Nelly Uchendu, who died 10 years ago, was a beautiful woman. But it was something else she was better known for: she had enchantment where other human beings have voices. Once you heard her sing, you were bewitched for life.
On account of that amazing voice, she won recognition and acclaim for every song she ever sang, and received the National Honour of Member of the Order of the Niger. Some of her songs became instant anthems across Nigerian ethnicities, generations, gender and language.
She was obviously also an extremely wise woman, and in “Wakabout”, perhaps her biggest hit, Nelly put that wisdom at the service of girls who desired marriage, urging caution in the selection of a suitor.
“Buyer beware” is a quick summary of what she told them.
“If you want to marry a husband, never you marry a wakabout. If you marry a wakabout o, tomorrow trouble-trouble-trouble. Trouble-trouble trouble. So so palava, na so so trouble-trouble-trouble!”
A “wakabout”, for the uninitiated, is literally a street wanderer, or a person of low standards, low ambitions and low prospects. Choosing such a husband, Nelly warned, yields grief.
She was urging girls with marriage on their minds to take time to seek someone who would love and uplift them; a partner they could be proud of; one who would not embarrass, or hurt, or betray.
She offered the example of a young girl, a “Sweet-16” who had befriended a certain monster.
When you think about it, the trouble with monsters is not that they are monsters. If there is a monster in the context of the jungle or a zoo, the rules are clear, and if you deploy discretion and follow those rules, you are unlikely to get hurt.
In real life, the monster is not in the restraints of a cage or in a wild life conservation park. The wolf is in the form of the dog or the goat. The monster is the trusted neighbor or friend or relative—until it is too late.
Nelly illustrated her point with the story of that Sweet-16 and a man she dated. And what a man! He was handsome (check!); loaded with cash (check!); had a car (check!); a very big car (check!); a very big car with air-conditioning (check!)…
On the flip side, armed with just her youth and beauty and inexperience she was last seen smiling shyly as she entered that car and closed the door.
The besotted Sweet-16 ignored her mother’s advice, as she did her father’s. Worse still, she failed to investigate the man.
Hers was really an easy story to understand: the prized but unwary village queen failing to resist the rich, powerful Adonis sweeping her off her senses.
And she must have been the envy of all her friends because, sang Nelly, she became the beneficiary of a lavish wedding. A very big wedding, she testified, “a society marriage…a Big Man marriage.”
A wedding is a wonderful idea, partly because you cannot have a marriage without one.
The fascinating thing about a marriage is that it is often nothing promised or predicted by the wedding. A wedding might come with glitter and glamor and lights and laughter, while the marriage proceeds with absolutely none of those. A wedding may be sedate and discreet and somber, only for the marriage to light up the community and the skies with warmth, generosity and spirit.
A wedding may come with loads of cash and presents and guests, only to be succeeded by a marriage which largely lacks them all. A wedding may arrive in an uproarious brawl, while the marriage unfolds in peace and harmony before everyone it comes in contact with.
The point is not that a marriage cannot be healthy and hopeful, but that the guarantees, if any, are independent of the wedding as a ceremony or a forecast. The one essential element is that matrimonial bliss simply cannot thrive if it planted in a soil of weeds and thorns. Buyer, beware!
I am unsure if Nelly’s Sweet-16 knew any of this, having convinced herself that if he is Prince Charming, he must be Mr. Right.
It might not have mattered. Nelly then published the man’s credentials as she might have uncovered them or listened to the evidence around her.
“The man, na wayo Number One o!
A drunkard, a gambler
A father of many children
A thief, and a rogue
And a smuggler
Maker of counterfeit…!”
It is not often that one man is such an abominable and comprehensive animal. This one was.
But he was also much, much more. According to Nelly, he was also a former boxer.
No, it is not a crime to be a boxer. Or a former boxer, for that matter. In this case, Nelly said, he practiced his best jabs, uppercuts and bombs on his wife at every opportunity.
“When he drunk o, (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife o
When him vex o, (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife o
When him tire o, (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife o
When him broke o, (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife o
When him sleep o, (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife o
Even when him drunk (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife…”
Na so-so palava (ehen!) Igbaga…on him wife…”
What Nelly was trying to say is that, sometimes, we can predict our own future because it is the sum of what we are doing with our own hands. That is: that what we sew is what we reap; that if we are conscious of cause and consequence, we can influence our fate and improve our chances.
Now, then, Nigerian, are you getting married next Saturday and/or on the 11th of April? Remember:
“If you want to marry a husband, never you marry a wakabout…”