By Marycynthia Chinwe Okafor
She didn't get it from thin air; she must have gotten it from one of her parents. Perhaps her mother or father had been promiscuous; certainly, one of them must have been. This was what people said about Akuabata. Nobody could tell which of her parents had been indiscriminate: her mother was fanatical, excessively so to have sold her body for the finer things in life, and her father, for a while, had studied to become a pastor.
Akuabata and I, even though we were friendly were never so in the way of friends. Instead, we were more like neighbours, living in adjacent buildings and most particularly, I was her confidant. Maybe she talked to me because she knew we didn’t run in the same circle and could never be friends.
Once, she told me about Oga Ikeka, their next-door neighbour, a man old enough to be her father, abusing her and her sisters. They had no television and went to Oga Ikeka's room to watch one; their mother always let them. The abuse began with Akuabata when once, Oga Ikeka sent her sisters to buy Malt, then he touched her private parts and gave her money to keep her quiet.
It was something Akuabata didn't or couldn't tell her mother because her mother would have killed her before she confronted Oga Ikeka. I couldn't tell my mother either, perhaps because I was too cowardly and couldn't speak of such a thing. It just wasn't the kind of thing we discussed during the sparse family times we had at home.
The abuse built and soon, Oga Ikeka was having her remove her clothes, Akuabata told me. Later, she discovered that her sisters too were being abused and paid.
I watched Oga Ikeka now and noticed that he had aged terribly. He was hunched and had grown so thin his collar bone could be traced with a finger. His once burnt complexion now looked ashy, his hair dirty brown and cut so close to his scalp. He had lost all his youth, but his charisma remained.
He laughed hoarse and hollow as people dragged their plastic chairs to sit by his side. "I'm the one that will tell you.” He said. "I lived in the same yard with Akuabata. She had it in her right from when she was a child. I tell you, eziokwu, she died of mminwu."
I listened to him sprout a bunch of baloney about Akuabata, his fellow gossipmongers listened too, animated by him. I wondered if Oga Ikeka had ever heard the saying: "Do not speak ill of the dead." Perhaps he hadn't, but he knew that dead men tell no tales.
Akuabata was dead and couldn't defend herself. She couldn't have been killed by AIDS, as Oga Ikeka said. Many people claimed she was, many who had seen how sick she had been. Before her death, she had turned from the voluptuous beauty that had turned heads to the skeletal nightmare that had littered her sickbed with dry bones. Her skin had been drawn and slack and graced by discoloured spots. Her stomach had protruded such that she looked like a pregnant stick figure.
"I bet she got it from one of those old men she went around with." One of the gossipmongers whispered. "I doubt those small pretty boys she carried gave it to her."
I said nothing and listened. I wanted to say something in her defense, but I couldn't argue the truth. It was common knowledge that Akuabata had followed older men and carried young boys. Her first car, at eighteen, had been a Mercedes Benz from one Chief Akwanze whom she was his mistress for two years before moving on to bigger fish. It was rumoured that she bought a new house for a man younger than her by eight years when she was thirty.
She had known how to make money with her body. As I watched Oga Ikeka's face break out into a sickly smile as he humoured his groupies, I felt a certain coldness inside me, and I despised him more. He was the man who first bought Akuabata's body. He opened her eyes very early to the fact that she could market her body, and now, he discussed her as if he had a right to narrate what he called her atrocities.
"What are you doing back here? I thought you've finally disappeared." The voice, loud and scalding, distracted me from Ikeka's thin hawk-like face. The owner of the voice was Nwakaego, the first son of Akuabata, the first of the two children she had borne while still in her parent's house, whom, after it was discovered she was pregnant with, my parents forbade me from speaking to her. "What are you doing in my house?"
I winced, not at the fury lacing Nwakaego's words but at how easily the furious words escaped through his lips. He said, "my house," with the easy pride of a young house owner and the arrogant anger of being intruded upon in that very house. He had always been quite foolish and dramatic like the man speculated to be his father. I wondered how he felt asking a brother, “What are you doing in my house?" A brother who had been there through thick and thin, who had only stepped out half an hour ago to see that the canopies for the guests who would sit outside the compound were set and their food served.
Technically, it wasn't his house; it was his mother’s. It was elected that her funeral be done here, being the largest house Akuabata built in her hometown. After all, none of her husbands owned her corpse. They had both done the ikwu ngoritual after she had borne them three children each.
"Go back to where you're coming from." Nwakaego ran like a man deranged to go confront the intruder, his adoptive brother Nwabuife.
Akuabata had taken Nwabuife in after he was rescued from the street dumpster. Nwakaego and Nwabuife were of the same age, and they were raised together and had both called Akuabata "Mummy." However, their enmity began when Nwabuife wouldn't go with him to Mba to look in the mirror and discover who killed their mother.
Nwabuife ignored Nwakaego's dramatization and embraced their sister, the second child Akuabata bore at home. He and Amaka were the only two of the many who hadn't dragged for her corpse. It was said that both Nwabuife and Amaka didn't care much for Akuabata's wealth; Nwabuife had a lot of his own, and Amaka had married well.
Others had struggled amongst themselves for her body. The fight had been brutal, but it was her parents whom the court had granted custody of Akuabata's body.
Akuabata's first husband, after all—had rejected her after she refused to bring a nkpi to beg him to get up from the ground when after only a few seconds of enduring his fists, she had retaliated and beaten him to the ground. He had collected back her bride price and released cannon shots to announce to people that Akuabata was no longer welcomed in his home.
She had divorced her second husband because he was from Nsukka, and she hadn't wanted to step outside their marriage bed and run mad. While she was sick, neither of them nor the children she had given them had gone to sit by her side and fetch her a cup of water. But when the news came that she had died, they had flocked as vultures would to carrion to the mortuary, demanding her body.
Today, while Nwakaego—who now served as Akuabata's di okpara nna as her father had no son—performed her funeral in her home, her two husbands performed theirs in their hometowns. After the court order, the elders had suggested that they share her body so everybody would have a piece of her to bury. But they couldn't dare cut off any part of her flesh as she would not be given to Ana incomplete. A strand of her hair was given to her first husband to put in a coffin and bury. Her second husband received a bit of her nail. And her parents, her whole body.
I watched as Nwabuife held Amaka's hand tightly in his and went to stand by the box that housed that body. I tried not to think of what Nwakaego had loaded into it: broom, cutlass, agba, udo, despite the discouragements of Father Daniel—the priest who had officiated the requiem mass.
Since Akuabata had vomited blood before dying, her family believed she was poisoned. Nwakaego had claimed he had gone to Umuagwo, Imo state, to look in a dibia's mirror and see. But he had only seen her killer's back and not the face. He believed it was one or both of her husbands. They had killed her out of spite and the money her death could afford them. Perhaps he just couldn't stomach the thought that Akuabata might have died of AIDS, so he had piled every possible weapon into her coffin.
I wondered if Akuabata could see her killer's face now—if she was murdered. Would she go after this killer? Perhaps, she wouldn't; one could never really tell with her. But then, she would have hated the cluster in her space.
The broom would go; first, it probably would represent chores to her. I wondered if Nwakaego knew the significance of "a broom put inside a coffin." If Akuabata could see her killer and would be compelled to go after them, she would sweep all her own family too after she was finished with her murderer's family. I wanted to tell Nwabuife to have the broom removed even if his brother insisted on leaving the others, but I was distracted again by Ifesinachi Ezenta.
Ifesinachi Ezenta, the then heartthrob in the street, lived in the imposing three-storey mansion opposite Akuabata's compound. His parents' money had kept him dapper still. It had always been speculated that he was Nwakaego's father. He had agreed he was responsible for Akuabata's pregnancy when her stomach began swelling at fourteen. There, Akuabata’s and his parents started the marriage rites. Though Akuabata never accepted nor denied the speculation, a day to the igba nkwu, she went to WACOL to report that her parents were making arrangements to sell her.
Asili then began that when Akuabata discovered she was pregnant, she had gone to Ifesinachi to borrow money for an abortion. But when her child came, she named him Nwakaego—a child is greater than money.
Nwakaego hurried to Ifesinachi all aflutter. "Thanks for coming. She would have appreciated it."
At his words, I thought how little he must have known his mother. Ifesinachi embraced him tightly. When he released him, his face drooped. His words dripped with oily sympathy. "I'm so sorry for your loss. It's also my loss. You know how much I loved her."
It wasn't a question, but Nwakaego answered anyway, "Of course. Of course, enough you asked for her hand."
Ifesinachi sauntered into Akuabata's large living room to go and greet her parents. When he reemerged, he went straight and sat beside Oga Ikeka.
"You know," he started over a mouth full of jollof rice and coleslaw after a while. "This one time, she told me she had a threesome with two wealthy men, and she licked their asses." They all laughed.
I wondered if that was true and if it wasn't, how long it took the charming Ifesinachi to think it up. I wondered how funny Akuabata would have thought it, but then, she wasn't here, so I wouldn't know. She wasn't here either to tell whether there was any truth in the things they had said about her.
The day after the burial, when I returned with my family for ino onwu, another asili was circling already. Nwakaego was throwing money on Akuabata's grave and people believed that surely, he had used her for ogwu ego. But, as I watched him dance with a bottle of beer in one hand and a wad of cash in the other, I realized he felt no more for Akuabata than her two husbands and their family did. They only cared for the fortune Akuabata's dead body would bring if it rested in their soil.
Marycynthia Chinwe Okafor is Igbo. She has her nest in Enugu, where she tries, often futilely to create on paper worlds that exist in her head. A Nommo Award nominee, she has pieces published or forthcoming in Brittle Paper, Writefluence, Black Skin, No Mask, Kalahari Review, Afreecan Read, Omenana, and elsewhere.