No Time was always happy at month end. As a young man of thirty, he taught at Community Primary School in Vandeikya. And he was really popular, both in the school and its environs for his lax attitude to the norm. This attitude of his arose from a queer philosophy of life which was often on his lips: No time to live. Enjoy life now. In fact, that was why his pupils nick-named him: No time. So whenever this young man collected his salary, he lost no time in visiting VA MEM, a cheap local bar where a small crowd of men gathered, as they would say, to soften their throats. No Time cared nothing that he had a wife, Kpadoo, who was then pregnant and often breaking down in health and that he had to tend her.
One Saturday night, he staggered home.
‘Kpadoo!’ He called out to his wife. But silence reigned. She had gone to a neighbouring house to borrow some paraffin oil with which she would fill in the lamp, for in her judgement, her husband would soon return and the darkness would present some difficulties in giving him his food.
‘Kpadoo!’ He shouted again, fully in control of himself except for the occasional wobbling of his knees.
‘O-o!’ She answered from a distance and soon appeared—lamp in hand, and with the palm of her right hand cupped round the lamp to prevent its light from going out.
‘Where are you coming from?’ He asked, crimsoned with fury.
‘My husband I went to…’No Time did not let her finish.
Kpaa! That was the sound that issued from his slap across her face.
‘You have nothing to explain. Tell me: Is this the proper time for a man’s wife to leave her house for whatever reason? I say tell me?’ He asked again, masterfully rendering his words even after much intake of alcohol.
Kpadoo broke down in tears during which time she replied, fiercely:
‘Don’t you dare slap me again, you useless man. Ever since I came into your home I
have never known peace. Each time you take your meager salary, do I ever get a kobo? But when you have spent all on drinks, you come home to me your slave and show your manliness. Yesterday when I asked you for money to enable me to see the doctor, what did I get? Yet you call yourself a man. Shameless man! And in case you do not know, I went to see a man—yes, a real man. You can never be my death!’ When she was hurt, Kpadoo could utter anything if only to mollify herself.
‘So this is how you…’
No Time had no more words. He made to slap her again but she withdrew her face so that, impulsively, he kicked her in the belly sending her reeling to the earth as helpless as a mouse caught in a baited trap. As she fell, so did the lamp.
Kpadoo awoke the next morning to find standing before her a gentleman in gold-rimmed spectacles who was asking her how she felt. As if in reply, she slid the room a sideways glance and seated solemn on a springy hospital iron-bed was her husband. Then she remembered the incident last night. She realized too that the gentleman was a doctor and she answered his questions.
Later, in the course of the doctor’s discussion with her, she learnt that she had miscarriage. This cut deep into her heart and she wept bitterly. Her husband would have taken her home that day but the doctor advised that they stay the night. So they did.
At home, No Time pleaded with his wife to forgive him his wrong. And she did—or so it seemed. But once her husband was away from home, she collected some of her belongings and went back to her father at Mbashagba, a neighbouring clan.
By sun-down, No Time returned without finding his wife home. At first, he thought she must have gone to Manvefe’s house to plait her hair or something. So, he walked to his atẻ or reception hut, rested in one of the traditional folding chairs there while expecting she would return soon.
It grew dark but he waited in vain. Kpadoo did not return. Where could she be? No Time was thinking hard. Suddenly the idea that she may have abscounded struck him. For
confirmation, he went into their living room and found that the bag in which she kept her clothes was absent. This tied his heart on the tree. For the first time, he realized how much she meant to him. ‘Tomorrow is a school day’, he was thinking aloud, ‘but work can wait. I shall go and plead for her return. She must be in her father’s home’.
The following day in the morning, No Time entered his father-in-law’s house. It was a fairly large compound with an enormous Mzembe tree standing by the left at the entrance, and, in whose season dutifully produced healthy green fruit that caught one’s fancy. In the centre of the compound was a grave on which gbaaye, nune, and other sweet condiments that go into the art of making soup were placed in a tray that morning.
As soon as Kpadoo saw him, she kept the guinea corn she was washing and went to welcome him.
‘Welcome’, she simply saluted as she reached to take from him a polythene bag wherein contained some dry fish that No Time had come along with.
‘Kpadoo’, No Time replied.
She conducted him to where her father was seated in his atẻ. The two men exchanged greetings and soon engaged in a casual conversation of weather and their farms. Soon the appetizing mixture of boiled yams and palm oil was set before them.
When the meal was over, the old man allowed a reasonable time to pass and then he beckoned to his wife and his daughter and when they had all assembled, he began to speak to his son-in-law:
‘Yesterday your wife came home to us. I asked her if all was well with her. She said no. And she told us of her troubles with you. I heard it but I have been quiet, waiting to hear from you before I shall know what to say. And now that you are here, Kpadoo let us hear that again.’
The young woman recounted what happened on that Saturday night, adding that that was not the first time her husband was maltreating her.
No Time was then asked by his father-in-law if he held a contrary view:
‘It is so as you are told, my father-in-law. I know that I have offended you greatly. I feel so ashamed to say give me back your daughter. My folly has earned me
nothing. But my father-in-law, the Tiv people say that even when a child shits on your lap, you do not cut your lap and throw it away. Instead, you get a rag and clean it up.’
The old man heard his son-in-law’s plea. But he could not refrain from telling him his mind. He cleared his throat loudly and then he began:
‘There once lived a man who was neither rich nor poor. He owned a fairly big yam farm and his two wives were happy. His children too fed well. But one day, this man sat solemn. Why? His younger wife died during childbirth. The newborn, who all thought would live, also died. This happened many years ago. He paused for a while and then resumed:
‘Why do I tell you this? It is because I want to teach you wisdom. I am old and wise. But you are young and unwise. That man in my story is me. My younger wife whom I talk about this day, as you know, is buried right over there’, he pointed to the grave outside in the compound while his son-in-law’s eyes followed in the same direction as if they had not known before that a grave was there. ‘Yes’, the old man pursued, ‘my wife lies there. I remember how much I longed for that child to live. But like its mother, Death was unkind. No man caused their death. It was God himself who willed it. Now tell me: if your wife had died as a result of that kick in her belly, what would you have said afterwards?’ I ask you: what would you have said?’ But No Time’s head was bowed. ‘Be careful’, the old man warned, shaking his first finger at him. ‘Be careful’, he continued, ‘or you will support your chin with your palm one day’. He concluded firmly.
No Time’s head was still bowed. The old man looked at him for a while. He knew that his son-in-law was truly remorseful. He knew too that by nature his son-in-law was not a bad young man. He had just allowed alcohol to corrupt him. Then he heaved a sigh of relief and broke the silence that reigned shortly:
‘Our son-in-law wants his wife to return to him. What do you have to say?’ He asked his wife, Mbalamen, who had all the while listened silently without displeasure.
‘Well, your decision is also mine, my husband. But I think that it is good for us to know Kpadoo’s state of mind. She’s the one directly involved in the matter.’
Kpadoo said: ‘I have nothing much to say. I still regard him as my husband. But I will return to his house only if he will treat me as his wife and not as a slave!’
‘Forgive me my wrong. I will not maltreat you again’. No Time replied.
The old man thought for a while before he spoke again. He was anxious for his daughter to return to her husband’s house without appearing to be. There was no use in a couple being separated. Still, his daughter was not some tree by the wayside, and to make that point thereby causing her husband to always value her, the old man said to his son-in-law:
‘Our daughter will not go with you today. She would rest with us for one week after which you can come and take her with you’.
It would not be long before mother and daughter went to see No Time off. The old man reclined in his traditional folding chair and stared absent-mindedly at the
chickens competitively pecking at a few grains of guinea corn on the ground.