The earth was damp – an unhealthy mixture of the putrid smell of decaying matter. The ground was marshy and sloppy. The gutters full of green algae were bursting forth with water.
She managed to maneuver her way through the unhealthy environment while keeping her intestines down her throat.
“The heck! This place reeks so badly!”
Water came trickling down roofs of closely clustered houses as she passed, not sparing a backward glance. It was 7:30 am already. She had to be in the market to help her mama. The market was the place where they got their daily bread. Though it was little, they managed. Poverty sure had a way of making people stretch to their limits.
Finding her way under the rain, and through the unhealthy mass of dirt that lined the bad road, she made her way into the market.
Yemi was sixteen and she knew what she wanted in life. Being an optimist, she didn’t let her background deter her. Her mama had tried her best to ensure she at least finished her primary school education and when she was done, she had heaved a sigh of relief.
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Now, Yemi wouldn’t let the neighbours or customers cheat her as she was fairly educated to know her calculations. It however came as a shock when Yemi obstinately refused to help her in the shop. She pleaded she wanted to continue with Junior Secondary School education to no avail.
Yemi was the brightest student in her class, always at the top after every examination. Her background had always been her motivation. She thought about leaving the slumps someday. Her young mind thought she could fight for it.
Yemi’s mother was scared of what education would do to her daughter. She had heard about and saw what education did to most women in their community. To her, they became shrew, untenable and had no respect for culture. An example was Dr Sola who had told her to shut up and sit down in their last meeting.
She had made a deal with Chief Balogun, the oldest chief in town. Yemi knew not that the chief was her sponsor. He was the brains behind her finishing her primary school education. He also helped their family in times of need. As his price, he made mama promise Yemi would be given to him when she clocked sixteen. To make it binding, mama swore an oath at the famous Olokun shrine.
Yemi was a fighter. Battling her way through life like she did with the rain that soaked her as she made her way to the market to help mama, she succeeded in getting a scholarship that saw her through the first three years of secondary school, then she clocked the dreaded sixteen. Mama could no longer hide the deal from her. She had to know.
The rain had stopped by the time she got to the market. Without a word, she moved to the side of the table where mama had kept the bucket which held the food to be sold, and in one swift motion, lifted one of them to her head. She balanced it like an expert and without a backward glance, made her way into the busy road.
“Elewa yin ti de o,” she cried.
In times like this, she didn’t remember she had a beautiful soprano voice that would be better used in a choir than on the streets of her small town selling beans. Her consolation was that she was going to be great. She would get there through whatever means and hawking beans was probably one of them.
Read this short story: Freedom
People turned to stare as usual. Some out of pity, others out of awe at her beauty. She was sixteen, yet looked eighteen. Her breasts stood on her chest like proud egrets, the firmness of her hips punctured her threadbare clothes and the soft slapping of her buttocks did not fail to attract attention.
Chief Balogun had only come some months ago to remind her mother of their agreement. She had appealed to him to be patient enough. She had to prepare Yemi. He looked at Yemi that day with a sly smile on his face. When mama called her into her room that night and broke the news to her, she wasn’t surprised. It had once occurred to her how desperate mama was.
Before the sun stood proud in the sky, Yemi had sold two rounds and was on the third round. She helped mama pack some stuff and headed home. The expression the neighbours had on their faces surprised her. Her entering their compound was cut short when she saw the number of people outside, dressed like wedding guests.
She squeezed her way through the crowd, in the middle was chief Balogun, the old man who had married a young bride just some weeks ago. She saw with him tubers of yams, gallons of palm wine, red oil and goat. Then, she felt a cold grip her heart. Her heartbeat rose to a crescendo, its palpitations showing through her temple. He had finally come for her. Her breath came in quick successions. She was suffocating. She wasn’t prepared for this. Mama didn’t tell her it was today.
Yes, Mama had told her she would be married to Chief Balogun, but she didn’t tell her it was today. He smiled, exposing an ugly set of tobacco-stained teeth and darkened gums. The neighbors paved way for her as she came to stand face-to-face with the round, potbellied chief.
“My dear one, I am here to get you,” his thick Yoruba accent made his English difficult to understand. He reached out to grab her. She shifted back. He stumbled on the act.
She felt drained. She told him she didn’t want to marry him.
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“Yemi, you don’t have a choice.” The soft feminine voice was familiar. It was Mama.
Her eyes begged mama not to let it happen, but mama grabbed her hand and handed her over to one of Chief Balogun’s kinsmen.
“I have not broken the oath,” mama said, moving towards the chief, “I have done your bidding so, the gods will spare me.”
She took a raw egg from inside her basket and hit it hard against the ground. Its content spilled. She knelt before the chief signifying the completion of the oath.
It was a covenant, none dared protest. It wasn’t their business anyway. They just watched with rapturous delight, the drama that unfolded before their eyes. By the next morning, even the children will bear the news.
Yemi watched as her marriage rites were completed. It was more like a funeral to her – a funeral for her dreams and hopes. She felt her dreams crash down like the egg mama had broken on the ground.
No drums, no dance, just songs that sounded more like a dirge. Whoever the singers were, they praised Chief Balogun for being so kind, even the poorest of the poor benefit from him.
In the end, Yemi refused going home with her husband. Like a war booty, she was thrown over the shoulders of one of the men to prevent her escape. She screamed, cried and kicked all to no avail.
Mama had turned her back on her.
Later that night, the Chief came into her room and overpowered. He sheathed his saggy self in her. The pain tore through her flesh, piercing through and breaking her bones. She realized, even as the blood seeped out of her that not all wishes came through.
Years later with a baby in hand, another suckling at her breast, and her husband six feet beneath she wished she had fought harder.
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