My mama always tell me say I go make good wife for the man whey go marry me. I believe her. My mama never tell me lie. I be first daughter and second child. My papa too tell me say he will marry me to fine man. I start to hear all this marriage talk when I be only ten years. I don't know that marriage will be something near to me like this because people I know use to marry when they have big. Big big girls like my cousin, Ese and my cousin, Doro marry when they have reach like after twenty years. It hard me when my papa now say I will marry the next year. Ordinary eleven years. I cry. I cry plenty cry. My mama say I make me no worry. She say the man love me and take care of me. I no want. But my choice no plenty like that. E small like beggar own. If I say no, I will not have where to go to because I will have to run away from my papa house. And I will be disgracing my papa name. So, I agree, not that I have plenty choice to choose but I agree. I agree to marry the man that is like the same age of my papa.
I have now reach eleven years. I hear my mama and my papa talk one night. I stand outside their door for room. That time, it is already near the time that the man marry me will come carry me to him house. My papa is telling my mama that he cannot take back him promise to him friend. He is asking my mama that have she forget the time him friend give him plenty money to help my mama in the hospital? It was the time my mama sick and doctor say they have to remove something from inside her body by operation. My mama start to cry. She start to cry that her child now have to pay for what happen years before she born me. I start to cry too. Small small so them no hear me. My papa is giving me to man in marriage to pay for money that he is owing.
I walk from the door before any of them come out of the room. I go to my room and I continue to cry. I am not understanding anything. I am too small to marry. I will now carry belle for man that is my papa age. How will my small waist carry the belle? I am fearing. I am fearing what will happen after I marry the man.
I remember one story that my mama use to tell us—me and my brother and sisters. I have two small sisters. I am praying that my papa will not use them to do debt payment too like he want to use me. My mama use to tell us the story and in the story, the girl parents always use to protect her. They never want bad thing to come near her. My mama always tell us the story to make us know that she and my papa will always take care of us. So now that my papa want to give me to man to clear him debt, I want to still believe that he will always take care of me. I want to believe that he will always protect me and that he is not giving me to the man because he do not like me again like him daughter. My papa be good man. Very good man.
In our community, everybody love my papa. They say he always do things right. They say he show good example of true husband and true father. If my papa who is good example of true husband and true father is giving small me to man to marry, at eleven years, then he is doing it because he know it is good thing to do for our family. I believe my papa is still a good papa. I don’t want to vex for him for what he want to do. If not that my mama sick, my papa for no make that kind of promise to the man say him go give me, him first daughter, to him for wife to pay back the money that he give my papa to save my mama life. It only show that my papa is really good man. So, I will not too fear again. The man that will marry me will take care of me well because he be my papa friend from the thing I hear them talk the other night.
My first small sister walk into the room. I clean my face quick quick. I don’t want her to ask me plenty question why I am crying. She already see that I am crying before I clean my face and so she ask me,
“Sista Jiro, why you dey cry?”
“I no dey cry. Something enter inside my eye, that is why it red,” I answer.
She look me well. She know I lie but she don’t say anything. She sit down on the bed. I look at her. She look at me.
“Mama tell me say you go soon go your husband house,” she say, tying her fingers together.
I don’t know that my mama have tell my sister about the marriage. I nod head. She come and hug me. As she finish hugging me, she start to clean my face.
“Don’t cry again, Sista. Mama say the man will do you good.”
I smile for her. Weak smile. I like my small sister very well. She is good girl. She know how to take care of person and love the person. She always talk to me and she always like to play with me. My other small sister have not big. She is still like three years. This one is eight years. She know small thing about life. As she talk to me now, my heart feel small relief. I feel like the marriage will now be easy because I know that my sister will always love me. And my mama too. And even my papa too. My brother have travel to the big city of Warri since he become fifteen years. He stay with my papa brother doing apprentice boy for him shop. He don't know that I will soon marry and I know my papa have not tell him through phone or letter. I wish my brother is here so I can tell him about the money marriage my papa want to put me inside. I too small to marry that man. Everybody know but nobody want do anything for me. My papa have make promise since before my mama born me to the man so he cannot say he will not give me to him again.
My small sister soon tell me she is going to watch my mama cook in the kitchen so she can learn cooking too. I nod and she walk away.
My cry have start to reduce small small as the day of marriage near. My mama have go market to buy fine cloth for me. Sometimes I am thinking of running away but I cannot disgrace my papa and put him inside debt. I cannot run away and allow the man come and carry my small sisters. So, I stay. I stay and I tell my mama that I like the cloth. I lie. I do not have strength to like the cloth because my whole mind is disturbing me like when flies are flying round-round your head. My mama know I no happy but she smile and carry the cloth away. She say she will keep it in her ekpeti, that her suitcase that she put everything she like. I watch her leave my room and I feel the cry coming so I slap my face small and sniff and sniff until the cry go back inside. I will soon be married woman, I cannot be crying anyhow again.
The man is not coming to carry me, they tell me. It is my papa and him people that will carry me to the man house as he have already paid for me. My mama and her sister and friends will dress me and follow me go him house. There, I will now do everything the man want me to do for him. Things like born him children, sweep him house, cook for him, wash him plate. Those kind things.
My mama call her friends. Many of them are our neighbor, like Mama Kobele and Mama Eight o’clock. The name always make me laugh. I always wonder why she name her child name that is time. The women come to help me dress up for my new husband. I have not even see the man before. I only know he old like my papa. Around fifty years. He have two wife already but he is still marry me as third wife. All this thing my mama tell me before today. I think whether he will marry another wife after me or if I will now be last wife. I hear the man other wife them have children. Some of the children are my age; the other ones are senior enough to marry me.
My Papa have say it will be alright but he have also say after I marry, he will not take care of me again. He say I will learn to take care of myself. That is what wife do, he tell me. I nod my head for my papa but I really don’t understand why he talk like he want to abandon me. If my papa want to abandon me, then my mama will not abandon me. That is what I tell myself. My mama cannot leave her daughter to be unhappy. She have always promise me happiness and I believe her. She will give me happiness.
The women tie my igele for me. That is after they have tie my wrapper for me. I look like my mama. Like the way she look inside her wedding picture with my papa. The women have ready me. I do not protest. They are now praising me saying that I am omo oyibo, fine child. They are saying that I will make good wife. They are now singing the native wedding escort song for me. I am not vexing again like the first time they tell me I will marry old man. I am not even worrying again. It have happen, it have happen. Whiteman will say don’t cry over spill milk. I will not cry over this spill milk. It have already spill. My mama and the women follow me to the man house. When we reach there, the wife welcome me. The man come to meet me. It is the first time I am seeing him. The man is not fine in the face. He is very big, bigger than my papa. He is not fat as I used to picture him in my head but he have big tummy, tummy bigger than my papa own. I am imagining the tummy sitting on top of me.
I kneel down and greet him.
“Stand up, my wife,” he tell me smiling. “Welcome, my small wife.”
The man is looking so happy like he have not see new wife before. See how he is smiling anyhow. Let me stop saying the man. He is now my husband. I wonder why he is smiling the way he is smiling.
The senior wife them follow me to my room after I say bye bye to my mama and the women. The very senior wife tell me that is me that will stay with the man in him room that night since it is our wedding night. It don’t feel like the wedding I see in the films we watch. There is always big party and love in those ones. I sit down on the bed and the senior wife leave. I remove the igele but I do not remove my clothes because I do not know what the man—my husband—would like me to do.
I am already sleeping when the senior wife wake me and say in a soft sweet voice,
“Our wife, our husband is calling you.”
I struggle to clean my eye with the back of my hand. I yawn very wide yawn. I wear my slippers and follow the senior wife as she carry me to our husband room. She knock on his door and leave me there.
“Enter!” our husband shout from inside.
“My fine wife,” he praise me when I enter.
I say nothing. I only bend my head.
My husband say I should sit down on the bed by him. I do so. He look at me and ask me if I have already seen my blood. I do not understand what he is saying but I nod my head still because I know I have seen month flow and maybe that is what he is calling my blood. He say my breasts are so small but he laugh and say soon they will be very big. He say he will take care of me well. My husband now say I should remove my clothes. I am crying and removing my clothes one by one. My husband have wide smile on him face. He tell me to lie down. I lie down. I am crying well well now. He don’t listen to my cry as he pull him clothes. I am looking at him big tummy. He is laughing and calling me fine fine names. He remove him trouser. I see him man thing. I have see man thing before but only my brother own and my friend Karo own when we used to play small children play. This my husband man thing is very big. I have not see this type before.
He climb the bed and put one finger over him mouth. “Be quiet!”
I start to cry more. He hold my two hand down. I am shouting my mama name. I know senior wife can hear but she do not come to the door. My husband start to do me like he is pounding yam. It is paining me. I am fearing as he is doing the thing to me. My woman thing is paining me. My waist is paining me. Everywhere is paining me. Nobody tell me about this.
My husband finally finish what he is doing to me and fall to the other side of the bed. He start to snore. I come down from the bed and wrap myself with wrapper on the floor. I am crying small small. All my body is shaking. Plenty blood is between my two leg, on the bed and on the floor where I sit. My husband snore is very loud. I want to die. My papa and my mama have put me inside bondage. My body is on fire.
In the morning, my husband wake up to see me on the floor. He wake me up and tell me to go to my room. He say senior wife will show me round the house and tell me what to do. Yesterday night terrible something for me. I am imagine how many more of that night I can manage. Why will my papa do me like this? Why will he use me, him daughter, to do borrow borrow. Now, I am somebody money wife. He can do me anyhow he want. I just want to die. This whole house is very bad for me and I have already tire.
I start to think big thinking. I cannot continue to stay inside this my husband house. I cannot go back to my papa house. I will run. I will run far. The man have marry me and cannot carry my small sister again. So I will run. I do not know which day I will run but I know I will run because I cannot continue inside this torture.
But running now hard. The house is not easy to leave. So I remain there. I remain there receiving all the punishment from that man in the name of marriage. I don’t even feel like eleven years child again. I am now person wife. So, when it start to tire me, I say I cannot do again.
Then, I carry belle. It is senior wife that find out. I start to sick well well. As I carry belle, my husband send me to my papa house so I can born the child there. I happy well well. But he don’t even give support money. My mama tell me that is what they do to wife like me—wife that they use to pay debt. She say the man have pay for everything with the money he borrow papa. Small eleven years like me carry big belle. I promise myself that I will run and leave the baby for them after I born it. My small sisters will be using my belle to play before they go school and after they come back. I have stop school even before this marriage talk start and as marriage come, no hope for school again.
The baby soon come. It is a girl. I call her Emuakpo because there are plenty things in this life. Plenty things like the thing I am suffering. The second night after the morning that I born Emuakpo, I run away. I don’t know where I am running to, but I run away fast fast as my leg can run. I do not look back. I just continue to run and I am crying as I am running. I have leave Emuakpo for my husband, I think a child is enough to pay all the debt that my papa is owing him.
Ufuoma Bakporhe is a fiction writer and developing screenwriter. She is the author of Lettars from an Imbecile (2014) and her works have appeared on The Kalahari Review, African Writer, Punocracy and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2019 Awele Creative Trust Award. When not writing, she is reading a book, watching a movie or plotting the next story. She blogs fiction at ufuomapensfiction.wordpress.com.
Reach her @uf_oma on Instagram and @ufuomabakporhe on Twitter.