Another Short story of mine first published on September 27, 2015…Enjoy xx
It was well past midnight. A silent hour. They could hear the crickets chirping in the bushes and they felt the cool night breeze brush the sweaty surface of their naked bodies. They were entangled, sprawled out on a mat cushioned by a layer of Ankara lost in their rhythmic dance. Her long nails dug into his skin as she held on for dear life- at the peak of her climax, certain she would die from all the pleasure she was feeling.
It passed and while her legs quivered, she waited for him to make his last few thrusts till he released and collapsed on top of her. They both took deep breaths as he gazed into her eyes. Nothing else mattered in the world in that moment and their troubles seemed so far away. She brushed his cheek with her lips as he tightened his arms around her while taking in her scent. She smelt of talcum and sweat and it had a euphoric effect on him but not quite like the taste of her juices.
She rolled out from underneath him and reached for her clothes. He was transfixed on the subtle curve of her waistline, adorned with tiny waist beads, the bouncy mound of flesh on her behind and the way her nipples stood erect. This image of her had made his dreams its home. He watched her small hands try to knot the Iro and he was reminded of how she clung onto him always, like a constant reassurance that he was real. She spoke often of her nightmares. She wept sometimes out of fear that he had died overnight, or in the few hours that they had been apart. She woke up screaming his name from time to time and often mumbled during sex that he should never leave her. He took it as a symbol of her unwavering love and affection for him.
He watched her disappear into the shadows of the night and he longed for the days that she would be his wholly. No sneaking around in the bushes and meeting up under mango trees, or using his father’s old mud house on the outskirts of the village. Although, this was what made their relationship much more profound- the delightful, sweet but yet savoury taste of forbidden love. It was an escape from their harsh reality and had turned them blind to the glaring truth.
Uche was the village carpenter. His family had migrated from the East and had settled down in a little village outside a Yoruba town. His father had struggled to overcome the woes of an easterner on Yoruba soil. He defied the odds and raised his children to be fluent in both Yoruba and Igbo. He became the village’s go-to carpenter and an acquaintance of the Baale. He taught his craft to his sons, Uche being the eldest, and soon their clientele expanded to neighbouring villages. However, “a carpenter is still a carpenter and an Igbo one for that matter,” his father often reminded him whenever he saw Uche’s eyes hungrily feast on Salewa’s body while they worked at the Baale’s. Salewa was the youngest daughter of the Baale, the apple of his eye and his bright morning star. He wanted the best for her, which was to be married to a doctor in the city, if not an Oba’s son.
Uche had a plan and in a week, Salewa would be his bride. He decided not to tell her because she would laugh, just like his father had laughed.
“The son of a carpenter has no place in the arena. He carves the stools the men sit on to watch the match and not participate in the match itself,” His father guffawed while he rolled the eba in his hands and prepared to dip it in his soup.
“The Baale has promised the winner a bride of his choosing, and I want Salewa. He’s an honourable man, he won’t go back on his promise.”
“Hmm.” He appeared to be in deep thought, “but is she worth it? Worth losing a tooth or an arm? I worry that you are not physically able.” He paused and looked at his son whose eyes were filled with stubborn determination. “Isn’t there another way? See ehn, we have plenty of fish back in Onitsha so are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“Nna, You’ll understand when you meet her. It has to be her and nobody else. This is the only way I can think of right now, asides eloping.”
Later that night, Uche looked at his hands before rolling them into fists. He had been told that they were the perfect size for his craft; slender calculating fingers and rough palms. His knuckles were weak and he knew they would not serve him well in the exchange of blows. He lacked experience and training, but he was sure his love for Salewa would fill him with the overwhelming strength needed to win the heart of the Baale.
Salewa had woken up with a bad back. It ached all over and her breasts felt tender and swollen. Her waist beads felt tighter and every morning she woke up with an episode of nausea. She walked out into the compound with a cup in hand and chewing stick in mouth as she greeted the mothers of the house.
“Salewa, come here,” her father’s first wife called. She walked cautiously under the imploring gaze of the younger wives.
“You’re getting fuller in the hips.” The first wife said as she twirled Salewa round for the others to see.
“Her skin is pale also,” another pointed out from the back.
There was a minute of silence before all the women began to laugh.
“So you, this child, have gone to taste the forbidden fruit eh.” The first wife laughed as realisation dawned on Salewa.
“And now, she will bear the consequences.”
‘Ashewo oshi! What a disgrace! You’re just like your mother, be opening leg up and down for anyone that has oko between his legs.’
‘Child, come. Tell me, is it that Igbo boy who drools over you every time you walk by?’ The first wife beckoned for her to come closer.
“The first son of Ebele the carpenter? ”
“Ehn! Omo Igbo? Ti e ti ba e! Let your father hear.” The youngest wife screamed and Salewa sunk to her knees, begging for their silence.
‘Or you mean the Baale must not hear. Omo daddy ni Salewa na.’
“I sha hope he’s ready to marry you because an omo ale cannot be running around this compound” One said finally and they all agreed in unison.
Salewa wanted to tell Uche that she was with child, but he had been ignoring her all week. He told he had a deadline to meet and needed no distractions. Her heart had sunk because she felt rejected. The mothers were getting impatient from keeping such a secret from their head. So she had been given an ultimatum. Uche had till the dusk of Friday to come forward and ask for her hand.
Friday arrived and she still had not spoken to Uche. Her nightmares had become more frequent and she needed to know that he was safe. She went searching for him, but he was nowhere to be found. She found his little brother sitting outside his father’s shop and he told her Uche had gone to participate in the annual wrestling competition.
It was soon to be his turn and he saw the undefeated Adigun take down all his opponents one by one. He saw the Baale chew his kola nut and gulp it down with stout. He saw the old men cheer, raise their caps and staffs up to Adigun every round. The sun was beating down hard and the air was still. He was parched and anxious. The last opponent was down and the crowd began to chant ‘Adigun, the supreme.’ A dwarf went to the center and rung his bell to announce the next opponent. His first instinct was to turn back and run home but he reached for the cowrie pendant stringed by his lover and every part of him felt alive. Adrenaline surged and he pumped his chest, ready to take down Adigun.
Adigun laughed when he saw his new opponent. The crowd whispered “Omo Igbo” as the dark skinned lanky fellow approached with nothing but his bare fists to defend himself.
“I’m not fighting you, go home.” Adigun laughed and the crowd followed, including the Baale.
“This is where real men come and dance the dance of warriors.” The Baale continued.
“The dance of our fathers. The dance of heroes,” Someone called from the crowd.
“Only pure blooded men have their blood spilt here.”
“Or marry our daughters.”
They came at him from different angles of the quadrangle of bodies they had created. Uche clenched his fists tighter and pressed his feet deeper into the ground.
“You don’t like to hear word, go home,” Adigun said once more.
Uche grew impatient because it felt like the sun had grown a thousand times hotter or maybe that was the rage he was feeling. Adigun turned his back and began to walk away. Uche relaxed his fists, spat on the ground and charged for Adigun. He used all his weight on him and sent the mighty Adigun crashing to the ground. Their bodies went gliding through the sand and the crowd cheered like never before. The show had truly begun.
Salewa tried to make her way through the crowd, but she was denied access. Young girls were not allowed to be in the midst of men. They barked at her to return to her mother but still she fought and she begged. Dusk was soon.
Adigun was no easy opponent, as expected. Soon he was back on his feet, delivering blows from left, right and center. Uche’s joints ached and he felt a stabbing pain in his sides. He took joy in knowing that he had been the only opponent to send Adigun to the ground and make him break out in sweat. Adigun was breathing heavily and his nostrils flared. He looked like a bull and Uche felt a sudden urge to run for his life. He saw the blow coming but dodged it. He reached for Adigun’s waist, but Adigun grabbed him by the neck before he could. He lifted him off the ground till Uche could see his fear reflected in his eyes and then slammed him to the ground. Uche heard a crack in his back and felt pounding in his head. The whole match was becoming a blur.
Salewa was getting closer to the arena, she could hear the drums better. She overheard them talk about the Omo Igbo fighting and she felt the overwhelming need to protect Uche. So she pushed her way through, ignoring questions and the unwelcoming glares. She was at the front now and she could see a beast hovering over the lanky body of her lover.
“Uche! Uche! ” She screamed.
Uche knew death was near and heaven was at his doorstep because he could hear the only angel he had ever gotten accustomed to calling his name. He moved his head painfully to the right and could make out her sweet face. He thought she was an illusion because surely she was not permitted to be here. He mustered the strength to get up, not to fight but to ask her to leave. He did not want these men feeding off her beauty. He turned to face her and there she was, in the flesh. He waved at her, but she shook her head.
“Please come back.” He read her lips as she mouthed each word.
Something was starting to blur his vision. He thought it was sweat and reached to wipe it. It was blood. The sight of his own blood took him by surprise and for the first time since he had conceived this idea, he was confronted by his own stupidity.
He heard her scream, but it was too late. Adigun had taken him by surprise, but he managed to hold off. They were in a stalemate, unable to make the next move cos they seemed to know each other’s next move. They held onto each other’s arms, tugging and scratching. Uche felt the warmth of Adigun’s blood seep into his nails. His joints had gone weary and in that involuntary moment of weakness, Adigun managed to place Uche’s head underneath his arm. Uche struggled, but it was a tight spot. He saw fear take over Salewa and he wanted so desperately to fight back. Adigun showed no mercy and it was quick. He snapped Uche’s neck so swiftly, almost like it never happened.
Salewa watched the lifeless body of her lover drop to the ground. For a second, she was unsure of what had happened. She waited for him to wake up, but he never did. She heard someone scream, a woman, but soon she recognised her own voice. She felt her body shake and legs grow weak. Everywhere spun and her vision blurred. The last thing she would remember is the first sign of dusk.