Chapter 1 contnd -
There were four of them, each with his special skill; Idehen, Ofure’s father was the master of the battle plaque. No one could recreate a battle scene like he could. He carved it out in such extraordinary detail that it was said you could hear the drums and smell the blood. The other masters where Otasowie ; master of the Royal portrait, Izoduwa; master of the hunt, and Dopkaye master of the female form. Leadership of the guild was rotated between these four families.
Ofure knew she had to do something about her discovery, and she had to do it soon. She decided that she would tell her father. She knew he would understand, he always understood. She hoped he would appreciate Ahigbe’s work as much as she did. But how was she going to tell him? She couldn’t. She would have to show him. But she couldn’t bring him here, to the forest of the dead. She couldn’t even let him know she had entered the forest. She would have to steal one of Ahigbe’s pieces and take it to him. Once he saw it he would be just as convinced of Ahigbe’s genius as she was and he would know the right thing to do. He always knew the right thing to do.
She couldn’t steal it while Ahigbe was in the hut, she would have to come back after he had left, but that would mean entering the evil forest alone. Ofure shuddered at the thought. What if something happened to her? What if the spirits of the dead punished her for invading their sacred place? People had always said she was too bold for her own good. She remembered the other day at gidigba when she had seen Omoragbon steal the bowl of cowries that was to serve as the prize for the victor. Everyone else had pretended like they hadn’t seen what had happened, but when asked she had pointed at Omoragbon. That was not a smart move. Omoragbon was the biggest bully in the kingdom, she and her brothers had suffered beatings at the hands of him and his gang since then. Even their father’s workshop had been looted twice.
Ofure thought of a plan, there was no need to wait. She would do it the next day. No one would notice her absence because the whole village would be at dopkaye’s unveiling of the new queen’s sculpture.
Dokpaye’s sculpture had been talked about for the whole season. It was commissioned by the Oba to announce the arrival of his latest queen. it was rumoured that the Oba had courted her for three seasons. She came from one of the dessert tribes, the ones the people called shaishai, because of their ebony skin and high cheekbones. She would be coming out in public for the first time, and rumours of her beauty had been circulated far and wide. Dokpaye had been allowed to see her, and had gushed about her beauty ever since.
No one had seen the sculpture yet, as dokpaye was only allowed to work in a specially built workshop on the palace grounds that was constantly under guard. Yet the whole village was abuzz with excitement for this dessert flower, and the unveiling of dokpaye’s work was one of the highlights of this season in Igodomigodo. Ofure knew that the evening of the unveiling would be the perfect time for her little escapade.
Another person was thinking about dokpaye’s sculpture at that moment, Ahigbe had been possessed with a burning need to see it since he spotted dokpaye at the river bed collecting the soft red clay required for the job. He had watched dokpaye as he waited till the sun began to set before collecting the clay. It was said that this was when the clay was at its most perfect and pliable form. Ahigbe had watched as dokpaye whispered to the clay. He wanted to draw close and listen to those words, to find out what secrets lay in them, but he knew that he would have been seen if he had gone any closer. Before he could see or hear anything else dokpaye had returned to the palace grounds.
Ahigbe was curious to see how dokpaye worked. Dokpaye’s mastery of the female form was legendary.. He travelled far and wide studying women from distant tribes and he had seven wives from seven different regions. No one knew a woman’s body better than dokpaye. Those that had seen him at work were in awe of his skills. He caressed his work like an old lover; his hands knowing where each curve would emerge, each point, each line. No one was in any doubt that he had produced another masterpiece, and no one wanted to miss the unveiling.
This was the afternoon Ofure chose for her escapade. As soon as her father and brothers departed, she set out for Kijanu. Her father had asked her if she was not going with them, but she had shrugged it off saying she had to go somewhere first. He just smiled like did not mind. Everyone said he indulged her to a fault, but he understood her as few others did. Her mother had died giving birth to her fourth child, who had been stillborn, and her father had refused to take another wife, relying on Ofure to keep the home and cook all their meals. She had been fourteen at the time and had adjusted to the new circumstances without complaining.
But there were times when she needed to be away from their demands, times when she needed to be alone, and her father understood. Ofure observed the way her mates were treated by the male members of their families and she thanked the gods for hers, especially her father. He had always been loving and indulgent. Her immediate older brother Izoduwa was her confidante, with whom she shared many secrets. She was not as close to Agbonifo, her oldest brother, who seemed to go through life with a permanent sneer and a scathing word for everyone he came across except those he had reason to fear or reluctantly respect.
Agbonifo never had a word of praise or comfort for anyone. But their father said they shouldn’t blame him, that it was not in his nature to be happy, He said that in every family there was one who was like that. At times it seemed to Ofure like Agbonifo sought to mar their every happy moment. Izoduwa compared him to the sour oranges, the ones they called takka; they sprouted long before the other oranges were ready. Big and yellow on the outside, but when cut open their acidity was enough to burn a hole through your teeth. That was how Agbonifo was, But Ofure loved him as fiercely as she did the rest of her family, and he was just as fiercely protective of her, although he had his unique way of showing it.
Ofure savoured the cool evening breeze as she stood at her usual spot outside Ahigbe’s hut waiting for him to leave. The wind carried with it a faintly familiar scent, but as soon as she started to remember what it was, it faded away without a trace. She put her nose in the air a few times sniffing frantically, but gave up eventually. Just as she was about to give up on waiting for Ahigbe, thinking that perhaps he was not going to attend the unveiling, he reached for a wet cloth to cover the piece he was working on and headed out. Ofure darted behind the nearest tree. He circled his hut twice as if looking for something, and then he set off for the palace square. She watched his departure for a long while before she emerged.
As soon as she entered, Ofure went straight to his hiding place and removed the mat which he used to conceal the hole in the wall where he hid all his work. She knew immediately what she wanted to take when she saw it. It was perfect! Ofure held it for a while, caressing it as she marvelled again at how someone like Ahigbe could create such a beautiful thing. He was not even Iroghae! She wrapped it in a cloth and put it inside her water gourd, and then she put it on her head so that anyone who saw her would think she was coming back from the stream. She then set off for her father’s quarters. When she got there she quickly hid it in the corner of her hut, and set out for the unveiling. Now she was curious to see dokpaye’s work. Hoping she was not too late, she set off for the palace square at a run.
Almost everyone had come out for the unveiling; she could see her father and the other masters near dokpaye, they were performing the ritual iguneromwon salute in acknowledgement of the skill of their brother. As Ofure circled the crowd, trying to find a space where she could catch a clear glimpse of the proceedings, she felt someone grab her roughly from behind.