Chidinma ran into the bush. She had just seen her stepmother come home from church and she was yet to go to the market. Quickly balancing the bucket of ice water on her head, she made her way towards the market. As she walked past a pile of excrement, a wave of nausea washed through her. For some reason, she had been feeling nauseous all week. Maybe it is because I have had nothing to eat all day she thought to herself. All her stepmother seemed to want from her was to work, work, work. She rarely got any food except what was left on Abuchi and Uzoma's plates. And these days, that was close to nothing. Abuchi and Uzoma were growing like weeds and cleared their second helpings frequently. As for her father, he was in another world entirely. He believed it was all peachy for the whole family and though he objected to his only daughter going out to hawk ice water, he was overruled by his wife who insisted it was in her best interest. The money she made was her allowance she claimed. Of course that she was the one holding the allowance was left unsaid.

"Ha" exclaimed a voice startling her out of her reverie
"Hey you scared me" said Chidinma jumping back watching Bose appear out of the bush. Bose was a feisty 15 year old girl that went to the market with her. Walking side by side in silence, Chidinma and Bose reached the market where they proceeded to sell their ice water.Bose's frienship made things easier for her. They both lamented together about their lives and helped each other the best they could.

"Ewe oh! Papa Abuchi come and see" screamed Chika his wife. When Mr Igbobuike entered the small stuffy room where Chidinma slept, he saw his wife holding a naked Chidinma. Quickly spinning around, he started walking out of the room.
"No, no, no, see, she's pregnant" screamed Chika

"What?" said Papa Abuchi.
"What?" he repeated "let her put on some clothes then and come out so I can beat the living daylights out of her" with that, he marched out into the parlor.
"Idiot! Ashawo! Prostitute! when I send you out to sell water, you go somewhere else and open your legs for somebody" said Chika to Chidinma already slapping her face as she was dressing up " your father will kill you today."

Needless to say, Chidinma was pounded to near death by her father. The neighbors had to intervene after hearing Chidinma scream for hours and hours and Iyawo, the next door neighbor took her into her house. Papa Abuchi was puzzled, he knew his daughter would never do something like that and his daughter still claimed to be ignorant of what had happened to her. Something was wrong with this picture and he did not know what it was. The next day, he dragged Chidinma to the doctor who confirmed that Chidinma was indeed pregnant but he held Papa Abuchi back for a few minutes and explained to him that Chidinma had not had sex with anybody.

"How can that be?" he screamed "she's pregnant! She must have had sex with somebody!" Still the doctor insisted that Chidinma had not had sex with anybody because her hymen was still intact. When he got home and told his wife, she told him they had to go to another doctor because that doctor did not know his trade. The news that Chidinma was pregnant spread like wildfire through the neighborhood.People were surprised. Not the Chidinma they knew. Every body shook there their heads in disbelief and scrutinised their own daughters for any signs of pregnancy.

Anyaoku was in his living room when he heard the whole story through Mr Moses, a close friend of the Igbobuikes. As a native doctor, he immediately thought of all the opportunities that presented. A young girl, pregnant yet no sign that she had sex? Plenty of opportunities. He had to see this girl. Meanwhile in the Igbobuike family, Chika had somehow convinced her husband to send Chidinma away since she had disgraced the family. She wanted him to send her to his sister Adaku who lived in Onitsha. Chidinma did not want to go to Onitsha and as a result of that, a violent quarrel had erupted between father and daughter leading to Chidinma's head been broken by her father. It was in this condition that Anyaoku found Chidinma and convinced her to come and live with him. In her frame of mind, anywhere was better than her father's house so she readily agreed to go with him.

Chidinma settled into Anyaoku's household with minimum fuss. His two wives were friendly and sympathized with her. She took up selling ice water again and six months later, she gave birth to a baby boy. Anyaoku on his own part used her to boost his business, telling everybody that he predicted the pregnancy. Infertile women came to him in droves, people that wanted more children and infact anybody that wanted help from a traditional doctor. Chidinma played her part by agreeing that he predicted her pregnancy and it was this symbiotic relationship that Nnamdi came back to.

Nnamdi was the first son of Anyaoku who lived in America. He had been sent to further his education and had arrived home with his M.D. He was a very quiet and studious boy and his father was proud of him immensely. Nnamdi liked Chidinma on sight. He found her very intelligent and night after night they could be heard arguing. Nnamdi laughed at her a lot because she was only sixteen but seemed to have an opinion on everything. Anyaoku did not read any significance into the relationship because he had come to regard Chidinma as more or less his own daughter. Moreso, he know she was too young for Nnamdi who at the ripe age of twenty-eight should have been busy searching out a prospective wife. He resolved to talk to him about getting married as soon as possible. Little did he know what fate had in store for him

"Mba, mba my child, you cannot mean this" said Anyaoku shaking his head
"Why not Papa?" Nnamdi replied
"Because I say so, what do you mean why not Papa?" said Anyaoku
"Papa, I'm old enough to make my own decision and that is what I want to do" replied Nnamdi
"I know you are old enough but can't I correct you when you go wrong?" asked his father
"Ok, Papa tell me what is wrong with marrying Chidinma?" questioned Nnamdi stamping his foot on the floor
"Firstly, she's too young, she is like a daughter to me and there is a lot you don't know about that girl" he said shaking his head.
"Things like what?" Nnamdi asked.
Things I know and you need to find out first" Anyaoku answered.
"I know all I need to know about her, Papa" insisted Nnamdi
"Maybe, maybe not" retorted Anyaoku. He resolved to do nothing about it, knowing Nnamdi, he would probably forget about it in a few weeks.

Contrary to his expectations, Nnamdi's desire to marry Chidinma did not fade but grew stronger to the extent of Anyaoku quarrelling with Mgbechi, Nnamdi's mother. As far as Mgbechi was concerned, Nnamdi was free to marry anybody he chose to regardless of past history. As time passed, Anyaoku could see that there was no way he could get past Mgbechi's wishes. This was his wife and mother of his son and since it was her son as well as his, if Chidinma was good enough for her, then there was no reason for him to be an obstacle in love's way. As for Chidinma, she kept out of everyone's way when all the trouble was going on, concentrating on her son and her ice water trade. Anyaoku wanted her to do something to annoy him so he could vent all his anger on her but like she had anticipated his feelings, she stayed very far from him. As far as he was concerned, she had betrayed him after he had taken all the trouble to house her and generally take care of her. He conveniently forgot her role in his now very profitable business. He sighed because he really hated to be at loggerheads with his wife and his first son but he could not see how a marriage to Chidinma could possibly help his son. She did not even finish secondary school and she had a child from only God knows who. All that story about her being a pregnant virgin was nonsense to him. Conception could only take after sex and there was no getting around that.

"Maybe if you left the house a little more often, you would hear what they were saying" said Nnamdi stamping his foot on the floor "do you really think you are going to live here forever without going out?"
Turning her face to the wall, Chidinma said "So now its my fault that I can't hear what they are saying?"
"Well if you get out of that bed and move around, with time you will understand them. It happened to everybody" he replied
This had been a constant source of quarrel between them. She was too shy or perhaps felt too inferior to associate with the people in the neighborhood. Sometimes he wished he had listened to his father but he knew he really loved Chidinma and he just hoped that with time she would get over her reluctance to go anywhere. It was almost impossible to believe she had been here for 3 years. At first he had done nothing, pampering her and hoping she would snap out of it but it just kept getting worse. Even her son, Chukwuma was adapting much better than she was. He was at Tony's house with their own 5year old. She did not go anywhere willingly and it was embarrassing for him in front of his peers. He knew he had to do something about it. Next day, he talked to Tony who was his colleague at work. Tony promised to make his wife call her and do things together. They both hoped that would work. When he got home, he told Chidinma that Tony's wife would be calling her so they could go places together. Chidinma agreed, she wanted her husband to be happy and she also wanted to be able to deal with these strange people.

Nnamdi was really happy to see that Dorothy's association with his wife was changing Chidinma. She was not as shy and he enjoyed talking to her now even more because she had her own views and made intelligent observations. She had started taking classes to get her GED. And she planned on begin a nurse after that. Now was the time to think about having babies. As for Chidinma, life could not have been better. Having a supportive husband and a good friend in Dorothy she knew God had been kind to her. But there was still one big problem in her life. Who was the father of Chukwuma?

To be continued ...

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