So this was a story I wrote for an english class this year. The class read the book “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and I felt inclined to create a story based on characters that live in the same village. I am in no way trying to plagiarize the work of Achebe, this story is what I like to think of as more of an homage to his writing. I don’t know how accurate the words I translated for this story are, but I did my best.
From the time Ebele was old enough to open her eyes, others knew she was weak. She was such a small infant, and she had an unnatural pallor about her skin. She did not cry, she would not eat. Her health failed her constantly, much to the dismay of her mother, Funanya. She was the first daughter of her family, and though some thought she might perish, she continued to drink the sweet morning air in large gulps for days that became months and months that became years. Though she continued to live when she was expected to die, her mother and father took little pride in her. Her naming ceremony, given after seven market weeks, had been performed quickly and was an anticlimactic moment for her mother. So disappointed had she been in her fragile offspring that the name she bestowed upon her child reflected what she desired most from her gods: mercy.
As she grew, Ebele was spoken of often as “the child who can only end in sorrow”.
“Death may please himself and take her any day now”, they would murmur to each other when they saw her pass, “her poor, poor mother”.
But Death saw no pleasure in taking Ebele, and so she stayed. Though her frame was narrow and slight, she moved with an ethereal grace others attributed to her unusually long, slender legs. She was meager and malnourished, for she was rarely hungry, but as delicate was she, she was twice as kind, possessing a warm heart which was never cruel or callous.
Her mother never had another child, despite her father’s many attempts to impregnate Funanya. Ebele never wondered why, occupying herself instead with work within the hut, and chores her parents had grown too weary to do. It was often Ebele who would prepare the meals, Ebele who would fetch necessities from the village, Ebele who would clean the hut in hopes that one day her mother would turn to her and say in a soft voice: “Nkem, I am proud of you, my daughter”. But her mother sat inside her hut, looking out the window at the sky, and Ebele could not get her attention no matter how many times she would call. She often peered into the hut to find glistening tears streaking Funanya’s solemn face.
“Why is Nne sad?” Ebele asked her father once.
“Do not ask senseless questions, onye nta.”
“But she has water shining on her cheeks. Something must not be right. Why don’t you help her, nna?”
Her father slowly took the horn of palm wine from his lips, and turned to Ebele with a glint in his eye that made her quiver with fear. In one swift motion, his hand struck her face, and she recoiled, falling hard upon the ground before struggling to her feet and leaving him to his drink once more. She did not blame her father, nor was she angry, for she knew he was ashamed and lived in constant fear of being mocked.
Ebele’s father was once a great wrestler. He was wily and clever, and no man could match him for seven long years. He was known as the Cat from Umuofia to Mbaino, until he was bested by a young man who had challenged him to a fight. This man was barely eighteen years of age, but had thrown him nonetheless after a lengthy and fierce battle that had been the talk of the village. Defeated, Amalinze faded into the obscurity from whence he came, never to return to his days of victory and happiness. He lived an unsatisfying life, with an unsatisfying wife, and an unsatisfying child, while his opponent thrived with multiple wives and even more healthy, strong children. Funanya always told Ebele that she saw something die in Amalinze as soon as his back touched the ground. Where he once was revered and praised, in his eyes he was left with nothing but palm wine and his own regrets. He drowned himself in spirits to forget what he once was, for if he could not remember, he could not hurt. He lost himself in his drink, and then lost himself once more to forget his drink. Funanya and Ebele had grown to avoid him, for he would strike out at whomever was near.
“Nne, does Nna hit us because we are bad?” Ebele asked her mother.
“No, Ebele”, her mother replied, “he beats us because he wants to prove to himself that he is strong.”
Ebele, despite her distant mother and resentful father, continued to develop under both Death and the village’s watchful eyes. She was a frail babe, who became a frail child, who in turn walked into her hut one day a frail woman.
When two years after turning fifteen, Ebele was married, she had been happy for her family. They, who had benefitted from her bride price, were the merriest she had ever seen them. She left their home, never to see her mother again until the death of her father in the following months. And though she smiled through the pain of leaving the place she once knew, she could not shake the feeling that she and her husband had been ill matched for each other. Nwabudike, upon seeing her for the very first time, had winced in disgust in sight of her pale skin and sickly frame. He had not refused her in their marriage, but he held her by the fingertips, and not even when she was adorned with stunning jigida did he smile favorably upon her appearance.
“She will be a good wife to you”, chanted the eldest man of the village, “she will bear you nine sons like the mother of our town.”
“How could a child fit into that thin body of hers?” someone asked in a rough whisper. Her husband scowled at her.
“It will be good for you and it will be good for us.”
The guests crowed in response, “E-e-e-e!”
A cock was presented to the musicians, but Ebele did not dance.
Nwabudike drank as often as her father had when she was young, and his breath was rank of palm wine even as they were wed.
“Di, who are these men who have arrived in our village?”
“They are pale, white devils. Much like you, nwunye.” Nwabudike chuckled.
“Do they mean us harm?”
“Who can say?” He took a long drink from his horn before setting it down. His words were slightly slurred, and Ebele took a few steps back before asking another question.
“Who is this God they speak of?”
“I know not, nor should you ask such senseless things. Leave me now.” Ebele departed with a sigh she knew her husband could not hear. She returned to her hut with her lonely, tear stained bed. Months ago had strange men appeared in the village, wielding iron horses and talk of a newer, better God. They had settled in the Evil Forest, and she had heard tell of a magnificent building they had raised from the ground, but she dared not see for herself. Nwabudike would surely beat her.
As the noon sun rose over the trees and began to fall on the other side, Ebele rose and began to tend the house. She fed the goats and cow, mashed yams and prepared them for supper with another horn of palm wine for her husband to quench his thirst. She called for him in the evening, and she made nervous conversation and patiently waited as he ate.
“What do you think of this new religion the white man brings?” She asked hesitantly.
Nwabudike merely grunted through a mouthful of yams. She tried again.
“Di,” she began. He raised an eyebrow. “Might I go to visit my mother soon? She has been ever so lonely since Nna passed. It would make me so happy.”
Nwabudike had downed his third horn. His hands were unsteady. He must have been drinking before we sat down, thought Ebele.
“You may not”, he replied tersely.
“But why? Please,” she replied, desperation unintentionally ebbing through her thin-stretched voice, “I must go see her.”
Her husband sneered at her.
“Don’t you understand? She does not wish to see you. She does not wish to see you ever. You, her greatest disappointment. Her daughter, so weak and frail, so imperfect and ordinary.” He spat at her. “You are fragile as the twigs that snap under my feet, and intelligent as a rock if you believe anyone would ever care to see your pale face. Only the gods know why I do every morning.” His voice rose to a shout. “You bear me no children, you bring me no happiness, you are good for nothing!”
Ebele began to cry bitterly.
“Hold your tongue!” He barked. “Silence yourself, woman, or so help me I’ll-” He struck her with such force that her head reeled, and she found herself on her knees at his feet. His hand reached for her neck, but she was to dizzy to run from him. He seized her by the neck and closed his fist around it. She could feel the breath leaving her body, and she struggled against his weight, but her vision began to go black and she wondered if she would die. She received another blow, to her stomach this time, and any air left in her lungs deserted her. How sad this life has been, she thought. The pressure on her throat was removed. She gasped for the air like a newly borne child, and wished to cry out for someone, anyone to save her.
“Come”, hissed Nwabudike. “You will bear me a child.”
Ebele screamed silent screams as he dragged her by the arm to his bed and forced her down. She made no sound, nor movement, even after her husband had rolled off of her and fallen asleep in his drunken stupor. How can this be the gods’ plan? Ebele wondered to herself. Only then, trapped alone in a friendless life, did she dare weep tears of blood.
Some time through the night, Ebele rose from her hut. Noiselessly, she crept past Nwabudike’s hut and took to her heels through the sleeping village. Her life rushed past her as she ran, her mother’s cold and distant nature, her father’s beatings which soon became her husband’s. Every taunt, jeer, cruel word spoken to her. She was just a child, she did no wrong. She did not deserve the fate she had received, and she sobbed hysterically into the wind that rushed in her face as her feet took her closer to the Evil Forest. She collapsed upon the cold, hard steps, and crawled towards the doors, beating her fists against the unmoving wood. The doors did not budge. She knelt, devoid of breath, devoid of strength, devoid of life, and clasped her hands together. She prayed to the new, unfamiliar God to save her from her misery. She prayed to be spared. She prayed for mercy. But the door still moved not an inch. She lay down in front of the entrance and sang herself to sleep.
If only, If only, said the bird to the tree
You could somehow save me
For I’ve flown far too long and I’m weary of my wings
Teach me of the simpler things
If only, If only, said the tree to the bird
I could make sounds that somebody heard
For I’m silent all day, and I wish one thing
I wish, I wish, I wish to sing
If only, If only, the bird seemed to say
As she took to her wing, as she flew away
While the tree cried ‘don’t go’, for I am so lonely
But the bird was gone
If only, If only
A soft orange glow awoke Ebele. She raised her head slowly and blinked in the pale radiance that blossomed from beyond the line of the ground. The beauty is, she thought, that I am still living to see the sun rise from the earth. The dawn enveloped her, and, sitting on the steps of the church, her heart heavy with pain and suffering but her eyes light with the brilliance of the morning, she found her strength once more. If there is beauty in such a tragic life, there must be strength in such a frail woman, she realized. In the eyes of this God, I can finally be strong. In the eyes of this God, I will never be weak and desolate. My ịhụnanya bụ n’ihi na nke a Chineke.
The door creaked open behind Ebele.
“Yes, my child?”
For the Igbo words I used in this piece, I translated them from English using this source:
Transtar: African Translation