NOT AT HOME by Aminu S. Muhammad

DAWN.

“Nzagi, get up! Get up!” Nnagi, my father’s second wife shakes me out of sleep, admonishing that I must meet this day with enthusiasm. Having a quiet sleep at dawn is always a great pleasure, almost sensual. The crows of roosters must have stirred her from her snore-full sleep. Soon, in my scanty dress of only a light wrapper that covers my bosom to the knee, she leads me in company of a dozen women to the back of our house for the bath rites.

In a solemn manner, Nnagi scoops some water with a small bowl from a shallow container, and splashing it on me; she lets out a shrill cry of ululation that rings through the damp dawn air. The other women take cue from her and spontaneous spurts of ululation in different pitches fill the air like an alarm. This is my bath into marriage with Ndabagi, the man who, in the quest to make me the mother of his children, gave my father five years of farm labour, two bulls and money to buy three cows soon after my milk mounds sprouted on my chest.

AFTERNOON.

My mother, Nnagi and other elderly women have retreated from me leaving my maiden friends to plait my hair into a beautiful style. My hands and legs have been hennaed with strips of fanciful patterns marked on my arms and sides of my face. Nnagi is packing my clothes into a wooden box. Bunched inside two wicker baskets are palm oil, palm kernel oil, shea butter, groundnut oil, pots and assorted foodstuff. Parked inside too is some quantity of locust beans heated and made into flat moulds of spice to keep my dishes aromatic. She says the best path to tread into Ndabagi’s heart is through his stomach.

My hair plaited, Nnagi calls me into my mother’s room. In the presence of my mother, she hands me a white bed sheet and a string of beads. The stringed beads are for my waist and the white bedsheet for my family to pick up tomorrow morning expectedly bloodstained by my broken maiden head. Without this, I would be bringing shame upon my family, she warned. God save me.

EVENING.

“Use your right foot! Use your right foot!” chorused the ebullient maidens accompanying me. “Never make the mistake of stepping in with your left foot,” Nnagi’s frail voice rises distinctly above the din to caution me. I stand still like a statue, confused, the pain of being pulled away forever from my mother mists my eyes with tears. The maddening drumbeats and ceaseless effusion of amateurish ululation from the maidens adds to my anxiety. I stand before the threshold of Ndabagi’s room fighting to be calm. I cry as they sing.

Gently, I raise my right foot and silently drop it across the threshold, into the sparsely decorated room even as unbidden notes of ululation take siege of the atmosphere. I swing my left foot into the room trailed by a horde of singing women. I have just crossed the border of maidenhood into wedlock with my right foot, a good omen that adumbrates that no acrimony shall find favour in my matrimony. For this, boundless connubial happiness and countless fruits of the womb shall be my lot! For these, I chuckle as they sing.

NIGHT.

All is quiet in Ndabagi’s compound. Nnagi and the maidens who accompanied me to my new home are sleeping in other rooms of the compound. I can hear Nnagi snoring away her fatigue. My armpits are dabbed with perfumed oil and my denuded waist is adorned with chinking beads. Ndabagi lies beside me, the white sheet underneath us, his back to me, his face buried in the pillow, and tears in our eyes.

At a time like this, Nnagi said he would gleefully tickle me and play with my chinking beads and both of us would twitter in love as our hearts unite in symphony with the sensuous sounds of the beads. My husband has not tickled me. I throw many coquettish giggles at him but they are stuck in the space between us, unrequited.

I, the woman, barefacedly longs to feel him, the man. I am intent in thawing the frozen space between us with the heat of passion. My body quakes with a mixture of fear and desire. My body gets hot and I snuggle to him.

“I am not a man,” he sniffles, like a mother bereaved of her only child. He has no fingers for tickling women unlike my father and his father.

Cocks in the compound, their voices full with pride of virility, are hastening dawn with their merry crows. It will soon be morning and Nnagi will stop snoring and come to knock excitedly on our door asking for the white bedsheet. Finding it not smeared with blood, she will ask Ndabagi if he met me at home? What will he tell her to tell my people?

MORNING.

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