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••• The International Writers Magazine:Life Stories

Who Will Replace Dimma’s Teeth?
• Odimegwu Onwumere

“Oga, my father removed two of my teeth last night,” she told me, gesticulating.

It was the hour when men of goodwill ought to have retired to bed that the deafening noise emerged from Mazi Egede’s house. What I could not ascertain from my house was if the sadistic female voice in the midst of the noise challenging his was his mother’s, wife’s or daughter’s. The aggressive voice put me through that the noise was not for celebration as I had earlier thought, because Mazi Egede had formed the habit of partying whenever he sold a piece of land.

Mazi Egede was practicing his career of beating the members of his family, which he did at will. His ferociousness against his family was a reoccurring decimal since I built close to his house in 2014, in this town known as and called Obuzor: A developing community in the Asa area of Abia State ravaged by paucity and unemployment. There was hardly any industry in the area, except for a Chinese steel production company located in Umuahala community of Obuzor in 2016.

Majority of the major roads in Obuzor were asphalted. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was given credit for these roads: The Umuitor to Umuahala Road to Umuajuoha, Umuowaga to Ama Ikpa Square Road and many others. The Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, the Old Road to One Man Country near Uzuaku had been there since the 70s.

There were many garret roads in Obuzor un-tarred. With this, it could not be said that Obuzor was an acrid town. But it was yet situated in its rural appearance.

The youth of Obuzor swarmed the villages so dandified. Their aged ones were not left out. Many had no paying jobs and were not ready to look for one. They preferred living a jamboree lifestyle. On Sundays, at Treasure View Hotel, they made modeling of a sort in their fashionable appearances, epitomizing their carefree lifestyle, which a first time visitor might call languor.

But except for their indolence for industrialisation, the villagers were not into heavy-weight criminality. This didn’t eschew petty criminal tendencies.

Mazi Egede was it that took care of the materials that I used for building my house. I packed bags of cement, wood at his house and could attest that only but a few items were not accounted for, even as they were packed in the open.

Criminality was outlawed by Obuzor people’s forebears. They used native spiritual means to enact the irrevocable law. This law made the sons and daughters of the town not to succeed in the nefarious act. They were either killed in the act of kidnapping or armed-robbery.

How the people abhor criminality to the apex was epitomized in the case of Ikpa Ekpewerechi, who was related to Mazi Egede. They marshaled Ikpa Ekpewerechi out one faithful day to their village square called Ama Ikpa. He was stripped naked and flogged for a declaration that he stole cassava from a farm owned by a villager called Ezinne Ukonu.

Stripping criminals and others found wanton of despicable acts like rape naked and flogging them at Ama Ikpa was a chastisement and checkmating methodologies the villagers instituted to curb criminal elements.

This practice was a tradition of a sort that had seen generations, except as strangers like me, started buying lands for the purpose of erecting structures in the town. The natives now have mixed blood. Yet, Obuzor was devoid of criminal elements.

The people dismayed criminality so much and they hardly invite the police, when any person was caught in the unjustifiable act. They would not kill the person, either.

Mazi Egede and Ikpa Ekpewerechi felt that the later was unreasonably humiliated because he was incorrectly accused of stealing. Ikpa Ekpewerechi afterward took his case a little further to Igwe Aza, a dreaded deity in Umukalu area of Asa.

It was after summoning his accusers before Igwe Aza that the truth came out: Ikpa Ekpewerechi did not steal. This was after months of judging the matter. The accusers had to say the truth.

They had orchestrated to paint Ikpa Ekpewerechi as a criminal in order to sully his name in the village. But the truth was later out. They knew that Igwe Aza was a God of Justice that knew the truth, whether they said it or not. Any matter brought before Igwe Aza, people were careful because whether they said the truth or not, Igwe Aza already knew.

Igwe Aza was a powerful deity and had killed some persons that haboured the truth they were supposed to have said before him. The paradox was that after killing any person that did not say the truth, Igwe Aza would take to killing the members of the person’s family and their corpses would be brought to the deity.

This was if the deceased living relatives found out that the deaths were the deed of Igwe Aza. Thereafter, money and items such as goats, kola nuts, wrapper, drinks and others would be paid to the custodians to appease Igwe Aza. The people hence dreaded Igwe Aza so much that they were ready, at any cost, to stop any prospective person from going to summon a native before Igwe Aza.

After Ikpa Ekpewerechi won in the matter, some money was paid to him for consolation by his accusers. The money was paid at the shrine of Igwe Aza, to the care of the custodians of the deity, who were yet to remit the money to Ikpa Ekpewerechi, after many failed pressure he mounted on them to give him the money.

This habit by the custodians of Igwe Aza made people from far and near to suppose that there was the height of highhandedness the custodians were playing against their clients, which was not a practice in Igwe Aza from the time immemorial.

In Obuzor, save for the law against criminality, pipeline vandals were once the Lord of Manor. And Mazi Egede was one. Many of the natives were into the prohibited act of pipeline vandalism in 2008; a practice that escalated heavily to 2010. From far and near people were coming to the town to do the illegal oil business. But tragedy struck one day: Imo River illegal refining depot caught fire and scores of people were cremated.

Imo River was a deferring town in Uzuaku, Obuzor. During the time that illegal crude oil business swayed among the locals, many historic trees were cut down, with their trunks used as a source of fire to refine the crude oil products.

The inferno that occurred at Imo River later compelled the authorities to beam their searchlight on the perpetrators and the business declined. Few of the natives sustained the wealth that accrued from the business, while majority went back to their pennilessness means.

Criminality was a serious offence in Obuzor, but lasciviousness was not a taboo, just as contentment was not. Mazi Egede had as many concubines as impossible. And he had beaten the wife in several occasions when she protested that his lewd way was uncalled for. He was hardly giving the family money for feeding, but would spend his modicum sums with his numerous concubines.

Even so, Mazi Egede was not the only person that was into lasciviousness. This was invariably the reason the people were not industrious except in farming. And they hardly make visitors to other towns outside Obuzor. Subsistence farming was the preoccupation of the natives, especially among women.

They rode bicycles and motorcycles to their farms and carried heavy loads such as cassava and logs of wood while coming back. It was only cassava they cherished as their main staple. They were not growing yam, cocoa yam.

Economic trees such as breadfruit, oil bean kernel and so many others were not planted on their soil. The people had also lost their aboriginal spiritual ways. During Christmas, which was the only festival the Obuzor people celebrated apart from church harvests, when masquerades and native dancing groups were supposed to be imminent, football matches were played than Brazilians did.

Mazi Egede had a legion of children in the midst of the turbulent poverty in Obuzor, not sound for a man of his minuscule standing in the society. Against the mother’s wish, he had impregnated a local girl when he was a teenager. Obichi was pregnant for him incidentally and he was ill-prepared for marriage.

He met the girl in the village and was sleeping with her. Not quite long ago, was when he settled the parents of the girl, for the marriage rituals. The girl now became his wife. This was after he had bred like a hen.

The inexcusable aspect was that his wife’s first pregnancy ended his career as an apprentice-wielder in Aba, a commercial city in the state, where he had gone to aspire for greener pastures in order to lift up his family from the stricken poverty they were in.

In Aba, Mazi Egede had noticed that the wife’s pregnancy was a distraction to him. He could no longer concentrate on his job. Life was also not favourable to him, as he was chronically underprivileged.

When he found out that he could no longer cope in the city with its attendant financial obligations, he retreated to his Umuitor village in Umuelechi community of Obuzor. It was when he left the city for the village in abject destitution, that Obichi who was from Umunene village of Obuzor, came to live with him.

Ordinarily, she would not have gone to swim in the poverty ravaging Mazi Egede whereas her parents could at least feed.

Her parents refused to accommodate her; they wanted the man who was responsible for the pregnancy to take absolute responsibility. Even if they would take charge, it was not in this village where poverty wrecked with thunderous pressure. However, the unborn child then would not have been the first they had taken care of if they wanted. Besides, the Obuzor tradition did not abhor giving children that could ordinarily be called bastards equal rights with those born of wedlock.

The travails of Mazi Egede were happening after his father slumped in a village assembly during a festivity in the 80s and died. Mazi Egede and his four siblings were kids then.

The villagers measured the father’s demise with spells from his foes. They didn’t suspect that High Blood pressure or Heart Attack could cause the death. These ailments were regarded as evil attack or omen from enemies in those days.

Mazi Egede and his four siblings graced poverty after their father died. They thought that poverty was a way of life. They were not living a life of opulence either, when their father was alive. The satire was that Mazi Egede and his siblings were tall and fat unlike his children who were stunted due to malnourishment. In those days, people ate natural food.

His stunted children were always crying. They cried of hunger regularly. Often, he had pursued some of them to my house but my presence deterred him from lifting a hand on any that ran to me. His loyal wife, who took occupation in subsistence farming, had no say. She was always in the farm and when she was coming back, she was either rolling a bicycle laced with bulky bags of cassava or she would carry logs of wood. She fried garri frequently and was obedient to the nucleus to Mazi Egede, upon that he had refused to rebuild their father’s mud house, which was left for him and his four siblings: Two men, two female.

Mazi Egede’s mother lived in the mud house with him, his wife and his seven children. The seven children were the surviving ones. Four had died of avoidable deaths – ranging from malnutrition to no money to take them to hospital.

The building had three rooms. Mazi Egede and the wife lived in one room; the mother lived in the other with Mazi Egede’s seven children. One of the two brothers simply known as Akpa, lived in the last room. The other brother lived in a makeshift apartment he rented within the community.

This brother of his earned a living as a commercial motorcyclist. The difference between Mazi Egede and his brother was that Mazi Egede combined riding motorcycle for commercial purposes with night security job.

The two sisters had left for the city and their means of livelihood was still uncertain to the villagers. There was a suspicion that they were opening their laps to men for money in the city.

None of them had up to secondary education. Mazi Egede’s wife was the only one who was a bit lettered; she was in her senior secondary classes before Mazi Egede impregnated her which led to her dropping out of school without sitting for the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination. Her family was so embittered that she was forced to marry Mazi Egede even without traditional rites, earlier. Mazi Egede was so wretched that all he had got as an achievement was the pregnancy.

Mazi Egede’s children hardly go to school due to indigence. The oldest was about seventeen years old. And she was the daughter I suspected that I heard the voice last night. She was the produce of the pregnancy that caused Mazi Egede his apprenticeship in Aba.

Due to poverty, she was still using old pieces of wrapper to pad herself during menstruation. I’d eavesdropped her pleading to the father to help her with some money to buy some clinical pad, which he refused. The sarcasm was that, Mazi Egede would prefer to sell some lands to raise money for the burial of any members of his extended relatives and the upkeep of his numerous mistresses instead of venturing into a business or invest in the family.

The boom was that Mazi Egede had sold all the lands he inherited from his father, after the illegal crude oil business was stopped. He did not take to cognizance that after their father died, it was their mother who raised them up through the minute proceeds she made from her local farms. He did not take to cognizance that her mother was also aided by the plentiful men that swarmed around her for them to survive. The men had their happiness by going under her skin and she was paid. Mazi Egede did not remember all of this and did not help matters.

Nevertheless, their mother was shameless and unmannered in her dealings with whoever that came across her, neighbours said, a habit she had refused to eschew even as she was aging. Many men who came in contact with her complained about her boorish manners. Although, she was a beauty when she was younger as her chubby face and light skin suggested.

Albeit, neighbours were murmuring that she enhanced her skin with bleaching creams. But these hard creams only succeeded in turning her face to Coke and Fanta colours instead of the beauty that she was; instead of the woman that men once surrounded with passion.

Conversely, some greenish arteries appeared on her hands, lower legs. Whenever I looked at her, I saw a woman who didn’t know she was buying cancer, renal failure and other health hazards with her money in guise that she was looking for beauty. Anyway, she was one out of many men, women, boys and girls in Obuzor who turned bleaching creams to a culture of some sorts.

I opened the gate and came out, after her voice signaled that she was the one knocking at my gate. The time was some minutes to 1pm on August 10, 2017, the day following the night of the bang at Mazi Egede’s house.

She sat down on the bench, leaning on the wall. “Oga, my father removed two of my teeth last night,” she told me, gesticulating.

Looking horror-struck, I could not believe her, if not that she opened her mouth. Two of her teeth were really off. They even changed her tonality. I was aghast and inquired of what led to the ordeal.

After narrating an inconsequential story, I was flummoxed, asking myself why a father should beat her daughter to the extent that her teeth were pulled out.

I had dressed for the day’s transaction when Dimma, Mazi Egede’s daughter of about 17, came to lay her complaint. I was hapless, owing to the fact that my house was no bank to withdraw money instantly and give to her for medications. I did not need a soothsayer to conclude that she would not be taken to a hospital by her parents. This was given that her parents and she were impecunious. I knew about their penniless existence, because we were neighbours.

“It was a pity, Dimma,” I told her. After some words of consolation and encouragement, I started hitting the road. But her predicament took my thoughts, as I voyaged: I was not sure if I should characterise what happened to Dimma as child abuse, abuse of women or something. I knew that her hashish-addicted dad had conditioned his mind to intimidate the family with a view that he was in control of them. Several times, his children’s voices had roared for help from his horrendous grip. His insolvent wife could not help.

The wife was a graduate of his merciless manhandling. As I learnt, she was the man’s punching bag when they got married new, till her family had to take strong measures against the husband that dimly calmed him. Now, the children were not living carefree, whenever he was around. His presence was a nightmare, such that children playing in the dark at night encounter.

The grumble in my thought was that Dimma, who could not finish her High School and had no hope of engaging in any handwork or trade except miracle happened, would continue to grow under her brutish dad, while clinging a hope that she would escape his presence and have freedom, when she was married. I could not help myself enough in the situation that Dimma found herself.

In my thought, she was well captured in extreme anxiety and pains given that she was bullied by the man who was supposed to protect her, the man who was supposed to introduce unfettered love to her. But she was abused, which had started manipulating her natural sense of trust and love. She was belittled and her innocence violated. She was exposed to be ridiculed by people henceforth while she would be feeling soreness, fury, odium, retaliation, puzzlement, arousal and bad omen as she lived. But in all of these, she would go numb, like her siblings and mother whom any expression of feelings against Mazi Egede would attract further severe molestation. Dimma would decide to shut down her feelings and go underground.

It was certain that Dimma would go underground with her feelings; else, any expression of them, would attract more beatings from the substance-induced-dad. She dared not invite the authorities; else, the community might dissect her. Now, her hope was pain – extreme anxiety. Even, pain, was an understatement to describe the irresistible pains Dimma was going through. Maybe, she would take it to ‘God’, as the later was the case in this clime. No one would listen to her, no matter how hard she cried. I knew that the pains would stop in Dimma someday, but the memories of losing her teeth in the hands of her father would linger a lifetime.

Would loving and trusting her father be there again? I wouldn’t say. However, I found writing about Dimma’s dilemma as a way to heal. Except the authorities, she would not bring her dad’s despicable attitude to book. But who will replace Dimma’s teeth?

© Odimegwu Onwumere is an award-winning journalist based in Rivers State, Nigeria. He contributed this piece via: - December 2017

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