The Story of Eiyah (Part II)
By nightfall, her parents, worried because she had never been late before, were raising the alarm wherever they could. In the village square, while the girls of the village gossipped wildly that she must have been drowned in the river or eaten by hyenas, a few of them indulging in overdramatic remorseful tears (“I should have helped her –everyone knows how dangerous it can be… poor girl!”) the men were swiftly gathered together by Ngoima (my great-grandfather) who was a close personal friend of Eiyah’s father’s, and a wildy respected village elder. Organising them promptly into three groups, he sent one to drag the river, another to retrace her path within the forest, and search there, and the last to wander and enquire further and wider from the village, looking for any signs that she had left or been forcefully made to leave the village. The village matrons swiftly gathered about Eiyah’s mother, who was inconsolable, alternatively comforting her, and indulging in their own musings about what could possibly have happened.
“In my day it wasn’t uncommon for the Masaai to come and steal away Kikuyu girls,” said one elderly woman, warming her hands around a large mug of tea. “I remember at one point having to go everywhere with two of my brothers for protection… but that hasn’t happened for years now. Surely it couldn’t have happened to Eiyah? It’s very strange.”
“IT’S STRANGE BECAUSE IT’S EIYAH, MOTHER!” a younger woman yelled into her good ear. She threw a mischievous glance sideways, and continued in a barely hushed tone. “Now if it had been Nyakio…”
Nyakio’s mother whose looks her daughter had inherited, immediately reacted.
“And what exactly do you mean by that, you ugly old witch?” She screamed, coming to stand before the gossip, arms aggressively akimbo. The gossip was not known for backing down.
“I was simply saying that Nyakio is just the type of girl who would disappear with a man. You know it as well as I do. That’s why you’re always checking up on her.”
“You’re just spiteful because your own daughter’s not much better looking than Eiyah!” Nyakio’s mother spat. A friend of hers came to pinch her.
“Shut up!” She whispered viciously. “Eiyah’s mother’s right there.” Nyakio’s mother looked apologetically in that direction, and sighed in relief when she saw the poor woman deep in conversation with another friend. With all the comings and goings, it wasn’t noticed that four of the village’s young men were absent. Blithely unaware of the level of chaos they had initiated, they were, in fact, drinking beer at Njao’s house, while discussing his extraordinary choice, and what must be done next. Naturally, the first thing to do was to inform Njao Senior of the new tenant.
Dude 1 (with an anticipatory grin): He’ll be piiiissed!
Dude 2 (likewise): Hell, I’d be pissed if my son eloped…
Dude 3 (wryly): It’s not that Njao eloped, it’s whom he brought home.
Njao (sharply): Shut up. You know nothing about it.
Dude 1: So tell us!!!
Njao (sighing): You see all those girls in the village? Most of them are beautiful. Much more beautiful than Wairimu…
Dude 2: Who’s Wairimu?
Njao: Wairimu is Eiyah’s real name, and the only one you’re allowed to use from now on.
Dude 3: Wairimu, huh?
Njao: Wairimu. Those girls, they’re beautiful now, but beauty fades, and what you’re left with is the real person. Have you noticed how they work?
Dude 1 (defensively): They work hard!
Njao (nodding): They work hard –but Wairimu works harder, and better. Have you noticed how they treat their parents?
Dude 2: They’re good girls, Njao. You can’t say they’re disrespectful at all.
Njao: No. But Wairimu treats her parents respectfully and lovingly. She’s warm. When they get money, how do the other girls behave?
Dude 3: Who knows what girls spend their money on?
Njao: Wairimu doesn’t spend hers on hair treatments and knick knacks and more clothes than she needs. She spend it on practical things for the home, and treats her littke brothers with snacks. In fact, she almost never spend money on herself. She is thoughtful and giving. Ans what ios she doing when the other girls are gossiping every evening in one of their houses? Or at a village dance? She’s babysitting her siblings, and other people’s siblings, and preparing for the next day.
Dude 1 (pensively): That’s true.
Njao: You know how noone ever helps her at the river, which is why she usually makes two trips?
Dude 2: Girls are cats, even they know that.
Njao: Wouldn’t that just make you angry?
Dude 3 (uncomfortably): Certainly it’s not a very nice thing…
Njao: But she responds to this by making sure that she helps others. The widows who have no one to help them fetch water, and the elder women who run out of firewood. She is fundamentally kind. So she’s the woman I’m going to marry, and the one I want to care for my children. The rest of you can settle for the gossiping harpies that look so good in sheep’s clothing, who like to put themselves forward but help no one, and whose ambition in life is to be the most well-dressed girl at the village dance.
Dude 1: They’re not that bad… (uncertainly) Are they?
Dude 2: No, of course not. They’re fine… Right?
Dude 3: I don’t know. All this beer is making me fuzzy and suddenly panicky about marriage. (Brightening) You might just offer it to your Dad before you break the news, Njao.
Njao (grinning): I certainly will!
With all the beer, the talk, and the hurried preparations that had to be gotten into, once Njao’s household had been informed, it was quite forgotten that, to the rest of the village, Eiyah was plainly missing. A week later, Njao Senior, dressed to the tens and wearing his humblest, most deprecating expression, slowly made his way to Eiyah’s home.
My grandfather had beautiful, calm brown eyes, in which mischief announced itself occasionally with a bright spark, inherited, by the way, by most of his offspring, and theirs. Still, it was unusual for any light of alarm to register within them, which is exactly what happened on a certain cloudy morning, as he witnessed his friend making a slow but determined way up the hill towards his home. Whatever this visit announced, it wasn’t good news, and as he pressed doggedly uphill, each achy bend of his friend’s back seemed to emphasise this. By the time he had reached the Ngoima homestead, Eiyah’s father may have been physically battered, but his eyes were as young and bright with indignation as that in any young man’s eye who had been rejected as a mate. My grandfather awaited him with refreshments and a sturdy stool at the ready, and rose to hug his friend in a warm welcome embrace.
“My friend, do not speak but sit down and wet your mouth! I am grateful for your visit,” my grandfather stated almost impatiently, adhering to custom even as died for news. But when it had been to him, he sat back, mischief running rampant within those wide brown eyes. Slowly, meaningfully, he leaned forward toward his friend. Though a kind hearted and very generous man, his adherence to the truth in any matter not only served his reputation, which had risen him to the status of a venerated village elder, but also satisfied this mischievous streak in him, that couldn’t resist finding the humour in his fellow humans’ misfortunes. Now, though knowing that Eiyah’s looks were a sore subject, he said, containing a grin:
“A hunter comes to take a hyena out of your home… and you’re complaining?”
For a moment, his friend stared at him as though he hardly knew him.
My grandfather sat back ad took a swig from his calabash of beer.
“My friend… The handsomest, most eligible man in the village has claimed your daughter. What are you complaining about? Indeed, had anyone claimed her –what would you be complaining about? That they didn’t do it in the proper traditional manner?” He noticed his friend’s level of outrage and coughed out some of the mischief that had been brewing within him. “This is indeed so, and there is nothing for it but to make Njao’s family pay for it.”
“So you agree that this is improper?” Spluttered Eiyah’s father. “I mean, it is totally IMPROPER!!! You can’t go around kidnapping fair maidens in this village, and getting away with such behaviour!”
My grandfather choked at this description of Eiyah, then covered his amusement with a ferocious expression, in support of his friend.
“Absolutely NOT. What will they think of next?” He roared. He put a confident hand on his friend’s arm. “We will make them pay –Oh they will PAY, my friend…” Just as he wished, Eiyah’s father was now comfortable enough to take a large, relieved swig of his own calabash of beer. If my grandfather approved, this horrendous action against his Eiyah would be revenged. “But my friend,” Grandfather went on, “ do not take this all so sorely to heart. The man kidnapped your daughter, but he has not returned her –he has not used her ill. His intentions are pure, since he has sent his father to you, and this deserves some credit.”
Eiyah’s father, mellowed by the beer, and his wise friend’s comforting words, seemed to think likewise. Banging his stick on the ground, he nevertheless would roar.
“Still, they must PAY”
My grandfather grinned.
“And they will.”
Indeed, over the next few weeks, the two send Njao’s father up and downhill, bending over backwards to correct his son’s indiscretion. There were goats demanded to restore the breach in tradition. There were goats asked for, on behalf of the young men who had been gathered onto the village square, and sent looking for Eiyah in the forest, the river and abroad. There were punitive damages. There were penalties for the emotional trauma of Eiyah’s parents and siblings. In fact, by the time Eiyah’s family had done with their demands, Eiyah’s dowry had become one of the most expensive in the history of the village. Those beauties that had previously reserved themselves for Njao’s favour had begun by being amused by the entire fiasco. They were now completely enraged, not only because there would actually be a wedding taking place, but because of the icing on the cake that was Eiyah’s severally discussed dowry. While the proudest girls took to their beds in a tantrum, wiser ones, such as Nyakio, promptly became engaged to Njao’s friends. Influence was almost as good a currency as popularity, and admiration could be shared.
And so Eiyah was married in unparalled pomp and ceremony, disbelieving, herself in all that was suddenly happening to her. Njao may have kidnapped her, but she had fallen in love with him more deeply than she knew herself capable of. Indeed, this man loved her, and more than this, he appreciated her. She knew, quite soon in her marriage, that Njao had not chosen idly, but that he had been watching her for years. He honoured her as a hard-working mate and wife, and glporied in the tall, strong sons that she gave him, almost as if he knew of their coming. Furthermore, Njao was one of the only men in the village who never took another wife. Eiyah was the one for him, and as she grew in this confidence, her happiness became complete.