As drops of tears flowed down his cheeks, Akanji’s mind wandered back to the last word that stole his father’s last breath on earth.
“My son,” the old man’s voice quivered. He was lying on the mud bed that was covered with a locally woven mat. Akanji’s eyes glistened under the gleam of the moonlit room. As he turned to his father, the yellow flame from the lamp mingled with the moonlight, revealing his streaming tears. A cold of fear rushed through his veins as his father gave a pained gasp, “I want you to mark all the words I have said to you … above all, you should always be a good boy.”
That was the last words he left to the world five years ago, thought Akanji. Perhaps he uttered another word; a word which only his ancestors could hear. He heard nothing further, other than several sharp breaths.
The memory of his late father had always anguished him each time the thought assailed him. He was seated under a cocoa tree, weeping. He stared mournfully at his poor mother, Abebi, who was cutting the outgrown weeds on his father’s farmland. Akanji had been the one cultivating the vegetables after his father’s death. Akanji’s father, Ogunjimi, and Abebi had buried four children before Akanji who was now their last hope.
At that fateful night of Ogunjimi’s death, Abebi was at the backyard of the hut, kindling the fire beneath the pot of herbal concoction. Her eyes had become sore from the wicked smoke that was emitting from the fire. Suddenly, a shrill noise strangled the silence of the night. It was Akanji’s voice. She dashed inside the hut, wondering what had gone wrong with her son. To her utmost surprise, it was her husband whose antidote was on fire. After ascertaining the lifeless body of her dearest husband, she slumped dizzily to the ground, wailing and writhing on the mud floor in agony – she wished her relentless wailings could wake him from that endless sleep; all was to no avail.
Ogunjimi had been strong and industrious in his lifetime. He died in his late sixties from iba (fever). His neigbours thought he was not supposed to die from such symptom, for his prowess at using shrubs and barks to cure all sort of illnesses. Ogunjimi had saved many lives in the village, but his own he couldn’t save – that was the top talk of the villagers after his demise. He was kind and generous to everyone.
Akanji was a good-looking, sixteen year old boy who was tall enough for his age. Abebi was in her early fifties. She had strong features, except for her loose breasts which was now dangling in her shabby blouse, having fed five mouths in her life time.
“What is wrong?” Abebi’s gentle voice broke Akanji’s day dream, “you are supposed to join me with this weed-clearings. Confide your troubles to me, my son.”
Abebi sat on the ground next to her son. She wiped his tears with her tattered wrapper.
“I am just thinking about our present condition… it wasn’t like this when Baba was alive.”
Abebi heaved a sigh of relief. She never expected Akanji to dwell on that sorrowful, but distant memory. She had gotten over that long time ago. She loved her husband as much as Akanji did.
She cleared her throat, and said, “Everything will change for better my son,” she gave him a motherly look, patted his back and urged him to his feet, “let us plant a few crops. Thank God it will rain today … it is approaching already.”
Mother and son paced away from under the tree; withered leaves crunched beneath their bare feet since it was a dry season.
Aboyade village was always congested on market days. Noise of market women calling for customers choked the atmosphere. The market was surrounded by hills. The sun could be seen in fraction, peeping behind the distant clouds. Cool breeze descended, stirring the colossal pear tree that dominated the market square. The birds trooped in their hundreds across the light blue sky to perch on the trees, and upon the thatched roofs.
Akanji was selling beads just under the tree. His mother would sell their crops to the market women in bulk. Akanji was said to be honest and kind to everyone; even the birds could testify to that. He would summon the birds with a mouth whistle that suggested their various utterances for the grains he had bought for them. He had never eaten anything without sharing with his sales mates.
A man in agbada and a cap now approached Akanji’s stall. He kept flaunting his bulging pocket.
“How much do you sell your beads?” asked the aged man.
“The prices vary according to their sizes and designs.” Akanji said, “which should I bring, sir?”
“Pile them up and let me know the worth of everything.”
Akanji thought he hadn’t heard the man quite well.
”Everything, you said?” he queried.
“Yes, my son … make the estimate of everything for me.”
Akanji was impatient while packing them up – he was so excited.
“Twenty pounds, sir,” he announced.
The man counted the money and handed it over to him.
“Here is your money.”
He received and confirmed the amount. He then handed the goods over to the man in a big sack. The man turned around, forcing his way through the crowd to shop for the other goods.
Akanji started arranging his basket, preparing to go home. Then his eyes stumbled upon a knotted small cloth lying on the ground.
“What is this?” He thought aloud, “It is only one person that had come to buy goods from me today. Or did it slip off from somebody else unawares?”
He partially loosed the knot. He almost lost his sight, bedazzled by gold and silvers half unfolded. His mouth widened with amazement. He quickly knotted it back, preventing it from being seen by the market people.
This is wealth! He thought. I have to search for the man that just left here.
He jostled through the crowd, scrutinizing every face he met on his way. He asked after the man from some of the market people, describing his appearance to them. None gave him helpful feedback. He combed every inch of the market; the man was nowhere to be found. He was despaired. Eventually, he met a woman who pointed the direction the man had taken few minutes before.
He ran as much as he could. Finally, he sighted his fading figure afar off. He began to shout at the top of his voice to attract his attention. When Akanji reached the man, he started panting like a rat that had narrowly escaped a cat.
“Hello, sir,” panted Akanji, “is this for you?”
The man quickly rubbed his pocket – it felt empty.
“Oh!” exclaimed the man, eyes lit up, “they are my jewelries. Where did you see it?”
“By our stall,” he managed to catch back his breath,“ it must have fallen down from your pocket when you were buying the beads.”
He handed the sack to the man. Just then the man gazed into the sky and dropped the gaze back on Akanji who was about going.
“Come back, my son,” said the man, in a strange voice that startled Akanji.
Akanji got confused now, solely seeing the man’s once radiant countenance replaced with a dull one as if he had sighted something forbidden.
” I have to seek your forgiveness, for I have wronged you. The money I just gave you for the goods was a fake one.”
Akanji delved into his pocket, and took a better look at the money. His mouth widened in awe as he confirmed.
“Take back your beads … the jewelry are all yours too.”
Having said this, the man produced a gem from his pocket, “take this precious stone – it is a mystical stone. Say into it whatever you want, and they shall be yours by the grace of Eledumare.” (the almighty God)
Akanji stretched forth his hand hesitantly; a cold sensation surged through his unwilling body. His heart beats was almost audible over the howling of the wind as his hand met the man’s for the powerful stone.
“Thank you, Baba,” he said, almost under his breath.
“That is your reward, and do not change your character. Above all, you should always be a good boy.”
The last word rang a bell in his ears. Was that not the last word from his late father?
“Go home now,” the man urged him.
With that, the man turned back at him. With few paces, his figure fleeted into the distance, gradually becoming paler until he dissolved into the thin air. Akanji gasped with shock. Another strange feeling, stronger than the previous one, flooded through him as his eyes widened in horror at the strange man’s figure. It was doubtless that the ghost of his father had visited him. His eyes crowded with tears as he headed back home.