The wrestlers circled each other under the scorching sun;sweat dripping and eyes focused on the other the same way a predator focuses on his prey.
For people like us who knew,Chima was already the winner. Ten time champion,his fame in wrestling circles went past our little village in Diobu down to Elele and then as far as Obehie. Today,he would crown it all with a win in this exhibition match for the white men looking for a wrestler they could train to compete for international glory. Chima was one easy win away from worldwide fame. Our village would be put on the world map not just as a part of the Oil Rivers Protectorate but as a wrestling haven. Who knew? Perhaps after his victory,more youths would find their way out to an international platform of unlimited opportunities. This was not another victory for Chima. This was a victory for everyone.
Amadi was the other man. He was specially picked for the occasion because though he had the height of a giant and the muscles of ten men,he had never won a wrestling match. It was even rumoured that he had been beaten by a woman once. His over six feet height and rippling muscles would impress the white visitors highly especially since he was bigger than Chima. When Chima won as we all knew he would,the white men would assume his victory was hard-won. Victory would be ours.
Anele sat beside the white men. He had brought them and basked in the warmth radiating from the spectators. He was Anele,saviour of their wrestling circuit and deserved the gratitude and respect in the eyes that switched back and forth from him to the circling men. Tah! He ought to be the only one watched as what was being presented to the white men as the greatest wrestling bout of all time was a sham he himself had arranged.
He remembered clearly how he had chanced upon this opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. His boss,Mr. Brian Sands had been discussing the need to have a Nigerian contingent to the World Wrestling Games with a friend who was on the board of the organisers but lamented that Nigerian wrestlers were not capable of handling the problems that came with professional wrestling. Anele,always the proud Ikwerre man,did the unthinkable and countered his boss’ assertion. He had lived in Diobu all his life and had seen great wrestlers come and go wishing they had taken their craft to a level where the world could see them. Mr. Sands was taken aback by what the quiet Anele had said as much as the fact that he had said a word without being spoken to first. He asked the middle aged man to continue and that was how Anele painted a picture that made it hard for the white men to resist watching a match at least.
Mr. Sands however had other reasons for coming to watch the wrestling match. His wife Margaret had decided to join him in the colony after years of refusal and he was sure,infidelity. Perhaps she had been dumped by another young man and since age was not on her side,wanted to come over to make his life as miserable as hers was. He wished he could have refused but her father was the one who made sure he was as ‘indispensable’ as he was to the colonial government so Maggie had come looking as ugly as ever. He could not pretend he still desired her;at least not after sampling the pleasures of various young and willing Nigerian women. After arguing for days,Mr. and Mrs. Sands agreed to make do with lovers;however,he was to provide a lover for his wife or risk divorce and a disgraceful return back to Britain. This wrestling bout was an audition of sorts for him. He didn’t care about the fight. He didn’t even like wrestling.
The fighters grabbed themselves and tried to twist the other. Chima surprisingly broke the grip. However,we all thought he stopped to avoid throwing Amadi so soon and ending what had been sold to the white men as a great match in seconds. Chima knew better though. He had told his gang he had to be in shape for today’s wrestling match but they had insisted he joined them in raiding the growing Hausa settlement that sold cows close to the market. According to them,Amadi would be easy to defeat as the only thing he excelled in was escorting women who saw him as one of them around. Fathers generally thought he was impotent or worse and barely noticed him when he walked into their homes. If the impotent woman-man,Amadi would keep their daughters safe from other young men with evil intentions who didn’t know his muscles were made of cotton wool,then the ancestors be praised. Chima had followed them. He was normally in charge of reducing the risk posed by the broken bottles and nails used on the walls to prevent scaling by covering them with bags of cement filled with sand. In less than two minutes,he had four bags placed and lifted himself up with the aid of his gang to survey the compound before the real scaling began. The pain hit him in the forearm and he fell backwards. His friends saw the arrow,lifted him up and ran away from the fence. He managed to keep up with them though the sting in his arm sent waves of pain all over his body. He removed the arrow when he got to home,applied bitterleaf juice to the injury and slept fitfully. As he grabbed Amadi today,he felt as if his hands were being attacked by two colonies of soldier ants. He grabbed Amadi again and everything faded out. He knew he was falling and that he was about to die as a result of being shot by a poisoned arrow.
Amadi watched as everyone rushed to Chima’s side. Buckets of water,clothes and handmade fans appeared from all corners. Women wailed and men shook their heads in confusion. Nobody congratulated him or recognised his victory. For people like him,victory was also a failure. Five years ago,he would have felt pain but now their disregard for him meant nothing. He had bested them in one area and had savoured the pleasures of almost all their daughters and all their wives. He took his pound of flesh daily and smiled whenever the women told him he was the best they had ever had. He knew the women had formulated a sharing pattern to enable him get to all who were willing to receive him to avoid the secret being spilled to the men. Sometimes he had taken five or six in a day. Other times he had taken just one or two especially when the virgins were brought to him. He didn’t have parents or siblings. He was an only child whose mother died at childbirth and whose father died when he was almost eight so he came and went as he pleased. He had lived on the handouts he got from home to home till the use of his secret weapon became a source of livelihood. At this moment however,everyone was concerned for their fallen hero and beacon of hope for the rest of the wicked youths that mocked him. He had taken his greatest revenge with Fate’s help. He had crushed their dreams without striking a single blow. He turned to leave and was stopped by one of the white men. He was simply told to wait outside the white men’s quarters as soon as dusk fell. Something in the man’s eyes told him this was his ticket out of this hell.
Later that night,as Amadi showed Mrs. Maggie Sands the mountains and hills he had shown over a hundred women in the guaranteed permanence and comfort of the white man’s home;Anele,who had coordinated the burning of his father’s house watched in shock as Chima’s body was lowered into the ground with the dream of a community.