“Ocholi the village boy from the bush village of Adumu,” Mrs Abeni said vociferously. They all guffawed with laughter again but Ojima did not laugh.
Ocholi just kept quiet staring at the sky as if someone, a higher voice, was up there telling him to ignore the callous woman and her impudent children.
Ojima as a boy was not contented with the way his mother had marshalled the whole situation. He knew his mum had hit below the belt in her judgment. He knew in his heart that this type of upbringing would be inimical to his brothers and to the public. At his tender age, he had read many folktales of similar circumstance where mother corrupt her children by what she teaches and advises them.
He was lost deeply in his thoughts then on the spur of the moment he shrieked, “Mum, you are not being fair with your judgement. I don’t like the way you took side with Agbene and Enemali.” Ojima could not believe his ears. “Was this my own voice?” he asked himself. He didn’t know from where the courage to shout at his mum was coming from, but he was glad he did. “At least someone needs to speak up for the gentle and kind Ocholi,” he thought again.
He was tired of watching his mother and older siblings scolding and insulting Ocholi all the time. He had lost count of how many times he had shouted and scolded them in his mind. At one time he had even slapped his mum and Agbene in his mind. He is happy this time his lips and tongue betrayed his mind that they echoed out what his mind had been trying to do for a long time.
“Shut up!” Mrs. Abeni retorted almost immediately. “What do you know about being fair or not being fair, you this foolish boy?
“You think you are wiser than your elder ones, abi? Will you get out from this place before I slap you!” she threatened Ojima again. Ojima left the place without uttering a word and feeling sorry for his cousin.
Agbene and Mali wriggled, turned and then said sorry to Ocholi from a distance with excitement in their voices. Although they said they were sorry there was no atom of pertinence in their voices. Ocholi knew they were not saying sorry because they truly meant it. He knew that there was more to it than the eye could see. He was trying to figure out the reason why Agbene and Mali had said sorry to him, and then it immediately dawned on him that they were actually saying sorry mockingly because there would be no dinner for him.
“They are actually excited because I won’t eat this night,” he finally thought.
Mrs. Abeni also left after leaving out a loud hilarious laughter.
Ojima also refused to eat that night because he was feeling sorry for his cousin.
At first Ocholi was very worried because of all that had happened but an apt recollection of his father’s words to him on the night of departure at his Atakpa enlightened him.
Every compound in Adumu has its own Atakpa, and he remembered sitting with his father in his Atakpa that night. He pictured how his father had leaned back on his wooden chair and look directly into his eyes. He could remember how he was staring at his father’s lips and the movement of his jaws as they were saying those words to him. He could remember also how his grandfather had also prayed for the grand-gods to protect him because he was going to live with another people. He remembered how his grandfather Olachene had told him never to be frustrated by anyone’s attitude in the city and had also promised him that the grand-gods would be protecting him all the days of his stay in the city. Olachene had told him all these things after communing with the grand-gods. He made him to understand that it was a message from the gods.
Ocholi was staring at the ceiling fan which had been spinning round and round on the roof as he was lost deep in his thought. It was like the spinning of the fan was going hand in hand with his thought.
“My son, you need to be very careful and cautious of them because they are not from our village, especially the woman whom you are not related with at all,” Ocholi could hear his father’s voice saying this to him.
“But they are our tribe and the man is my mother’s elder brother,” Ocholi reminded him.
“I know my son but they are not of my blood, my lineage, and they are not from Adumu. These are the three peculiar reasons why you should be very careful of them.”
Ocholi never gave any serious thought to this his father’s words to him that night until now. He lay on his bed thinking of the warning.
His dishearten state had changed now after mustering courage from his father’s words. They gave him hope again and he thought to himself of how he was going to handle Mrs. Abeni and her children henceforth. “I’m going to be very careful from now on,” he said in his heart. He was no longer peeved. He diverted his thoughts to his village, how his family is one of the greatest in Adumu. He thought of the entire joyful event that he was already missing in his hometown. He felt humiliated because in the village nobody would dare talk to him in such a manner knowing he is the grandson of a priest and the son of Adah the most dreaded warrior in the whole of the middle belt.
He remembered one of such moment when he had encountered a problem with someone in the village simply because he was hunting on his farmland. The man had flogged him and commanded him to go and bring his stupid and foolish father. When he got home, he narrated everything to his father who immediately went straight to the man’s home to inquire about what had happened before he had the nerve to insult him calling him a stupid man.
When Adah got to Okpanachi’s house he was in great rage when he did not find him there. He met his wife grounding pepper on a local stone.
“Where is your husband?” Adah yelled at her. She could not compose herself to utter a word. He then turned to Okpanachi’s eldest son making brooms from a palm frond. “Where in the name of the gods is your father?” he said as he was drawing closer to the boy. Immediately the boy saw that Adah was drawing closer to him, he stood up and cringed backward from the position to distance himself from the enraged warrior. There was no adult in the village that did not know of Adah’s heroic tale.
Out of the blue, Okpanachi’s wife saw him coming in with a friend from where they had gone to drink ọtẹ-ẹpkẹ. They were inebriated from the excessive alcohol they had consumed. Okpanachi’s wife pointed her hand in the direction of the compound exit so that Adah could see her husband coming.
“What is the matter?” Okpanachi yelled out in a tipsy voice as he was approaching them.
“What!” Adah growled, his eyes popping out of their sockets with boiling rage. Okpanachi did not even see it coming. The last thing he saw was Adah’s big hairy hand that looks like a sumac up in the air. Okpanachi had no idea when and how it landed on his face. It was the fiercest slap he had ever received. Moreover, the fact that he was not expecting the slap made it much more difficult for him to comprehend and put up a fight. The full impact of the slap sent him reeling awkwardly backward a few steps before falling flat on his back.
For several seconds all he could see were dozens of stars running rings round his head as he stared into the air. He had been forced out of his inebriated state from the slap. Okpanachi’s friend was surprised but could do nothing because Adah was one of the finest and greatest warriors Adumu had ever known. He had been forced out of his own drunken state as well too. He knew his friend must have done something bad to Adah to have warranted such a visit from him. “What did he do?” his mind kept asking him. Even Okpanachi’s wife and son were also asking the same question in their mind. They didn’t know what Okpanachi had done to Adah to get him to this level of rage. They have all known Adah to be very humble and calm.
“How dare you? How dare you call me a fool? How dare you insult me calling me a stupid man because my son was hunting on your farm? Or am I the one that was hunting there? You even have the guts to tell my son to go home and notify me that you have insulted me,” Adah kept asking and yelling out angrily. That was when the people watching knew the offense Okpanachi had committed.
“How dare you?” Adah asked again, his body still splitting fire. His entire body trembled as he spoke. Okpanachi did not need a priest to tell him that he might not survive another wallop from Adah. As he lay helplessly on the floor and was resting his cheek on his right palm he had already been forced out of his drunken state so he now sees and think clearly.
With a rehabilitated dynamism, Okpanachi sprang to his feet and said, “I am sorry sir, it was a mistake but …” Adah did not allow him to complete his statement as he started drawing closer to him again. He knew Okpanachi still have ọtẹ-ẹpkẹ in his system and if he should allow him to continue talking he might want to tell him the whole story from the beginning. He was glad that he had met Okpanachi in this state because Okpanachi couldn’t deny the fact that he had insulted him.
“Indeed, In Vino Veritas,” Adah thought to himself.
Okpanachi was retreating backward as Adah was drawing closer to him again.
“You have not even begun to know sorry yet. You wait until after I am done with you, then you will understand completely what sorry is,” Adah fired back as he was drawing closer to Okpanachi. He raised his hand to land him another whack but Okpanachi’s wife and son blocked him. They knelt down and started begging for mercy. Okpanachi was praying silently in his heart that the gods should touch Adah’s heart so that he would not slap either his wife or his son because he knew that none of them could withstand his smack.
“He is very sorry for insulting you,” Obogo said. This was the first time he spoke since the incident had started. He was also thinking straight now that the ọtẹ–ẹpkẹ he had drunk had left his system. “Please temper justice with mercy. You can see that his whole household is begging you. I am also begging you,” he added.
Adah dropped his hand and walked out of the compound abruptly. He threatened to deal with Okpanachi rigorously. It took the intervention of the elders in the land before Adah forgave him. They pleaded on Okpanachi’s behalf and blamed him for insulting Adah.
“Next time just scold and thrash the boy and not his father,” the elders cautioned Okpanachi.
Okpanachi had lied that he did not know that Ocholi was Adah’s son. He even added that it was out of annoyance that he had uttered those words.
Remembering this now, Ocholi laughed for the first time since the incident between him and Abeni had ended.
“If not for this white man’s education what would bring an illustrious son of Adumu like me to this kind of place? The people in this house are all wicked,” he thought quietly to himself. He quickly recalls that his uncle and Ojima have not been wicked to him .He then prayed silently to his ancestors not to give to him a wife that is as wicked as Mrs. Abeni.
His thoughts now shifted to Ojima and his tender heart, how he had been standing aloof with his family members except for his father. Although Ojima could not stand up for him against his mother and brothers because he was the youngest, he still admires his courage. He thanked his ancestors for giving his uncle a son like Ojima and also for giving him someone that understood his plight in the house. “Maybe Ojima inherited his father’s traits. Mr. Ado is a very kind man and his sister, my mother, was also very nice and generous according to what people say. I am not surprised Ojima is kind as well,” he told himself.
Ojima entered his room and he did not even notice him because he was deep in his thoughts. The boy cleared his throat to disrupt him but he was too engulfed with his thoughts to hear any sound. It was when Ojima touched him that he knew that someone was in the room. He looked up and saw that it was Ojima, and he said; “You never reach to die o!” Ojima was surprise at this statement. He did not know what to say or how to reply because the statement sounded disgusting and fearful. “Is he wishing me dead?” he thought to himself. His inquisitive nature prompted him to ask what the phrase meant. Ocholi laughed and said that in Adumu it is a way of saying to someone that you were thinking of him before he came to meet you. Ojima felt relieved after hearing the meaning of the statement Ocholi had earlier made.
“Well, I came to apologize on behalf of my mum and brothers. I know you are annoyed with them, please forgive them for my sake,” he said as he knelt down before Ocholi. Ojima’s action startled him.
He gaped at the young man kneeling in front of him. He was thinking of what had prompted the boy to react this way. “Come and sit beside me,” Ocholi urged him. Ojima got up from where he was kneeling and sat close to Ocholi on the bed. Ocholi was still looking at him. He didn’t know when he said, “You are a good boy.”
He was looking at him directly in the eyes. He sees how good and handsome the boy looks. He sees the gentleness and sincerity in the boy’s heart from his eyes. Ocholi could not help but prayed and silently thank his ancestors for giving him a cousin like Ojima in this house. “If not for him, this house would have been hell for me,” he thought to himself. Despite the fact that he is six years older than him, he admires the young man’s sense of reasoning, thinking and courage.
“You have a heart of gold and because of that I have forgiven them. Look at the way you spoke to your mum,” Ocholi explained. Ojima hugged him in appreciation and bid him good night.
“Good night and sweet dreams,” Ocholi said to him too.
When Ojima left, Ocholi forgot about everything he had previously been thinking about. He was perplexed trying to figure out why his cousin had reacted the way he did. He knew that Mrs. Abeni and her wicked children would not bring themselves so low as to ask Ojima to come and apologize to him on their behalf. He knew that the boy had come on his own accord. He could not find any suitable answer to the numerous questions that were now crowding his mind about what prompted Ojima to react the way he did. “He is a just a good lad,” he finds himself saying. He was actually taken aback by the young boy’s sense of humour.
“So this young fellow can even say when a person is piqued,” he thought.
“I thank the gods for giving my uncle this kind of child,” he said with his hands open up into the sky for prayers. “I like that boy!” he finally said to himself.
He equally appreciates the kindness his uncle and Ojima have showed him ever since he came into their home. He laughed at Mrs. Abeni and her two wicked sons because he knows from his heart that if they do not change their ways, they will be heading towards destruction.
“Nobody dares harm a son of Adumu and go scot free,” he said to console himself. He said this with great zeal and courage believing strongly that it is very true. He could not even remember how he fell off to sleep until the next morning when he woke up to say his prayers.
A rooster’s crow drifted through his window announcing to him that the morning was already around. When he woke up, he discovered that it was still dark outside because he could still hear the shrill sounds of the night cricket even as the sound was already dying away to also announce day break. He turned to the other side of his bed to look at his small table clock on the small desk in his room. It was 5 a.m. on the dot. “This is a very good time to say prayers to the ancestors,” he said to himself.
This has been his tradition from the beginning in Adumu; saying his prayers first thing whenever he wakes up in the morning. The people of Adumu believe in saying prayers early in the morning before dawn because it is at this time that the spirits would all be going back to their home in the sky. They would be going back to give account to the creator on the task he gave them to perform at night.
In one of the folktales told in Adumu land, the grand-gods send his spirits and messengers to go over to the earth at night to guard and care for his children while they were sleeping so that no evil will befall them. In the folktale, two men prayed to the grand-gods for money. One prayed at dawn because he believed that the early bird catches the worm while the other one prayed after daybreak. The following market week, the man that prayed to the grand-gods at dawn was buying plenty things from the market while the one that prayed after day break was not having any money to buy anything from the market. He was in pain and decided to visit the priest of the grand-gods.
“Wise one I have prayed and sacrificed to the grand-gods to make me rich and provide for me but it seems my prayers are not working or the grand-gods have deserted a humble servant like me. Please I want you to help me talk to the gods if I have done anything to them to warrant such treatment from them, they should forgive me and answer my prayers. My neighbour and friend that we were having the same problem of feeding now has a house and does not lack anything in his house. The gods answered his prayers and ignored mine. Please I want to know what my offence is,” he cried to the priest.
After the priest consultation he laughed and said, “The grand-gods had indeed received your prayers and they are going to answer them soon. The problem is with you. Don’t you know that it is better to always say your prayer before dawn? When you do this, the spirit that was assigned to watch over you in the night will immediately take your prayer to the grand-gods when he is leaving his duty for the day. But when you pray after day break, they might have gone causing delay in your prayer being answered. Another spirit would be assigned to guide you during the day. This spirit will be with you until in the midnight when the night spirit will come over to care for you again. So if you want your prayers to be answered quickly learn to be praying in the morning before dawn,” the priest told him. The man listened to the priest advice to him and he started praying in the morning before dawn. The next market week he was also in the market buying things for himself. He soon became wealthy like his friend and neighbour.
Ocholi has come to believe so much in this tale that he doesn’t miss saying his prayers to the grand-gods in the morning before dawn.