Ojemba: The venal solution

The light of the moon played against the backdrop of deep blue skies; the music of the night, a sweet melody as she danced. Just one more step… just one more whirl… The dried branches crackled beneath her feet as she did.

The villagers of Ichoku gathered at Nkwo, that night, like they did every full moon; the children listening to folklore, the Nwa agboo dancing to the beat of the drums and Nwokorobia wrestling and chanting praises.

How she would have loved to join them, she would have trounced any of those girls any day. But she knew what she was… The one thing she hated; being reminded of the dishonour that the mere name held.

She danced; each sound from the Ogene more intoxicating than the last, the Opi giving her a reason to move her waist. The moon’s light peeped over the bushes behind which she hid. She closed her eyes, gripping sand with her toes with each stomp.

Then she felt a sharp sting on her leg. She blinked rapidly to adjust to the light when the slippery creature slithered away. She sank to her buttocks with a great thud, desperately gripping the leg as she let out a sharp wail,

Agwo!” She cried.

Out from the bushes, a man appeared, swift like an Agu. His eyes were small and sunken in his well chiselled face. His body was tall and huge like the Iroko, moving towards the wound. Putting his lips to the wound, he sucked the venom and spat. Her eyes were getting heavy. He picked her up like a limp antelope and threw her over his shoulder.

She fell into a deep sleep.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He watched and waited; watched the young wrestlers at Nkwo, hoping to see Otimgbo, to see if the bastard would show off any new skill like he usually did. Otimgbo was walking in circles and spitting all around, that being his sign of ‘victory’.

But then, she caught his attention. She was hiding in a shrub beside him but he could see her. Her hair was as long as the mare’s tail; bouncing on her back with every step she took. Her eyes were closed but her skin shone with sweat, showing a glimpse of her well-endowed bosom. Her Akwa looked worn and torn but they caressed her so well in the light of the moon. He hid behind the bushes and watched her, carefully examining every inch of her. When, suddenly, she fell; he knew she was hurt and instinct kicked in.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

She sat up; confused as to where she was and alarmed as to how long she had been there. As it was daytime, she assumed her siblings would have been worried sick. She glanced around the empty compound; with only a large hut in it and a stool by the mango tree that stood majestically beside her.

On the mat, which she laid, was a bowl of crushed leaves and water.

O gini?” The strange man asked as he emerged from behind the hut.

But she shook her head and blinked. She tried to get up but the pain in her leg didn’t concede. There were a bunch of crushed leaves placed on the wound and she instantly knew they were herbs for the bite.

“I am Ojemba.” He said, holding his head up in proud declaration.

“Ugo” was all she said before she laid down again to rest.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two Eke market days passed and they grew very fond of each other. They would sit outside at night with an oil lamp being the only illumination and he would tell her stories of his deity, Akpa. He told her about his mother, who was the priestess of Akpa and was feared even across the waters. He was the famous wrestler of the seven villages of Achoro who resided in Osii. He had never been beaten. His backyard revealed a huge barn of yams; he was truly rich. His conquests had preceded him. Not only did affluence visit his house but also his village; everyone wanted to trade with Osii because it was home to the local champion. She wondered why he was so rich but lived so simply.

He nurtured her leg while she, in turn, took care of his home.

“Ha! Ugom!” He teased whenever he tasted her food.

Even the way he said her name was different.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Ugo?” he said one day.

“Hmmm?” She mumbled over hot roasted yam in her mouth.

“Let me marry you.” This was just after three full moons.

She laughed at the possibility.

“You don’t even know my full name and you want to marry me.”

He laughed. “What is it then?”

Ozugo.” This meant ‘Stop’. His eyes went wide and then he began laughing again.

She didn’t mind… she loved him.

Their love was stronger than the bronze sculptures at the igwe’s palace; his kisses, more intoxicating than Nnaji’s famous palm wine.

And then, one night, he didn’t let her go home, after a particularly stressful day of cooking for him.

He kissed her and led her by the hand into his hut.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ojemba strode angrily out of the hut to the ilo, while Ozugo stalked behind; her Akwa carelessly falling from her chest, clutching the hem so she could walk faster. When she tried to touch his arm, he slapped her hand off. She saw a different side of him that night, a side she had never seen before.

“What rubbish?!” He kept shouting. “Do you know who I am?” He asked rhetorically.

“You are Ojemba, the mighty warrior of the seven villages.” She answered rather foolishly.

“Yes, yes…” He circled her like a predator about to pounce in for the kill.

Suddenly, he stopped, eyed her and said,

“How could I ever be with a filthy Osu?

She looked him in the eye and saw the truth. Then, she lowered her head and spat at his feet. She walked away from his house still clutching her wrapper, leaving her dignity behind; the crickets, being her only company.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

She had finally told him what she was; an outcast. His response was to insult her and it hurt. All her friends had deserted her when her family was banished and some even called her names whenever they saw her. Her father had brought this shame when he tried to steal from a mazi’s farm. She didn’t deserve to suffer for what she didn’t do; she didn’t deserve to be exiled.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

She hissed long and hard, as she bent over the fire, preparing Egusi for her family. A full moon had passed since she last saw Ojemba. Beads of sweat clung to her skin and her hair stuck to her face.

Last born ran up to her, “Ozugo, bia! A man is looking for you.”

The little girl was so excited, since she hadn’t seen any visitors in a while. Ozugo had a hunch but she asked “Which man?” but Last Born was skipping away already.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Do you know what they’ll do to you if they find you here?” Ozugo shouted when she saw Ojemba standing in her backyard; his beautiful frame leaning against a tree.

“Is that your welcome?” he asked with a smirk.

Nnoo!” Ozugo said and looked away.

“I’ve missed you…” The way he said it made her toes curl.

When he made his way to her and held her hand, she forgot for a brief moment why she was upset.

Soon enough, they were laughing and eating akwu while last born and her other siblings fawned over him.

He came to see her; a symbol of his love, damned the consequences.

Besides, there was work to be done.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The wrestling season arrived and Ozugo saw less of Ojemba but she always went for all his fights. She would hide in the bushes to catch a glimpse of her love because an Osu couldn’t stand in the presence of the people. Ojemba had made promises that she would be treated like a queen if she stayed with him. She didn’t believe him…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One day, while they were out in the field, she asked, “Why are you so strong?” He laughed a hoarse laugh, “The gods be blessed.”

Another day, while he bragged about his victory over Dumaga from Ifunne, she asked once again, “Why are you so strong?”

“Marry me and I’ll tell you.”

Yet again, she asked while he worked around his obi, redrawing his patterns with chalk, “Where is your strength from?” but he gave her no answer.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Before the dawning of the next day, he arrived at her house and told her they were going on a journey. They walked for what seemed like three days until they stood before a tall Iroko tree.

“I told you once before that my mother was the eze nwaanyi of Akpa.” He said to her.

It was dark and he didn’t want to disturb the spirits so he whispered, “She came to Achoro to settle before she had me,” he paused, “I never knew my father.”

She couldn’t see his face but his voice held so much agony that made her want to hold him.

“Before she was killed, she brought me here, when I was but a little boy,” he pointed to the tree, “this is my destiny.”

She looked at the tree, its bark looked old and strong; it wasn’t as tall as the others she had seen but it was tall enough. “I don’t understand.”

She half-wished he wouldn’t tell her; she wanted to change her mind but it was too late.

He stared long at her and stepped closer, “As long as this tree stands, so do I.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the day of the final fight, Ozugo came once again and hid behind the bushes. The gong of the town crier was heard all around Ichoku, late the previous night, that Otimgbo, their village champion, was to fight Ojemba the next day. She saw Otimgbo walk around in circles, beating his chest and spitting. Meanwhile, Ojemba lifted his hands and the crowd cheered.

The fight began but Ozugo didn’t want to watch; she walked away crying.

She cried till the sun set. She already knew his fate. News would eventually reach her.

No one had known her plan. No one, except the Igwe and his two trusted guards, knew how she snuck into the palace, that night straight from Ojemba’s house, begging and crying to be let back into Ichoku. No one knew how she had offered Ojemba’s defeat, some weeks later, in exchange for her family’s honour and freedom. No one knew how unprincipled the Igwe was; he leapt at the idea like a dog in heat.

No one knew how much she would do just to be accepted; no one, especially Ojemba.

Although, she had changed her mind at the eleventh hour; she had sent a message through a guard to the Igwe that they shouldn’t cut down that tree but she got no reply.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

News finally came. The whole of Ichoku was bubbling with excitement. Feasts were thrown, masquerades were displayed. No one would rest- Otimgbo had won.

The Igwe called all the villagers that day, “In the light of this wonderful occasion,” he announced. “The case of the Umeh family has been revisited.”

“They will now be a part of this community…” “Accept them back into your fold…”

Ozugo and her family stood in the centre of the villagers. Some cheered, some murmured. No one could overthrow what the Igwe had pronounced. She couldn’t hold back her smile. She had gotten what she wanted; what she worked for.

Once exiled, now honoured.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ozugo was not ashamed of what she had done; Ojemba was just a means to an end. No one could love an Osu; no one, and he, Ojemba himself, had confirmed it.

 

Ojemba hung himself in his backyard three days after the fight; when the shame of defeat had eaten him up from the inside like a rotten Udara. He was indeed a proud man.

 

The next Nkwo, Ozugo wore her best Akwa and beads, and she walked on to the market place. With her basket balanced on her waist and her arm akimbo, she scrambled from stall to stall, picking foodstuff for her old house.

When, suddenly, someone shouted, “Osu!”

 

INDEX

Agu- lion

Agwo-Snake

Akwa- cloth/wrapper

Akwu- Palm kernel

Bia- Come

Egusi- Melon soup

Eke- market day

Eze nwaanyi- priestess

Igwe- king

Ilo- front yard

Nkwo- Market Day/ market place

Nnoo- Welcome

Nwa agboo- grown lady

Nwokorobia- grown man

O gini? – What is it?

Oba- barn

Obi- hut

Ogene- gong

Opi- flute

Osu- outcast

Ozugo- stop

Udara- cherry



4 thoughts on “Ojemba: The venal solution” by Adaobi Onyeakagbu (@Ardah)

  1. Wow…
    You are a good story teller
    Didn’t she know that No matter the price of her betrayal,she and her family would always be outcasts?
    Samson and Delilah meets things fall apart.
    Well done and please write more,I look forward to reading more of your work here on NS.

  2. I like this. It was well tone and the Ibo jst made it perfect

  3. ardah (@Ardah)

    Thank You @kingobozy @charla very much! this is the first place i’m releasing this story to, Please share :)!

  4. ivie9ja (@Ivie9ja)

    Traitor! this was excellent though. If she had just believed in his love she would have at least had his love. No matter what she was still an outcast. The king can pronounce whatever he wants but the people will always believe what they want in thier hearts. Excellent I look forward to reading more from you

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