I took up my cutlass then put it in its shield and hung it on my shoulder while it strapped down touching my left buttock. I hung my bow on my back. I had my small dagger on my waist. I took some arrows into a small bag. I wore the warrior’s regalia, which should be the last set of clothes I put on. A tiger dried skin. It was Papa’s own. He handed it over to me on his dying bed saying I should put it on when I have won eight wrestling matches and inducted into the prestigious warriors’ clique, look at me now putting on the regalia when I could not win a single wrestling match nor inducted into the warriors’ clique as Papa instructed. I just have to go though I will be seen as an underdog, not my concern. I was occupied with the thoughts of rescuing Mama from her captors. Uncle Ofoegbu had promised to do everything within his powers to help bring Mama back unscratched, but will not stick to that. I have to fight for Mama. It was better dying letting her to live than staying at home chasing after the bush rats and climbing every Ube tree, while she dies off and her body brought home like a log of wood. Amadioha forbids!
I was ready as I stepped outside. The early morning sun was quite cool on the skin. I could hear the great ikoro sounding at the village square while the flute kept on playing. I know all should be ready and armed to the teeth, preparing to dance around the ekwu-oku to heighten their guts. Going to the village square will require a good disguise to avoid been sent back, so I applied Mama’s otanjele that darkened my face a little bit. I also collected her bracelet and hung it around my neck. I marched out looking fiercer than a lion as thoughts and images of Mama filled my mind. How has her captors treated her? How am I sure she eats? Papa had once said captives are tied hands and legs likewise their eyes. Possibly, Mama was being tortured. Heads will roll. I will fight for Mama until blood dries off my veins.
My arrival at the square brought everything to a halt. All eyes were on me. The drummers stopped likewise the flute player. Have they recognized me? My heart was beating fast. Tears were already gathering around my eyes. I held them back remembering what Papa used to say, “A brave man sheds blood before shedding tears”. I have already concealed in my heart that if am sent back, I must surely find my way into the battlefield.
“Mazi, why are you coming by this time?” Okaka, the leader of all the warriors asked.
He has taken me as Mazi, the village shortest man because we two are about same height and I wore a replica of his regalia. If I should misuse this opportunity offered by my chi to join the warriors and possibly execute the war with them, I will have myself to blame.
“I have to settle my family. I’m sorry for the lateness”, I said.
My statement caused a loud laughter among the warriors. They were really laughing due to Mazi was conversant with it. Mazi has no family, but a herd of concubines. He refused to get married for reasons best known to him. I have heard him make similar statement on many occasions. Did I use his croaky voice, was the question pondering my mind.
“That’s what you always say. When will this your family start settling you?”
The men laughed hysterically. I only found myself smiling for the first time in seven days since Mama was kidnapped. I was asked to join the rituals wile I prayed that the real Mazi does not emerge from anywhere and ruin everything. I have to avoid the peeping eyes of Uncle Ofoegbu. He has been a father to me and likewise acting as a husband to Mama after the dismissal of Papa. If anything happens to me, Papa’s ghost will surely haunt him. He would have single handily go in the search of Mama, but it was a community matter, which required a collective idea of every villager and go-ahead order from the gods.
“Since Mbata asked for a fight, we will give them a war”, it was the voice of Ozoka the eldest man in the village. He arrived the square almost same time with me. He was regarded as a counselor to the warriors. At his age, he can still swing a cutlass. A story has of him not losing any wrestling match. He was the champion for fifteen years without challenge. He opted out due to injure he sustained during a war between
Obodo and Beanyi.
“Spare no man and bring back our wives alive”.
They roared and shouted with their cutlasses rose up, “for Obodo we die!!!!”. I raised my cutlass up and cried “Mama, I fight and die for you”. It has begun as we marched out to meet the enemies at the Mmiri River, where our informant said that they have ambushed and encamped for us. We followed through the Owelle bush, bye passing through the ezigbo ala the arable land that brought about the ongoing feud. My eyes keep flash right, left, up and down, the way Papa had always told me. One need to be careful or an arrow from the enemy will hit you. I had mastered some words of war courtesy of Dike, Papa’s bosom friend. He helped to train and showed me how to sway cutlass to land a blow on an opponent.
“You must look your enemy into his eyes and tell his weakness”, he said “Let your fear lie on the blade of your cutlass”.
Dike boasted to me of killing fifty men in a battle with his bare hands. He said I could be a better warrior if I let go of my usual fears.
“Take cover”, our informant announced.
I found a tree nearby to lean on while others lay down or hid in grasses. My heart was beating faster. Therefore, it has really begun. Tears stood in eyes as I held my cutlass by its handle while waiting for my first opponent. If I die, it would be in honour. I watched others to know when to run, stand, and take up cutlass just then, we heard shouts. The enemy has summoned courage to come after us first, which I sensed that victory should be ours.