‘Have you considered that my daughter here is a soon-to-be pharmacist?’
‘Have you considered that she is now completing her bachelor’s in pharmacy and will proceed to do her MPhil in the UK?’
‘Have you considered, young man, what kind of future you, an unschooled farmer, will have with her?’
I wilted under her uncle’s patronising look, and those of Nanjala’s relatives present during the dowry negotiation.
‘I’ll take care of her, father,’ I said, avoiding his eyes.
‘With what? Sounds to me like she is the one who will take care of you!’
My lips quivered. The iron sheets above stretched in the heat like old bones. People in the room shifted in their seats. I wanted to tell him that I was capable of providing for his niece. I had enough shambas of sugarcane, maize, yams and coffee. But my words evaporated. I had already sold a piece of the most fertile part of the land bordering River Khalaba for her dowry.
Nanjala’s mother shot out from the kitchen, ‘In-law Josaya! It is enough!’
Everyone’s eyes attacked her. Nanjala’s mother was a tall, slim woman with a gap between her teeth and a birth mark crawling on her neck. She was the lightest woman in the village and people whispered that she used Carolight cream on her skin. Her smile destroyed people’s homes and her handshake was enough to bring down chiefdoms. She had refused to be inherited by her late husband’s brothers, including Josaya. But her kindness overflowed like water in a sebele.
‘Shut up woman!’ Josaya boomed.
‘You think you are my husband to shout at me?’
‘This is not a woman’s business!’
‘This is my daughter’s life and happiness at stake. Busilu!’ She held her waist.
Who wouldn’t want such a woman on his team? Nanjala had taken after her, I noted, as pride flowered in my chest. Bold. Stubborn and unconventional. I was happy to be in Mama Nanjala’s team.
‘You think this is a money minting opportunity, yitaa? That you will use my daughter as bait for your gains?’ she asked.
‘What do you know about dowry? We need to know how he will take care of our daughter!’
Mama Nanjala laughed. ‘Who has been taking care of her? You?’ she asked, the question directed to her husband’s relatives.
People erupted, with some demanding she be thrown out and others calling her mad. Mama tightened the leso around her waist.
‘Mama, I am sorry,’ I said, curtsying. ‘Their questions about how I will take care of Nanjala are valid.’
Her look softened.
‘My elders, I may just be a farmer, but I am successful. Look at my palms.’ I raised my calloused hands and all eyes fell on them. ‘These palms share a story of genuine hard work! Nanjala will never lack. I’ll pay whatever dowry you ask, but that will never make me poor.’
‘Even termites work hard, young man!’ Josaya scoffed, ‘Tell us something new!’
Gladwell Pamba (@GladwellPamba) is a Kenyan writer and teacher of English and Literature. She runs a creative fiction and non-fiction blog at http://www.chingano.com. She was recently long listed for 2019 Writivism Short Story Prize. Gladwell is a book addict and a serial writer who believes everything around her is a story, a scene, a moment that needs to be written down.
This story was published as a finalist of the AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. Writers had to produce a 500-word story from a dialogue in Chigozie Obioma’s latest novel, An Orchestra of Minorities.
Related country: Kenya