By Azuka Onwuka
When Emeka broke the news to his parents that he planned to marry a Yoruba lady, they told him that he was a joker. That would never happen, they said flatly. Was there a scarcity of nubile damsels in Nnewi and its environs or in Anambra State and the entire Igboland that their son would travel across many rivers and many states to marry a Yoruba girl from Ijebu-Ode? Or, had the girl bewitched Emeka with “otumokpo” from Ijebu-Ode? She would not succeed, they concluded. Never!
Weeks after that, nothing was heard about the issue again. They assumed that the case had been closed. Emeka had come to his senses, they concluded. But had he?
Two months later, like a bad dream, Emeka brought up the issue of this Ijebu girl again! This time, his tone was firm. Despite the threats of the parents, he was not cowed. He was resolute to the point of obstinacy. Even the tears of his mother did not move him. His parents concluded their son was indeed under a spell.
When it became obvious, after many months of dialogue, pressure, threats, pleas, tears and quarrels that Emeka was hell-bent on marrying Lola, his parents grudgingly gave their consent, but the father warned that nobody should run to him if the marriage went awry. The father also refused to accompany him to Ijebu-Ode for the marriage rites, saying that as an elder, it was a taboo for him to travel far away from home. It did not matter that a few months before the marriage rites, he had travelled through Ijebu-Ode on his way to Lagos.
Not only his parents were against the marriage: Out of Emeka’s three brothers and two sisters, only his younger sister was on his side. But Emeka overlooked all that and went ahead with the marriage.
When Lola came into the family, it was obvious that she was not welcomed. She was just being tolerated. Matters were not helped by the fact that Emeka had recently relocated his architecture business from Lagos to Nnewi, to take advantage of the burgeoning building industry in the town. And even though he had built his own house, it was within the same compound where his parents lived. It was a large compound: All the four sons had their portions of land within the compound, even though two of them were not based at home.
Another handicap Lola had was language: Igbo was the language of the family, but Lola spoke only English and Yoruba. So, Lola began forcing herself to speak Igbo. Any time she uttered an Igbo word or sentence, people would laugh. But her determination and sense of humour impressed everyone. She also did something that nobody around her did: she curtsied or knelt down when greeting elders, especially her husband’s parents, no matter how hard they protested against such acts. That act and her accent marked her out as a Yoruba, which made people treat her like an egg and call her “Iyawo.”
Most mornings, Lola would go early to the quarters of her husband’s parents, greet them, tidy up their rooms and collect their clothes for washing. She would ensure that Papa and Mama had their meals. She asked her mother in-law to teach her how to cook all local meals. Mama was eager to teach her, and she learnt fast. Any time Papa or Mama complained of backache, rheumatism or fever, Lola ensured that they got medical treatment. Most evenings, she would spend some time with them, either alone or in the company of her husband, before retiring to bed. Her brother-in-law’s wife sneered that she was shamelessly trying to buy love with her boot-licking tactics. But Lola was not bothered about that.
Less than a year after Lola came into the family, the music changed. Emeka’s parents, especially the father, never completed a sentence without mentioning “Iyawo.” He would tell anyone who cared to listen, including the wives of his other three sons, that if it was not for Iyawo, he would have long died.
Today, Lola speaks Igbo, or rather Nnewi, like a daughter of the soil. As far as Emeka’s parents are concerned, “Iyawo” can do no wrong. Even when Emeka complains about her before his parents, they will not let him finish before warning him never to do anything that will hurt that “peace-loving girl.”
Unknown to everyone, before Lola left her parents’ home, she fortified herself for any eventuality, having known that her husband’s family were not happy about the marriage. Her parents had also done all they could to dissuade her from marrying an Igbo man, but their words fell on her like water on the back of a duck. So she knew she had a major battle to face in her new home. Failure was not an option, for if the marriage failed or proved unhappy, her parents would give her the I-told-you treatment. Consequently, before leaving for Nnewi, she boiled herself in a pot of charm. Then, she etched the charm on her face, tongue and heart. The power in the charm was meant to automatically make anyone around her to like her. Anyone she smiled at or talked to was meant to be charmed by her.
What is the name of that charm and how much does it cost? The name of the charm is simple: Genuine love for others. It costs nothing to buy. No medicine-man is needed to prepare or administer it. It has no overdose. Everyone can prepare it. Everyone can administer it: At home, in the office, on the street, in the market. Its result on people is magical. Nobody can resist its effect, including “wicked mothers-in-law” and “impossible bosses.” Fortunately, it is available in all parts of the world: In Ijebu-Ode or Nnewi, Zaria or Ikot-Ekpene, New York or Kabul.
Brides and brides-to-be must realise that even though in-laws may seem difficult to deal with, they are human beings with flesh and blood. Parents – especially mothers – want to cling to their sons as long as possible. Parents are naturally suspicious and even envious of “an outsider” – who did not participate in bearing, nurturing and raising of their child – coming to take that child away. To them, the wife is a stranger who may have a selfish agenda to destroy the peace, unity and love existing in that family.
It is the duty of the wife not to breeze into the family with an antagonistic stance. Rather, she should reassure her in-laws – through her words and actions – that she has not come to “take away” their son and brother or to destabilise the family, but that she has come in – like a new baby born into the family – to increase the family’s love, peace, unity and happiness.
Everybody wants to be loved, appreciated and respected. When love is shown (over a period of time) to even untamed animals like the bear, leopard, chimpanzee, hyena, etc, they respond with friendliness. Human beings have the capacity to even respond better than animals when shown love.
The rule in all human relations is that you get what you give. If you smile a lot at people, you receive smiles. If you are cold to people, you receive coldness and more. If you love to help others, you receive help and love. Therefore, those who go about demanding and expecting love, care, and respect from others may get disappointed, but those who first give love, care, and respect to others usually receive them manyfold. Showing genuine love to others is a potent charm that works like magic.