*You probably all know the tale of Oluronbi, but this is modernized with little twists, and it is in installments*
We had walked through the forest bare feet and stopped at the bank of a river. When we stopped, they increased the pitch of their song. They had been chanting for over an hour now and I just stood there, in the middle of their triangle, naked and silent. Rubbing and slapping my legs and arms on occasion because neither the weather nor the insects respected my purpose here tonight. The strong Yoruba women that surrounded me, are the ones who gave life to my dream. They were called daughters of the Iroko. All of them were short, dark skinned and wore black adire wrappers around their waists. All except one. The odd one was tall and clearly over weight. She tied a white silk wrapper around her chest. I wasn’t sure if she was albino or just very light skinned. She had bright golden-yellow hair and dark eyes that danced furiously from side to side. Almost as if she was using her eye movements to ward off uninvited spirits. Their faces had been darkened with charcoal and highlighted with white chalk around their eyes and lips. The dim glow from the candles they held gave them a ghastly semblance, but when a cold slow breeze sifted through the forest, and the fire quivered, the flickering orange glow softened their faces a little. An iridescent effect. They danced as a praise offering to the river. I just watched, all the time looking at the river, waiting for something glorious to happen. And something did. Beginning as a ripple in the middle of the undisturbed surface and grew, spreading to the shore. Crashing lightly at first, it became a tiny wave, then a bigger one, and one bigger than the last and then a wave so large, it rose up to the sky and blanketed the moon. If you can imagine that. It ended as abruptly as it began. I still just stood, in blatant awe, not even attempting to blink. They increased the pitch of their chanting again. Octave and beyond. The tall one, who was the front vertex of the triangle loosened the wrapper and folded it and laid it on the ground. She turned around and stretched her hand towards me, gesturing that I give her mine. She held me firmly and led me toward the water. She knelt down, and motioned for me to do same. I knelt at the edge of the river, the water kissing my knees. I looked down at the river and right beside the moon, in its perfect golden silvery circle, was me, my face, my body kneeling forward into the water.
“You will hear a voice.” She said.
It came from the water. There was another breeze, this one quick and angry that blew out the candles and the stars, our illumination in this very dark forest. The branches on the trees grew longer, the leaves broadened, sheltering us from the light of the moon. It became so dark, I couldn’t see my palms in front of my face.
“You look at yourself and see death.”
The voice echoed, and it came from the river and the sky and through the forest at once. I fell back, startled.
“And even in your heart, I see death.” Pause. “This child…” Another pause, the waves started crashing again. Crashing along the bank of the river and slowly onto my body. It went from a soft kiss on my knees to my thigh, then my stomach.
“You cannot renew your life through it, all you will see is your inadequacy, is your emptiness.” The River spoke to me, in the most belittling tone. I frowned and the priestess found my face in the dark and held me firmly by the jaw, and wiped my tears. How did she know I was crying? I think I felt her smile then and I smiled too. But the river spoke the truth, bitter as it might have been. The gust of wind blew again and the candles were illuminated. The stars came alight again. Looking up at the stars in wonderment, majestic, like little holes on the floor of heaven. They were so plentiful. The moon’s light once again punctuating the this ceremony with it’s nightly blessings. I saw the tall one, the head priestess, get up then and waddle into the water. She went so far into the water until I couldn’t see her head. She stayed submerged in the water for what seemed like an hour. She slowly came back up, with the same grace she went down. She stopped midway. The moonlight reflected on the drops of water attached to her skin, she was sparkling. She invited me to come into the water. I looked back at the women, who were all facing the river and still chanting with blank stares on their faces. So I got up, rubbed my knees and waddled towards her. The water was warm, and the bottom of the river was surprisingly smooth. There was no grass. She led me down a little further and stopped at a point and told me she would dip me in 3 times, and that I should free myself. Free myself? In a talking river? A river I’m sure hates me. “Don’t hold your breath, this water is from heaven.” Could she hear my thoughts ? She held my back with one hand and my forehead with the other. She started speaking Yoruba. A very ancient form because I couldn’t recognize it most of it. She pushed me into the water so forcefully, I lost my balance. My head divided the water, and my hair floated above my head making the water look like it was clouded with thin black seaweed. She rose me up again, “I said breathe in this water.” Was this woman trying to drown me? “No, now breathe in.” As she dipped me again, and I opened my eyes this time and breathed in the water. Still speaking Yoruba, She brought me up and dipped me again, “When you get there, do not speak, unless you are spoken to.” And the last thing I saw was her distorted image.
I didn’t know how and when I got here, or how long I had been in this position, head raised and knees bent. Looking around, I noticed something or someone on a branch. He didn’t have any legs, just a thick cloud of brown gas that didn’t go anywhere. He sat on the branch, back towards me, his twig-like fingers making an knocking sound on the bark of the tree. “Oluronbi, I will give you a child, on the condition that you will return the child in 19 years from today.” Straight to the point. He said. I nodded. He turned around and jumped off the tree, landing less than an inch close to my face. The gas below him gave the impression that he was floating. Compared to my years of bareness, this spirit did not scare me. His eyes were round sulfur yellow glass balls that had cracks in them. Or what I thought to be eyes because I noticed he didn’t have a mouth, or ears, or a nose, or a normal body. Just a gentle green bush coming from his top and neon purple leaves on the branches that projected from his sides. “Not a day more, not a day less.” He sounded very clear in my head. I spoke back to him without opening my mouth, “Idiroko Oluwere, please let me bear this child.” He smiled and touched my belly, “You will.” He walked around me and stopped at my back. “Stand up. Turn around.” I do, and watch him. And all of a sudden, cracks appear on his wooden body. Cracks that grow larger to form a huge hole. “Put your hand in and pick a worm.” I do as I am told, I feel warm moist sand, but no worms. I put my hand a little further down, still no worm, I put both hands and my head into this opening, looking for the worm. I feel something, too big to be worm. Felt like a pair of patent leather shoes, smooth, dry,satiny. A snake. It bit me. And before I can pull it out, I am pulled into Idiroko’s hole. I struggle for a bit, but I don’t scream or panic. It was like a dream. And I drowned in the sand.
I wake up in the Prietess’s hut, dressed in white, coughing out sand, asking what happened and how I got there. She smiled, “Go Oluronbi.” She paused, her smile turning into a chuckle. “Go Oluronbi” By now, her chuckle turns into a robust laugh “Leave my presence Oluronbi ! Get dressed and leave my presence !” I gather my clothes and run out of Iyamopo’s courtyard. Her laugh following me all the way out. It was always night there, so when I got out, the light pierced my eyes. It was early in the afternoon and it was so hot. Blind momentarily, I couldn’t see my mother-in-law run to me and push me into the back of her car.
*part 2 next week*