Adaobi’s legs felt like water but she did not dare to sit. She watched her father in absolute fear and anxiety. She was wishing she could somehow see what was going through his mind right now. At this moment she wondered if he had told her mother about what he knew. Probably not, Adaobi was Chinelo’s only child, they had no secrets from each other. When Adaobi thought about this she felt disappointed with herself. She should have told her mother about Afam. Now she was alone in the dark. Her mother would have offered a solution or she would have prevented this from happening in the first place. Adaobi was being crushed both by fear of her father’s reaction and a feeling of betrayal for keeping the secret from her mother. If she could only go back in time, she would not trade her memories with Afam for the world, but at least she would have her mother by her side.
Onwa listened to the fluttering and whistling of birds from distant tress, the occasional sound of axes hacking into wood which interrupted at intervals, and the sound of cooking, which never stopped in his house. There was also the occasional yelling of a name or an order. Onwa was trying to imagine the shame his daughter was going to bring to his house if her secret affair with the osu was uncovered. He wasn’t sure he would stand it, he wasn’t sure he could stand it. He would hang himself before he took such shame.
When he felt there was enough fear in his daughter to make her totally submissive he turned to face her. Tears were now rolling down her face but he pretended not to notice. Onwa stared hard at his daughter. He tried to meet her eyes but she wouldn’t let him. Adaobi couldn’t look into her father’s dark beady eyes. Not with all the guilt and fear inside her. He hadn’t mentioned anything to her but she knew he knew. She could tell from his body language. Onwa, on the other hand, now fully believed that his daughter was guilty of fornication.
On a normal day Onwa would sit down to address his daughter. If he were going to offer her advice he would ask her to sit too. If he were going to discipline her, he’d let her stand. Today he let her stand and he too was standing. He needed her to know that this was important to him.
‘Adaobi, obu eziokwu?’ Onwa wanted to know if the rumour was indeed true, and he wanted to hear it from his daughter’s mouth.
Adaobi wasn’t sure if this was a question or a statement. Did it really matter? Whichever it was, she wasn’t going to reply because she did not know what to say. She stood there, rigid in silence, her head buried in shame as more tears rolled down her face.
‘Adaobi, what have I ever done to you to make me deserve this from you?’ Her father asked. ‘I might have not given you all the freedom you wanted, but everything I did, I did with your best interest in mind. I did to protect you, Adaobi.’
Adaobi thought he was going to unleash a rage she had never seen before. But on hearing these words she realised that telling her that she let him down hurt her even more. In her heart she felt guilty for keeping Afam a secret. But in reality she did not have a choice. The only chance her romance with the outcast stood was in secrets and shadows.
Adaobi pondered. She had nothing to say to her father. Then the question she dreaded the most came.
‘Adaobi, tell me the truth. Have you slept with that young man?’ Onwa asked. He made an effort not to refer to Afam as an osu. That way it would be easier for his daughter to tell him the truth. Adaobi answered almost immediately.
‘Papa, no, I haven’t. I swear to the gods and on my womb as a woman, I have never given myself to any man like that.’ Adaobi knew this to be a lie but she dared not speak the truth. The consequences were beyond her imagination. The prince was going to find out when they were in bed, but for the moment Adaobi told herself she would cross that bridge when she got to it. Right now she just needed her father not to have enough reason to kill her for what she had done.
Onwa studied his daughter to see if she was telling the truth. It was hard to believe she hadn’t slept with the osu. He didn’t want to believe she had, he was looking for every reason to denounce what he thought was true and his daughter was giving him one. He wondered if he was choosing to believe his daughter because he wanted to, or because he really thought she was being honest.
‘Adaobi, you are my daughter. I will not hurt you if you tell me the truth. I really need to know. Are you telling me the truth? We can cover this thing up but you have to be honest with me.’
Adaobi wasn’t willing to let the truth out until she was on her deathbed. She held on to her story.
‘Papa, why would I lie? When I sleep with the prince he would be able to tell if I am a virgin or not.’
On the marriage night it was almost mandatory for the couple to sleep with each other. There would also be a white sheet to prove the woman’s virginity if the parents had guaranteed her a virgin before the marriage. Onwa was going to guarantee his daughter a virgin; it was unlikely that the heir to the throne would want to have a woman who had been touched by a man before.
After much thought, Onwa decided to believe his daughter’s words even though at the back of his mind he had his doubts. Before he resumed the questioning he thought about every possible scenario. What if the prince discovered she wasn’t a virgin after the wedding? That was the most dreadful thought. He would divorce her and the shame, oh the shame. Onwa didn’t even dare to imagine it. He was contemplating moving the wedding arrangements, but it was already too late. He had planned this for a long time. Tonight the Obi was coming to see his household, he couldn’t just tell him that something came up.
Adaobi cried harder, begging her father to believe her. She claimed her relationship with the osu was nothing intimate. Adaobi did not have friends because her father thought everyone wanted to kill him for things he had done in the past. He worried that they would get to him through his daughter. All Adaobi’s life she had been over-protected from the outside world. Onwa could understand her longing for a relationship of any sort, but why did it have to be with an osu, and a male one?
Adaobi was now kneeling and holding her father by the foot, crying, asking him to believe her. No matter how much she cried Onwa had his doubts. Experience had taught Onwa that nothing was as deadly as trust. He had been betrayed in the past and he had betrayed people too. It was the way of the world. Onwa could not trust anyone but himself.
‘Your mother will see if you are telling the truth.’ Onwa finally said.
At the mention of this, currents of terror flooded Adaobi’s body. She felt her heart thump harder and faster as panic seized her body. Regrets were filling her thoughts; she was now paying the price for her misdoings. Adaobi wondered if this was the gods trying to punish her for all the wrongs she had done. She admitted to herself that she had walked the path of unrighteousness for a long time, but she refused to accept that her sins were the most plentiful in Aboh.
Onwa couldn’t hold his anger anymore. He felt an almost irresistible urge just to grab a cane and teach his daughter a lesson she ought to have learnt a long time ago. But she was past that age now. And maybe she was telling the truth, just maybe. Before Onwa did anything he would regret, he pulled his left foot away from his daughter’s grip and walked away. He was aware that her tears rested on his foot but he did not attempt to wipe them in front of her for he knew he too was heartbroken. There was a chance his emotions might pour out of his own eyes, should he try to wipe the tears before Adaobi.
Adaobi remained on the floor, crying. More questions flooded her mind and she felt uneasy not having the answers. What was she going to tell her mother when she discovered the truth? Was her mother going to keep it a secret? And if her mother chose to speak as was expected of her, what would she do? What her father would do to her was unthinkable. Adaobi felt all her emotions coming together as she tried to tell what exactly she was feeling. She was lost in thoughts of regret, but at the same time she was wishing Afam was holding her hand and wiping her tears. She wanted to feel his arms around her now more than ever. She wanted the comforting feeling of his embrace, the false sense of safety it came with. Even though her being with him spelt danger in red there was still something about his presence she longed for. She still believed she could find solace with him.
Adaobi forced herself to stand on her feet. Her legs were shaking and she feared that they might give at any point and she would fall. She took deep breaths to fill her body. She was trying to tell herself that she had to be brave and strong. That was what Afam would have told her, or was it? Adaobi wanted to see Afam, at least for one last time. She wanted him to tell her what to do. She did not believe that he had the answers to her problems, but she believed he could give her the courage to face them at the very least.
Even though her body called for him, Adaobi knew seeing Afam at a time like this was next to impossible. Her father probably had men looking out for her now. Meeting him would be putting both their lives in danger. She worried for him. There was no telling what Onwa was going to do to him. What Adaobi was sure of was that her father was not going to let Afam walk freely.
She began to make her way out, wiping her tears because she did not want Ofili to see her like this. She stood upright with her chin up before she pushed the door open. Outside she watched the bright sky but she felt darkness over her. Of all the things that clouded her mind with darkness one worried her the most. She couldn’t shake the feeling that her father was planning to kill Afam. How exactly he would do it she did not know. What made it hurt even more was that she knew there was no way she could protect him. Even if she saw him, she could not warn him against his death because she didn’t know how it would come. All she could do was pray to the gods to spare his life. When she tried to talk to the gods on Afam’s behalf she doubted if they were listening. If the gods paid any attention to her life then why was this happening to her in the first place? Adaobi suddenly felt lonelier than she could ever remember. She couldn’t feel her family behind her to support her. She couldn’t feel Afam beside her to hold and guide her. Even the gods were no longer above her to watch and protect her. With all the clothes she had on she felt naked, with all the guards around the compound she felt unsafe. Adaobi left like it was just her against the world and somehow she still had everything to lose.
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