Darkness closed around me claustrophobically like barn walls around stockpiled yams. Thing is, I am even feeling all shrivelled up inside like stored yam. For the first time, the chorus of chirping crickets and croaking frogs refused to give me much needed surcease. Sleep fled my eyes like an elusive antelope flees a bullet from a hunter’s dane gun. Through the broken thatch roof of my home, the stars winked at me inexorably and merrily, unperturbed by my troubled state. Thankfully, the rains have stopped, if not the night would have been more miserable than this. The torrential rush of “Aguiyi” River during the rainy season seems quite placid comparatively to how my insides churned. A roaring churning made worse by the ravaging hunger which a few roasted cocoyams dipped in congealed palm oil could not abate. The despondent bleating of the lone goat outside surmised my whole situation aptly, I was frustrated, hungry, tired and wretched.
The town criers message two market days ago still rung in my soul like his gong, a painful resonance that refused to be drowned. Ujuebuka (prodigious abundance, expansive wealth), the princess, was going to be given to the winner of a king organised wrestling contest and whoever won was also going to get half the kingdom to boot. The news was like a death blow to me. I LOVE HER!!! I ought to have carried the palm wine for her marital rites before now but since my father was not an Nze and we were dirt poor, the “Eze of Umudo”, her father, would hear none of it. He had been trying to convince her since forever that ours was puppy love and a dejected, poverty ridden person like me was not meant for the palace. He said I was a leper enveloped by the sores of penury, an outcast. Ah! How that rankles! Yet, looking around my hovel, I knew the Eze was not far from the truth. Worse still, she had been barred from seeing me! I missed the sweetness of her voice and her brilliant sheen that made it seem she constantly bathed with “eluaku”, palm kernel oil. I continuously tell her she must have been sculpted out of burnished, black bronze and that she sways when she walks like the reeds along the riverbank when the evening wind blows. Eewww, Ujuebuka, obim, my heart! Hot tears of self pity burnt and scarred my eyelids.
I met “Ajomadu”, the prince of Mmuoku, yesterday and he had laughed me to scorn. He had always so wanted to win my Uju’s hand but she would not even grace his brooding dark presence with a smile. The prince was the best wrestler in the seven clans and also the richest. It is said that it takes two men to carry each yam harvested from his farms. Furthermore he has a mean streak and is quite fetish. Rumour has it that he is backed by “Agbara” the most evil of the earth gods. As I walked past him lost in the forest of my thoughts, he called out to me “beggar lover, you have finally lost eh”. “I cannot wait to lay my hands on you during the competition”. I nearly urinated on myself as fear clawed at my innards like an angry leopard. The last person the evil prince wrestled with is still crippled and I know he detests me because my love preferred me. Fear or not though, I was going to fight for her hand or die trying. For Obim, I would dare the evil forest even if I have to lose my life.
“The seed of the Iroko never looks like the Iroko”, I keep hearing Papa say as he lay, wasted on his death bed. We could not even afford to buy the meagre things needed by the priest for the divination that ought to make him whole. However, he told me before his demise that the secret for a change of our status was for me to meet “Okeosisi” the High Priest who lives where the hills meet the skies in “Eligweuwa” the land where the sun never sets. “It is too late for me now son, your great grandfather told me to go on this quest but I decided to consult the priests of our land instead and found out they were all charlatans with oracles that are full of lies. By the time the truth dawned on me, it was too late and I spent the rest of my days trying to cultivate our cursed earth which was back breaking, fruitless work. “My son, the seed is in you but for you to become an Iroko, you must find Okeosisi” he rasped.
Initially, I thought my father was just talking from the delirium of a fever ravaged mind. However, his sayings stuck to me like water on a rain drenched rat and refused to dry up, long after his demise. Since I had nothing to lose, I took my raffia bag, blunt cutlass and off I went to Eligweuwa.
It was hard going! The journey was tedious and tough. I must have been out of my mind to have believed my father and undertaken this journey. The country I sought was where the skies met the hills, a place where most people never reach. However, as a rule, I do not start what I don’t finish, so I stuck to my mission doggedly.
I finally got there and it was the most beautiful land I had ever seen. The fountains were clean and clear and sprung out of the ground with a lively force. They were filled with all sorts of beautiful fish even the ones I had never seen in River Aguiyi. There was honey, fruits and game everywhere. If not for Uju, I would have built a camp here and never gone back. When I took a sip of the water to assuage my thirst, I felt I would never thirst again for the rest of my life. I broke out of my reverie and sought out the High Priest.
I finally found Him in a tent amongst a grotto of trees. He was so old with hair whiter than the whitest lamb in the whole of Umudo. On the other hand, He was so agile, so full of life that the air around Him seemed to crackle like the heavens before a storm. His eyes were so merry, so kind, and so full of laughter and love. “Ikemefuna” welcome He said. I was dazed with surprise!
“How did you know my name I asked”?
“Before you were conceived, I knew you. Look at my hand”, He replied, stretching forth his hand for me to take a proper look at.
“Ewooooo” I cried! My name was engraved on His palm, amongst many others but mine was of the biggest print, and seemed to fill the whole hand.
“If you knew me, how come you never revealed Yourself to me”, I asked.
“I did but you never noticed and the way it works is that you can only find me when you search for me with all your heart” Okeosisi replied. I know why you are here and you have come to the right place”.
“Are you sure old man”?
Anger flashed in his eyes like lightening. “I WOULD SELF DESTRUCT BEFORE MY ORACLES LIES, If you can believe, all things are possible boy! I am called Okeosisi because my words have NEVER FAILED and would never”!
“You will defeat Ajomadu but it is not through your power or by your might that this will be achieved. Your arms of flesh will not prevail, they will fail you abysmally! You would have to key into the power that made the heavens and earth, boy, to beat your opponent”!
I went to my knees, “I believe Father”!
“Good, my son, very good”!
He killed a lamb and washed me in its blood. To my surprise, He cut Himself and allowed the blood to drip into an earthenware cup, and then also cut part of His flesh. For your transformation to take place, you will need to enter a covenant with me by eating my flesh and drinking my blood. I gasped and baulked in horror but looking into His eyes, I could see He was very serious! My flesh like pounded yam would give you strength and since the life of anything is in its blood, drinking mine would flood you with my life” He continued. So I obeyed. Lastly, he brought out a ram horn filled with the sweetest smelling oil ever and anointed me. I felt reborn!
…….the match was over and Ajomadu was still on the floor writhing in pain like a beheaded serpent. He could not believe it! The whole village was agog as the drums thumped and throbbed crazily! A new champion had been born.
All the excitement was lost on me as I hugged Ujuebuka to my bosom, revelling in the softness of her love like a weaver’s egg in its nest. My heart felt like a broken gourd that was carrying sweet palm-wine of joy which had now spilled into every fibre of my being. As rivulets of tears flowed down our eyes, I looked up to the hills from whence came my help and muttered a silent thank you.
……THOU ANNOINTEST MY HEAD WITH OIL, MY CUP RUNNETH OVER!!!
© 2013 Ekpo Ezechinyere