“Osu! Tainted by association!” my Uncle Ike roared at me while I stood, a lone figure amongst members of my kindred, my only ally in the gathering although she was a bit shaky too was my mother.
“Richard is an Osu, tainted by association” my Uncle roared again, as if to burn his words permanently into my head. He really needed to roar at me to bring me back to him, because I was already lost in thought, examining the phrase “tainted by association”. I had never heard it before in life but I easily understood that what my Uncle was trying to say in a colourful way was that my Richard was contaminated, like germs on good food or like food that had fallen to shit.
“Tainted by association!” Uncle Ike roared again jolting me out of my thoughts and of course irritating me by his constant use of the phrase! O gini di? Couldn’t he talk without saying those words repeatedly? It was beginning to annoy me biko! “Omalicha” he called me, “I gaghi anu Richard, he is an osu!” thankfully he refrained from adding the hated words this time.
My darling Richard, strong determined, dogged Richard, caring friend, motivator, advisor and lover. My 1st and only choice, he wasn’t born osu, his family had been free from that horrid, senseless tag all of his life and his relations were currently still not regarded as osu. So why was Richie m different? I will tell you after I explain what osu is.
Osu according to my people in Igbo land refers to people who took solace in idols either for respite from persecutions or for protection from their enemies. Bottom-line was, once those people asked the deity’s protection, they became outcasts, living sacrifices to the idol, outright lepers not to be interacted with. Nobody was allowed to have relations with them, marrying them was definitely out of the question. Marrying an “osu” did not liberate the “osu”, it made you “osu” too whether you were male or female.
Back to my Richie! He became “osu” by interaction, let me rephrase, prolonged interaction. My dogged darling had lost his parents in a freak accident immediately after his service year and had had to fend for himself and two younger sisters. The Sisters quickly attached themselves to Uncles, Aunties and friends and got by while Richard struggled to make a proper home for them. A wealthy couple from Richie’s hometown had offered to help him out. They were osu! My Richie was advised repeatedly to disdain any offer of help from the couple, wealth did not make them acceptable in the eyes of his people, but he refused and accepted their help. With them, he spent many years, he secured his plum job and established his part time business, he made a home for his sisters and brought them all under one roof again, he prospered! His benefactors were awesome people who cleared the part for him while he struggled every year he stayed with them, he was regarded as one of them, apparently he stayed so long he became one of the osu people.
I met my Richie 2 years back and he told me his story. I loved and admired him for it and I confidently told him that living with people considered osu did not make him osu and such nonsense was outdated. How little I knew! I brought him to my family to announce our intentions and my Uncle Ike was practicing his borrowed lines on us. Uncle Ike and elders who knew nothing of his struggles, nothing of his strength and perseverance and absolutely nothing of his love for me. I was still deep in my recollections when Uncle’s voice pierced through again, “Omalicha, I nuo osu, I bulu osu and you cannot spoil the family history and lineage by tainting it with osu blood. I still think hearing the taint word that last time was what pushed me over the edge and I burst out, “Osu my foot!”. I can still hear the shocked gasps of the entire family and see the expressions of outrage on their faces, the slacked jaws of my immediate family.
In 2 days’ time, I will be safely married to Richard, I do not expect my kinsmen to be there, only immediate family and our friends, this means that in 2 days’ time, I will either become osu or remain a normal human being to normal people who do not hold on to ancient customs? Which is it?