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Slowly she raised her head from under water and cast her eyes around for any sign of people. This was not the time for her type to be...

Slowly she raised her head from under water and cast her eyes around for any sign of people. This was not the time for her type to be sighted, but for seven days she had not seen her lover. Her patience had stretched thin; and at the moment she cared very little about what the consequences might be if she was sighted. Quickly she made her way out of the river and hid in the bush. In there, she transformed herself into and old woman. She intended to go into the village if that was what it would take to see the love of her life. Her nightly visit in his dreams had drawn a lot of attention and so they thought it would be best to put it on hold for a while. She waited, praying under her breath for him to show up, though to no god in particular. Having convinced herself that she had waited long enough, she made to set out for the village, but just then she heard some footsteps descending the hilly path to the river. She stood with bated breath, staring at the path to see if it was him. Dike arrived at the base of the river taking little notice of the old woman who was looking his way. He was as much excited as the woman who had been waiting for him.
Breathing heavily, Dike looked in every direction in search of her. Then he sunk to the ground, moaning, “Oh God! She is not here. I must have stood her up for long. My heart will stop beating tonight if I do not see her.” Springing to his feet, he said, “I will look for her in the river.” Then she called out, “Obim!” Staring at the old woman by the river bank, he wondered, ‘It is her voice, but she is not the one standing before me.’ In that instance, Ulari transformed herself into the figure that Dike was well acquainted with. Without being fazed by the magical display he had seen, Dike lifted her into his arms and blurted, “The queen of my heart, I feel tortured for not to have seen you for days.” He continued, “I wonder how long we will have to hide our love. Please let me take you to my father right now.” Ulari responded, “The last seven days were for me like eternity. I fear I might be showing more of myself among mortals these days, I can’t bear to live a day without you.”

“Then let us get married,” Dike said pleadingly. “You know not what you are saying. I am Ulari, daughter of Iyi Afor, goddess of the river kingdom. A mortal man cannot marry me. If it were that easy, I would marry you right where you stand now. My people do not have regard for fanciful dreams of maidens like me, and would punish us severely if we are to go against long established norms and get married. Your people would cry out to the gods against us. If I marry you, we shall be outcasts in both worlds,” Ulari interjected. “No! I have heard several legends from Nda Ikodiya; through the ages, some of your kind have married men from Alaoma,” Dike replied hastily. “Yes; but only when my kind are sent on special assignments by the gods. Tell me my love, what is my mission with you? Am I not just a young princess of the gods besotted with her mortal lover?”

Taking his hand, she led him deep into Okata forest. This is the only place where they could find some privacy to be alone. Okata forest was dreaded by Alaoma village and all villages around it. It was believed to harbor savage spirits wicked enough to trap the souls of those who wander into it and torture them for several years. Some hunters and palm wine tappers claimed they had often heard the cry of tortured souls coming from the forest. It was believed that if pregnant women heard the cry of the tormented souls in Okata, the babies in their wombs would turn to Oto-oyo (idiots). There was a rumour, that early morning stream goers had often seen Iyanga, the great ezeji (yam king) and okpu udu (potter), coming out of Okata forest. Why he wasn’t eaten by wild beasts in the forest nor captured by evil spirits, no one could tell. Iyanga had neither wife nor children. As far as the people of Alaoma village were concerned, Iyanga had only two interests, ji na udu (yam and earthen pots). He was rich, unusually generous and kind-hearted; but strangely said very little about himself. No one in Alaoma could claim to have any privileged information about him. He was simply a mystery to the villagers.

When Ulari and Dike had reached their usual spot in the forest, at the foot of an eso tree, they sat down. None had said much to each other as they walked. They had simply held each other’s hands so firmly as though there were some daredevils hidden in the forest ready to snatch them away from each other. Their hearts were heavy. The thought of loving each other as they did, and being unable to marry themselves weighed heavily on their hearts. They couldn’t even so much as tell another person of their love. They feared the consequences. Ulari was the first to break the silence, “I will marry you, let’s look for a way to make it happen,” she said. At hearing that, Dike leapt into the air, kissed her and began to run around the eso tree like a child whose mother had just returned from the market place.

Dike and Ulari met each other in quite an exhilarating circumstance three months earlier. Dike had come to Iyi Afor one late evening to fetch water and wash some of his clothes. Knowing it was getting late, Dike had brought his friend, Obum, to keep him company. At this time of the day people did whatever it was they had to do at the river and left hurriedly, leaving the river to the gods to play in. It was believed that after playing in the river, the gods would replenish it with fish and bless the herbs found around the river. Some of the potent herbs found there were, opete, ichite and ede onye ara. These herbs were so powerful that they could cure mad people, heal impotent men and women, ward off evil spirits and revive people from the throes of death. Nda Ikodiya, the oldest woman in Alaoma, claimed that the gods also made use of the herbs found in Iyi Afor and so sent their wards often to get the herbs for them. Nda Ikodiya was the granddaughter of a great dibia (native doctor) who once ruled over all other dibias (native doctors) in Alaoma and the fourteen villages around it. She often claimed that the spirits once in awhile visited her in her dreams to share their knowledge of the herbs.

Having no other time to do his laundry, Dike, a well patronized blacksmith, had come late to the river that evening hoping to do his business quickly and leave the river to the gods. As Dike washed his clothes and chatted with his friend, Obum, about the coming egwu onwa festival; they were startled by the sudden arrival of three ladies. Their beauty was such that Dike and Obum were left speechless; only their eyes darted about in sublime awe of the surreal beauty before them. Unbeknown to the ladies, they were not the only people at the river that moment.

The daughters of Iyi Afor had returned from Iyi Abadaba, (an abandoned royal river in Alaoma). Their consultation with Elile would soon change Alaoma for ages to come. Elile were a group of spirits offended when, with the help of Igu nmuo, the royal family in Alaoma was annihilated by the anger of the gods through the treachery of some members of the Ogbede clan. To keep the royal family from ever rising again, the abominable sacrifice of those years was continually offered secretly some distance near Iyi Abadaba by some elders of the Ogbede clan every Mbomuzo festival. It’s been nearly a century now, but Elile and Iyi Afor will have their revenge. Igu nmuo were a group of lawless spirits scattered across many lands, who kept no bonds nor regarded customs they laid down for mortals. They lived with little concern for morals and traditions. Their needs of the moment outweighed their esteem for laws even when they were made by them.

As the three daughters of Iyi Afor began to play in the river, all the fishes in it came out to play with them, including Obojoro, the ugliest fish known to men in Alaoma and even as far as Elele. Obojoro was so ugly that men and women in Alaoma composed a song to express their hatred for the fish. They sang in their tongue, “Anyi erigi Obojoro, gaghi ahia la o gba”. The song said, “We will never eat Obojoro, nor even visit the market where it is sold.” In his awe-stricken state, Dike began to wonder how the ladies were able to summon the fishes from their hiding places to play with them. It bothered him that the ladies did not care about what time it was; soon the gods would be out to use the river, yet the ladies seemed not to care. He was afraid for them. So he spoke up, “Umu Ada, (ladies) it is getting late…”

The ladies were startled at the sound of his voice. Two of the ladies, in a flash, sprang deep into the river and vanished; one, the youngest and fiercest of them, thrust herself in the direction of the voice. In that moment, Dike and Obum’s water pots exploded of their own accord. The two men were thrown off of their feet by a violent force, and the bush around the river began to whistle eerily; as she stood over Dike with her eyes flaming and the locks of her hair swooshing like a pool of snakes, she reached for Dike’s heart to pull it out of his chest. The laws were clear, the man or woman who happened to see the gods late sundown at the river must sacrifice his or her heart to the gods. The spirit seen by any mortal must take the mortal’s heart back to the underworld to appease the gods therein.
Dike was frozen by fear. He believed the end had come for him, as the vicious damsel from the underworld menacingly reached out her hand towards his chest. But for some reason she stopped, staring at Dike as though some greater force had seized her. Without a word, she vanished into the thin air. Dike staggered to his feet and ran towards the village, leaving behind Obum who had fainted as a result of the power and horror he had witnessed.

Back in the river kingdom, two of the daughters of Iyi Afor lodged themselves inside an ant hill, waiting for their younger sister to return. When she finally returned, she did so without the hearts of the men who had seen them, particularly that of the young man who had spoken to them. Nkelu the eldest of the three sisters remarked, “I do not see you covered in blood stains.” “I have ripped out the hearts of many men. This one was different. I couldn’t do it. Something kept me from pulling out his heart,” Ulari replied. “Alaoma does not have that kind of medicine. Only the Igu nmuo could have done this. But tonight we shall enter the blacksmith’s dream and we shall see how strong his medicine is. I swear by Ogugu, this night his body, not just his heart shall be torn and scattered in the four corners of Alaoma,” Nduri, the second daughter of Iyi Afor threatened.    

Written by:
Uzoma Ujor

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VENGEANCE OF THE RIVERS - Episode 1 An African Literary Blog
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