Image: The author
Picture a marketplace scenario where you chance on a situation like this: a fellow is negotiating to purchase an item you’re prepared to pay any price to acquire. How would you feel if the fellow begins to badmouth the item? You should feel great, and you would certainly be elated were he to walk away.
About 25 years ago, this scenario very nearly played out when I found myself in Benue State in fulfillment of my National Youth Service obligation. It turned out that the pretty lass I’d earmarked to spend the rest of my life with had earlier been summarily dumped by her Igala kinsman.
His face-saving reason at the time was that the gap between their educational attainments was irredeemably disproportionate. To him, a Higher National Diploma and a few credits in the Senior Secondary School Certificate were worlds apart. That excuse survived until I sauntered in brandishing something a bit weightier than a HND. And that’s when his real reason came to light, but I’ll come to that a little later.
The seven eventful years I spent in what was unarguably Africa’s most beautiful campus and the many bitter-sweet experiences I garnered in my explorative liaisons with the opposite sex afforded me more accurate insights into the dynamics of matrimony. When I rammed into the sweltering heat of Makurdi in the first quarter of 1988, I had a fairly detailed idea of what my life-inmate should look like.
On the physical side, I love smaller-sized women or what you would call “portable.” I imagine something I could pick up and take off with on short notice in the event of conflict. The Biafra debacle taught us the esoteric art of determining the most precious item to vamoose with when the enemy is at the door. Cantilevers are features I fell in love with while studying Architecture. In buildings, I find them aesthetically appealing and when they show up on a well-proportioned wench, I very easily succumb to a bout of inspiration.
I love women with a deep, unassuming spirituality capable of generating initiative and are self-driven. And when she’s also an excellent cook-cum-magician like my late mama, I’d usually respond as one under a spell.
It took about 15 months of focused tracking and a commensurate dose of fervent supplication to conclude that the pretty, portable Igala lass was the one I was prepared to be stuck with for the rest of life. With massive encouragement from friends like Nwachukwu Achebe and late Adama Adagole, I initiated an irrevocable process that saw me dragging my septuagenarian father from Ohafia all the way to Idah to do what only a loving father could. Saturday December 12 1992, Jumai and I were married at the Qua Iboe Church, Lobi Quarters Makurdi.
Soon afterwards, I discovered the real reason why my predecessor had scrammed: Jumai was the de-facto breadwinner of her family. Being the first of 10 siblings, she inherited that unenviable status when their father died in a freak accident a few years before I ambled into Makurdi. As an accountant, the young man had taken accurate stock of the concomitant cost of marrying such a girl and had predictably grown cold feet. And in nearly 23 years, I have come to know through experience what he knew only by inference. And in as many years, only a few times have I doubted the rightness of my decision.
A few months ago, I met my predecessor for the first time at the funeral of a man who was mentor to my missus. He treated me as though I was long lost friend; and why not? I helped clear the mess he’d created way back; a mess I’m actually glad he was led to create. I have a hunch he took a studied look at my missus and concluded I hadn’t done too badly. There was no bitterness, no ill-feelings and hopefully, there’ll never be any regrets. One man’s real fears became another’s bright opportunity.
I have thought deeply about my marital odyssey and it bears striking resemblance to the essential Ndiigbo experience. We have this knack for picking up what others reject or ignore and making something out of it by deliberate and sustained nurture. Sometimes the capacity to assume risks that enable us last longer than the competition equates smartness. And that could be why Ndiigbo fancy themselves as being endowed with the smarts.
Here is to my Igala forerunner who took a hike when reality registered: you’re no coward. Your courageous flight helped secure the happiness of many more than you could ever imagine. By your actions, you’ve earned a place on my roll of heroes.
And to you, Christiana Jumai, my fellow life-inmate in this gaol of bliss: I’ve just aborted our proposed trip to the moon. I’m researching a destination not polluted by human excrement, a place far removed from the lunacy of human hypocrisy. Until then, I’m condemned to dragging you all around with me; and ogling as much as I possibly can.
Because at 40-something, you still rock, my delectable cantilever baby!
Olugu Olugu Orji