Somewhere on the bank of the river, a lone boat danced on the tide as it kissed the muddy shore. To the west where the widening river curved toward the ocean, the sun was fast fading behind grey skies. The wind whistled past sleepy trees along ancient paths. Feet hurried through the paths toward the river, with the edge of dirty wrapper forcing the Touch me not to sleep. The dying glow of the sun managed to catch the tired faces. Ina (grandmother) led the trail, carrying with her, a bag of water yam. Behind her was Tari, bearing two small bunches of plantain strapped to dried bamboo and balanced on his lean frame. Last on the trail was Rebecca. Ina hurried them along. Every other person had since left the farm but with two children and a large farm, Ina could only do so much work by herself. The local farmers know how to tell the weather and by Ina’s prediction, heavy storms were to be expected in the days that followed, so she did her best to save the harvest before the rain came.
Rebecca was only five but she had her small hoe with which she had managed to dig out a single piece of yam and she carried it with all the pride and a dashing smile like a fulfilled farmer.
On getting to the boat, they hauled their harvest in and Tari paddled the boat toward the village where the smoke from steaming dinner and clanging of pots and pans tick-tock the rhythm of dinner time.
This was ten years ago.
* * *
Rebecca stood in the glow of the burning fire, head bowed ever so slightly. A tear trickled down her cheek.
Ina was bent over the fire stirring a large pot of banga soup. Her silence bored holes in Rebecca’s heart. Both women remained silent, but on each face, the dancing flame revealed the pain in their eyes.
Ten years had been fair on Ina. The only sign of aging was her salty grey hair which was tucked under a satin scarf, with a few strands poking out here and there. Ina returned to her seat behind a wide mortar and she resumed pounding the fufu which would serve for dinner. Kpom kpom kpom, the pestle beat, the tears trickled and somewhere near the fire a toad hop pass.
Earlier that day, Rebecca had become sick. Mama Ebi the village masseur was called in to massage her. She had looked at Rebecca with pity then called Ina outside the hut.
Rebecca could not hear them, but when Ina started screaming and cursing, she knew.
Rebecca came out of the hut; Ina’s screams had attracted a small crowd of busy-bodies and nosy-neighbours and even a small portion of people who considered a screaming old woman an abomination that they must contain. Mama Ebi was holding a raging Ina by the waist.
This Ina was a strong woman and people say when she was young, it would take three strong men to hold her down.
Ina may be old, but she still had her strength. Mama Ebi’s grip slipped and Ina came bounding for Rebecca. She hit her with all her strength, over and over and over. Kpom kpom kpom like the pestle as it beat against hot fufu.
Then they called the family elders to discuss Rebecca’s fate. Because misery loves company, it didn’t take long for the elders to convene; although they claim a matter such as this was very severe; but most of the men where nudged by their wives who now stayed home waiting to pry out every gory detail once their husbands returned home.
Ina sat quiet as a cat on a stool to a corner of the hut, while the men sipped kaikai and occasionally nod their heads like monitor lizard.
When called on the stand, Rebecca named Tonye Ogoina. Ina sat bolt up, disbelieve washed over her greasy face.
Uncle Arebi made quick circles over his head and clicked his fingers, a sign made to reject evil.
“ah Rebecca!” the oldest of them all, uncle Ipkoine, spoke first in that slow droll of age and wisdom; “Gesi Egberi?” (Is this story true?)
“Speak up!” another yelled at her.
“ein, Gesi ebgeri.” She managed to mutter amidst the tears forcing itself against her stubborn resolve.
At once Rebecca was sent out of the hut. Ina won’t even look at her, when she did; it was as though she were looking upon a cursed thing.
For what felt like forever, the elders stayed in discussing on the nature of the events. While teenage pregnancy was quiet common, incest was an abomination. When they were done, they sent for Rebecca, and then they informed her that a message would be sent to his family and a meeting would be called in the compound as soon as possible.
The elders went away and that was in the morning.
Rebecca wiped the tears that would not stop flowing. She looked out the shed that was their kitchen and saw the younger children singing and playing and she could feel her childhood slipping away like the echoes of small laughter. Up in the sky, a new moon was forming. Inside of her another being was growing. She heaved a sigh. In, out, in, out and their hearts synchronized.
Rebecca was a pretty face, though in odi she could hardly pass for the top twenty. Like every other girl her age, education was not an option. Rebecca knew few English words and most of them were wrongly pronounced. The few that were correct was mostly used in a wrong context. However they came, she was always very expressive of herself. Above all, she was hardworking and zealous, participating in all local festivals and especially famous for dancing during Ogorizo – the festival that marked the death of the buffalo. Even with pregnancy, she went about her chores and also accompanied Ina to the farm.
Tonye had denied the pregnancy and his family had stood by his claims. Their son was a gentleman by every standard and one of the most eligible bachelors in the village and in a few months, he would be married to a fine woman from a decent home. He’d finish his college degree and go on to teach in the village school.
Rebecca wasn’t naive, she saw this coming. Who would believe a simple village girl! Truth was rare and when told, it was hardly believed.
Six months later, Rebecca had a baby girl right in the farm, between yam mounds assisted by Ina and a woman from a neighboring farm, whose name was joy.cee.
It was the middle of the harvest season. Ina needed help with the harvest and Rebecca had no choice. If the yams were not harvested, it would be lost when the rains came. Ina’s anger over the months had eased off a bit. She’d often tell Rebecca what to expect as her teenage body adjusted to accommodate the growing baby.
“Push Rebecca,” joy.cee called out, knees buried in dirt and crooked arms ready to catch the baby.
“Dou Rebecca, na weitin woman they suffer o.” This was Ina’s attempt at moral support. She constantly repeated dou as she dabbed the beads of sweat from Rebecca’s face,’ with the edge of her wrapper.
A little grunt and a heart beat later and the forest was greeted with the shrill soprano of a new born.
“It’s a girl!” joy.cee broke out with native praise songs, handing the baby over to Ina and went on to clean up the mother.
Ina held the child in her wrinkled hands, a feeling of joy and tears washed over her. Rebecca had told the truth. The child was the image of her father, from his fair and hairless skin to his eyes and nose. Ina felt ashamed for all the hateful things she had said. Too hurt to stand her own error, she handed the child wrapped in old farm clothes to her mother.
Rebecca took one look at the baby nibbling on her lower lip and stretching fragile limbs in search of her mother’s nipple and named her, “Gesiye.” In response the baby mumbled nonsense that caused Rebecca to break out in loud laughter. The women joined in.
“Ma.mi dee!” Rebecca called Ina’s attention as she tickled the baby’s nose and adjusted her head to fit under lush breast filled with baby’s milk.
“Vashti, na now you be grandmother,” joy.cee said, and Ina smiled as she gathered up their clothes.
Ina’s real name was University but as a young woman she went by the short form versity, but even this form was difficult for izon people, so they pronounced it as vashti and the name stuck. Vashti was a widow and Rebecca was the child of her late sister. She had adopted Rebecca at birth as the child’s mother had died in the course of child birth. Tari was vashti’s only child and now Gesiye was her first grandchild and despite the pain of the conception and the humiliation it brought, here was a child, innocent and pure.
On the boat heaped with yam and the new bundle of joy, Ina and Rebecca paddled back to the village.
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