An entry in The Crocodile Prize
People’s award for Short Stories
I can’t find the right words to describe the feeling; it was both sheer embarrassment and sorrow.
I was too young to understand what was going on but, from the noise and the expression on dad’s face, I guessed something important was to take place.
Kapus, my elder brother, never told me about it until I found out for myself when the din subsided in front of our house.
Peeping through the window, I could see Stella, a classmate of mine in Grade Six. “Why would she come here accompanied by her wawois (nephews) and with bowed head?” I thought.
Part of the crowd with Stella had their faces painted and held the fali falfal leaf, the Wolomu clan emblem.
Then it struck me, this was the ceremony where a bride is formally handed over to the groom.
“There must be a mistake. Stella is in Grade Six and Kapus is doing Grade Nine at St Xavier’s,” I said to myself.
Molom, one of Stella’s nephews, stepped forward and greeted dad with a handshake.
I left the window and turned to hear what Kapus had to say. But he was already on the verandah sitting behind mom and dad, wiping away tears with the back of his hand. From the look on his face I could tell he was regretful.
“What? No, no this can’t be true,” I whispered quietly with tears in my eyes. “We still sleep on the same mattress and he’s travelling back to Kairiru for the final term of study.” My mind swirled like a raunwin.
My silent pleas were of no avail. Finally Molom declared: “As one of Stella’s nephews, I am happy to bring her to Kapus as his wife.”
“She has been pregnant with Kapus’ child for over a month now, so to avoid conflict between you and us, we hand her to you,” he said.
I slowly stepped out and sat at the doorway taking in both the tsktsks and murmurs of approval from the small crowd.
Dad stood up and welcomed Stella and her nephews. “Thank you for sorting this out smoothly. As the father of the groom I welcome you, Stella, to the family and assure your nephews we will take good care of you.”
Now that seals the deal, I thought. My 25-year old mind raced, planning to assist Kapus escape this unplanned marriage – ‘that adult thing’. But then mom was a devoted Catholic and wouldn’t let us get away with that if there were any chances.
“You can avoid my cane but you just can’t escape God’s punishment,” I recalled the stern warning whenever we got ourselves into trouble.
After the formalities, the crowd dispersed, leaving only Stella and her close relatives. Eventually her belongings were brought into the house by mom.
“Where shall she sleep? Is she sharing the same mattress me and Kapus had been sharing since we were kids? Is she going to care for our sister Baramai? Will she cook well?” Silent questions that time alone would answer.
When they finally looked at each other, for the first time I saw Kapus smile like he never did before. I must have blushed. Deep down I knew he wasn’t ready for a lifetime commitment.
Mom pulled me aside and said emotionally, “This is what you get when you go after ladies. Kapus and Stella both now have this marriage and the child rather than their education. I hope you will learn from this.”
A nod was my only response.
I swallowed and held back tears when I finally got the chance to shake Stella’s hand. I had known her for six years as my classmate but today she is my tambu meri even in class.
The following week at school was the worst. I had to put up with all the ‘Stella and Kapus’ gossip. I hated it when the teacher spoke of it. To make matters worse, I sat just adjacent to the empty desk once used by Stella.
Eventually I got used to being called liklik tambu man, and appreciated Stella’s presence at home very much as Kapus and I had a break from the kitchen.
“At least she cooks for us when mom’s not around,” I thought.
I left home the following year for my primary education while Kapus struggled to juggle school work and his marriage. It did not work out. They parted a few years later.
Kapus was bright and so was Stella. If only they knew the consequences of that ‘puppy love’ they might as well have waited for the right time.
They were both too young.