The war had ended but to me, it was just about to reach its climax. Thoughts of the dead bodies laid on the ground appeared to me again like the other time. Their brains were crushed against the war and their lungs were pulled out for experiments “as they said”.
“Experiment? Experiment for what?”, I once asked a soldier.
“They want to know if the lungs of men could function in dogs”, he smiled as he pronounced the word dogs; it sounded more like doors. I guessed he could not pronounce the letter “g” properly. But another soldier had also told me. I knew he meant it to be a joke because he knew I knew the truth.
“Why sacrifice the lungs and not lower animals like chickens or goat or even cows’? When did the gods decide to make human parts a delicacy?”
“It is an order”, he replied
I understood that. It was like going on a mission without an idea of where you are going or what you were suppose to do. You just went; only went and received orders at every point. You could not afford to disobey if you wished to live. Death could come from either way: the attacker and the attacked. My other friend had told me that they had promised Onibode to give him the lungs of those they killed if he gave the war to them. Fresh.
“If you crush their heads, they would be dead before you can remove their lungs, I tried to enlighten him; to see if he could also reason with me…..then the Commander…”
He smiled and picked up a stone to sharpen his knife. “Do you think we do not know? We call it “the mission code tactic”. Tested and reliable. You only say what you are told.”
“But why this; all of this. Is it worth this war?”
“What then is the essence and worth of war, he moved his hands towards the dead bodies that laid on the ground. So Akeem, run! Run! You never can tell where death would come from.”
Obanke was not as cold as the others. Fele and Arepa were the sit of death. We froze like chickens and ran like wolves. We could not risk our lives; our destiny. We thought of our past and family. We were all scattered with no hope of seeing one another again. I sat down at Selbe to drink from its river. I once heard that the river was the soul of the god of peace, Selbe and it gives peace to those to drank fom it. Relative peace of mind. So I drank from it and tried to avoid the thoughts of the past and the horror of the present. It did not; they came back hurriedly as through they had waited for this moment when my mind would lay void of other things and they would come and fill it up with pain and regret. Then I heard sounds, more like an alert…
“They are here! They are here!”
We all stood up and waited for the young man to stop running.
“Who is here?,” an old man in our midst asked like we do not know who was coming or should I say who we are all expecting. It was Apala, the town crier. He has already lost his wife and two of his children to the war. The remaining three stayed at Fela. They said that they were weak and could run no more. The race was tiring and I know of no reason why the old man should desire to stay alive.
“They have destroyed Fela completely. They burned everything; everything!”, he emphasized again. “They are getting closer day by day. Once they are done with Arepa, their next target would be here. So, you had better run fast!”
After this, he turned back and made a move opposite our direction.
“And you; where are you off to”, I asked.
“I am leaving. I am going to surrender myself to them. There is no point living.”
I turned to face the old man. He looked expressionless.
It was Tuesday morning, probably five in the morning.
The palm wine tapper was also on his way to the farthest and most sweetened palm tree in the thick and dark forest. It were not as large in Otutu as Ubulu.
Aunty Ibioma was not left out in the pursuit of reasoning as she treks down to Tunka general market to arrange her wares in a way she would be able to determine their prices.
“Mabu! Obinna! Chukuamaka! ‘See? I am going to the farm. If you know that I was the one that gave birth to you and breast-fed you for almost two years, let me get to the farm before you”.
“Mama! it’s Obinna oh! .He does not want to give me my basket. He has misplaced his and he does not want to give me mine. Obinna! Obinna! Stop it now. Brother Madu! Help me to warn Obinna. He has taken my thing.”
“Leave him Amaka. He wants to carry yours and his.”
That was the lifestyle of Obanke; busy but unstable.
The bean cake seller had gone to mix her already grounded beans and was ready to settle down into business. She added a large quantity of salt, grounded pepper and crayfish with well sliced onions and mixed it in an elegant way. Kemisola as she is fondly called would never get to her regular spot any time latter than the third crow, fully ready with her palm oil bubbling on fire. Today, she wore a nice purple dashiki with curvy sandals. Iya Ayo once said that her desire to become what she was not destined to be was the cause of her late delay. When Kemisola heard, she angrily marched towards Iya Ayo’s compound. The scene is still vivid in everyone’s memory:
“Iya Ayo oh! Iya Ayo oh! Come out to your shame. You called for ridicule and it is here. Iya come out! I am here for you.”
Who is the animal that would not allow the land to have rest.
Yes!?, she replied in a way that sounded more like a question then sharply, yes! How would the land have rest when some maggoty mouths would refuse to close them.
Kemisola? Kemisola! Be warned. You can have more cloth than the elders but you can never have rags as they do.
Is that so?, Kemisola asked sarcastically. “Then common sense should tell you that you should always mind your business.” She moved closer to Iya Ayo and pulled her second finger toward Iya Ayo’s left eye. “Iya Ayo watch your back or I will stab you really hard”. She hissed and walked back towards the street.
“You this children where are you? Iya Ayo called out, When the dog has stopped barking, make sure you sweep the whole compound”
Kemisola stopped abruptly and said, “who are the dogs?”
At this point passersby continued on their journey as they knew what might follow after that statement. But Kemisola did not reply; she left for her stall to continue her akara business. But we all knew that their fight was not in anyway unconnected to Kemisola inability to marry. Kemisola and Iya Ayo only son were engaged but she would not bless the union. She had wished for her son to find his way into the Royal family.
But Kemisola was not going to let go; definitely not after Iya Ayo had finally embarrassed her publicly. She cleaved on to Ayo like never before. They went everywhere together —stream, market, everywhere. The day people saw Kemisola frying akara and Ayo selling them, the people of Obanke knew that the end had come. A royal prince selling akara. They had to stop Kemisola or Ayo would turn mad…for love as they would say. Iya Ayo came toward her stall in full rage. Someone had surely informed her.
“Kemisola oh! You this girl will not kill me. Did I not ask you to leave my son alone? Ehn! And you will also give birth oh. Kemisola! Ayo! But the god I serve; ah! Onibode will surely punish you for me. Ayo, let us go home.”
Ayo did not look up; he did not seem to have been listening to his mother’s public speech. So the mother dragged him home with the help of the town guard. Kemisola did not make any move, instead she made a joke of Ayo and his mother as they stretched home. Few months later, Ayo married to Olabisi, the first daughter of King Ababa after promising Kemisola to make her the second wife then Shade, chief Omolabi’s daughter and then Bose, Kemisola’s worst enemy in the village. Out of anger and frustration, Kemisola married Gbena, the king of Akabulu.
Akabulu could be a rough town but they were still fit to be called men. The people understood time and season. Of recent time, there has been rumours of famine in the land. No one wished for it but the words of Onibode could not be ignored as they had been proven to be true. Was he not the one that our fathers told us about? He brought us out of Ikinni; a royal town of captives. For many years they had gone to various villages to rage wars against them and had brought back their people as captives.Tell me, are Baale Kosi, chief Jooju and also the right hand of Oba Abinna, Otu Gbona not the custodians of the people of Ikinni? It was also heard that white men were caught making noise and were discovered to be mad men and whose skin was found to have been peeled off by the spirit in the evil forest—the oracle had revealed to us. They all spoke in languages that were strange to us. Onibode had promised to inflict his wrath on them and their neighbouring village in they refuse to take them to where they came from.
So Kemisola succeeded in turning Gbena’s heart against Obanke. Then bullets rolled and hearts melted. And I, Ayo became a curse for the people. So I have been running and I am still running from death. But each passing day, it is like death is right here; behind me. It follows me, follows us like the Lily demon and would not let go. It would torture the sight and the mind and leave it to fade; to fade forever. And everywhere I go, it follows and kills everyone around me; I inclusive. But it never really killed me. It killed my soul!