Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about how acts of courage develop and nurture personal integrity. (June 08)
I met her in the rice fields. On a vast terrain just south of the Benue River. Clad in a long white and green dashiki; she blends gorgeously with the pattern of green leaf in the field. She is beautiful.
It doesn’t take me long to understand why she is so beautiful. The grace with which she stretches out her limbs to feel amongst the sod, the angle of her neck which holds the pride of royalty. Her poise. Her speech. She is royalty.
And I am a village boy. I am shy.
As I raise my arm to release a massful of water from the watering spool, she catches sight of me out of the corner of her eye and we lock gazes. Her youthful, dark green orbs sear through my own pitch black eyes, and we maintain our stare for moments. Although we are in the dry season, that does not stop the water that I had sprayed onto the plants from flowing through the soil and reaching her. I shift my gaze and watch the water trickle through the uneven landing of the soil and make it’s way to her. She follows the trail of moisture with her eyes and continues to look even as the water makes contact with her hand pressed into the soil. She looks up to me and smiles. I avert my gaze and focus on the work before me; watering the rice stalks. I am of a low income family and I had no business meddling with royalty. I quietly continue my work and steadily make my way down the field. It does not take much in me not to look back to see if she is still there. The less I know, the better. Eventually, as the day wears on, my mind completely forgets about her and I become absorbed with my work.
“You are quite a hard worker.” A shrill voice says behind me. Startled, I turn around to find the same girl from earlier in the day is right behind me. Has she been observing me all day? Noticing that I haven’t responded to her earlier statement, she speaks again.
“You do not speak much do you?” When I once again offer no response, she frowns. “My name is Adaeze, what is your own?” Adaeze-King’s daughter. It suits her.
“Otitọ.” I say softly, hoping she’ll be satisfied with that answer and leave me be. Her face scrunches up at the sound of my name. Unexpectedly annoyed at her reaction I ask, “Is there a problem?”
“That does not sound Igbo.”
“It is of the Yoruba tribe.” Her eyes widen.
“I’ve never met a Yoruba person before.” She admits innocently. “What does it mean?”
“Integrity.” I respond.
“Integrity.” She mulls over the word for a moment. “I like that.”
“May I ask exactly how you even got here?” I quickly interject. I do not like to talk about my name. I think it is mostly because I lack exactly that. I have been a coward my whole life.
“My father’s carriage stopped at the market because my mother wanted to buy papayas. I saw your green field so I walked over and took a nap.”
Her words leave me speechless, but her face displays utter seriousness so I respond with, “So…did you enjoy your nap?” She gives a wide smile.
“I cannot help but notice no one else resides on this land. Where are your mother and father?” She asks another day. I thought that one day she had ventured in here would be her last, but she keeps coming back and asking more and more questions. These questions ranged from why my skin was so dark compared to hers to farming techniques of the season. At first I was reluctant to speak with her, but as time wore on I became used to it and came to enjoy her visits.
However, I hesitate at this question. Her curious eyes bear into mine and I know I cannot avoid her.
“I have never had any.” Her stare prods me to go on. “I was raised by an old woman. She never gave an explanation for my existence, she just taught me to work the field. She used to own all this land.”
“Whatever happened to her?”
“She died when I was 12. I have always been by myself.”
“That is so sad.” Adaeze takes a hold of my hand. “Well at least you have me now.”
I offer a small smile.
It seems she is a princess of the Igbo tribe. That explains her name, caramel skin and the bright pigment of her eyes. She is truly above me not just in appearance, but in status as well.
Her father does not like me. He catches us one day when we are laying in the fields again, sharing creation stories of each other’s tribes. He is on a round of surveying farms, making sure each farmer is fulfilling his status quo. When he does not find me in the barn, he takes the liberty of trespassing. He is the Kabiyesi after all.
I am explaining the roles of Olodumare, Obatala, and Oduduwa in the creation of the earth when he quickly interjects, “Chukwu is the supreme creator.” His rough voice boomed above us, causing me to tremble in fear. Adaeze, however, does not move a muscle.
“He is just explaining Yoruba culture to me.” She tries to pacify.
“Do not corrupt my daughter’s mind.” He growls. “To the horses Adaeze.”
“Yes father.” She quickly gives me a reassuring smile, squeezes my hand and whispers before she gets up to leave, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”.
The Kabiyesi catches this and gives me a nasty scowl. I swallow my spit and do not respond.
The Kabiyesi comes to visit me alone. He makes sure it was on a day Adaeze will be absent. She has dance lessons today.
“She can never be happy with you.” He states bluntly. “And I will never allow her to be happy with you.”
I keep my mouth shut. I cannot explain that he is misunderstanding our relationship. I am in the presence of the Kabiyesi.
“Speak akata!” He bellows.
I dare not utter a word.
“As expected.” He chuckles meanly. “If I catch you near my daughter again I will make your life a world of pain.”
“My father calls you demons.” She tells me one day. I had suggested this time we meet away from the rice field in fear of her father’s disapproval. She sits comfortably in between my legs as we sit together at the base of a palm tree in the horse pasture just behind my small house. My arms that are locked across her torso became unraveled as she turns her entire body to face me; her face inches from my own. I freeze.
“He says you poor people are infested with diseases and your harrowing cough is that of a witches spell.” She laughs at her own words. “Funny isn’t it.”
“There could be some truth to what he tells you.” I disagree. She pretends she cannot hear me.
“Nigeria is the land of many languages and cultures. He cannot continue to remain biased.”
“Perhaps he is just trying to protect you.”
“From a useless demon.” She frowns.
“You’re nothing like he says you are.”
“How do you know?”
She stares at me, and I return her stare, unable to read her expression. Without another word, she rises from her seated position and walks away. I do not call after her.
“The horse pasture again?” She complains. “But my father has traveled out of Nigeria. Let us go back to the fields.”
“Let’s just stay here. We have entered the rain season so the ground smells from the moisture.”
She folds her arms crossly and I laugh at her cute fit.
“We’ll go back once the weather becomes dry.” I promise.
I cannot tell her that her father had all of my life’s work burned to the ground.
“I am getting married.”
I do not react. I knew this news would reach my ears eventually, and I had already chosen to accept reality.
“Well?” She asks. She is expecting one answer: my refusal.
“Congratulations.” I say. “I wish you happiness.” She frowns sadly. I cannot decipher her expression.
“Then I suppose this is goodbye. I depart tomorrow morning for Benin.” I do not allow this news to sway me. What was I expecting?
“Mo nifẹ rẹ, Otitọ.” She plants a quick kiss on my cheek and turns away. I do not respond to her confession, nor do I commend her effort at speaking in Yoruba like I usually would. She takes this as a sign and leaves.
I stand in my own sadness, tears trickling down my face.
She had told me she loved me.
I never saw her again.
My farm business is ruined and I am in terrible debt. Growing rice was my only income, but that was viciously taken away from me.
The horses are gone too. Days after Adaeze had left for her wedding, her father had paid me a visit and taken the last of my career away with him in the name of outstanding debt. I had nothing left. I had no money and no one to turn to.
But rather than feel sadness, I felt nothing.
I had prepared for this.
I had made the choice to give up everything for Adaeze, even though it meant giving up Adaeze herself. She wouldn’t have been happy with me. I slowly plod my way through my burnt and ashy rice fields, take a lengthy walk through my empty horse pasture and catch sight of my only palm tree. The tree Adaeze and I would always sit against and talk. The only thing I had left. I approach it and descend slowly; leaning my head on the rough trunk of the tree. I close my eyes and imagine Adaeze beautifully clad in white and let out a peaceful sigh.
In my little ordinary events of life, I found courage. And for me, it was displayed in the simplest of ways: love. I accepted my reality and I suffered for love. I fought to live another day, and I will continue to fight.
All these little acts of courage built me into the man I am now.
And it was all because she took the time to talk to me that day in my rice field south of the Benue River.
Thank you for teaching me courage.
Mo nifẹ rẹ, Adaeze.