“Given away” to settle a long-standing family debt, Ola is a young, strong-willed woman who in time learns that even in captivity, her heart would always roam free..
How could Father do this to me? Ola thought in despair as she stood with bowed head in the midst of the men. They were five in number, the Habu brothers, and then, a little far off, her own two brothers. Her father stood close beside her, his hand on her arm.
“Accept this as a token of our appreciation,” she heard her father say to the eldest of the brothers, who was also the tallest and broadest – and darkest. She could hardly look at any of them. She was more concerned with her father’s words, spoken in a hushed, reverent tone. “This”? Was that what she had become? She certainly felt less than human right then; felt something like a sheep being led to the slaughter – or worse still, a bag of grain bartered in the market-place. It felt terrible.
“You did well, Farmer Kuku,” the eldest said, his voice deep and rumbling like rocks off a steep hillside. She shivered at the mere sound of it, just as his gaze, piercing and long, fell on her. She dared not raise her eyes to meet it, but she felt it all the same. Once more, she shivered in the chill of the moon-lit evening.
The eldest brother went on, “The plots of farm land you bought from us remain yours now. And the loan, the debt, is cleared. I guess you can sleep better tonight with the knowledge of this.”
Kuku her father laughed nervously. “My whole family will sleep better tonight, Danga Habu. And we thank you for your generosity.”
Thank him? Ola thought with anger, her eyes flashing for a second up at her father. He wasn’t the one giving away his youngest daughter! Why should her family be thankful ? Ola decided her father had got the worse end of the bargain – and he’d never know it. Okay, so her family owed the Habus ten bags of cowries for the three plots of farmlands they had bought on credit ten years ago. Ola had only been nine at the time. Her father had hoped to pay back the debt in two years, but bad crops and several family misfortunes had driven them to such level of need that they had, and were still, unable to pay the debt. And so, her father had offered her as a “token”. The Habus accepted the bid, and here she was.
“Ola, go now,” her father said softly to her now, and by “go”, she was sure she knew what he meant. But she couldn’t move.
“You belong to the Habus now,” Kuku added to his young daughter, his voice gentle. “They are your new family.”
Ola gulped, and at last, forced herself to look up, up at the men in front of her. She knew them all – or at least, knew of them. Huge brutes of men, sons of the powerful second-in-command to the chief of their village. They were a rich, influential family with many sons and even more daughters. Their father had many wives and an equal number of concubines, some of which had been given as gifts or “tokens” to the family. As she had just been given. And she couldn’t help wondering, whose concubine she was to be. There had been no talk of marriage so obviously she was not to be wifed to any of them. She had not been told much of anything at all, but she was old enough to know that she wasn’t joining the Habu family as an additional sister! No, for all she knew, she would be taken as their servant or maid to one of the wives. She was a poor farmer’s daughter after all. What other use could she ever be to them?
It was Danga who spoke, and she turned slowly to him. He stood mere yards away, his hand outstretched. She didn’t want him or any of them to know how much her heart quaked and fell at the thought of having to go with them. Without a backward glance at her father or brothers, she took one step, and then another, to Danga. He took her arm, and drew her to his side. She barely reached past his elbow, tall as she was. She still could not look at him, or any of them. Danga’s large hand encircled her slender arm and already, she felt like a prisoner in shackles.
Somehow, from that day, she knew she’d never be free again.
“You have to eat, girl,” Danga said, nodding to the dish placed next to her. She was in his chamber, a large hut well-lit and furnished with a downy bed of skins. She sat on the mat on the floor, her head bowed, her feet tucked beneath her. She hadn’t looked up at him since she’d been brought to his room.
She shook her head, her throat too choked with swallowed tears to speak.
He grunted, then came to her side, crooking a finger beneath her chin and lifting it so she was forced to meet his eyes. He was annoyed by the glistening moisture he saw in the dark pools of her eyes. She was crying! “You are very lovely. How old are you?” She swallowed, and he said more harshly, “How old, Ola?”
“I. . I am nineteen,” she said at last, her tone lifeless. Her gaze fell from his face, discomfited by the intensity of his gaze upon her. He was a handsome man with dark brows and sculpted, firm lips. His head was smooth-shaven as was his broad jaw. But none of this detracted from the looming, dark presence and the aura of power that emanated from him. Ola felt like a mouse in the den of a tiger.
“A woman already,” he said appreciatively. His hand left her chin to smooth over her bare shoulder. He felt her flinch at his touch. “A virgin, of course. Your father assured me of that.”
She felt some of her fury return, and she lifted her head to meet his eyes defiantly. “Of course,” she spat. “I wouldn’t be much of a gift if I wasn’t, now would I?”
He chuckled, glad to see she had at last come to life. He wasn’t much taken with her earlier morose aspect. “Oh, I don’t know. Your youth and beauty would have sufficed for us. But I am glad that at least, we got you in, should I say, good condition.” His white teeth flashed in a grin. It was the most feral thing Ola had ever seen. Every thing about him, she felt, seemed untamed, raw. She shivered to think what he could do to her if he had a mind to be cruel.
“You know why you’re here, don’t you?” he asked quietly.
She shrugged. “My family owed you money. I was given in exchange for that. I’m not a child, Danga.” She said his name boldly, and he liked the sound of it from her lips. And what lips, he thought with narrowed eyes. Full and soft looking, they beckoned to him to crush them beneath his. Just as her almond-shaped eyes told him to go to hell.
“No, apart from that,” he said, waving her words aside. “Here, in my chamber. You know why I took you.”
Her bravado slipped at this, and she did not reply because she honestly couldn’t. His ensuing laugh was somewhat mocking. “Aah, you don’t know. But of course, no one told you. You are to be mine, Ola, in every way. My plaything, my servant – and what ever else I choose. And when I tire of you, then maybe, I can pass you to any of my younger brothers. Or all of them, in fact. They are not averse to sharing.” He shrugged. The look on her face was almost comical, but he refrained from laughing. She had to know what she was in for.
“You are fortunate, you know,” he said musingly. “My father was very interested in adding you to his league of concubines. Even though he is well past sixty, he would have been able to wear you out in a week.”
“And I guess you – and your brothers – are more humane,” she said through gritted teeth.
His lids lowered, and his hand slid from her shoulder to tug at the front fastening of her strapless tunic. She drew in air as she felt his fingers graze her now exposed cleavage, her heart pounding like a sledgehammer. “Trust me, Ola; you would find it more. . . pleasurable, to serve at my young, virile loins, and my brothers, too, than at my father’s – capable though he still is.” He chuckled again.
Ola did not see the humour in his words. “I don’t think “pleasure” would ever be a feature between me or any of your clan,” she said bitterly. His smile faded.
“Don’t be too sure of that, lovely Ola,” he murmured, his eyes narrowed to slits. “You have a sharp tongue on you. I’m sure I can find a way to put it to better use tonight.” And with those words, he ripped the bodice of her dress apart.