“Do you remember the story of the Antelope Woman?”
“It is story time?” I screamed with childish delight.
We had both been staring at the seamless beauty of the constellation of stars the whole time. Papa and I were lying on the mat outside our home enjoying the caress of the cool evening breeze.
“Have you ever seen a Grass cutter before?” Papa was obviously pulling my legs. He had brought a lot of them caught with his trap home on many occasions.
“Yes–yes papa and it is very delicious too.”
“I knew you would say that. He said with an accompanying throaty laughter.
“I will tell you about Grass cutters we all saw long before you were born”. I snuggled up to my father and put my tiny arm around his big paunch. He pulled me close with his big left arm and supported his head with the other.
“There was once a wealthy farmer. His name was Idemudia. He was well known for his large farms and immense wealth. He was a very hardworking man and had hundreds of workers. After harvest season, he had so much that he could feed three villages with his yam tubers and still have enough to fill up his large barns. He was a stupendously rich farmer and he loved women.
Idemudia had eight wives and was willing to marry more. There was so much rivalry, bickering and enmity in his home. Every day, it was one problem or the other. The women hated themselves so much in the midst of plenty.
“I have all you need, yet you quarrel and fight. What are you all fighting over?” He asked one day in frustration. He was a naïve man. He thought he could acquire women like he did with his large farms.” Papa chuckled to himself. He was amused and I didn’t understand why he was, actually.
“Why are you laughing papa?” I asked innocently.
My father had tears in his eyes now. He was coughing and laughing so hard.
“Well son, I have just one wife and I tell you frankly, it is hard work. He was laughing. I still did not understand him.
“What are you saying to that boy?” It was a timely retort from my mother.
She was in the house. I did not know she was listening the entire time.
“Go and marry another wife o. Nobody is stopping you.” Both papa and mama were in a symphony of laughter now. Papa was laughing so hard in bass and mama’s was quite high pitched.
“Don’t worry son, you will understand better as you grow up.” Papa said.
“Better don’t marry two wives for your own good.” Mama responded and we all laughed it off.
So Idemudia got very angry with all his wives and decided to marry a new wife. He found a very pretty woman one day on his way back from his farm and was instantly enchanted by her beauty and grace. She was very polite to him.
“Are you from this village?” He asked, staring at her as she spoke abashedly.
“Do you know me?” He asked proudly. She responded in the affirmative and genuflected.
“Please I have to go and help my sisters in the farm. I am sorry I must leave now” She said politely.
“Wow. You say it so well. I want to marry you.” The young woman was blushing now.
Who wouldn’t marry the richest man in the whole of Esan land? Idemudia observed how her lips curved into a smile and he was mesmerized.
“Before you go, please tell me your name.”
“My name is Omoze”, she said, punctuating her statement with genuflection.
“Tell me where you live.” She did gladly and he promised to visit her family.
Idemudia suddenly felt happy again. He could not eat when he got home. The thoughts of Omoze brought warmth to his heart. He was very pleased to meet her. His wife, whose duty it was to feed him that evening was greatly disturbed. She pleaded with him to eat, but he did not care. All he wanted was to have Omoze as his wife.
In few months, he concluded the marriage rites and brought his new wife home. He was very pleased. Unknown to him, he had made his problems worse. His marriage to her brought him great misfortune. He and his many workers would put in immense efforts during the planting seasons, yet when it was time for harvest, he would have little or nothing to show for it. Once it was harvest time, there would be a strange infestation of grass cutters in his farmlands. They would eat up and destroy the harvest completely. With the consistency of damage, his fortune depleted. The rich farmer decided to find a solution.
The once wealthy man sold off some of his farmlands just to make ends meet. Things became very tough for him, so he decided to visit a powerful witch doctor. When he arrived at the witch doctor’s home, the old man knew what the problem was instantly.
“Hold still,” the man ordered.
He hopped from left to right towards Idemudia. He was nervous, but he held still. The witch doctor wiped his brow with his rough palm and took a seat afterwards.
“They put a mark on your forehead.”
“Who did baba?” Idemudia asked. He was astonished at the old man’s insight.
“Your wife is a witch.”
“I have many wives baba. Which one of them wants me dead?” He did not understand why a woman living in affluence would want him bankrupt, miserable and dead.
“We will find out soon enough my son,” the old witch doctor said reassuringly.
He gave him some instructions and they agreed to visit his farm the next day. Idemudia could hardly see with his powerful lamp that morning. It was very early at dawn. He was determined to find out who the witch was and have his good fortune restored back to him. The cool of the morning gave him a reassuring nudge as he stood clueless at the crossroad. He was nervous, agitated and frustrated. In a flash, he felt a grip on his shoulder. He turned sharply only to find the old witch doctor staring at him with ghostly eyes.
It was a cold, long walk to his farm. By the time they got there, the witch doctor disappeared out of plain sight. Idemudia threw glances about, confused. He looked behind him and heard a whisper in his head.
“Come over here son.”
Idemudia walked briskly to where the witch doctor was standing. Right in front of them was a calabash with brackish water.
“Now listen to me carefully Idemudia. What I am to tell you is a matter of life and death.” The witch doctor appeared stern.
“Take a good look at this calabash. This is where she transforms before ravaging all your crops.”
He was about to ask some questions, but the old man signaled him to stop.
“At midnight, you must come to this same spot and hide. If you are spotted by her, you will die so make sure you hide. She will come. Do not be alarmed. Once she transforms, wait for them to all leave. Be sure that they all leave, then carry the calabash home. When you do that, do not look back until you get home. By morning, you will all know who the wicked witch is. Then send for me.”
Idemudia was shocked at the revelation. He went back home that morning very troubled. When he got home, his wives were all over him, worried by the turn out of events. They were even more worried that he was no longer eating at home. He ignored them all and went straight inside his room. When he got in, he found Omoze. She encouraged him and made him relax, but he wanted to be alone. So he asked her to leave. She was disappointed and very upset.
“Where do I go my husband?” She asked, sadly.
“Go and join your mates. Do anything. I just want to be alone”
“You know your wives do not like me. Please let me spend some more time with you.”
He declined and she went away sad, angry and rejected. Idemudia did not leave his home all day. He was patiently waiting for midnight. It was dusk, everyone had settled in. Idemudia came out to smoke his pipe, but ignored everyone. Some hours before midnight, he got his lamp and secretly left his home. By then, the whole village was fast asleep.
They journey to the place of revelation was a tortuous and difficult one, but he kept moving. There were so many strange voices on his way to the farm, but he maintained his focus with the help of the old witch doctor’s charms. After some hours, he was at the farm and found the spot of the calabash. He quickly hid himself and waited patiently. Everything in the farm appeared like they were alive to witness the reward of wickedness. He knew why he was there, so he remained brave.
Suddenly, from nowhere, Omoze appeared in the farm in the dead of the night. Idemudia had to gag himself because he almost screamed from shock. He had believed that the witch was likely to be his third wife, because of how dark he thought her heart was towards him. He was shocked by the discovery. Omoze bathe herself with the water in the calabash. Immediately, hundreds of Grass cutters began to come out from underneath her body. Once the last of them got out, she transformed immediately into a very big one. The farmer watched as they resumed the destruction of what was left of his vast farmland.
He got up quickly from his hiding place and grabbed the calabash. He moved away with great stealth from the farm and ran as fast as his feet could carry him. By the time he got home, he could hardly breathe. He sat down for a moment, confused and terrified. He considered the calabash and carried it to his wives’ bathroom. Everyone was fast asleep. He placed it carefully on the bathroom floor and went back to his door post where he tried to rest.
Idemudia was jolted out of his sleep by wild screams from the villagers. He was fast asleep the entire time while at his door post. His wives and children all ran out to see why the villagers were alarmed. He quickly joined them. In plain sight, was the strangest of things ever seen. Hundreds of grass cutters were moving along the village path in a single file. There was a very big one in front of them leading the march. The people were shocked, so they thronged after them to see where they were heading for. Behold it was Idemudia’s compound. They entered the women’s bathroom one after the other, until the last one did and everyone rushed into the bathroom.
To the astonishment of everybody, Omoze was lying naked on the bathroom floor, lifeless. Everybody was screaming, but Idemudia.
“Go and call me the witch doctor”, he said to one of his servants. “We have caught the witch.”
From that day, nobody in that village ever saw a Grass cutter the same way again.