Omezi is renowned warrior of Awiri Kingdom. Ekeme, his beautiful bride is his pride. Dikemba, formerly Omezi’s protégé challenges the warrior to duel after assaulting Omezi’s wife. The fight is fixed; a fight to the death.
The dispute had been a minor one, its settlement only an afterthought. As the days drew closer to the prefigured eke day, the villagers were abuzz with excitement not unlike flies to a feast of blood. Abounding was news of the challenge, flying around the neighbouring villages like a kite without a guide. Fathers placed bets using their goats and chickens, most with kegs of palm wine and tubers of yam, against friends, relatives and sons, betting who the victor would be. Only a few, ridiculed the rationale behind the contest.
The two men seated beneath the Lali tree, clothed in brown lapas and dirty singlet’s looked sombre as they discussed the coming contest.
“How can Omezi of great repute be lured into such a fight because of a woman? Chai!” Ogoror, nicknamed for his unusual appetence for palm wine, spoke with such distaste. He scratched the tufts of grey hair jutting out of his almost bald head.
“How can you say that? How can you even say that eh?” Ogoror’s companion, Diba, who must have lost all his front teeth in a childhood brawl, chided him. “If you had age on your side, Ogoror, you would have done the same thing.” Diba spat. “It is the brutally outspoken man that earns enmity. Dikemba spoke out of turn. After almost raping his mentors wife, he still went ahead to verbally insult the warrior, challenging him to a fight. Isn’t that madness?”
“I agree with you.” Ogoror nodded his head solemnly up and down like an Agama lizard. “The boy has gone mad no doubt; the elephant and the Tiger do not go hunting on the same pasture, but still, Dikemba is a dangerous boy.” He smacked his knee to ward of a fly. His eyes trailed the horizon and finally settled on his half empty glass of gin. He lifted the glass to his lips and emptied the content down his throat. The old man smacked his lips and flashed a wolfish grin at his companion whose glass was still full.
Diba sat up straight, reaching for his drink at the hint of greed in Ogoror’s eyes. “Ehen . . . my good friend, have you heard about Obi’s missing she-goat?” he asked. As if waiting for just that topic of discussion, Ogoror dove head-long, into the tale of the missing goat.
Behind the seated men, the sun began a slow descent, spreading an orange tinge across the firmament, like a housewife hurrying home before the fall of dusk.
Twenty something palm trees and several huts away from where Diba and Ogoror sat was a large compound fenced with baked mud, now blackened by time and season. The hut within was among the few in Awiri that boasted of the white mans corrugated iron roofing sheets. Today, like most days, the edges of the roof showered a wave of glints at the fading sun—a sight that had the little children gathering around the baked fence most evenings.
Ekeme sat by the fire, stirring the pot of soup whose aroma had long reached her husband. A careless wind rustled her un-braided hair, fanning the sweat beads on her brow. A faded adire was tied securely around her chest, hiding her supine figure well. She brought out the wooden spoon from a mass of green froth then she waved it to and fro to cool. Thereafter, she licked its bottom with a pale pink tongue, all the while gazing at the steaming stew with an exaggerated frown. Then she jutted her chin downwards and pushed her head upwards and downwards again. Satisfied, she knelt by the fire and blew at the dying flames till they lit up in a red and orange glow, cackling haughtily like two rival wives.
Without warning, the sun dipped into the end of the earth, leaving in its wake, the blanket of night, starless and cold. Seated on the bamboo bed in his bed chamber, Omezi stared into space. He cared little for the looming darkness that pranced, snatching his appurtenances one by one. A smile crept slowly past his face as he relished the coming fight. He had been challenged by that coward, Dikemba. But for Ekeme, he would have let the rile die a natural death but looking back at what had happened, he was glad he hadn’t; the ungrateful dog would know never to cross his path again.
Omezi, son of Attas, renowned fighter in all of Awiri and her seven kingdoms, was a bull. With a face and a body that seemed carved out of a rock, he was rumoured to have single-handedly driven the white men who had come to Awiri on a slave hunt. He had won the annual contest of warriors organized by the seven kingdoms ten years in a row. Dikemba, the ungrateful dog, was once his loyal protégé, his servant. Now a grown man, he wished to usurp his master’s throne. Years of wandering in faraway kingdoms had made him mad, so mad that he now dared death itself.
“An Okra plant can never grow taller than its owner . . .” Omezi mused. He clenched his fist and his entire arm became a mesh of veins, veins now flaccid with the dawn of age.
“I failed to teach the boy that. Well, it’s never too late to teach the young the lessons of life”. He shifted his gaze to the open window. And here, he gazed at his most prized trophy.
Omezi stared at Ekeme’s oval face; her dark eyes were pools of warmth as her gaze locked with his. She smiled. Bending, she fanned the flames with her breath. The bright flames lit up her fair skin; the fires incandescence adding an unnatural tinge to her skin, which made it shine like alabaster. He stared now at her flat tummy and a dark cloud crept into his eyes. He looked away. The years had failed to bless them with child, and every day brought with it fresh agony especially when his neighbours little children came around to watch the glitter and cackling sounds made by his roof in the evenings. She was singing now, with a voice rich as the sound of running water from the stream of Udoja. The warrior closed his eyes to enjoy its rhythm, nodding his head ever so slowly like a cloth under the spell of tender wind.
“Ome, your food is ready,” Ekeme announced, walking into the room with a tray of food balanced carefully on her arms. Dropping the tray on a stool, she quickly lighted the earthen lamp and placed it at the centre of the room. Shadows leapt upon the wall, hideous at first but soon became one with the small bedchamber. The patter of hands, which had smoothened the mud wall, left their mark. It was almost a design as the five digits of a man’s hand could be seen within every inch of the brown mud wall. Hanging on the wall were two locally made guns, beside them where the warrior’s ceremonial clothes hanging from a rusted nail. The wooden hilts of two swords peeped from a corner just behind the door.
Omezi yawned and pulled his wife beside him. “Though the aroma of your cooking has left my stomach yearning for food . . . I am more than sated when I look at you.” He smiled at her, groping for her waist in the semi-darkness of the room.
“Ah! My husband. Don’t you ever get tired of me?”
“Get tired of you? But you know that is not possible,” he said, his voice now hoarse with need. With his feet, he pushed the stool holding the tray of food farther from the bed, and gently drew his wife unto his laps.
“You never change,” she laughed as she wrapped a slender arm round her husband’s neck.
Gentleness was never associated with the ageing warrior, but Ekeme was the magician who could bring out the lamb in him. Slowly, Omezi traced the lines of Ekeme’s face, passing his hands past her chin, her neck and down her chest. Ekeme closed her eyes and snuggled into her husband’s arms.
At the knot on her back, he paused and with coarse fingers, loosened the cloth. It fell to her laps, exposing her jutting breasts now turgid as two unripe fruits.
He picked up the now discarded wrapper and flung it on one of the two wooden trunks facing the bed, looking lonely in their dirty quiet corner.
Quickly, the warrior laid her on the bed, letting his unbuttoned shirt slide to the floor. Ekeme placed a hand on her husband’s chest as he meant to lay atop her, “My husband,” she crooned. “Don’t you think you should conserve your strength for tomorrow? Dikemba is dangerous, and I think you would need all of your strength to defeat him.” She pressed her fingers against the side of his face, moving them slowly up his brows and down to his unshaven beards.
Omezi barked in laughter, temporarily sitting up. “That boy couldn’t fight his mate if given the chance. I would defeat him with my eyes clo – ahhh!” he winced in pain, grabbing his side with both hands.
To be continued . . .
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