Ever since he was a child, Dubem had hated to disappointment people; so when he reached a reproductive age and they talked him into starting a courtship, he hoped it would result in something as solid as wedlock.
'Ebere, the third daughter of Peter the Rock,' people pointed out, 'is tall and as sharp as a reserved knife, taken out only to slay the most menacing dragon. You should woo her. '
However, according to tradition, the suitor accompanied by his kindred must signal their intention to the relatives of the woman by bringing them a keg of palm wine, among other gifts.
At 7.30 on a Saturday morning, Dubem and members of his convoy assembled to begin the journey.
Behind the steering wheel of a medium-size minivan, Eddy the driver waited patiently. Dubem sat in front, next to him.
Sitting on the midsection of the middle row of the van was the palm wine handler, a very lean man who had arm muscles the size of mature yam tubers. Under the clutch of his knees was a ceramic keg of palm wine, weighing a ton. Beside the keg was a live chicken with both wings tied over her back.
There were two older men, one on each side of the man with large biceps. The one to the left wore a hat which, bent on top, rested over his right ear like a rabbit's tail. The other old man wore no hat and had a tennis ball-sized bald occiput surrounded by a ring of gray hairs.
'Did your father forget this event?' asked the old man who wore a rabbit's tail hat. Waiting for the father of the suitor had made him tired and cranky.
'He is awake and getting ready,' replied the suitor, looking back only halfway as he answered.
Dubem had barely returned his neck to the natural position when Idoh came out of the house into the front yard.
Quickly, he climbed in and sat in the third row of the minivan. With a splinter concealed in his fingers, he picked up the bottom part of his teeth for what seemed like eternity. Satisfied at last, he leaned forward, tossed the splinter away and spat a scum across his left shoulder. Then he put two fingers in his mouth to whistle a signal for the driver to begin the trip.
'What do we have with us?' Idoh asked after Eddy had finished maneuvering the van past the worst of the potholes and turned right.
'A keg of palm wine and a white fowl,' answered the young man with the bulging arm muscles.
Disingenuously, Idoh said, 'Any yams to go with the chicken? You can not eat fowl without yams. Yams always go with chicken. ' There was amusement in his face as he asked.
'The keg of palm wine is the size of a masquerade,' said the old man with the shiny bald head.
'Other suitors are coming,' said the old man who had a hat, and who had become irritable earlier while waiting on Idoh. 'Good-sized yams should have been here as well as a big goat to ward off other suitors.'
'The time for yams, coconuts, soap and goats has not arrived yet,' rebutted the man with the rim of gray hairs on the back of his head. The other man's irritation was beginning to smear off onto him.
'That's enough,' said the father of the suitor, separating the two warring elders. Had they looked at his face when he asked the question, they would have seen that he was only trying to crack a joke and not sow a seed of dispute. 'Is not a disagreement over a group often a bad omen?' he surprised to himself.
Although Dubem maintained silence throughout the trip, his heart was full to the brim. All the arguments his handlers had on his behalf touched and tortured him. They could decide all they wanted if they had brought enough gifts or not.
Ahead of him lay a task. He had to take a sip of the palm wine, after which he would pass the cup to Ebere. If she drank from the cup and returned it to him, her willingness to continue with the ceremony, a precondition to marriage, was confirmed.
While on the way he had hatched a plan. Once his kindred got him over the palm wine-carrying hurdle, he had to confront the condescending way they had treated him so far, conveniently failing to ask his opinion over basic matters such as the number of chickens, yams, coconuts and so forth.
Dismissing the entire kindred team might be necessary, even if it meant eloping with Ebere. But what if Ebere rebuffed him and refused to drink the palm wine after him?
Still submerged in thought, the suitor did not realize the distance the minivan had covered. 'We've arrived at the old house of Peter the Rock,' announced the driver.
A barefooted, fast-talking woman who, judging by her immediate understanding of the mission, had been expecting the visitors, let them into a large room with a cement floor and with all its wooden windows standing wide open.
Throwing out her hand, the usher announced, 'We have seats.' The suitor and his entourage sat on the wooden chairs with wide armrests.
End of Part 1