NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: You know, it is never ever good for a writer to go against what he or she has written. And that is what I am doing right now [refer to FAVOURITE-BOOK DILEMMA (and then some), the very first phrase (clause) of the very first sentence of the very last paragraph]. The truth is that I’m not really done yet posting some of my write-ups here in NS for all to see. (After reading this chapter, I just itched to share it with you gals and guys. Place your comments, and this itch will definitely subside and then finally fade, hm? For those who are reading this for the first time, I would strongly advise that you start from the beginning, please ). So, enjoy, ok:
In time, he saw the masquerade menacingly approach the throne. By now, every Ofia villager had gathered at the village square, witnessing this unusual and breathtaking spectacle. The masquerade approached the throne and stretched out its hands to touch the Okigbos’ face. But it didn’t. It stopped. The Okigbo was coated in sweat. He swallowed at subsequent intervals, trembling with utmost fear. The masquerade stood in mid-air for several hours. Everyone looked at themselves, puzzled and frightened. With courage still left in him, the Okigbo announced in Ofia language, “The celebrations must continue, please!” And just when the people were about to obey him, the effigy dropped to the ground and metamorphosed into an exact replica of the Okigbo with teeth stuck out. Everyone took in their breath in total amazement. It left the throne and went after the Okigbo’s daughter, circling her menacingly.
Ogha looked around desperately and finally found a small boy holding an oja (wooden flute) in his hand. Impulsively, he grabbed for it, went towards the masquerade and blew a vicious note from the flute. It blinked and looked at him. Courageously, he began playing the flute, gently and softly. The masquerade left Ishai and danced up to him, its face displaying its pleasure at the unprecedented music. Its dance was slow and soft and gentle. Gradually, it returned to its normal ugly form. As soon as Ogha saw this, he blew another vicious note. That startled the masquerade and it looked at him angrily. Then, Ogha brought out quick, vigorous notes from the flute. It instantaneously twirled round him. It was twirling and twirling until suddenly, it disappeared completely in a puff of smoke right at the pinnacle of the throne.
Everyone exclaimed. It took the Okigbo a very long moment to register all this in. Ishai and the musical instrumentalists woke up and got up from the ground. The Okigbo rested his eyes on Ogha and beckoned on him. Ogha lowered the oja and quietly walked up to the Okigbo. Gingerly, the Okigbo looked into Ogha’s eyes and spoke, “You saved my life and the life of my daughter, my only child. Thank you.” Ogha bowed meekly at that. “But, who are you and what do you want in Ofia?” Ogha gently cleared his throat and said, “I am Asshir-called-Ogha. I come from Akwa City.” He paused for a quick afterthought. “I am visiting Ofia.” Gradually, the Okigbo’s face broke into a smile, which was too contagious. Ogha had to smile as well. The Okigbo got up from his throne and gently embraced him. “You are welcome, Ogha. Welcome to our village!” he announced. Slowly, people started nodding their heads and talking approvingly. Ishai avoided looking at him. She had seen him before, naked.
The day went by uneventful. Every single villager, even the drunkards, had the strange being, the effigy, the masquerade, firmly on his/her lips.
Back at Akwa City, Ajaj Hashur’s business blossomed tremendously. He had totally forgotten about Asshir’s condition at Ofia. He had forgotten about the dead priest. His mind was in his business. Lots of contracts were coming to him worth millions of naira. He sold most of the contracts and got even bigger money. He delighted in his extreme wealth. Whenever he had a moment to himself, he would always say that he would see Asshir at Ofia. But he never did.
It was daytime in Akwa City but nightfall in Ofia village. It was an exceptional night at Ofia. The darkness of the night was thick with all sorts of winds in the air. An Ofia villager stayed quietly in his hut with his family. His wife and three children were all in a huge parlour, sitting down expectantly. He was standing in front of his window, feeling the winds on his face. He cleared his throat a little nervously. “The Ibom has come,” he spoke in an audible whisper. His wife gave a small sigh of relief. “We finally get to hear the message from the gods. I wonder what the gods have to tell us on a market day,” she said. “This is the first time the Ibom appeared on a market day.”
The man nodded. “Yes. That is true. It is strange.” He paused and closed his eyes to concentrate on the winds on his face. The three little children clutched dearly to their mother. Several moments passed. “It is strange,” he said again, but this time awkwardly. “The message is not clear.”
Every Ofia man, including the Okigbo, said the same thing. No soul was found outside, except the animals. Everywhere was quiet. Winds were blowing, gentle and virulent.
With her back erect, Ishai left the Okigbo’s home. She walked with the grace of a cat, slow, majestic, enthralling. She was dressed in rags which barely concealed her exquisite nudity. She went towards the village square with her eyes straight. One by one, every single musical instrumentalist appeared at the village square as well. Even Ogha, for some unknown reason, as if pulled by a force, was there, too. The instrumentalists formed a huge circle, sat down and closed their eyes, gently awaiting the arrival of the girl with the ‘spirit’ in her.
Ishai’s leg gently brushed Ogha’s as she quietly entered the circle and stood at its centre. She stood on her toes and slowly raised her arms up in the air. Instantly, drums rent the air: the igeru, the igba, the ogwe, the ikoro, the obonyi. Bells rent the air: the alo, the ogele, the ogene-mkpi n’abo. The thumb piano, pot drums, stamping sticks, tubes, wooden clappers, wooden flutes and rattles. Every single musical instrument was heard. The thick night with its winds was filled with membranophonic, aerophonic, idiophonic and xylophonic wonders.
At a time, Ishai was dancing vigorously. Then gradually, she was spinning. All eyes were closed. The music that came out of these instruments made absolutely no sense to the human mind. The music had scattered rhythms. Slowly, Ogha got up. His spinning disc worked and worked and worked till suddenly, it broke off. He had only his ikoro drum. As he was drumming, his eyes flashed open and he looked straight at Ishai. Her rags twirled as she spun. He approached her in a snail-like pace and intensified his drumming. When she could hear a drum close to her, she gradually stopped spinning and stood in a complete daze, her eyes bleak. She then danced normally to the rhythm of Ogha’s drum. Ogha danced splendidly to his own music as well. The other instruments were still playing at a high frequency.
They were slowly moving away from the centre of the circle, Ishai and Ogha. The night thickened. The winds grew more virulent, more vehement, more ferocious, more gentle. Crickets screamed from nearby bushes. They danced out of the circle, ignoring the sharpness of the boundless tiny rocks they stepped on with their bare feet. It was a dance of acceptance.
An unknown, unnamed insect crept up Ogha and reached his nose. It woke him up and he killed it in one swift movement. He was lying beside the Jeep already coated in dust. Startled, he scrambled to his feet. He noticed Ishai sleeping by the foot of the iroko tree. He watched as an insect also crept up and woke her up. On seeing him, she scrambled to her feet. She leaned on the tree in fear. Clutching the blanket round his waist, he spoke to her, “Wait! What happened to me?” He saw her face contort and was afraid that she didn’t understand him. Ishai eyed him slowly and said, “You are a stranger here. You have to see my father, the eye of Ofia.” Ogha slowly broke into a dimpled smile which made him look breathtakingly handsome. “Do you normally say this to every stranger?” he asked. Ishai shifted uncomfortably and looked away. What am I doing here? she thought. How did I get here? Ogha asked himself the same question in thought.
The sky was blue. The sun was reigning. It was morning. Ogha and Ishai stood looking at themselves for a moment. Then, he looked at the empty basket and calabash where anara and ulo were once stored. Food was finished. Ogha swallowed silently as he looked back at Ishai. Quietly, she left him and headed towards the river.
A wind blew. Ogha clutched tightly to his blanket. He caught sight of a folded Hollandis wrapper placed beside his ikoro drum, and he remembered. He remembered everything that happened to him till now. He had obtained that wrapper for free during the market-day ceremony when he had dispelled the unusual effigy from the village square. He discarded his blanket and picked up the wrapper. After a moment of examining it with his nose, he removed his black shirt and tied the brightly coloured wrapper round his waist. He opened the boot of the Jeep and put the empty basket and calabash, his black shirt and blanket inside. He closed the boot, picked up his drum and headed towards the river.
He saw her sprinkling water at herself. A tiny stirring came up inside him, but as soon as she caught him watching her, it was gone. Later, she left the river and walked up slowly towards him. “You were the one who saved my life,” she whispered audibly as if seeing him for the first time. “Thank you. My father is the eye of this village. Let us go and see him.” And Ogha agreed.
TO BE CONTINUED…