She scrubbed away with a burlap sponge and locally made black soap. She had never been able to work around the bars of soap that the shopkeepers brought from the city, for they made her sneeze. Two lizards held privy of her through the window, nodding in relish as they beheld wet body. They scurried away just as she threw a bowl of warm water at them.
There was peaceful commotion in the compound. From the bathhouse which was separated from the other buildings, she could see the smoke rise from the pots cooking on different mounds of fire woods. She could hear the women in the compound call each other to duty. The were pounding melon, sifting crayfish, winnowing rice, wrapping fufu in foils. She threw her wrapper around her and left the bathhouse.
She excited a flurry of activities and the women greeted her with affected eagerness, their voices hushed, their efforts doubled. "Good morning Mama Nnamdi."
She nodded her response but her mind was far away. She thought of her name, Mama Nnamdi, her real name lost in duty, swept under the carpet of motherhood after the grand entry of her first son, Nnamdi.
In her room, she looked at her naked frame in the large mirror propped against the wall, grabbed a fold of flesh gone loose with age. Can this handful cellulite vie with the blithesomeness of youth?
Mama Agnes, her neighbour entered without knocking. She had come to help her tie her gele. She observed Mama Nnamdi's gloomy face.
"You know you are a spoilt woman, don't you? You only have one co-wife to deal with and you are beside yourself with self-pity. What about those of us who have to deal with two or more co-wives?"
Mama Agnes enjoyed her role as senior wife. She had come to sit handsomely in it. She lorded it over the junior wives and was often mean to them.
Mama Nnamdi could not come up with a reply. She sat still as her head gear was done. She had been married twenty five years to him. She felt embarrassed that she had ever believed she sufficed for him.
She ought to be inspecting the women cooking, who could be hiding salt and pepper in their wrappers to smuggle home, but her mind was not in order. She feared her sentimentality would get the better of her and shame her to tears in front of those gossipy women.
But how could she not be moved? Together they had sired sons and daughters. A man she had adored no end and loved without skimping. She had helped till the fallow farmlands that yielded crops, that made him wealthy, that he was using to wed another. Years of utter devotion downed with oblique rejection that came in the form of another bride.
* * *
Amidst her hopes and wishes that this was another bad dream, the new bride arrived in regal procession. The young girl had been a pawn in a game her husband had partaken in. When he was declared winner, the young girl was added as recompense. Her skin was virginal, dew on morning grass. She was shy, almost kittenish. She stood before Mama Nnamdi, paying obeisance, barely looking at her. The older woman hugged her; told her she was no rival. She would take her as her own child. But what she meant to say to the girl was that they were both victims of the same fate, handed down without no one caring if they had a say. And a young girl like her ought to transcend to higher height and not to be saddled with an old man like their husband.
The hungry peasants who came to see how beautiful the new bride was, were seated,
devouring their meals with immense gluttony.
The husband came out in his regalia and the drummers beat the drums and the new couple danced, with his huge hands resting on the girl's slender waist. The sight of them dancing haunted Mama Nnamdi's dreams for days and she kept muttering, Those hands have touched me; those hands have held me too.