On our way, for close to an hour, we stopped to visit Ayobami’s aunt in Asaba, whom I was to meet for the first time. We had intended the visit as a surprise, but while dallying in the car to grab a wedding souvenir for her, she spotted us. She shrieked and pointed with glee. Before then, for most of the journey from Benin City onward, we had been stopped at checkpoints that seemed innumerable. “Human speed bumps,” Ayobami called the police officers that manned them. Sometimes they were positioned no more than five hundred meters apart. Likely, this had to do with the pandemic, for police officers were deployed to ensure that lockdown measures were adhered to. But it is likely, as well, that the officers—strewn as they were across midwestern Nigeria, the region directly leading to Igboland—were portents of Nigeria’s shadow conflict with Biafran agitators.
We passed a hotel named Judge Yourself Blessed, a petrol station known as John Berger Nigeria Limited; there was a moment when, in the stretch of road between Asaba and Enugu, a police officer asked the driver we’d hired if he was Yoruba, and, once he responded in the affirmative, waved us on unchecked.
Now in Asaba, welcomed with genuine delight, we had stopped at a bump no less human but far more instructive. A matter of the arc of affection: that quick, thrilling evaluation made by in-laws you have never met. Ayobami’s aunt said of us, “Whatever makes you leave your ethnic group to marry is genuine.”
When they met for the first time, my stepmother told Ayobami of a dream she’d had, which I hadn’t heard until then: A church service has just ended, and they are to return to the house together. But my stepmother is delayed by a chat, and Ayobami is kept waiting. My father walks past. When he sees Ayobami, he points her in the direction of our house.
I knew the unspoken anxiety precipitating the dream, as well as its significance. Ayobami’s family was from Ilesha, a Yoruba town. Many Igbo families I knew, including mine, preferred marriage within our ethnic group. “I cried inside my room,” my stepmother told me later, of the day I informed her Ayobami was Yoruba. “Then I prayed,” she said, “and God told me she was right for you,”
I tried to make sense of my stepmother’s anxieties, what my father’s might have been, if he had lived to see me get married. My brother had also married a Yoruba woman. We were sons raised outside Igboland, and hence at a remove from our culture. Our choice of spouses would make our family less and less lgbo or, even, more and more Yoruba. I didn’t agree with the estimation, primarily because I had never arrived at an understanding of what made me distinctly lgbo. Yet my stepmother’s dream and her transformation from skepticism to acceptance were the clarifying indicators that I had received parental blessing for my marriage.
Editor’s Note: VALENTINE SEASON SPECIAL-Excerpted from I AM STILL WITH YOU: A Reckoning With Silence, Inheritance and History by Emmanuel Iduma. Originally published in English language by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. This is the second of four selected excerpts from books around the world, across cultures, to celebrate the season of love.