It was midday; the sun was right above the village of Chiolu. Mazi Oge sat in front of his obi, cracking palm nuts with a sizeable rock and throwing the prize morsels into his mouth. Kpa, kpa, kpa, he went, making a rhythmic noise that resounded through the lonesome compound. He was hungry, and was using the nuts to wait for his wife, Adaku, who was busy preparing his meal. She better hurry up, he thought, glancing at the sun again. Very soon, the elders and the medicine man, Otutu, would be here. The matter they wished to discuss was a very important one, so there could be no food interruptions. If he did not have his food before they arrived, he would have to stay hungry till evening. He grimaced at this thought and called for his daughter.
In reply, he heard a loud thud. Then she came running of her mother’s hut, brushing away dust from her knees and elbows. It was obvious to him that she had just fallen.
“Nna anyi” she breathed. “You called?”
“Ihuoma.” he cleared his throat. “What was that noise?”
“I tripped over a basket of ube, papa. Someone must have placed it by the door.”
He looked at her from the corner of his eye, wondering why she was bothering with an excuse for her habitual clumsiness. She only did that when she got hurt in the process. She didn’t look it, but he decided to make sure. “I melu aru?”
“Mba o, Papa!” she answered, shaking her head vigorously. “Mba”.”
He gave her a once-over, and seeing no apparent injuries, decided to let the matter end. “O nwero nsobu. Go into that kitchen and tell your mother to bring me whatever she has prepared. If she wants to kill me before my time, she would have to wait another market day.”
“Yes, papa.” She turned and took her leave, feeling somewhat relieved. He did not ask what damage she had caused this time, and for that she was grateful to her chi. Otherwise she would have earned a serious beating for breaking all the water calabashes in the household in one careless go.
Inside her kitchen, Adaku sat, arranging firewood pensively. A million thoughts were running haphazardly though her mind. Next to her, her sick son lay, curled in a fetal position. She had brought him into the kitchen hoping that the fire from the hearth could warm his fevered bones. It was working, as his shivering had reduced. She put her hand over his forehead to check his temperature. That too, had abated, and it was clear that he was getting better. Tears of gratitude lumped painfully in her throat, and Adaku drew her precious son to her ample bosom. The gods have spoken. Ojukwu has overruled. Amardioha has forbidden that she should suffer the death of another son, only four years after the demise of the last two. Chei! She hugged her son tighter and the lump gave way to free flowing tears. “Kedu onye si na Chi’m adiro, ehn? Kedu onye siri na chi’m, chi’m nke’m were, chi’m a diro?” She started to beat her chest and shout for emphasis. “Who is that person that said that my chi is not around me?! Let him come! Bia! Bia furu na chi’m di’nso oooo! He will fight for me! He!!” At this, she broke into heavy sobs, clutching her son and rocking him from side to side. She would have cried for hours if Ihuoma had not come into the kitchen at that instant, bearing her father’s used dishes.
“Nne, papa is done. Dee Otutu and the elders are around already.”
Adaku wiped her tears away slowly. “They are around?”
“Ok. Bring out the camwood and rub it on your brother’s chest. Put a spoon between his teeth too. I will be right back, let me tend to them.” She stood and walked over to the kolanut stash, selecting only the oji hausa variety. They were a rare kind, creamy white and worthy of only edified dignitaries. Ihuoma watched her mother’s ample behind jiggle as she retreated into the sunset, and nearly dropped the camwood in the process.
“Dee Unu, I greet you” curtsied Adaku, as a cock went cackling by. She dropped the kolanuts in their midst and tried not to stare at the brightly colored calabash sitting in front of the renowned medicine man. “Dee, please accept this small orji. I hope I meet you well.” “Adaku, Nwanyi oma. You have met us very well. The gods have finally smiled on you” replied Otutu. His words brought hope to her chest, and she looked at her husband expectantly. He smiled back and pushed the strange calabash towards her. Instinctively stepped backwards, which sent him into peals of laughter.
“Ah, how like a woman. Go on, take it. You are to keep it very carefully, because, right now, Nnadi’s life depends on it.” Otutu cleared his throat. “O eziokwu. Your husband speaks well. I had to make this calabash from the clay at the depths of the Eke river. Without it, our sacrifices tomorrow would be useless. Keep it well; while we discuss the further arrangements needed. Be careful to not turn your back while you go, for there are spirits with us this very moment. You do not want to insult them”.
Adaku obeyed and left, feeling very hopeful. She knew why the elders had come. Malicious rumours had begun to fly around. Only yesterday, in the market, she had overhead Nwosu’s wife, that fat-bellied toad, whisper to a nearby woman that she was the mother of an Ogbanje. Ogba-gini? Tufiakwa. To give birth to a child who kept dying and returning was a curse. May her chi never let her see that with her own eyes. She shook her head vigorously and it began to hurt. Nsobu adiro, she’ll just mix some water with peppery powder and rub it around her head. It was probably as a result of all that crying she had done earlier. She called for Ihuoma and asked her to go get some water from the stream, and then snuggled next to her son to get some well deserved rest.
When she woke up, her headache had worsened, and she could almost feel her temples throbbing. She had dreamt of people chasing her with sticks and shouting. Their noise was a cacophony in her head that still seemed to remain there after the sleep. Chei! The peppery powder was still there where she left it, so she rose to go get the water Ihuoma must have fetched. Quietly, she limped to the back of the hut. The whole house was quiet and Adaku idly wondered if the visitors had left. She rounded the hut and came face to face with a chaotic sight. All the calabashes were broken. Every single last one. She picked up a jagged piece and anger coursed through her veins. Ihuoma! That child would not be the death of her. She went to pluck a guava branch, its flexible nature good for flogging, and marched around looking for her errant daughter. “Ihuoma! Ihuoma eh!!” her voice echoed. There was no answer. Gradually her anger gave way to fear, as she perused all six huts in vain for her daughter. Only one hut remained. She started to run towards the obi, just in time to see her husband and the elders come out. Before she could say anything, one of them asked.
“Can you hear that noise?” She listened.
It was true. There was a low din coming from the path to the stream.
“Sounds like a lot of people singing…” another elder said, frowning his already furrowed face. She stared at his grey head, uncomprehendingly. Why would people be singing from the stream, towards her house? She looked again towards the direction of the sound. She had sent Ihuoma to the stream, hadn’t she? And if she had broken all the water pots, which one did she use?? Gradually, understanding began to settle in Adaku’s heart, and with it came a terrible foreboding. No. It could not be. No. She started to shake her head slowly and stagger backwards with a dazed look in her eyes. No…
“Adaku, are you alright?” She turned and raced towards the kitchen, where she had kept the special calabash given to her by the medicine man. It was not there. She knew it would not be there. She looked down at her son too, but it was too late. She knew it was too late, because now she could finally hear the words of the song that was coming from the stream…
*”Nne, nne, udu’m a laputa’m o!
Nne, nne, udu’m a laputa’m o!
Udu’m na echu mmiri na ama maro’m mbe a dara
Udu’m na echu mmiri na ama maro’m mbe a dara
Obulu’m s’olu udu, ma obulu I hapu udu n’aba?
Obulu’m s’olu udu ma obulu I hapu udu n’aba…”
She crumpled into a heap at the feet of her dead son and wept loudly.
Translation of song
“Mother, mother, my calabash has put me in trouble! x 2
“The calabash that I use to fetch water, I do not know when it fell!” x 2
“Am I to follow the calabash, or am I to leave it here and come home?” x 2
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