CATCALLS AND A FLUSH OF GRIEF

Sunday, August 4, 2019

beautiful Igbo couple attire
It would be correct to say that as a daily ritual the regular Igbo man swallows a morsel of garri dipped in a well-made soup of arrogant pride. The average Igbo man on the street has a heightened, albeit, unwarranted sense of his own importance. I cannot speak for other ethnicities, as I am Igbo and live among the Igbo. 
To a woman, this masculine Igbo arrogance is unmissable. For a marriage to be contracted according to traditional Igbo rites, the boy's parents and relatives are required to visit the girl's parents to make their intentions known in what is traditionally called iku aka—to knock on the door.

For my iku aka ceremony, my husband visited my parents’ home along with his father, friend and uncle. When I was summoned to greet our guests, I naturally made to shake their hands, as the urbane woman that I am. I shook hands with my father-in-law, who is a warm and pleasant man, and when I made to shake hands with his brother, he interrupted my gesture, saying in Igbo, "Ndi be anyi ala ekwe umu nwanyi n'aka." It means "Our people (obviously men) do not shake hands with women." I respectfully withdrew my hand as I am no newcomer to the Igbo ideology that as a woman there are things I can't do and things I do not deserve because I am a woman.

There is this gaunt young man with a fake Balmain baseball cap that always visits my neighbor. This guy never misses to go out with that cap on and I have only ever seen him once without it. My husband and I often joke that the inside of his cap must terribly reek from all that constant use. The interesting thing about this guy is that whenever we chance upon him, he greets my husband and will never say a word to me unless I greet him first. I used to humour him by greeting him first but now I no longer bother with the charade of being first to offer greetings because I am a woman.

In the last apartment building I lived in, I often called my landlord's brother a sexist to my husband. I would say to my husband "Oh, I saw sexist today in his shiny Lexus." It became our joke. Did you see sexist today? My landlord's brother with his pale eyes and big house would have remained inconsequential in the grand scheme of women snobbery until the day my husband and I visited him to sort some neighbour issues out. With his expansive house and glossy cars, my landlord's brother is what you would call a Big Man.

In the unwritten Nigerian classification of the wealthy and the poor, once you have a big house and a big car, you're automatically a big person—a person who can afford the envy of others. Once I needed someone to tie a traditional headscarf for me in Awka and I asked my aunt if she could recommend someone, she gave me a woman's number to call and said in Igbo "She drives a Jeep so be very polite." My aunt was unknowingly saying, treat her differently because she drives a big car. Also note that once a car is an SUV, Nigerians automatically call it a Jeep.

Back to my landlord's brother. When he came out to see us, in that palpable aura of one accustomed to counting money in large numbers, my husband greeted him and he acknowledged the greeting. When I greeted him, he paid me no mind. I assumed he did not hear me, though I was not standing very far from him, so I repeated my greeting. I soon shut my mouth, having realized that for my landlord's brother, a woman is not a person deserving of acknowledgement. On a second occasion after he once again ignored my greeting, I duly instructed myself to file him in my mental folder for men who I mustn't waste my precious saliva on.

In the complicated terrain of love and attraction, this arrogant pride is nothing less than brazen. A regular Igbo man would sit in his car with his window wound down and call to a woman he is interested in to pause her journey to wherever she is going and navigate to his car so he can talk to her about how pretty she is and how he wants to get her number. He would sit there in his car, a man assured of his own importance and call out Nne biakene—Woman, come. Perhaps it is just inconceivable for such a man to get out of his car and approach his woman interest.
cultural Igbo men attire

 In the months I grieved my body's failure to conceive, I unexpectedly became a woman who interested an Owerri business man with a tempered dose of that unmissable Igbo arrogance.
In the morning of that day, my body had just announced another unsuccessful cycle, prompting the purchase of yet another pack of Always. That monthly announcement of blood tipped and crashed the fragile vase of hope I had carefully erected on the pedestal of my soul, sending me into a fit of rage and desperation. I wanted an immediate solution. I wanted to meet with someone who could in a sense wave a magic wand that would give me what I wanted—a child.

I remember a story my husband told me of a man he met on a bus. With a faraway look in his eyes, that man asked the driver of the bus if he knew a powerful man of God that could give him a solution to his problem. The driver recommended a prayer house that conducted services on a Monday, in an unfenced piece of land, run by a woman, and added in Igbo "O na gbali," which means "She tries." That man, perhaps almost drowning in the problems known to him, was seeking a float, a solution, to save him from sinking in the turbulent waves of his life's problems.

Stung by the disappointment of another failed cycle, I, too, wanted to meet with a powerful man of God, whose prayers contained the right amount of words that would do the trick, since it seemed my prayers lacked a vibrancy and was filled with amorphous words that did not interest God. My husband wanted no part in this irrational hunt for a powerful man of God. He was clear and assured that there was indeed no problem and so would not meet with anyone when we had no problem. I was on my own.

I immediately set out to the office of the church I attended at that time. I wasn't what church people would describe as a serious, committed member in that pious, commending tone used for people who would have all the boxes ticked if there ever was an attendance register for church members. I attended the church but only like a person invisible, a person who added to the church's Sunday statistics and sometimes to the midweek service statistics. I was not in the choir since God did not bless me with a singing voice, and I am not the sort of person who doesn't know her place, unlike some people who seem to be revolting their lack of singing talent and so make it a point of duty to sing special numbers in church to a perplexed audience who hear nothing special in the disjointed tunes pouring from their mouths.

Neither was I in the ushering department, a group of young dressed-up people who wore the broadest of smiles and sometimes stood at the church GATES (not just the church doors) to chant "Welcome to church", something that I find unnecessary since newcomers to church still received a welcome after the sermon. Those ushers in their straight suits and high heels also had the peculiar task of keeping people from harming themselves when they fell under the power and I knew that I simply did not have the required stamina for such important work.

At the church office, I asked to see the Pastor, and even though he was not available, I was told I needed an appointment to see him. The young man speaking to me began asking me what I came for. Perhaps he was a pastor-in-training, looking for an opportunity to demonstrate his newly acquired spiritual abilities. I left the church office, uncertain of what to do or where to go, my heart heavy, my eyes burning with imminent tears.

In the glare of the afternoon sun outside, my eyes threatening to disgrace me with torrential tears, I started to walk without a definite sense of purpose when someone, a man, began to call to me, gesturing me to abandon my purposeless journey and meet him where he stood, in front of a tiled shop that sold computers. My eyes had overpowered my mind, and the tears came, defiant streams of salted water that refused to remain bottled. Without thinking, I made my way to that strange man, who then began asking why a fine girl like me was crying on the road. Even in my sorrow, I had become a woman of interest to an Owerri man, who probably complimented on the beauty of things with the qualifying word "sharp." Ulo a ri sharp—This house is sharp. Nri a ri sharp—This meal is sharp. I have now come to understand the nuances of life in Owerri, so when my husband asks me how he looks, I compliment him in Engliigbo, the unofficial language where sentences are made of Igbo words casually strung together with English words, saying "I ri very sharp—You are very sharp."

The Owerri man had seen me from where he was standing, and his antenna had sprung up in alertness, an invisible antenna that signalled men when a woman who interested them was in sight. He probably was going to tell me how pretty I was, how set I was (baby irigodi set), and perhaps try to impress me by telling me how his container of goods worth millions was on the high seas and would soon reach Apapa wharf. He probably would have asked me for my number except that he soon saw that I had a wedding band on my finger and my wedding ring still wore the bright appearance of newness, an appearance that signified a fresh marriage, a fresh marital love that could not be distracted.

The Owerri man wanted to know why I was crying. Did my husband beat me? (A question that should not be surprising coming from someone who lives in a place where the culture is tilted against women). Was I cheating on my husband? (Not to deparage Owerri, but my husband's father once told him before he moved to Owerri, to have nothing to do with their women) Did anybody die? Why are you crying?

My answer "I want a child," opened up a swirl of events, where the Owerri man, who owns a wine and drinks shop, took me to his shop to see his pastor friend, a married man with a wizened voice, who tried to encourage me and offered advice on what to do and what not to do after, in his words, "meeting with Oga."  In the end, I was calmer, and made to go home, the pastor's number in my phone and a canned drink in my bag, a gift from the Owerri man, whose containers of goods might have been on the high seas. I imagine him now, saying in Igbo to another woman who interests him, in the confidently pompous manner of Igbo traders, "Container m no na high sea."





2 comments:

  1. That part where they sit in their cars and call out to me annoys me the most. I never go to answer.
    Shuuuuu!
    You are the one who wants to talk, why should I be the one who goes to meet you?
    To the few who look responsible, I dignify with the response "If you want to talk to me, come and meet me where I am." shikena!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, Nasalian. It can be really annoying. Thank you for reading!

      Delete

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