At sixteen, she had been promised in marriage to Yiridaana, a wealthy farmer. It was on the day of the festival of new yams that her ‘husband’ first spotted her. She was part of the group of young maidens selected to do the sacred dance. As the villagers marveled at her sheer display of skill in the dance, Yiridaana had already made plans to make her his fifth wife after her twentieth birthday. He was a man of 65 years, with four other wives and 12 children.
Her poor parents could not reject the attractive offer being made by the richest man in their village in exchange for her hand in marriage. Kinle’s father had been Yiridaana’s chief herdsman. In exchange for his daughter he would have his own ranch with 20 cows as well as a piece of farm land with 100 mounds of yams and a one acre maize farm. That is exactly what he needed to raise his other five children.
The day of Kinle’s marriage came. She, oblivious of what it entailed to be married was led to the ceremonial grounds by her mother and aunties amidst drumming and dancing. She was beautifully dressed in a knee-length traditionally hand-woven silk cloth with strands of gold and purple. The cloth was tied tactfully around her chest, with a piece around her waist like a belt. Her long natural hair had been combed out. That morning, melted shea butter had been applied to her hair to make it soft and shiny. Her body was treated with shea butter with extracts from the lavender tree.
The ceremony began with all the pomp and pageantry that accompanied the marriage of the wealthiest man in the village. Kinle loved to listen to the melodious tunes from the xylophone but today was an exception. Not even the skilful footsteps of the bawa dancers impressed her. Her heart sank when she caught the eye of Mwintuori, her village sweet heart, as her father symbolically handed her over to her husband. The crowd roared in excitement as Kinle was offered a seat next to her husband. She wished she could exchange places with one of the young girls who were dying to be one of Yiridaana’s wives.
As was the tradition, the older wives took turns to welcome the new wife.
The oldest, Mma Tampuori was her mother’s age. Kinle wondered how it would be like to be co-wife to a woman her mother’s age. Mma Tampuori smiled at her as she hugged her. Kinle imagined that she would be a woman pierced to the core, having endured four other marriage ceremonies for women who were being married to her husband.
Mma Mwinibong, the second wife, had a frown on her face. Kinle knew at once that she was in trouble with that one. She did not hide her dislike for the new wife. She gave the new wife a half hug and took her seat.
Nma Anaseng wife number three, was expressionless. Kinle could not tell what she was thinking. That scared her. Her hug to welcome her was in the form of a mere tap on the shoulders.
Laadi, the fourth of Yiridaana’s wives was the most rebellious and a non-conformist. She was abreast with the latest fashion trends and dressed to reflect what was in vogue. Rumour had it that though married to the wealthy farmer, she still kept an amourous relationship with the young man she had wanted to marry before the greedy eyes of Yiridaana caught her. It was said that Yiridaana liked her best. He said she put a lot of fire in his life and made him feel like a young man. She did not bother to hug the new wife.
Kinle looked in the direction in which she had earlier on spotted Mwintuori, but he was gone. Kinle’s eyes welled up with tears as she thought fondly of her first and only love. Her lips parted with a smile for the first time that day as she remembered their fun times together.
The ceremony was over and it was time to begin her married life. Her mother and aunties had educated her on the ‘first night’ with her husband. The thought disgusted her. What they did not know was that, a few weeks earlier, she had given her sweetheart Mwintuori, the privilege of being the first man to see her nakedness. Amidst the tears she found another reason to smile as she remembered that night with her true love. Kinle freely offered herself to him and was glad she did.
The door closed behind them. Yiridaana wore a lecherous smile on his face as he drew her towards himself. Kinle shut her eyes very firmly, not wanting to witness what was going to happen to her, as the old man pulled the cloth off her body. Her hatred for him grew stronger by the second. Then she heard a painful cry.
“Aaaah! Woi!” Yiridaana cried.
Kinle opened her eyes quickly to see her husband clutch his chest and cry in pain. She fastened her cloth properly around her chest, unlocked the door run and out of the room, still screaming for help.
“Help! Help!’ He is dying,” she cried.
Yiridaana’s brother who was in the compound with some other relatives drinking some well-brewed pito , dropped his calabash and run into the room. Kinle did not know what to do at that point. If anything fatal happened to Yiridaana she would certainly be branded a witch, who killed her husband on their wedding night. The news of what had happened spread fast. More people run into the compound including Kinle’s mother. The doctor of the village clinic who had witnessed the marriage ceremony rushed into the compound and into the room. Kinle was by then seated in the corner of the compound weeping, with her mother by her side. She was weeping not because she did not want her husband dead, but because she would be branded a witch. At age 20, she would be an outcast. No one would want to have anything to do with her.
“Mma, I did not touch him” she sobbed as she spoke to her mother. “He just held his chest, then he fell down”.
“It’s ok my daughter”. Her mother said to comfort her. “It’s ok”.
“Aaaaaah!” came a cry at middle of the compound. “Aaaaaah!”
It was Yiridaana’s first wife. Yiridaana’s brother stood at the entrance of the room with hands on his head, a sign of mourning. Kinle got the message. She was now a widow, only a few hours after her marriage. Her mother held her close to her.
The village police arrived twenty minutes after and headed to the room where the dead man lay. Kinle looked around. People were talking in groups. She felt some of the people look at her suspiciously.
“Kinle, come with us”, the police officer said when he came out of the room.
“Please, this is my Mma. Can she come too?” Kinle asked.
The stern looking police officer nodded in acceptance of the request.
Yiridaana’s brother ushered them into another room. The police officer closed the door behind them to begin his interrogation.
Kinle could hardly sleep that night. She was happy to be back in her house of her parents but was unsure what future lay ahead of her. She heard some voices in her compound and went close to her door. It was her father and paternal uncle.
“The man had been sick all this time. I hear the doctor said he had been cautioned about the marriage to your daughter due to his failing heart”, Kinle heard her uncle say.
“So he knew this and made me sacrifice my daughter’s happiness for him, only to have him make her a widow at such a young age”?
Kinle went back to her bed. She had had enough for one day. Would she ever be able to forgive her father? She shut her eyes tightly to attempt some sleep, then she heard a scuffle outside.
“Give her to us. She is a witch and must face punishment.” An angry voice shouted.
“Please,” her father responded, “she is only a child”.
“You should have thought about that before giving her away in marriage.”
Before Kinle could do anything, two strong men entered her room, lifted her off the bed and rushed out of the house. She struggled to set herself free but the men were too strong for her. She was pushed into a room and the door locked behind her. Kinle lay on the ground crying. She knew there was no need fighting back. She was being accused for the murder of her husband and was being served the punishment due such offenders.
The sun rays peered through the holes in the hut in which Kinle lay. She opened her eyes slowly and saw two men standing by her. The tears she shed the previous night had dried on her cheeks and she could feel her eyes were puffy.
“Are you ready tell us how you ate our brother?” one of the men asked.
“I did not do anything. He just fell.” Kinle explained.
“If you want to get out of here alive, you have to tell us the truth.” The other man added.
“That is the truth. I didn’t even touch him”. Kinle cried.
“How can a healthy man just die like that, aaaah!” the other asked.” We will come back again and we hope you will have answers for us.”
With that they left the room. Kinle looked all around her. Someone must have brought in food while she slept. She opened the bowl. It was maize porridge. She covered the bowl as she had no appetite for food. She only drank the calabash of water that had been placed by the bowl. The two men came again twice that day to get her to confess but Kinle gave the same response.
By evening, Kinle was very weak and hungry. Her last major meal was the tuo zaafi and ayoyo soup she ate just before the marriage rites. She told herself she needed to stay alive and fight for her freedom. She therefore rose up and forced down a few morsels of the food that had been brought to her that evening.
The next day, the two men came again and again sought a confession from her. She gave the same responses.
“If by tomorrow, you do not confess, we will show you what it means to be a stubborn witch.”
“Please, I am not a witch, I have been telling you the truth”. The men gave her a stern look and walked out.
Kinle coiled herself on the floor and drifted off to sleep. She awoke with fright as she heard the door to the hut being unlocked. “Could it be the two men coming to take her away?” The door opened and she could see two people. They had with them an oil lamp.
“Kinle, this is Mma Tampuori.” A familiar voice said.
“I didn’t do it. I beg you. I……”
“It’s alright, Kinle.” Mma Tampuori cut in. “I’m not here to harm you. I know you did not do it and I know my husband was a sick man. He died of a heart attack. Now listen to me carefully. I am here with my oldest son to free you. He will take you as far away as possible. You will take a truck and go as far away as possible. Is that clear?”
“I don’t know how to thank you Mma, but I don’t know where to go to.” Kinle said.
“Just go as far away as possible and start a new life. The God of Justice will see you through. I will tell your parents at the right time”.
The old passenger truck wobbled violently as it travelled the untarred pot-hole filled road. It left behind a trail of thick brown dust. The huge potholes on the road made it impossible to have a smooth ride. For Kinle, the roughness of the journey she was undertaking was in no comparison to her two day confinement.
“Sister, this is the last stop” a very familiar voice said. Kinle lifted her head, and to her utter surprise there stood Mwintuori, the love of her life. Kinle opened her mouth to say something but no words came out. Instead, tears flowed freely down her cheeks as she and Mwintuori embraced each other. He helped her get off the truck and with their arms around each other they walked away from the old vehicle. Kinle did not know where they were going but she was not worried. Being with Mwintuori alone was enough for her. So the two love birds walked on and on, into a future only both of them would create as they left behind all the pain the past few days had brought.