“Mama, can we talk now?”
Silence greeted her that chilly night. Once again, her mother was giving her the cold shoulder. Tade turned, wiping a tear away…
Tade knew the drill: whenever she committed an offence, her mother would give her a ‘time-out’, ignoring her till a specified time period was exhausted. However, Tade just had never experienced a time-out this long.
“See you tomorrow, Mama.” Tade sulked away from her mum’s quarters. Maybe tomorrow she’ll answer…
Everyone else she knew –even the neighboring mallam who couldn’t speak a dime worth of English – always did their best to keep her ignorant of things. That vexed her, always treating her like a kid…what was their problem?! They even tried hiding her mum’s whereabouts, only saying “You won’t see her for a long while”. Only mum had given her hope, “One day, we will acknowledge you as a woman, and I’ll leave all the adult-ing to you!” she’d say with a warm smile. It’s no wonder Tade secretly also knew her mum’s location. She sure showed them…
Grandpa struggled to light his cigar, his fingers shaking recklessly. He refused to acknowledge the ignorant doctor’s diagnosis, defiantly proclaiming that the “‘Parkinson’s’ or whatever bloody name you call it is a white man’s sickness”. He was African, and proud, and the white man, having enslaved him for years, would not now win in the end by giving him his sicknesses too. He settled into his rocking chair, puffing little clouds, a triumphant smile on his lips.
“Grandpa, are you smoking again?” His heart skipped three beats…where did she appear from?!
“Tade! Don’t scare me lik – ”
“You told us you could stop smoking anytime you wanted. Are you sure you’re not too weak to do so?” she blurted out.
“Weak?!” he nearly erupted at this insult to his pride, but calmed himself. “Tade, I’m not weak – I’m just letting myself go. When you grow up, you’ll know the difference.”
‘When you grow up’. There it was again. These people sha…
She shifted her focus, became shy. “Grandpa…what did I do wrong this time?”
He held out his hands, calling for an embrace. He patted her hair as she settled in. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You are an angel, you can’t do anything wrong…”
She thought for a while. “Then why won’t mama come home?”
Grandpa grew silent, finally understanding why she’d asked. It’s just one blow after the other today. “It’s not that she doesn’t want to…”
“Why?” she pressured.
“Dear, give it time – when you grow up, you will understand.”
She gritted her teeth. These people sha…
The burden was becoming too much. It was about to become even worse for him…
He made his way to Shina’s place…more like ‘circus’. What, with five wives, and an average of 2.4 kids for each – Tade used his family to learn averages, he chuckled as he recollected – Shina’s was a madhouse! His only salvation – or vice? – was that he was rich, the neighborhood fat cat. Dad died and willed it all to him, the only son. Lucky devil. Sadly, this devil’s madhouse seemed to be his only hope now…
Shina had proposed something so outrageous in his opinion, he had threatened him with ancestral curses at the mention of it. Now, he couldn’t believe it: he was the one about to propose that same ludicrous idea…
Approaching the circus, his conscience hammered down – what sort of deal was he about to make?! Were things really that desperate? He did a 180, aiming to return home, but his fears took over once more. He steeled his nerves, wobbled to the circus’ door, and knocked on the door of his nightmare.
“Tade!! Come!!” Grandpa called from his veranda that cool evening. She answered, walking in.
He looked long and hard, battling to find the best way to spill the news. “Tade – you are going to follow another man to his house soon”, was the best he came up with.
“Follow? Which man? And what will I do there?”
“Whatever he wants you to do.”
She was puzzled. “Grandpa, I don’t understand – ”
The old man threw a mental sigh. “You know,” he tried again, “…marriage is a wonderful thing that – ”
“Marry ke?!” Tade asked, bewildered, and finally getting his drift. “But…mama won’t agree to that!”
“Tade…you know that mama wants you to be happy…” he cut in.
“And being married will bring happiness?! AND I’M FOURTEEN!!”
“Look, angel, we are in a bad place now, and there is no other way to – ”
She understood he meant financial troubles. It was so obvious; why he didn’t just say so was, of course, proof he still thought she was ‘too young to handle it’. Young though she was, she knew his heart was right, it was just his stubborn head that was the problem. “I can hawk foodstuff…I can sew dresses…I can – ”
“Over my dead body! Child hawking?! And besides, if that doesn’t work nko? What’s next, prostitution?”
“At least it’ll be my choice!”
“Tade! May I never hear such nonsense from your mouth!” What’s gotten into this girl?!
“Grandpa, I can’t marry!”
The old man slowly settled back into his seat.
“It’s no longer in my hands.”
“He – that man you saw me talking to yesterday? – has already cleaned up the room you’ll be staying in his house.”
It took a while for her brain to catch up, but when it did: “Wait, he’s the one you want me to marry?! UNCLE SHINA!!!???”
“He proposed taking care of you, but if and only if you became his wife. It was crazy, and I rejected…at first…but…”
“THAT MAN’S ‘LATEST’ LAST BORN IS MY MATE!!”
“Age is but a number – are you saying you won’t marry me if I asked?” he tried, grinning.
“Do you already have five wives?! Grandpa, how can you betray me like this?!”
That remark cut him deep, and he could no longer put up a strong front. He suddenly broke down, weeping profusely. Shocked by this sudden change, Tade instantly became his comforter. Finally, he begged for some space.
“Tade, I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry I was brought to this earth – yes, perhaps if I wasn’t born, then you won’t be here in this mess…
“I managed to pour what I know into you – I’m so proud you’re so bright – but that’s how far life has been kind to us. Now, it says ‘no more’ – I’m too old and weak to do anything useful, and I will soon pass away”, he choked with great pain in his voice.
“With your mum and dad abandoning you, I swore on my old life that I would never do anything to jeopardize your safety. But, there really is no other option. Cruel life this is, this is the best available to us.”
“I have threatened that Shina with my powerful charms should he lay a finger on you”, he announced with a new fire in his eyes, bringing out said charms from under his cloak to demonstrate. “You know say I get power! So it’ll be alright, angel. You hear? It’ll all be alright.” Tade, however, wasn’t buying any of it. She’d heard enough stories of Shina’s circus to know Grandpa was making a monumental mistake. She ran out of the house, ignoring his cry for her to come back. She had only one thing in mind – to tell her mother what was happening – this was a huge enough crisis to cause the woman to finally snap out of whatever spells held her, and return home…
“Mummy! Ha, Grandpa is saying I must marry oh!”
Tade arrived, still catching her breath; she didn’t even do the customary greetings.
“Mama, won’t you say something now?!”
The silence was deafening. Her mother didn’t even stare or rouse. That was the last straw – Tade was losing it. For what crime was she being punished so, and when would it end, even in the face of a dire situation as this?! Tade cried out, falling on her knees on the soft earth, ramming her balled, clenched fists with each cry onto the cold, hard tombstone.
“Mama…I don’t want to marry…I don’t want to marry…please: come and save me.” The winds whispered, the trees danced, the grass swayed, but mama was silent…
Tade jumped when she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She quickly spun to see to whom it belonged in the dim moonlight. “Mama?” she quivered.
“Tade…” the voice came back. She wiped her tears, clearing her vision. She looked again, and heard:
“It’s Grandpa. Don’t be afraid.” She sighed. I wasn’t. Just disappointed…
Tade got up, dusted herself, and announced: “Mama didn’t answer again tonight. Maybe tomorrow…”, and walked away. The octogenarian watched the young girl leave, and was about departing too, but not before he cast a glance towards the gravesite, reminiscing on the days he wished that car accident had never taken his only daughter and her husband away.
“You picked a fine time to leave, my daughter”, with which Parthian shot he turned, and wobbled to where Tade had collapsed to cry some more – Tade, his grandchild, the latest bride-to-be.
P.S: This story was a challenge from Chinazar Okoro. She asked me to write a story on a 14-year old who has to marry – she was either forced, or just had to do it.
I, in return, asked her to write a story on (the irony of) a cheating parent scolding their kids to always be faithful and never stray in their academics/business; please read her work too.
Don’t hesitate to let us both know what you think of our depictions. Use the comment box. Merci!