All your life you had wanted to please your parent, so much so that when you heard them say that a twenty-five years old woman should be in her husband’s house, you made up your mind to get married at that age of twenty-four.
At the age of twenty, you started accepting to go on dates with any guy who checked at least seventy percent of the long list of qualities you wanted in a husband.
At the age of twenty-three you started getting calls from your mother asking when their in-laws will come to see them.
By the time you turned Twenty-five years old, the calls became more frequent. She would call saying that if there were no decent men in Lagos State where you lived, she would find a husband for you in your home town, Nkanu East Enugu State.
Few years later, every call, text and chat from your mum ended with a reminder that your time was running out. She kept pressurizing you to look for a man to settle down with, and this got you wondering why your elder brother who was thirty-two years old was left to live his life in peace while you were expected to forfeit your dreams of travelling the world in order to settle down with a man.
You began to ignore your mum’s call, more so on your birthdays, for on every other day it was a reminder but your birthday wishes came with a full lecture on why it was important for a woman to marry on time.
But on your thirtieth birthday, you kept staring at your phone excitedly waiting for your mum’s call. The phone had barely rung when you picked it up, and upon hearing her voice you bursted out “I am engaged”, whilst staring at the six-carat diamond ring on your finger.
You told your mum that Obiorah had proposed yesterday and that you will be visiting with him next week so that they can get to know him. She asked what kind of a man he was, to which you replied “he is kind, handsome, rich, God fearing and he attends Anglican church just like our family. “Obukwa onye Enugu State?” Is he from Enugu State? she asked, “Yes”, you answered adding that he is even from our local government area, Nkanu East.
When the call ended you thought back to all the unsuccessful relationship you had had up till this moment.
Emma – Who had left you for a younger woman.
Remi – Who your father had rejected because he was Yoruba.
James – Who insisted that you must start attending the Catholic church before he will propose.
But Obiorah was perfect, he was the type of husband every mother especially yours’ would want for her daughter.
You were so excited to formally introduce your now fiancé Obiorah to your family and there were happy to see him, – happy to hear that he owns a successful mining business and assets all over the country. When he was asked to say a short prayer before meal, he ended it saying
O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom……
they clapped joyfully because to them reciting the Anglican collect for peace meant he was a true Anglican, not like those who changed denominations to suit their needs.
The visit was a joyous one up until Obiorah was asked which family he comes from to which he replied “the Okonkwo Family that owns the duplex close to the village stream”. As soon they heard Okonkwo, your mum stood up and left the room sadly whilst your dad stood up and said “Obiorah it is getting late, you should get going”. He left ignoring Obiorah’s hand extended for a handshake. You didn’t understand what was going on, just a minutes ago you were being praised for having an eye for good things but now the countenance was just like it was five Christmas ago when your cousin had fallen from a tree to his death.
You cannot marry from Okonkwo’s family, they are Osus (Outcasts), marrying them will make you and all your children Osus (Outcasts).
You tried your best to convince your family otherwise, but they were adamant.
You stood there in disbelief, you had heard about the Igbo Osu caste system, but you didn’t know that it was still relevant in this modern times.
You hadn’t known that Obiorah was an osu (Outcasts) not that it mattered to you, you loved him too much to care.
Your parent forbade you from seeing Obiorah again. On the day Obiorah travelled back to Lagos, you didn’t go with him instead you sat on the veranda browsing the internet to learn about the consequences of marrying an osu.
Voicing out the words faintly, you read;
“Osus are only supposed to marry other osus. Osu as a status is contagious (if one of your parents is osu, then you are osu; if you marry an osu, you can become osu. In some places, if you share food with an osu, you are in danger). People call them living human sacrifices; they are consecrated to a particular deity and to that deity’s shrine. In the old days, this meant that they couldn’t leave the shrine’s vicinity.” The osus are not allowed to dance, drink, hold hands, associate or have relations with Nwadiala (sons of the soil). They are not allowed to break kolanuts at meetings. No Osu can pour libation or pray to gods on behalf of a freeborn at any community gathering. It is believed that such prayers will bring calamity and misfortune.
You had done everything with Obiorah – dance, eat, prayed and no calamity has befallen you yet. You tried to explain to your parents that being Christians meant that we are now a new creation and that all those old traditions have passed away, but they would have none of it.
Out of frustration, you shouted that the marriage will take place with or without their blessing.
You watched your mother cry like one would if she lost a child, your dad sat quietly on a sofa like someone who suddenly had a stroke. Your mum has always been dramatic, so her reaction although a bit excessive didn’t bother you, but your dad who always has something to say about everything, his reaction frightened you. You walked and knelt before him and asked “dad, are you alright”?
“I will die before I see you marry from that family; I would not be alive to see my flesh and blood become an osu”.
Those words made it clear that there was no convincing them on the marriage.
Days later you travelled back to Lagos determined to marry Obiorah without your parent consent.
You thought in Lagos nobody cared about your background, you will marry him quietly without letting you parent know, and in two to three years when they find out that they have grandchildren and you are very happy with your new family, they will have no choice than to accept the marriage.
But things didn’t go as you plan, you didn’t consider the media. Three weeks after your wedding, your brother Chikezie saw a picture posted on Facebook by your friend and showed it to your dad.
Due to his weak heart, he suffered a heart attack and died. When you received the call, you were told not to come home because your mother was unstable and blamed you for his death.
You were so devasted when you stopped your car on top of the Lagos mainland bridge and stared down the water.
Later you will survive and go through therapy sections to become mentally and emotionally strong enough to lead the largest movement ever against the Igbo osu caste system. In the course of this, you would lead demonstrations, sensitization campaigns, partner with national and international NGO’s, win awards and finally bring an end to the segregation between Nwadiala (sons of the land) and Osu (outcasts).
But now as you stare down the mainland bridge, sadness and pain engulf you, so you jump.
Augusta Ndeche is an Accountant by profession, but also has a passion for creative writing and Fashion designing. She hails from Anambra State and can be reached at email@example.com