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Marriage is a Private Affair

Marriage is a Private Affair

Chinua Achebe

Lagos, 1952

Nene: Emeka! Honey! Where's my tea, I've marked 35 English tests and my head is spinning.
Emeka: Be patient, Nene. Will you be this demanding when we're married?
Nene: Yes! I shall demand even more of you than I do of my class.
Nene: Have you written to your dad yet?
Emeka: No.
Nene: Emeka!
Emeka: I think it's better to tell him when I go back to the village!
Nene: But he should be let into our happiness now!
Emeka: I wish I were sure it would be happiness to him.
Nene: He must want you to be married?
Emeka: Nene, you have lived in Lagos all your life. You don't know about people in remote parts of the country.
Nene: You always say that. But they're not so different from other people that they're unhappy when their sons want to marry. Surely?
Emeka: They are - if the engagement is not arranged by them. In our case it's worse - you're not even an Ibo.
Nene: That is just ridiculous! This is 1952, and we are in Lagos. No one minds about the tribe you come from any more. You Ibos are supposed to be kindly-disposed to other people, or so you always tell me.
Emeka: When it comes to marriage it's not quite so simple. It's not just the Ibos. If your father had grown up in Ibibioland he would be exactly like my father.
Nene: I doubt it. Anyway, your father is so fond of you, Emeka, he will forgive you. Come on then, be a good boy and write to him.
Emeka: It wouldn't be wise to break the news to him by writing. A letter will bring it upon him with a shock.
Nene: All right, honey, you know your father. I must go.
Emeka: You haven't finished your tea!
Nene: I have to prepare tomorrow's lesson.
Emeka: You are angry.
Nene: Are you ashamed of me that you are scared to tell your father about me?
Emeka: How can you say that? I love you Nene!
Nene: And I love you Emeka. That is why we are going to marry. Now, I really must go home and work.
Nene: Bye. See you tomorrow.
Emeka: Oh father ... How am I going to tell you?

A village in Ibibioland, 6 weeks later
Okeke: "My Dear son Emeka. I trust you are working hard in Lagos. I have some good news for you! I have found you a girl to marry. She is Ugoye Nweke, the eldest daughter of our neighbour, Jacob Nweke. She has a proper Christian upbringing. When she stopped schooling some years ago her father sent her to live in the house of a pastor where she has received all the training a wife could need. We shall begin negotiations when you come home in December. God's blessings from your loving Father Okeke and all of us at home ... "
Emeka: Father ... we have to have a talk.
Okeke: Then where better than beneath this cassia tree? I talk to the Lord here when the sun has gone. It is peaceful and cool.
Emeka: Your letter ...
Okeke: I write you many letters, my son.
Emeka: About Ugoye Nweke.
Okeke: She is a fine woman, a devout girl and she will be an able housekeeper. Do you remember her? She was at your school.
Emeka: Yes, yes I do remember her, father - she used to fight us after school and beat us up. We called her The Amazon.
Okeke: Then she will be a stern mother to your children, son, and they will be a credit to you. And that is a blessing for a father ...
Emeka: Forgive me, father, forgive me.
Okeke: You are a good son, Emeka, you have nothing to beg my forgiveness for.
Emeka: It's about this marriage question. It is impossible for me to marry Nweke's daughter.
Okeke: Impossible? Be at ease, son, it is all arranged.
Emeka: I don't love her.
Okeke: Nobody said you did. Why should you? She will be a mother to your children, keeper of your house. What has confused you?
Emeka: Marriage today is different. ..
Okeke: Different? No! Nothing is different. What do you look for in a wife? Hmm?Emeka: Well -
Okeke: I will tell you! A good character and a Christian background. That is all you need. That is what Ugoye has.
Emeka: The truth is ... I am engaged to marry another girl-
Okeke: Huh?!
Emeka: - who has all of Ugoye's qualities -
Okeke: What did you say?
Emeka: She is a good Christian and a teacher in a Girl's School in Lagos.
Okeke: Teacher? Teacher, you say? What does St..Paul say in the Holy Bible? 'Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak'. No Christian woman should teach. No, no, Emeka, you must tell this girl you are not engaged to her. There. I am glad we have spoken about this. Whose daughter was she anyway?
Emeka: She is Nene Atang. Her family are from Calabar.
Okeke: What? Atang? From Calabar? You have been very foolish indeed even to think of this. No, no ... Now help me up, I must go back inside.
Emeka: Father, Nene is the only girl I can marry.
Okeke: The wind is a little cold. My bones are creaky ...
Emeka: Did you hear what I said, Father? I am engaged to Nene and we are to be married. It is decided. - Father?
Okeke: No, take your hand off me! I can get up by myself.
Emeka: Father, let us not fall out... Father!
Okeke: Do not raise your voice to me, Emeka. This is Satan's work. He has put this idea into your head. Leave me alone!
Emeka: You will change your mind when you meet her, Father. She is a fine woman.
Okeke: I shall never meet this woman. And while this devil is inside you, you need not speak to me nor I to you.
Emeka: Father, please ... Listen to me!


The village, 1 week later Christian hymn, sung by a small number of people

Jonathan: Okeke! Okeke my friend! Don't run away so fast. I've just heard your bad news.
Okeke: What bad news would that be, Jonathan?
Jonathan: About your son, of course. Such a thing has never been heard of in this village. What is it Our Lord says? 'Sons shall rise against their Fathers'; it is there in the Holy book.
Okeke: I thank you for your concern, Jonathan. Now you must let me go about my business in peace.
Jonathan: You must consult a native doctor. It is the only way to cure your Emeka.
Okeke: My son is not ill. Leave me alone.
Jonathan: His mind is diseased, Okeke, he needs a herb to bring him to his senses. Amalile medicine will do it. It is the one the women use to recapture their husband's affections when they stray. It never fails. For instance, Mrs Achuba ...
Okeke: Mrs Achuba killed a man with that muck, Jonathan. If my son wants to kill himself, let him do it with his own hands. I wish to hear no more about him - from you or anyone else - until he obeys his father. And the will of God. Excuse me!
Jonathan: You should respect the old ways, Okeke!

Lagos, 1953

Nene: This is the happiest day of my whole life, Emeka!
Emeka: I hope there will be days and days like this Nene. You are my wife and we will never be apart until we die.
Nene: Shush! You mustn't talk about dying, honey. Not on our Wedding Day. We'll have bad luck!
Emeka: Your mother and father are having such a good time. They are so proud of you in that beautiful dress.
Nene: I know how sad you are that your father's not here. Time will heal his unhappiness, I'm sure. I know! When the photograph comes out, let's send a print in a beautiful frame. I know just the one, I've seen it in the photographer's. It's beautifully carved mahogony. It will show him how much we think of him. Come on, my gorgeous husband Emeka, I want to be danced and danced until I drop!


The village, 6 months later
Jonathan: Okeke, my friend! You have a parcel from Lagos! Look, it's big! From Lagos!
Okeke: How interesting. You can have it. Whatever it is.
Jonathan: Do you mean it? Wait, wait! See what it is ...
Okeke: It is of no interest to me. Whatever it is.
Jonathan: Look, it is ... Okeke, it is a picture. A picture. A wedding. It is ... Emeka is on it. Look, my friend, your son. He is on it.
Okeke: You may keep it. The frame looks well made. Mahogoni wood.
Jonathan: Then you must have the picture inside it. Here ...
Okeke: No, you! It is of no use to me.
Jonathan: You must have it Okeke, my old friend. Here ... I put it in your hand ... I will keep the frame. It will look nice in my house. Goodbye now. Goodbye!


Lagos, a week later
Nene: (sobbing)
Emeka: I'm home! Nene, I'm ... Hey! What's happened? What's the matter? Nene ...
Nene: There was a letter. There. On the table. Why does he do it, why does he hate me so?
Emeka: Who? Nobody hates you.
Nene: Your father. Look what he has done to our wedding picture. Read the letter. Read what he says ...
Emeka: "It amazes me that you could be so unfeeling as to send me your wedding picture ....
Okeke: ... your wedding picture. I would have sent it back. But on further thought I decided just to cut off your wife and send it back to you because I have nothing to do with her. Do not ask me if you can come home to my village. It can be of no interest to me where or how you spend your leave - or your life. '
Nene: It's not just me. Why does he have to say that about you. It's so hurtful!
Emeka: Come on, Nene. We have to go out now.
Nene: How can I? How can I go and meet all your relatives?
Emeka: Nene, these people are not my relatives. Not all of them. They're just people who live here in Lagos. The village raised the money to send people like them, and me, to Lagos to learn and to bring honour to the village. I can't turn my back on it now.
Nene: They will know who I am! The woman who made you disobey your Father. I will be humiliated!
Emeka: Nene, I want you to come with me! Forget my father's foolishness. He will come round soon. Dry your eyes and we will go to the meeting hall and I will feel like a King with you beside me. Nene. My wife.


Lagos, 8 years later -1961

Issie: Nene! You made it! How are you sweetheart?
Nene: Exhausted! The children were awake half the night - Adi has an upset stomach and Molly woke up when he started vomiting. Oh, the joys of motherhood! Never mind all that - Happy Birthday, Issie! Here's your present.

Emeka will come later. Since he was promoted he hardly ever leaves the damn office!

Issie: You shouldn't have! How long have we known each other now? Eight years? You don't have to give me presents.

Nene: The first time I came to one of these village meetings, you were the only person to be nice to me. I could tell the rest of them, the women, were looking at me and thinking 'There's that teacher who took Emeka away from his father.' I never felt so lonely in my life.

Apart from you. That's why I have to give you presents.

Issie: Well, I might tell you that everybody I know has to admit that you are the best housekeeper and mother of them all. Even if they can't bring themselves to say it.
Nene: Does anyone say that to Okeke?
Issie: No, darling. No. They are too afraid of his rages. I think he knows he's been wrong about you and Emeka and now he can't bear to admit it.
Nene: Eight years, Issie. Eight years.
Issie: I know, it's madness. Has Emeka never tried to go back to see him?
Nene: Each time he's asked if he can come home for his leave, Okeke has said 'No'. It's as if he killed his own son, put him out of his mind. The trouble is I think the strain is going to kill him. We know he's not been well, Issie. He's never seen his grandchildren. They keep asking me why we can't go and see Grandfather. I don't know what to say to them ...
Issie: Nene, I have to go back there next week. Let me see what I can do, huh? I won't say anything about you or Emeka, only about the children. Listen, write me a letter to take to him.
Nene: What's the point? He's so stubborn!
Issie: For the sake of Adi and Molly, huh? So they can see their grandfather before he dies. One more try. Hmm?


The village, a few days later
Okeke: ... you see, this cassia tree is my church when I am not in the true house of God. To tell the truth I prefer this roof of leaves and sky to the tin roof of the church! It is an honour to meet you, Miss Mabofu, and I am sorry the rain is about to descend on us!
Issie: I hope we will be friends.
Okeke: I hope so too. I have few friends left, Miss Mabofu. They all think I am a mad dog that snaps all the time. Is it any wonder that no one will talk to me?
Issie: Will you allow me to talk to you, Father Okeke?
Okeke: Of course, but-
Issie: About anything I choose? Without snapping at me?
Okeke: Yes, but -
Issie: I have been to see your son. - May I please go on, Father Okeke?
Okeke: If you must.
Issie: Emeka sends you his love, as always.
Okeke: The wind is getting up out there. The storm will be heavy, I think.
Issie: Please let me finish. Here is a letter for you.
Okeke: I do not read my disobedient son's letters. Please excuse me-
Issie: This is not from Emeka. It is from his wife, Nene.
Okeke: Then it cannot concern me. Leave me now.
Issie: You said I could talk to you, Father Okeke. Please. Read your letter. I beg you. It is addressed to you, I cannot open it for you.
Okeke: I cannot read it.
Issie: Please, Father Okeke, please!
Okeke: My eyes, they - they are confused. It is hard for me to see. Put it on the table ... maybe later I will ... when the storm has passed and the light is better ...
Issie: Promise me, please, that you will read it.
Okeke: Why are you asking me this, Miss Mabufu?
Issie: Because you are a good man, Okeke, and you will do the Christian thing.

Okeke: And you think that is to forgive my son? Do you know what I have had to do all these years? Can you imagine the pain of punishing my own son for his own good? Look out there. Look at that rain. Do you not think I have cried as many tears as that sky?

How can you come here and tempt me with goodness?
Issie: Will you read your letter or not?
Okeke: I will not.
Issie: Then I will! - "Dear Father-inlaw Okeke. Please forgive me for writing to you myself. I know this letter will not be welcome to you. Please find it in your heart to read it. Not for my sake, but for Adi and Molly, your grandchildren... From the day they learnt that they have a grandfather, they have insisted on being taken to him. I find it impossible to tell them that you will not see them. I implore you to allow Emeka to bring them home for a short time during his leave next month. You need not see me. I shall remain here in Lagos. Forgive me for any hurt I have done you, your daughter-in-law, Nene."
Okeke: Look at that storm, Miss Mabofu. Anyone caught outside their house would drown!
Issie: The season is changing. It is time for new things to grow!


The village, Sunday
Jonathan: Okeke, Okeke, my friend! There! Can't you see? There, by your door. Standing. Your visitors. - Okeke, what is the matter? Are you not going to ... ?
Okeke: Thank you, Jonathan, my friend. Thank you. I am going.
Emeka: Father. Good morning. This is Adi, and this is Molly.