If there was anything that could make Ajoanu, the chief rain-maker of Umuita to commit murder, it was for him to be asked to repeat words. There was nothing he despised more that saying a second time what he had said before. Repetition made him feel like a fool,like someone still learning the art of speaking; it made him feel as though someone had given him a maddening slap in the face.
Once, we heard he slapped his mother for asking him to repeat something he just told her. This rumour made great waves in Umuita for almost two weeks, especially at the market place. But that was dozens of decades ago when he was a youth. Even now at his old age, he was widely known to be a man of few and unrepeated words more than the great rain-maker he was.
So Ajoanu was infuriated that late afternoon when his first son asked him, "What did you just say?" after he had taken so much time to break his words in prescise details, when he tried so much not to speak in riddles. Still, the son asked, "What did you just say?"
Ajoanu felt like telling him to go and eat shit. But he held his anger firmly. "You heard me well; I'm not repeating myself." The anger in his heart could be heard in the thickness of his voice.
"But father, you cannot ask me to do that. You cannot tell me to go and marry my brother's betrothed." Achike replied.
"Well, I'm now asking you to. The son that his father sends to steal breaks the door with his leg. Do not be afraid of anything. Go and take Isiegwu as your wife. She's rightfully yours"
"No, she is not! I can't marry Isiegwu; Chioke is not yet dead. I can only take Isiegwu once Chioke dies. That is the custom"
Ajoanu welled up in anger but he held himself. He smiled, showing he was in full grip of his emotions. But the smile was tight and sour and did not last long. " I'm glad that you know the custom of the land. That is good. I asked you politely the way a father would ask his son, to marry her not because I cannot bring her into this compound and declare to the umunna that she is your wife. No, I didn't do that. I chose to be polite. Now I think it's a mistake that I even asked. Maybe I shall bring her here and push her into your hut"
Ajoanu saw his son's face harden. He wasn't surprised when his son's words sounded as hard as his face looked. "You cannot do that! Did you hear me? I said that you cannot do that. I've always respected your decision in this compound because you're my father. But this decision of yours, I cannot accept. It is I who decides who I marry and who I do not marry". Wildness crept into the young man's eyes. "I didn't join the christians because you told me not to, whereas behind me, my younger ones had already. I didn't join to fight in the war at your order just because you hate Ojukwu's beard. Now Chioke hasn't returned from the war and here you are, telling me that I must marry his betrothed. Father, do you think I'm a child? I'm a grown man with a wife and children. I haven't . . . "
If Achike knew what rage had entered his father's spine he wouldn't have said so to his face. But it was too late. Ajoanu lost control of his anger. "It's enough! I said it's enough!"
"No, it's not enough" Achike rose to his feet. " It will be enough the day you stop giving me orders like I'm a child"
Achike made to leave his father's obi.
Achike stopped. He stood,facing the wall.
"Is it not a human being that I called? Since you have learnt to shout in my face, perhaps you'll tell me between us who gave birth to the other"
"Father, I want to sleep"
Ajoanu bit his lower lip. His son's anger startled him. He tried to calm his own nerves before something bad happened. He sensed Ekwensu's handwork in his son's immediate anger for Achike was a very quiet soul. He could count the number of times he saw Achike being angry.
"Achike, you can go to sleep and wake up during the next Ita festival. That concerns you. I want to tell you that Egbedike's son, who also went for the war with Chioke returned this evening with news" he paused to see his son's reaction. Achike's back still faced him. "Well, you just have to obey this very command of mine and marry Isiegwu because Egbedike's son said that the vandals captured Chioke in Awka"
Achike swunged, facing him. There was shock in his eyes.
"Start making preparations towards marrying Isiegwu because Chioke was killed in Awka by the federal troops."His voice was blunt- emotionless.
Achike was silent for a moment. Then he let out a scream.