Tradition, dowry and the deadbeat dad.

When Allison announced to her mother that Patel had asked to marry her, they shrilled with excitement and embraced and wiped each other’s tears from their eyes.

“So mummy talk to my uncles, grandpa, the elders and whoever else is concerned. Tell them 24th December is the D-day!” Allison said.

“I wonder what they will say about your Mhindi, ” Allison’s mother wondered out aloud. She knew her people could be very conservative but she also knew her daughter was resolute. Any opposition from the elders would be met with fierce justification from Allison.

It was Allison’s resilience that kept her strong as a single mother, because that was she would call her parenting anyway. Allison was also industrious both at school and at home. The two grew so close that people thought they were sisters. Now she was all grown up, a licensed dentist about to be married to another dentist, a Kenyan Indian.

Rahab remembered conceiving Allison. She had been so in love with Ben. But Ben was good at playing magic. He would vanish for weeks and then appear again at her doorstep with an incontrovertible excuse.

While she was almost due, he was no where to be seen for the entire last month of her pregnancy. He hocus pocused and re-appeared when Allison was then six months. He came licking a lollilop which he jovially handed it to his daughter. By the time Rahab saw what he was doing, the little girl had enthusiastically grabbed it and put it in her mouth. She hissed in fury.

He never attended any of her parent-teacher meetings. Not a dime did he pay for her school fees. He always had excuses why he could not. Allison had really wanted her father to attend a prize giving day while she was in form 3. Some of her school mates had haunted her about having a father. They called her a single mama’s daughter. She wanted to set the record straight. He however did not show up. As if he knew the anguish he had caused her, he disappeared for two years and came back when Allison was already enrolled in university.

The two had decided to give him a cold shoulder if he ever reappeared but he came, miserably looking with claims that he had been convicted and sentenced for two years for a crime he did not commit. He was good at tugging at the two women’s heartstrings. They took him in, clothed him, fed him and when he seemed to be in fine fettle again, he fled to God knows where. They were both deeply infuriated when they came home that evening and were met by a neat house and a small note with the words sorry.

“He is dead to me,” Allison said, incensed.

“I agree. We should burn anything that is his in this house and completely forget him.” Rahab said and they did it, more like a ritual, each of them determined to evanesce him out of their memories. And the two moved on with their lives praying that Ben would never reappear in their lives ever again.

Rahab now waited for the 24th December in controlled bliss. Her daughter’s fiancee was meeting her elderly relatives as culture demanded. He would be given a list of the things that were expected from him as dowry.

Rahab and her daughter travelled to her grandfather’s place on the eve of the big day. Before dawn cracked the following day, they had already woken up and were now preparing various foods for the day. The elders arrived on time and so did Patel with a few of his relatives. They seemed not to mind Allison’s choice of husband-to-be. He was also a very amicable fellow.

“I ask that you be lenient to me because you know according to our culture it is you people who should be paying dowry to me!” He said in jest and they all laughed.

Allison shook her head in amusement. Patel had already warmed into their hearts with his witty remarks. Then they sent her out to discuss private matters. She was not even allowed to eavesdrop. Her friends would ensure she went far away and they would be left to arrange the plates, cups and spoons near the big hot sufurias for the people to feed after the talks were held.

She went to her uncle’s house which was about three hundred metres away fuming at the discriminative culture that did not allow a woman to sit in her own dowry negotiations. She did not even notice the 13 seater van that passed her carrying a hoard of passengers headed to her grandfather’s.

There were two young boys watching a Nigerian movie in her uncle’s house. They were her nephews. Tradition did not allow boys their age to attend to dowry events. She was too anxious to glue her eyes on the television. She wanted to keep herself busy with something. She saw some magazines under the table and was about to reach for them when two of her younger cousins burst in.

“Your father and his people are here!”

“They are arguing that it is an abomination for your mum and her relatives to take your dowry while the father is alive!”

“What? How did he even know that I am getting married?” Allison said, rushing out of the house towards her grandfather’s house. The two cousins and the two boys hastily followed her curiously.

Panting with anger and from the running Allison stood some feet away from the house and watched the hullabaloo as each side tried to justify why they deserved to be granted the dowry. Patel’s relatives too were vehemently warning the guests not to think they had found a gold mine in them. Patel himself was standing amidst the ruckus, confused and torn. Then he made a loud yell that brought everyone to a standstill.

“Please friends can we sit and solve this cordially? I now understand how precious your daughter is if she can cause all these emotions from us !” He said as a few people managed to smile at his trial to lighten up the moment.

“I am just a guest here so please let me give this opportunity to the quiet old man seated there to give us his wise way forward. They say, the older, the wiser and I think I am the youngest here which means I might be the least wise.” The irated people managed to chuckle. Then the old man holding on to his walking stick, stood to talk. He was Allison’s grandfather’s closest friend. They liked to call him mzee.

“My people, we should spit at our behinds in shame at what we just did. It is a disgrace to us that this young foreigner is the one who has proved to have a head. The rest of us lost ours when we started thinking about money.” The mzee said and spit on his handkerchief then carelessly folded it and returned it into his pocket. “Culture does not change even with the hottest sun. I know not many will be happy to hear this but we all know that dowry should be given to the father if he is still alive. Not half, not quarter but all of it! If he so wishes, then he can share it with the mother of the girl.”

Allison’s father closed his eyes briefly in triumph. His relatives were elated. Allison’s uncles looked angry. A controlled debate happened after that but the verdict still remained that the bride price would be received by the father of the bride. Tradition had to be respected.

They did not notice that Allison had been listening to the whole discussion all that time. She was scorned. She stormed into the house and went to her grandfather and whispered something to him. He in turn spoke to the mzee who thought for a moment and stood up and hushed the men and women in the house.

“People of honour, our daughter has politely requested to speak to us. Let us hear what she has to say. It is not usually the custom but things are changing nowadays. Please lend her your ears.” He said and nodded at Allison.

“I greet you in peace my people. It was not my intention to eavesdrop. When I was informed that there was a commotion here, I ran back to see what was going on. I have been listening to the proceedings and I respect your conclusion. However, I just want one question answered, please. My question is , who is a father?” She went silent. There was a confused silence but a man from Ben’s side shot up excitedly. He was Ben’s brother. He was slightly younger than Ben. Allison’s grandfather smiled at his granddaughter’s intelligence.

The man unbeknown to him the trap he was ensnaring himself into, spoke loudly with an intention to be noticed. “The question is very simple. I even wonder why a whole doctor would ask such a question .The answer is easy. A father is the provider of the house. The one who feeds and clothes his family. The one who provides a roof for his family and ensures they do not lack a thing.” As he sat down, his eyes met Ben’s who was seething in anger.

“Thank you very much my uncle. If that is what a father is , then that woman seated there” She said pointing at her now smiling mother, “is my father. Never have I stayed hungry nor lacked clothes to wear. She paid my school fees albeit with difficulty. She ensured I lacked nothing. She did this all by herself. As for my father, truth is, the only thing he has ever bought me was a packet of chips with mother’s money.” There were giggles from some people.

“The man you want to honour with my brideprice does not even know my second name. Some of you know I had an a leg injury. Ask him when I broke my leg? He was not there to take me to hospital!” There was profound tension among Ben’s kin.

“Please fathers, uncles and grandparents. I will not allow my future in laws to give a cent to people other than my mother. We would rather forget all these. I will not accept my mother to be dishonoured yet it was her who has moulded me to who I am today. And by the way, if you are really following tradition, did father ever pay dowry for mother? Did he..” She was interrupted my an elderly man on her father’s side who made a plea.

“We have heard you my daughter. Please my people, give us some time to go out and discuss something in private.” The mzee nodded at the request as Ben’s people left the house quickly.

Allison, Patel and their relatives watched through the window as two elderly men quickly got in the van scornfully waving Ben off as others spoke while gesticulating angrily at him. Others soon boarded the van. Ben threw his hands in the air and reluctantly boarded the van too which veered off. They knew there was no case to win anymore.

“I think I have learnt something from this. If Allison gives me a daughter, I have to care for her, otherwise she will embarrass me when we are negotiating for her brideprice.” He said and the rest filled the air with victorious laughter.

They agreed on the bride price much to the shock of the Patels who had thought that their in-laws-to-be would announce a whopping figure.

“It’s not about the price. It’s the honour. We are reciprocating the honour Allison and Patel have accorded us by involving us in their union preparations. All we wish is that they live happily as husband and wife.” The old mzee said as the rest nodded in agreement.

There was a celebration. The Patels bonded with Allison’s kin. They laughed,ate and merried and it was only until dusk that the Patels remembered they had to leave.

Rahab proudly stared at her daughter as she tried to convince her grandfather that he needed artificial teeth. Rahab had never been prouder of her daughter like she was today. Ben had hurt them so much but his day of reckoning had finally arrived. He had been seen for who he really was , a deadbeat father.

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