CHAPTER 4

The sound of the ikoro (wooden gong), percolated the quiet, pale moon night, following the cheerful cries of the people and giving warmth to the cold harmattan air. The dancers filed themselves in a single column, dancing to the melody of the beat. The jidida on their frictionless waist were shaking vigorously with their body, creating a vibe in the air, and life on the face of the audience. Naked children were roaming playfully and joyfully amid the cold, with the full moon smiling at them; a day like this could not be spent on the lone arms of the bed.

The monarchs sat at the far end, spreading their subject with happy smiles, especially those who rained longevity and presented gifts to them. A pat on the back from the King’s Ofor, left those of them who hadn’t come this close to the king, to shower endless praise and thanks to the gods of the land, as if they had just been granted access to see the maker. 

The King’s cabinet members sat on a bamboo bench that was covered with animal hide, at the left, just beside the hefty guards. They all wore red skull caps and the softness of the bright wool hanging on their shoulders, distinguished them from the crowd of people, but it portrayed poorly, the authority they iconize.

“He keeps staring this direction,” Chinwe shoved an excited blow into Ada’s side. They were sitting next to the queen, whose passing smile was creating unending happiness on the faces of the female servants. It’s just a matter of time and the celebration would be over. Soon these servant girls, would be handed as gifts to those men from Atama, the neighboring village, to warm their bed for the night.

“Let him stare for all I care; I just realized that he disgusts me greatly.”

Ada couldn’t help the bile coursing itself to her taste bud. The prince was sitting at the opposite end, with gaze searching her like an old-timer. She just couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes, travelling that road once was a lesson she would never forget in a hurry. He was engage to marry the daughter of Uche, the most prominent chief in Dota and Alaocha at large. After all these moons, he had returned only to tell her to be his mistress. Ada forced herself not to spit. Not that it mattered now anyway; she was deeply in love, though her lover had disappeared into a thin air. 

What a world.

Before now, she was happy that the King, out of his kindness, had given her the privilege to marry any suitor she loves. She would not be abused by men, but would experience the beauty of living for one and one alone. But, looking at the big picture, she could see how miserable love makes someone. Those great stories told by the village raconteur were nothing but the stories. There is nothing special about love; the stories only embellish the impossible. 

 Ada sighed and shifted in her seat. Her body was mindless as her thoughts wanders. How long will this ceremony last? She really needs to curl in the comfort of that dark hole, where the problems of the world are all but a void. 

In her despondent, her eyes fell on the queen’s damsels who were standing like bees behind them. She saw the emollient of happiness on their faces; that glint, dancing in their eyes, reflecting their oscillating thoughts. They looked nervous but happy, none of them was calling to mind what fate they would face after tonight. Today is the day that will mark them a place in the society; they are fresh damsels, who the chief-of-servants has been preparing in earnest for today’s celebration. After today, these girls would forever remain the entertainers of the King’s guest. If only they knew the misery they would be compelled to live under after today, the smiles that were flourishing in their faces would be a drought of agony. 

It’s a good thing the queen’s ladies won’t face such hitch. Ada couldn’t imagine her friends jumping from one man’s bed to the next, all in the name of bringing honor to their families and pleasing the King. 

“Onwa (moon),” the diviner began. The music and the dances had stilled and the serenity of the night had returned. Ada’s mind couldn’t help but revert to her body once she heard the rich voice of the diviner.

The people rose to their feet and all heads elevated to the direction of the pale moon. The diviner stretched forth both hands towards the sky like a beggar, and her chalk circled eyes, held the moon with a plea that the crowd hardly noticed. 

“We reverence your presence. As your light brings good health and prosperity to our land, may it also shine in our hearts and bring us peace.”

“Ise ee! (Amen),” the crowd chorused delightedly in unison.

“May all who seek our downfall lie in defeat.”

“Ise ee (Amen).”

“May our land be fruitful, not only with the toil of our hands but with the fertilities of our mothers,”

“Ise ee (Amen)”

Ada dazed as she watched the diviner; piqued by her charisma and the marvelous accent of Umuoma clan that streak her feminine voice. It was hard to discern her size from the numerous clothing lining her body. Her hair was tangled with rings and cowries which matched the snow blazing eyes.  

The diviner pulled out a dagger from somewhere in her clothing and slit the neck of the lamb that lay on her feet. The caught was so powerful that the animal could not find the air to scream. It just slumped dead, and the diviner raised its head with triumph.

This brought joyful cheers among the crowd. “It’s a good sign” they murmured to one another. The lamb had died without making the thinnest cry. It was no doubt; the moon god was pleased with their offering.

“It is done,” The diviner said amid the cries of people. She opened her goatskin bag and tossed the head of the animal into it. Without making any further proclamation, she turned and walked away into the fog of the night.

“Did you see that?” 

“Of course Ada, I saw it. Wait, keep your head down, he is still looking,”

Ada pursed her lips and then licked it. True to Chinwe’s words, the Prince’s gaze was piercing through the joyful crowd of people to their direction. 

“I didn’t mean the Prince…I meant…Well, forget it,” Ada swallowed. Her friend had joined the people who were now dancing and rejoicing because the moon god had accepted their offerings. 

“I wonder why she had stared at me like that,” Ada murmured. The looks the diviner had shot her had sent shivers down her spine. It was a soul piercing gaze, something about it left a question in Ada’s stomach. It made the diviner appear as if she knew everything about her. Well, the diviner was all wisdom; at least that’s what people believe that some now refer to her as, wise one. Whatever the case, Ada didn’t allow the thought to bother her. She has other pressing matters. 

The King held out a cow horn, filled to the brim with palm wine. He cleared his throat to call the noisy crowd to order.

“Umu Alaocha kwenu (children of Alaocha I greet you)!!”

“Yea a!” the people roared in response.

“Alaocha kwenu”

“Yea a”

“Muo nu”

“Yea a”

“Rie nu” 

“Yea a”

“Kwezuonu ooo”

“Ehee ee” All the voice shouted.

“Our fathers use to say that, if one is in good term with his chi (god), that he could put his hands into the mouth of a lion and pull out the gullet.” The king smiled and continued “Today is a day of joy. Our ancestors have answered our prayers. Because this joy dwells in my heart, I will want to use this opportunity to announce the union between Olamma of Dota kingdom, and Chika, my only heir to the throne.”

The crowd erupted with happy cries, much louder than before. Ada tried to find Chinwe amid the shouting, but lost her to the jumping and frenzy of the people. She stood on her toes, but frowned when her eyes met the Prince. They held the gaze in their own little world for a while, shutting out the cries of the people. It appeared as if both of them were alone and Ada was surprised, when she read what appeared to be regret in the eyes of the Prince.

We are world part. Ada thought, and whatever I had for you was not love. She broke the gaze and meandered in the crowd of people, hoping he won’t pick her trail or even intend to follow. She needed an air, too many crowd in one night could make one’s head spin.

She walked into the shadows, away from the radiance of the naked torchlight. Night like this was what she hated about being a servant. Too many activities were always involved. The cooking, the washing, the painting, the talking, the orders to obey and all that. She always wished she was a freeborn, not a noble, but just a normal being that has the volition to carry out their activities, without a cane, frowning on their back.

Ada leaned on a cashew tree; she could guess that from the broad leaves lying fallow on the sand. She was determined not to think about anything. She just wanted to clear her head, and thinking about something would definitely bring tears to her eyes, which was bad because, she believed she was strong. I won’t let these emotions define me. She consoled herself. Oh, I have to get back to Chinwe, she must be worried. Guilt knitted her stomach for not telling her friend that she was leaving. She decided to go back to the square to look for her.

As Ada was about to leave, she heard mutterings coming from the other direction. It was close enough to hear the escaping words, but far to see clearly from the cloak of shadow. She froze, gulping down the guilt for eavesdropping. Her curious mind would not let her feet move even if she wanted to.

The whispering voices were that of two men, who obviously were drunk and were easing their body from the liquor they had consumed, in the nearby bush.

“…how can you say…how can you say he’s happy when his Ofor—the mantle of leadership—is missing?” one of the men said.

“Maazi (chief) Izu, I can see you are very drunk,” The other was saying “Didn’t you see the Ofor the king was holding? He probably has found it.”

“It is you who is drunk. In fact, you are blind with the white sap from that palm wine. Can’t you identify a real Ofor from a fake? That thing the Igwe (king) is holding is eye catching, but it’s a fake. The real Ofor is missing.”

 “Ha,” The other man, the one referred to as Maazi (chief) Izu exclaimed. “Watch your tongue, you insolent drunkard. You only had five cups of wine yet you can’t see clearly let alone think. Anyway I will wait for the wine to clear from your eyes. I am not discussing this matter with you anymore.” He hissed and staggered back to the party.

“Look at black kettle calling a pot black. I only had five cups of wine and stopped. But, you were in the ninth cup when I stopped counting. Please wait for me drunkard.” The other man hurried after his friend.

Ada couldn’t feel her legs anymore. She felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. Is the Ofor really missing or were this just pet talks of drunken men? If what those men had said were true, then—

Ada shook her head, not wanting to think about it. She comports herself and walked back into the crowd of people. She was going to find out if what those men had said were credible and there is only one way to find out.

   

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