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Their previous marriages did not produce kids, but their eventual union broke the jinx

Saturday , March 6 , 2010

•Mr. and Mrs Ejim

They proposed to marry in 1985. But relations of the bride opposed it. Twenty-three years after, the two came round the same circle left decades earlier. The story of Joseph Ukoma Ejim and his wife, Mary, sounds more like a tale in love story textbook. But it is true life story.

When in 1985 they proposed to marry, as is usual in our clime, variants of opinions and positions cropped up from family members of both parties. It was so hard and compelling that at last the uncle of the bride to be, Mary, had his way and the union was frustrated.

Mary, as a grown and ripe lady ready for a life of her own could not put a full stop to her life. Therefore, she got involved in two other relationships, which ended in two unsuccessful marriages. The first husband sent her packing that she was not his wife. As if that was not enough damage to her life she remarried to a second husband who after a short while had an accident that paralysed him.

While Mary was in this back and forth ill luck swing, Joseph had pulled himself together and found a wife to continue his life with. But nature played him another ugly trick. The wife took ill and died shortly after when Joseph was at a bonesetter's home following an automobile accident.

Joseph's cousin who was a young schoolgirl who used to play go-between little girl role for the two lovers when Mary and himself planned their marriage years ago has grown and become an old mother.

Just 23 years later in 2008, Joseph and Mary at last got married and they have two children - boy and girl.

As a young man, working in the defunct Volkswagen of Nigeria, Ojo, Joseph said he was always visiting his uncle at Osho Drive in Olodi Apapa, Lagos. Mary was a student and living with her uncle in the same premises with Joseph's uncle. According to him, he was living with his elder brother then a pilot with the Nigerian Airways and most times he would sleep at his uncle's place at Olodi Apapa since it is nearer to Ojo than Ikeja.

Through that loose contact, their paths crossed and as Joseph said, he observed Mary for sometime before making up his mind on her. How she stood out in conduct and character in a high-density compound and environment in the eyes of Joseph was just part of the pull of love and affection that is still beyond the grasp of science and philosophy. At last, they fell in love and both were looking forward to a blissful marriage. In 1985 at last, they agreed to marry. Joseph informed his uncle who wholeheartedly welcomed the proposal because of Mary's qualities. In line with the Igbo custom and tradition, Joseph in the company of his uncle and relations went to Mary's family with the requirements. But Mary's uncle didn't welcome them. He rejected the drinks and even walked out on them, which was uncustomary.

According to Joseph, Mary's uncle opposed the marriage on two grounds. One, Joseph was a salary earner and his niece would starve before the end of the month when another salary would come, so he preferred a businessman as an in-law and again, the proposed suitor was from then Imo State now Abia while Mary is from Anambra.

He wished that Mary should marry from their state and area. To him Imo and Anambra States were worlds and oceans apart and should have nothing in common as to allow the creation of a marriage contract. To make sure the plan didn't see the light of the day, Mary was sent home to Ukpor in Nnewi South LGA leaving Joseph to lick his wounds. She was sent home after her WASC examination.

However, because of Joseph's desperation and determination to get Mary at all cost he went to Mary's school and got her WASC result so that he would use the opportunity to visit Mary in her village.

He took a night bus and arrived Umuahia, Abia State the following morning and informed his parents and other kinsmen that he was going to Ukpor, Nnewi for the Mary he plan to marry.

One of his relations took him to where he boarded a vehicle to Onitsha. He stopped at Ozubulu and took another vehicle to Ukpor. It was already getting late. As the journey progressed, it started raining heavily and darkness had descended. 'I was going to a place I had not been before with no specific address. It was only the name of the village I knew. We arrived Nnewi at and the downpour was still heavy. I didn't know anybody. The rain had forced people home early.

There was no sign of life. When the driver ordered every passenger to disembark at the end of the journey I told him that I was going to Ukpor and for the first time. He said he would not go there because it was late. I alighted in that rain while the driver drove off. He got to the final bus stop and turned. As he was heading back I walked and stood at the middle of the road. The driver got to me and came down and barked at me asking if I wanted to commit suicide. I told him that I don't know what to do that either he took me to Ukpor or I would go with him to spend the night in his home while I continue the following day.

I blackmailed him that if he left me there, and any harm befalls me, my blood would be on his head. After contemplation, he decided to take me to Ukpor. It got to a stage that going forward was not easy and to return was difficult. It was like I was stuck. We got there about 10pm and the rain had subsided and when we made enquiries we were directed to Mary's house and the driver handed me over to the family and replied me in the same blackmail that should anything happen to me henceforth, my blood would not be found on his hands.

The first person I saw was the wife of Mary's uncle who was also against me marrying Mary. She had visited home from Lagos. She asked what I came to do at Ukpor. They served me food. As I was in the sitting room, and members of the family were there, I was apprehensive to see the object of my mission. I didn't see her. I saw a woman with a child of about four on her lap and I guessed she was Mary's mother. The same baby she was carrying that night has today got married and has children. I asked the woman about Mary. She told me that Mary was living at Aba with her sister. I was crestfallen and realized that the risk I took didn't yield any positive result. The spoon I was holding fell off my hand. I couldn't continue the food because my hand was fidgeting. The room they took me to sleep, some of Mary's dresses were hanging there. That turned another nightmare.

The next morning, I left Ukpor for Umuahia and I couldn't tell my family what I went through. When I returned to Lagos, since I was hell bent on seeing her, the following week I put on a long face and was almost weeping and went to meet my boss, a whiteman and told him that I got an urgent message that I should come home immediately and I didn't know the reason. He immediately approved a week leave for me and consoled me to take it easy. After my fruitless visit to f Ukpor, I received a letter from Mary telling me where she was in Aba. With the address, I went to Aba. The brother in-law she was living with had been told about me and that he should ward me off any day I come for Mary. As I was trying to locate the address the brother in-law and his wife either by instinct knew me. As l approached the house he stood on the way and asked who I was.

I introduced myself and told him that I wanted to see Mary. He became hostile and told me that she has gone back to the village. I stood him eyeball to eyeball and told him it was a lie that wherever she was she must be produced because I must see her. I was taken to a shop where I met her. We hugged each other. For us, it was like flying into another world. Immediately after that the in-law and Mary's sister threw her belongings to the street. She started crying. I consoled her and decided on what to do that when I get to Lagos. Immediately, I rented a room apartment at Osho Drive, Olodi Apapa and decided to bring her to my place.

One evening I had just returned from work when my cousin who was a student then, that I had mentioned is now a grandmother brought a letter to me. I was excited because it came from Mary. I opened the letter, it was brief and Mary stated how her family forced her into marriage. I collapsed. My cousin and her parents wept as if they lost somebody. The shock made me land in the Ethiope hospital bed. The doctor took time to ask me what the problem was and counselled me and that helped to revive my life. Thereafter, I turned a misogynist. I hated women to the extent of my loathing mother. I stopped eating any food prepared by a woman. For me life was meaningless and empty. I never had interest in women any more.

I started attending the Christian Pentecostal Mission Church, Apapa. One day, in a very ugly coincidence, I was passing through Trinity area, Olodi Apapa when I looked in the direction of a crowd gathered for a celebration. Behold it was Mary in the group holding a glass of wine. As our eyes met, she instantly dropped the glass and left her husband and ran across the road towards me. The party was a gathering for the husband to introduce her to his trader colleagues. I quickened my pace because there was nothing binding us again. She was now another man's wife. She wanted to explain, I told her there was no need. A man joined us. She told me it is the husband. The man beckoned on me to come and join them in the celebration, which I refused and I turned and started going home. One day, I was in my room when she came with the man. He started imploring that I should forget the past. I told him that I don't bear any grudge and asked them to live in peace.

Mary's marriage didn't last. The man asked Mary to go back to her people that she was not his wife. The man married another woman.

It was the counsel of a brother in CPM where I was worshipping and had become a church worker that changed my mind. In 2002, I got married. That was 17 years after I would have married Mary. Two days to the wedding, the marriage almost collapsed because of the overbearing influence of my in-laws to be. My suitor's brother, herself and the sister came to warn that I should not question any movement of my wife after marriage else they would take her back.

After a year or so my wife didn't get pregnant. My in-laws said I was responsible, that the fault must come from me. They said I should go for fertility test. I did the first test, and it was proved that I was all right. They insisted that I went for another test at another hospital, the test also proved that I was very okay.

The doctor said my wife should equally do some test. The test showed that she had fibroid.

Before now I had changed job because Volkswagen had gone under. I was a truck driver with Chisco Transport Company. Toward the end of 2005, which is three years into the marriage., I was going to load some goods at Mile 12 market. I had just parked the lorry and was walking towards the market when a danfo (commercial bus) hit me and I fell into the gutter. People thought I had died. The commercial bus ran away. A soldier that watched the whole drama from Mile 12 Bridge went after the driver. He brought him back to the scene of the accident. I had terrible fracture on my left leg and at the scapular region. My leg bone broke into pieces. My wife was informed and she came over to the traditional bonesetter's home to look after me. I lay in bed for months where I ate, had my body 'polished' with water in the name of bath and also eased myself there for eight months.

While Joseph was in the hospital as a result of the accident, Mary's second husband also had an accident that damaged his spinal cord and he became paralyzed from waist down. Mary was bearing her own cross.

'Before the accident, I had a minor misunderstanding with my wife, and she had told me that she gave me seven days to die.

In 2006, while still looking after me, one day she told me that she was going to bring something from our home at Olodi Apapa. By then I had undergone physiotherapy and started learning to walk. The next day, her sister called me that my wife was ill. The following day, my pastor, my sister and other members of our church came to the hospital. They broke the sad news that my wife has passed on. My sister preempted what I could do and so removed all the otapiapia (rat poison) close to where I lay. Immediately they told me this sad news, I reached to where the otapiapia used to be and there was none. I had wanted to drink it to end my miserable life. People were coming to keep watch over me and to console me.

For Mary after her husband was taken to many places, native and orthodox for treatment, the condition didn't improve and her suffering had become unbearable, her family told her to opt out of the marriage as nothing good had come out of it and may not come out of it. She returned to her family empty handed.

Joseph said he was still convalescing in the hospital and had forgotten everything about Mary. 'For me, she must have had many children and had retired from child bearing with her first husband. I didn't know that her first marriage didn't stand and that she had even remarried and was out of marriage again.

One day, a relation gave me her phone number and I decided to call and just say hello to her. When I called she said she was coming to see me from Aba where she was residing. I asked about her husband she said I would know when she comes. She came and narrated the story of her life to me. All along Joseph didn't know that both were still in the same boat sailing on the boisterous waters of life – marriages and failures and childlessness as their common denominators.

She started taking care of me in the hospital till when the bonesetter certified that I was fit to return home and resume work. I resumed work with my employer and the same truck I was driving prior to the accident was reassigned to me. After working for sometimes I went home to meet my relations to accompany me to the traditional burial rite of my late wife since I was in the hospital when she died and I didn't do the necessary rites.

We went to her village, which is not very far from mine with relations. We were astonished by a statement from my mother in-law that the person expected to die didn't, instead it was another person. One of my kinsmen flared up and told her the cord that binds both families as in-laws has been severed.

By 2007, I started the process of formalising my relationship with Mary. I went home and informed my kinsmen and reminded them of the girl I told them in 1985 that I was going for at Ukpor. They encouraged me and even remarked that the one that was close to them didn't work. We had the traditional marriage.

All those who opposed their marriage in 1985 are singing a new song today. They are now happy and some have even apologised to them. In 2008, the marriage was solemnised at the Catholic Church in Olodi Apapa. Today the marriage is blessed with two children whose names were based on the circumstances the couple found themselves in. Joseph said the first child who is a little above two years is Amarachi ( Chineke's grace) and the boy of about three months is Odera (God has written it).

For Mary what her anthem was during her trial period was that man has only two days. The day of birth and the day of death, that for her she has been born what remains is death. According to her when she was forced into the marriage, she told her family that the man they have foisted on her was not her husband and this she said for the second.

She poignantly recalled that if her people had allowed them to marry 25 years ago, they would have probably been grandparents and now she has just started. She took consolation form the Holy book, that all things work together for them that love Christ and again in every situation thanks should be given to God.

Needless to say the two are made for each other and their love is ageless. Joseph is still a commercial driver and vows that any work that would make him not to see his family everyday should rather be forgotten. He would not touch such a job whatever the remuneration.