Chapter 1: Chapter One

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 318

The night had not long begun when a giant owl flew over our heads. It perched on the huge Mango tree behind the thatched huts which made up the Osazee family compound. Its deafening screams repeatedly, disrupted the desultory gathering of my kindred there to say their goodbyes. The news of my departure in the morning had spread like wild fire among the villagers. Everyone wanted to give me some valuable advice which they claimed would help me navigate the turbulent waters of city life. Although we all knew none of us had ever set foot there before yet we spoke knowingly about it.

“Yes we may not have been there ourselves but as elders, we have foresight. Our grey hair is some life lessons in itself,” said Uncle Agbonlahor. He was my late father’s younger brother and by tradition had become a father to us all.

All while he spoke, the owl kept at its shenanigans but Uncle Agbonlahor was not ready to back down, “our elders used to say, what the old see lying down, even if the young climb the tallest of trees, they will still not see it. My son let me tell you a little story.”

As he made to begin his little didactic tale of the Leopard and the Tortoise, the owl tried harder to shut him up with its loud screams. The more Uncle Agbonlahor persisted in telling his story, the more the owl screeched, hooted, barked and made all the ominous sounds associated with its dark nature.

Ni Osazee, my grandma took in the situation and finally decided to intervene. She was the oldest of all the Osazees. She beckoned on her son to stop talking so they could hear the bird out. Granma listened keenly to the frightful rhythm of the night owl as if she understood the lyric. The mystical language of the deep was not lost on a woman who had lived a century more in an unpredictable, volatile world as ours. From the silhouette cast from the flickering palm oil lamps, I could see worrying contortions developing on her old wrinkled face. She was always the last to speak in any family gathering. This time as she made to speak, a little wind came and blew off the flickers of the palm oil lamps. This omen was the last straw for Ni Osazee. She quickly thanked everyone for coming and thus brought the gathering to an abrupt end.

Just after I and Granma retired to our hut for the night, the owl suddenly went quiet. Ni Osazee took out the little stool under the bamboo bed and sat down on it brooding quietly.

The whole event was quite strange to me. All the years I have participated in the rituals and taboos of my village, never had I experienced something as startling as the night’s event. Our myth has had it that the screeching of an owl at night was an ominous sign but no one ever told me it was going to be this disturbing. The sudden silence of the owl also didn’t sit well with me. After some minutes of trying to make sense of it, I shrugged it all off and decided to catch some valuable sleep.

The journey to the city tomorrow was a long one so I had been told by Mr Equator, the Geography teacher.

 “It would take your lorry seven hours to navigate the hills and valleys that lead to the City University”, he had said while going through the map hanging loosely on his office wall.

Seven hours of being cramped alongside livestock made me a little apprehensive.

Mr. Equator knew the City very well. He grew up and schooled there. He was only posted by the City Education Board to come fill the vacancy in my school. Let me say, He was the only geography teacher who agreed to come to such an unprogressive village. He told us a lot of fascinating stories about city life. One time, he told us there were buildings that were as tall as twelve palm trees put together. I closed my eyes and tried to see the paths which led to the city itself but all I could see was the reddened darkness of my eyelids.

Days back when the news first arrived that I had been offered a scholarship to study Geology in City University, Benin, Mr. Equator had taken it upon himself to warn me about the odds which stood against my success there.

“It is life on the fast lane my boy”, he had said with his arm spread across my shoulders.  

“You’ll meet people from all walks of life:  the rich, the not too rich and the poor; the good, the bad and the ugly as well. But in everything, you must never allow these things distract you from the goal. The goal is to become the best in whatever you do”, he had said with his accustomed stern face.

“You’re the first indigene from this village to step out since Umuve, the village drunk, went to the city and returned with a mental disorder. Nobody knew what happened to him. How he moved from the most prospective of young men from the nine villages to a ragtag drunk is still a mystery to all of us. There is now so much responsibility on your young shoulders. If you succeed at this, you will become the gateway for many others to come. But if you fail like Umuve, the village drunk, no parent would ever allow any of their children go to the city again. Never!” He had concluded.

My village had not always been this conservative though. It only started when Umuve returned from the city. The young courteous boy who had gone to the city bearing the hope of the entire village had returned home years later completely unrecognizable. The Monstrous city life had consumed every fiber of his soul. Parents vowed never to allow their children stray into the city again. If acquiring more education meant being exposed to the dangers of city life, then it had to stop. Girls were no more allowed to go passed primary school. Too much education for a girl made her proud and unmarriageable, was the verdict of the council of clans. As soon as she got done with her primary education, she was thereafter married off quickly. The boys after secondary education were usually given a big portion of land to farm on by the council of clans.

Parents told horrible tales about the city to their children to drive fear into them.

When my scholarship was first announced at the Assembly of Clans, everyone but Ni Osazee kicked against it. Since I was an orphan, I had become the responsibility of the entire village, they had told Ni Osazee. That boy was going nowhere was the final verdict of the assembly. Up until tonight, my Granma had not really said anything about my trip to the city.

 

I was still lying quietly on my bed, thinking about all that had happened since this trip was first muted abroad when I felt the hand of Ni Osazee pulling me up.

“Get up my son. I know they will not allow you go.”

“What is it Mama? Who are they Mama,” I asked, bewildered at Ni Osazee’s theatrics.

“Open your mouth, let me check,” she said pulling my mouth open with her two niggardly hands.

I loosen her grip. “Mama, what is it? What is going on?”

“Did you eat or drink anything at the gathering just now, does your stomach ache?” she quizzed with a little tremble in her voice.

“Mama I am fine,” said I, but she cupped my mouth with her hand.

“Put on your shirt, we are going into the forest. It is urgent. Go on,” she said surreptitiously and disappeared into the yard.

Ni Osazee was one of those women whose actions were always well thought out before execution. Although she looked frail from age yet she was blessed with superabundant energy. I had hardly seen anything ruffle her so much as to make her cry like those other village women of her age. Something must have gone terribly wrong tonight for her to lose her composure so. Did it have anything to do with the night owl, I wondered.

I sluggishly put on the shirt that had been lying carelessly on the bed. By the time I was out, Ni Osazee had already faced the narrow path which led into the dark forest.

“It is going to be a long night my son, try to keep up. Our future depends on it,” said the old woman who had now become like a complete stranger to me.

As she hurried along the path to the forest, the flicker of the palm oil lamp in her hand danced deliriously. On the other hand, she held a chicken by the scruff of its neck. It sounded incredible that we were bound for the forest at such time of the night. Need I say how dangerous it was to be within the forest path at night? First, there was a big chance of being eaten up by wild animals and then the other unspeakable tales hunters tell of gnomes, demons, witches, and strange beasts played around in my mind.  Why Ni Osazee, my Granma, would put me in arms way, I couldn’t tell.

As soon as we entered the forest, it felt like the animals and birds were having some sorts of devilish festival. Frightful screams rented the air. I could literally feel the piercing eyes of who-knows-what starring at me. With one fearful eye I scanned the bushes and with the other, the path before me. There were occasional bust of movement across the bushes but Ni Osazee’s frame, just right ahead, offered me so much reassurance.

We were deep into the forest now. The trees seemed to have grown taller with each distance. The giant ones held out their branches like human hands making supplication to the gods others just hid their heads in the dark clouds.

Having grown so deep into my thoughts, I didn’t notice that Ni Osazee had stopped walking altogether. I nearly bumped into her. She had noticed some kind of lights slightly ahead of us. I looked over her shoulders and saw them too. They were like tongues of fire. About six of them formed a ring around a big fire. There was a huge pot on top of the fire.

“Witches,” Ni Osazee whispered across to me. That said it all. Cold shiver ran down my spine. “Why would witches have lights around them, I thought they hated those,” I asked. “Each of those lights you see represents the soul of those witches out there tonight,” replied she. Despite my fears, I wanted to ask a lot of questions but I knew this was not the time and place.

“Stay behind me and do not utter a word again,” she warned me sternly. “Rub this on your eyes.” Ni Osazee gave me a powdery substance which I applied all over my face.

A piece of the lights drew closer to meet us. The figure of a woman with black rags hanging all over her body was behind the light. She had no face. Where there was supposed to be one, a black void filled the space. I was almost paralyzed by terror standing near such a frightful creature. All the hair around my body stood up when she spoke. My head began to feel too heavy for my neck.

“Where are you going, old woman or have you come to disrupt our little August meeting?”

“I have no idea I would meet you people here. I am taking my grandson to see Esu.”

“And you couldn’t wait till morning?” the witch asked distastefully.

“I must meet Esu tonight. It is about my grandson, they have planned to take him and his dream away tonight. Just let me pass.”

“Is this not the little rascal whose matter has become an aching tooth to man and witch alike? Does he not know change comes with death?” This was followed by derisive laughter. “Don’t worry old woman, go back home, he will not die tonight, his spirit is strong,” added the witch. Ni Osazee was not going to believe the word of a dark witch “I have come this far and I cannot go back home. I must see Esu tonight” said my Granma with an air of defiance.

“Then if you must pass, a life sacrifice must be taken. What is that in your hand?”

“My sacrifice for Esu, or would you rather have me give you what is meant for Esu?” Just when Granma feigned giving her the chicken, the witch stepped back.

“I do not want to be caught in a brawl with Esu. Keep your chicken, it is not worth it.” After the witch disappeared, the path suddenly cleared up for us. The shrieking sound became louder just as we strutted through the witches’ coven. The shrieks came to me like a show of displeasure on their part but it mattered little to Ni Osazee.

“Do not look back,” Granma whispered to me. I wanted to check if we were being followed but then I remembered the proverbial fly that accompanied the corpse to the grave. I immediately changed my mind and hurried along.

We were now in the heart of the forest. Ni Osazee stopped in front of a giant of a tree. It had a red cloth tied around it. This must be the home of the dreaded Esu. At long last we had arrived, I said to myself. Ni Osazee beckoned on me to step forward. She muttered a few words over me and touched my head three times with the cock. She then squeezed out the head of the cock from its body and tossed it on the floor.  Just as I moved to ensconce myself on a nearby log, something startling happened. A man appeared out of the blues. Ni Osazee and the mysterious man went into an enclosure behind the giant tree. Was that the much feared Esu or its acolyte, I wondered.

How many minutes slipped by, I could not tell but Ni Osazee returned to meet me soundly asleep on the log of wood. Pulling me up, she said, “get up son, we are heading back.” In such short time I had dreamt that Uncle Agbonlahor and some villagers were chasing after me with ropes in their hands. I was still running with my small travelling box on my head when Ni Osazee woke me up. How glad I was to have Granma wake me from such a wild dream.

 When we finally arrived at the crossroad which led to the family compound, Ni Osazee turned and told me to wait. In a short while, she was out with my travelling box. I was in shock when she took the path which led to the red muddy road.

“Son, you are leaving this village tonight so hurry,” said she, with a little ting of impatience. I was now almost out of breath trying to catch up with her.

“Why Mama?” I asked confusedly.

“You will find out in time, my son.”

“But the Lorry only arrives and leaves in the morning,” I said, trying to convince her.

“If we hurry, we can still catch the logger’s truck,” she replied.

When we got to the muddy road, there was a truck fully loaded with logs ready to depart for the city just as Ni Osazee had predicted. The government had banned logging in that part of the forest. So it had to be done under the protective gear of the night skies. Ni Osazee was now deep in conversation with the driver whom she was well acquainted with, it seemed. I then saw her put something in the outstretched hand of the driver. Another guy emerged immediately and helped put my box in the truck. Before I boarded the truck to the city, Ni Osazee pulled me aside and for the first time that night, she spoke to me kindly.

 

“My son, I am sending you away because a plot was hatched in a coven led by someone close to us, to kill you in your sleep tonight. I am indebted to the ancestors for sending the owl to warn me. These people do not want change, I have lived long enough to know. If they cannot  stop you, they will kill you. Anyway, the price for your life has been paid to Esu. From now on, whoever wants to harm you, will have to go through Esu first,” she said.

The night’s events became somewhat clearer to me. Tears rolled down my cheek. I hugged my Granma tightly and was not ready to let go.

“Mama, come with me,” were the only words I managed to say in between sobs.

She let go of me gently and pulled off her aged old necklace. It was a black rope with three cowries tied to it.

 “Wipe your eyes my son. Your destiny awaits you.”

“Thank you Mama,” I said.

“Wear this when you get on the truck. I will always be with you son, never forget,” she said and urged me on.

The companion of the driver had already alighted and was now standing next to us.

“These men will drop you off at the gate of the university in the morning. In your box I have put some money that you will need before the government pays you. Now go.” She turned back and without saying goodbye, walked briskly into the night.

In the truck, I sat sandwiched between the driver and his companion. The driver started the truck, dimmed the head lamps and we drove off into what seemed like an endless dark tunnel.


Submitted: November 05, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Luke Odia. All rights reserved.

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