his nephews were men, capable of holding their own in the farming of the land as well as in the tribal contests of strength that were marks of a boy’s coming of age in their village. He was old enough to accurately retell the story of the Great War, the war in which many of their tribesmen had been violently forced to join their ancestors. Though he’d been but a boy, he saw the vivid pictures of fear and strife as if they had occurred only yesterday.
This had not been his first marriage. He had been tied for seemingly interminable years to a shrew whose very existence had carved premature lines on his handsome face. Her wickedness, tongues wagged, was the reason the gods had shut up her womb; indeed, it would have been a chief evil for such a one to have offspring. Not that Shukat coveted conceiving his children. She had often assured him that she would sooner scrape out her reproductive organs than suckle his children at her breast. When she disappeared mysteriously, few people were remorseful, least of all him. The only sad thing was that his bed had been a trifle cooler, his food dryer.
Ariya, on the other hand, had been little more than a child, with a heart to match. She contained the essence of the sun, bringing light and warmth to all she came in contact with. Mbeki had desired to bask in her rays forever. From the very moment he had laid eyes on her, it was as if the juju man had cast a spell on him: he hadn’t rested until she was his. Despite the 23 year age difference, she was the epitome of womanhood, giving him serenity, companionship, purpose. He had talked himself hoarse in a bid to ease the pressure of her expectations, but he always saw – no matter her attempts to disguise them – the signs of the tears she shed whenever her monthly cycle remained true.
Mbeki raised his chin, his face stoic. He was a man, after all. A hand on his shoulder caused him to lift his eyes to those of the gnarled old woman at his side.
“You will eat now?” He knew it was not intended to be a question, though it had been veiled as one.
He nodded, then cocked his head at the cry that met his ears. Walking towards him was a younger woman, a gentle smile on her face. Stopping before him, she proffered the bundle in her arms.
The infant’s face was screwed up, as if in disgust at the whole human race. Mbeki’s gaze touched on the fragrant fuzz on his head, the tiny fisted fingers that waved imperiously.
It took all of his training not to break down and weep. Ariya had given her life birthing this little one, fulfilling her deepest longings and his. There was much to live for. He reached out, bringing his son close to his heart.
It was his time of rejoicing.
Hannah Onoguwe’s stories have appeared in Adanna and BLACKBERRY: a magazine, as well as online in Litro, The Missing Slate, Cassava Republic, African Writer, Kalahari Review and Lawino. Her collection of short stories, Cupid’s Catapult, was recently published under the Nigerian Writers Series, an imprint of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). When she’s not reading or writing—or being distracted by the Internet—she enjoys watching movies and experimenting with new recipes. She lives in Bayelsa with her family.