Lamentations of a Child Bride
Girl Child Needs Education
“Barbara! Barbara! Barbara!”
“Yes, papa. I’m coming.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m doing my homework.”
“Leave it and come here immediately.”
“Yes, sir. I’m coming.”
“Sit down. I’ve called you to inform you that the Igwe of our village, His Royal Highness, Chief Ike Ochendo wants to marry you.”
“What?” her stomach lurched. She felt sick as if she was slowly suffocating. She felt a wave of dizziness wash over her. For a few seconds she thought she would faint.
“You heard me. His Royal Highness, Chief Ike Ochendo wants to marry you.”
Barbara stared at her father as if he’d gone mad. She shook her head as if she wanted to clear her ears, feeling she hadn’t heard him correctly. “What happens to my education?” she cried.
“You’ve to forget about that.”
A hard knot lodged in Barbara’s stomach. A wave of shock washed through her and left her feeling hollow. “Impossible! I can’t do that.”
“You should be happy that Igwe wants to marry you of all girls in this village. He is enormously rich, generous and powerful,” Amadi Jones said.
She was sad and disappointed. “I don’t want money or power, I want education.”
Her father frowned. “I’m not asking for your opinion. I’m informing you of my decision.”
“This is inhuman. I’ll not marry Igwe even if I have to die for my decision.” She could feel her lip trembling.
He drew up, surprised, and turned to her with his hands clasped behind his back. His lips pursed, he looked at his daughter for a long moment, until Barbara began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze. “You’re such a bloody fool, Barbara.”
“I’m not a fool. I want to be educated and not to be married.”
She was wearing a sullen expression when he glanced at her. “You’re the black sheep of this family. You don’t behave in the way you are expected to behave.”
“How can you make me spend the rest of my life without any joy, any passion, and any real satisfaction because of your own selfish interest?”
“Shut up. You’re meant to be seen and not to be heard.”
She cringed inside. Barbara’s knees were trembling. For a moment, she thought she might be truly ill. How could she not be, with this bitter pill her father was asking her to swallow? She had come so far, and had such hopes of a great future, only to find that he had plans of bartering away her freedom before she had ever had a chance to experience it. And for this he expected her admiration and gratitude. It was too much to bear, and she was not going to accept it. “I will not be bullied into a marriage I want no part of. Moreover, Igwe is too old for me,” she said exasperated.
“I want you to marry a royalty, who’ll take good care of you.”
Barbara shook her head with such force that her hair began to slip from its pins. “It is not for me, but for yourself and for Igwe that you are doing this. You must esteem him very highly. Or perhaps you fear him.”
“I am doing it for you,” Amadi Jones roared, waving his right index finger in her face. “Igwe is someone who’ll look after your interests.”
“There is more at stake here than you are acknowledging,” she said. “Is there some financial problem you want to use me to settle?”
“You ask too much questions for issues that should not concern you.”
“It concerns me if you are trying to marry to an old man to resolve your difficulties,” Barbara responded.
He spun toward her, and she saw the ticking of a pulse in his cheek.
“Have I struck too close to the truth?”
“You are partly right. I have raised some money from Igwe for my farm and locust destroyed it and since then I have not been able to pay back. I am asking you to consider Igwe’s offer of marriage because it will resolve my financial difficulties. But I am also convinced that Igwe would be a good husband to you and look after your best interest.”
“It is unfortunate,” Barbara began in a tone that was calmer, but clear and resolved, “that you want to sacrifice my future to solve your financial difficulties. But I hope you will do me the favor of believing me when I tell you that I will never consider marrying Igwe. I can’t marry someone so old.”
“He is the right husband for you,” her father said. “If you were more sensible, you would see that.”
There was a moment’s silence as Barbara struggled with her temper. “Then I am not sensible,” she said.
“There’s no other man to compare with him in station or property for many miles.”
“You want to sell me into slavery, do I understand you correctly?”
“You are impertinent!” he sputtered. “I thought you’ll understand.”
“Do you care about my future?”
“I care about your future hence I am making the arrangement for you to marry the Igwe.”
“What I want is education. It’s the best legacy you can leave for me.” She put her hands in her lap to steady them. The thrill of telling her true feelings without considering good manners or the propriety of what she had to say was intoxicating. Calmer than she actually felt, she met her father’s horrified gaze.
“You’ll marry Igwe whether you like it or not,” he said, exasperated.
Barbara’s jaw dropped. Disappointment brought a sharp, stabbing pain to her stomach. Frustration clawed at her, made her want to scream and cry and pound her fists. Barbara swallowed hard, hating him in that instant more than she’d ever hated another human being.
She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep in the night. She knew it suddenly with a bone-chilling certainty. It would be like all the other restless nights in her life; nights when she lay awake on her mat, her eyes wide and gritting and aching, her thoughts grown into a quagmire of hopelessness and despair.
Despair pulled her into a dark pit from which she couldn’t seem to emerge. Her heart was beating loud enough to wake everyone. Loud enough to wake even the dead. She couldn’t remember when she’d been so completely depleted, so utterly exhausted. Suddenly, inexpressibly tired.
For the first time in years, she wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere, in the dark, and simply cease to exist. Maybe then she could finally wake up and all of these would have been a nightmare.
She sighed and closed her eyes not wanting to think about it any more and yet unable to think of anything else. She just knew. It was no dream.
“You should know that arguing with your father once his mind is made up is a waste of time and breath. I have lived with him long enough to have a very good idea how his mind works,” her mother told her in the morning.
“I should marry Igwe so as to have my world turn upside down? My younger brothers are going to school but he wants to withdraw me from school to marry against my will to an old man. Afterwards, my brothers are not doing better than me academically. Girls should have equal opportunity to education as the boys.”
“Barbara, a girl should be raised expressly to care for the needs of a man. You just have to learn how to cook and take care of a man. The man will in turn take care of you and your needs. You don’t need to be educated to do that.”
“Mama, we are in the twenty-first century and that kind of reasoning is no longer tenable. Can’t you understand that I’m interested in the world beyond the kitchen? I always believed that survival is not hoping for protection by illusory perfect man, but in discovering the surprising strength of oneself through education. Education gives a woman freedom from arbitrary or desperate control of a man, and the power to do as she pleases to a reasonable extent with the power of choice and independence.”
Her mother waited until she was calmer. “You have to understand Barbara and see your father’s side, my child. He takes care of Nnabundo’s and Elliot’s education and it is not easy for him as a poor farmer. He also owes Igwe and once you marry him, your father’s debt will be forgiven.”
Barbara shook her head, eyes wide with disbelief. “That is why he wants me to marry Igwe, so as to collect more money. I wonder why I am born into a family that is careless with its daughter’s life. I work my fingers to bone for you. And this is what I get. It is not fair.”
“Life isn’t always fair. You better get used to it. You don’t always get what you want.”
Her heart sank. She thought her mother would be more understanding. “Mother, I’ll never forgive you if you support my father to force me into marriage.
“I recognized the family hierarchy from my parents. Fewer decisions get made if you have too many leaders, that is, why, God made man the head of the family. So once your father has made a decision, I’ve to go along with it.”
“How you’ve lived with the condescension all these years is beyond me. Igwe cannot be my husband. He is too old. And moreover I want to be educated.”
“I want all my children to be happily married.”
“If you do, you cannot support my father to force me to marry an old man who might have only a few years to live. He only wants to collect money from Igwe and sell me into slavery.”
“How can you say that?”
“But that is the truth. Do I look like the sort of girl who should spend the rest days of her life in bondage?”
Her only daughter worried her greatly. Barbara’s single-mindedness, her sense of purpose, was so strong, so directed, it was frightening. A sudden stab of emotion, fierce and protective, pierced her heart. How many girls in the village are interested in education, she wondered. What if she failed to get education? It would break her heart. And then she would spend the rest of her life bitter over something she never should have wished in the first place.
“Be silent,” her mother shouted.
Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Be silent? This is my future under discussion.”
“Your father should decide your future. You seem to have forgotten that fact.” Chioma Jones wasn’t enlightened, but she didn’t want to be.
She had always been worried of Barbara’s stubbornness. Stubbornness was what got women black eyes from their husbands. What good was stubbornness in a woman when the whole world was just ready and waiting to knock it out of her?
She sighed deeply –a long, noisy mother’s sigh. The answer to those questions would have to wait. It was time to prepare dinner.
Barbara charged into the class room wearing her school uniform. She was obviously late, but the teacher didn’t scold her for lateness. She was too worried about the pained expression on her face.
“What’s the matter?” Brenda Gibson asked.
“My father wants to force me to marry Igwe.” Bitter tears stung behind her eyes and slipped down her cheeks; she couldn’t hold them in.
“Impossible. How about your education?”
“He wants to withdraw me from school.”
“My father prefers to train the boys.” She continued crying.
Flustered, she gave Barbara her handkerchief, and then gently put an arm around her. “Poverty is a problem in this our community. Otherwise, why will a father train his male children and deny his female children education? Poverty contributes to illiteracy, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, and ignorance. I shall come and talk to your father. How about your mother, does she support his decision?”
Barbara pressed the handkerchief to her face as fresh tears overtook her. “My mother has no say. She supports any decision my father makes.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Of course, I’m serious. He beats her up with the least provocation so he has beaten her to submission.”
“I shall be in your house in the evening. It is unthinkable to withdraw a brilliant girl like you from school. Calm down.”
“I’m in a big spider web, weaved around me by my parents. I don’t know how I’ll get out of it. I have never been in a worse jam.”
“I shall do my best to help. You must be allowed the freedom to make your choice.”
She cleaned her tears away, and then handed the handkerchief back to her teacher, Brenda Gibson.
“Um… that’s all right. You keep it,” she said.
“God why should you allow my parents think of forcing me into premature marriage and slavery? They want to deprive me of my youth and education. I am too young to marry so please put a stop to this abuse of my human rights,” Barbara prayed.