Aramule rubbed her large belly absently as the infant within kicked enthusiastically. She expected to be put to bed anytime soon as Opoti, the midwife had determined. She munched on another piece of fruit as she thought again of the turnabout in her mother-in-law’s behaviour since she conceived a son-Aramule had told her so- for her darling Ebime. The woman practically grovelled before her now, eager to do her bidding. Witch.
The memory of that stormy night when she had gone to Toum for a child had haunted her till she had started seeing strange signs on her body about a fortnight later. Now the thought of the excursion excited her, as it had been a prelude to something to something fulfilling. When Opoti had said, “Truly, you are heavy with child” during a secret examination, she had jumped for joy. Her husband had looked extremely proud when she relayed the news to him the next morning and had run off to tell his mother while she pranced around in excitement. Knowing his tendencies, she had begun in earnest to prepare a large meal and was pleased to see she still knew her husband so well when she saw him return with two of his closest friends.
A cock ran past her line of sight, forcing her to blink, extracting her from her reverie. She glanced at the elongating shadows in the dying light. Her husband would be returning from the plantation any moment from now.
“Ma!” the twelve-year old girl whom her mother-in-law had provided as a maid came running from the open kitchen somewhere out of sight from where she was sitting.
“Warm the soup, Nna Ayi approaches”
“Yes ma” she hurried off.
A voice rang out from the entrance to the compound and a familiar figure strode in majestically.
“Have I met you well, my wife?” only her mother-in-law, Otese.
“How is my grandchild?”
“He is doing well mama. He is really getting impatient”
“Gentle my son, the world will welcome you when the time comes” Otese said, referring to the unborn.
The woman surveyed the assortment if fruits placed in a bowl beside Aramule as she took a place beside her
“My son is at it again, isn’t he? Where did he get this yellow one from?” Her hand reached for the fruit.
“The foreign merchants at the Okigwe market”
“Ah, I see.” She said, biting into the soft flesh of the fruit and chewing appraisingly.
“By the way, is my son not supposed to-“
She was cut off by a greeting from the entrance. Ebime had arrived.
“Wife and Mother, How fares my son?” he hailed.
“I see the child has already taken priority in this family. You did not even ask our well-being. Is this cause for fear?” Otese replied. Ebime gave a hearty laugh as his mother continued, “I hope he does not give you a tough time, judging from his eagerness to rip his mother’s womb apart from the inside. He will be a strong one, just like his father.”
“Indeed he will be”
“Akati! Bring cold water for Nna Ayi” Aramule called out,” how does the farm fare, husband?”
“Thank the gods. The yam beetles have stopped attacking the tendrils. We can be assured of a bountiful harvest”
“The gods be praised”, the two women chorused excitedly.
Akati came out with a calabash of water from the earthen pot behind the hut and handed it to Ebime, who drank deep. When he was done, Akati returned the calash to its place and set about providing water for his bath.
“Don’t forget to add the scented leaves Adie’s mother brought for me yesterday”, Aramule called out.
Ebime sat down on a stool near them and regarded the two women with his disarming smile.
Ebime was a fine man of sunny countenance. In his younger years, the women folk swooned over him, vying for his attention with their eyes and the meals they sent him regularly. She had first espied him watching her when she was with her now-late mother at the farm while he passed by. Her face had turned crimson at the attention of this fine young man. She had been amazed when days later, her mother had returned from the market with the young man in tow carrying her unsold goods. He had dropped it at the appropriate place while her mother Nerinwa had rushed off for a quick bath. Young Ebime had confidently approached her sitting form with a smile on her face.
“Your mother tells me you have not been feeling well”
“Is that so?” it was true, but why would her mother give up the information? She looked him straight in his eyes, struck by his boyish beauty. She sought to throw him off balance, if only to hide her embarrassment at his unsolicited attention.
He grinned at her.
“Yes it is”
An awkward silence ensued as she took a sudden interest at the ground. She looked up to see him smiling disarmingly. Her breath quickened slightly. where was her mother?
“I’m sorry. Is there any way I can help you recover quicker?”
“No, thank you. The gods favour me already”
“If you say so. I hope you recover fully in time for the village dance”
She frowned slightly, “and why is that a concern of yours?”
“Well, truth be told, I was planning on…”
At this moment, her mother appeared from nowhere. Her body glistening slightly in the fading light. She was smiling.
“My son, I see you have found my daughter. Will you like to stay while my daughter brings out the Ofe she made last night? It is delightful, I promise”
He looked almost embarrassed.
“No, my mother. I have to catch up to my friends now. We are going to hunt for grasscutters to distribute at the upcoming village dance”
“Oh, you are among the hunters chosen by the elders for the event”
“I assume you are going to grace it with one of those girls who constantly follow you about the village”
He cowered a little a little before answering.
“You are not going with anyone?”
Aramule who had until now been red-facedly examining a Billy goat bear the fence suddenly found herself speaking up.
“Mama, don’t embarrass him, can’t you see he is uncomfortable with your line of questioning. We still have the farm to check” she had a slight smile on her face.
“Pardon my curiosity…”
“No bother Ma, I will be on my way now.’ he turned to Aramule “ May the gods quicken you”
He turned and left as the two women watched his retreating muscular back.
At about the same time the next day, he came into the compound, bearing gifts of meat.
A year and half later, when they got married, she had been the envy of every other unmarried girl in the village, and even some married ones, as her mother believed. Her mother had died later that year, from a strange illness which struck her on her way to the farm, instantly paralysing her from the neck down. All the medicines and consultations with the herbalists yielded naught as she was forced to watch her mother wither before her eyes. It would have been a morbidly painful death had she not been paralyzed. Her mother had been the only close family she had.
The three ate the evening meal in silence while akati waited on them.
She was kneeling again, but not in a shrine or even anywhere remotely familiar. It was in open ground. Not a structure to behold as far as the eyes could see. Her hands were already outstretched, the familiar small container resting on her palm. Standing incredibly tall in front of her was a man she did not recognise, but whom she seemed to know intimately. This was Toum, the one who would give her a child. She was looking at him very closely but couldn’t seem to keep any part of him in her mind, he was a mental blur. His hands had a glow around them. He reached into hers and took the container greedily, a wistful smile playing on his features.
“You want a child? Take it!!”, he said suddenly kicking her violently in her stomach. The resulting pain made her scream out hoarsely. Her stomach seemed to be tearing apart as she awoke in the light of the dawn, her innards contracting in excruciating labour pains. Her husband jumped up in a moment and reached for the lamp at the corner.
“What is it? Is the…”
“The baby is coming!”, she screamed, then pursed her lips tightly in an expression of agony.
Her husband ran out of the hut.
Her whole being erupted in pain. This was obviously more painful than she had been told. Every part of her felt like it was being twisted and pulled. Presently her husband came back with Opoti the midwife and one of her apprentices with some materials.
Ebime stood outside his hut, prancing about like a wounded carnivore. He picked up the muttered instructions the midwife gave his wife. Fear and uncertainty gripped him as the hair on his nape stood; a trusted precursor to danger.
“Hold this spoon…mouth”
A muffled scream. Another short burst.
“Wait, be strong. His head…”
Some more labored screaming. Then some more.
He felt like he would soon go insane, so he summoned the strength of mind to walk to the corner of the compound till he was out of earshot of the proceedings within the hut.
In the quiet morning, the sudden silence made him realize that all within the hurt had stopped speaking or screaming. His eyes opened wide in gruesome anticipation. Had he lost his Aramule?
“Ebime, bia lekwa!” come and see.
Ebime bounded towards the entrance and swooped into the hut. His gaze first went to his wife, whom he saw was breathing gently in what seemed like a tired sleep. Opoti’s assistant was cleaning her up. His child’s high-pitched cry from the midwife’s cradling arms distracted him. He saw the boy, covered in blood and smiled. A beautiful creature. A beautiful white child. White? His eyes met Opoti’s. He read sadness in them. He looked at his child again, uncomprehending.
Opoti’s whisper sounded like exploding canons to his ears.
“Your wife has brought forth a white child, Ebime. An albino abomination is your first born”
I have been roundly advised to infuse dialogue into my stories so as to give you a feel for the characters themselves. I heard some reviews from some quarters(NS precisely) that Pantheon (1 through 4) was too robotic in its implementation because of its lack of dialogue. This post was made possible because of my acceptance to follow said advice. Read and enjoy. I hope I didn’t overdo the dialogue thing or worse still, make it bland. I apologise for any sentiments which may be seen as prejudicial. All views expressed are not intrinsically mine.