I should say here that not the king nor his loyal escorts nor Omoboja made any mention of this event. Nobody in Ajilenko village at that time knew where she had been or what had happened to Ihielele or even that she had any children except for the king and his escorts. It wasn’t till much later when things started going wrong in Ajilenko that these hidden parts started poking up here and there in little bits till the whole story was laid bare.
For now all that the villagers knew was that the king returned to the village with an Omoboja whose beauty had not diminished but whose mental faculties had undergone a considerable regression.
Maybe it was guilt over what he had done or maybe it was that his obsession for her was greater than anyone actually knew but whatever the reason, Oba Erinmade took Omoboja into his palace and cared for her. He had people taking care of her round the clock. Someone fed her; another bathed her; yet another cleaned her when she urinated or defecated on herself. Yes, that was how bad her condition was. She was like a little child inside an adult body. Everything had to be done for her. Her parents were given free access to the palace to see her anytime they wanted. There was no time they visited that they did not return laden with gifts from the king. It seemed they were once again back within the royal circle.
When days and weeks and months passed and there was no change in her condition, the buzz over her return soon died out. Life in Ajilenko seemed to return to normal. But as we will soon see, normal had left Ajilenko forever.
One day almost a year to the day when Omoboja was brought back to the village, she asked for water to drink. Now this might seem like nothing awe inspiring but coming from a woman who had not uttered a sound in months; a woman who was led around by the hand; a woman who didn’t know to sleep till she was laid on the mat like a child and her eyelids closed; a woman who didn’t get up until she was raised from the mat, asking for water was something amazing.
The palace servant with her at that time shrieked to wake the dead and ran shouting from the room. The news soon spread round the palace and by the time the king got to her room, there was already a sizeable crowd there.
The king dismissed them all and sat down to talk with Omoboja. Her responses were lucid and clear but it soon became apparent that her memory had undergone a selective loss. She remembered her childhood and family; all the events in her growing up years. She remembered she had run away from home after a fight with her parents but not what the fight was about. She remembered leaving home and travelling far to another land but not who with. She remembered living in the new land but not what she had done there. She remembered coming back and arriving in Ogirriala but had no memory of anyone accompanying her. She remembered the warm reception at the king of Ogirriala’s palace and she remembered Oba Erinmade coming there to bring her home but no recollection of what had happened on the journey back. She remembered being sick and people taking care of her for a long time but not what had made her sick or the nature of the illness. Every trace of Ihielele, their children and everyone associated with them seemed to have been wiped away
At first Oba Erinmade did not know what to make of this. He wondered what it all meant and if or when her memory would come back. But as the days went by and Omoboja grew stronger and healthier and regained her old vivaciousness and love of life without any sign of the lost part of her memory coming back, he decided it was a blessing from the gods. Omoboja was affectionate to him. She welcomed his advances with the becoming modest reticence of any well brought up maiden. She seemed to understand the honor the king’s attention bestowed on her and was not averse to it.
The king could have taken her anytime he wanted but the same madness that had been driving him from the first time he laid eyes on her wouldn’t let him be. He wanted her – body, spirit, soul and hand in marriage. She was to be his and only his for the rest of her life.
Subsequently, the bride price was paid. The dowry items exceeded anything the village had ever witnessed. The whole town was awash with the story of the king and the village belle. They all rejoiced at the happy turn of events. None were happier than the parents-in-law who finally saw their dreams come true eight years after they first dreamt it. Omoboja was referred to once again by Ige as “My daughter”
The day of the wedding itself was even more than the coronation all those years ago. People came from villages far and near and across the river to see in person the girl of such unusual beauty and the king who had moved heaven and earth to have her. The king of Ogirriala was not left out. He was there with many other kings of neighboring villages. The only prominent person missing was Oba Erinmade’s mother who had died in the fourth year of her son’s reign and Omoboja’s disappearance.
There was no man present that day who did not look at the bride and acknowledge in his heart that he would have done even more than the king to possess her and there was no woman present who did not consider giving up her soul to be like Omoboja or at least have a daughter like her. And Oba Erinmade’s Oloris who by now numbered four realized that their days on the shelf had just officially began. Their husband’s new wife had usurped them.
The wedding festivities lasted several days and at the end everyone returned to their homes significantly richer than they left them, courtesy of the king’s expansive generosity. They also returned with tales of the first couple and how they finally have been united despite all obstacles because fate and the gods had decreed they would end up together. It was a story that would not soon die out.
If their wedding was magical, their life together was even more so. The king and his new Olori were the envy of the villagers. The affection between the two was open for all to see. Omoboja’s beauty seemed to grow even more under the care and attention of her lord.
It wasn’t long before a new radiance was noticed in the new Olori. Whispers spread and as weeks flew by, the whispers were confirmed for as we all know pregnancy cannot be hidden. Omoboja was carrying the child of Oba Erinmade. The joy in the king was like that of a man who was told his wife had finally taken seed after years of expectation. It was hard to believe that a man who already had eleven children could be so excited about the coming of another one. Omoboja was indeed beloved of the king.
The months rolled by and the babe in Omoboja’s belly grew bigger and she in turn grew rounder. She was petted and cosseted in the palace. Her every need attended to; her every want granted. Never had a woman been so pampered!
Omoboja was soon confined to the palace as her day of delivery drew near and the villagers took to praying to Odumare for the safe delivery of their new Olori. So great was their love for her.
Early one market morning as the villagers prepared to carry their sales to the next village, the quiet was rent with the gong if the town crier. Olori Omoboja had been delivered of a son. The village burst into spontaneous celebration and many a step was diverted from the market path to the palace grounds to felicitate with the royal family. Oba Erinmade came out beaming with smiles and benevolence on his people. The joy in his heart was visible upon his face. It was a joy shared by all his people.
Hardly had the child been brought into this world than the palace was thrown into a fit of preparation for the naming of the new prince on the eight day in accordance with tradition.
The royal hunters strapped on their bows and arrows to bring home animals big and fit for the approaching celebration. The royal farmers dug into their storehouses for the choicest from their farms. The royal weavers brought out their looms and started weaving their finest ofi into a befitting aso-oke for the new parents. It wasn’t only the palace that buzzed with activity; the villagers were also not left out. Each prepared the perfect gift for the latest addition to the royal family as they each sought to outdo one another.
When the day finally dawned, almost all the villagers made their noisy way to the palace well before dawn. Everyone wanted to be at the forefront during the ceremony to have an unhindered view.
As early as they were, Omoboja’s mother, Adunni, was already outdoors to welcome and greet and show off in her position as grandmother of the prince and mother-in-law of the king. She had moved into the palace from the day of birth to take care of her daughter and grandson as was the custom. Her pride and satisfaction was exceeded only by that of her husband who was also already in the palace that morning. One would think they had no other child apart from Omoboja. But that was understandable; none of their other children was married to a king!
As the proud woman made her way with condescending familiarity through the villagers, a cry suddenly rent the morning serenity. Adunni paused in her tracks with a puzzled look on her face. A second ear splitting scream had her abandoning her lady-of-the-manor act and scampering back in haste to the palace.
The events of that day cannot be told in words. It was a day never before seen or experienced in Ajilenko. A day which they prayed never to again see the like but which they unfortunately would.
As the sun came out of its hiding that morning, the new born child being bathed at that moment by the palace midwife who had birthed, nursed and nurtured many a royal baby including the current king, gave a gasp, stretched out its little limbs and ceased to breathe. The old woman stopped her ministrations and pressed a finger to the child’s chest. Failing to detect any movement, pressed her ear to the chest then held a finger to his nostrils in search of his warm breath. Getting nothing, the poor woman now in growing panic gripped the little baby and shook him. She was rewarded with nothing, not even a whimper.
She clutched the still warm body to her and ran through the palace, shouting for the young mother. It was Omoboja’s agonized scream when she beheld and understood her prized son was gone that had drawn her mother back inside. Adunni arrived the scene and in instinctive denial was futilely trying to revive the lifeless body while Omoboja held on to the threatening wails and hoped against hope that her mother could somehow do the impossible.
Oba Erinmade, in his chambers, had been alerted by his royal guards that something was amiss in the queen’s quarters and he was right then hastening in that direction when another wailing scream halted him in his tracks. He had hardly determined where the scream came from when another one followed and yet another and yet another. The king’s feet changed paths immediately and he followed the sounds of voices raised in pain wracked horror to the expansive palace grounds.
The sight that met his eyes can only be compared to the story the albino strangers of the book from across the great waters told us about the wicked king in their village who killed all the infant male children so as to prevent the baby prince from growing up and taking over his kingdom. But unlike their young prince who escaped because his parents had been warned by an aljonu (messenger) of the gods to flee, no male child was spared in the village of Ajilenko.
Every mother held in her arms the limp body of her son from the age of six downwards. The only male children left were the ones above six years and the ones still unborn.
The horror of that day cannot be put into words. Orisa Iku swept through Ajilenko in a harvest of death and left only the full grown trees of mourning behind. No household was left untouched. Every home had lost either a son or a brother or a grandson or even more than one. Omoboja’s baby was not the only son Erinmade lost. Four other sons from his other wives had also been harvested by the Collector of souls.
All visitors fled Ajilenko lest they also be included in the inexorable summons of Death. And not a moment too soon for unappeased, death spread its tentacles to even animals and livestock. Every male animal, both domestic and wild found within the land of Ajilenko keeled over and succumbed to that higher power. The age of animals cannot be told but judging from the aged male dogs and almost infirm he-goats left behind, we can safely assume the same age limit as that of Ajilenko’s sons was accorded the animals.