The Ikemba tournament was no doubt the best part of every year for the villagers. This was evident in the kind of bands that played, the taste of palm wine which was served, the kind of meat which was presented to the villagers and most of all, the presence of Robert Spencer. No one missed this tournament for anything in the world. The atmosphere was polluted with noise from the men’s laughter over nonsense talk and the women’s gossips.
Madueke, the leader of the finest band which played at the tournament gave the signal; his men beat the drums hard and for a moment one would think the mouths of those playing the flutes were permanently twisted.
Finally it was the part everyone waited for, the traditional wrestling-Gidigbo. The defending champion stepped out; there was a loud roar from the crowd, such roar of praise had never been given to the king. And so the wrestling began, Robert Spencer watched with great zeal and excitement as Okey-the defending Champion- defeated his opponents with much ease. Many of his opponents never lasted 20 minutes with him. The excitement had continued for almost an hour and there was left just two people on the field.
They fought for quite some time, jab…jab…punch…punch and then a chance to fling his opponent to the floor was the way Chukwuma fought, tirelessly and boldly. They braced each other and moved in circles with great strength until a great thud was hard, red dust clouded the sky and the winner was unknown until……..
A loud roar was heard, “Okeychukwu, ISIAGU”.
The crowd screamed for theirchampion was yet unbeaten. Robert Spencer had watched many fights of this nature but never had he seen a Die-hard man like Chukwuma. The fun continued in celebration of Okeybut Robert was already taken to Chukwuma and so after the whole celebration, Chukwuma was invited over to his quarters.
“You fought very well today” Robert started as he lighted a cigarette with the burning wood’s fire.
“Tank sa” Chukwuma replied almost stuttering. It was a great honor to be called before a white man.
“I see you have great zeal for fighting, follow me back to my country and I’ll train you”. Chukwuma stood gape; to him all what had been said had been interpreted as ‘follow me to my country’
“I will, I will go your country” Chukwuma replied with joy, the thought of what he was going to do there never occurred to him, the whole village life, his family and friends, his land and animals, none of these bothered him and so it was that a few days later Chukwuma left the village for the first time in his life.
The white man’s land was very different from home. The roads seemed funny to him, at first he had concluded that the sins of the white men had made the gods curse their roads to look tarred-unlike the sandy road in the village.
Robert Spencer lived alone in his house; Chukwuma had refused to sleep in the house at first, he had explained that the walls didn’t look strong enough and might be knocked off by the wind so he would rather sleep in the barn which had a little village feel.
Robert Spencer was a boxing coachso for the next few weeks, he trained Chukwuma on the art. This was a tough task as the language barrier was inevitable and many times, he had his face bruised by punches from Chukwuma.
Weeks came and went and Robert seemed to be satisfied by Chukwuma’s progress in the art and language so he decided to get Chukwuma a match-Chukwuma’s first match.
Chukwuma was uncomfortable in his attire that night; it was different from the material which was used in the village.
“This will tear if he grabs me” Chukwuma complained.
“No one’s grabbing you, just try to keep your stance” Chukwuma simply nodded, not really understanding what had been said.
Chukwuma took his stance; his opponent looked very much like Robert in every way-another white man. His opponent moved his feet gracefully as he laced Chukwuma with punches. Chukwuma could hardly block because his opponent was fast…….punch, punch, left, right and one for his face and Chukwuma lost his balance as he staggered and fell on the ropes.
He looked furiously at Robert who seemed disappointed. What nonsense is this? He thought, he pulled off his gloves and helmet, the crowd which made chants of “Blackman” stopped and watched in amazement. The referee tried correcting him but caught an elbow from an aggravated ‘Blackman’ which landed him on the floor.
His opponent made a wrong choice by coming towards him…..jab,jab,punch,punch he braced his opponent very tightly before lifting him in the air and a very loud slam on the floor kept every one silent.
His opponent seemed lifeless as he remained on the floor although he still breathed very slowly, Chukwuma gave a piercing look at the crowd and at Robert Spencer. He breathed heavily as he stood in the boxing ring awaiting cheers from the crowd as it would have been in the village.