The Writers Voice
The Dark Side Of The Moon
The Dark Side Of The Moon
Everybody is a moon,
Once on the stool, an icy calm came over her. She was in harmony with the gods. Peace was planted in her heart. And knew nothing of her was hidden from the two men in whose presence she sat. She could the feel the cold eyes of the chief priest on her, a physical touch, stripping her bare; skin, flesh, then bones, till her soul was exposed. When she opened her mouth to speak she could not recognize her own voice.
"Obi, my father, my king", she began, intoning the ritual recital she's been brought up to accept, "may the gods keep you to live a thousand years so that we, your children and subjects may forever drink from your spring of wisdom." Her voice was subdued and filled with love and respect for the man who gave life to the man she married.
"I have come in answer to your summon", she went on, "I could have come earlier
but, I was not fit to present myself before the gods, in whose presence I now
"Welcome daughter." The Obi's voice sailed across the room to touch her, soft, like a feather; a voice she had always loved.
"How's your husband?" The question, casual as it sounded, was unexpected and it felt like a hand tugging at her heart. She was frightened. The Obi could not have summoned her from Lagos to Nnobia just to ask about her husband's welfare. If the welfare of Onyemma, her husband were the trouble, he would have sent for him instead.
"He is fine, Obi, my lord. I spoke with him yesterday." She answered. The silence returned; this time, it was uncomfortable. She knew then that the answer she had given was not what the obi desired. "Obi, my father, my husband is in Abuja. Our firm is handling the Presidential election campaign of the First Lady at the International Conference of Wives of Heads of Governments coming up later in the year…he's due back in Lagos next week."
"I know." The Obi cut in sharply. "I know he is in Abuja, and I know a lot more than you don't know that I know." Silence again, it was brief this time but thick, she thought she could reach out and touch it.
"When I asked you about your husband", the Obi continued, eyes solemn, "I had hoped that you would understand that I meant to know if he is performing his duty as a husband, and save me the indignity of asking you bluntly. Now I must put aside all pretences and you straight. Is your husband a man?"
She was stunned, not so much by the question itself but by the fact that the Obi knew. It was supposed to be a secret between her and Onyemma, her husband. But the Obi knew. And the reason she had been summoned now stared her in the face. It was terrible. She looked from the Obi to the chief priest but could not open her mouth to speak.
"Alright daughter, I know about my son's inner most secret. There's little I don't know really. You see, daughter, it's dawn, time for the sun to rise but the sun refuses to rise. So, we ask why, the gods know why, so we know, because we are in harmony with the gods. I have two sons, twins, one of them you married. The other one, Onyedika, went to the Whitman's land and married a black American, an African American if you will… a slave. An abomination, the Obi's son married to an outcast." The Obi paused long enough to banish emotion from his voice. When he spoke again his voice was firm, without any trace of what he must be feeling. "My ancestors have ruled this clan for over three hundred years, and I have kept the legacy alive; I must pass the mantle to my children. The fire must not die in my hands. To you, my daughter, I now turn to for help, to keep fire my ancestors kindled burning in this household. Every soul like the moon has a dark side, which is hidden.
Onyemma, your husband, the gods have revealed cannot father a child. He is like the moon, fair, lovely but with a dark side hidden from all, but the gods. Your brother-in-law, Onyedika is married to an outcast, and as such cannot produce an heir for my throne. Should he decide to have a child outside, in which case illegitimately, the child cannot even stand before my Ikenga, an Obi must be the product of a marriage sanctioned by the gods." The Obi paused again, then fixed his eyes on his daughter-in-law.
"You are my hope. Our tradition allows the wife of an impotent man to given to another man to bring forth children, primarily to hide the husband's inadequacies, and ultimately to propagate and preserve his name. This is done under the strictest secrecy and, of course with the consent of the husband, in whose interest thing is undertaken. I have called you here to propose that you pair up with Onyedika, your brother-in-law to produce a son that will succeed Onyemma, who will rule after me." The allowed a moment to pass, in which he hoped the import of his words would sink into his daughter-in-law. "Your education and modern way of life might make it difficult for you understand the situation," the Obi continued, "however, I trust that your initial upbringing in Nnobia will make it easy for you to appreciate our predicament. Of course, rituals will have to be performed, tonight, to formally make Onyedika your husband in the eyes of the gods, so that what you do with him will not be taken for adultery, for which you will be punished by the gods."
At last she found her voice, and going on her knees, she a voice tortured by the befuddlement that has wrapped her in a shroud, "I thank you Obi for the honour given…carry a future Obi in my womb. But I ask only this: save the pain of having to tell Onyemma. Onye and I have been friends all our live…longer than we have husband and wife. I hate to be the one to tell him that…I'll sleep with…" She lost control of herself and began to sob.
"Don't worry, daughter, I'll summon him, and his brother. By the way, where is Onyedika?"
"He's in the United States with his wife and their daughter. It's their fifth wedding anniversary."
The Boeing 747 touched down at five minutes to midnight. Emerging from the arrival wing of Murtala Mohamed International Airport Ikeja, Onyedika and Stephanie crammed their luggage into the boot and front passenger seat of a waiting taxi and were driven to their Osborne road apartment. At the door to their apartment, Onyedika stopped Stephanie with a wave the hand. He opened the door, turned the lights, and then faced his wife. "Now, Mrs. Stephanie Onyedika Iweze, if you permit, I'll honoured to carry you over the threshold," he said to her, bowing gallantly like a knight from the court of Queen Victoria. His wife smiled brightly, amused at his boyish candor.
Five years of marriage, and every day brings new excitement into their lives. All credit for their happiness must go her husband, 'Dika, who is as interesting Best Seller, each page urging to turn to the next page. "Please, please Mr. Iweze, you may", she said. He swept her off her feet and carried her over the threshold, straight into their bedroom, where they collapsed on the bed and were at once lost in each others' arm, glued solid in a passionate kiss. When they finally broke away from each other, she allowed the worry that had plaguing her mind to surface. "You think perhaps we shouldn't have left Sybil with Mom?"
"Relax, she'll be alright. She has always been close to your Mom. Besides, if it becomes a problem, we can always have her flown back to us. Meanwhile, lets get busy."
It was a candle lit dinner, a sort of homecoming dinner for Onyedika and Stephanie. And it was at Onyemma's house, where his wife, Ona had prepared a proper African for the couple, who she feels must have had their fill of European and American dishes during their stay in the States. Onyedika and Stephanie arrived at 8. Dinner was already served so they proceeded from the door to the table. Stephanie was particularly delighted to find that Ona had taken great pains to prepare pounded and egusi soup laced with dried bush meat and smoked fish and stock-fish. She settled down to enjoy herself. Since her marriage, and return to Nigeria, she's been sampling African dishes, the pounded yam, she had come to accept as tops. After dinner, and in the tastefully furnished sitting room, the brothers and their wives chatted and sipped wine.
"…Well, it's really challenging. At first, I was out of my depths working so close to the seat of power. With time, however, I became used to walking through the labyrinth of security into the presidential villa. And the First Lady, a slave driver, a sicklier for excellence but above all a pleasant woman to work with." Onyemma paused. Time lapsed. There was still some catching up to do.
"…America? A delight as always. One has the illusion of being at the centre of the world. Notwithstanding, it' great to be back home. I missed the chaos, the scarcity of everything and mass of black people, our people."
The brothers have not always been together like most twins, except for the few years spent growing up together; they have been mostly apart. Onyedika had been the one stray further away from home, while Onyemma, some how, always to remain near home, even when the pursuit of education meant that he should leave home. After their secondary school, Onyemma had gone to the university, where he obtained a degree in Mass Communication and then married his childhood love, Ona. Onyedika, on the other hand, had gone to United States in pursuit of a degree in Law; he had met and married Stephanie Wells, an African-American, from South Carolina.
"…Ona was in the village last week. It would seem that something very important has come up, and the Obi wants to see the two of us. You know how he is; when he sends for you, he wants you to drop everything and come running. The only problem is that I have to be in Abuja by first flight tomorrow. As a matter of fact, it might be necessary for me to proceed to Geneva directly I get to Abuja."
"Don't worry, I'll go to Nnobia this weekend, if the Obi sees me he has seen you, after all, we are twins." They laughed wholeheartedly. Now the wives moved to the kitchen to clean up.
"…enjoyed the pounded yam. It was really something."
"I'm glad," Ona paused a little, then asked, "Did you have to leave Sybil behind in the States?"
"Well…it was something we did off the cuff, but…"
It would have been better if the situation was different, the roles reversed, putting Onyemma in Onyedika's place. It would have been a lot easier if she were to go through this ordeal with Onyemma, who had been with his people all his life, and understood the way the elders think, their reliance on the ancestors and the gods to guide their every step. On the other, Onyedika has been abroad most his adult life; his views on traditional matters must have been considerably altered. Now she has been thrown in, to dance this macabre dance, that only the gods provide the music, with someone who might be an unwilling partner.
"Can we meet for lunch at Buno's, you know the place, yes?" Onyedika said over the phone. "I know the place. It's at Aguda, off Niru Oniwu Street", Ona replied in a small voice that reminded her of someone else; a young girl she had seen in a movie, who was going on her first date.
"Okay, we meet there in an hour", Onyedika said, all business.
"I was in the village", Onyedika said, a statement that hit her like a fist. She nodded, riding it. "The Obi told me about what we have been asked to do. It was painful to learn that my brother suffers this problem." His voice was soft, clear but laced with heavy with unshed tears. " Even more painful", he continued, "is the fact that the two of you have had to live with this for so long, carrying the burden of this knowledge on your shared shoulder."
Suddenly, she wanted to be far from him. She could feel his eyes on hers, and she did not like that at all. They had always been close and she had always enjoyed his company. Today, however, she saw him like a stranger who wanted to steal her secrets.
"Listen, I want to believe that I am a civilized man, educated and intelligent but, I am still in touch with my roots. The gods have decreed a duty for me, whether I like it or not is immaterial, the must be performed. And we have to understand each other; we're in this together."
"Onye and I have always been happy. Nothing could touch us." She paused, allowing her eyes to roam around the restaurant, focusing on nothing. "I knew about his…inadequacies before we were married, yet I married him. There had always been this air about him… his presence, carriage, his aura saintly disposition. He has a way of reaching where no physical touch could ever reach." She was weeping now. The tears flowing freely and down like rain on a windowpane.
"There are nights that I get cold, and this unknown hunger would fill me, I normally hold him tight and he would kiss me lightly and would drift off to sleep. In the morning I'll wake up fresh and alive. It is something spiritual…it can't be explained." She stopped talking. He reached across the table and took her hand, she recoiled involuntarily, then relaxed. "This is as difficult for me as it must be for you", he said, "I find it hard to embark on… this assignment and this not a reflection on your person. In fact, if you must know, I find you a most attractive and beautiful woman but you're my brother's wife. And this makes what we are about to do every bit distasteful to me. But, what choice do we have?" he paused, then continued, "the Obi has impressed it upon me that we start in earnest, my brother will be summoned home as soon as he returned from Geneva and be told. So, let's not look at difficulties involved, let's be guided by the greater good that will come as result of what we have been called to."
When they left Buno's the burden in their hearts had not been lessened but they
resolved to carry out the decree of the gods though it is at variance with what
they considered civilized conduct. They chose Sheraton hotels and towers, Ikeja
as their starting point…
"Who's that woman you have stashed away at Sheraton?"
"Don't Stephanie me! Just answer the bloody question!" She threw at him.
"Not what I think! Okay…all right, tell me this: how come my friend, from the embassy saw you at Sheraton, when you were supposed to be in Abuja attending a law conference? And don't me the venue was changed because you were gone the whole weekend." He stared at her and could not answer her. The game was up.
"Who's the woman, buster?" Her words gored at his heart. He looked at her turn between duty to his family and love for his wife.
"She's Ona, my brother's wife", he said lamely. Her mouth dropped open; shocked, she could not believe what she had just been told.
"Come on, Dika, you can do better than that. Are you telling me you've been
having an affair with your brother's wife?" Silence fell over them. Then nothing
was hidden between them. She knew the answer to her question without him opening
"Stephanie, it is not as simple as that. There's a lot about our custom and belief system that you don't understand. I am only performing a duty I owe my brother…"
"Duty? Did you say duty? You call a stab in the back duty? All right. Let's say I buy that, which I don't. What about your duty to me as my husband; my loving, faithful husband or to Sybil as a father? Tell about that." The hysteria that had crept into her was something new; something he had never seen before, and it was building up.
"The duty I owe my family, my clan, my people and my heritage is primary and
greater than any other duty I may be called upon to perform."
She ran into the guestroom and locked herself in. The next day left him, the
United States, promising that he would hear from her attorney, about a divorce.
"When we started", her voice into the night like a hot knife through butter, "it was something we had to do. Now everything has changed. You have lost your wife, probably your daughter too"; she paused, while the silence of the night and the creaks of nocturnal insects swarm around them. When she continued her voice was soft, like the purring of a kitten. "Onyedika, I'm pregnant", she pronounced; it jolted him and she was suddenly in his arms. Held her close while she sobbed. "Tomorrow, my husband returns from Geneva. I don't know if can face him, knowing I have fallen in love with another man…his brother."
He pulled away from her and looked into her eyes. In spite of the night he could
see her eyes clearly and what he saw there told him that she meant what she had
just said. When they met at Sheraton that first time, he had discovered that she
had never been with any man, all her life…a full-grown and a virgin. He had
marveled at her, her chastity, devotion and faithfulness to his impotent
brother. He had loved her, more anybody he had ever known. He pulled her close
to himself again and held her tight. "I love you too, Ona, more than you would
ever imagine", he whispered into the night.
Later the taxi driver would not be able to explain what happened next. Harder to explain is what happened to the passenger he had picked up at the airport. It was a mystery. Driving slowly and a lot of concentration, he had been surprised when the car swerved off the road, rolled over twice then settled on it's wheels in a ditch. When the driver recovered sufficiently from the shock of the accident, he could help the feeling that a hand, an unseen force had yanked the steering from his grab, forcing the car to leave the road and roll over. There was the unexplained image of a small man with fireballs for eyes; an image that was branded on his mind. The taxi driver, who miraculously was still on his seat, shook his head and turned to discover that his passenger was also still on his seat, seemingly undisturbed by the accident.
"Oga, oga are you all right?" The taxi driver called out. There was no response.
The man was dead. It totally confused the driver; the man had sustained no
injury that he could see. He just died.
The Obi stood before the open grave, a burly giant, attired in the full regalia of his office. Beside him, and to his right, stood his only surviving son and brother to the deceased. To the left of the Obi, stood Ona, wife of the departed, looking forlorn but determined to be strong. In the background, removed from the hob of things, Okuocha, the chief priest hovers like a vulture. With the final rites concluded, the coffin was lowered into the grave. The grave diggers moved in, poised to commence covering the grave with earth, Onyedika, in his black suit complete with tie, waved them aside and took a shovel from one of them and began to heave the rich brown earth into the grave. The first thud of earth on the coffin was like thunder in his heart. He was burying a part of himself. When the tears came, the sweat streaming down his face hid it. He was allowed to cry with some dignity.
Later, clad in his earth stained white shirt, he came out from the palace carrying a chair and a bottle of brandy. The sun was setting, soon it would be dark. Presently Ona came out with a chair and sat down beside him. He nodded, acknowledging and accepting her presence without a word. He looked at her and thought of his brother. Onyemma had been full of life, even as a child, he had always seen the world as huge playground that must be put to full use. One time, when they were kids growing up, they had stood by the edge of the river to pee. In the way of kids, it had turned into a competition of some sort, with each brother trying to out do the other as they tried to see who would pee furthest into the river. Onyemma had turned the competition around by directing his stream of urine into the air and catching a few drops with his mouth as the stream fell back to earth.
With that picture in his mind Onyedika smiled. His caught Ona, she was also smiling. And he it was going to be all right between them. Behind them the sun sunk behind the trees. The moon will soon come up.
Dave Chukwuji © 1998
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