Fiction||Ewa| Ojulari wakes up to trouble
Wake up! You have slept enough. Because when things get out of hand now, they will say I did not do my duties well.” The sound of Arike’s clap over her sleeping husband was as unwelcoming as the cries of a thousand mosquitoes on a hot night. He stirred awake. Arike stormed out of the room in a mad dash and rushed into the compound, loosed her iro and flapped it around her. Then she re-tied it and resumed her shout. It was her turn to sleep in Akande’s room. She was with him last night when the whole village turned upside down.
“I do not need a woman to tell me what to do. Why can’t you just keep your mouth shut? Are you the only crazy woman in Ojulari? Were we not here when it happened?” Her husband, a man in his early sixties asked as he stepped out of his room. He plucked his agbada from the wall where he had hung it last night and reached into its pocket for his chewing stick. He nodded at Sade, his second wife who knelt to greet him before stepping into the compound. Iya Agba sat on a small apoti in the veranda, with a detached expression on her face.
“Yes, I agree I am crazy. See, your mates are outside looking for solution while you snored in your sleep. I did you a huge favour by waking you up. I shall not spend another night in this village if nothing is done about what happened last night.” Arike raised her voice higher, waking their neighbours. Sade stood beside Iya Agba, the first wife, who continued to watch the drama quietly. She knew better than to contribute whenever Arike was talking.
The coldness in Ojulari was not unaccounted for as the village was fenced by huge mountains and encircled by tall trees. Houses were tightly packed as most of their land space had been swallowed by the mountains and river. Farming activities were carried out at the edge of the village, far from the houses where fewer mountains were. Mud houses and thatched roofs were the only clues that suggested that people lived in the village. One had to only take a few steps before reaching the next mud house and thatched roof.
Akande walked up to one of the groups of men who stood in clusters, while their wives eavesdropped behind closed doors. Children had been forbidden from going out. All the other women had not waited for the first cock crow before they pushed their men out of bed. The only difference was that, none of them was as dramatic as Arike. They wanted them to go to the King and ask about what happened the previous night. Eventually, Iyalode and seven elders were delegated to go to the king to seek for solution.
Though it was a ritual to go fetch water by the women very early in the morning, today, none ventured out. The resultant fear from last night still had a strong hold on them all. Except for Arike.
“Iyale mi, will you not go to the river?” Arike asked Sade. It was the duty of the last wife to fetch water for the first wife.
“I will go later in the day when things have calmed down.” Sade replied. Her voice was low, just like her height.
“I want to go but I cannot go alone. Funlola is ill if not, she would have followed me.” Arike complained. Sade turned to go back into her room, but noticed that her godo was empty. She sighed, then grabbed her water pot and followed Arike out of the compound. They went to Olasunbo’s house and met his two wives outside.
“We are going to the river.” Arike announced.
Iyabo quickly answered. “We are not going. I think it is safe to stay indoors. I might even decide not to go to the market today.” Iyabo had a small stall in the market where she sold vegetables. She reached under the bench and withdrew a big basket containing green leaves. She used the ropes from a brown sack to bind the vegetables into their various prices then, arranged them on the rough ground.
Arike decided to sit with them. She reached under her, gathered her iro between her thighs and spread her knees wide, opening and closing them at intervals. Sade leaned against the walls of the old mud house which complimented her brown colour.
Aduke sprinkled water on the dusty ground and started sweeping. Dry leaves were scattered all over the compound.
“Hmm, may our eyes not behold evil.” Arike said, calling the attention of the other women to herself.
“Abi o, ase.” The women chorused and continued with their chores except for Sade who had opted to watch them work.
“While we are looking for what to kill, may we not find what will kill us.” Arike prayed again.
The women chorused ase again.
“And what happened yesterday night, may we not witness it again.” At last, she had their undivided attention. She stood up and headed in the direction of the river.
Iyabo pushed her basket under the bench while Aduke threw her broom on the ground. They both ran inside to fetch their water pots and hurried after Arike. Sade picked her water pot from the ground and joined them.
“Ah, that incidence, it is like swallowing akara that has no salt, you chew it and keep quiet.” Sade was always edging away from troubled waters.
“Enh? Chew what? I know I will spit it out and even insult the person that fried the salt-less akara.” Arike had no trouble saying it the way she saw it.
“Who would have guessed that what happened yesterday was as a result of Oluweri’s anger. We have offended her and she is angry, so angry that she almost pulled our roofs from our houses yesterday. If not that she changed her mind and pitied us, we all would have been food for the gods by now.” Iyabo, Olasunbo’s first wife explained. The two sides of her cheeks were designed with straight tribal marks reaching from the corners of her lips to the lower part of her ears, giving her a cartoonish look. Her hips moved rhythmically as she balanced her water pot against her big waist.
Aduke chuckled, “I will not say you are lying. How dare I? You that plan and make decisions for the river goddess herself, how can you not be right?” The other women laughed. By now, they were already close to the river.
“What is so funny now? Do you need a seer to tell you that she is angry? What happened yesterday, has it ever happened before?” Iyabo queried.
“No, but we should not assume the worst. Would you like to witness Oluweri’s anger? Let us hope it had something to do with the weather or something else.” Sade tried to convince others as well as herself.
“Weather! Have you ever seen that kind of weather?” Arike placed her hands on her tiny waist and pushed her chest out, almost dropping the empty water pot on her head.
“No.” Sade calmly answered, transferring her water pot from under one arm to the other.
“Toh!” Arike had a penchant for proving her co-wife wrong.
“Say whatever you want. All I know is that, what happened last night was not a joke. And I suspect it is not unconnected with the river goddess. That is what I think.” Aduke had to say her piece.
“Eh, stop this play please, we are only stone throws away from the river and you are talking about the river goddess like you are discussing the price of locust beans in the market. I pity you.” Sade reasoned.
“May my mouth not put me in trouble.” Aduke said and the others chorused after her as they got to the river.
Water cascaded from the cliff, pouring and running down the rock. The water flowed further, forming an endless stream of water. The air around the river was refreshing, enveloping everyone around with its coolness. There was a misty cloud, making it seem like rain was drizzling from the sky. Smaller rocks sat regally in the middle of the river, where the river goddess usually sat. The women lined up to greet her, as was custom before fetching the water.
“Owner of our land, husbands and children, protector of the weak, we have come again to fetch from your river that never runs dry. Bless us with it, we plead.” They chorused and waited for water to trickle from inside the hut. That was the sign they needed before they could fetch water from the river.
They looked at the surroundings of the hut but everywhere was dry. They repeated the chant again but still, there was no sign.
“This is strange.” Iyabo said.
“And I still have to go to the market and we cannot fetch if she does not allow us.” Arike was getting restless.
“Let us look around.” Sade suggested, already moving away from the women.
“Enh? Around where? You want to see the goddess?” Arike screeched.
“I am going back home. I think I still have some water at home.” Aduke was already turning back to the village.
“You want to look for the river goddess after what happened yesterday? Are you tired of living? I do not even know why we came here today.” Arike said and went to join Aduke.
“Wait, it was your idea to come to the river. Now you are afraid? We will not go far. We should not be so foolish as to come to the river, not fetch water and start crying of thirst when we get home. How can we come this far and not fetch water?” Sade tried again.
Iyabo was not sure if she wanted to stay or not. She hugged her pot tighter as though an invisible arm wanted to snatch it from her. She then moved a little bit towards Aduke and Arike.
“Okay, we will not go far. Just look around.” Arike grudgingly agreed.
They travelled about the river, climbing rocks and stepping on lush grasses.
“I wonder how far she could have gone. She rarely leaves the river.” Iyabo said.
The river goddess was always in her shrine or sitting on the rocks in the river with her back turned to the people. Finding the hut empty was bewildering. Arike moved further towards the deep part of the river beside the rocks. She heard a low sound and turned around. She saw someone but it was not the river goddess.
Four smaller rocks surrounded a tiny bundle. The image was not clear enough so she peered closer. It was naked and on its neck was an oversized crystal bead necklace. Arike’s huge eyes bulged out in fear.
“Yehhhhhhh! Abomination.” She screamed as loud as she could.
The other women rushed towards her. Aduke and Iyabo immediately scuttled back, tripping on each other when they saw the baby.
“Wait, let us at least look properly. The day we see evil is the day it stops existing.” Sade called them back. She stood with Arike while the other women hid behind them.
The baby girl gave them a quizzical look and smiled at the four panicked women. Iyabo grabbed her breasts in fear and amazement as the other women threw their water pots away and ran. None of them waited to see what would happen next. It was sure that this was no ordinary baby. The little girl splattered water on herself in glee as she watched the four women run in different directions.