The woman was bent over the still figure of the child as she tried to pry his mouth open so she could feed him some of the concoction in the earthenware pot she was holding. The boy turned his head away from his mother and let out a loud wail. His little three year old cry filled the tiny hut and the woman dropped the earthenware pot on the floor as she sat on the mat the boy lay on. She pulled him closer to her gently and lay his head on her laps as she tried to comfort him. “Akanni mi, dakun ma se mi bayi, oju kan epa oju kan ere.” She pleaded with him in Yoruba in a tear filled voice as she begged the sick boy to take his medicine.
The boy’s father stood at the entrance of the tiny hut, his rigid frame oozing concealed tension. He was a tall man and his face held the weather-beaten look of a man who spent most of his time outdoors. His hands were roughened from many years of working as a farmer and his muscles well developed from lifting heavy objects. His heart felt like it was being wrenched from his heart as he watched his wife and son, her appeal to the boy further adding to his grief. Unlike her, he couldn’t show his grief, he was a man after all. Who was going to comfort her if he allowed his own pain to show? Leave the crying to the woman and act the pillar was his watchword. He turned at the sound of hurried footsteps and saw the native doctor approaching, his bent over frame a welcomed sight. The man was old, as old as time itself some people in the village said. His recollections of the man even as a little boy had always been this bent over old man, assisted by a little boy not always older than ten.
“Baba he has started again, please help us,” he implored the native doctor when the old man got to the entrance of the hurt. The native doctor made no sign of having heard his appeal but instead made his way into the hut and headed towards he frail child. In his croaky voice he said, “Leave the child alone now woman, go put on your best clothes and head to Oja Alapere. When you get there, dance round the market three time after which you should head straight to Odo Yemoja where you must dip yourself in the water seven times. That is what your abiku son wants of you to stay alive. Should you do this, then he will stay and be a child to you.” Without another word the man departed leaving the couple staring at each other in stupefaction.
The woman began to weep gently as her husband moved close to her and drew her to him. After her sobs had subsided she went to her trunk where she brought out a colourful 5aso oke and after wearing it, she went out of the house while her husband took charge of looking after the sick boy. She half ran, half walked to the market as it was getting place and about the time people were returning home for the day. As she approached the entrance of the market, she began to dance, like a mad woman people watched her dance to the sound of the wind. The only sound that acted as music to her ears was her beating heart and those that knew her story of having given birth to an abiku child three times in the last five years shook their head in pity. Her coming to dance in the market was not a new thing and as they went on their way home, she was the topic of discussion.
Having completed the requested ritual of dancing and bathing, she returned home to find her husband smiling. For the first time in years it had worked, Akanni was on his feet like he had never been sick and was playing with his father in the characteristic manner of a three year old, his animated laugh filling the once moody room. She ran to her son and scooped him up in her arms as she wept joyously, thanking the gods for showing her mercy. That night the family went to bed happy and it was an excited mother that woke up the next day to bath her child.
As she touched his sleeping figure, her heart stopped in her chest. His body was cold and his heart was not beating. Her scream broke the silence of dawn and startled her husband out of his sleep. He didn’t need to be told something was wrong as he saw his wife’s anguished face and touched his son’s lifeless body. Once again the abiku child had deceived them that he was going to stay. Without another word, he picked up his shirt and made for the native doctor’s house, his wife’s wails ringing in his ears.
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