The three men walked in silence, each of them absorbed in their thoughts. Ekwensu struggled to drag the stubborn goat who seemed reluctant to continue the journey.
"Mmeeeeeee! Mmeeeeee!" It would bleat at intervals and resist the pulling force of Ekwensu's hands.
Anyanwu and Amadioha cast their glances at their friend and his struggle with the goat and burst out in laughter.
"Ekwe! I am beginning to wonder if you are the one dragging the goat or if the goat is actually dragging you", Anyanwu teased.
Ekwensu hissed and let out a growl, "This goat is too stubborn".
Amadioha chuckled, "That is why it is a goat".
"Let's exchange", he handed Ekwe the palmwine gourd and collected the rope encircled around the goat's neck.
Anyanwu carried the tuber of yams tied together with taut strings of raffia rope.
"Ehen! Amadi, you better not stand like an iroko tree today o ...... You must show Ikuku that we are known for many things including dancing", Anyanwu informed his brother.
"Hiaaaan! Ooooo! Look at who is talking", Amadi gestured at Ekwe. "His waist does not shake o when he is dancing"
The three men roar in laughter. "I don't blame you,Amadi ... On that day which Chukwu will bless my union, you will see me in action", Anyanwu assured his brother.
Ekwe seemed a bit nervous, "Let's increase our pace to enable us get there early".
"Hmmmm! Osu kwa! Ekwe, biko let us walk at our own pace before the maiden rejects me for looking sweaty", Amadioha joked.
The atmosphere was boisterous. A group of young men throbbed the cow skin drum with enthusiasm. A short stout man shook the local tambourine vigorously while a fair skinned lad intermittently hit the ogene with grace and expertise as all the instruments produced a beautiful melody.
The trio strolled in oozing with masculine confidence and walked straight to Ogbunaabali's direction who had arrived before them.
They shared pleasantries as they hit their palms against each other's and the old man patted them on the back.
Amadioha's countenance was bright with glee as he nodded his head to the melody. His strong masculine body decorated with beautiful designs of nzu and uhie while his waist adorned a rich tiger hide.
Anyanwu tapped his feet to the rhythm of the melody. The intensity of the music increased and Anyanwu was forced to release his body to the vibrancy of the beautiful rhythm.
Soon, Ekwensu joined him as they danced to the admiration of the maidens. The fact was Anyanwu was not a very good dancer but he loved to subject himself to the lordship of music.
Amadioha beamed with smiles and slight envy as he watched his brother and friend display their dancing prowess. He longed to join them but he was shy knowing fully well that everybody's eye's were on him.
The display did not last long as the music stopped and the villagers groaned in displeasure.
Ikuku walked gallantly into the midst of the people.
"Cha! Cha! Cha! Cha! Ndi ogo m ekene m unu", he welcomed his inlaws and they acknowledged his warm gesture.
"Please, let's move to the obi to discuss as men", he informed them.
Ikuku accompanied by his kinsmen and his proposed inlaws headed to the obi to discuss proceedings concerning the dowry payment. The men disagreed, chuckled, agreed and the negotiation ended up with Amadioha paying ten pieces of cowries, a gourd of palm wine, eight tubers of yam and a goat.
As they left the revered hut that served as the obi, Anyanwu patted his brother on the shoulder.
"Today you have fulfilled one of your obligations as a man" he said with misty eyes and a smiling face. Both brothers hugged each other while Ekwensu smiled at them and swiftly cast away his glance.
The guests sat in expectation and awaited the wine-carrying part of the ceremony. The bride emerged in a two -piece hide that covered her enormous twin mountains and another covering her bead-adorned waist with a veil covering her face to be uncovered only by her husband according to the traditions of Umuchu. Her feet elegantly bore drawn beautiful nuptial nzu designs.
She walked through the people in her radiating feminine elegance as most of the men gnawed at her beauty with bulging eyes.
"Asampete nwanyi! Asampete nwanyi!", an old toothless man yelled among the seated villagers. People around him laughed in amusement but he was too engrossed in trying to make her notice him than look at them.
She walked majestically and knelt at Ikuku's feet accompanied by her maidens. Her father's face lightened up as he filled a cow horn with palm wine and handed it to her.
"Go and give it to the man whom your heart desires"
She strolled in the midst of the cheering guests as men beckoned on her to hand them the wine. She swayed her hips and teased them till she knelt at the feet of Amadioha.
Amadioha smiled with a feeling of contentedness and raised the veil.
"Alu! Taboo!", he screamed.
There was an uproar. The people murmured. The bride tried to escape but strong hands apprehended her. The covering unveiled Onwa instead of Ani.
Ikuku in blazing anger rent his clothing apart and yelled, " Who have I offended that disgrace should be heaped on me"
The villagers began to disperse in numbers. Amadioha spotted Ekwensu on time. He outran him and grabbed him by the throat nearly strangling him.
"Why is Onwa disguised as Ani? Where is Ani? Where is Anyanwu?", he thundered and shook him vigorously.
Ekwe could not speak as his friend's furious fingers tried to snuff life out of him.
"Speak coward! What part do you have in this?", Amadi dropped him on the hard red earth then swirled to pick a large stone and hit Ekwensu but the god of treachery pleaded for his life.
"Amadi,Biko! I have no part in this. I only overheard them talking about eloping.... I could not tell you but if you get to the river on time, you might catch up with them"
Amadioha exhaled, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to put enmity between you and your brother", Ekwensu explained with pity-filled eyes.
"Brother indeed!, he spat as he sprinted to pick Ikuku's machete and dash out of the compound.
The wind raved wildly as Ikuku's anger kindled, the sore-beaten Onwa wobbled to escape while other frightened villagers left the compound in a frenzy.
©Andrew Ifeatu Jennifer, 2016