Looking Beyond the Tags

I stared into the depths of her soul through her eyes; they were the colour of her luscious lips—black, with a tinge of brown at the edges. She held my right hand with her left, and with her right hand, she touched my face, running her finger along my cheek down to my jaw, then going upwards and stopping at my lower lip. She bit her lips in sorrow, but the action sent shivers of desire through me; her touches sent little darts of pleasure throughout my entire body.

The atmosphere was tense; she bent her head and a lone tear landed on my hand which now covered hers. I was at loss for words. As a man, I should be the one to console her, to tell her that everything would work out. I should be the one to tell her that our love story had been written in the pages of time even before time began. But I was tongue-tied. Because I knew that I could not bring myself to utter those words, not when I knew that my life and that of my family was at stake because we had found love in ourselves.

She drew a long breathe and said, “Obi m, do not worry yourself too much. I will find a way to make my father see reasons with us. He has to understand that our love was ordained by the gods. And no body, not even him the king can change that.”

She was the optimistic one, while I’ve always been negatively realistic (some would say pessimistic). She saw silver linings even before the rain had finished. For me, what I saw was a storm that would sweep me and my family in its wake.

“Ojiugo, my sweetness, I do not blame your father for standing in the way of our love. It has been our tradition right from the time of our forefathers that a freeborn and an apịtị would have nothing in common. They had labeled us an abomination, separating us from the rest of the people of Umunkwo. We belong to Ajouwa, the goddess of death. Why won’t your father object to our union?”

Her face darkened, and she looked at me with a mixture of scorn and indignation that I was tempted to giggle. I knew that if the situation had been another one, she would have hit her forehead with her palm in an expression of frustration and incredulity. Instead, she cupped my face with both her hands, and planted a soft wet kiss on my lips.

“You are everything beautiful I’ve always longed for; you are my future, my hope and my world. Most importantly, you are human—that is what my father fails to see. That is what we have to make him see,” she replied.

I did not know what other objection to raise, so I just held her close to me. She placed her head on my shoulder as I ran my fingers up and down her arm. We sat on the fallen branch of the tree and listened to the sound of the bush. The birds sang elegies of our love; the frogs croaked and protested against the injustice of it all; the little red ants marched in revolution against such a tradition that labeled humans as freeborns and others as outcasts.

Yes, that is what I am. I never chose this curse, I never chose to belong to the goddess of death, but nature never takes our permission before throwing curveballs at us. I cannot even claim to know how the whole apịtị segregation began, but according to my father—who was told by his father—our forefather, Nwadike had been unjustly condemned for killing the son of a chief priest. On the day he was to be executed, he had pleaded to Ajouwa, the goddess of death to exonerate him. He had promised that all his descendants would belong to her if she rescued him.

In a sick joke, which only the gods played, he was not saved. However three days after his death, everyone who was involved in his death all died under mysterious circumstances. Out of fear for the lives of the people, the king had ostracized everyone related to Nwadike. And so the lineage of the apịtị began.

Suddenly, six of the king’s bodyguards jumped out of the bush and grabbed me. Against the commands and pleas of Ojiugo the princess, they dragged me to the palace. There I saw the lifeless bodies of my father, mother and two sisters, with their heads all chopped off. I froze with terror and made to rush to them, when I was grabbed and tied to the huge tree in front of the palace. The king walked towards me, stopped a few inches from my face and slapped me.

“I told you to stay away from my daughter, to take your abominable self away from the future of my kingdom, but you refused to listen. The stubborn fly, they say, follows the corpse to the grave. I am not responsible for any of this, you are,” he spat out before nodding to the guard who was with a gleaming cutlass.

I knew what was about to happen, it had happened to my family. Strangely, I felt at peace, and as I heard the shrieks and wails of Ojiugo, my world, I closed my eyes and recalled the way I always liked to remember her. It was the first day she had danced for me. She had swayed seductively to the unknown beat only she heard, her hair flailing in the wind as she turned to me. I had lost my breath as I gawked at her majestic beauty. She had given me a smile only angels gave. And that was how I wanted to remember her.

The cutlass must have done its job, because I suddenly felt nothing.

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