The land was cold and wet outside the bungalow that held the 5 members of my family. Grey clouds dominated the skies, pregnant with more rain that threatened to fall at any moment. My father sat in a corner of our living room, on the single couch my sister and I had humorously nicknamed ‘the throne’. We called it the throne for it was our father’s favourite chair, one which you could be whipped for playing on. He sat on the couch, grim faced, as he addressed us; my mother and my two siblings. His dark hands were clasped together, his head slightly bowed as he delivered the news; my sister was to be sent off to a husband’s house.
“But Daddy Esther,” my mother argued, her voice laden with hurt “Are you sure this is the only way?”
The silence hung over our heads, giving strength to the chirping of the crickets outside. The lantern illuminated the room, casting shadows everywhere.
“Yes.” My father finally said, as if resigned to fate. His answer, more of a sigh than an actual word, conveyed within itself, his reluctance to the situation and the helplessness that had brought him to such a decision.
My sister began crying, a succession of sobs that broke my mother’s heart as she joined in.
“We have no choice,” My father added in an attempt to justify his decision, as if we did not know “The bank will take this house and we will be left with nothing. He has agreed to pay off our debt on the condition that Esther marries him.”
I stared at the faces around me. My father, the rock of the family, with his greying hair looked dejected and older than his 48 years. My mother hugged my sister, her carbon copy, as they wept on the 3-seater couch. My younger sister lay curled up on the couch beside me. Unlike her older sister, she, like me, shared her father’s darker skin.
“Feyiyemi, omo mi. Pele. Ko fi dara naa’ ni.” My mother pleaded in Yoruba, calling my sister by her traditional name, as she often did when she had a special request for us.
“I can work to raise the money!” I blurted out.
My mother began a fresh round of weeping, my sister along with her. My father looked at me with eyes which I remember to this day; eyes that conveyed the deepest sort of pain, the type of pain that came with helplessness and the inadvertent inclusion of an innocent soul into the troubles of life.
“My son,” He began “You can do anything, but not everything at this time. Maybe when you are older, you will rescue us from this life. But for now, you are only a boy.”
I slept that night to the sounds of crickets playing in the background.
It was many more months before the wedding took place, the marriage a short lived thing terminated by the mysterious death of my sister’s husband after only a year of marriage. She bore him a son six months after his death, before his older wives chased her back to my father’s house.
A rather ridiculous way to pay off a debt.