Ukeme was hesitant at first. But he received the coconut without looking back at the fairy princess.
‘My princess but…’
‘Not buts. The only place for butts in the life is the ash tray. Leave all the butts there. Go and share that coconut without dividing it. In seven years from today I will come to you for the answer to my puzzle. Your death and life and greatness will depend on the answer you give me that day. Go now you waste too much time. Take your father by the hand and leave at once before I change my mind.’
‘What about our dogs?’ Ukeme asked holding his father’s hand.
‘Hahahaha! Hhahahaha!’ The fairy princess’ laughter echoed through the forest.
Ukeme found himself, his father and the two dogs returning into their compound. His father was carrying a big game on his shoulders. There were several grass cutters and squirrels which the dogs had caught. He himself was holding a coconut.
Ukeme realized afterwards that his father knew nothing about what happened that night. He wondered how his father had gotten the bush meats they returned with. He was going to talk about the incidence in the forest of the spirits with his father. Then he remembered his father’s warning never to discuss what he witnessed in the forest at night with anyone. To keep the incidence in his memory forever, he planted the coconut in his father’s compound.
As the years went by, Ukeme did everything to no avail to unravel the coconut puzzle. He constantly put the question to everyone he met but the answers always eluded them.
As the coconut he planted grew into a tree and continued to flourished, he realized the seven years given to him by the fairy princess to answer the puzzle was elapsing. In fact it was the seventh year. In his mind, he was certain the fairy princess will come to him soon for the answer to her puzzle. He had no reason to doubt that what happened that night was real and not a dream. Not when the coconut tree itself had started to bear fruit.
But how come no one knew the answer to the puzzle? Was it a trick by the fairy princess to take him and his family? How could anyone share anything without first dividing it?
That same year, the king of Abey Kingdom sent his town criers to go round all the villages that made up the kingdom and invite all the villagers to his palace in three days time for an all important message he had for them.
When the town criers got to Ikonneme, which was one of the nine villages in Abey Kingdom with the king’s message, Akan took note of the announcement which everyone in the kingdom both the young and the old was being invited to the king’s palace in three days time.
On the day of the meeting, Akan had plucked some coconut from the tree which his son had planted in his compound. The coconut had bore so many fruit. In his usual habit with the proceeds from his hunting, Akan had put some of the coconut fruits in a basin and called on Ukeme to come and help him with the distribution to neighbours.
‘Please hurry up, distribute these to our neighbours and return quickly so that we can start leaving for the king’s palace at once. It is a long way to Abey.’
He helped to lift the basin of coconut and positioned it on his son’s head. Ukeme hurried away with the coconut fruits to distribute to neighbours.
In a short while, he was on his way back. It was only then he realized that he had gotten the answer to the coconut puzzle given him by the fairy princess.
‘I have got.’ He whispered to himself. ‘Got it.’ He continued to say this to himself till he reached home.
Immediately he got home, His parents were waiting for him to commence the trip to Abey. He rushed to the back yard of their compound to keep the basin. Once he had done that, he joined them and they began their walk to the king’s palace in Abey.
‘Ukeme how did it go? Did you meet my friend Ukpai at home? I hope you give him his share of the coconut?’ Akan asked as they walked along.
Yes I deed papa. He said I should thank you. That when he returned from the king’s invitation he would come and thank you personally.’
‘How about the other neighbours? Did you give them?’ Asked Ukeme’s mother.
Yes I gave them all. They were all very grateful for the coconut.’
‘Okay my son. Learn from your to share what you have with others. It is a good virtue.’
I will always share what I have with my others.’
When they arrived at the town of Abey, the place was swarming with invitees from the nine villages of the kingdom. The palace was already filled with early birds. It was difficult making it even close to the gate of the palace. The crowd was overwhelming. Akan and his family tried to force themselves through the mass of bodies but that was impossible. It even provoked a confrontation from those who were being pushed. One man practically shouted in anger at Akan for pushing him.
To save them from further embarrassment, they decide to stay behind quite far from the palace gate. The family held each other’s hand so that they don’t get to lose themselves in the crowd.
Akan feared that when the king will begin to speak, it will be difficult to hear him because of the distance. Everyone was eager to hear what the king had to say.
Ukeme noticed that there were no drummers, singers, dancers and masquerades on display that day. He had thought he was going to enjoy watching the dancers and the masquerades. He loved it when the “Etighi” dancers moved their legs and hips effortlessly to the mellifluous rhythm of Efik highlife music. He had hoped to see them in on display that day. But it has turned out that it was a solemn occasion. Not even the royal flute that sung the praise of the king was blown that day.
The king was seated together with his chiefs on the palace podium. All heads wondered what it was that had happened. The countenance of the king did not betray the suspense in the crowd at all because he looked neither glad nor sad.
After several whispers with his chiefs, he stood up to address the crowd. He waved for the crowd to pay attention. And an instant silence swept over the town.
‘My good people of Abbey and the eight villages that make our kingdom, I greet you all.’ The king spoke in a well enunciated and articulated voice that it became possible for even those afar to hear clearly what he was saying.
The crowd cheered and chorused, ‘Great king may you live forever!’
‘It is no longer news that the gods have refused to give me a son to sit on my son when eventually I will join my ancestors in the great beyond.
‘I have been seeking the face of the gods in this matter for a way out of this predicament for me and for you my people. Today I am glad to let you know that I have been given an answer.’
The crowd gave a resounding applause with claps and cheers.
The king waited for their applause to die down. Then he signaled his attendants and they brought forth a coconut.
The sight of the coconut frightened Ukeme. To an average subject of Abey Kingdom, it may be just a coconut but to him it was life and death.
‘Soon I will be joining my fathers and the man in your midst who would be able to solve the coconut conundrum will be the one to be crowned as king in Abey Kingdom. It is open to every male in the kingdom no matter how young or how old; no matter how rich or poor; be him a servant or a master.’
‘Great king tell us what you want us to do with the coconut.’ The crowd shouted rowdily.
‘I will tell you what I want you to do with it but first let me warn that this coconut is death or life and greatness for anyone who comes out to answer my question.’
The crowd went silent at once. They instantly realized the seriousness of the issue at stake. This was probably why the king had not allowed any fanfare in the gathering.
‘Now, if you know how this coconut which I am holding can be shared among people of this kingdom without having to divide this coconut, then you will be the king after me in Abey Kingdom.’