The crowd was still and quiet as if cold water had been pour on them.
‘Great king Imoh,’ One of the chiefs drew the king attention. This puzzle has taken us by surprise because we are just getting to hear it now. However, we would like to know how long you expect us to solve the riddle.’
‘You have as long as the riddle remains unanswered. If anyone can give us the answer right now? He automatically becomes my heir apparent from this moment to succeed me whenever I pass on. If it takes you seven years or more, well, so be it.’
‘Your Highness, King Imoh.’ One other of the chiefs addressed the king. ‘What if the riddle or conundrum as you called it ends up unanswered till you pass? What do we do them?’
‘You will do nothing other than crown the man that can answer the riddle whenever he comes forth with the right answer. And anyone that comes up with the wrong answer must be executed at once.’
‘Great king, how would we know a person has given the right answer in case you are not around when it is answered?’
‘Even I am not acquainted with the answer to this riddle. But when the right answer comes, we would all know it.’ Replied the king.
‘You can all go back home now to your various enterprises. We will gather like this again whenever anyone comes up with the answer to our coconut conundrum.’
The villagers began to disperse, heads bowed in deep thought.
The days that followed the king’s puzzle, saw the kingdom of Abey agog with all and sundry trying to crack the coconut conundrum. The magicians, the chiefs, the elders, the youths and everyone else including the women who hope they could get it and give the answers to their husbands or sons. How can anyone ever share a coconut without first having to divide it? They kept asking. The question was on every lip in Abey kingdom.
The third market that followed the declaration saw another gathering like when the declaration was made by the king. Two chiefs and a youth who thought they had the answers and who ended up giving the wrong answers were executed in public. This scared a lot of people from attempting to answer the puzzle any more. But on the next market that followed that one, even more persons who brought up unsatisfactory answers were executed again.
It revealed that the desire of some persons to attain kingship and enjoy the perks that go with such a position was stronger than the fear they had for death itself. All the while, Ukeme believed he had the answer to the riddle with him. But he feared his parents will never allow him to come out. And they confirmed it when he told them that he knows that answer to the puzzle. They warned him sternly never to ever repeat such word again.
So on one of such gatherings, where answers to the puzzle are heard, After several villagers with wrong answers were executed, Ukeme sneaked away from his father and mother. He realized it was in his hands now to save other foolhardy villagers who thought they knew the answer, from being executed. Usually, they will march confidently to the podium to give the answer. But once they are up there, they will give an answer that even they themselves can adjudge as silly.
Ukeme found his way close to the podium. And just as another man was making for the podium, Ukeme quickly jumped on it. The crowd held their mouths from screaming out their shock. His parents sighted him from where they stood and tried to push their way toward the podium but it was impossible to go through the thick mass of sweaty bodies. They called out Ukeme’s name but too late. He was already up there in the podium.
The king stood up from his throne abruptly.
‘Little boy, what is your name?’ He asked.
‘My name is Ukeme.’
‘Very well then, who is your father?’
‘My father is the great hunter of Ikonneme.’
‘I said this puzzle is open to all males in this kingdom. All my life I have wished just to have a son just like you. So I can’t bear to see an innocent child such as you executed. I will give you one more chance to return to your parent without having to answer the riddle to save them the agony of your death.’
‘Your Highness, I am Ukeme, son of the great hunter of Ikonneme and I am here to answer your puzzle to save more persons in the kingdom from being executed.’
‘My son, don’t be blinded by greed to sit on my throne. Why do you think you can answer a question all my priests and magicians and chiefs put together could not answer. Not even I your king could answer this riddle. Go back to your parents my boy.’
‘Your Highness, I said I have the answer to your coconut conundrum.’
‘Okay, let us hear it.’ Said the king holding the coconut before him. ‘How can I or anyone else possibly share this coconut among members of this kingdom without having to divide it?’
The entire crowd was gripped in silence. Even Ukeme’s parents paused to hear their son’s answer. Everyone waited with their hearts in their mouth to hear what the little boy had to say. How was he going to solve such a difficult puzzle.
‘The answer, my king, is patience.’