Adunni watched Mowunmi sleeping on the mat, she looked exhausted. So although she was curious about her sojourn and the reason for it, she found a thick wrapper, covered her with it and let her rest. Her husband would just have to trust her judgment in accommodating a stranger.
“Do you think she could be pregnant?” her daughter Mopelola asked conspiratorially when she sat beside her outside the house.
“No, she’s not pregnant. She looks afraid, I think she is running away from someone.”
“Maybe someone she stole from…?”
“You should learn to mind your own business!” Adunni snapped at her. “Go and bring me another tuber of yam.”
“But mother I’m only wondering about what father would say when he…”
“Will you keep quiet and go and do as I have said! Did I tell you to worry on my behalf?”
As her daughter went towards the barn, Adunni was reminded of herself. She had fled home several years ago too, when her village had been raided by soldiers who killed everyone in their path and took the beautiful women as slaves. She had travelled for days, barely sleeping and eating, haunted by the images of severed heads, lamentation and fresh blood.
Eventually, she had found her way into a town where she met her husband Omolere who had been working as a farmhand on a rich man’s plantation. After several months of courtship they got married and migrated to the village of Itesiwaju where they settled down to begin their own farm. Although she spoke the Yoruba language fluently, no one knew that she was originally from the east. It was her husband who had given her the name Adunni.
“Iya Mowunmi, is it true?” Ibironke’s friend said to her as she weeded the tomato garden at her backyard.
“Is what true?” she asked, rising to see her friend’s stunned face.
“That your daughter was caught in the very act of adultery by her husband and when he went to get other witnesses she ran away with him?”
“What?” Ibironke shook with fury.
“I knew you didn’t know about it!”
“Who told you this?”
“That’s what I heard at the market today.”
“How dare they?” Ibironke yelled.
“How dare who?” her friend asked confused.
“Ibironke!” Her husband called weakly but firmly from the door.
She thanked her friend for the information and went inside the house to attend to her husband.
As she walked in, Ibironke made up her mind not to burden her husband with the shameful news and smiled as convincingly as she could.
“Yes, and I heard everything your friend said.”
“You did? How dare they? My innocent daughter’s reputation tarnished because of…”
“The walls have ears!” he cautioned. “We will discuss this later but I assure you that this will work to our daughter’s advantage. Just let it be and don’t let anyone poke you into saying something you might regret.”
Ibironke did not see the reason behind covering up Adegoke’s atrocities. “It is not fair!”
“It would be our word against theirs! Besides, who would go and fight for her honor? Is it I who can barely walk or you who are a woman and her mother? Would anyone actually believe you? Let things be as they are.”
Reluctantly, Ibironke agreed.
Mowunmi was stuck in the village of Itesiwaju, after an incessant downpour that lasted for five days, she discovered that the bridge which led out of the village had been destroyed. Her parents would not know that she was nowhere near her grandmother’s village and they would be worried that there had been no message from her.
“What is the matter?” Adunni asked from behind her. Mowunmi had been staring blankly at the pathway that led out of town.
“If nothing is wrong, why are you looking so sad?”
“There’s nothing wrong, I’m just looking at the grass.”
“You want to leave don’t you?”
She smiled. “I just didn’t think that I would be here for this long.”
“You said you are an orphan and that no one was looking for you, why is it so important for you to go to Okeaje?”
Mowunmi fiddled with her fingers. “I’ve heard so much about the place, I want to try my luck there.”
“This village is also prosperous… why don’t you consider staying here?”
“What would I do?”
“Don’t you have any skills?”
Mowunmi thought. “I make beads…”
“And the women in this village love adornments! Why don’t you start with that?”
“But what will your husband say?”
“Leave him to me, he’ll agree to whatever I say.”
Mowunmi thought about her host’s proposition. She didn’t know what life would be like in Okeaje or if her grandmother would be as receptive of her as Adunni and her family had been. What if Adegbola and his family sought her out there? If she stayed in Ifetesiwaju, how would she let her parents know that she was alright?
“Let me think about it.” she said.
Adebisi strolled in the market with her slaves behind her.
“Mother, we have everything we need.” Abidemi her righthand maid said to her.
“I want to buy some stock fish.”
Abidemi didn’t understand why her mistress was intent on coming to the market but she saw that her opinion wasn’t needed. They passed by sellers of crayfish, smoked fish, smoked meat and pepper who called out praises to Adebisi, hoping that she would patronize them, until they got to a stout woman who was eating a large kolanut.
“Come and buy from me, wife of Adegoke the benevolent.” She said.
Adebisi wrinkled her nose and looked at the fish on display, they were lean and slightly moldy. Abidemi was sure that her mistress would move on but she didn’t.
“Is this all you have?”
“Yes… well no… I have more at home…”
“Can you send it to my house?”
“Yes, my daughter Folasade will be in your house this evening.”
“Do that, I’ll be waiting.”
“Should I pack these up for you?”
“Don’t worry, just bring everything to my house this evening.”
As Adebisi and her entourage walked away from her, Abeni the fishseller hissed contemptuously.
“Who does she think she is? Holding up her nose as if she doesn’t excrete!”
Her colleagues laughed.
“At least she stopped to buy something from you, you should be grateful for that.” Someone said.
Adegoke stormed into Agbeniyi’s compound with three of his servants.
“Agbeniyi! Agbeniyi!” he yelled.
Agbeniyi came out of his house looking startled. “My in-law, I hope there’s no problem?”
“There is Agbeniyi and I’m not an in-law to the father of an adulterous woman!”
Agbeniyi gasped. “My daughter would never be unfaithful, she’s better than that.”
“Say whatever you like! I’m here for something more important. You owe me and I want my money, return the brideprice and the money your family loaned to save your life.”
Agbeniyi shook his head sadly, he had known that this day would come. “I don’t have that kind of money now. Please, exercise some patience with me.”
“Damn patience! Did I exercise patience when I was loaning you the money? Or did you exercise patience when you were spending my money? Get me my money now!”
Agbeniyi wiped his forehead, wondering what he could say to pacify Adegoke who looked ready for a fight.
“You have two weeks to get me my money. Otherwise I will make you a source of reproach in this village. I swear it!”
Agbeniyi watched him walk away and remembered how his wife had warned against their daughter’s marriage to Adegbola. Full of regret and despair, he wished that he could go back in time and undo what they had done.
Ibironke joined him at the door. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
She sighed. “We haven’t heard from Mowunmi. I am worried, she should have reached Okeaje several weeks ago.”
Agbeniyi was depressed. “All I wanted was for my daughter to be married to someone who would take care of her. I didn’t want her to be married to man like me who is constantly struggling to make ends meet…”
“You are a good man and a good husband…”
“Am I? How could I have allowed my daughter to marry into such an evil family?”
Agbeniyi tried to be brave but he couldn’t stop the tears that flowed down his wrinkled cheeks. He was tired of struggling.
Adegbola was seated on a bench beside his mother, snacking on roasted groundnuts.
“Olufunke! If that amala has lumps, I will beat you silly with the pestle. Do you hear me?” Adebisi yelled at the young slave who she had instructed to make the food.
“How much longer will it take for the food to be ready?” Adegbola asked irritably.
“Exercise a little more patience.”
A fair young lady approached them with a small basket on her head. Adebisi smiled slightly, hoping that her son had noticed her.
“Good evening mother.” She knelt down, and greeted.
“Good evening. Your mother sent you?”
“Yes mother, she said I should ask you if this is enough.”
“Oh yes it is.” She replied, smiling mischievously.
“Go and drop it there.” She pointed towards the kitchen and handed her a bag of money. “Greet your mother.”
Folasade tried not to show her surprise at the amount of money that had been given to her for the fish. She thanked Adebisi and left.
“Did you see that girl?” Adebisi said to her son.
“Of course, I was right beside you!”
“So what do you think about her?”
“I don’t have an opinion about her.” he replied touchily.
“Why? You’re impotent, not blind. You must have an opinion.”
Adegbola rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Yes mother.”