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                                                            The chanting grew louder as they neared the village square. Young men were...


The chanting grew louder as they neared the village square. Young men were summoned to stop the women from likely attempts to take the laws into their own hands. They had machetes which they wielded menacingly in the air as they danced and sang. They were all covered in goat skin, which had been drenched in uri. As a result, the goat skins were pitch black due to the uri. Some painted their faces with uri, a in bold and deep declaration of their disgust at the rape of Ulumma. A woman ran into the nearby farm and chopped off a few cocoyam leaves, which she wielded in the air. “Obala nwanne na nwanne anaro emeko (the bloods of relatives  do not mix!)” She shouted as she waved the cocoyam leaf in the air. Another woman dropped to the round and rolled over and over again. She was covered in sand when she was done. “I will eat the sand! I will feast on the sand of our land than keep quiet over such an abomination!” She bellowed. 

“One of our daughters has been defiled by a wild unsaddled horse,” said Obasi. He had been watching the proceedings closely. He was standing with his hands waving in the air. His anger was palpable. “I protect my daughters. We protect our own. Ulumma’s parents may be dead, but we have the responsibility to protect her; to keep her safe from the depraved prowling eyes that are controlled by their loins. What are we going to do with a child who puts on loincloth and sucks his mother’s milk? Nwanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka tupu osuru ofe (If a woman decides to make watery soup, his husband counters her strategy by making a dent in his ball of fufu before scooping the soup). Men of our land, there is nothing to debate here. Let us slay the young man and save our land, gbam! (period!)” He sat back, breathing heavily with rage. His fists were clenched. 

He only managed to restrain himself from grabbing a machete and attacking Akirika. “Calm down Obasi,” Ibezim said calmly. He managed to stand on his feet. “Our wives, we have heard you,” he added, addressing the women who were chanting on the edges of the village square. “You have made your point. We have heard your cry. We have seen the sadness on your faces and we feel the sorrows in your hearts. We too feel the same sadness and sorrow. Such an abomination cannot be tolerated. Let us deliberate on this thoroughly so we do not jump to a quick conclusion.” “He has to die. We already know he did it, why deliberate? Cut off his head and let his blood drain onto the shrine of Igundu!” The women shouted. 

Ibezim raised his hand in an attempt to get their attention. “Justice will be served, our wives. I can assure you that. Justice will be served. Mmadu anaghi agbanari ndo ya (No one can run away from their shadow).” After a prolonged persuasion, the women heeded his advice and returned to the village. They chanted as they left, calling for Akirika’s head. “Our wise king.” Ibezim said. “I am all ears wise fellow,” Eze Ikoro answered. “I would like to ask Okata the dibia that communes with the gods what he thinks of the two options laid out before us. So, Okata tell us. You see in the dark when all other eyes are impaired. If we kill Akirika and sacrifice his blood to Igundu, what happens if he is guilty? And if he is not, what are the consequences? If we dedicate him to Igundu, which makes him an Osu, whereby he serves the deity of Igundu for the rest of his life, what are the consequences if he is guilty and if he is not?” 

Okata stood and stared at the council. His eyes were painted with Nzu (white chalk). He was a heavyset man with a big, bouncy tommy. His head was shiny-bald. He wore sheep skin around his waist. He was bare-skinned. He cleared his throat  before speaking. “If he is guilty and we kill him, then Igundu and other deities of our land will be appeased. Ulumma will begin to speak again. If he is not guilty, Igundu, Elilem, Agbokoro and Njije will spill the blood of the person who is actually guilty for the rape.” “So the gods will not come after the elders if he is not guilty?” Iturunna asked. “Yes! The gods will take their vengeance on the guilty person alone. And if we dedicate him to Igundu, which would automatically make him an an Osu and he is guilty, the gods will be appeased. And if he is not guilty, the gods may be pacified by the quality of his service to the deity of Igundu. If he does not perform necessary rituals to the deity, Igundu will spill his blood and come after us all too.” Iturunna walked over to Okata and whispered in his ear. “Does it mean that most of the Osu people in Osuala can incur the wrath of the gods against us?” He did not want Akirika to hear his question in case they ended up sending him to Osuala. “Yes, but that is if they are not guilty. On the other hand, they risk their own lives too, so in order to remain alive, they serve the deities diligently,” Okata replied in a whisper.

There was an eerie silence at the square. “I say we kill him then,” Amanze suggested. “But if he is not guilty, we are spilling an innocent blood,” Ibezim reminded him. “But only the guilty will suffer the consequences. We will not be harmed,” Amanze insisted. “But your children and your children’s children may be born dead or run mad in the peak of their youth under the curse of the gods,” Okata pointed out. “Hmmm!” Amanze answered, as he pondered the scenario. “Let us hold him until tomorrow. By tomorrow we decide. Let us sleep over this and see if the gods speak to us before we make a final decision,” Ibezim suggested. “I think that is a good idea,” Eze Ikoro agreed. Everyone else agreed in light of the dire consequences of whatever action they took. They threw Akirika into a small holding hut outside the king's palace. Two guards were posted at the door to keep watch over him. 

By night, a full moon looked down on mother earth. A gentle breeze rocked the trees. Chickens made an arduous flight onto low-hanging stems for their night sleep. Crickets crooned  with vivacious energy. The machete-wielding guards were alert. At the same time, a figure lurked behind the trees. Like a ghost, it watched the guards with undying attention. Every now and again, they took turns to walk up and down the narrow road that led to the village square to stretch their legs and shake off sleep. The figure watched them patiently, evading the glare of the moon by sandwiching itself in-between leaves and stems. Soon, one of the guards complained that he needed to visit the toilet. “I will be back shortly. Let me run into the bush and free my bowels,” he informed his colleague. “Don’t be long!” “I won’t.” Soon after he had left, his colleague sat on the ground in front of the hurt. Tiredness set in, forcing him into a light snooze. 

She jumped quickly out of the bushes, grabbed the guard’s machete and slashed his throat before he could react. He jerked and squirmed as blood gushed out of his neck. She quickly opened the hut and cut Akrika’s hands and legs free. “What are you doing here Ulumma?” He asked. She still could not talk. She motioned that he should run fast. “What have you done?” He asked, looking at the dead guard. Again, she motioned that he should run. He was confused. He wanted to stay and prove his innocence rather than run. She pointed to the bushes urging him to run for his life. “But I did not rape you. I am innocent. Why did you point at me?” He wanted to take her to the palace and have her tell the truth. The other guard who was returning to his post heard Akrika’s voice. What is happening?” He asked in a hushed tone. Ulumma raised the machete above her head and stabbed herself in the stomach with all her strength. “No!” Akirika shouted. The guard rushed at him. He dived into the bush and ran as fast as he could. 


CONTINUATION (After Akirika was captured)

“You can’t do that,” a voice shouted from behind them. “What do you mean and who are you?” The guards shouted back without seeing who they were talking to. They had their machetes out, ready to strike. He emerged from the hut nearest to the road. “I am Olokoro the son of Ishigiri, the king of Osuala (the land of the outcasts). “Then you know not to talk to us freeborns, osu (outcast),” one of the king’s guards replied with a hint of arrogance. The other guards who had gone in the opposite direction were joining them by now, offering them strength in numbers. “I am not interested in talking to people you forcibly dedicate their own people to gods...gods that hold them captives. I have no interest in talking to people who segregate among their own people, picking those they hate or have qualms with and tossing them at the mercy of deities. No, that is not my interest. I am not even sure that any of you have come here before. In case you did not know, you are within the boundaries of Osuala now. You cannot take that man away from here if he chooses to live among us.” 

“Why would anyone choose to live on the edge of the evil forest, communing with animals and spirits? I am sure he would rather die than live amongst you.” “Shall we ask him then?” “What says you? Nwoke m, I ga ekwe ka ha buru gi ga egbuo gi? (My friend, would you allow them to cart you away to the gallows of death?) You have a choice to live...choose life.” Akirika wondered if Eririmma would still agree to marry him if he chose to live among Osu people; a choice that would automatically make him one of them - the untouchables. Being alive gives me a chance. They will slaughter me immediately if I return to the village. Nobody would believe me especially now that Ulumma is dead. “I choose to live among them,” he answered. “You must leave him now and go.” “And if we refuse what would you do?” “Nothing, but I can assure you that before you walk from here to there, Igundu will strike you with thunder.” They looked askance at him. “Is he trying to scare us or something?” They asked among themselves. 

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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