The beads on Asake’s waist swayed in unison with her hips as she walked along the river path singing a song to herself. It was getting dark and she knew her mother wouldn’t be too pleased that she had chosen the evening to go and fetch water from the river. It was just as Asake had expected, her mother was by the door, hands akimbo, obviously seething with anger. Asake had barely dropped her water pot when her mother launched into a tirade,
“Don’t you know that no good spirit walks in the dusk of day? You cannot kill me, you hear? When I was your age I did not kill my own mother. The child that says its mother will not sleep, it is that child that will not sleep. Those your ears that are for decoration I pray you would use them to listen when you get to your husband’s house. So all these times I tell you not to go to the river at this ungoldly hour, I was only barking for myself abi?”
Asake cringed in embarrassment and stared at her mother with a bit of defiance in her eyes while at time same time trying to look remorseful, a thing they both knew she was not.
“Mama I was quite busy with house chores. That is why I couldn’t go any earlier. I will try and…”
“Will you shut your mouth!” her mother cut in angrily “Shut your mouth I tell you. Are you the only girl in this village that assists her mother in the house? You are courting trouble Asake, big trouble. The chameleon that approaches with caution dies, how much more the toad that slams its body with every step.”
“I am sorry Maami, I will not disobey you next time.” The young girl kneeled in front of her mother and bowed her head in shame. The older woman’s anger melted like butter under the sun as she looked at her only daughter and sighed inwardly. Her anger was borne out of maternal worry. Asake was her only child and she didn’t want to see her get hurt, everyone in the village knew of the stories of Agbara Nla river. It was common knowledge that every two years, an unlucky person was sacrificed to the goddess of the river. According to the myths that surrounded the river, the goddess often chose the person who most defiled her during the course of the two years and one of the myths that surrounded the river included fetching water from the river in the evening.
According to the stories, the goddess of Agbara Nla usually held meetings with her maidens in the cool of the evenings and hated being disturbed by the activities of the human world. Hence fetching water from Agbara Nla during the evening or carrying out any other activity near it was considered a danger to oneself.
“Just make sure you don’t go to the river again at night.” With that she turned and went indoors praying to the gods of her father to change the heart of her stubborn daughter.
Much later that evening, Asake sat with her best friend Labimpe under the glow of the moonlight, a little farther away from the other villagers who had come out to listen to Iya Awero’s tale. The moon was at its brightest that night and while some of the little children dozed against their older siblings, the older ones who were too old for the stories had divided into pairs and were either deep in conversation or playing games to entertain themselves.
“Don’t you sometimes wish to leave? I know I do all the time, there is more to this life than this village. I want to go to the city…” Asake was telling Labimpe of her dreams when the other burst out laughing
“I am so sorry,” Labimpe managed to choke out between laughs “I am really sorry. For a second I believed you have finally given up your dreams off going to the city. When would you wake up and see that this is where you belong. Look at you, any girl in her right senses would give anything in the world to be in your place. Prince Adelaja wants to make you his wife and you are here talking about the city. What do they do there?” Labimpe said the last part with incredulity in her voice.
“Prince Adelaja my foot. He is nothing but an arrogant thing and I cannot be married to a man that I don’t love.”
“Pekele pekele, an old woman is in debt, please tell me, who will pay? Love you say? Will love feed an empty stomach, which of the worthless scoundrels in this village do you love, pray tell me,” Labimpe gestured with her hand in one sweeping movement to take in the entire village.
“Don’t you know that love is only for the fools who wish to starve and perish. You have for yourself a fine specimen of manhood, he is a prince and set to be king. If you don’t want to be queen, me I want to be a friend to the queen.”
“If you want connections to the throne so badly, why don’t you marry him yourself then.” Asake snapped with irritation in her voice. When she saw the hurt expression on Labimpe’s face, her voice softened and she continued “I have told you Labimpe, you know you are the only one I talk to. Life in this place seems empty, I feel like there is something missing and I have to find out what it is. Deep inside of me, I feel like I can only find it beyond those hills.” Asake pointed to the hills that were pointing upwards like a regal flag with a bit of mist surrounding them to give a mysterious look.
Labimpe was about to reply her when the sound of a gun went off, for a minute everybody paused as if spellbound by some magic. The second booming of the gun, this time followed by a piercing scream sent everyone scampering in different directions.
It was two days since the gunshot incident and Asake lay on her bamboo bed thinking about everything that had happened since then. Nobody could tell who had shot the gun but the body of the Ifa Priest, Pa Fagbamila had been found at the entrance of his house. The whole town was practically under fire as King Adedapo had ordered that anybody found loitering be arrested and thrown into jail. A murder had been committed and everybody was a suspect. She still couldn’t understand it though, Asake was sure that she had heard a woman’s scream when the second shot went off. She later told her father about this but he dismissed it as part of the confusion that must have followed after everyone tried to scamper to safety.
She was beginning to drift off into sleep when the sound of the gong went off. It was the town crier and her eyes flew open at the sound. She strained her ears to pick out his words. The king had ordered that the murderer confess to the crime within seven days or the anger of the gods will be invoked on him. It was bad enough that a murder had been committed but the murder of a priest of the gods made it all the more sacrilegious. Asake sighed and wished for the umpteenth time that day she was really out of the village which in her mind’s eye was nothing but a dead place.
Her ears however perked up again when she heard that Pa Fagbamila’s son Fagbuyi would be coming to the village from Lagos to see to the burial of his father. Every house was expected to bring him a mourning gift and also pay him a condolence visit over the loss of his father. The wheels in her mind began to turn as she considered the thought of having someone from the city of Lagos come to the village. Perhaps she could convince him to take her along with him when he was leaving. A plan began to hatch in her mind and she finally laid her head back on the bed and allowed herself drift off into sleep.