There was a slave raid last night. Ijiji was not crying. Only pain-conditioned eyes could see and not water. Raids do come and go. This recent one is not a raid, it is, as she
There was a slave raid last night.
Ijiji was not crying. Only pain-conditioned eyes could see and not water.
Raids do come and go. This recent one is not a raid, it is, as she concludes, a knock from the gods. This one had hit Ijiji by her ribs. One of her ribs is suddenly missing. Unconsciously, her left hand felt her side, the other hand on her head as she glided slowly through the village’s main path. Elume’s sister had also been taken; she could see her mother squalling like a performer in the midst of other women, her lapper has forsaken her breasts, letting the two descending pawpaw flog this way and that way as she wept . The next compound she passed seemed like no one lived in it. It was Amannus’, one of the titled men that won’t accept mirror from the white men. He must have gone to the ugba tree for urgent meeting concerning the raid or could it be that his whole family alongside him had also been taken? Ijiji didn’t know that she was conjuring up pictures of her own misery; the worst is that it was beginning to cause her eyes to water.
In front of Anuka’s hut were young men and women exchanging their sorrows, the agony of a taken loved one. Some women were on one side, their hands across their retired breasts, they also had tears on their dried faces. Few children just ran about like idiots, not even sober of what has happened neither did they know what had happened. To this, Ijiji thought that children are even more stupid than the idiots she had called them. Nanu called out on name, ‘Ijijim.’
Ijiji hissed and threw away her face as she continued her journey. She will still not dance in front of him. She won’t do that. She won’t give him that privilege to place a cowry on her waist. Nanu cannot be her husband no matter what has happened. She knew that his eyes were on her breasts. In moonlight gatherings, they called her breasts the proverbial melon that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Among her age grade, her own has become like big ant hills positioned shamelessly on her chest. She didn’t dear run too fast or dance too much, they would laugh at her. She wished they were like Onu’s own. Onu’s breasts were the ones the priestess said are from mother earth, very firm and average with nipples. Her own breasts didn’t have nipples. Ijiji thanked the gods that she was not under the ukwa tree that day to hear where the priestess would have said her own breasts came from.
Ijele had said that the breasts will feed his sons well. He was very eager to pay her bride price, once she marries him, she will start tying a lapper around her breasts as a sign that she can keep the secret of her husband. Ijele! The one for whom she will become his first wife, the first taste of the strength of his thighs. What an honour. A tear dropped. Ijele filled her water pots and destroyed her thick fire woods with few strikes of an axe. Last night, they were under the ukwa tree, his hand had brushed against her breasts. It was not the first time but she loved it. Ijele even worked in her father’s farm with her brother Ozulu yesterday. Another tear dropped, her face began to squeeze,
What will the people do? The white men keep giving most of the elders nwancholum bags, mirrors, hand fans and a kind of new wrapper from nowhere. If some kinsmen had gone to their land to learn their language, why have they now come to take them all with force? Where were they taking them to? Where have they taken Ijele to? Or could they have killed him? Ijele could have fought them till his last blood. He knew him full well. Ijele had fallen all his peers under the ukwa tree, his arms were strong like the gods.
He is missing, he is only missing not taken. He could be somewhere wounded from fighting the slave raiders or dead. She would find him.
Her legs lodged into the shrubs and bushes. She shouted his name out to the air. She shouted and screamed, tearing into the bushes deeper and deeper. Nobody was in the farms, it was a sign of tragedy.
There was silence but for the movement of the forest spirits.
‘Ijeee!’ she cupped her mouth with her palms. ‘Ijeeleee!’
‘Ijeeee!’ Not too long, she fell to her knees from an attack from forest ropes. Trying to wriggle herself free, she still called out his name, this time weeping heavily through her croaking voice. A maiden fighting the air she breathes.
Could the villagers be right? She was in all paths and bushes with Ijele. They had said that their amorous love for each other might annoy some evil spirits that will eventually cause tragedy to befall them. It was true. Ijiji flung herself among the biting bushes and wept so loud and uncontrollably for minutes.
Suddenly, like a newly possessed priestess, she sprang up and ran backwards. She will run to the ovosi tree. She would plead to the deities, to her god, to mother earth and to all the demons of truth and battle, the goddesses of warmth and love, the evil spirits of fate and sorrow.
Ijiji lay in front of the ovosi tree that harbours spirituality till sun set. The darkness lifted her till her feet started heading home.
Ozulu, some warriors and some other strong kinsmen had already gone to unloose what they have planned for the slave-raiders, she reckoned. Only that no one knows when they will come again. No one knows, hopelessly Ijiji voiced, ‘No one knows, not even the gods.’
Mama should be worried or better still, everyone must be looking for her thinking she had gone to kill herself.
‘I knew you will return,’ Mama said from where she sat cooking ntugbiri in a pot on seeing her. ‘I sent omem, my spirit to accompany you and your sorrow my daughter.’ Mama was that powerful, with omem her special strong deity gifted her by her mother for protection. If she was that strong why couldn’t she save Ijele. Everything had suddenly lost the meaning of their existence to Ijiji. Ijiji began to sob as she leaned on a bamboo that held one angle of the cooking-hut. Ijele would not forsake her like that, it won’t be true to the hears, Ijele would never leave her. Ijele had placed not even one cowry but four cowries on her waist while she danced in front of him. A last ritual that he will soon come and pay her bride-price with his people, Ijele had promised to make her his first wife. Endlessly, more tears glistened her cheek till she caught her voice,
‘Ozulu and the men have gone to lay ambush on the white men with matchets, arrows, catapults, stones, sticks and charms. Mama, I am a woman what can I do?’
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Ijiji later made her own plans on what to do to slave raiders against customs and traditions. What do you think she did. Guess. Comment your guess. Goodluck trying to read my mind, lol. Happy Birthday to me!