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By Mike Ekunno
The day Adaeze died, I was crushed. Though I killed her, I still craved justice for her death. I had withdrawn to myself in the run up to the homicide. Just the thought of killing her made me flinch and inflicted a massive writer’s block, more like a boulder. That kept her alive and while she lived, the sun shined. ‘Aint no sunshine when she’s gone’, and that’s now.
Adaeze has been bed-ridden in hospital for a simple procedure to secure her pregnancy. Cervical cerclage involves tying the mouth of the womb literarily. The sutured cervix is then able to hold the baby in the womb to full term or to reach viability before delivery. The procedure is as innocuous as any needlework on a torn pocket. And as affordable too. But coming up with the funds for a young couple with entry level public service jobs proves daunting. The stitch-up wouldn’t be necessary if the second trimester baby wasn’t threatening to abort. Adaeze’s BP has also been acting up. Whether it had a psychosomatic inducement in the lingering search for funds or not, there is no telling.
In her three-bed room (not three-bedroom) Adaeze strikes up acquaintance, even friendship with Omma, a post-operative fibroid patient with whom she teases Sister Elizabeth, their puritan third roommate. In the thrashing about for funds, her workplace has come up with the best prospects. With her case not covered by health insurance, Adaeze sends an SOS to her chief executive who approves the funds ‘on compassionate grounds’. Getting the funds past the chief accountant’s obstacle course into the hospital’s account for the surgery proves herculean for Shaka, Adaeze’s husband. His wife didn’t tell him of the incident over which Alhaji Lawal, the chief accountant, may now be on a revenge mission. She didn’t relay the story of how Alhaji Lawal had sought to make her sign off many contrived payment vouchers with forged signatures to satisfy external auditors. She didn’t play ball then not because of moral compunctions but because the only signature she could sign and repeat was hers. She is heavy-fingered. In her time of need at the hospital, Adaeze suspects the stonewalling of her payment is Alhaji’s way of getting back at her. Before her husband could rally other sources of funding, Adaeze’s supernatural visitors decide to smash her earthen pitcher and end her sojourn on this side of make-belief.
That is how I killed her, between my fingers and the keyboard. I was into Adaeze but didn’t know it. Didn’t know it the way you didn’t know how close you had grown to your last offspring until the day after he/she left for boarding school. Adaeze was your dream city girl, a bit naughty and full of vivacity. She rocked her knee-length gowns on heels where others fought off their femininity in jean slacks and flats. She didn’t encourage it but neither did she make you feel guilty of the thoughts you harbored for somebody’s wife. It was not the votary who smashed her pitcher that killed her. Neither was it the tardy accountant. It was I who did. The others were only my puppets. I pulled the strings. But having allowed themselves to be used to commit ‘Adacide’ how could these puppets hope to escape justice? To cause an Ada to come to harm in Igbo society is a big deal, fiction or no. And since I don’t intend for these culprits to go scot-free, I intend to write a sequel to How Many Signatures Can You Write? for them to get their comeuppance.
Primogeniture in Igbo society is for the first son but the Ada, First Daughter, wielded enormous powers too, soft powers like you have with the Pope. None of Adaeze’s parents was royalty yet she was named Adaeze, Princess Royal. They could have stopped at ‘Ada’, Igbo for First Daughter with upper case first letters. That should be the one for plebeians that they are. But Igbo society is iconoclastic for class. If you felt like it, you could name your son Prince with no tincture of blue blood in your lineage. So though she took her name between my brain and the laptop, it would be presumptuous of me to think I named her. I only met her all grown up with her name. The Ada was superior to even her senior male siblings in some matters in Igbo society. Umu Ada, their sorority, can reach a decision on a communal matter and not even the king can overturn it. In real life, one of their clan had been sold into The Slave Trade by one of my forbears. Up until few years ago, my extended family still convened meetings on how to appease her spirit. The restitution decreed by the oracle involved the kindred having to jointly ‘marry a wife’ for a male descendant of the offended slave auntie. In contrast, all of the scores of my male ancestors sold into The Slave Trade enjoy oracular oblivion. So much for the canard about African societies being oppressively patriarchal. I digress.
Killing Adaeze had a reason. I guess all murderers will say the same thing. However, in my case, the reason had little to do with me. It had to do with the society and the culture of entrenched corruption that I needed to rail at. So the motivation was social commentary in much the same way the late then Jackie Kennedy had to re-don her blood-stained clothes to let America see what ‘they did to my husband’. The way Jackie made it in-your-face graphic was what I wanted to do with Adaeze’s death though I lay no claim to matching the nobility of Jackie’s act. I needed to show that corruption, Nigerian corruption, costs lives. That beyond the abstract speak of it being ‘wrong’ and being ‘the bane’ it does cut close to home. It makes widowers of young men like Shaka barely done with their honeymoon. It frustrates the expertise of loads of professionals who watch helpless as simple cases turn fatal before their very eyes in hospitals. It leads to air crashes, road accidents and high infant mortality rates.
Even as I seek karma for Alhaji Lawal and the corrupt system that caused Adaeze’s death, I suspect that I’m not thereby exculpated. I supplied the literary if not literal weapon and devised the plot. I have tried to achieve catharsis with this effort but the story "How Many Signatures Can You Write" has been sitting in my unpublished folder now garnering only rejection mails. When I wake up in the morning and browse the mails on my phone, I know better than to blame them litmag editors who think their decisions to pass on my submission was autochthonous. At last, the spirit of the princess royal is getting closure at my expense.