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To Have and To Hold
by A. Igoni Barrett

On the day she turned seven months, three weeks and six days old the Anabraba child contracted an infection that in two hours had turned her head the size of a prize watermelon.  Her mother, unable to handle the thought of giving over a piece of her soul to the dustbin of all things flesh, abandoned the fever-wracked infant in the hands of its father and fled for the refuge of the nearest church. The father was a 35-year-old career civil servant and a first-time parent: neither by training nor experience was he equipped for the task thrust upon him.

   But—as on all other occasions that put to question his ability for success—Godspeed Anabraba rose to the challenge.

   When the mother gathered the courage to return to her deserted ramparts she found that not only had her greatest fear been averted, but a lifetime of change had also occurred in the six days that she was away.  The foremost indication of this altered state was the fact that now, unlike before, it was only the sound of her husband’s voice that had power to calm the baby’s paroxysms of protest, to lull her to sleep.  She ate faster and with no trouble when it was her father’s hand that fed her; her wails turned to gurgles of delight when it was her father’s hand that bathed her.  Though Godspeed Anabraba had never before shown interest in any of these motherly duties, now he volunteered for them, he even altered his work schedule to allow for them.  His wife feared that he would take over the role of caregiver if she but gave him a hint of acquiescence; she lived in dread of this possibility, even, to her mind, eventuality.


In the ignorance of childhood Godspeed Anabraba had made a pledge to himself never to fail at anything: his whole life thereafter was one long struggle to keep his word.  His father—a tall, handsome man whose renown as a singer and dancer would one day pass into legend—was a fisherman whose offspring was strewn across the fishing ports of the Niger delta.  Thus Godspeed Anabraba from a young age had to fend for himself.  Though his mother—who had remarried after the mishap that was her first child—did her best to ensure he attended primary school, he had to see himself through secondary school by the work of his hands.  But Godspeed Anabraba was a bright, dedicated student: at the expiration of his secondary education he was granted a scholarship by the colonial government to attend university in the mother country.

   On his triumphant return eleven years later as an urbane, instantly respected member of his young country’s meritocracy, Godspeed Anabraba—after first erecting a mansion in his late mother’s village as a disavowal of his father—decided to take himself a wife.  He set about this task in a punctilious manner: he considered only the prettiest and most accomplished maidens from the best families.  As such, it was no exaggeration when the bulletin board of the 72-year-old Anglican chapel carried the notice: Miss Perpetua Young-Harry, graduate of the Springfield School of Catering and one of the most eligible of our maidens, is to be joined in holy matrimony with Godspeed Anabraba, Esq., senior civil servant and pride of our community . . .  Even the defeated suitors of the bride-to-be, stunned by this announcement, agreed that it was a match that for convenience couldn’t be faulted.

   But in other areas it had more faults than the tectonic plates of the Nippon.  For one, Godspeed Anabraba did not love Perpetua, and this lack of feeling was reciprocated.  He saw in her no more than a pretty Plasticine model that could be moulded to his requirements.  She saw in hi--this stranger with whom she had not exchanged one word before he won her father’s consent--the oppressor who appeared out of the blue to destroy any hope of the love match that is every young woman’s ideal.  It was especially painful for her, she who had been raised on the sugar-and-spice diet of Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer, to know she had no say in the matter, and worse, to be treated as such.  As the day of her nuptials drew nearer she contemplated running away, starving herself to death, even handing her virginity to Furo Fiberesima, the one she would have chosen had she been given a choice.  But, being a sensible woman, in the end she walked up the aisle without a murmur of protest, and even unclenched her teeth for their first kiss.