If I, Mgbirimgba Atuegwu, were not there at the festival, I would have believed that Umuokwe was actually led by Omenka. Many versions of what happened at the Ilo Uta, in one way or the other implied undoubtedly that a colossal Mmanwu of an unquantifiable attributes was fronted by Omenka, with others followed at a distance. It is true that when a bee stings a child, he flees even at the sight of a housefly. He is not to blame because both are wide-eyed and buzzing winged creatures. There could not have been any hallucination in the testimony of the child that corresponds with that of an elder. I could only remember what Atuegwu my father said his father, Atu, used to say,
“the things that walk in the air are greater than the things that walk on the earth. We are humans and would not see them; neither would we be able to explain all our eyes have seen on earth….”
When the wood insect gathers woods on its head, it carries them. However, to untie a Ram at Ilo Uta and take it home was more than an insect bearing its spoils home. We, Umuokwe the ants, so to speak, have also gathered home a forest of honour from far and near. Like the mother hen whose chic was scooped by a kite, Okwekokwe, Nneokwe and especially Okeokwe had quacked madly but never retrieved its chic; but when the same kite snatched away a duckling from the Duck, it went ahead to chuckle the rest. The kite, troubled by the Ducks silence, brought the duckling back for whatever the mother had in mind might be a catastrophe beyond words. We were the Obogwu that was inundated by its Chi to defile every charm. The battle was not ours but of the gods who indeed do not fight blemish courses.
For the umpteenth time, Nwanze had inspected the scrotum of the Ram. He stood at intervals, staggering towards it at each moment. He had fallen or pushed it on the ground once or twice. However, everyone knew his impatience as he stroked the paired fold scrota, smacking his wine infected lips. He had gone back to his squalor when the rising Ogene mkpakija aroused his spirit. He stood, took a few prances like a confused masquerade and leapt forward. His legs clogged and he fell headlong few yards before the Ram.
The ways of the gods is like climbing to the earth. These days, oracles utter what they want, the minds of the gods are far-fetched. If it were in the days of Onwuocha, whose tongue was white as nzu and his red Ozo cap stood the integrity of its feather till death; we would know why Nwanze had to die the way he just did. An elder beside me mournfully let his mouth run with his grief,
“No, an enemy had done this. Let us go and inquire the source of his death. Onwu a agbaghi aka, anyi ga-aju ese! Nwanze would not rest till he has tracked and killed whoever hands were in this. A machete would be clung to his right hand at the burial so that his spirit would hunt the unknown killer in revenge.”
I pondered on those words and remembered Amelo who had died at a cross road on his way home after reconciling with Ogbu. Amelo’s kinsmen insisted he was poisoned by no other person than Ogbu and they took him to Okpu Ani to swear an oath where he did not only swear, but was made to drink the water washed from the deceased. Ogbu had mourned. He had accepted the nzu with which his guest came to make peace with him after a deliberate cutting down of his breadfruit tree that bore in hundreds. It was not the first time Amelo had trampled on Ogbu’s toes. The other day, the dews that gathered on a cocoyam’s leaf in Ogbu’s farm poured on him as he passed through his land. He drew his Obejiri and slew down the entire cocoyam farm. Ogbu’s farm has no narrow path neither did any route lead from there to Amelo’s. The gods unable to bear his abominable acts, decided to take him at the crossroads before he soiled himself again. So, they crossed him and knocked him dead when they might still accept him.
If he died before the year passes by, it means that Okpu Ani killed him because he is guilty. In the past, people had died while others survived even in certain controversial issues. The ways of the gods is indeed like climbing to the earth. Ogbu was believed to have murdered a fellow kin’s man. His spirit was downcast with burdens of isolation and dejection as he gradually died of the mmiri muo of the oath he was forced to drink. As in the case of a mad man, whose family and kinsmen suffer the shame most, Ogbu’s family was driven away in exile. His hut was burnt to erase the shelter that covered an evil man. His widowed wife knew the gods alone knew why her husband died. He, who could not stand the slaughter of a fowl, could not possibly have killed a man. It is true that the chameleon changes colour at any time, but it can only change to what it comes in contact with. Ogbu, though his name means “killer” would not pull a weed without sighing,
“you should have sprouted there….”
And if it were possible, he would replant them where they would grow undisturbed with other weeds. Ogbu was actually a nickname given to cajole his naivety to kill a thing!
Egbe Oyibo knew her husband. She wept bitterly as they faced the unknown to an unknown destination. She bent to the ground and scooped a handful of earth, held it to her breast and cursed. The sand dripped smoothly through the boundaries of her fingers as she mourned,
“Ala a kuo m gi mbaa!”
The ways of the gods is not like ours. They could go backward, side ways and forward at the same time; but we only see what is not far before us. Sometimes, even what is placed before us, is neither seen nor felt before our ignorance. From the day of the exile till now, over two years ago, the deserted compound has been swept and kept clean by some mysterious, maybe spirits. Many strange things had happened beginning with the death of the Chief Priest that presided over the oath. Yes, Chief Priests are humans, but they do not die like other men. They see and foretell theirs having done all necessary preparations as directed by the gods to whom they attend to. Inexplicably too, there were much death in Amelo’s kindred. People died, children were not born, nor wives married in or out to other kindred. The only person thought competent enough to explain these was found to be dumb. It was Ojika who assisted at the Okpu Ani shrine at the time Ogbu was made to take the oath. It was the duty of the priests to settle trivialities among the villagers and not to trouble the gods with such. Every villager knew Amelo had long outlived his troubles; the proverbial cockroach that wrecked what was thought to have been done by the rat. Why should we inquire what killed the wood weevil when it had chosen to play with fire? Why should we hold on to a culture that keeps dividing us onto a future that has no hope? Thus, when the gods turn their back, the vultures make their nests at the feet of the trees. When Ojika was approached, he rose up without offering sits or kola to his guests. He gestured to them to follow him as he waved his head to the prevailing omen in the land. He led them to Onwuocha, who did not offer nzu or oji but sighed and said,
“The anger of the gods is upon us. They struck Amelo when they could still do something with his soul. They accepted Ogbu because it was our decision to kill him, though they tried with many signs but could not stop us. With their bare hands, they, the gods have swept his Ama in wait of the day we shall repay what we have spoilt with our hands….”
So the death of Nwanze was as the gods ordained. Where a man falls, there his Chi deigned to push him down. Falling headlong before an irritated and embattled Ram called for a fight of the horns. However, it is only the animals with stiff and strong necks that attend the fight where horns are the only weapons used. Nwanze was not a titled man, yet his burial was a full fledged funeral rites. A calabash of fresh undiluted palm wine, a wine horn carved exquisitely, the head of the Ram and its scrotum wrapped with a fresh plantain leave was placed by his left hand to travel along with. At least the spirits he meets at each path would know he did not live in vain, nor did he die without honour. He will reach in safety and as in his wish; he would definitely meet all the wine tapers who had left before him. It was no surprise to Umuokwe to see one or two people claiming to be Nwanze’s distant folks. One even rolled till she was sure no one was going to comfort her. She then picked herself and sat at a corner saying,
“Nwanze nwanne m oooo! Onye eze! Let death pursue your pursuers and strangle whoever killed you my brother. Nwanze nwanne m ooo alaa mmuo!”
Umuokwe can never be the same again as when her pathways were of the wine sodden soles of Nwanze. Such is life, when one is done with buying or selling his wares, he goes home to render account to his Chi. Indeed, the day a man is born is the day he died. And so he lives to meet his ancestors if he died well. Of course, he will see Omenka!