It was the beginning of harmattan and a chilly wind blew dust across the landscape of the lonesome village. The night was leaden and so dark that stars were terrified to come out for their twinkling games. The moon, initially with enthusiastic bravado had attempted to brave the gloom, but ultimately its spirit had been broken. With paralysing dread it had slunk into shadowy clouds and the wan smile it managed in the circumstances was completely wiped out. It was a night where even thrushes could not find the courage to sing. A solitary owl, bulbous eyes afire with luminosity emitted sorrowful hoots that pricked nerve endings into eruption of goose bumps.
A sharp cry sliced through the night, a machete through the tangled underbrush of darkness and created a path for the rolling waves of agonizing wails that followed in its wake. The trail of agony led to one of the village huts where incense and wood smoke made the eyes water. A wicker lamp tried valiantly to keep the night at bay but all it did was scatter maniacally dancing shadows all over the walls. Two birth attendants attended to a woman in labour. Tears and perspiration had soaked her straw mattress. As she moaned and wept, it was obvious that she was on a rack of excruciating torture. She clamped and gritted her teeth until she was at the risk of wearing them down to the gums. The midwives in all their years had never experienced such difficult labour, and the hopelessness of the case made them weep. She was about the kindest woman in the village and they could not bear the thought that she was about to be embraced by the cold arms of death. Her husband paced the length and breadth of the hut despondently. Within him, tears bubbled, broke, spilled and then ran with unrestrained exultation. The room was the stage of a weeping opera.
The man walked out sobbing, heaving forcefully as his tears poured rain. He kept shaking his head, bewildered by the turn of events. They had been married for fifteen years. Their first year produced a beautiful daughter who died following an infectious epidemic, since then they had been trying to no avail. That was until nine months ago when mercy’s magnanimity shined on them. However, it was a cruel joke, the ikoko, pottery carrying the hopes and dreams of endless days was about to be shattered. Their hamlet was miles away from the nearest clinic, so they had to make do with traditional birth attendants. Salvation was nowhere in sight! He shivered from a freezing chill that that was beyond that of the breath from the harmattan’s chapped lips. The iciness he felt came from the subterranean courts of Iku, death’s cold gusts powered by the flapping wings of innumerable vultures.
It would be a devastating loss if the baby passed on, but he could not live a second without Iremide. Ever since he met her fetching water at the village stream years ago, his life had never been the same. The dimples that flared with amusement at the slightest provocation had hooked him hopelessly. That day he traded places with the fish he had been trying to catch as she reeled him into the crystal clear pool of her heart. Iremide, whom he called moin-moin alata mi, his spicy pie made from blended beans. Decades had flown past, yet at her smiles, his heart still fluttered like a frenzied labalaba, a crazed butterfly. His love’s smile was always in the similitude of cowry white petals opening up to sunshine. Iremide who walked with a swing that perpetually danced to life’s music. Iremide who had more curves than the image of Ewa, the goddess of beauty his ancestors worshiped aeons ago. He often joked that it should have been her figurine standing in the place of the timeworn goddess. Of course, her modesty always made her scoff at such encomiums, saying he was drunk. He was actually drunk, giddy on her love. It was sweeter than freshly tapped wine. At such moments, he would cradle her head on his chest and stroke her jet black corn rows oiled generously with shea butter. Now, all was conspiring to take his wife. Not wanting to see her as she died, he had walked away. He collapsed under a mango tree, prostrate with grief as the tree mercilessly pelted him with ripe and rotten fruits. In his wretchedness, he lifted up his eyes to the far ancient hills towering beyond the clouds. Though blurred by the film of tears covering his eyes, they stood majestic and tall. Their heights towered impregnably high for all to see despite the cloak of darkness, regardless of the foggy haze of the distant skies.
Up, in the sky, the shining warrior woke groggily rose to his feet. He was under siege, contained and limited by the demons of darkness. A prisoner in the dungeons of night, he was tired of his incarceration. All night long, he had forged his sword of light in heaven’s smith. When the flashing steel was good and ready, he rose and went against his dark foes. Sword gleaming, he parted them left and right, dividing them into a profusion of flowery colours as they died. Up above, the sky glowed pink, then the heavens gleamed purple and orange. Highlighted by the explosion of colours, the peak of the hills blazed golden.
It seemed like a long way off, but the sound of a baby pierced through the heavy curtains of grief. One of the midwives was running like crazy, fell, pulled herself up and kept running and shouting. “Ire ti bi mo (Ire has given birth)!” He gathered his tie and dye jumper and ran down to the hut. As he ran in, his wife was gathering a pink baby shouting lustily towards her breast. Though quite pale, she looked at him lovingly with an exhausted smile. All the love in the world swam in the enchanting twin calabashes of her eyes; he looked, dove in and drowned in the strong currents of her affection. He couldn’t resist and got carried along by the force of it all until he was kneeling by the bedside holding on to them. “Oba, Ayooluwa ti de, the joy of the Lord has arrived” she uttered faintly. “O wa ni owuro, he came at dawn” he replied. Ayooluwa has always been the name they had agreed to christen the new entrant into the world. At the same time, a burst of choruses from a choir of birds serenaded daylight. Sunshine, glorious in appearance broke through the only window in the room, and in its benevolence showered all and sundry with rays of golden coins. The man with tears still running down though of a different nature now smiled. It was a new dawn, a good morning…
……WEEPING MIGHT ENDURE FOR A NIGHT BUT JOY COMES IN THE MORNING……
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