BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Copyright © Ufuomaee
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Onuoha was sober for the first time in five years. Last night, he’d made the biggest mistake of his life, and there was no way he could correct it… What had possessed him to mention her name…? To even think of such a thing?
He sat outside his small hut, watching his only daughter wash their clothes and spread them on the line. He had hoped for better things for her. He’d prayed for better things for her.
He’d wished that he could have earned enough to send her to school in the city. She was such a bright and beautiful child, and she would have done well for herself, he knew. Maybe she would have met a rich handsome man, who would marry her, and build him a house in the suburbs of the city… But those were just dreams of a foolish drunkard.
He hadn’t always been an alcoholic… He’d never really been a fan of the bottle, but it became his comfort when he’d lost his wife five years ago. It had happened all of a sudden. One day, she’d gone to the well to fetch water, and on her way back, she’d collapsed and died. It was a brain aneurysm, and he had been devastated. Life was so unfair…
Erhuvwun turned to him just then and smiled. A tear rolled down Onuoha’s face as he looked away. How was he going to tell her? She would be so devastated. She would hate him forever!
No, he couldn’t tell her. He would have to buy his way out of this. Or if worse comes to worst, he would just have to send her away… But where to? This was the only home she knew… All their people were here.
Maybe the chief would be able to help them, Onuoha thought. But before that, he would have to go back to Amadi and tell him it wasn’t going to work… He would have to take something else, but not his only child!
Amadi’s big hut was through the deep forest, where he owned an expense of land, inherited from his father. His rich abode was built with red bricks and filled with fine wooden furniture that he’d crafted himself. He was a skilful carpenter, who traded with merchants at Port Harcourt. Why he still chose to reside in the village was a wonder to Onuoha and all the other villagers.
Onuoha found Amadi chopping wood, and treaded carefully, so that he wouldn’t be hit by stray splinters. Amadi didn’t look up when he greeted in their native dialect, “Good day, Onuoha.”
“Good day, Amadi. How is your health?”
Amadi arose to his full 6.5 feet and smirked. He knew Onuoha did not come all this way to enquire about his health. If anything, the old man should be concerned about his. “Fine. How’s my wife?”
Onuoha swallowed. “That’s what I came to talk about… Erhuvwun cannot marry you…”
Amadi threw down his axe on the pile of logs yet to be cut and growled. “She’s mine, and she will marry me!”
Onuoha fell to his knees. “I’m begging you… Let me work for you instead…”
“What use do I have of an old man? You are too old to teach and too old to work. Give me what I earned, or else!”
Onuoha swallowed. “You can have my hut… But please, don’t take my daughter. She’s all I have…”
“If you do not give her to me, I will come for her and for your hut! I have no need of you!”
Onuoha began to call on the gods, calling down blessings on Amadi if he would have mercy. However, his petitioning angered the younger man more. He picked up his axe again and pointed it threateningly at Onuoha. “You have until noon on her 16th birthday to bring her, or I will call the elders to hear the matter…and your life will be required of you for your breach!”
Onuoha rose up trembling. The penalty for broken pledges in their village was double restitution or life. Either way, his pledge would be redeemed. The only one to absolve him of his debt was his creditor, who in the person of Amadi was merciless. If he couldn’t offer Amadi something he desired more than his daughter, then he was obligated to keep his pledge.
Onuoha retreated in fear. Only the gods could help him now. Nevertheless, he would go to the chief. Maybe he could talk to Amadi. Maybe he knew Amadi’s creditor…but a man as rich as Amadi was a debtor to no one.
Onuoha returned from his trip downcast. What had he done? It was a foolish slip of the tongue, and Amadi wouldn’t let him take it back. He had been so sure he would win the bet. He’d initially almost put his hut on the line to up the ante, but he’d thought in a split second that it wouldn’t be as appealing an offer as his beautiful daughter. Every available man, and even many married men desired her for a wife. And he was sure he wouldn’t lose… Oh, what trickery!
His visit to the chief had been fruitless. It turned out the chief was indebted to Amadi, who had recently constructed his new bed, and they were working on a project together to rebuild his hut with red bricks and stone. The chief had told him to pray and make sacrifices to the gods and then speak with his daughter. Maybe she would go willingly.
But even if she would, Onuoha knew that it was no fate he wanted for his daughter. To be the wife of a merciless beast. He would rather die! If he took his life and made a will that his daughter be in the care of his brother, she would be redeemed. But he feared that even his brother could not protect Erhuvwun from Amadi…
“Father, there is something you want to tell me.” Erhuvwun was at the door to their hut when Onuoha arrived home that night. “Tell me.”
“My child, it is just the worries of an old man. Nothing you should be concerned about…”
“Father, I’ll be sixteen in two weeks. You have to stop treating me like a child! All my mates are married. Tell me, what is on your mind?”
To be continued...
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