THE FAMILIAR STRANGER
Ola lay on her bed ruminating over her yesterday’s experience. She had always heard and even read in some African literatures that some girls get betrothed to boys of their age grade once they are born. Something she was always told is part of the African tradition. She always found herself pitying the girls in her Stories. She would always refer to them as “the victims”.
Each time she read a similar story, she would always thank her God for creating her when the world had come into a tight embrace with a high level of Civilization. Contrary to what her dad told her each time her siblings and herself enquired about the history of their people, her village had seen the light of the day.
They now had schools, churches, water supply and even electricity! Even though the roads weren’t very pliable, she couldn’t complain as they were all already used to it. She didn’t think anyone in this “modernized era” would ever consider giving out a girl’s hand in marriage at birth -“we have outgrown it” she would always say and smile at herself each time the thought crossed her mind.
She was a high flier and people weren’t surprised as her father was the headmaster of the most prominent primary school in her village, Omaliko, a famous village in umuoko local government area of Etumba state. Her mum, though a stay at home wife was famous for her in-depth wisdom. Olanma, as her mother will always call her was happy to be a part of the beautiful family, one the average villager used as a reference point.
She had grown up amidst other smart kids. She could still remember Enyiuche, one of the distant kids she knew. She wasn’t so sure what adjective best described their parallel relationship. He had come from a neighboring village to stay with Aunty Maria, his grandmother and always had a likeness for distancing himself from other kids.
Even though Mazi Obiano, Ola’s father had taken a toll of time to explain how close he had been with Enyiuche’s father before his death and how he desperately wanted their children to continue the relationship, Ola still couldn’t get herself to talk to Enyiuche. The first time she had tried talking to him, she had sworn that it would be her last. Enyiuche had ignored her like he didn’t see her.
Being in the same class in primary school and competing for the first position every term didn’t make Ola change her mind. She was infact determined to work harder, doing whatever it took to make sure Enyiuche didn’t snatch her long lasting first position. She read like one preparing for an external exam every single day!-the reason it was so easy for her to pass the scholarship exam that was initiated for the first time in their SS3 by one of the prominent members in their village to support the academic activities of their most promising student.
She was happy not just because she had won the scholarship award but because she was to be separated from the snobby Enyiuche- a face she didn’t want to see. Getting a scholarship in one of the most prominent colleges in the City was a dream come through-she could now witness a higher level of Civilization. The sight of other students who seemingly grew up in the city thrilled her. “Finally, I have seen people with lots of things I need to learn” she said to herself.
At the end of Ola’s secondary and tertiary education, she considered herself a fully made woman. Her return to the village was massively celebrated by her family members. Some friends and well wishes were equally in attendance. It was her first time in the village since she left for college. Some villagers and even close friends had walked past her on the road without recognizing her. The little Ola they used to know was now a full grown woman, beautiful and well edowned- the heartbeat of every single man.
In the course of the welcome party, she had seen someone that looked familiar. A young man, handsome and lanky. Dark compexioned and joy filled. Ola didn’t know there were still young jolly fellows left in the village. She didn’t expect to see such as by her own judgement, the prominent young men should be in the city as there was nothing for them back here in the village.
She wasn’t sure who this young man was but couldn’t overlook the fact that her parents, especially her father paid so much attention to him, treating him like a king. “Daddy, who is he?” She asked her dad, bending over at his side. “Don’t you remember him? He is the son of my very good friend, late Mazi Ojemba. You both went to the same primary school now. His name is Enyiuche” her dad replied, beaming with smiles.
Ola was confused. She wasn’t sure what question to ask next as lots of them riggored through her mind. She swallowed and found her voice again “what is he doing here?” She was trying so had to avoid eye contact with Enyiuche. “Thats a silly question to ask. Enyiuche is your husband. You were betrothed to him at birth. Now that you are grown, he has come to do the right thing”. “As a matter of fact, the wine carrying ceremony will take place on the next eke market day, get yourself prepared.” He added.
Ola whose mouth had been wide open throughout her father’s speech couldn’t alter a word. She was too shocked to say anything. It was now that her father’s special likeness and preferencial treatment for Enyiuche back then in primary school was becoming clearer to her. The whole act to by force a cordial relationship between them was beginning to make sense.
She refused to accept what her father was telling her. Even though the disappointment in her system welled up, she still couldn’t accept the fact that of all the able bodied young men in Omaliko Village and its neighbors, her dad could only choose her one time enemy to be her groom. She was sure he knew just how much of a logger head their relationship had been.
As she lay on her bed ruminating over the events of the previous day, she still couldn’t believe her dad could do that to her. She had had so much confidence in him and had even also likened the Civilization in Omaliko to abolishment of trecherous traditions. If only she had known! She regretted stepping her foot into Omaliko.