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Flesh and Stone

 

 

 

FLESH AND STONE

 

By

 

Labake Akinyosoye

 

 

 

 

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name, names, title or titles. They are not in any way inspired by any individual or individuals known to the author. All places are either the product of the authors imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. All incidents and activities contained herein are pure invention and should not be replicated as they may result in injury.

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Labake Akinyosoye

 

 

The right of Labake Akinyosoye to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, taping and recording, without prior written permission of the copyright owner.

 

Cover design © Labake Akinyosoye

Cover and author photographs © Ladi Akinyosoye

 

Shakespir Edition

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HIERARCHY

Traditional structure of governance in Ile-Ife in 1907

STORY

Prologue

1. Peace

2. Upheaval

3. Fear

4. Separation

5. Danger

6. Suspicion

7. Determination

8. Action

9. Stagnation

10. Life

11. Sacrifice

12. Discretion

13. Passion

14. Fever

15. Death

16. Sorrow

17. Decision

18. Planning

19. Execution

20. Revelation

21. Reunion

GLOSSARY

An alphabetical list of Yoruba words, names and phrases

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Links to official website and other works

 

 

 

 

Traditional Structure of Governance in Ile-ife in 1907

Expressed simply in the diagram below.

 

The Ooni/Oni served as supreme leader, assisted by the Obalufe. The most senior of the Outer chiefs, the Obalufe carried out the Ooni’s administrative wishes.

 

The remaining seven of the eight outer chiefs were also known as Ife Elders or Afobajes. It was the duty of this council to select a new king from one of the ruling families when the time arose.

 

Six of the outer chiefs were selected from the six clans and placed in charge of fixed areas as follows:

Obalufe-Iremo

Obajio-More

Obaloran-Ilode

Wasin-Ilare

Obalaye-Iraye

Akogun-Okerewe/Ikogun

The remaining two, the Jagunosin and Ejesi were non hereditary posts.

 

The second group of chiefs were the Inner chiefs, Lowa Ijaruwa, Jaran, Aguro, Lowa Arode, Isanire, Lowate, Ladi, Erebese and Baale of Modakeke.

Together with the outer chiefs, they sat in judgement at the native courts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORDER OF HIERARCHY

 

 

[++]

 

PROLOGUE

“Olola, child of Iraye and Atiba, she works in the morning, sows at noon and reaps in the evening. Her pot is never empty and its fire never dies, her door is always open and her people are many. She is our daughter, a daughter of Ife, a granddaughter of Atiba, a granddaughter of Afin. Olola, child of Iraye, child of the sun and child of this land.”

That was her song when the drums spoke. It was the song of her people, the song of her tribe, and the song of her land. She was Eluyomi Moromoke Olola. Firstborn to the Obalaye, she was a tall woman, young, with dark chocolate skin, and a long, slender neck. When she fought, she fought with her head and when she laughed, she laughed to her toes. Her smile began in the space between her teeth and spread to the corners of her eyes, and she was everything her mother had prayed, fasted and sacrificed for.

She was her mother’s deliverance, her father’s vindication and Dada’s beloved. Her future was certain. Bright and full of hope. She had everything before her and nothing to fear until that night.

The night that death came to the palace.

 

 

1

PEACE

 

 

The sound of scratching pulled Yomi from sleep. She curled her toes into her sleeping mat and pulled away from it, drifting off, and was almost asleep when it started again. She sighed, struggled to sitting and listened. She realised it was the mouse again, a muffled squeak in the corner confirmed her suspicion and she picked up a nearby slipper and flung it at the noise. Another squeak, the scuffling of little feet, and silence.

Yomi lay back down and closed her eyes, trying to get back to sleep. After a few minutes she sighed and rolled over, listening to her sister’s even breathing in the dark. Her mind began to work, and to wander. The birds were chirping already and a distant crowing meant it was almost time to rise. It was the first day of the Olojo festival and there was a lot to be done. As she ran through her list of duties in her head her sleepiness cleared, replaced by a genuine but altogether different sort of weariness.

“Yomi”

She sighed. Feyisara was up, there would be no more sleep now.

“What?”

Feyi took this as her cue. Within moments she was across the room and practically rolling into her older sister’s lap, catching her a glancing blow in the mouth as she moved.

“Ye! Feyi, be careful”

“Sorry”

Feyi squeezed in closer on the mat, pulling her wrapper around her legs. She turned and grinned at her older sister. Yomi fought a smile and tried to look disapproving. Ever since her difficult birth fourteen years ago, Feyi had followed her older sister everywhere, so much so that despite the obvious physical dissimilarities and four year age gap, people often referred to them in jest as her mother’s twins.

As Feyi began her usual morning chatter Yomi’s mind drifted away. She gazed out of the window and noticed it was beginning to rain, a light drizzle that would soon become thick sheets pounding against the thatch of the roof. She sat up abruptly and Feyi frowned.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to bath, it’s about to start raining”

“So?”

“There is work today”

Feyi smiled “really?”

“Yes, and you should get up too” Yomi reached a hand out to her sister, but Feyi shook her head decisively and rolled over, closing her eyes.

She was asleep in moments as Yomi watched her. She envied Feyi her ability to fall asleep anywhere, at anytime, but more than that she wondered where her baby sister had gone. At just months past fourteen, Feyi was almost fully grown, and she was the antithesis of her sister in looks. Light skinned with a button nose, full, dimpled cheeks and a pear shape.

If Yomi was a tower of a woman, Feyi was more in the way of a bungalow, yet she had matured so much in the last year that people often thought her older than her nineteen year old sister, at least until she began to speak. Yomi smiled and straightened up. She could get Feyi up once she got back. She gathered her soap and sponge and headed out, thinking of the day ahead.

Ile-ife in 1907 was a city everyone wanted to visit and no one wanted to leave. A peaceful place of plenty, where people stole neither goods nor children and where strangers were rare but welcome. The Olojo festival was one of the most thrilling events in the Ife social diary. It came only once a year, in the month the missionary calendar called October, and it was in honour of Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron.

More to the point, it involved music and dancing, and Yomi had been looking forward to it for months. She had no work planned at the farm today. Everyone would be at home cooking and cleaning, preparing for the evening’s festivities. As a prominent Afobaje, or Kingmaker, and the chieftain in charge of the Iraye region, her father Adewunmi could expect a number of visitors during the day, and with her mother still not back from her grandmother’s house, it fell to her to make the house presentable.

After bathing, she settled down to sweeping the front room. She could hear the splashing of water as Feyi bathed outside. After a while, the sound stopped and footsteps pattered into the house and paused nearby. She looked up and found a slim, dark skinned boy of eleven, glistening with water from head to toe, sporting a duplicate of her smile and lurking in the doorway.

“Duro! I thought it was Feyi. What are you doing awake?”

“My mother chased me out of the house”

Yomi grinned, “Was she cooking?”

He nodded unhappily and wandered in.

Durojaiye was Yomi’s younger half brother, born to her father’s second wife, Ebun, after several stillbirths and a child who lived only a few hours. Sadly his time as the apple of his mother’s eye had been cut short by the prompt arrival of three younger brothers in close succession.

Now he was most distinguishable by his unfortunate habit of consuming every piece of meat in her stew before it was completed, and it was this neat trick that so often saw him exiled from their house when she was cooking. And now he was walking directly through the pile of dirt at the doorway. Yomi winced.

“Duro, watch yourself!”

He looked down, surprised, picked his way carefully past the pile, entered and settled on the mat in the corner.

“Where’s Feyi?”

Yomi shrugged, returning to her sweeping. “She must have-”

“FEYI! GET UP!”

Yomi winced again at her mother’s loud arrival. Aweni might have given her younger daughter her physical appearance, but she shared her large, clear voice with her elder daughter. And every time she used it, Yomi was struck by how much harder it was to listen to than to command. She shook her head and went back to her sweeping, continuing without pause as her mother entered the front room and Duro flew past into her arms.

“Mama!” He rested his head against her middle. It was a funny thing, how he was more attached to Aweni than his own mother. Yet the warmth of her embrace made it seem perhaps less strange. She smiled down at him.

“How is your mother?”

“She’s cooking”

Aweni nodded. “Are you helping your big sister?”

“Yes Ma,”

“Good boy. Yomi when you finish there, come and dress. I want you to go somewhere for me.”

Yomi nodded and swept on.

Aweni headed for the back room as Duro turned to Yomi expectantly. She smiled and handed him the broom then headed off to change, leaving the little boy whistling tunelessly and sweeping vigorously.

*****

Yomi hurried down the dirt road, it was already getting dark, and she wished once again that she had not allowed herself to be held back by Omirefun’s gossip. It was bad enough that her mother sent her to deliver cloth to Akintade’s nasty older wife, but having to listen to Refun, her own junior in school, and still as short, round and spiteful as ever, lording it over her because she had landed a rich old man was almost too much to bear.

Refun’s insistence that she, Yomi reconsider Adediji’s offer had only made the whole thing more annoying. She knew Yomi was already betrothed, it was almost as though she envied Yomi’s happiness and wanted to wreck her relationship, and treat her to a husband she would despise as Refun despised her own.

Well, if that was the case, then tough. She had chosen to marry that pot bellied, vicious old goat, all by herself, she’d done it for prestige, and she ought to be happy with her choice. And even if she wasn’t, there was no way she was forcing Yomi to follow her down that thorny path. Still, Refun was right about one thing, it was time Dada’s people came to meet Yomi’s parents. She would have to talk to him about it tonight.

“Eluyomi!”

She looked up to see Dada’s mother Adunni, appear as though conjured up by her thoughts. Her mood lifted as the thin, dark woman hurried towards her, looking less gray in the fading light and younger than usual, her cheeks crinkled with her smile. She gathered Yomi in her warm embrace.

“Our wife,”

Yomi returned the hug and stepped back, smiling warmly. She really was very lucky. Not many girls her age could claim to be headed to sharing a home with such a pleasant woman. If Dada were less attractive, his mother alone would have won him a bride.

“Where are you coming from?” Adunni asked.

“The Oshogun’s house.”

“Akintade? They must be very busy.”

“Yes they are. My mother sent me with cloth to Mama Leke ”

The whole house had indeed been busy. As Oshogun, chief in charge of the Ogun shrine, Akintade’s duties where at the heart of the festival, which made it only more surprising that his older wife, Mama Leke still had time to be so unpleasant and Refun still found time for gossip.

Yomi shook off the unpleasant memory once again, and concentrated on Adunni.

“Is Dada back?”

“Yes, he got back an hour ago. He sent you a message. He wanted to find out if he should come to your house, or meet you on the way.”

“I’ll come with Feyi, he can meet me on the way, or at the shrine itself.”

Adunni nodded. “I’ll tell him. Let me be going, I still have to finish cooking. Did you hear Oyekanmi is coming?”

“Really? Why? The Tele has nothing to do with this festival.”

Adunni shrugged. “Who doesn’t want to enjoy a party?”

Yomi continued to frown.

“It’ll be good,” Adunni said, “ He’ll make the party more interesting”

“By shining teeth at everybody. That man is always smiling.”

Adunni chuckled. “Yomi! Should he not smile now?”

“It’s too much”

“How can you smile too much?”

“I don’t know, but he does,”

Adunni shrugged again. “He’s always been that way.”

“That’s what I’m saying.” Yomi muttered, in accents of grievance.

Adunni shook her head and smiled herself. “Yomi! I have to go. I’ll see you later.” Yomi nodded, and with a quick hug, Adunni was on her way. Yomi watched her go, smiling to herself. So even the Tele was coming. It was going to be an eventful festival. She turned back to her path and headed on home, whistling Duro’s tune as she went.

*****

“Yomi have you seen my wrapper?” Feyi poked her head out into the corridor.

“No… I don’t know, hurry up!”

Feyi withdrew and, by the sound of it, continued upending the room Yomi had tidied just moments ago. It was later in the evening and Yomi’s mood was fast taking another turn. Their parents had gone on ahead, leaving her waiting with Feyi, to whom time was clearly no factor. At this rate, she was going to miss the action altogether. She leant against the front door and looked out at the crowds of people streaming past, just in time to see a stocky youth head in her direction.

“Laja, you’re here. Your friend is still not dressed.”

The young man, Adelaja grinned, showing his dimples. “Feyi can never be dressed on time.”

Laja was Feyi’s best friend. Handsome in an innocent, deceptively child-like way, he had been her constant shadow for the last four years. He was hard working and fiercely intelligent, but also affable, charming and utterly devoted to Feyi, and if one could find anything bad to say about him, it was that he was both a little too daring and occasionally inclined to encourage Feyi in the sort of behaviour that was not entirely appropriate in a well brought up young woman.

Still, Yomi could think of no one she trusted her sister with more. Ever since their first meeting when Laja had carried Feyi home from the missionary school, eight miles on his back, to spare her putting weight on a badly cut foot, he had never, ever let her down. He would carry her again now if she needed it, and Yomi remembered when she used to wish for a friend like that, when they were children, before Dada.

Feyi chose that moment to step out, thick braids gleaming in the light, winding the last of the wrapper around her waist and tying the ends. Laja grinned. “Finally!”

“Laja, leave me alone. How long have you been here anyway?”

“Long enough,”

Feyi turned to Yomi “How long has he been here?”

Yomi shook her head “I don’t know, let’s just go.”

Feyi hurried towards them as they headed out. “Where’s Dada?”

“I’m meeting him there.”

Laja perked up. “Dada has come back?”

Yomi nodded “Yes he has. Come on, let’s go.”

Feyi nodded and stepped out into the crowd, followed as closely as usual by Laja. Yomi turned, closed the door behind them, and followed suit.

*****

“It wasn’t my fault!”

Yomi refrained from answering, merely giving Feyi a filthy look before trudging on. Feyi turned to Laja for support.

“Today’s ritual is always short, we should have come earlier.”

Yomi rounded on him “Wasn’t it her fault we were late? I didn’t even get to see Dada.”

Laja fell silent as they walked on. From the corner of her eye Yomi saw Feyi nudge him insistently, and he piped up again.

“It was really my fault,”

Yomi turned at that, genuinely interested in this line of reasoning.

“I was the one who stopped to talk to Todunbo.”

Feyi seized on this point eagerly, always ready to blame her former classmate for any misfortune, real or imagined.

“I told you not to talk to that girl anymore.”

Laja shrugged and shuffled on as Yomi watched the byplay in interest. It seemed to have escaped both her little sister and her friend’s notice that Feyi’s dislike of Todunbo, the Oshogun’s portly but rather pretty daughter had really only begun after the girl began to show a less than casual interest in Laja’s company. She sighed inwardly, struck by the realisation that she was quarrelling with children.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she said.

Laja looked up at Yomi hopefully.

“It was Feyi’s fault.” Her sister looked down, and Yomi smiled.

“It doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have seen Dada, the crowd was too much. I’ll see him tomorrow.”

At that Feyi perked up considerably and was able to return to the business of taking Laja to task about his generally poor taste in friends as Yomi walked on beside them, listening with half an ear, surrounded by the crowds and the warm, balmy night.

 

 

2

UPHEAVAL

 

 

The next day dawned bright and sharp, bringing with it a longed for visitor to the Obalaye’s home. Dada was home for good now, and eager to be about the business of arranging to bring his wife home to him, and Yomi’s father was more than happy to begin the arrangements.

The alliance was one that Adewunmi had wanted since the young warrior had returned almost twelve years ago, two years after the last of the Kiriji wars. Marked with a scar from the new guns used there, a wide mark across his upper right arm, he was nonetheless intact and Adewunmi could think of no better fit for his eldest daughter than the eldest son of his old friend, Aremu.

To Yomi he was simply a stranger returned in the place of the laughing young man she remembered leaving just three years earlier. War had stolen his light, his levity, the twinkle in his eyes, and when he returned just a year older than she was now, he was still, cold and silent.

He spoke to no one and spent his time alone, hunting and carving his wooden dolls. He made the dolls for the children who asked for them, but they never came with a smile, and only Yomi dared to venture close enough to him to notice that every once in a while, the faintest thought would echo on his once so expressive features. She began to live for those looks, craved them almost as an addict might and soon she discovered a foolproof way of gaining Dada’s attention.

From that day on, he had no peace. Almost on a daily basis, she would hang around his parents’ home, waiting for him to show his face, then, with Feyi’s able assistance, she would hurl small and medium sized rocks at him, watching him steadfastly ignore them, till he finally lost control. Then with a roar, he would give chase as she and her sister took to their heels, running as fast as they could across the village. What Yomi could never understand was how much joy it brought to Adunni’s heart to see her once so animated son respond to anyone, in any way. And so it was that Yomi, without ever fully realising it, chose her own husband.

Of course, when Dada heard of the arrangement, he hit the roof, avoiding the suddenly shy young girl as much as possible and for several years, until just two years ago when he had approached an attractive young woman at a festival without even recognising his own bride to be.

Their marriage had been meant for early the following year, but his uncle’s prolonged illness and recent death in Ibadan had kept him away more often than not since then. Now, with his cousin old enough to care for his father’s widows and his younger siblings, Dada was finally home for good, and his bride-to-be was very pleased to see him.

After an amicable visit with Adewunmi, he spent some time sitting with his fiancée on the front porch, the small rectangular ‘Sari’ of her parent’s home, telling her all the news he had brought with him, and watching her listen with one ear while trying to hold on to her patience. Finally she let go.

“What’s wrong with her?” she exclaimed.

The ‘her’ in question was her mother Aweni. She had been popping out to check on the young couple every few minutes for at least the last half hour.

Dada squeezed the thin hand he was holding. “Don’t pay attention, just leave her”

Yomi turned to him exasperated, “But we’re getting married!”

He shrugged “Well, we’re not married yet”

“What has that got to do with her?”

“She’s your mother, it’s her job to take care of you till-”

“Till she’s tired of opening her eyes on me?”

He smiled down at her. “Is this how you’re going to be jumping into my mouth when we’re married?”

She grinned “Why, what are you going to do, beat me?”

“So you can finally stone me to death?”

She gurgled with laughter as he continued. “I know you’re only marrying me because I’m the only man in the town who will let you do all the talking- OW!”

As she smacked him playfully on the shoulder, Aweni popped out again, alerted by the noise and prompting a speedy return to decorum by Yomi, if not by Dada. He continued to shake with suppressed laughter until his prospective mother-in-law withdrew, convinced she had missed something of far greater import than was actually the case, and resolving to give the couple a little longer alone this time, in the hope of finally catching them out.

She never did. They talked for several more hours and promised to meet and dance together to the second day’s ritual later that evening. Eventually Dada went his way, leaving behind a very happy fiancée, and an achingly curious mother of the bride.

*****

The second day of the Olojo festival was far more colourful than the first. The ritual at the Okemogun site was more or less the same, but the journey there and back was the key difference. There would be dancing and gaiety all the way there and all the way back. As was custom, her father had gone ahead today to Afin, the King’s palace, to join the Oni, King of Ife, the other Afobajes and the nine Modewas.

The Modewas were a group of chieftains with various titles like the Jaran, the Isanire and the Lowa Arode, the title currently held by Dada’s father Oyedele Aremu. They were the former Emeses from governing families who had been deemed worthy to rise to the ranks of chieftain.

The duty of all Emeses was to serve the king and guard his gates and person. Those destined to become Modewas would serve him in a different way, representing their clans, dispensing advice and participating in judgement of local offenders.

However on this, the second day of the festival, such distinctions mattered very little. All the Emeses would be painted from head to toe, half white and half red. Today they were the ‘Loko Loko’, and it was their duty to shepherd the crowd, bearing whips and using them if necessary, and to keep the peace throughout the festivities.

This time Yomi made sure that Feyi was dressed and out of the house in plenty of time. Joined by Laja, they threw themselves into the crowd as it surged past, losing themselves in the dancing within moments. Yomi let the drums speak to her feet, moving along in the press of the crowds as they headed along the route, towards Dada’s house. They were there sooner than expected and Yomi slowed, waiting for him to exit. His mother Adunni soon danced out, followed by her junior wife, Tunrayo. Dada’s brother, his mother’s child Bankole, was not far behind but as he closed the door, it became clear that Dada was not coming out.

As the crowd moved forward, Yomi danced towards Bankole and whispered in his ear.

“What of Dada?”

Bankole gave no response, grinning gamely across at Feyi, and rolling his large shoulders to the beat of the drum. It was strange that his shoulders were as big as his brother’s especially as he was so much shorter. Yomi moved in even closer.

“Bankole!” she punctuated the second hiss with a nudge, finally gaining his attention. He jumped and turned an injured look on her.

“Where’s your older brother?”

“He left before us,”

“To go to the shrine?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Yomi sighed. Heaven alone knew why she bothered to ask Bankole questions anyway, it wasn’t as if he ever knew anything. He was the least informed person she had ever met, and never one to assume more responsibility than he had to. He was a great believer in leaving the difficult things, and their rewards, to someone else. Sometimes she envied him that contentment, that simplicity.

Well, it looked like she would have to wait till the day after tomorrow to dance to the shrine with Dada. She was determined to do so on this, her last year as a single woman. After all who knew, by next year she might have a child too small to leave. On that happy thought she carried on dancing. They had almost reached Afin.

*****

They were there moments later, watching as the Oni stepped out, dressed for the ceremony and wearing the Are crown. It was a large and heavy thing, its curtain of beads falling over his face and down to his feet, obscuring his features. Each Oni’s ‘Ade Are’ was made for his coronation, and worn afterwards only for this particular yearly festival. The crown would be worn a final time, when it was buried with the Monarch. Only then, the gleaming metal centrepiece said to be made from the metal of 200 hoes and cutlasses, would be removed. This piece, the ‘Eru Ife’ would be passed on to the next Oni as it had been since the first, Oduduwa, had worn it in his crown.

The Oni’s chieftains surrounded him and the crowd fell in behind him as they danced on, towards the ritual site. Yomi kept a sharp eye out for Dada as they went, but to no avail. Soon they were at the ritual site and the Oni was raising his voice in the cry “Olorin wa je!” Once, twice, three times, and the Oshogun came forward to meet him, with other chieftains in tow. Yomi smiled as Akintade stepped forward. Say what you would about him, and many frequently did, the fact still remained that in his role as Oshogun, Akintade was in his element.

The severity of his expression, the strength in his spine as he stepped forward to meet the Oni sword to sword, made the stout, heavily scarred and rather unattractive man formidable, and almost appealing. It almost made up for a disposition that could be described as waspish at best, and for having two of the least popular wives in the village.

Having spent most of the afternoon with them yesterday, Yomi was now much less surprised that his middle wife, Abike, had run off, ceding the ground to Refun and Mama Leke. She was probably hiding away in her parents’ house right now, waiting eagerly to see who of the two would poison the other first.

She was pulled from her thoughts by the clash of the Oni and the Oshogun’s swords against the floor. As they raised their swords to connect with the open and eviscerated remains of the sacrificial dog that hung above them, she saw Feyi flinch out of the corner of her eye. Yomi wondered momentarily why her sister insisted on watching something she so clearly found disturbing, but she was distracted as the Oni and the Oshogun moved their swords towards one another, startling the crowd as their swords clashed at last, bringing the loudest sound yet. The whole process was then repeated once more, and then a third time. On the third clash the force was so great, that she swore she saw sparks fly from both men’s swords.

Then with the cry of “Ogunye!” from the Oni, the ritual was over, and the day’s work almost done. The music started up again and the crowd turned back, heading back to Afin. Yomi danced over to Feyi and Laja. Feyi leant in towards her as they danced on.

“Where’s Dada?” she asked.

Yomi looked around. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “After we leave Afin, I’ll go to his house to see him.”

“You better not let Mummy see you. You know she doesn’t like that sort of thing.”

Yomi rolled her eyes as they danced on. After a few more steps, a few more hip rolls, Feyi turned to her. “The Tele didn’t come.”

Laja answered before Yomi could respond. “He stayed at Afin. He wasn’t well this afternoon.”

“Really? Oyekanmi?”

He turned to Yomi and nodded.

“Who told you?”

“Bankole”

Yomi grimaced. It was truly wonderful how Bankole had no idea where his own brother was, yet still managed to be intimately acquainted with the health of a total stranger. The boy really was completely useless.

She danced on, a little bored now, and tired as well. Thankfully the palace was soon within sight, and the music picked up as the crowd surged forward. Yomi lost Feyi and Laja in the crowd as they moved closer to Afin and to the end of the evening. Soon they were in front of the palace and the dancing picked up. Growing to a crescendo, the drums spoke loud and clear. Hands clapped, feet stamped, and with breath and joy and laughter, the town came together, bringing the day’s festivities to an end, together.

As the drums grew louder, and louder still, a strange sound ripped through the air, sharp, long and clear. The drummers faltered, the dancing staggered and the sound came again. Yomi stopped as she recognised the voice as human. Barely, but definitely human.

Without a word the Oni turned and headed in the direction of the sound, into the palace. The crowd followed, surging forward again, people pushing and jostling, and in moments, the Loko Loko sprang into action, whips out in threat, pushing the crowd back. Yomi ran forward into the arms of one of them and looked up into her uncle’s face. He looked down at her, then away, back to the work at hand, so busy controlling the crowd that he barely noticed as she slipped through.

She ran on, following the much smaller crowd entering the palace, heart beating almost out of her chest, unaccountably terrified and desperate to know why. She ran along the corridor of the ancient palace, turned a corner and stopped, faced with the backs of a small group of onlookers gathered in a circle. She walked slowly forward, peeked between the large shoulders of two of the younger Emeses and she saw it.

There, lying there, still, eyes still open, was Baderin Olaitan, the older brother of Adeleye, the Jaran, in a pool of his own blood, maybe even still bleeding, and lying on the floor.

 

 

3

FEAR

 

 

The Oni was a large man, broad in the chest, the heart and the voice. But as loud as he was, he was also given to moments of quiet reflection. This was not one of them. Within moments, Afin was in uproar. The king wanted answers, and he wanted them now. In the fuss that followed, Yomi was able to slip out, subdued, but thankfully unnoticed.

She ran all the way out, back into the throng and on, till she reached the edges of the crowd. As she broke through, she stumbled, colliding with a solid male form.

“Ye!”

She leapt back and looked up to see Laja rubbing his chin with an injured look. He paused at the look on her face.

“Yomi what happened?”

She shook her head and pulled him away, further from the crowd.

“Where is Feyi?”

He pointed into the distance where Feyi stood, apart from the crowd, huddled against their mother. She nodded and took his hand.

“Let’s go.”

She headed towards her mother and sister with Laja trailing obediently behind.

Once on the move, Yomi barely paused, stopping only momentarily to gather up the rest of her family, she kept moving, ignoring all their enquiries, intent on getting as far away from what she had seen as she could.

Duro’s mother Ebun was already at home. She had gone straight home from the shrine with her sons to put them to bed, and Yomi’s father was still hard at work keeping the peace and would not be home anytime soon. So she kept on moving, deaf to Feyi’s insistent questions, questions soon stopped by sharp admonition by Aweni. One look at Yomi’s face had told her mother all she needed to know. Her eldest child did not scare easily, and if Yomi was this alarmed, there was trouble indeed.

Soon they were home. Closing the door and leading the way into the front room, Aweni waited until Yomi had caught her breath before demanding to know what she had seen. She took a deep breath before replying.

“It was Baderin.”

“Adeleye’s brother?”

Yomi nodded.

“What was wrong with him?”

“He’s dead.”

“Ye!” Her mother leapt up, hands on her head, spinning in a semi circle as Yomi watched her sourly. She didn’t know why she was making such a fuss, she had barely known the man. She wondered how much louder she would squeal when she heard the rest. Feyi simply sat there, blinking at Yomi, and Laja leant forward and asked, “He’s dead? What happened to him?”

Aweni stopped spinning long enough to listen. Yomi looked at them both for a moment before answering.

“Someone killed him.”

To this, Aweni had no response. A killing, on the day of a festival, and in Afin of all places? It was unheard of. This was not a time for melodrama, things had gone seriously wrong. Of course, had Aweni been more fond of the victim, she would have genuinely lost her composure, and set up a far louder keening, followed by tears, shrieks and recriminations of every sort, but now she was suddenly reminded that she had never really considered Baderin a friend.

She suddenly wished she could say the same of all his enemies. She sat down by Yomi and looked at her intently.

“What did you see?” she asked.

“He was lying on the floor. There were people all around him, and the floor was full of blood. And there was an Olo.”

“An Olo?”

Yomi nodded vigorously as she suddenly remembered every detail she had absorbed before taking to her heels. There had indeed been a tubular stone Olo, a type of pestle chosen from random stones found by the riverside. They were used by the women of the town, matched with a flat stone mortar for the grinding of peppers, onions and tomatoes for cooking. What was an Olo doing there?

“What was an Olo doing there?”

Yomi looked up, startled, as Feyi echoed her thought. Laja frowned and leant back. “Someone hit him with it.”

He looked at Yomi. “Was the blood coming from his head?”

She nodded and Laja nodded at Feyi as though to prove his point.

Aweni shook her head, clicking her tongue in disbelief. “What kind of woman would do that?”

Yomi shrugged “Maybe it wasn’t a woman.”

“What would a man be doing with an Olo?”

Yomi looked at her mother in surprise. For an intelligent woman, she could be surprisingly unimaginative. “Maybe he wanted people to think it was a woman.”

Aweni shrugged “Maybe he couldn’t find a knife.”

Yomi looked at her for a moment, and unable to argue with that logic, looked away. “I don’t even know what made me enter there. If I had known…”

Laja shook his head. “Who would want to kill him? He seemed like such a nice man.”

Aweni snorted. “That man? Baderin that married Jide’s daughter, Rike and returned her after two days claiming she had slept with his son?”

Yomi winced “Mummy,”

“What? Is that not what happened?”

“She told me not to tell anyone.”

Laja looked across at the suddenly alert Feyi. “Did you know?” Feyi shook her head.

“Well, we’ve seen one person who might want to kill him.” Laja said.

Yomi chuckled, amused by his enthusiasm. “Who do you think did it, Rike or her father?”

Feyi grinned. “Probably Rike. After all she has no man to cook for now, so what better use for her Olo?”

Aweni looked at them all, then stood up and began to clear away the clothes she had strewn around the room in her hurry earlier that evening. She spoke, thinking out loud, as she went.

“It could have been Jide himself. It could have been Rike. It could have been Akintade-”

“Akintade?”

She raised a hand, silencing Yomi.

“The Oshogun. They were fighting. Nobody knows why. It could have been Adeniyi. They fought over whose son would be Jaran after Baderin’s brother. It could be Baderin’s brother himself. For as long as I can remember, Adeleye has been threatening to kill his senior brother at least once a month. It could be the Tele. Baderin fought with Oyekanmi a long time ago, they still don’t greet each other. It could even be his neighbour, Bambo, Omiyale’s father. Remember he blamed Baderin for the accident that killed his son.”

Yomi nodded and Feyi and Laja listened intently, as Aweni went on.

“There are a lot of people who wanted to kill Baderin. Finding his killer is not going to be easy.”

Laja and Yomi nodded as Feyi piped up. “What happened to Omiyale?”

Yomi turned to her, “Don’t you remember?”

Laja shook his head “She’s too young to remember.”

Feyi rounded on him, annoyed now, “Are you any older than me?”

“No, but unlike you I listen when people talk,”

Aweni decided to cut in before the argument got any further out of hand. “Omiyale and Baderin were very good friends, like brothers. They played together the whole time they were growing up, married sisters, did everything together. If Baderin jumped, Omiyale followed. Unfortunately he followed him to his end.”

Feyi sighed. “How?”

“He followed him on a canoe. Baderin wanted to go to the east, I don’t know what for, it’s this kind of business minding that has finally gotten him killed. And he wasn’t a bad man, not really.” She sat down again and sighed. “Baderin is dead.”

Seeing her mother’s eyes glazing over and her explanation slipping away, Feyi tugged at her wrapper, and Aweni came out of her reverie with a surprised look.

Yomi sighed. “What happened?”

“Oh, to Baderin, I mean Omiyale. He fell out of the boat and drowned. Some people said Baderin had killed him because they had just made up a fight over money, but you know what people are.”

Yomi nodded. People often said the most terrible things, but what made it work was that sometimes, they were true.

Laja shook his head. “So Baderin killed Bambo’s son.”

“That’s not what I said. Come, did you tell your mother you would be out late?”

He grimaced and shook his head, shrinking under Aweni’s horrified gaze. She leapt up immediately.

“Quickly, get up and be going. If your mother has heard what has happened tonight, she will be looking for you.”

Reminded of his mother’s tendency to worry, Laja nodded and rose quickly. He headed for the door, waved, grinned, and was out and on his way. Feyi stood and watched him head out into the still quite busy road, before turning to Yomi.

“I’m going to sleep, are you coming?”

Yomi shook her head, “I’m going to wait with Mummy for our father to come home. I want to know what happened after we left.”

Feyi nodded sleepily, and turned away, dragging her heels off to bed as Aweni and Yomi settled down to wait in companionable silence. Soon Aweni herself nodded off on a hastily laid out mat. Only Yomi could not sleep, and she stayed up alone, late into the night.

 

 

4

SEPARATION

 

 

The sound of a far off cock’s crow brought Yomi to herself with a start. She straightened her neck, stretching from the awkwardly bent position in which she had slept. She must have fallen asleep sometime during the night and had woken up head hanging, leaning against a corner of the wall. She rubbed the stiffness out of the juncture of neck and shoulder and rose, stepping over her mother’s softly snoring form and heading off into the room to join Feyi for a little more sleep. She folded her wrapper, stepped over her sister and, settling on the mat beside her, fell asleep within minutes.

When she woke again, the sun was high in the sky, and she could hear the soft, distant sound of someone sobbing. She rose unsteadily to her feet, dressed and headed in the direction of the sound, rubbing her eyes as she went. Her feet led her straight into the front room where she was met by the sight of her mother sitting, crying into her wrapper. Feyi was beside her, with an arm around her while Ebun stood in the corner, wringing her hands, watching silently.

Feyi looked up as Yomi came in and stopped cold. Aweni looked up and saw her but her crying only increased, in intensity if not in volume, and Ebun seemed almost to shrink back at Yomi’s arrival. Yomi looked around for her father but saw no sign of him. Weak in the knees, sick to her stomach, she forced herself to ask.

“What of our father?”

Feyi hesitated before answering. “He’s at the Lowa’s house.”

The Lowa Arode, Oyedele Aremu, Dada’s father. She felt a wave of relief wash over her, and then she stopped again, taking in the tableau in front of her. If their father was well, then what could possibly be the problem? It couldn’t be Duro or any of his brothers, Ebun would have been barely able to speak. She certainly wouldn’t be standing there, wringing her hands. Perhaps Aweni had received bad news from home. She ventured closer.

“What happened? What’s wrong?”

Her mother shook her head and looked away. Feyi looked at Aweni, then at Ebun, who shook her head vigorously. Finally she took a deep breath and faced Yomi squarely.

“They’ve taken Dada.”

“Taken him where?”

Feyi looked at her sister and opened her mouth, but she seemed unsure of quite how to answer and finally Aweni took over. Drying her eyes, she gently shrugged off her younger daughter’s arm, and stood up, walking over to Yomi, who watched her approach with confusion. Aweni took her by the hand and pulled her to the mat, down into a sitting position and sat down, facing her.

“They’ve taken your husband away”

“Taken him where?” Yomi was beginning to lose patience now. “Who’s taken him?”

“Olusola”

Olusola was the local chief of the village police. A paunchy, strict, middle-aged man, he was no particular friend of Dada’s and the idea of them going anywhere together made no sense at all to Yomi.

“Why would Olusola-”

“Because of last night!”

Aweni rounded on her younger child. “Feyi! Is that how to tell her?”

“Why not? If Olusola has gone mad, shouldn’t she know?”

“Is the Oni who sent him also mad?”

At this Feyi fell silent. Yomi looked at both of them and backed away, shaking her head, evading her mother’s grasp as she reached for her. She looked at her mother, looked at Ebun, and saw. Saw that they believed it, believed Dada, her Dada had done that terrible thing. She stumbled to her feet, still shaking her head.

“No….No”

Her mother struggled to rise, reaching for her, but Yomi evaded her grasp.

“No!” She spun on her heel and ran from the room. She kept on running, out of the house, down the road, not really aware of her surroundings till she realised she was on her way to his house. She picked up her pace. She would be there soon. He would be home, and they would all see. They would see that this had been a mistake, that he could never do that, not Dada, never. Not her husband.

Those things he had done when he went away, that was different, but this… to kill a man in cold blood, to kill for no reason…without threat…he wouldn’t. Not ever. So she kept on running, on and on, her breath tearing through her chest as she ran on, ignoring her mother’s cries behind her.

In what seemed like moments but was in reality the better part of fifteen minutes, she found herself running into Aremu’s compound. She came to a halt as she took in the scene before her. The yard was empty, still, and again, far off inside their red clay home, that awful silent sound of sobbing. Exhausted and confused, she sank to her knees. Her tears joined theirs as Aweni stood, watching her from a distance.

*****

Yomi rolled over on her mat, trying in vain to escape her throbbing head. As she tried to take her mother’s advice and rest, the events of earlier in the day kept spinning in her mind. This, the third day of the festival was a day of rest, an opportunity for the townsfolk to recharge before the fourth and final day of festivities. Normally, it was a day Yomi enjoyed and took full advantage of, but today, it was merely a chance for the news of Dada’s misfortune to spread far and wide. He was already locked away in the prison house in the palace yard and he awaited judgement as she lay there, feeling useless, and doing nothing.

She thought back to the look in his mother’s eyes. Poor Adunni, so ashamed she could barely meet Yomi’s eyes when she finally entered. And his father Aremu. A proud man brought low in his gratitude, desperate to keep allies around him. He must have thanked Yomi’s father for his visit a half dozen times while she was there. Bankole had actually been lost for words, running errands with an efficiency Yomi had never seen, too distraught to even respond to their stepmother Tunrayo’s baiting.

Tunrayo, for her part had been delighted to see her rival Adunni in such dire straits. Even all the kindnesses shown to her by Dada over the years did nothing to dilute her joy at seeing her husband’s pride and joy carted off like a common criminal.

Yomi finally understood her mother’s dislike of the woman. She was right, Tunrayo had been a curse on Aremu from the moment he met her. And now finally it was her daughter Bidemi whose ‘accidental’ revelation about her Dada’s whereabouts had led to his arrest. As Yomi remembered the smug look on the little beast’s face, it occurred to her that if she were ever left alone with that girl, Dada would have company in his cell soon enough.

She sighed deeply and sat up. She was never going to get any sleep. How could she when Dada was stuck in that cold grey building? She resolved to go over there. She might be able to see him if Omoyele was the guard on duty. She had always been able to get around him and even now that he had four wives at home, a simple smile from her was enough to get him to do her bidding. She rose and threw her wrapper around her chest, knotted it firmly, and headed out of the room and down the corridor. As she passed the front room she stopped in the shadow of the door, drawn by her father’s low murmur, and listened.

“You must not go there again.”

“What are you saying?” her mother asked.

“I said you must not go there again.” She could actually hear the strain in her father’s voice.

“Adewunmi,” her mother’s voice, low and cold.

“Yes?”

“I should not go to the house of my friend. I should not go and see the wife of your friend, the mother of my daughter’s husband?”

“He is not my daughter’s husband, Aweni. Maybe you have another daughter somewhere that you want to give to a killer-”

“Adewunmi!”

“What? Am I the one who sent him to break someone’s head with an Olo?”

“He didn’t do this thing.”

“Aweni, maybe you were there, but me, all I know is that the boy is going to prison, and if he is going to disgrace his family, he is not going to disgrace mine as well.”

“Is that what you told Aremu?”

There was silence, stretching the moment, then the brush of feet on the floor as her father rose. His footsteps grew louder as he neared the door, and Yomi leant back, crouching in the corner closest to the outside door. As Adewunmi reached the front room exit, he turned to deliver a parting shot to his wife in a voice trembling with rage.

“You know, you are right Aweni. Who am I to tell you what to do? I’m only her father. In fact, go every day and support Aremu and his family, disgrace yourself finish, then maybe you can come back and marry your daughter yourself. If you want to spoil Yomi’s life go ahead. After all, I have other children.”

He stormed out of the room and off in the other direction, so angry he never even noticed that Yomi was there, and as she huddled against the wall, she wished dearly that she wasn’t.

Still, he was gone and unlikely to return any time soon, so after a few moments of wishing she had simply gone her own way, she rose and did just that. She headed out, taking the quieter road and bypassing the town centre en route to Afin. As she walked along quickly, she heard footsteps behind her.

She turned to look and saw only the empty road stretched out. She turned back and hurried on, ever more thankful for the day of rest that kept the town so quiet. She smiled wryly as she walked on. Who would have thought she would find anything to be grateful for in today of all days? She heard the footsteps again and turned, again. The path was still empty, but this time she could easily make out something else, something visible behind a tree a few yards back. It was the edge of a wrapper, a very familiar one, floating in the light afternoon breeze.

Yomi shook her head and walking over to the tree, she took Feyi firmly by the hand and pulled her out onto the path.

“Ye!” Feyi pulled her arm away, looking injured.

“Why are you following me? Who sent you?”

Feyi looked even more injured. “No one. I just wanted to see where you were going.”

Yomi eyed her closely for a moment, before coming to her senses and remembering. This was Feyi. Her mother would know better than to send her to spy on Yomi, she always told her, without fail. She rubbed her sister’s arm in apology and stepped back, turning on her heel. “Go home.” She turned and walked away, hoping in vain that Feyi would obey her, but true to form within a few moments she heard the sound of running feet as her sister caught up. She rounded on her.

“Feyi go home!”

Her sister shook her head “No.”

Yomi looked at her. Suddenly the stout, stubborn little girl who seemed to have disappeared into the past was back with a vengeance.

“Feyi, please.”

“No, let me come with you. I won’t tell anyone.”

Yomi sighed, torn between common sense and a need for companionship.

“I know you’re going to the prison.”

“Yes,” Yomi said, defiant.

Feyi looked at her for a moment and nodded, in understanding, in approval. She smiled gently and took her sister’s hand. “I won’t tell anyone.”

Yomi looked at her, more grateful then she could say. Feyi put her arm around her sister and pulled her close. “Let’s go.”

And they walked on that way, together.

*****

The prison was a sprawling whitewashed bungalow within the palace walls, just a few steps from the first gate. With its greying walls, heavily barred windows and barbed wire perimeter, it was a depressing sight to behold, if you were that way inclined. Fortunately, few people were, so the area tended to relatively quiet and today of all days, it was completely deserted. It was a place Yomi tended to avoid and gave little thought except to wonder occasionally how Omoyele could stand to work there and yet this was were she found herself, today of all days.

As they rounded the corner, they stopped a few paces from the building and decided on a course of action. As hoped, there were no emeses asleep by the first gate. As usual only the prison guard was around, and it was indeed Omoyele, her large, dim, and still hopeful erstwhile suitor. Still, it was no good for Yomi to pretend she was on a social visit. She would simply come right out and ask him what she wanted to know; where Dada was, and if there was any chance of seeing him.

So she simply walked up to him and asked, and after a few moments of stuttering, he shook his head firmly. Yomi looked at him, then at Feyi, unsure of what to do next, and her sister stepped forward and took the initiative.

“Why not?” she asked, almost rudely.

“My father said no one can see him” His father, Olusola, the man who had made the arrest. Feyi rolled her eyes “Is your father here?”

Ignoring her, Omoyele turned instead to Yomi “You know I can’t. If my father hears I let someone enter-”

“Yomi, let’s go.” Feyi interrupted, cutting him off. She reached out to take her sister’s arm. “When you get home we have to talk to Mummy, you can’t marry this man, you can’t even think about it.”

Omoyele looked at her as though she had taken leave of her senses “Of course she can’t marry him anymore, can’t you see where he is?”

Feyi rolled her eyes again, whistling through her teeth in exaggerated exasperation. “I didn’t mean Dada”

Omoyele squinted at her “Then what did you…” his brow cleared as her meaning became apparent, and he turned to Yomi in barely concealed excitement. Yomi for her part, had only just realised what game Feyi was playing and looked down, presenting a perfect picture of maidenly modesty.

“Is your father…?”

“Well she can’t marry Dada anymore, will she die in our father’s house?”

Omoyele took a moment to eye Feyi with genuine dislike before turning back to Yomi. This was an opportunity he had only dreamt of, to be given the woman he had wanted for so long. He remembered the circumstances that brought about his stroke of luck, and briskly pushed back the twinge of guilt that accompanied the thought. Still, he could hardly believe his good fortune, and needed to ask one last time.

“Your father will see me?”

Yomi shrugged and Feyi leapt into the fray. “That’s what he said. I don’t know why. Anyway, he hasn’t decided yet, he wants to talk to Yomi.”

He nodded and shifted his gaze back to the object of his affection. She, for her part, kept her eyes on the ground, afraid she would burst into laughter if she dared to look up. After a few moments, Omoyele, satisfied with whatever conclusions he had drawn, nodded and reached for the keys, dangling from a chain about his waist.

It was clear to him now that he needed to take this advantage over other possible suitors, many of whom would be stepping forward within the next few weeks. If he could show Yomi he understood her lingering attachment to her former fiancé, it would improve his chances significantly, and what did he have to fear, after all? Dada was never going to be a free man again. His father might have been a powerful man, but so was the brother of the man he had killed. In fact, it struck him as he walked on that Yomi might very well be looking for a humbler, less complicated man now. He might not be able to offer her the position of first wife, but she would fit in very nicely-

“Yele!”

Jolted unpleasantly out of his reverie, he turned and gave Feyi a black look before concentrating on opening the gate they had now reached. Looking around furtively to make sure the coast was clear, he ushered the two girls into the prison compound. They hurried along the outside corridor and soon found themselves outside a small, separate room, a holding cell of sorts. Omoyele turned to Yomi.

“This is where they put him.”

Yomi looked at the tiny room. “Why? Why not in the other building?”

“This is where the prisoners are kept before the verdict.”

Feyi, silent until then, finally spoke up. “What if the king lets him go?” Omoyele shook his head, taking surprisingly little joy in being the bearer of bad news.

“Someone saw him.”

Yomi’s head snapped up “Where? Who saw him?”

“I don’t know. But I think they saw him do it, and the person has spoken to Remi.”

Remi was one of the Oni’s eldest daughters. Far and away the most approachable, she had been much missed since her marriage and subsequent prolonged visit to Oshogbo, and her arrival for the festival just a few days ago had been met with a great deal of fanfare at Afin and no small amount of pleasure in the town in general. Only a person of great influence or someone who was certain of their information would have dared approach her, which meant that Dada was not going to be freed in a few days as she had hoped. Someone was telling lies. He was being framed.

She looked up and squared her shoulders. “Can I see him now?”

Omoyele shifted from one foot to the other. “I can’t let you enter.”

She continued to look at him and he hurried to explain. “I don’t know what he could do. But if you go around the side, you can see him and talk to him from the window. Through the bars.”

Yomi nodded and he pointed the way. She hurried around the side of the building. Sure enough, there was a window, a little way up the wall, with thick bars set in the crumbling concrete square. She climbed up the mound of earth below the window and looked inside. As she peered into the room, she heard a sound and suddenly found herself looking directly into Dada’s deep dark eyes. He was sitting on the floor in the far corner of the cell, and had looked up, alerted by the shadow falling over the window. As their eyes met, he looked away, down at the ground.

“Dada!” He ignored her, looking steadfastly down.

She tried again “Dada,” Still no response. In fact, he seemed almost to shrink, and she could see it happening again, see him withdrawing into that lost soul that had come home all those years ago, and then she knew. Whatever happened to her, she couldn’t leave him here. He couldn’t stay here. She debated whether to tell him so for a moment, and decided against it. If she got any response at all, it would be the opposite of what she wanted. He would only try to talk her out of it. Instead, she looked around the cell. He had food, water, and seemed well taken care of for now. She looked down at the window she was leaning on, looking closely at its edges. Surely Laja could pry them loose?

As she thought about it, she suddenly realised what she was thinking and looked up. Dada was leaning back against the wall, eyes closed, knees pulled up to his chest, and he seemed to have already forgotten she was there. As she looked at him, she noticed that he seemed small, much less than his height of almost six and a half feet. And he seemed young, and lost. She sighed and stepped back. No need to say goodbye now, she would be back for him tomorrow. Then the day after she would face the consequences.

She returned to where Feyi and Omoyele waited, thanked him as best she could, and left quickly. She found herself genuinely unable to meet his eyes now. Now she knew what she would do, and what it could cost him. She walked home beside Feyi, in a silence for once matched by her usually talkative sister.

Tomorrow would be soon enough to make her plans, so when she arrived home she refused the yam and hot stew her mother had waiting. She had no appetite for it and she was thankfully allowed to go to bed relatively undisturbed, where she quickly settled down to get what rest she could for the day ahead.

 

 

5

DANGER

 

 

Upon waking, it was clear that her grace period was over. She woke to find Feyi sitting at the foot of the mat watching her sleep. She sat up, rubbing her stinging eyes. After spending half the night tossing and turning, feigning sleep when her mother and Feyi joined her in the room and listening to the sound of their breathing well into the night, it was a surprise that she had managed any sleep at all. It was also just as well as she was going to need all her wits about her today. She noticed Feyi was still sitting like a statue, and watching her closely.

“What are you doing here, aren’t you dancing tonight?” She asked. Feyi shrugged.

It was the fourth and final night of the Olojo festival, even with all that had happened. The customary sacrifices for a death in Afin had been made, and the festival must go on. In a more subdued fashion perhaps, but with much the same turnout as before. Naturally none of Dada or Baderin’s people would attend, but if Yomi knew anything about her father, she knew that he would be there, and would expect the rest of his family to be in attendance, to make it clear that Dada’s disgrace was his and his alone. To remind people that Dada had not yet become his Yomi’s husband, and now never would. She looked at Feyi again.

“Feyi, what are you doing here?”

“I’m waiting for you to tell me what to do.”

Yomi sighed. She was in no mood for Feyi’s games. She still had no idea how she was going to shake her off long enough to enlist Laja’s assistance.

“You want me to start commanding you? Really? Go and bathe, when you come back, come and wash the floor.” She started to stand up.

Feyi pulled her back down. “I’ve already bathed. I want to know what we’re going to do about Dada.” It took a moment for Yomi to collect herself, before she asked, “Do? What can we do?”

Her sister smiled. “I know you’re not going to leave him there, and if we’re going to get him out, it has to be tonight, during the dancing.”

Yomi looked into her sister’s bright eyes, and it struck her suddenly that Feyi’s husband was going to be in an awful lot of trouble. Nevertheless, she nodded.

“We need Laja’s help.”

“I’ve already sent Duro to get him”

Yomi looked at her, struck anew. It was only a matter of time, before this girl sold them all one day. She didn’t even seem to realise the gravity of what they were planning.

“Feyi, this thing we’re going to do-”

“Should we leave him there?”

Yomi blinked at her sister’s sharp retort and suddenly stern demeanour. “I’m not going to leave him there, but I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

Her sister smiled and suddenly seemed much older. “Yomi, what does our grandmother say? What concerns the eyes, concerns the nose. I’m already in trouble.”

Yomi looked at her and lost for words, nodded and looked away, blinking back a hot rush of tears. Feyi sighed and took her by the hand, standing and pulling her up along with her.

“Come, let’s go and eat. There’s still some yam left.”

Yomi nodded and followed her as they left the room to eat and wait for Laja.

*****

“We can’t do it.”

Yomi looked at Laja in disbelief. He was the last person she had expected to object, he was always so easy-going and thought so much of Dada, she had been sure he would help.

“I’m not saying I don’t want to. How will we get in?”

“Oh”, she breathed a sigh of relief, turning to Feyi. “You haven’t told him yet?”

“Told me what?”

“We saw him yesterday.” Feyi said, smiling.

“How?”

“Omoyele let us in.”

“Why?”

“I told him our father was considering him for Yomi.”

Laja grinned, shaking his head, then asked Yomi, “What are you going to tell him when he comes?”

“To do what?”

“To see your father.”

Yomi froze. She actually hadn’t thought of that in all her plans. Even if they could manage Dada’s escape without a hitch, Omoyele would know what they had done, and when he found out he had been lied to there was no telling who he might inform.

Laja shook his head. “We’ll take care of that later. So, will he let you in again?”

Feyi nodded. “Of course he will, but once we enter, we need to think of how to get his keys.”

“I’ll bring him some Emu.”

Feyi giggled. The Emu, or palm wine from Laja’s father’s farm was reputed to be the sweetest and most potent in the town, and Omoyele was known to have a weakness for it, and to experience a complete loss of awareness after surprisingly little. He was the opposite of Dada, who grew increasingly quiet with every drink. Instead Omoyele grew louder, more informative, and less aware of his surroundings. With any luck, he might never even notice his keys had been taken.

With their plan settled, Feyi offered Laja a drink of water, and when he accepted, ran off to retrieve some from the narrow necked clay coolers in the back room. Once she was out of earshot, Yomi turned to Laja.

“I don’t want Feyi to go with us,”

“Why not?” Laja said, startled.

“If our father finds out what I’ve done, he’ll almost kill me, but if she knew, and she didn’t tell him…”

Laja saw her point. Yomi was her father’s favourite, everyone knew it, though no one said it, and this was naturally expected to be hard on her. Feyi had no such excuse, and if her involvement were discovered, she could look forward to a severe beating at the very least.

“We’ll send her to tonight’s Okemogun ritual, someone out of us has to go anyway. If she stays there throughout-”

“If who stays where?” Feyi reappeared, holding the small calabash full of water. She handed it to Laja, who took it and drank greedily.

He sighed. “Thank you.”

“If who stays where?” she repeated.

“Yomi and I think you should go to Okemogun tonight.”

She shook her head. “No! I’m coming to the prison with you.”

Yomi took her hand. “You can’t come with us, someone has to go and dance otherwise they will wonder where we are. No one will expect me there, but if they don’t see you or Laja, people can start to talk. If they see you, even Mummy will think Laja was there.”

Feyi considered this for a moment. It was clear she didn’t like it. “But-”

“Feyi, please”

Feyi sighed and turned to Laja. “Is your father going to be there?”

He nodded. “And if he doesn’t see me…”

She remembered his father’s fierce temper. Someone did have to be there to throw their parents off, and if it fell to her, she would do it with full vigour. She nodded decisively. “I’ll go.”

Yomi breathed a sigh of relief. The stage was set; the only thing left to do now was wait.

*****

Evening came almost too soon, and once Feyi had left with the rest of the family to join their father, Yomi rose from her mat and her self-imposed exile. Being forced to spend the majority of the afternoon pretending to be prostrate with grief had, oddly, resulted in a distinct lightening in her mood, and now she was ready to be on her way to the prison.

As she waited anxiously by the doorway for Laja, she ran through the plan for the evening. Once he arrived, they would head to the prison. Once there, she would go on ahead to where Omoyele was, and cajole him into letting her in one last time. Once he agreed, she would cough loudly, twice, and that would be Laja’s cue to turn the corner and walk over, staging a seemingly unconnected, accidental meeting.

She had initially suggested they walk over together, but Laja had felt quite strongly that, while Omoyele knew him well enough to allow him in with them, especially when he came bearing palm wine, he would nevertheless be reluctant to allow himself to be openly manipulated by a woman in front of another man.

It would be unfortunate if his need to save face was allowed to scupper their plans at the last minute, so it was unanimously decided as best that Yomi approach him alone while Laja waited out of sight. Still, the most worrying part of the plan to Yomi was what would happen if Omoyele refused the palm wine-

“Yomi.”

She jumped, realising with a cold shock that Laja had walked right up to her and snapped his fingers under her nose before she noticed he was there. She was going to have to be more vigilant than that if this was going to work. Laja, for his part, was already looking around. She reached for the large hide bag he was carrying, looked into it and found the things she had asked for. The cowries were more than she had expected, however Dada would need the currency on his travels and she would pay Laja back once she was able.

There was a bow and arrows for hunting, a sharp knife similar to the ones she had so often seen Dada play with, and similar to the one he had given her. It was for skinning his prey and protection, and there were also flints to start a fire. Laja had also included a set of his own dandongo and shokoto. The loose, broad top and trousers would be more than a little too short on Dada but would provide him with some measure of respectability once he arrived in the city, perhaps in Ibadan, where he was likeliest to head.

Laja had brought everything she asked and more. She smiled brightly, closed the bag, reached out and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back and let go, clearly discomfited by this uncharacteristic display of emotion, and he turned on his heel, beckoning to her to follow as they slipped away silently into the night.

As they hurried along, Yomi was struck again by the danger of their undertaking. For this to work, they had to get Omoyele drunk and Dada out before the townsfolk returned from the shrine, and then hope it was a while longer before he raised the alarm. She quickened her step, and Laja matched her, perhaps thinking along the same lines, as they rushed on towards the prison.

*****

They arrived at the prison sooner than expected. Luckily, Omoyele was, in his inimitable fashion as predictable as ever, and they were inside the wall within minutes. Laja produced the promised liquor and settled down in seemingly high spirits beside Omoyele to tackle it. It occurred to Yomi watching them that even in his conviction, Laja might have understated Omoyele’s love of palm wine, and she thanked her forefathers that her parents would never be desperate enough to consider him as a suitor for her.

Their disdain for him did not, ironically stem from his love of alcohol or women, or even from his comparatively low birth. It came simply from the fact that he had four wives, and in a time when a man married wives according to the strength of his back, his ability to provide for them, it was no secret to most of Ife that Omoyele had overreached himself by wife number three. If he ever did turn up at her father’s doorstep, his suit would meet a very hostile reception indeed.

She shook her thoughts off and hurried away towards Dada’s cell. Time was marching along, and so must she. She scrambled around the side of the prison, and up the mound of earth to the window. She could just make him out, sitting head back, eyes closed, leaning against the wall.

“Dada!” she hissed, louder than she had thought. His head snapped up and he looked at her, for almost a full minute. Then he seemed to pull back, and looked away.

“I’ve come to rescue you.”

That got his attention. He looked up again, and she could almost swear a ghost of a smile crossed his face. Yomi sighed. While she found the enigma that was Dada fascinating and hugely appealing on any other day, today of all days she needed him up and moving, so she tried again.

“I’m not playing. Laja’s getting the keys from Omoyele, we’ve come to take you away.”

With this she had his attention. He rose and walked over to the window.

“What?”

“We’ve come to take you away!”

“You’ve come to do what?”

She sighed. “We’ve come to rescue you. Laja’s giving Omoyele palm wine, once he’s drunk, he’s going to steal the keys, and come and open your door, then you can come out.”

“To go where?”

“I don’t know, maybe Ibadan.”

He leant back and looked at her, before speaking rapidly. “Yomi, has a madman bitten you? What are you doing? Do know what will happen to you if they catch you here, do you want to join me in prison?”

She blinked, rather hurt at his reaction. “What should I do, leave you here?”

“How do you know I don’t belong here?”

“Because it wasn’t you who did it.”

He looked at her and sighed. His eyes softened, and he tried again. “Maybe tomorrow-”

Light suddenly flooded the cell “It’ll be too late tomorrow.” Laja was standing in the open doorway, holding an Atunpa, a clay palm oil lamp, in one hand and keys in the other.

“Where’s Omoyele?” Yomi asked. Laja grinned.” I said he liked Palm wine, I didn’t say he knew how to drink it. He’s asleep.”

Yomi smiled, shook her head and gave thanks once again that her possible betrothal to Omoyele was just a hoax. Dada looked from the window to the door, at both of them.

“Have you thought about what you’re doing?”

Laja looked him square in the eye. “It’s too late for that, he’s asleep.” At that Dada shook his head “Is there anyone outside?”

“No one.”

With that he followed Laja out of the cell. Yomi scrambled down from the mound of earth and dashed around the corner, throwing herself into his startled arms. Unaccustomed to this much physical closeness, he pulled back for a moment, then pulled her close. Laja held back a smile and looked away. After a few moments, he looked back to see what was holding them up, and actually found them still in the same position.

A sharply cleared throat brought them to their senses, and Yomi quickly handed Dada the bag she was carrying. He barely glanced into it before nodding, hugging her again, and taking her by the hand as they headed through the deserted prison grounds and out of the gates. As they stepped out, Laja paused and looked back.

“What is it?” Yomi asked him.

“I have to return the keys.”

“Why? It doesn’t matter.”

Dada shook his head. “He has to. If Omoyele wakes up and can’t find them, he will know what happened. Don’t be deceived about that man, he may not be very clever, but he is very hard.”

Yomi wrinkled her brow “Really?”

Dada nodded. “He treated me well, but I’ve seen him with other prisoners, he’s not that nice. If he knows what you did, he’ll report you.”

He turned to Laja. “Take the keys back then take her home.”

Laja nodded as Yomi watched them plan the rest of her evening in disbelief. As Laja turned back to the gate, she spoke up.

“I’m going with Dada”

He turned back “Going where?”

“I’m going to go out with him” By out she meant, out of the town, into the forests just beyond. It had been her intention all along to go that far with him, to act as lookout where necessary as they went along.

Dada shook his head. “You can’t come with me. What if someone sees you?”

“What if someone see you?” She asked.

He was momentarily lost for words and Laja interjected “It’s better if she goes with you. If she goes in front, if she sees anyone, she can tell you.”

“You want me to hide behind her?”

Laja placed a hand on his shoulder. “Only today.”

A moment of understanding passed between the young men, and Dada nodded, turned to her and held out a hand “Show me the way.”

“You don’t know the way out anymore?” he smiled softly at that. Looking on, Laja felt an inexplicable urge to bring them both back to earth. “You should be going. They’ll be back soon.”

Yomi snorted at that. “They’ll still take a while, they have to pick the date for the Edi festival, and Feyi said she was going to slow them down with her dancing.”

“Do you know how long we’ve been here? How long do you think Feyi can dance?” Laja was getting scared now, and he wanted them on their way. His pointed question finally got through to them. He was right. Given the prison’s location within the palace grounds, this was hardly the right place to stand about making eyes at each other. Their current dawdling could lead to the entire town descending on their heads. They had been in the prison yard longer than planned already, and really how much longer could Feyi hold up a crowd?

Longer than they thought, as it turned out. Feyi was currently pulling out all the stops in the dance of a lifetime. So fine was her performance, she had completely distracted the Oni and the various chieftains, who were at that moment so caught up in watching her fancy footwork, that they had yet to wrap up the business of picking a date for the next festival, much less begin dancing back through the Oni’s childhood home and back to Afin.

But they didn’t know this, and the sobriety of Laja’s reasoning was enough to see Yomi and Dada hurrying off into the night, and Laja re-entering the prison to return Omoyele’s keys to his prone form.

*****

Yomi and Dada stumbled through the darkness, occasionally breaking into a run. Twice they ran into a late night straggler who had left the festival early, twice Yomi explained that she had also left early feeling unwell, and twice Dada hid in the shadows while a former friend or neighbour walked off into the distance. However, they were soon at the outskirts of town and out, into the forests beyond. There they stopped, breath tearing in their chests, to say goodbye.

Yomi went into Dada’s arms, and he held on tight. Her warrior, her reserved, circumspect suitor, after months and years of holding back, simply couldn’t let her go. For her part, she clung on. Yearn as she might for a happy conclusion to this, the best she could hope for was his escape. It was unlikely that she would ever see him again. So she held on, clinging to this last goodbye.

By the time she stepped away, she had no idea how long had passed. She only knew that her face was awash with tears, and she had finally accepted the truth. She couldn’t do it, she couldn’t let him go. He seemed to know almost before she said it, but still he argued, reminding her of her duty to her family, her sister who needed her, her mother, who would never recover. But still she remained immovable, and eventually, he agreed.

“We’re going to be walking.”

“I know.”

He looked at her, searching her face for something, she never knew what, and then he took her hand again and they began to walk on, deeper into the forest, going through the grass to leave no tracks. They seemed to walk only a very short way, before Dada stopped again.

“Let’s stop here.” Yomi nodded and allowed herself to be pulled down unto the grassy forest floor, resting her head amidst the roots of the tree beside Dada. As he settled down beside her, she turned to him and pressed closer. A little uncomfortable, he moved away, but she moved closer still.

“Yomi, you… we haven’t married yet”

“Are you going to go back and see my father now?”

He looked at her and realised the truth of what she said. He would never formally ask for her now. The rites of marriage would never be completed between them. This was as good as it was ever going to get. And, though he knew he had no right, knowing she might feel differently in the morning, knowing that weakness he only displayed with her was winning again, he took her in his arms, and as he moved over her, she seemed almost to hear the sound of the talking drums in the distance echo. She heard its echo in the sound of the forest, in her heartbeat, and his.

 

 

6

SUSPICION

 

 

Yomi woke with a shiver at dawn and stretched. She ached from head to toe. Whether from the exertions of the evening before, or sleeping on the hard forest floor, she was unsure, but it felt like too good an ache to be due to any injury. She rolled over, meaning to ask Dada for his opinion on the matter, and was met with a space where he had been, lying beside her as she fell asleep the night before.

Suddenly she saw with blinding clarity why he had held her so close, stayed awake so long, why he had spoken of her need to be more careful from here on in. At the time, she had thought he was referring to the journey ahead, but now it was clear that he had meant her return to the town. It was clear that he had never intended to take her along at all.

She lay back and closed her eyes looking for anger, but all she felt was empty. Empty and sad. He was gone, and she was never going to see him again. She never knew how long she lay there, but by the time she rose, the sun was high up on her left, nearing the centre of the sky. She realised with a shock how late it was. There was next to no chance of her entering the house undetected, but at least she had to try.

She hurried through the forest, easily finding the path back, and was well on her way through the town in very little time. Luckily her recent misfortune had made people a little more careful with her, and the few acquaintances she met along the way took her set expression as a clear signal of her unwillingness to talk. So she was allowed to go on, undisturbed and unmolested, and arrived on the road to her home in record time.

There, waiting at the corner was Feyi, practically faint from anxiety and looking around frantically. As soon as she saw Yomi, she fell on her in relief.

“Yomi! Where have you been?”

“I saw him off” she answered. “Why are you out here?”

“Mummy is inside. When she came in to sleep last night and called you, I answered, but this morning, she asked for you again. I said you left early, that you went to see Laja, but then he came to see us later, and I think she might have seen him.”

“So what did you tell her?”

“Nothing, she didn’t ask me anything.”

Yomi nodded. “I’ll tell her I sent him to you with a message…maybe that I …”

Feyi shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll just say that he came to greet me, after you left his house. You can say you were going to see mummy’s mother, but you changed your mind.”

Yomi nodded, partly in agreement, partly in acknowledgement of Feyi’s evolution. She was really beginning to think on her feet, a turn of events Yomi found both gratifying and a little scary. Soon her baby sister would be gone without a trace, no one left to look up to her and follow her around. Still, perhaps Duro…

She shook off her thoughts and picked up her feet, following Feyi as they made their way home.

They came to the door and pushed it open. Yomi led the way in, which was unfortunate, as she fell straight into Aweni’s hands. Before she had time to do more than register her mother’s presence, Aweni was upon her, raining open handed slaps down on her head and back, and screeching like a woman possessed.

“What is wrong with you? What is it? You want to ruin me? You want-”

Yomi escaped her grasp and ran into the front room, her mother in hot pursuit, and Feyi not far behind screaming “Mummy, please leave her, PLEASE!”

But Yomi was furious by this point, half wild with grief and rage and she actually ran towards her mother screaming, “Leave her, I don’t care, let her kill me, I don’t care, I don’t care…” She was sobbing wildly, hot salty tears pouring down her cheeks, and her mother stopped short, taken aback, arms dropping uselessly to her sides. She watched Yomi sink to her knees, wailing, beneath Feyi’s horrified gaze.

After a few moments, Aweni collected herself and spoke again, quietly, if still a little gruff, “It’s not that I hate Dada, I know it wasn’t him that did it, but I can’t do anything for him, and if anyone sees you there, camping outside a prison…”

The sobbing slowed as Yomi looked up. Her eyes met her mother’s for a moment before Aweni shifted her guilty gaze, and that was enough time for her to realise the truth. Dada’s absence had not yet been noticed. Looking at Feyi, she saw that her sister had realised as well. She quickly cast her eyes back down. Aweni looked at her bent head and sighed. Crouching, she pulled Yomi from the floor to a standing position, and turned her towards the door.

“Go, go and rest. We’ll talk when you wake up”

Yomi nodded and left the room, making sure to move slowly, as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Once out of the room, however, she picked up her pace, scuttling into the bedroom. Within moments, Feyi had joined her. She settled unto the mat Yomi was lying on, face to face with her, and grinned.

“We did it.”

Yomi nodded. Feyi was right. They had done it. There might be a reckoning later, but this was all the time that Dada needed to get away. As one of the most skilled hunters in the village, they would never find him in the bush. She might never see him again, but at least he was safe. At least he was free.

*****

Yomi woke with a start. She must have drifted off to sleep after all. The last thing she remembered was Feyi admonishing her to get some rest, and her insistence that sleep would be impossible for her. Clearly, she had been wrong, and she supposed the night before had taken a greater toll than she realised. She thought of Dada again and smiled. She wondered where he was now. He would be quite far away.

As she thought of the distance between them, her thoughts took on a darker turn, and she sat up and shook them away. She looked around her. It was just getting dark, and Feyi was not in the room. Not on Yomi’s mat, and not on her own. She must be helping Aweni with the cooking. Yomi sighed and rose. She might as well go out and help. Perhaps she would even go back to the farm tomorrow. The sooner she got back to work, the better.

She retied her wrapper and left the room, heading out to the backyard cooking area. There she found Feyi sitting over the clay pot mounted on three large stones. The fire beneath the pot was burning strongly, the stew was bubbling merrily, and Feyi was stirring with all her might.

Yomi looked around the deserted yard, taking in the area. The chickens and a small goat were in separate enclosures side by side, but there was no sign of human life besides the two of them, and the four pillared bathing enclosure in the far corner was empty, its plaited leaf door hanging open.

Satisfied that they were alone, she drew closer and asked, “Have they heard yet?” Feyi shook her head, continuing to stir, and Yomi felt almost dizzy with relief. She moved closer still, meaning to join her, but at that moment, Aweni appeared at the doorway and beckoned to her. Yomi hesitated, then went to her, dragging her heels as she followed her back into the house.

Her mother led the way into the front room, and sat on the mat already rolled out and waiting. Yomi sank down on her heels, resolving to remain silent, tolerate the inevitable lecture about her behaviour, and hopefully go her own way afterwards without too much trouble. Still, she couldn’t resist asking about her father’s whereabouts.

Aweni frowned. “He went to the farm. Why?”

“No reason,” she said hastily.

Aweni looked at her, puzzled, for a moment then launched into the expected, well prepared lecture. She spent several minutes justifying her intention to abandon Dada, Adunni and the entirety of Aremu’s family to their fates, took a little time out to burnish her image as a caring mother, trying only to do what was best for her daughter, and then launched into an extensive soliloquy about a woman’s duty, to herself and to her family.

For her part, Yomi just let it all wash over her. None of it mattered anyway, Dada was long gone, and even if it was discovered now, it would be too late to find him. Of that much she was sure. So she just kept on nodding, content to let Aweni exhaust herself in her doomed attempt at quelling her own guilt.

Just as her mother was moving on to a much more unsavoury part of the conversation, and beginning to imply that it was time for Yomi to start planning her future, presumably with another man, the door swung open, and her father Adewunmi entered. Taller and even darker than Yomi, he was a forbidding figure at the best of times, but tonight, he seemed even fiercer than usual.

He swept into the room and, without preamble, demanded to know what Yomi and her mother were talking about. Aweni was initially taken aback, then stammered out an explanation which Yomi barely heard. She was too busy noting the curious sensation of cold, spreading rapidly from her belly to her limbs as she looked at her father’s storm cloud face. When asked later, she would swear that her mother had said they were talking about her cooking duties. In fact, Aweni had claimed to be taking her to task about the mess in the bedroom.

At any rate, it was enough to satisfy Adewunmi who was really more interested in where Yomi had been the night before. She froze when he barked out his question, and her mother leapt in.

“She was at home, sleeping. Where else would she be?”

“You saw her?”

Aweni nodded. “Yes, when I got home. Why?”

Adewunmi ignored that, looming over Yomi, clearly still suspicious. “You didn’t want to come and dance?”

Yomi blinked at him, tried to get the words out, but her throat seemed to have closed off completely. Again Aweni came to the rescue.

“How can she come and dance when the man she was to marry is in prison? Have you lost your mind?”

Adewunmi blinked, caught off guard by his wife’s aggression. Then he gathered his wits about him. “Aweni, be careful,”

She snorted “What? What will you do to me?”

“I want to know where your daughter was,”

“I’ve told you, she was asleep!”

He turned his gaze on Yomi, who nodded, looking down and adding in a near-whisper “I didn’t want people to talk about me.”

At this her father’s gaze softened. He looked down at her and nodded, then turned to leave. At the doorway he stopped and spoke again.

“It would be better for you to stay at home again tomorrow.”

“Why?” Her mother asked. “Baba Yomi what has happened?”

Baba Yomi, Yomi’s father. That was what everyone called him. She was the child with whom he was most closely identified, yet he couldn’t seem to look her in the face as he replied.

“Dada has gone. They think he escaped last night.”

“What?”

He sighed, then repeated again, “Dada. He’s run away.”

“How?” Aweni asked. Yomi stiffened, keeping her eyes firmly on the ground. Her heart was beating like a bird in a basket, and she felt sure that at any moment, they would look at her. They would know. But they didn’t, they just kept on talking.

“They don’t know how he did it. Omoyele said he was alone all night, and he says he never even slept.”

Yomi let out the breath she was holding slowly. So Omoyele’s natural self preservation had prevailed after all. Her mother looked at her sharply. Yomi didn’t see her, she felt her, but she kept her eyes turned down, and her father spoke again.

“I’m going with them tomorrow,”

“Where?”

“To look for him.”

Her mother gasped, and Yomi looked up, straight at her father. She caught only the corner of his eye as he looked away and continued.

“The Oni has asked me to go. And I have to. Adeleye has already begun to tell the whole world how much I liked Dada. If I refuse to go..”

Yomi looked at her father, her fierce, giant father, and for the first time saw his limits, and saw that in many ways he was as much a victim of this as she was. There was nothing he could do for her. Aweni, being no stranger to such a revelation, simply nodded and watched her husband make a quick retreat. By the time his food was ready, he would be feeling better.

It was the first thing she had discovered to like about Adewumni, when she had come to his parents’ house all those years ago. While his temper was fierce, it was also like a tropical rainstorm, very brief for all its intensity and his dark moods were also equally short lived. With what he had just told her, he would be feeling at peace far sooner than she would. She turned to her daughter.

Yomi looked at her with wide open, innocent eyes and for a moment Aweni really felt like hitting her.

“What have you done?”

“Me? Nothing!” she was the very picture of innocent puzzlement.

Aweni gritted her teeth and asked “Did you go to the prison last night?”

Yomi shook her head.

“So where did you go?”

She remained silent.

“Yomi,”

Still she remained silent, and shrugged.

Her mother looked at her, and Yomi could tell she really didn’t know what to believe. After a few moments spent studying her daughter’s carefully cultivated expression to no avail, Aweni sighed and rose to return to her chores. As a final parting shot, she said, “I won’t ask you anymore. You’ll tell me yourself eventually.”

Still, Yomi gave no answer and Aweni, finally tired of the whole thing, left the room.

 

He shook his head and smiled. So the young warrior had escaped. Well, it didn’t matter. He had seen nothing, knew nothing of what had happened, and they would chase after him, catch, maybe even kill him. And his secret would be safe then, always.

 

 

7

DETERMINATION

 

 

It was a week later before anything changed. Their father had left with a search party the next day at sunrise and had yet to return. Yomi had stayed away from the farm for the most part, staying at home and out of sight of all the local gossips.

Her situation was a peculiar and in many ways unfortunate one. If Dada had been tried and condemned by the king, the matter would have been over and done with, but with such a crime so much a rarity, and escaped murderers practically unheard of, Dada and all things connected with him remained the most popular topic of local gossip.

Not that Yomi cared very much. She had no desire to move on with her life, no real desire to do much of anything, truth be told, and her affection for Dada showed no sign of waning in his absence. Much to Aweni’s dismay, not a day passed without her mentioning him, or asking her mother for news she didn’t have. Yomi heard nothing about Dada’s whereabouts till Laja turned up that afternoon, exactly a week after the last day of the festival.

He came strolling up to their home, trying to seem as casual as possible, but it was clear that he had some news. Once indoors, he rushed into the front room and sat on the nearest mat without waiting to be invited, and once he had established that their mother was still at the farm, he quickly told them everything he knew, and none of it was particularly encouraging.

More men had been added to the search party. His father had told him so on his arrival home less than an hour ago and he had also mentioned the reason why. Apparently Dada had been seen at Asejire, not too far from Ibadan. The general belief was that he was hiding out somewhere on the outskirts of town, too afraid to enter and risk being caught while trying to reach his mother’s family for help.

The Oni had been encouraged by this news, and had called on more men to join the search. Akintade, and Baderin’s old rival Adeniyi had quickly volunteered and it was believed that once they arrived in the area, the two men would relieve Oyekanmi and their father of their duties. It was possible that their father would return home as soon as the following evening.

Of course Adeleye would stay on. As the brother of the victim, it was his duty to see that Baderin’s killer was caught and avenged, and a man could not take such a duty lightly.

“He has taken all his duties very seriously” Feyi noted, thinking of the speed and dignity with which Baderin had been buried. Laja, however, misunderstood her and snorted.

“Is Moradeke so much of a burden?”

This point both girls had to concede. The death of his older brother may have left Adeleye with his twelve children to care for, but Baderin left behind farm land which was more than adequate to care for those children, as well as the four wives which his brother now inherited.

According to tradition, when his brother died, they became his wives in every sense, unless of course they ran away, or he refused to claim them, both of which were relatively rare occurrences, and neither of which had happened in this case. In this instance all had so far gone smoothly. Though Adeleye had a fearsome temper and could often be cruel to his adversaries, his relationship with his brother and his brother’s family had been mostly good, and the wives were all content to go with him.

This of course meant that once the year of mourning was over, he would marry Moradeke, Baderin’s fourth wife, putting paid to the hopes cherished by many men in the village that she might choose a new, unrelated husband from their number, that they might be the fortunate man to marry her. She was still very young after all, married less than two years, with a child too small to be attached to a dead parent.

Although had she had eight children, to many men it would still have been worth it and you had only to look at her to understand why. She was not coveted for her even temper, quietness, or any other good quality. She was coveted for the way she looked. With her large, clear eyes, flawless skin, full lips and slender shoulders, she was possessed of the same uncommon beauty which had seen her mother rise from slave to chieftain’s wife.

Of course, Adeleye was also getting the third wife, Bukola, who was not so fortunate in her looks, and the two older wives, who weren’t much to look at either, so the deal had its drawbacks, but to the two older women, he was far likelier to be protector and benefactor than husband in any real sense. Laja was right. Marriage to Moradeke was no real chore. Adeleye’s only real burden at the moment was the one he had faced with such determination, finding the man he believed to be his brother’s killer.

Yomi shivered involuntarily. If they found Dada, his life was over. She was unsure at this stage what they would do with him. Almost as though he heard her thoughts Laja spoke up.

“They’re going to find him.”

She looked up, directly into Laja’s forthright gaze, then away, at Feyi, who blinked, and looked away. “Do you think so too?”

Feyi shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Yomi turned back to Laja. “What can I do?”

He took a breath, firmed his jaw, and then looked at her squarely. “Yomi, are you sure?”

“Sure of what?”

He hesitated, then “Sure of Dada.”

So he believed it too. “Of course I am!” she practically snarled.

Unfazed, Laja simply nodded. “Then we have to find the man who did it.”

Yomi stopped cold, hardly believing that in all this time, she had forgotten that there was someone out there, someone who had done this terrible thing, someone who laughed with his friends, went home to his family, who was safe and happy while Dada was hiding in the bush, cold and alone, bearing the blame.

Oh, Laja was right, they had to find him.

Feyi, however, disagreed. “We can’t find him. How will we do that?”

“We’ll start by thinking of who wanted to kill Baderin” Yomi said, and Laja nodded.

Feyi sighed “A lot of people wanted to kill him”

“But who out of them was in Afin that night?” Laja looked at Yomi with surprise. He had obviously been thinking the same thing. It had to be someone who wanted Baderin dead, someone with the position to be wandering freely in the king’s palace, and someone who had either left the festival early that night, or missed it altogether.

He nodded and got down to the business at hand. “First of all, we need to think of anyone who fought with him. Who did your mother say that night?”

“Akintade,”

Feyi shook her head at Yomi’s first nominee. “It can’t be him, it was the Oshogun himself that led us back to Afin.”

Yomi nodded, “But what of when we got there?”

The other two were silent at that. It was true, none of them had seen him during the dancing outside Afin, the dancing that had gone on for several minutes before the body was discovered. Everyone assumed the murder had happened while the palace was deserted, but what if it had happened only moments before it was discovered? What if Baderin’s killer had been escaping as they all stood around his body?

Laja nodded. “We have to ask if anyone saw him, the people nearer the front-”

“Wait,” they both turned to Feyi, Yomi intrigued, Laja a little annoyed at the interruption. “Do you remember what Bankole said, on the way?” Yomi shook her head, wondering where Feyi was going with this. From the look on Laja’s face, it had better be somewhere good. “He said Oyekanmi stayed at Afin, remember?”

He had. It came flooding back to both of them at once. Yomi remembered her exasperation at Bankole’s new fondness for idle gossip. She thanked her ancestors for it now.

“Why didn’t he tell anyone?” Feyi mused.

Laja shook his head. “Who would believe him?”

“Even if they didn’t believe, at least they would have known that it could have been someone else.”

Laja snorted “They would have thought he was lying to save his brother. They would have chased him out of Afin.”

“The Oni might have listened.” Feyi noted.

Laja shook his head. “They wouldn’t have let him see the Oni, much less tell him such a story”

“But if he-”

“He doesn’t remember.” Yomi said, ending the argument with a note of conviction. She looked at both of them. “This is Bankole we’re talking about. One of the nicest people I know, but the boy is a fool. There’s nothing in his head at all. I can promise you, he hasn’t thought at all about who could have released Dada from prison, much less who actually put him there.” She paused to let that sink in, satisfied herself that she had their attention, and then went on. “We’ll go and see him tomorrow and you’ll see.”

Laja nodded, then paused. “What caused the fight between Baderin and Oyekanmi?”

“I don’t know,” Yomi said, shaking her head. “Maybe-”

“You can’t go to Dada’s house”

Yomi stopped at this and looked at Feyi, who continued, undaunted. “You can’t. If our father finds out, he might really start looking for a husband for you, then your problems will be double.”

Yomi nodded. “It’s true. I better make sure he doesn’t find out.”

Feyi exhaled, frustrated, and looked to Laja for help but received only a shrug and a hastily averted gaze for her trouble. Having already aided and abetted Yomi in the jail break of the century, at least to his thinking, Laja saw no logic in trying to reason with her now. Truth be told, his own naturally strong curiosity had gotten the better of him, and he was just as keen to find the killer as Yomi was, even if his reasons were a little less clear to him than hers were.

Yomi, sensing that Feyi was about to become difficult, struck a more conciliatory tone. “Just let me go tomorrow, after that, I’ll know what to do.”

Feyi nodded, only partly mollified, “Can I come as well?”

Yomi hesitated before answering. Without any real excuse, she could no longer keep Feyi out of this.

And Feyi was insistent. “If you’re going, I’m going as well.”

Yomi sighed, and nodded. Clearly, there was going to be no reasoning with Feyi on this. Besides, she was right. If they were seen entering Dada’s house, it would be more socially damaging to Feyi than Laja, but the only person who would really be in trouble at home over such a slight infraction was Yomi herself.

Once Feyi was assured of involvement in their investigation, they were able to turn their minds back to trying to compile a list of possible suspects. The former Emese Adeniyi’s whereabouts on the night in question remained a mystery, but a quarrel over whose son would inherit a chieftaincy, even a relatively prestigious one like Jaran was hardly enough to cause murder between two men who were, after all cousins, albeit distant ones.

Adeleye was also quickly dismissed as an option. He had always gone out of his way to show respect to his older brother, never counting his greater wealth as a cause to scorn his mother’s first son, and while he might have gained a beautiful wife through his older brother’s death, the very reason that the tradition of wife inheritance was confined only to younger siblings of the same mother, was precisely because no one even remotely in their right mind would kill their own brother over a woman, no matter how beautiful she was. Why would they when there were so many attractive young women walking around the town?

Omiyale’s father, Bambo was a more serious prospect. Everyone knew he had never recovered from his son’s death, and he had sworn up and down at the time to have his revenge. Word had it he had been seen drinking and entertaining friends on the day of Baderin’s burial and had openly mocked the lavish preparations being made for Baderin’s funeral ceremony next week. He also had the opportunity to commit the crime as he had not attended a single festival in Ife since his son’s death all those years ago.

“What was Baderin himself doing in Afin?” Laja asked. “Why wasn’t he at the Okemogun?”

Neither Feyi nor Yomi could find an answer. His absence at the festival itself was odd. They had heard no reason for his absence in this past week. Still, as Feyi pointed out, he could hardly be considered a suspect in his own murder. At this Laja chuckled and went on to ask about Rike and her father’s whereabouts.

Feyi thought she remembered seeing Rike in the crowd, dancing beside the rather downtrodden and desperate looking old man that was the only suitor now willing to take her on after she was returned to her father’s house in disgrace and, as it turned out, also pregnant. Still, she was not entirely sure, so that left them with another loose end.

Rike and her father’s whereabouts, Akintade’s movements in the minutes before the body was discovered, the extent of the rift between Baderin and Oyekanmi… thinking of all the people who might have done away with Baderin was enough to make one’s head spin, and Yomi took a moment to wish they were dealing with the murder of less of a troublemaker. Still, had he been more diplomatic, he might never have been murdered!

As it was, they had more questions than they had answers. Those would have to wait until the following day. Her mother would be home soon and, she had promised to start the cooking.

She took her leave of Feyi and Laja shortly afterwards, and went into the backyard to get started on the efo stew, pulling the leaves off the stalks of the plant in preparation for their addition to the pepper sauce simmering on the fire once that had thickened sufficiently.

So absorbed was she in her task that she didn’t hear her father and then her mother’s arrival, neither heard nor saw Feyi’s reaction to their father’s news, never heard Laja’s hasty departure shortly thereafter, and totally missed the sound of her mother’s approaching footsteps as she sought her older daughter out to call her to her father’s side. The first thing she noticed was her mother’s feet standing in front of her. As she looked up she noticed her mother seemed almost frightened, and she was frightened too then, so she followed her, not asking why, till she came into her father’s presence in the front room and he informed her that he had decided to accept an offer made to him during his recent trip in search of Dada. An offer from Adediji, Adeleye’s son, for her.

He went on to tell her that he had not yet accepted the offer formally, had wanted to give her, Yomi, time to get used to the idea, and then he smiled at her, almost as though he expected her to be grateful. But when she looked into his eyes, she could see his defiance. He really expected trouble from her, but she had none to give. She had never expected him to find her a husband this quickly, and not Adediji of all people, who she had made her dislike of so clear. Adediji, whose uncle Dada stood accused of killing. How could he do this to her? What had she done to him?

She opened her mouth to speak, but only a faint sound emerged, so she stood there and she just listened. Listened to him tell her how this was the best way to distance herself from Dada’s disgrace, how this would show people they had no part in this.

He told her how Adeleye had promised she would not be mistreated because of Dada’s transgressions, how Adediji had spoken of her in such glowing terms, how she had to accept that Dada would only be returning to Ife dead or in irons. He told her how his mind was made up. Then he rose and left to wash the trail dirt away, leaving Yomi still silent, motionless, in shock, as her mother and sister looked on.

 

 

8

ACTION

 

 

The next day Yomi awoke filled with the reckless energy of someone with little left to lose. Her father had changed more than he knew with his little announcement the night before. Apart from setting the tone for a particularly tense and unhappy evening for the whole family, he had also created a situation where Yomi had even greater incentive to clear Dada’s name as quickly as she could. His innocence was now her likeliest escape route as well, and she needed one. Now, more than ever.

She had found the idea of a union with Adediji distasteful before she fully appreciated what marriage entailed, but now the very thought of being with a man she barely even liked in such an intimate way made her skin crawl. The trouble was she already felt married, had for several years, and she wasn’t ready to give up her husband for anyone, not even her father. She was going to fight for him, and she was determined to win.

So, as soon as her parents had left the house, her mother to the farm, her father to Afin, she set off, trusty deputy at her side. Feyi had pretended to leave for school just before her mother and hidden down the road, around the corner. Any guilt she might have ordinarily felt over such a deception was overwhelmed by her fury at what she saw as a real betrayal on her mother’s part in not speaking out against her father’s actions, and even worse still, preventing her from doing so.

The latter had taken a number of threats on Aweni’s part and Feyi was still smarting at the reminder of how many of her past scrapes had been covered up by her mother. She had never noticed quite how much leverage the woman had over her; it wasn’t at all a pleasant realisation.

She shook off her darker thoughts and trudged on beside her older sister. They had to find a solution. Laja was going to have to come up with something, because she wasn’t going to let Yomi marry that man, she couldn’t.

Now, it wasn’t that there was anything so terribly wrong with Adediji to Feyi’s way of thinking. Granted he was a bore and a simpleton, but there were worse things a husband could be. She didn’t expect much from marriage, she was more pragmatic than Yomi in that respect and was happy to marry any decent hardworking man. Provided he didn’t beat her, drink overmuch, or attempt to interfere in her friendship with Laja in any way, she would be a good wife to him, even though she couldn’t yet imagine herself as anyone’s wife. Still that was neither here nor there.

Yomi was a romantic, wanted no one but Dada, and would be miserable if she were forced into this marriage. Feyi had seen what that misery could do to a person. Everyone might prefer to believe that Rewa, her former classmate had fallen into the river that night all those months ago, but no one could explain why she chose to wash clothes in the middle of the night, and Feyi had known that it was that hard-drinking loudmouth thug her family had forced on her that had driven her to it. She didn’t fall into the river, she walked into it.

She looked up at her sister as they walked along in silence, wondering if, after a few years of misery, Yomi might succumb to a similar temptation, but as she studied the set of her sister’s jaw, it occurred to her that Yomi would be far likelier to push an unwanted husband into the river than throw herself in. Not that such behaviour would really be any better. It suddenly occurred to her; perhaps that was what had happened to Baderin? An aggrieved wife tired of her marriage and looking for a way out?

Before she could voice the thought to Yomi, she remembered that she had seen three of his four wives dancing together that night. Only Moradeke had been missing, and with the attention Baderin had lavished on her during their short marriage, the favour he had shown her, Moradeke was the last person in the world who would want him dead. Any one of the other wives that he had been ignoring in her favour since her arrival might have, but they were all accounted for.

She sighed. If only it were that simple.

Unbeknownst to her, Yomi looked down at the sound and smiled, wondering what was causing such a furrow in her little sister’s brow. She was about to ask when a movement caught her attention and she looked across the road to where Laja stood waving.

He had also taken an unscheduled day off to join them in their quest and had even had the foresight to bring along some Agbalumo to snack on. They sucked at the sweet juicy fruit as they went, and the refreshments and company must have made the journey seem even shorter than usual. They were at Dada’s house within minutes, and were greeted warmly by Adunni.

She ushered them in and hurried off to call Bankole out, so transparently pleased at their visit that rather than being embarrassing, her behaviour only made them more guilty, each privately resolving to come again, to see her next time. Bankole arrived in the front room of the house moments later, moving faster than Yomi had ever known him to, and sat in front of them, looking warily from each one to the next. Yomi cleared her throat and opened up conversation.

“How are things?” She asked, brightly. He looked at her as though she had lost her mind, and she tried again.

“What of Wale?” Wale, their younger brother. The only other person that Dada would speak to when he first got home. Wale had been little more than a baby then.

“He’s gone to school.” Bankole replied, looking pointedly at Laja and Feyi. Yomi nodded and the silence stretched, thicker and louder, till with a sigh of impatience, Bankole spoke up.

“Yomi what are you looking for here?”

Yomi looked away before answering; scanning the room, looking towards the door and the windows to make sure that Adunni was nowhere nearby. Luckily, unlike Aweni, Dada’s mother was not inclined to spy on her offspring, and was well out of earshot, out of sight, in fact. She was in the backyard, clearing up the cooking pots from earlier.

Yomi leant in closer to Bankole. Laja and Feyi also moved closer, and they began to elucidate their plan to prove Dada’s innocence. Before they could finish however, Bankole gave them a shock of his own, coolly informing them that Dada’s innocence could easily be proved. It was local politics, not guilt that kept him on the run.

Yomi asked him to explain what he meant as the others looked on, and he did. He explained to them that Bidemi might have told Olusola that she had seen Dada near Afin earlier that evening, but he had been running an errand for his maternal cousin, delivering an invitation to Oyekanmi to visit the young man in question during his forthcoming trip to Ibadan so they could discuss business matters. Apparently Oyekanmi had been a great friend of their late uncle and their cousin needed his assistance and advice in purchasing some farmlands. So he had asked Dada to see Oyekanmi when next the Tele was in town.

Dada had arrived at Afin shortly after the crowds had left for the shrine, had been there only a short while, and had been leaving when Bidemi, sent by their mother to hurry him up, had seen him. She had also seen Baderin entering, alive and well as she left with Dada.

He had taken her home and returned to Afin later than planned to join the crowd, only to find everyone had dispersed. He heard what had happened, and decided, in that dangerously forthright way of his, to offer up any information he had. Of course, suspicion had immediately fallen on him, and once Bidemi was questioned, his fate was sealed.

Her testimony against her own brother far outweighed any tentative objections by two of the emeses at the second gate on that night, and the desperation among the chieftains to see someone apprehended immediately had prevailed. Bankole believed that desperation had come from fear for their own safety, but as she sat listening to him, Yomi knew better. It was guilt. Guilt and fear of discovery.

Feyi, for her part, had been left behind at the point where Bidemi set up her own brother. Bankole shrugged.

“She’s her mother’s child.”

Yomi hissed, a sucking sound of disdain made between teeth and inner cheek, and shook her head. “If I catch her, her mother will be childless.”

He smiled. “She’s not here. Once it came out that Bidemi saw Baderin still alive, and her mother told her to lie, our father descended on Tunrayo and gave her the beating of her life. She has taken Bidemi and gone to her mother’s house, I don’t even know if she’s coming back and to tell the truth, I don’t care.”

Thwarted, Feyi took Bankole to task, asking why he hadn’t approached the Oni or his people with the extra information.

“I should go and tell them that Wale threatened Bidemi till she confessed that she was lying? They won’t believe it, it’s too late, and there’s no point. If Dada can be lost for long enough, they’ll forget. Maybe they’ll even find the person who did it.”

The three of them looked at each other, almost afraid to tell him of their suspicions. His way seemed so much simpler. Laja spoke up first. “We think it was one of them who did it.”

“One of who?”

“The people looking for Dada.”

Bankole shook his head, but Laja went on. “Think about it, who else was there? Who else could it have been? It had to be one of those men, maybe one of the chiefs.”

Bankole looked at Yomi, almost seeming to hope for a denial, but she had none to offer. He nodded slowly, then looked down, but in a moment he looked up again, back to his old optimistic self.

“They won’t find him anyway. Dada, who was chased through the forest for three weeks during the war? They will never find him.”

“That was a long time ago.” Yomi noted quietly.

“He still did it. They won’t find him.”

“What if they do?”

He shook his head again, more vigorously this time, a move tainted with denial. “They can’t find him. They can’t.”

“What if they do?” Laja asked, pressing home the point.

To this, Bankole had no reply. He simply stared at them, his eyes seeming to cloud over. Seeing that they were losing him, Yomi changed tactics. Bankole had already given them more information, had been more useful than she had ever expected. To imagine that he would actively participate in the process of exonerating his brother was too much to ask, he simply didn’t have it in him to go outside convention.

He might talk a good one, but he was really quite timid when it came down to it. Still, he was becoming one of the town’s most seasoned junior gossips, and he could be relied upon to give accurate information. He might have answers to some of their more difficult questions.

So she brought him to attention by asking those very questions, and was only slightly less surprised than Feyi and Laja at the answers she received. Firstly, Oyekanmi’s quarrel with Baderin dated back many years and had been over land left to Oyekanmi by his grandfather. The land was just outside Gbongan, on the way to Ibadan, and had been sold to Baderin for a pittance by Oyekanmi’s useless brother, Omibule behind Oyekanmi’s back.

Word had it that Baderin had known full well that the land was not Omibule’s to sell, but he had bought it anyway, and had prevailed in the native court, thus keeping till this day a piece of land of both monetary and sentimental value to Oyekanmi.

Omibule, for his part, had long since drunk himself to death, and Oyekanmi had apparently let the matter go a long time ago, but it was one of the many examples cited by Rike’s father Jide as reason why no one need mourn Baderin overmuch. On the subject of Rike, Bankole was unable to remember whether he had seen her that fateful night, but also equally unable to imagine a woman committing such a violent act, and no, he couldn’t remember when the Oshogun, Akintade, had gone indoors either.

In conclusion, Bankole added another definite suspect to the growing list, without eliminating any others. Now, Oyekanmi had a very clear motive for Baderin’s murder, and that, combined with his suspiciously endless reserves of good humour put him right at the top of Yomi’s list. Well, maybe not quite the top, that honour was still reserved almost fondly for Rike and her father.

They spoke with Bankole a little more before leaving, and were able to also discover the name of the main witness, the one that Omoyele had mentioned. Bidemi had heard the name from Olusola and given it up during Wale’s interrogation.

The witness was Olaniran, the local butcher, usually a reserved and dignified sort of man, now sealing an innocent man’s fate with lies for no apparent reason. Aremu had tried to approach him several times before being warned off by the local police. Why he had done this to their family remained a mystery. Feyi had opined that the motive might be financial, but Laja dismissed the idea, he lived not far from the family, and Olaniran had never struck him as the sort of man who was for sale.

It was agreed that Yomi would approach him the next day in spite of Bankole’s objections, and with nothing left to say, they rose, stopped to bid Adunni farewell, and then took their leave, pausing only at the doorway to assure Bankole that they would be careful. He showed a particular care for Yomi. Perhaps he thought it was his duty now his brother was gone, and as they left, she wondered how long that would last once he heard her father’s plans for her.

*****

They parted ways with Laja at the turning of their street and entered the house to an evening that was even more depressing than the last, if that were possible. Their father avoided Yomi studiously while Duro kept hugging her silently, and almost as though he had heard she was being carried off to be killed. Dada had been a firm favourite with him, so that was no surprise, but becoming an object of pity to her baby brother was still rather hard to take.

And, later that night, when her pleas to her mother, aimed at recruiting her to reason fell on deaf ears, she couldn’t help but wish that Aweni felt a little of that compassion. Apparently pragmatism and her father’s more persuasive arguments had won their mother over during the course of the day. Yomi needed a husband, and given the state of affairs, the sooner the better. So her mother refused to help, and turned away towards Feyi, who in turn, gave Aweni her back, turning to look at the wall as they both listened to Yomi’s silent, suppressed sobs well into the night.

 

 

9

STAGNATION

 

 

A week passed and it was time for Yomi to return to the farm. She rose early in the morning and headed out as Feyi left to join Laja in their classes at St Phillips, the missionary school.

With the education prescribed by her father completed, Yomi had no place there, and frankly, no wish at all to return. She had quite enjoyed school, found learning easy and genuinely enjoyed the tales in their Christian book. They were entertaining, if a little far fetched, and she had viewed school as a new adventure, especially being, as she was, one of the first children in Ife to receive the foreign education.

However, enough was enough, and at a certain point, the whole thing began to wear on her a little. A person could only spend so long learning of things that had no relevance to them, and she had a real life to get on with and things to learn which would help with that. Ultimately, she had enjoyed leaving school even more than she enjoyed being there, and being able to spend more time on the farm, especially now, after the work of the yam harvest, was something she usually relished.

But today was different. No matter how hard she tried, she was unable to shake the questions swirling in her head, unable to concentrate on the simple, mindless task before her and let everything else fade away, as she had so hoped to do. The day seemed longer than ever and when she left early, even her mother was glad to see her go, although that probably had more to do with Yomi’s coldness towards her than any real awareness of her daughter’s misery.

Unbeknownst to Aweni, Yomi’s anger and disappointment, so fierce over the last few days, had begun to fade into a weary acceptance. She knew her mother was doing what she thought was best for her, but she also knew that her mother was wrong.

Still that was neither here nor there. Yomi hadn’t the energy to bear a grudge right now. Her fear for Dada, and for herself, was all she could cope with. She had realised, however, that her mother thinking she was angry with her would afford her a certain amount of autonomy. Aweni tended to be a lot more lax in asking questions about her children’s movements when she was ‘looking for their face’, and right now Yomi needed her as careless as possible.

And indeed she was. Waving her elder daughter off as Yomi left the farm, Aweni seemed to have completely forgotten that she was bidding farewell to a child who was not only supposed to be keeping a low profile in the town to avoid disgrace, but had also, by her previous actions, shown a distressing desire to embrace that very disgrace and make it her own. As for Yomi, never one to turn down a bit of good fortune, she made good her escape, heading off towards the busier side of town and the home of Olaniran, the butcher.

Olaniran was not a wealthy man, but his father’s misfortune, an inability to produce more than one son, had worked to his advantage and he was able to live rather well as a result. Still, there were few who would not consider him to be a very odd man. For one thing, he had married only one wife. They had been married twenty years or so, and he showed no signs of marrying another. This was a source of puzzlement to many men in the town, and if a few of the women secretly hoped to marry a man as peculiar as Olaniran, they never admitted it aloud. His choice of wife had also been somewhat controversial. He had chosen to marry a girl from the Modakeke tribe.

Ife’s uncomfortable bedfellow, the migrant tribe was often and even quite recently at odds with the people of Ife, and while anyone who knew Anu had to admit that she was both attractive and sweet natured, few could understand why anyone would place themselves at the centre of such a never ending conflict. What woman could be worth that?

The questions about Anu’s worth had increased with her inability to bear a living child, and after a few years of marriage, most of their acquaintances had been inclined to agree with Olaniran’s mother, Durosanma, when she stated regularly and with conviction that her son’s choices were sure to be the death of her.

Thankfully, this had not turned out to be the case. Anu had been fortunate, and her mother-in-law had somehow managed to survive her disappointment, and had in fact, thrived, becoming more comfortably rounded each and every one of the ten years it took Anu to produce a daughter.

Upon the delivery of the girl child, Durosanma had been well enough to complain to all and sundry, and had only been temporarily silenced by the arrival of a son a year later. She was, in fact, still alive and well, and currently bemoaning her lack of a third grandchild.

It was into this charming woman’s hands that Yomi fell as she entered Olaniran’s compound. This was the first piece of bad luck in what was to be an ill fated excursion. She was grilled about her connection to Dada, who Durosanma consistently referred to as ‘that killer’, she was given a great deal of unwarranted and frankly bad advice about how to put the whole matter behind her, most of which amounted to marrying the first man who asked for her, even if he was a hunchback.

And yes, she did actually say, a hunchback. As if that weren’t enough, the miserable old hag completed her soliloquy by stating that Yomi would probably never find a man to take her on now anyway.

This last statement so infuriated Yomi that she reacted quite irrationally, throwing Adediji’s unwanted offer in Durosanma’s face. She actually enjoyed the woman’s crestfallen look for a few moments before she came to her senses. What was she doing, quarrelling with Olaniran’s mother?

Having recovered her endangered sanity, she made her excuses as soon as politely possible and left, wryly anticipating the time when she, like Durosanma, would have abandoned the vanity of youth for the shaven head of many elderly women and be old enough to speak to everyone around her as she pleased, secure in the knowledge that respect for their elders would prevent them from giving her the retort she deserved.

She picked up her feet and hurried on towards the house, still slightly surprised at the sour turn her thoughts had taken. She might not have been the gentlest person you might come across on a good day, but of recent even she was startled by the darkness of her thoughts and the speed of her temper. Everything seemed to annoy her. She had shouted at poor Duro this morning for no reason at all. She would have to make up with him when she got home, he had left for school before she had a chance.

For that matter, she really ought to spend more time with him than she had of recent. She had been so wrapped up in her troubles, they all were, and she had been neglecting her brothers as a result. In fact she had been so absent minded it had been three days after she was told before she registered the information that Duro’s mother was pregnant again. Still, with Ebun that was hardly news.

Yomi heard a sudden sound, and looked up. There, in the corner of the sari which ran around the front of the red clay house, stood Olaniran’s ten year old daughter Alayode. The little girl was poking at the woven palm leaf cage on the floor in front of her with her foot, and it was the squawk of the chicken inside that had caught Yomi’s ear.

The little girl looked down. She was somewhat of an enigma, this one. She was in Duro’s class in school, and was said to be shy and retiring almost to a fault. Apparently she seldom spoke unless spoken to, and kept to herself for the most part. Duro had mentioned a few days ago that she had been kept home from school since the Olojo festival with an undisclosed illness but she seemed fully back in good health now, which was of course, always a good thing, but in this case was a catastrophe narrowly averted.

For Anu to lose one of her only two children would have been a disaster. As the daughter of a woman with only two living children herself, Yomi felt for her more keenly than most, although perhaps less than Aweni, whose fervent prayers for ‘that poor child’ had lasted almost an hour after Duro brought home the news.

Yomi opened her mouth to ask the child where her parents were, but was interrupted by the arrival on the scene of their small, dark and increasingly well rounded ‘Iwofa’, Ifabunmi. She was the child of a former associate of Olaniran’s, now living with his family as security against her father’s unpaid debt.

However, given how little work she did, and how well she ate, Yomi had often wondered whether the family would not have profited more from simply sending the girl home and writing the debt off altogether.

Still, she remained where she was, and as she opened the door, Alayode ran straight into her arms without a word. Ifabunmi rubbed her absent-mindedly on the head, put her aside and went into the low one knee curtsy that was expected in deference to Yomi’s family’s standing.

Yomi brushed all that ceremony aside and asked her if Olaniran or Anu were at home, to which Ifabunmi replied ‘No.’, quickly and without hesitation. ‘No, they weren’t at home’, ‘No’, she didn’t know when they would be, and ‘No’, she didn’t know where they had gone.

For someone who was usually both pleasant and polite, she was brusque and bordering on rude and it was no surprise to Yomi when she caught a movement inside the darkened house as she turned away. She turned back quickly, but whoever was inside had moved well away from the window, and so there was nothing more to be done. One could not, after all, insist on being allowed into the home of an acquaintance, no matter what the temptation might be.

In the end she was forced to leave a message and take her leave, leaving behind an obviously uncomfortable Ifabunmi, and Alayode, watching the proceedings with that wide eyed curious gaze from the doorway. She headed home, having had no better luck than Aremu in getting answers, and thinking her day could hardly end worse than it had begun.

*****

It turned out she was wrong. Waiting for her when she got home was the other reason for her mother’s excessive niceness earlier in the day. There, in the front room, spread out like he was in his father’s room and parlour, and crunching noisily on a Kola nut, was her prospective betrothed, Adediji. If Yomi’s mood was bad on entering the house, an evening in Adediji’s company only made it worse.

Her new set of circumstances and the speed, the alacrity, with which her father had agreed to consider his offer seemed to have brought out the worst in the man, and he now seemed to expect Yomi to be grateful, if not a little desperate for his attention. Luckily his idea of desperate really just involved bringing him multiple refreshments, bowl after bowl of cool water, and listening to him drone on endlessly about his favourite subject, himself.

Life as Adeleye’s son had been singularly unkind to Adediji. Blessed with neither his father’s intelligence nor cunning, he had no real prospect of ever surpassing him, and this was something his father had reminded him of often in his darker moods. However, he had also been reminded almost constantly of his importance as the first born son of the Jaran, and this ill advised combination of belittling and aggrandizement had left him a deeply insecure man and a first class show off.

He was constantly on the lookout for a captive audience to impress with his father’s wealth and consequence, and over time had developed an impressive ability to hone in on the most appreciative, or perhaps simply the most long-suffering person in the room and attempt to talk them into some sort of special oblivion.

Perhaps it was this unusual skill that led him to shift his attention from Yomi to Feyi as the evening wore on. Then again, perhaps it was just the fact that Feyi had grown so much since his initial offer to Yomi a couple of years ago, and now that she had taken on a more womanly form, the sad but simple truth was that she was more to his taste than her older sister.

A great part of Yomi’s appeal had been her antecedents, and now, looking at Feyi closely for the first time in a long while, and basking in her undivided attention, Adediji began to wonder if he might have made a mistake.

If Feyi noticed his interest in her, she said nothing. Yomi noted it with a detachment tinged with relief. Now that he had shown himself to be so faithless and easily distracted as to shift his attention so quickly to her sister, perhaps her parents would give up on the idea of this ill fated union.

However, this was not to be. Aweni, unlike Yomi, was a desperate woman. Charged with ensuring her daughter’s increasingly fragile future, she felt all the urgency Yomi was unable to muster, and as soon as she noticed the turn the visit was taking she called Feyi away sharply, ostensibly to help her clean up in the back of the house, but really with the half formed intent of giving her a sizeable piece of her mind.

She only managed a small chunk. Feyi was really in no mood to listen, and their growing quarrel was cut off quite quickly by Yomi’s announcement that Adediji was leaving. What Yomi failed to mention was that he had risen from the mat and begun to make his excuses only after his increasingly hostile audience of one had pointed out the lateness of the hour.

But Yomi didn’t need to mention it. Adewunmi had been within earshot, and as soon as Adediji left, her father gave her a tongue-lashing like she had never received in all her life. Furthering her stunning reversal of fortune, he praised Feyi’s conduct, suggested that Yomi try and learn something from her younger sibling, and added a stinging rebuke, directed at Aweni for removing Feyi from the parlour. To his way of thinking, she had at least served the purpose of assuring Adediji that Yomi’s poor conduct was not the result of a bad upbringing, and might thus reasonably be expected to pass.

Adewunmi then barked at Ebun, asking her why she was hanging around with her mouth open in that brainless fashion, and then, satisfied that he had offended everyone he possibly could, he headed off to join a game of Ayo, his favourite board game, on the other side of town. As he turned to leave, Aweni expressed her disdain with a truly filthy look and a loud hissing sound, and turned on her heel, leaving the room to go about her remaining chores for the evening.

Their father seemed almost tempted to go after her for a moment, to continue the quarrel, but then thought better of it, and left, giving an almost equally angry Ebun a wide berth as he passed her at the doorway.

Yomi noted with amusement that tonight would be one of those nights when their father made sure to return home late, to avoid having to speak to either of his wives till sleep had softened their moods and, watching him move speedily across the compound from the lower window she was, for the first time she could remember, glad to see the back of him.

 

 

10

LIFE

 

 

Yomi walked along in the burning sun, sweat trickling down her back and between her breasts. It was a horrible, fiercely hot day, and not at all the sort of day when one wished to be coming back from the market. She would normally have gone earlier, but today she had pretended to oversleep. Then she had risen late and hurried out, seemingly to catch the traders before they left their farm.

It was the only way to be sure of getting out of the house, and staying out long enough to gather information without arousing suspicion. It had taken her two weeks to get away from her mother.

With Adediji’s increasingly frequent visits and Dada’s continued absence, Aweni was living on her nerves, and seemed to vacillate between her desire to see Yomi safely married off as soon as possible, her sympathy for Adunni’s plight, and worry over Dada’s fate. Still, looking out for her own child came first, and she took every opportunity which presented itself to counsel Yomi about the wisdom of giving Adediji a fair chance.

Which was how Yomi found herself in her current position. She had been trying for some time now to get a chance to speak to Rike about her whereabouts on that night and those of her father, and Feyi had finally hit on the idea of her going to the market for Aweni.

It was a chore her mother was always more than glad to hand over, and if she went late enough in the day, she could use the heat and the distance as an excuse to stop at a friend’s house for refreshments. And that friend could easily be Rike. So there she was, trudging to Rike’s house in the midday sun.

A wave of dizziness pushed her to the side of the road and she sat for a minute and gathered her composure and her thoughts, taking a little time to plan how she would frame her questions in order to get the answers she needed without arousing too much suspicion.

She couldn’t stay too long at Rike’s house if she was going to be home in time to help with the cooking, so she would have to get to the point fairly quickly. Which meant she needed to get there as quickly as she could.

On that thought she rose and headed on towards her destination, and arrived there just in time to enter a house in disarray. No sooner had she stepped in through the door, than Jide, Rike’s father practically fell on her in a fit of anxiety. It took her several moments to fully understand what he was asking and to gather that Rike had gone into labour earlier than expected.

As a father of six boys and one girl, this was Jide’s first experience of a daughter in labour, and he found himself suddenly awake to all the dangers of childbirth which had preyed on his mind so little all the many times his own wives had been in labour.

After taking a few moments to reassure him that all would be well, and sending him firmly on his way, although to be honest she had no real idea where he had gone, Yomi sighed and resolved to offer her help to Rike’s mother and the other women. She was not an expert in such matters, but had attended a few deliveries in her time, and it would be too bad of her to come all this way, hear such news and leave without even showing her face. As for the information she was looking for, it would have to wait till another day.

*****

A few hours later, she was in a considerably different frame of mind, a part of her wishing she had taken the ill-mannered but infinitely smarter route and turned on her heel as soon as she saw Jide, while another part of her, after half a day spent witnessing Rike’s agony almost hoped that she had in fact done away with Baderin.

It was no more than he deserved for putting her in her current condition and disavowing all knowledge of it. In fact, the more she thought of it, the more it struck her as a gross injustice that so much time and effort was being put into apprehending the man’s killer at all. It was surely more a sign of his social standing than his merit as a human being. Given the number of people he had offended he had probably lived longer than he should have.

A shrill cry from Rike brought her back to the present and she looked up from the length of rope she was staring at and across the room to where her friend sat. Rike’s mother was right to be worried. She was clearly beginning to tire, and that was never a good sign. She was breathing in and out now, and leaning back against the cushion.

She seemed to be resting for the moment, and it occurred to Yomi that this would be a good time to send a message home. The sun was beginning to set and her mother would be wondering where she was by now. She needed to know that it was unlikely that Yomi would be home till much later, if at all. A first child took a while, and Rike had only begun her labour that morning.

Once she had sent one of the many younger relatives hanging around outside to her mother, she settled in for the long wait ahead, but it seemed only moments later when the young girl returned, whispering in her ear that someone was looking for her. She sat up, dazed and looked around, stretched and yawned. She realised that she must have fallen asleep in the corner, only moments after wondering how Rike could fall asleep in the midst of such an experience.

As Yomi rose to follow the girl outside, she noted that Rike was now very wide awake, and considerably less happy, she also noticed her aunt, Aweni’s sister Layo, who was the local midwife and had been the main reason Yomi was roped into this delivery in the first place.

Anyone else would have thanked her and turned down the offer or at least let her go her own way after an hour or two, but not Auntie Layo. She was a demanding if entertaining woman, and she never, never, turned down an offer of help.

Her expertise in childbirth had come largely from the delivery of seven live children of her own, the last two born at her husband’s farm, and not brought home until a year and a half after she left pregnant. Many people in the town at the time questioned how close in size Yomi’s two older cousins were, and how similar they were to look at, but in a time when twins were a taboo, and their mother was so well liked, no one had chosen to make an issue of it.

It was really too late to do much with them by the time she returned anyway, and with no evidence, better to leave well enough alone than make an enemy of Layo, a woman who knew better than most how to bear a grudge. She was giving Yomi a rather dark look now, as she crossed the room, and she realised that she must have noticed her sleeping and was probably upset.

Well, her apology would have to wait till later. Yomi left the room quickly without a word and followed the little girl out into the rapidly gathering gloom, expecting to find Feyi waiting anxiously for news and fully ready to disappoint her. Instead she found Laja, and he had brought news of his own.

He told her quickly that he had discovered the extent of Baderin’s quarrel with Adeniyi in school today. It turned out that they had not only quarrelled about whose son would be granted the title of Jaran after Baderin’s brother Adeleye, but the competition had escalated to the point where Baderin had engineered the emese’s removal from Afin.

He had accused Adeniyi of theft, and the evidence had been convincing enough to put an end to Adeniyi’s time at the palace, and his ambitions for his son. He had been spared public disgrace by the King’s fondness for him, but had nevertheless left under a cloud, swearing his innocence and vowing revenge. Word had it that he had never recovered from the indignity of being branded a thief and had only grown more embittered with the years.

Having delivered his news as though it were a thing of joy, he stood waiting for Yomi’s response, and all she could think was that the suspects kept piling up, and they were no closer to finding the killer. Now, besides Rike and her father, there was Adeniyi, his career ruined by Baderin, Oyekanmi, his land stolen by Baderin, Bambo, his son possibly killed by Baderin, and there was still the matter of his mysterious recent falling out with the Oshogun, Akintade.

Once again, Yomi found herself wondering why there was so much trouble over the death of such a man. By all accounts even his own brother hadn’t thought very much of him, yet they were all out there, chasing after Dada, trying to avenge a man none of them had liked, and one of them might even have killed.

And Laja was still waiting. She thanked him for the information and tried to look interested, but he saw right through her.

“Yomi what’s wrong?”

She shook her head in response. In truth even she couldn’t say what was wrong with her. She only knew that she was tired. Physically, and to her bones. She was tired of the whole thing, and she had begun to wonder now what had ever made them think they could do this, find a killer no one else was even looking for. Rike was inside trying to bring a new life into the world, into this world of so many lies, a child whose father had disowned it.

“Yomi what is it?”

The panic in Laja’s voice brought her to attention, and she looked up. She ran a hand over her face and was shocked when it came away wet. When did she start crying? She almost never cried, yet recently it seemed like she couldn’t stop. No wonder Laja looked so frightened.

This was the first time he had ever seen her like this.

He might have been less shocked by Feyi, but Yomi was known as the tough one, the one who could deal with anything and usually dealt with it quickly and quietly. He’d never seen her cry. And this was no time to start. There was no time for weeping and wailing. This was good news, they were getting closer and they could do this, of course they could… An unearthly wail from inside the house broke through her thoughts, bringing her fully to her senses.

Rike needed her. They needed her help inside, and Laja needed to know she was okay. So she smiled at him brightly, hoping to reassure him, but the doubt lingered somewhere between his brows and he asked her again what was wrong. She shrugged looking for an answer and another screech from inside provided one.

“It’s Rike”

“Is she tired?”

She shook her head, not wanting to scare him too much. “No, it’s just…it’s taking a long time.”

He nodded “Should I go and call Auntie Layo?”

“She’s here.”

He smiled and relaxed visibly. “Don’t worry then, she’ll be fine”

Yomi nodded, and Laja patted her briefly on the shoulder, before beginning to back away.

“I’ll tell Feyi if I find out anything else,”

She nodded again. “Thank you”

He grinned “No problem.” And with that he turned and beat a hasty retreat.

If only she had moved so fast earlier.

On that thought she heaved a sigh, took a deep breath and returned to Rike’s room, to the tension and the odd, almost sweet smell of childbirth.

*****

It was late the next day before the baby came and Yomi had plenty of time to wonder guiltily if she had somehow cursed Rike with the lie she had told Laja. The labour was indeed abnormally long, but thankfully it ended well, with Rike’s daughter coming squalling into the world just after noon.

Now she lay on her side, having just endured a scalding hot bath, and watched fondly while the baby was rubbed down with palm oil by her grandmother and put through a somewhat cooler wash. The little girl was screeching her displeasure to all and sundry and Yomi could hear her aunt explaining to one of the children who had gathered that the baby’s eyes would not open for several days, that hers hadn’t either, and no, it didn’t mean the baby would be blind.

Once the baby was clean, Rike’s grandmother beckoned Yomi closer to take her, and she rose to do so, but suddenly, her aunt was in the way, intercepting the handover and taking the baby herself.

With a look towards Yomi that was difficult to define, she laid the baby on her lap and began to dry her while Rike’s grandmother finished cleaning up, removing the used sponge and soap and taking with her the blade used to separate mother and child, now no longer new, and the clay pot with the ‘Ile Omo’, the afterbirth, for burial.

Yomi just sat there, both confused and a little offended. After all, it wasn’t as if she’d never held a baby before, and once her aunt had handed the baby over to her mother, Yomi watched her, and the moment she left the room, she followed to give her a piece of her mind. She found her just outside alone, packing up and without preamble, went right up to her and asked,

“Why didn’t you let me carry her?”

Her auntie looked at her for a moment, clearly confused, then she seemed to remember, stopped, and looked at her again.

“Pregnant women aren’t supposed to carry new babies, Yomi. Didn’t your mother ever tell you?”

“I know that, what has that got to do with-” She suddenly realised what her aunt meant and gurgled with laughter. “Wait you think I.. I’m not pregnant!” She smiled, waiting for her aunt to join in the joke, but she just stood there, looking at Yomi with a sad, almost pitying expression on her face. So Yomi told her again.

“I’m not pregnant.”

And her aunt just stood there looking at her. The moment seemed to stretch until Yomi’s patience finally snapped. She turned to leave but Auntie Layo pulled her back, a little closer to her and reached out, pulling down the lower lid of her eye. She had seen her do that before, to countless young women and she pulled away from her aunt’s grasp, leant back from the enquiring gaze, but couldn’t move fast enough. Her aunt let her go and sighed.

“Does your mother know?”

Yomi couldn’t find an answer. She was still busy trying to digest the piece of information she had been refusing to acknowledge for the last few days. She couldn’t answer and didn’t even know how to feel. Her aunt sighed and picked up her goatskin bag. She turned and began to walk away.

She was half way across the yard before Yomi came to her senses and went tearing after her. She caught up with her just at the edge of the compound and could see out of the corner of her eye that she had only a few moments alone with her before Rike’s father, already approaching, arrived to express his gratitude yet again.

“Please, please don’t tell my mother. She doesn’t know”

Her aunt stopped and peered at her. “Did you know?” She shook her head, and her aunt shook hers too, for an entirely different reason.

“I won’t tell her.”

“Tell her what?” Jide had caught up to them.

“She doesn’t want me to tell Rike she’s going home”

Rike’s father turned to Yomi, grinning. “Going where?” He took her firmly by the hand. “You have to stay with us a little longer and celebrate.” Yomi shook her head and smiled, already backing away.

“I have to go home, they will be looking for me at home by now. Let me just greet Rike and go, I’ll come again.”

Jide nodded. He had no real use for her now that the baby was safely delivered, his invitation sprung more from protocol and a general feeling of good will towards the world, than any real desire to spend the rest of the day socialising with his daughter’s friend. Unfortunately Rike felt differently. She was in a surprisingly chatty mood for someone who had barely slept for two nights, and it was already getting dark again by the time Yomi headed home.

*****

She arrived home to find Laja hanging around outside with Feyi and as she saw them in the distance she felt a sudden rush of envy, so strong that by the time she reached them it was all she could do to brush past, and more than she could manage to stay and make small talk. Feyi was a little surprised at her abruptness but Laja seemed to take it in stride. He didn’t ask what was wrong and unlike her sister he didn’t try and stop her. He was probably frightened that she would start crying again. He needn’t have worried. Yomi was all cried out, dry eyed and slowly beginning to accept her fate.

When she entered the house, she neither frowned nor smiled at her mother and when her father stopped her on her way to the room she simply stood still and listened. She listened as he told her that Adediji had come yesterday and would come to see her again tomorrow.

He admonished her, telling her to make an effort to be nicer to the young man, and to remember the limits of her marriage prospects now, and though the barb stung more than usual, she showed no sign of it. She simply listened, and when he was done she nodded, and walked away.

 

 

11

SACRIFICE

 

 

She was combing her hair when Feyi walked over. One minute she was tugging the hard wooden comb through the tangles and considering whether to wet her hair a little to make it easier, and suddenly she felt the comb being snatched from her hand. She turned and saw Feyi standing there, looking furious and strangely, all the shorter for it. It was like her rage was pressing her down, and Yomi had to suppress a sudden urge to giggle.

She knew what Feyi was so angry about. She had been trying to get Yomi alone all week to talk to her, but it was a conversation Yomi didn’t particularly want to have and she had been both skillful and surprisingly lucky in avoiding being alone with her sister until now.

Still, it appeared her luck had run out, and she might as well get it over with.

She sighed. “What is it?”

“Where are you going?” Feyi asked.

Yomi looked at her oddly. “Rike’s house.”

It was the day of Rike’s daughter’s naming ceremony and conveniently also the Christian Sunday, a day on which more people were staying away from the farm now with many of them attending the morning service at the school building. This meant that there would be a lot of friends and relatives at Rike’s house later in the day.

Had it been any other day though, Yomi would still have been committed to attending. She had promised her friend when last she saw her, and after assisting in the child’s delivery, how could she not come and see her named?

The ceremony was being held a week after the delivery, as was customary with female children, and Yomi had managed to time her arrival late enough in the day to avoid having to sit around and make small talk while Rike’s uncle consulted Ifa for the baby’s ‘Oriki’, her praise name.

Hopefully he would be done by the time she got there, and she would be able to just enjoy the best part of the ceremony and have a nice meal. Although, if she spent too long quarrelling with Feyi she might yet miss the whole thing. She decided to cut to the chase.

“Feyi, what do you want?”

“I want to talk to you.”

Yomi nodded and waited. Moments passed and still her sister said nothing.

“Say what you want to say.”

Feyi looked at her then, right in the eye, and asked “What are you doing?”

Yomi didn’t bother to pretend. She knew exactly what Feyi was talking about. This had been coming on since Adediji’s visit the day after Rike gave birth. So she simply answered. “I’m talking to him. Or should I marry a man I’ve never spoken to?”

Feyi blinked. “But you’re not marrying him.”

“Really? So who am I going to marry?”

“Why do you have to marry anyone?”

That Yomi simply had no answer to. It was so silly a thing to say that she lost all patience with Feyi finally. Did she imagine that Yomi would stay at home forever? She was going to have to marry someone eventually, and in her condition, sooner rather than later. Since Adediji was the only reasonable suitor she had now, he would have to do. She gathered her courage and was just about to enlighten Feyi about her change in circumstances when her sister spoke up again.

“Why him?”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Yomi. You’ve seen how he looks at me.”

She was right. It seemed Yomi had been somewhat more successful than she had anticipated in putting Adediji off her. Now, when he came to visit, and he came frequently, he sat and smiled for the most part. They exchanged polite small talk, and he occasionally gave in to the temptation to extol his many, mostly imaginary virtues, but he only really came alive when Feyi was in the room.

In her he saw what he most desired, a consistent, cheerful captive audience. And he seemed rather reluctant to give that up. Yomi suspected that he was still smarting from her earlier behaviour, and she tried to be as pleasant as she could, but frankly, she could only take so much of his company, and it seemed that it was always at the very same moment when he started truly enjoying himself, that she felt an urge to be rid of him.

Thus most of their evenings started well but ended badly. But it couldn’t be helped, she needed him now.

So she answered. “Yes I have.”

“And you still want to marry him?”

She nodded, and Feyi frowned.

“What about Dada?”

“Dada isn’t here.” Yomi heard herself, and was shocked by her tone. By how cold she sounded. Feyi was even more shocked and it took her a few moments to pull her jaw off the ground to respond.

“So you don’t care about him anymore?”

“No I don’t care about him anymore. If he likes he should die.” She rounded on her sister. “Of course I care about him, where do you think I’m going?”

Feyi just shrugged. She was done trying to figure Yomi out and knew better than to quarrel with her in her current mood. Yomi sighed, “I’m going to see Rike.”

“Oh!” Feyi brightened up immediately. “Can I go with you?”

Yomi shook her head. “I’m not going to be there long.”

For a moment Feyi seemed inclined to argue, then she thought better of it. She nodded and let Yomi pass, followed her to the door and stood watching her as she crossed the compound and headed out into the road. She could still see Feyi watching her walk away as she headed down the dusty road, and long after she was out of sight, Feyi stood there in the shade, leaning against the doorway and thinking.

*****

Yomi arrived at Rike’s house to find the ceremony in full swing. She entered and sat quietly, watching the proceedings and soaking in the general atmosphere. The best thing about naming ceremonies was the sheer uncomplicated happiness of the event.

People came not to show off their best, or to amass gossip on other people, but simply to celebrate the joy of a new arrival. Babies had a way of doing that, of making all things new, and as she looked at the wide smile on her friend’s face, she wondered if that was how she would be when her time came, whether her baby was a boy or a girl, whether the child would be born with the same tangled locks as Dada, the locks which earned him his name. She wondered what he would think if he knew.

She realised with a sudden shock that he never would, and then all the goodwill drained out of her and she just sat there, watching the rest of the ceremony as if from a distance, suddenly eager to ask her questions and be gone, and feeling guilty for the first time.

What she was asking Rike about was no small matter. It might have started as a joke, but what if she, or more likely her father, had been involved? Baba Rike had always been so good to her, could she really turn him in? She shook the thoughts away. She would think about that when, if, she had to.

Instead she concentrated on the ceremony. The baby had been given a taste of palm oil, a taste of salt and thus ‘life’, and a taste of kola nut to drive away evil and was now being given honey, to bring sweetness to her life. Yomi winced in sympathy as the little girl was given a taste of alcohol to signify never spoiling.

She could see that she was not the only one concerned at Jide’s generosity as he dropped the fluid on the child’s tongue. Rike looked about to throw her baby on her back and run away. Her father noticed her concern and chuckled, putting the alcohol aside and preparing to receive the child’s names. That process was over in minutes and once the assembled relatives were satisfied that they had piled a sufficient number of names unto her tiny head, the ceremony ended and the socialising began.

Yomi made her way straight through the crowd and settled in beside Rike, who immediately offered her the baby. She took the child without thinking, belatedly looking up to see her aunt watching her pensively from across the room. The baby wriggled, calling back her attention.

Little Ifayomi looked up at her with wide, dark eyes before looking around, seeking her mother’s face. She didn’t need to look far for Rike, who was over her, cooing, in an instant. Yomi watched them and knew then. She would have to find another way. If Jide had done this thing, she wouldn’t, couldn’t drag him before the Oni. Rike had been through enough already.

As the day wore on, she became more convinced of the rightness of her decision. Perhaps she could just move on to the other suspects, leaving this line of enquiry alone. So she sat and visited with the family for most of the day, and she was still there much later, when most guests had gone home, and when her questions were answered quite by accident.

It started simply enough. Jide, a little worse for wear from all the alcohol and merriment had become progressively indiscreet and was now holding forth to the thankfully few friends remaining on the subject of his daughter’s delivery from a life of misery in Baderin’s house, and how she was so much better off now, with a husband that was willing to take both her and her child.

At this mention Rike’s fiancé, the older man whose name Yomi had tried but failed to remember, smiled in the long suffering manner of a man who had long since made his peace with his father-in-law’s many foibles. Being almost Jide’s age, he had no great expectations of him, and he possessed the sort of quiet resilience that somehow made the whole thing less embarrassing.

At any rate, he seemed more concerned with sneaking glances at his wife-to-be. Looks which Yomi had noticed Rike returning just as frequently. Jide might be drunk, but he might also be right. She would be much happier with this man, who already showed such affection for her and for the child he had spent much of the afternoon carrying.

Unfortunately Jide was just warming up. He went on into a rambling soliloquy about what he had suffered when Rike was returned by Baderin, how many times he had thought of getting revenge, and how he wished he had been in Ife when Baderin finally met up with justice.

When someone in the room stated that Omiyale’s father had said something very similar, he then proceeded to unknowingly throw cold water on the idea of Bambo as a suspect, stating he was all mouth and no action, and was always in bed nice and early. Besides, he asked, why wait all these years to finally take revenge on someone who walked past his compound every day on the way to his farm? Should he, could he not have killed him a hundred times already?

And with that, the matter of Rike’s father as a suspect was settled. With all likelihood, the matter of Omiyale’s father was settled as well. It took very little on Yomi’s part to determine that Rike had been beside her husband-to-be all evening, and Yomi was finally able to settle in and enjoy the rest of the day without that horrible, gnawing guilt in her belly, and for once without much thought to any of her belly’s other contents either.

*****

It was sunset when Yomi headed home. She had stayed far longer than she meant to, listening to Rike make plans for her marriage and her move to her husband’s place after her forty day confinement was over. They were a surprising couple, Rike and her husband-to-be, Gbenga, whose name Yomi finally remembered.

At first glance he seemed the lucky one, to have a wife so young, pretty and good natured, but the more you spoke with him, the more you became aware of the assets he brought to the union. A remarkably even temperament, which would keep Rike from the sort of silliness she was prone to, a keen intelligence, and now that he was more secure in her feelings for him, a sort of calm and confidence that was reassuring without being overbearing.

Her father was right, she was much better off.

As she neared home, Yomi saw Laja in the distance, pacing in front of their house. As soon as he saw her, he walked quickly towards her, arms outstretched, clearly agitated, and before she had a chance to ask what was going on, launched into speech.

“Yomi, your sister’s gone mad!”

“What?”

“Feyi, she’s gone mad!”

Yomi took in his appearance, noticing more than anything else, the slight redness in his eyes. She looked at his hands and noticed they were shaking. This wasn’t one of their usual fights. Before she could ask what he meant though, he told her.

“She wants to marry Adediji!”

“What?”

“She wants to marry Adediji!”

“No. She doesn’t want me to marry him.” Yomi sighed. She really wished Laja would listen more carefully. She was tired, just getting home, and in no mood to have this conversation all over again. He went on, undeterred.

“That’s why she wants to marry him”

Yomi tried to make sense of what Laja was saying, but frankly came up empty.

“Why would she marry him too-”

“To stop you from doing it. She told me that she was going to talk to your father, and agree to go instead, she said something about you entering water, I don’t even know why…”

Laja’s words faded into the background as Yomi went cold, from head to foot. She knew. She remembered when Rewa had drowned. How angry Feyi had been, and how bitter. Surely she couldn’t do something like this? She gathered her wits about her and patted Laja absentmindedly on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, she’s not marrying anybody”

He nodded, the very picture of abject misery, so much so that Yomi nearly smiled. Instead she filed the picture away for later merriment, and headed indoors, leaving Laja outside, waiting for his friend to be returned to him. She hurried into the house, hoping to catch Feyi before she made an offer to their father that she might not be able to take back.

She passed her mother with barely a glance, entered the front room and found her father alone in there. He barely looked up when she entered and the look she gave him was just as hostile as the one he greeted her with. In just a few weeks, they had gone from the best of friends to open antagonists. She saw in him only inflexibility, a cold, hard stony heart to match a cold and stony face, and in her he saw only weakness, and disappointment.

It was a conflict for the ages, one that had destroyed many a relationship between father and child, for children grow up, they always do, and grow wise to their parents’ flaws. She had always believed he acted out of love for her, now she saw nothing but pride, and where he had seen spirit, he saw only reckless rebellion. A funny thing, how disappointed love had worked on them, making them harsher on each other than they would ever be to a stranger, or even a friend.

She didn’t ask if he had spoken to Feyi, she simply turned on her heel and left, heading towards the back room, praying she was in time. She wasn’t. She found Feyi sitting alone on a mat in the corner looking out of the window, lost in thought.

She admitted freely and with little coaxing to what she had done, but stemmed Yomi’s rising hysteria with the revelation that their father had turned down her offer. Like most people he thought fourteen was far too young an age to get married. Yomi heaved a sigh of relief and sat down. At least the old man wasn’t completely crazy yet.

She then proceeded to give Feyi the lecture to end all lectures, taking her to task for her high handedness, her gross overreaction, and her general lack of focus.

Of everything she said, the thing that seemed to make the greatest impression on Feyi was the reminder that they still had a killer to catch, and once Yomi had managed to put the many less than complimentary things her father had said about her to Feyi out of her mind, she was able to share enough information with her baby sister about Rike, Jide, and Bambo to almost completely restore her naturally sunny disposition.

She was in the process of resisting Feyi’s renewed pleas to refuse Adediji’s suit, and thinking of how best to tell Feyi the rest of her news when she remembered with a shock that Laja was probably still waiting outside. It was dark now, but she had seen nothing in his demeanour to suggest that he was planning to leave any time soon. She told Feyi this, and was rewarded with an indignant recounting of Laja’s completely irrational response to Feyi’s earlier, equally irrational plan. Yomi smiled.

“Maybe he wants to marry you himself”

“What?”

She smiled even wider, enjoying the look of shock on Feyi’s face. “I said, maybe he wants to-”

“How can he want to marry me, he’s my friend!”

“You want to marry your enemy?”

Feyi looked at her, temporarily lost for words, then clearly decided to let denial be the better part of valour. She gave a rather forced, unconvincing laugh, and stood up.

“Let me go and chase him away, stupid boy” Yomi simply kept grinning.

“What?”

Yomi shook her head “Nothing”

Feyi seemed tempted to demand an answer, but decided to leave the conversation where it was, and left to send Laja off home, muttering loudly about how late it was, and studiously ignoring Yomi’s barely suppressed laughter.

 

He leant back against the tree and relaxed, breathing in and out and listening to the sound. He had been sure they had found him, and was getting tired now. The game was getting old, and the sooner the warrior was caught and killed, the sooner he could focus on his own life, on all the rewards it had to offer.

He settled back, stretched his legs out and closed his eyes. He would rest for a short time before going to sleep. Perhaps tomorrow would bring the capture he craved. Perhaps tomorrow they would find him.

 

 

12

DISCRETION

 

 

Yomi heaved a sigh and wiped the sweat from her brow as she walked down the road. A full two weeks had passed since she had spoken to Rike. Her friend was half way to the time when she would begin arrangements to go to her new husband’s house. Yomi had seen her just yesterday, and had been struck by how quickly time was passing.

The search was still on for Dada, and now that his mother’s family and most of Ibadan knew of his plight, he would have nowhere there to hide. Her mother had told Feyi that his cousin claimed not to have seen him, but had added her belief that the boy was lying.

Yomi hoped so. If Dada had not seen his relatives, that meant he had no more money to go anywhere with, and how long could he survive alone, on his wits? How long could it possibly be before they caught him?

She shook her head and pushed the thoughts away. She had to stop thinking like this. Feyi had almost shouted at her earlier when she let panic get the better of her. That was when they had come up with this plan. They were fresh out of options anyway, so they might as well make a direct appeal to the Oni.

He was expected to be leaving Afin shortly after his weekly meeting with the chieftains, and the plan was to gain his attention, and hopefully say a few words. It was a plan Yomi had no real chance of executing by herself, and that was why she was standing here, waiting for Feyi and Laja to join her. If they could only get to speak to him, tell him they suspected someone far closer to Baderin, she knew he would listen. She hoped he would, and she had to try.

She heard footsteps coming and turned to look down the road. She saw Feyi and Laja approaching and heaved a sigh of relief. There was no way she could have gone through this alone, she felt dizzy just at the thought of it. On the heels of that thought, came a fresh wave of dizziness and it occurred to her that perhaps the dizziness had nothing to do with fear at all.

“Yomi what’s wrong?”

She smiled weakly at Feyi and straightened up, a little too quickly, it seemed. It was the strangest thing, the road seemed almost to shimmer, and swing out of view, before settling in front of her. She turned to see Feyi and Laja’s worried faces and smiled half heartedly.

“It’s nothing. I didn’t eat this morning”

Feyi and Laja nodded, with Laja adding an extra sound of disapproval at her carelessness. Going to the farm without eating was never a wise idea. Yomi wondered what he would think if he knew exactly how unwise she had been. She still hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell Feyi about her condition.

The courage of that long ago Sunday had deserted her, and every time she tried to tell her, the words just refused to come out. Instead they stuck in her throat, pushed down by her shame and fear. She was having a child with no father, a child who might never even know who his father had been. They had to speak to the king.

Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long for someone to come out of the second gate. Unluckily, it wasn’t the Oni, but rather one of his older wives, and taking up this subject with an Olori would only serve to infuriate the king. Besides she was likely to be too worried about her husband’s safety to listen to anything they had to say. Yomi turned on her heel, and only after a few steps did she notice that she was alone.

She turned back to see Laja watching in slack-jawed horror as Feyi approached the much older woman. She continued to stand and watch, too far away to hear what was said, and too stunned to move.

At any rate, the conversation seemed to go well enough, and she was relieved at the gentle pat Feyi received from the woman before being turned firmly in their direction and sent on her way. But she could see from Feyi’s downcast expression that she hadn’t achieved whatever wild objective had caused her to almost throw herself into the older woman’s arms.

The Oni’s wife continued on her way, clearly in a hurry. As soon as Feyi caught up with Laja and they reached where she was standing, Yomi took them both by the upper arms and pulled them further away. They were already receiving rather hostile looks from the emeses and Yomi was in no mood to further test the Oni’s benevolence or that of the palace guard themselves, for that matter. Once they were well away from the palace, she turned to her sister.

“What happened? What did she say to you-?”

“What did you say to her?” Laja interjected.

Feyi shrugged. “I told her who I was, and I told her that it wasn’t Aremu’s son who killed Adeleye’s brother.”

“Just like that?” Yomi looked over at Laja, startled by his tone of breathless admiration. He was gazing at Feyi as if she had just grown several feet taller, and not as though she had, in fact, done a very silly thing.

Yomi sighed and asked Feyi sharply “What did she say?”

Feyi hesitated before answering. “She asked me who did, and I said I didn’t know”

“And then she sent you away.”

Feyi nodded and Yomi shook her head. Laja was still gazing at Feyi worshipfully. It did not seem to occur to him that her forwardness had achieved nothing, and might have seriously damaged their credibility if they were to actually catch the killer. She looked at Feyi, who was waiting nervously for her response. Her sister had just been trying to help, and really this was her problem. She forced a smile.

“Well at least you tried.”

Feyi’s face brightened immediately, and Laja nodded with what Yomi privately thought was an unseemly amount of enthusiasm.

“Was that Remi’s mother?” she asked.

Her sister nodded.

“Well then she thinks she knows who did it.” Yomi pointed out.

It took the other two a moment to register that, and she could see on Laja’s face particularly, the moment at which he remembered that Olaniran had reported directly to the Oni’s daughter. His testimony had to have been the deciding factor, sealing Dada’s fate.

Watching them, Yomi could almost see the fight going out of them, and she realised suddenly she couldn’t allow that to happen. Laja and Feyi were her only allies now, and after allowing herself a private moment of amusement at that unforeseen predicament, she quickly sought another line of action to keep them busy. As allies went they’d done better than expected so far.

They again exceeded her expectations when she suggested that they take a closer look at Oyekanmi to see if they could find out where exactly he was in Afin at the time of the murder. In her usual style, Feyi was all for just going up and asking him, but that plan was quickly jettisoned.

While Yomi’s fear that he might report back to their father was easily dismissed by Feyi, she could not so easily brush aside Laja’s warning that it might not be in their best interests to alert the killer that they suspected him. They decided instead that the best way to proceed was to find people who knew him well and question them discreetly. They needed someone close to him. A friend, perhaps, or a relative.

Laja had just the right contact. His young aunt, born to his grandfather just a few years before his birth, was best friends with one of Oyekanmi’s wives, Tolulope. She was new to the household, but very much a favourite with both Oyekanmi and the oldest wife. If anyone besides his first wife knew where he was that night, or had noticed any change in him, it would be Tolulope.

It was quickly decided that Laja would stop in on his aunt tomorrow as early as possible. Perhaps he would be able to convince her to take him by to see Tolulope. He would frame it as a social call, since he had been a favourite of hers when she was younger, and he would find out what he could.

As for Yomi and Feyi, they would concentrate on finding information about Adeniyi. He was back now, having given up his role in the search for the killer of a man he was said to despise. Yomi thought Rike might be a useful source of information on the subject and to her credit, Feyi even volunteered to speak to Todunbo.

She made the offer with such a strained air that Yomi was both especially touched, and moved to deem it unnecessary for now. They had some basis for suspecting Todunbo’s father, the Oshogun as well and until they knew the cause of Akintade’s quarrel with Baderin, it would be best to stay away from his house.

Why waste a journey there to enquire about Adeniyi when they might need to return to ask about Akintade himself? It would be difficult to go twice without arousing suspicion. They would leave the Oshogun’s home alone for now, and who knew? They might never have to go there at all.

*****

With all of that decided they headed home, parting ways with Laja at the doorway of their house, Yomi left him still talking to Feyi and went inside for the inevitable evening of boredom that was sure to accompany the latest visit from her ever loquacious betrothed. Luckily, Feyi soon blundered into the front room and found herself halfway between a sitting position and a standing position for the better part of half an hour as she waited for Adediji to pause and take a breath so she could make her escape.

The sight of Feyi poised like a bird about to take flight might not have made Adediji’s conversation any more interesting, or in fact, even slowed it down, but it did provide Yomi with enough amusement to allow her to make it through the rest of the evening, and in a much better mood than she usually was when in his company.

Still, when he finally rose to leave she was forced to ask herself if she could put up with this night after night. As she said goodbye to him, she comforted herself with the thought that she could always actively encourage him to take a second wife if his company became too much to bear. Most women might think her mad for encouraging her husband to bring home another wife, but those were women who had never spent an evening in Adediji’s company. If they had, they might feel differently.

On that thought, she yawned, and stretched, turned on her heel and headed for bed. She needed as much rest as she could get, and tomorrow was set to be a busy day.

*****

As it turned out, the day was something of a let down. Laja’s enquiries yielded very little. Tolulope had no direct knowledge of Oyekanmi’s whereabouts on that night, and had noticed no change in his behaviour since then. Unable to press further without raising suspicion, Laja had been forced to leave it at that, and had reported back to Yomi and Feyi late in the afternoon to discover that they had learnt even less. Nothing, in fact, about Adeniyi’s whereabouts on that night.

With no reliable information to go on, Yomi decided the best thing she could do was return to Olaniran’s house and see if they would speak to her, see if she could find out what had prompted him to identify Dada. Had it been an honest mistake, or, as it seemed, something much darker?

She decided to go there straight away, before beginning the preparations for the evening meal and once Feyi had agreed to cover for her with their mother, she set off. She was there in no time at all, and was relieved to find Durosanma absent from her usual post. As she headed towards the house, she heard footsteps behind her and turned. It was Alayode and Ifabunmi, hand in hand, on their way home.

This was perfect. If she could get to them before they reached the house she would have the girl at a disadvantage, and hopefully would be able to enter the house with her. Ifabunmi would never risk refusing her entry without being expressly instructed to do so.

She only had to wait a few moments for them to come close enough to recognise her, and the immediate change in Ifabunmi’s expression confirmed that there was indeed something funny going on. She looked almost scared, and seemed to pull Alayode a little closer. Yomi stepped forward and greeted her, waiting patiently while the girl dipped one knee in greeting before asking for her mistress.

Ifabunmi seemed lost for words, but Alayode answered for her, suggesting that her mother was probably home by now, and Yomi could come in and check. It was clear that she was no part of what was going on, and Yomi was grateful for that much at least. With the invitation already extended, Ifabunmi had no choice but to lead the way, albeit reluctantly, towards the house. They were almost at the door when it opened and Anu stepped out.

She took in the scene before her and launched into an attack on Ifabunmi that seemed both overblown and frankly irrational. At the end of her tirade, it was unclear whether she was most upset because the girl had taken Alayode with her to their neighbour’s Ifa shrine against Anu’s express instructions, or whether it was because of the untidiness of Alayode’s clothes, or even the lateness of their return.

It was clear that she was really most upset about Yomi’s presence, and Ifabunmi very wisely held her tongue, and simply took the little girl indoors. Anu then turned to Yomi, and before she had a chance even to speak, launched into a lengthy explanation of how busy she was, and how this visit, while lovely would have to be postponed till a later date. Yomi nodded.

“Can I come tomorrow?” Anu shook her head.

“I don’t know when I’ll be home tomorrow”

“The day after?” she shook her head again and backed away.

“Yomi, I have to go and cook, the stew will be burning.”

As she went to close the door, Yomi stopped her and, close up to her now, she looked into her eyes and spoke from the heart. “Please help me. Please. Help him.”

Anu looked away, down at her feet, then back up. For a moment she seemed to waver, but then Yomi could see it. Could tell the moment she lost her.

Anu straightened her spine, stiffened her lip and stepped back. “Yomi, all this one you’re saying, I don’t understand it”

“Dada.”

She shrugged. “My husband has told the Oni’s daughter every thing he knows. What more do you want?”

“I want him to tell the truth.”

“You’re calling my husband a liar?”

Yomi didn’t answer, just kept looking at her, watching the bravado leak out of her.

And then, drained, she spoke, in a much quieter tone. “Yomi, I’m sorry for you, but I can’t help you. I have to take care of my family.”

She looked her in the eye as she said it, and Yomi finally gave up.

She was right, Anu had her own problems, and in the end this wasn’t one of them, and she wasn’t going to help. Whatever Olaniran’s reasons for doing what he did, saying whatever he had said, it was done, and this was a waste of time. She didn’t say anything else, she just turned on her heel and left, and she never looked back. Never saw Anu standing there, watching her till she was out of sight.

*****

She got home late and walked straight into Aweni’s hands, which was unfortunate, because it meant she also walked straight into the rather revolting pile of chicken intestines her mother was carrying out in a bowl to dispose of. The smell aggravated her unusually sensitive nose and sent her running straight to the room to heave over a bowl kept in the corner for such things. Her mother followed at a more sedate pace, still carrying the offending items, and watched her quietly and thoughtfully.

When she was done, Aweni didn’t say a word; she simply looked at her for a moment, shook her head and left, to return to her cooking. Luckily Yomi’s father was not yet home. Feyi however, had also heard the commotion, and came in just as her mother was leaving. She barely spared Aweni a glance, their relationship was still under some strain, and she simply brushed past her and entered the room.

It took her a few moments to pluck up the courage to ask Yomi outright, and when her worst fears were confirmed, she dissolved into tears and Yomi had to spend the better part of the evening comforting her, leaving Aweni stuck with the cooking.

 

 

13

PASSION

 

 

Yomi stopped in the sun to take a breather. She laid down the basket of coconuts she was carrying and rubbed her aching back, thinking all the while of the funny look on her grandmother’s face.

She had been unable to shake the feeling of unease plaguing her since she saw the woman yesterday. It wasn’t that her grandmother had acted any different; it was just the way she had looked at her when she walked in, a kind of searching look. But if she had known anything she would have said so, and Auntie Layo had promised her discretion in exchange for Yomi telling her mother herself. Which was something she had no intention of doing, so, as long as Feyi stayed quiet, she should be fine.

She had spent the last few days trying not to think about what it would mean if her mother found out. She had been convinced at first that Aweni knew, but when one day stretched into the next and she said nothing, they had come to the inescapable conclusion that she hadn’t figured it out. It was strange, to be sure, but neither Yomi nor Feyi were in the mood to question their luck, and if, as it seemed, Feyi’s bout of forced vomiting alongside Yomi the next morning had helped to cover up the true source of her nausea, then it would only mean that Yomi had finally come due for some good luck.

Yomi pushed the thought aside and straightened up. There was no way her mother knew. If she did she would have confronted her immediately. If her mother knew, her grandmother would as well, and vice versa. None of them knew. Only her aunt knew, and she wouldn’t tell anyone. After all, it could hardly be the first time in her line of work that she had kept such a secret.

She bent down and picked up her basket, feeling the pull in her back as she leant forward. She raised the heavy basket slowly unto her head, balancing it on the small circle of cloth like an oversize crown and she rose to her feet. She took her hands away from the load, tested its balance and, with her hand on one side of it for extra support, she headed off.

She had only taken a few paces when she heard her name called out. She turned around and saw Omoyele hurrying towards her, and she winced. She couldn’t think of a person she wanted to see less. She actually hadn’t seen him since the day of the jail break. Once the fear of him putting two and two together and reporting them to their parents faded, she had continued to avoid him simply because he reminded her of that unfortunate night.

A night which had started with so much hope, and yet here she was.

Still, no one had heard of Dada’s whereabouts and men from Ife were still searching for him. She was soon to be married to a man she despised even more than the idiot in front of her, and because of her actions later that night, she had no choice but to agree to it. And Omoyele was standing there grinning at her.

She heaved a sigh and broke the silence.

“Omoyele. How is it going?”

He looked at her for a moment, seeming to pluck up his courage, then spoke all at once. “Yomi, where were you on the night that Dada ran away?”

She froze. He knew, he had to, and he was going to tell someone, and then she would be the one in prison.

Then he spoke again “You just left us there. If you had stayed, you might have seen where he went.”

For a second she couldn’t believe her ears. He actually didn’t know she was involved? How did he think Dada had gotten out? She had heard that he had been dismissed from the prison after Dada’s escape, on the premise that he had forgotten to lock the cell, but she had assumed that his overzealous father had reached that conclusion by himself. Now it appeared Omoyele had put the noose around his own neck. He went on to confirm her suspicions.

“I’m still shocked that I left that door open,” he said, shaking his head. “I was sure I locked it. When the day guard woke me the next morning, my head was aching, so much, and I just went home. I had eaten Ogi and gone to sleep before my father came and woke me to tell me what happened. That’s how they chased me from the job, you know.”

He told her all of this almost with an air of pride, as though unemployment had somehow made him more desirable, and as she stood in front of him Yomi noticed that while he might indeed be a fool, and he definitely was a very bad drunk, Omoyele was one thing she wasn’t. He was happy, and the fact that his happiness came mostly from ignorance made her wish suddenly for a simpler, a more accepting nature. So that she too could amble around town, grinning vacantly, blithely unconcerned with what her wives and children were going to eat.

To be fair to Omoyele though, his complacency was not entirely based on ignorance. He knew full well that his father Olusola would never allow him and his children to starve. In fact, since Omoyele had lost his job, his father had been even more forthcoming than usual in providing assistance to his son’s family.

It had occurred to Omoyele that this was due in large part to the older man’s guilt over his role in his son’s sacking, and he intended to use it to his full advantage. After all, it wasn’t every day that your father volunteered information about your professional misconduct to the palace guard without even being asked. In fact, he was quite sure he could manage another wife quite easily at the present time, and it was in that spirit that he had come to stand at this corner, and wait for Yomi to go by.

Yomi looked at him, standing there. She wasn’t quite sure what he wanted from her, or even how to reply. Luckily she didn’t have to. Omoyele pressed on.

“Yomi, I’ve heard that Adediji has been coming to your house. I tried to see your father, but he-”

“I’m marrying Adediji.” She cut him off and watched the life drain from his face, and she suddenly felt a need to put it back, so she said. “My father chose him.”

He nodded, slowly. He still seemed both shocked and disappointed, but knowing Adediji wasn’t her choice seemed to help. At least someone was happy. Since her revelation almost a week ago, Feyi had spent practically every waking minute trying to find ways to discredit the idea of her marriage. She seemed to think that Yomi was better off having a child with no father in her own father’s house.

Yomi was touched by her little sister’s attempts to safeguard her happiness, but she suffered from no illusions on that score. While she loved her father, or at least the man he had been before this cold, distant stranger, she knew him well enough to know that such a thing was not possible in his house. Adewunmi wasn’t Rike’s father, Jide. He wouldn’t be able to stand the shame. Yomi was going to marry Adediji, and the sooner they both made their peace with it the better.

Omoyele seemed to make his peace with it insultingly quickly, and rallied, again causing Yomi to marvel at both his shallowness and his resilience. As he continued to chatter mindlessly, she stood there, listening with half an ear, and wondering if she had overestimated his attachment to her or if he really was this fickle. However, the weight of the basket soon began to press down on her and she was just about to say her goodbyes and leave when he finally got her attention.

“Eh? What did you say?”

“I said it surprised me that Akintade didn’t see anything that night.”

“The night Baderin died?” she asked, and Omoyele nodded.

“Why should he have seen anything? He went to the shrine.”

Omoyele nodded again, almost impatiently. “I know, but my sister saw him enter as soon as the dancing reached Afin. He had been inside for quite long before they found Baderin.”

Yomi nodded and he continued. “He should at least have seen the person running away. Anyway, who knows, after all Moradeke was there all day and she didn’t see anything.”

“Moradeke was there?”

Now he was the one looking at her like she was simple as he repeated himself. “Yes she was there. She came to greet Remi. You remember that they used to play together as children?”

Of course she did. Despite their difference in circumstance, the friendship between Moradeke and the Oni’s round faced daughter had been a steady one all these years. It had been a long time since Yomi had seen them together, but before either had married, they had spent a great deal of time together. It stood to reason that she would visit Afin while her friend was there. Unfortunately it also gave her opportunity. But what would her motive be for killing her husband?

No sooner had Yomi thought that than she realised the silliness of that question. In light of her own upcoming nuptials it pained her to admit it, but there were plenty of reasons for a wife to do away with her husband. Everyone might be full of tales of how well Baderin treated his beautiful young wife, but who really knew what was between them? People knew only what they were allowed to see.

She turned her attention back to what Omoyele was saying and listened intently. After ten minutes, it became clear to her that he wasn’t going to say anything else that might be of interest to her, but when she tried to leave he seemed reluctant to let her go. She realised what he had noticed, that this might be one of the last times that they would do this. Soon she would be married and busier, and he would be less inclined to approach another man’s wife.

So she stayed and talked with him awhile longer, about all sorts of things, and finally, when they had run out of things to say, she headed home, having had a surprisingly pleasant, surprisingly insubstantial conversation.

*****

Yomi arrived home to find her ever present husband-to-be, Adediji, waiting for her and after taking a moment to reflect on the fact that he wasn’t growing on her at all, she patiently sat with him for the rest of the evening, and tried very hard to learn to like him. Hours later, and no closer to her goal, she sent him on his way, and retired to the room she was sharing with just Feyi tonight, as Aweni was with their father, no doubt doing things that Yomi now understood and suddenly really wished she didn’t. She shared the details of her encounter with Omoyele with Feyi, who came up with the suggestion of visiting Refun to find out what, if anything, she knew.

Yomi wasn’t convinced that it would do any good. If she killed someone, Refun was the last person she would tell and just because Akintade had married her, didn’t necessarily mean he felt any differently. Still it was worth a shot, and was the only route of action open to them presently, so she agreed to try it and they decided to meet up the following day after leaving the farm and school respectively, and head straight there.

*****

Of course the next day nothing went as planned. After waiting on the side of the road in the heat for what felt like three hours, but was probably more like one, Yomi lost patience with waiting for Feyi and headed to the Oshogun’s house by herself. She was there sooner than she wanted, and within a half hour, she had remembered why this had seemed like such a bad idea.

Refun was full of her usual mix of faux concern and thinly veiled spite and Yomi was beginning to lose patience with her. She decided to ask her outright if she had seen her husband enter Afin on the night of the murder.

Her answer was swift, almost too much so, and Yomi would have called her out on it had she not been distracted by the low voiced diatribe that followed. Refun seemed to be taking Baderin’s death quite personally, and became more openly hostile towards Dada as she spoke of the murder.

Her voice rose as she held forth about the injustice of it all, how Dada deserved whatever he got for such a heinous crime, how he should be caught and killed. She said all this while looking Yomi in the eye. Almost daring her to defend her former betrothed, all the while knowing that there was no way for Yomi to do that in polite company and get away with it.

Her hysterical rant should have upset Yomi, but strangely it didn’t. She just sat there, looking at Refun and wondering what was wrong. There seemed to be something about her, something slightly unstable, and it had appeared only when Baderin’s death was mentioned.

Before she could examine it more closely, Feyi came rushing into the front room with a startled look on her face. She was wide eyed in a way that made her seem younger, and only after Refun’s second offer did she take her eyes off her long enough to register what she was saying and sit down.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed before Refun opened her mouth to speak again. This time Yomi was spared by Feyi’s interruption.

“Refun, I heard you were good friends with Baderin.”

The young woman blinked. “Where did you hear that?”

Feyi smiled then, a little half smile, as though she couldn’t quite believe what she was doing. “I heard it from Mama Leke, just now.” She beckoned to the door, where Mama Leke, the older wife stood smiling.

This woman was the bane of Refun’s existence, the one she had been unable to shift from her position of influence, and from her, this latest insult was just too much.

Her face twisted in rage. “Look, I don’t know what this witch has told you, but I didn’t do anything, she’s lying-”

Yomi pulled back from Refun’s rising voice and asked her quietly. “What did she say you did?”

“Didn’t you just hear? She accused me of meeting Baderin in secret!”

It was true. Yomi could see it in her eyes, shifting from side to side. Feyi could see it too, and Refun could see that they could see it, so she shouted even louder.

“Please, save me from this woman! She wants to chase me from this house. That’s why she’s saying these things,” she looked at Yomi directly. “Yomi please save me from this woman. You know she’s lying, don’t you? Don’t you? Since I entered this house she has been trying to chase me out. Everything I do is wrong. And she has told my husband this lie-”

“What husband?” unable to control herself any longer, Mama Leke leapt into the fray.

“What husband?” she stepped further into the room, leaning over Refun. “The husband you want to disgrace? The husband you leave at home while you go running all over the street with other women’s husbands? Which husband are you talking about Omirefun? My husband?”

That was too much for Refun. She leapt to her feet and faced her rival squarely.

“Your husband? Your husband? Did I beg him to come and marry me?”

Mama Leke shrugged. “I told him not to do it, see you now, running around the town all the time. If Baderin wasn’t dead you would still be going to him.”

Refun moved closer, now totally lost in the fight, she moved menacingly close to her rival, screaming at her, “Me! Going to who? Going to-”

“SHUT YOUR MOUTH” a roar from the doorway alerted them to the Oshogun’s arrival, and for a brief, panic stricken moment, Yomi felt the urge to run, before she noticed Akintade had bigger fish to fry.

He was breathing heavily and looking at Refun with something akin to hatred. Mama Leke tried to capitalise on the moment by moving closer to him.

“Akintade-”

“You too!”

She subsided, stepped back and slowly withdrew, leaving her aggrieved husband to look around and finally notice the guests who had witnessed, and unbeknownst to him, inspired such discord in his house. “Yomi, Feyi, what are you doing here?”

Yomi looked over at Feyi, who seemed to have frozen with her eyes open and looked back at Akintade. She gave him a weak smile, but no answer. He repeated the question.

“What are you looking for here?”

“We want to know where you were that night.”

Yomi turned to look at Feyi with such speed that her neck nearly snapped. Of all the things to come unstuck and say. She tried to catch her sister’s eye but Feyi continued to look forward, her chin set at that familiar, stubborn angle. Akintade seemed genuinely confused.

“What night?”

“The night Baderin died.”

He looked at Feyi as though she had taken leave of her senses. “I was at the festival.”

She nodded, polite but persistent. “After the dancing. When we got to Afin. You entered the house before they found the body.”

Akintade stared. It took him a moment to understand what she meant. It took him another to accept it. Then he answered, in a low, steady voice. “I was with Oyekanmi. I entered to greet him, and I had just seen him when we heard the scream.”

It was difficult to tell if he was being honest and he gave them no time to try, simply asking, “Is that all?”, and when Feyi nodded, asking them to get up, and get out.

He didn’t need to ask Yomi twice. She leapt to her feet, grabbed her wayward sister by the hand, and was out of the door in a flash. In fact they barely slowed their pace till they reached home, a safe haven where Yomi could outline to Feyi how dangerous her direct line of questioning had been.

However, her sister shared none of her trepidation. Warnings about what the Oshogun might tell her father, or how else he might react if he was in fact the killer fell on deaf ears and in the end, she was forced to go to bed both admiring Feyi’s forthrightness, and more than a little worried by it.

 

He was worried. This was taking far too long, and the longer it took, the greater the danger became that he would be exposed. The young warrior had to be found soon, and brought back to justice, brought back into town. Then he would have access to him. Then he could silence him forever.

 

 

14

FEVER

 

 

The next day brought with it unwelcome news. Her father coldly informed her as soon as he saw her that her marriage had been moved up to just after the upcoming Edi festival. She was tempted at first to argue, but she suspected that her father was looking for a reason to quarrel with her.

Her suspicions were confirmed when he told her he had seen Akintade the night before, and that she was to stay away from his house and his young wife or face serious repercussions. He went further to explain that the Oshogun had not liked the condition of his home when he arrived the previous night, and when he saw Adewunmi later, he had asked him to remind his daughters that Refun was a married woman with responsibilities and no time to play with Yomi.

The barb was painful to her father on more than one level, but it only served to make Yomi wonder why Akintade was hiding the real cause of his displeasure from her father. Was it the humiliation of his wife’s conduct, or was it something more sinister? She filed the thoughts away for later, to mull over on her way to the farm, and asked her father what had led to his decision about her marriage. At this he shrugged and surprised her by suggesting she ask her mother, since Aweni had pressed for the change. When she turned to her mother, Aweni met her gaze head on and said simply that she felt time was of the essence, and Yomi knew then, that she knew. She had known all along.

She left the room quickly without a word and headed for the farm shortly afterwards. The Edi festival was less than three weeks away, and would last only a week. Her marriage could be as soon as a week after that and that would give her no further chances to look for the killer. She could find herself stuck in Adediji’s house waiting for Dada to be caught or killed.

She thought of ways to narrow the field of suspects down to one as she walked to the farm, and all day the thoughts continued to swirl in her head. The one thing she tried very hard not to think about was what she was doing to Adediji.

It was odd that she should feel this guilty about lying to him and she wasn’t even really lying, after all, it wasn’t as if he’d ever asked if she was pregnant.

Even before she’d finished the thought, she knew it was a silly one. Of course, he’d never asked her if she was pregnant, who came to court a young woman in her father’s house and asked her such a question? What she was doing to him was no better than lying outright and Feyi was right, she was going to have to find a way to tell him, a way that would let him know but still give her room to deny it if he went to her father. It was risky, but she really had no choice. Finer feelings aside, she didn’t particularly want to end up married to a man who might realise he’d been tricked later down the line, and proceed to make her life a misery.

She decided to try and hint at her condition when she saw him later that night. It would have to be a fairly broad hint though. Adediji was not the most perceptive man she had ever met, and given how little some men knew about such things, she could probably vomit in his lap every day for a week without him figuring it out.

The more disturbing fact was that she could also do so without dissuading him from his course. He really was determined to marry into her family for some reason, and the way in which he had switched his attention from Feyi back to her with such relative ease made her suspect it really was more to do with suitability than anything else. Well, that and their cooking.

*****

She finished at the farm later than expected and arrived home expecting to find Adediji waiting, and fully prepared to make a clean breast of things, but, as fate would have it, he was nowhere to be found. So sure was she that he would be waiting, that she very nearly sought him out in the back of the house before she came to her senses and accepted that she would have to wait. And she waited. All evening long she waited, while Duro sat by her side, picking at his food. But the errant groom to be never showed up, and eventually her backache got the better of her and she followed her brother’s example and went to bed.

“Yomi!” she sat up groggily, and looked at her mother. Why was Aweni leaning so close to her?

“Yomi, open your eyes!”

She forced her eyes open and croaked “What is it?”

“Duro,”

“He’s gone to sleep” she replied, to which her mother shook her head.

“His body’s hot.”

That woke her immediately, and she sat upright, thoughts racing. She knew he had been behaving oddly that evening, and she should have spoken up. She said as much to her mother, who only brushed her words away. Where they not all there? No one had noticed anything, and what difference would it have made if they had? She looked over at Feyi’s mat and found it empty.

“She’s with Ebun”

Ebun, Duro’s mother. She would be beside herself. This would bring back memories of those babies she had lost before Duro heeded her word and stayed. Yomi got to her feet, and reached for her wrapper. He wasn’t going anywhere, not now. As she followed her mother across to Ebun’s rooms, Aweni filled her in on the details. Ebun had only noticed when she woke up a short time ago and she had raised the alarm immediately. Adewunmi had already gone in search of the town’s best healer, and should be back soon.

They pushed past the three younger boys Bukola, Oluwadare and Deinde, entered the room and found Feyi hovering over Duro’s prone form. Ebun was several paces away, holding back, wringing her hands. Yomi moved closer and knelt beside Duro. She shook him and he opened his eyes, but he didn’t seem to see her, and she realised with a chill that this was no mild fever. This was serious.

She felt the tears well up in her eyes and pushed them back. The last thing anyone needed was her blubbering like a fool. Duro was a strong child. Her father would be back soon with help, and he would survive. She turned to Feyi and instructed her to take the boys back to sleep. Feyi nodded and was gone with a speed born more from a desire to avoid looking at Duro any longer than any desire to try and calm three very frightened children.

Aweni watched them go from the doorway almost longingly, then she hurried away to fetch water and came back in. they knelt on either side of Duro and tried to force some water down his throat, but he kept pushing the bowl away, refusing to open his mouth, refusing to swallow. Eventually they gave in and settled down to wait for the healer.

Thankfully, Adewunmi returned quickly, but sadly it was not with Odesola Ayorinde, the healer they had hoped for. He was away visiting family, so Adewunmi had turned to someone else, a younger man called Aiyejina. Small and spry, he was newer to the business of healing but he came highly recommended and, Yomi was pleased to note, well equipped. The bottles of native medicine in his basket were too numerous to count. There was sure to be something in there that would work.

*****

Yomi looked over at Aweni. She was silent now, sitting looking out of the window, and she hadn’t moved in the longest time. It had been three days now since Duro fell ill and things were only getting worse. Auntie Layo’s visit yesterday had brought home to them how little chance there was of a recovery, but her tentative suggestion that her sister begin to brace herself for the worst had gone down very badly indeed.

For Aweni, the worst was unthinkable. Duro’s illness had brought back those long suppressed memories of the son she lost at almost the same age all those years ago. The brother Yomi and Feyi had never known. She refused to countenance the possibility of a repeat of that tragedy, saying again and again that Duro would be fine once he started eating.

But it had been three days now, and he still ate nothing.

He just lay there, tossing and turning, more slowly now, and sweating in the thick covers the healer had wrapped him in. Aiyejina had poured every single one of his potions down Duro’s throat, but what little the boy kept down seemed to have no effect at all. He just kept getting worse.

Adewunmi, surprisingly, had responded to the illness with great forbearance. He was more reasonable than Yomi could ever really remember him being, almost blindly obedient of the healer’s every request and diligent in doing what he could to help in his son’s care. All hands were needed now, with Feyi busy caring for the younger children and Ebun barely able to function, and worry seemed to have triggered a sort of emergency personality in her father that she had never seen.

Not so Ebun. If Aweni was suffering the memory of an old hurt, Ebun was suffering the fear of a pain yet to come. She had never lost a child who had properly tasted life, and as she watched her son slip away, her pain was entirely fresh and perhaps worse for it. It seemed, in fact, to have rendered her completely incapable.

Yomi sighed and rose, meaning to enter and see if there was any way to assist the healer. As she got to the door of the room, she stopped for a moment. She hated going in there now; she never knew what she would see. She gathered her courage and walked in, to a scene that was worse than she feared. Duro was lying still, not shaking anymore as he had been earlier, but his breathing was so harsh she could hear it across the room. Aiyejina just sat there, watching him struggle. She moved closer to them and stood, waiting to be asked to fetch something. Water, Ogi, anything, but the healer just looked up at her and said, dully,

“This child is not going to live.”

Her heart seemed to hop in her chest and for a split second the room seemed to go dark, then she stopped, blinked, and looked at him again. And she saw the truth. She saw that he was lying. Duro wasn’t going anywhere, she wasn’t going to let him. So she turned on her heel and left the room. Let them all stay there, listening to this man that they were too scared to argue with. She was going to look for Odesola, and she would go wherever he had gone if she had to.

Luckily it didn’t come to that. Odesola had, in fact, arrived home the night before, and he was happy to gather his herbs and medicines and come along with Yomi. In fact, he seemed to quicken his pace at the mention of Aiyejina’s name, and they were at her house in very little time.

It was a sign of the level of her father’s desperation that he gave no argument when she said Odesola was taking over. He was clearly at the end of his rope and ready to try anything at this point. Changing treatment might be dangerous, but Duro was already in such a bad state that what did they really have to lose?

So Aiyejina left, and if he seemed somewhat relieved to go, no one noticed very much. Odesola took over Duro’s care immediately. Stripping the sweat soaked cloths off him after exclaiming in dismay, he ordered Yomi and Aweni to fetch bowls of cold water, which he poured liberally over Duro’s prone form again and again. Ebun did try her best to help, but she dropped every single bowl she carried and was eventually ordered from the room altogether.

The bathing went on through the night, interspersed with periods during which Yomi held Duro up while Odesola poured medicine down his throat. But the difference was that he stuck to only one of the three bottles he had brought, the one he had chosen, not long after his arrival, once he had taken a close look at Duro. When the medicine finished, he ignored Yomi’s suggestion that he try another. Instead he replenished his supply by grinding together eight of the leaves he had brought with him and cooking the mixture.

By the early hours, he declared that they had done all they could. Duro’s body was certainly less hot, and Yomi could not be sure, but he seemed to be breathing a little easier. Odesola suggested she go and sleep, but she decided to stay at Duro’s side, and so she lay beside him, watching him breathe, and trying not to think of life without him. At some point she did fall asleep, and when she woke up, she thought it was the daylight streaming in through the window that woke her.

Then she felt it again, and looked up to see the little hand, playing with her loose braid. Hardly able to believe her eyes, she followed the hand, then the arm, and all the way down, to her brother’s open, clear eyes.

She screeched and sat up, and Odesola chuckled in the corner.

“He’s been awake for a while.”

She blinked, unable to believe how calm he was. “Have you told anyone?”

Odesola shook his head and Yomi turned her attention back to Duro, offering him water, food, anything. He just smiled though, and she could see that he was still very tired so she coaxed him into drinking a little water and sat with him till he fell asleep before leaving to spread the good news and watch the ensuing hullabaloo with quiet gratitude.

 

 

15

DEATH

 

 

Yomi smiled as she watched Ebun try and coax Duro into taking another mouthful. His mother had not left his side since his miracle recovery. None of them had, really, and you could tell by the look on his face that the novelty was beginning to wear off. He wanted to be out and playing now, but it had only been a few days, and he was still deemed too ill, so he was forced to stay in bed and put up with being the focus of everyone’s anxiety.

Everyone except Feyi, that is. She had maintained that she always knew he would recover, an easy thing to say in hindsight, and she had gone back to her regular affairs as soon as she had seen him stand up by himself. She was at school now, and would be home soon.

Yomi rose and headed out of the room. She went out into the cooking area, stretching out the kinks in her back as she went, and settled down to grind the peppers for Efo, the vegetable stew she was preparing later. As she worked, she tried not to think of the instrument in her hands, or that other Olo, and what it had been used for. She had just about settled into a mindless, automatic back and forth motion when she was surprised by a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, almost dropping the Olo on the ground and rounded furiously on Feyi, only to find Anu standing there instead. She looked at her, completely lost for words. What in heaven was Anu doing here? After all the time she had spent avoiding Yomi, she suddenly came to her house? What did she want?

Before she could ask any of these questions, the woman told her. She had come to visit with Aweni and Ebun to enquire after Duro’s health, and she had told them she wanted to greet Yomi quickly before leaving.

“Thank you” Yomi said, and then she turned away, back to her work, but Anu still stood there, so after a few more motions she turned back and looked at her enquiringly. After a long pause during which she seemed almost to gather her strength, the woman spoke.

“I know it wasn’t him.”

With this, she had Yomi’s attention, turned fully on her.

“What did your husband see?” Anu leant forward and spoke quietly.

“It wasn’t Olaniran that saw, it was Alayode-” A scraping noise made Anu break off mid-sentence, and they both looked up to see Ebun, at the back doorway, barely out of earshot, waving and smiling. Anu turned back to her and spoke quickly as Ebun approached.

“Come to the forest tonight.”

Yomi blinked, “What?”

“Come to the forest, tonight”

“What for?”

Anu heaved a sigh. “Because I can’t…” and Ebun was there, putting an arm around her shoulder, grinning from ear to ear. Both annoyingly happy, and annoyingly in the way. Thankfully, Anu continued undeterred.

“I’ll send Ifabunmi” she said, looking meaningfully at Yomi.

“Send her for what?” Ebun asked, with the air of someone who clearly really didn’t care, but felt she should ask anyway, just to be polite.

Anu turned to Ebun, all smiles, and it occurred to Yomi that she was a very good liar as she said smoothly, “I was telling her that I’ll send Ifabunmi to Yomi with one cloth I have. In case she wants to have something similar woven for her wedding.”

She turned back to Yomi.

“Make sure you wait for her.”

Yomi nodded and smiled, and with that Anu left with Ebun hanging on to her arm and asking her to stay a little longer. Watching them go, Yomi wondered if that would be her life in a few years, busy with her own small children and starved of adult company. She returned to the task ahead, thinking all the while of the evening ahead and how to get out of the house unnoticed.

*****

It turned out to be just as difficult as she had feared. Luckily her mother was busy keeping her father company, a task which had been left entirely to Aweni since Duro’s illness and Ebun’s subsequent refusal to leave his side for more than a few minutes at a time.

While Yomi could not for the life of her imagine why anyone would want to keep that foul tempered man company, she was glad that she would be able to get back in later unnoticed. Her father’s return to his former coldness, a coldness she was more than happy to match, meant he wouldn’t be looking for her to speak to before he retired for the night, and with Ebun watching over Duro obsessively, all the adults were taken care of.

Feyi had been terribly excited at news of the meeting and was now watching as Yomi prepared to leave and sulking quietly. She might well understand the rationale behind her staying home to cover up if Yomi’s absence was discovered, but she didn’t have to like it.

And she didn’t.

The thought that Yomi and Laja were again going on an adventure without her was almost more than she could bear, and looking over at her while retying her wrapper, Yomi could only look at the mulish expression on her little sister’s face and hope Laja arrived soon.

Luckily he did, and they both snuck out to meet him. He was able, in that inimitable way he had, to cheer Feyi up, and Yomi was able to set off both feeling a good deal safer for having him with her, and a lot less guilty at leaving behind a now smiling Feyi.

*****

They quickly reached the outskirts of town. Laja had spent the short walk filling Yomi in on Ifabunmi’s many nocturnal adventures, most of which seemed to revolve around one of his classmates, Dolapo.

Most of it sounded like wishful thinking on the young man’s part, but the fact remained that Ifabunmi was clearly well acquainted with the forest. Yomi just hoped she would be waiting for them when they reached the edge of town. She was uncomfortable being out in the bush at this time of night, and with no offence meant to him, Laja didn’t inspire quite the same level of confidence in her that Dada did.

Unfortunately their luck wasn’t in, and when they reached the edge of the bush, Ifabunmi was nowhere to be found. Laja suggested they head further inwards, into a clearing which had become a notorious meeting place for young people from the town. Yomi agreed and followed him, wondering how she had never heard of this place, and more to the point, how he had.

Once they had reached the clearing, they settled into the shadows, sitting at the base of a tree, and waited. And waited. And waited. At one point, they heard a distant sound, a squeal, like an animal and a rustling sound as it seemed to run through the foliage in their direction, but the sound stopped suddenly, much to Yomi’s relief. And Laja’s, judging by the tightness of his grip on her arm.

So they continued to wait, waited as long as they could, but after half the night spent sitting there, when the moon was high in the sky, they were forced to accept that she simply wasn’t coming.

They got up to leave, all the while offering up theories about what had delayed her. Yomi was convinced that fear of the killer had caused Anu to change her mind, but Laja jokingly suggested that Dolapo had waylaid her on her way in and distracted her. They kept talking till they were nearly at the edge of the forest, and there they saw the awful truth.

Someone had indeed waylaid Ifabunmi, but this was not the work of a lovesick swain. This was… simply horrible. She was lying there; neck twisted at an awkward angle, flat on her back, eyes wide open. Memories of Baderin flashed in front of Yomi’s eyes and she swayed slightly, before going down.

She woke perhaps a few moments later, to find herself being shaken so vigorously by Laja that she could actually hear her teeth. He was in a full blown panic, in which she joined him immediately, and precious time was wasted hyperventilating and asking each other what to do before they came to their senses.

Here Laja’s ruthless streak came to the fore. He cut through Yomi’s tearful insistence on heading to Olaniran’s house, pointing out that not only was that incredibly dangerous with an unknown killer still on the loose, it was also pointless. Ifabunmi was gone, and nothing they did now could bring her back. She had probably been dead for several hours, might even have been the sound they heard earlier.

A cold chill went down Yomi’s spine at that thought. They had been so close, and if only they had known…

Seeing her slipping away again, Laja pressed on. The best they could do for Ifabunmi now was to see her killer brought to justice. Now it was no longer just a matter of safeguarding Dada’s freedom, the killer had to pay for this, and pay for it, he would.

That galvanised Yomi into action. He was right. She wasn’t going to do Ifabunmi any good sitting here like this, she couldn’t really do her any good anymore whatever she did, but now they had to stop it. They had to.

They got up and left, making their way home somewhere between a walk and a run. Laja overrode Yomi’s suggestion that they part ways once they neared her house, and that he head home. He insisted on seeing her to the door, told her that he rather hoped to run into the killer, and on that ominous note, turned and strode into the night.

Yomi entered the house, and made her way to the bedroom. Feyi was fast asleep and snoring lightly, but while Yomi was tired, she was not at all sleepy, so she lay down on the mat beside her sister and listened to the sound of Feyi’s breathing while thinking of better times.

 

He sat on the porch, feeling the night time breeze on his skin and drinking from his horn of palm wine. He chose not to dwell on what he had just done, and how much easier it had been this time.

Easier than Baderin and easier than her, all those years ago.

They would have nothing now. Olaniran would keep his family silent, of that he was sure. And if he didn’t, well, it was getting easier.

 

 

16

SORROW

 

 

Much to his disappointment, Laja didn’t run into anyone on the way home, which given his mood, was just as well. He was back bright and early the next day to deliver news of the shock spreading through town.

It was the end of the week, and there was no school or work on the farm to be done, although even if there had been, it was debatable how many people would have done it. Ifabunmi had been well liked in the town and once Odesola had looked her over and seen the scratch marks on her neck the general sentiment had turned from sorrow to revenge very quickly.

It was a sentiment Laja shared whole heartedly. Early as it was, he had already been to his friend Dolapo’s house and the state in which he found him had only added to his own bitterness. He was full of rage and brimming with plans regarding all the dire things he would do to the killer once he was caught.

Even Feyi’s reminder that their mother was at home and might walk in at any moment did nothing to silence him. Only when Yomi pointed out the difficulty in catching a killer who knew they were looking for him did Laja subside into silence.

And not a moment too soon as it turned out. Aweni entered the room just as Yomi stopped speaking and spent several minutes holding forth about the tragedy Anu’s family had suffered. Strangely, her sympathy seemed to lie more with Anu, who would surely be blamed by Ifabunmi’s family, than with the deceased herself. Apparently Ifabunmi’s mother had already begun to make quite a stink, and this was, to Aweni’s mind grossly unfair. After all, it was hardly Anu’s fault if the girl insisted on sneaking out to meet men at night.

Hearing this caused a pang of guilt in Yomi which bordered on pain. Was Ifabunmi now to be forever remembered as that girl who died on a wayward excursion?

After her mother had left the room, she made that point to both Laja and Feyi. Laja shook his head in dismay at the thought, but Feyi chose that moment to display the strong streak of pragmatism she had inherited from their father, pointing out that, since she was dead and gone, it made not the slightest bit of difference to Ifabunmi how she was remembered.

That thought gave Yomi some comfort in the days that followed, but on the day of the funeral, she found that her guilt would not leave her alone. They had all decided that it would be best to stay away from Olaniran’s home lest the killer still be watching, but she just felt wrong about not paying her respects, and so she decided to go over. She wouldn’t stay long, just stop by briefly. It was mid-afternoon, but the family would be back home by now. The burial of someone so young was not an occasion for festivity, or even prolonged ceremony.

*****

Yomi arrived at the house to find the yard deserted. Or so it seemed. As she entered the yard and headed for the house, she saw Durosanma a few meters away from her with her back turned. As she drew closer, she noticed the old woman was crying, and quickened her pace, keen to get past her without being noticed. She remembered the lesson from her encounter with Olaniran’s mother at a mutual cousin’s funeral well. A grieving Durosanma was even worse than a happy one.

Luckily, she made it past and was counting her blessings on reaching the front door unnoticed when the door swung open and Olaniran was standing there.

“Who are you looking for?” he asked, in a voice colder than any she had ever heard.

She could barely stammer out a response. “I came to…to see the family. To offer my condolences.”

“Will your condolences bring her back?” he asked, and she just stood there, too shocked to answer.

Out of nowhere, Anu answered for her.

“Did she kill her?”

At that Olaniran looked away. Yomi looked up at him as he stepped back to make way for his wife and she could see the stress and the sorrow lining his face. Anu stepped out in front of him and smiled, polite but distant.

“Thank you for coming. She thought very highly of you.”

Yomi winced. She wondered if that regard had led Ifabunmi to her death. Before she could say anything, Anu continued, “But you should be going home now.”

Yomi blinked, shocked once more.

“But, I-”

“You should be going home.”

She looked at Anu, cold and implacable, and at Olaniran, a few paces behind, but no less forbidding. She could see Alayode in the background, but as their eyes met, Anu shifted fractionally, blocking the little girl from view. Yomi could hear the message loud and clear. There would be no more help from them, and given the price they had paid for their earlier foray into bravery, she couldn’t really blame them. So she left, and kicked herself all the way home for going in the first place.

*****

Whatever regret she felt about her trip to Olaniran’s house, and whatever guilt she still undeniably felt for her part in Ifabunmi’s demise, these feelings took a back seat with the news that came the following day. A rather uneventful day was more than half over, she was back from the farm, feeling less sleepy than usual at this time, and busily sweeping out the front room when Laja and Feyi burst in.

Well, Laja burst in. Feyi held back, standing at the doorway and hugging it as though reluctant to enter, and Yomi soon found out why. Laja strode purposefully in, took the broom from her hand and sat her on the mat. He sat in front of her and Feyi sidled in and took one of her hands, as Laja held the other. Then they told her. The news had just arrived at Afin today.

Dada had been found.

They told her that he had been found heading north. The cruelest part of the tale was that they had been on the verge of calling off the search when they had reached a town he had passed through. He had stayed a little while there, and had made a few friends; he had made the mistake, the perhaps now fatal mistake, of taking the advice of one of them to head for the north.

The townspeople had given up this information to Oyekanmi without even knowing Dada was wanted for murder. Both he and Akintade had apparently rejoined the search party for a brief period, at around the time of Duro’s illness. Neither man had stayed, though. Not wanting to leave their families or their farmlands for too long they had both returned home shortly afterwards, but the hunt had continued, and the information had eventually yielded the hoped for dividends for the rest of the men. Dada had been captured less than a week later.

After they had delivered the news, they stayed with her and held her while she cried, and listened while she yelled, and then sat with her and planned. Dada wasn’t even back home yet. There was still time. It was running out, to be sure, but there was still time and if they took bold action, he could still be saved.

So they tried to think of ways to gather information, to track the killer, but eventually they were forced to acknowledge the truth. They had little left to go on. A few suspects had been eliminated, but many remained, and while Akintade and Adeniyi were looking like favourites, there were still other strong possibilities. They decided again to go to the palace and try to see someone.

They would try again to see the Oni himself. If Yomi could cause enough ructions to get his attention, if he became aware that she was outside, he would see her, of that much she was sure, and while he might take a dim view of her pestering his wives, he would be far more tolerant of her direct approach of him. He was a man who preferred to know what was going on, and to be told it first hand.

Everyone knew this, and even though they had yet to identify the killer, if he heard the two deaths were connected, Dada’s name would be cleared and the killer would be in real trouble, back on the defensive. Ifabunmi’s death was difficult to solve due to the time and location, and no arrests had been made, but only a limited number of people were in Afin on the night of Baderin’s murder. Finding someone who was in the right area on both nights would be even easier, especially for him.

Once that was decided, she felt considerably better. At least until her mother came home. Aweni arrived in the mood for battle, and it took several small quarrels for Yomi to work out that she had also heard the news about Dada. She tipped her hand when she abandoned the yam she was peeling to caution Yomi to ‘keep her head straight’ reminding her obliquely that she had greater responsibilities than some runaway murderer.

Her attempt at bringing Yomi to her senses had entirely the opposite effect, and by the time Adediji turned up later, Yomi had made her mind up to lay her condition before him in all its disgraceful glory, and let him do as he willed.

Only Feyi’s timely intervention stopped her, and if Adediji thought it strange that her sister dragged her out of the room mid-sentence, he certainly gave no sign of it. Although, come to think of it, it was debatable whether he even noticed. He hadn’t stopped talking to even listen to Yomi’s near revelation, so he probably wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

By the time Yomi returned to the room, she was relieved to see that he had finally noticed her absence and fallen silent. She had also returned to her original plan of dispensing the information in a way that allowed some room for denial. So she spent the rest of the evening steering the conversation towards Rike, and when that ploy failed, with every change of topic invariably leading back to Adediji, she finally lost patience and asked him outright,

“What would you do if I was pregnant?”

He grinned at the thought, the sort of silly grin that made her want to kick him, and began to hold forth about the necessary preparations for fatherhood, so she interrupted him again.

“I mean if I was pregnant now.”

“If you were pregnant now?”

She nodded, and he looked at her, really looked at her for the longest time, and then his brow cleared and he grinned.

“But you’re not.”

She persisted. “But what if I was?”

His smile dropped, and he repeated. “You’re not pregnant, so I can’t say.”

And with that she had her answer. As with most things that displeased him, Adediji had made the decision not to acknowledge this. She simply wasn’t pregnant, end of story. So she shrugged and gave up. To push it any further would be foolish, if he wanted to raise another man’s child rather than face the facts, so be it. She had other things on her mind.

Their conversation, one-sided though it was, soon became amicable again, and by the time he left, later than Yomi would have liked, it was as though that moment of discomfort had never happened. However, she did go to bed questioning the wisdom of tying herself to a man with such impressive powers of denial and self hypnosis.

*****

With the next day came the plan to see the King and they headed off together bright and early. Their father would still be there, having gone by to pay homage early in the day as was custom, and because of that, Yomi had insisted that she would go alone, but, hell-bent on revenge and having seen a chance to skip school as well, Laja had been far more insistent on her need for an escort.

As for Feyi, she had been sidelined far too much already to her way of thinking, and while she was glad to have missed finding Ifabunmi at the forest edge, she had absolutely no intention of missing anything else.

They arrived at the palace quickly, and, after weaving an elaborate web of lies for the benefit of the emeses, they were let in by a youthful looking newcomer who, as they left, still seemed to be trying to figure out why all three of them needed to go in. Feyi had taken the lead in explaining, insisting that Laja was to join his father, Adewunmi to receive the king’s blessing for some mysterious new venture.

Yomi had been sure the guard would point out that their father had no son of that age, but instead the fellow, whose name they never discovered, had simply stood there, looking confused for a few minutes, and asked again why they all needed to enter. On Feyi’s assertion that they were all expected, and her show of impatience at his ignorance, he had caved in, turning his new found authority on a passing servant, and ordering the man to take them in.

So in they went, through both sets of gates and out into the ornate open pathway leading to the front of the Oni’s home, where he liked to sit. They could hardly believe their luck, and had nearly reached their destination when they saw Oyekanmi walking towards them.

Yomi froze, and watched him come closer. He stopped just a few steps in front of them, and smiled. That wide, genial smile of his that had always somehow annoyed her but was now actually really frightening. She noticed his teeth reminded her of something, but brushed the thought away as he began to speak.

“Who are you looking for?”

“We…We want to see the Oni” why was she stammering?

Oyekanmi shook his head. “You can’t see him now.”

“Why?” Laja asked, with an edge to his voice.

“Because we are discussing something important, and you shouldn’t be there.”

He looked at Yomi as he spoke, so she asked, “Why not?”

He stopped for a moment, seeming to weigh his words, then he answered softly, still smiling. “We’re talking about Dada. About what to do with him.”

“You don’t need to do anything with him, it wasn’t him that did it!”

That from Feyi, bringing all eyes unto her. Oyekanmi interested, Yomi and Laja scared and horrified respectively. The servant simply confused.

“Who did it?” Oyekanmi asked, and waited patiently.

But Feyi had no answer.

One moment stretched into the next and she just stood there, with her mouth open.

Oyekanmi sighed, and turned back to Yomi. “Is this what you want to tell the Oni?”

She shook her head. “We want to tell him what we know.”

“And what is that?”

She looked at his grinning face and suddenly she remembered. It was those stone markings. The ones she had seen pictures of in the missionary books in school. The ones they used to mark their dead. That was what his teeth looked like.

A shiver ran down her spine as it struck her and she stepped back, and for a moment his smile seemed to slip. She spoke hastily.

“It’s nothing, we can talk to him another time.”

Oyekanmi nodded. “Your father would prefer that. His friends are all here.”

“Which ones?” Feyi asked, quite rudely, but he seemed not to take offence and rattled off the names. Akintade, Adeleye, Adeniyi, Olusola the policeman, and of course himself.

Yomi looked at him and smiled, it was a strange response, to be sure, but it was either laughter or tears at this point. Inside that room, deciding Dada’s fate, were all of men in the village most likely to have killed Baderin. They would never let her enter, and certainly never let her speak.

Oyekanmi smiled back at her rather warily, but when, with eyes brimming with tears, she thanked him a little too brightly, he kept smiling, seeming not to notice and he bid her farewell as she left; never looking back, dragging along a still reluctant Feyi, with Laja following solemnly in their wake. The servant watched them go, and watched Oyekanmi return to his meeting. Then he shook his head. And he too walked away.

 

He sat in the cool evening breeze later that night and drank deeply from his horn of palm wine. He remembered the meeting earlier and smiled. The warrior would be home soon, nearby, where he could get to him. And get to him he would, long before that silly girl and her band of followers could intervene.

 

 

17

DECISION

 

 

A week later, the Edi festival began. It was the festival for Moremi, the daughter of Ife who had given herself in marriage to the rival Igbo tribe in order to learn the secrets of their military and end their market day raids on Ife.

She was a heroine whose story was partly lost in antiquity, but whose sacrifices were still celebrated every year. It was an even longer festival than the Olojo festival, a whole week, and Yomi usually looked forward to it even more, but this year she could take no joy in its arrival.

All she could think of was how soon Dada would be brought back and how little progress they had made in clearing his name. The constant reminders from her mother about her impending nuptials did nothing to improve her mood and she snapped at her more than once. Surprisingly, Aweni chose not to take the bait.

In truth, Yomi suspected that her mother was now so desperate to see her safely married off without any further trouble that had she pounced on Aweni and beaten her up, she would have told Adediji that she fell on Yomi’s hands.

Not that it was necessary to lie to Adediji about very much of anything. He continued to play the role of eager husband-to-be, turning up at every opportunity, and lavishing on Yomi the sort of time and attention that would have delighted her if only it had come from Dada. So frequently was he to be found hanging around the house that even her father had taken to making himself scarce when the fellow turned up. Unfortunately, Yomi had no such option, and she was forced to endure countless hours of listening to him drone on, buoyed by the happy thought that in weeks, and now days, this would be her life forever.

Still, today was a respite of sorts. Today she need not entertain Adediji. He would be joining the crowd following the Oba Tele, Oyekanmi, as he ventured to the ‘Igbo Edi’, that special part of the forest from which the Edi torch would be brought the next day. It was a day of dancing and celebration, kicking off the festivities, and Adediji, to the best of her knowledge, had never yet missed it.

This was the festival where Oyekanmi shone. It was the reason he was so well favoured by the Oni, it was the ritual that he came from his native Ilaro to perform every year, and the reason he was given free food, gifts, and a monthly stipend by the Oni for his upkeep. It was also the reason he might have gotten away with murder, she thought darkly, heaving a deep and angry sigh, and wishing she had a credible reason to stay home.

*****

She went, but there was no point in trying to enjoy the festivities. Watching Oyekanmi dance past had only made her want to kick him, and once the crowd had ventured on into the bush she had returned home. Now she found herself sitting in silence beside an equally frustrated Feyi, waiting for the rest of the family to return and regale them with tales of how well the wretched creature had dispensed the first of his duties.

As it transpired, it was Laja who came rushing back first, and the eagerness with which Feyi greeted his arrival was soon replaced by shock and fear at the news he brought. Dada was back in town. They had just brought him in, from the north side, and apparently, the men with him were taking him straight to the prison, to hand over to Olusola.

Predictably, Yomi was on her feet before he finished speaking, and Feyi and Laja only caught up with her a few feet from the prison walls. They half hoped that she would be too late, and Dada would already be inside, but unfortunately, their ill luck of the past few weeks continued.

There he was, Dada. Thinner than when he left, and a little bruised. He had obviously received some rough treatment at the hands of his captors, but it seemed cooler heads had prevailed, for his injuries where not as bad as they could have been.

Still they were bad enough to cause Yomi to stop dead and gasp, or perhaps it was the sight of him in chains that did that. He seemed to hear her, not surprisingly since she wasn’t very far away, and for a moment their eyes met before his captor noticed. Noticed he had stopped moving and shoved him so that he stumbled, nearly falling, and picked himself up, and moved on.

Her vision blurred with tears, why did she keep crying? She clenched her jaw and blinked back the tears furiously. Then through the haze, and the sound of her sister’s voice she noticed someone in the shadows across the road. She wiped her eyes and looked again and she saw Anu, stepping back into the shadows and hurrying away. Suddenly the tears were replaced by a white hot rage, and she headed off after her. Feyi and Laja made to follow her, but when she barked at them telling them to wait, it was clear she meant business, so they let her go alone, chasing after Anu, who now seemed aware she was being followed and soon broke into a run.

Sadly, she was no match for Yomi, and though she led her on a fairly decent chase, youth and determination won out and Yomi caught up with her by the edge of the forest.

This time Yomi would not be deterred, and after a few attempts at defiance Anu degenerated to pleading openly with her to leave the matter alone, pointing out that she was a mother and she had to think of her child first.

Yomi shook her head. “No. What about Ifabunmi? Was she not somebody’s child? What of Dada? Is he not somebody’s child?”

“He’s not my child.”

Yomi nodded slowly. So that was how it would be. Very well then. “What about Ifabunmi?”

For that Anu had no answer, so she pressed on. “All this time, I’ve been thinking of how it was my fault, how she came to meet me. But you sent her. You sent her to protect your child, and now she’s dead. Does her mother know?”

Anu looked away, jaw clenched, still refusing to respond.

“Anu, does her mother know? Does she know that the man who killed her child is still walking about?”

“It wasn’t a man.”

“What?” Yomi said, unsure of what she had heard. Anu repeated herself, louder.

“I said it wasn’t a man.”

Yomi froze and looked at her. Her throat seemed tight all of a sudden, and it took her a moment to ask “Who did it?”

And still Anu refused to answer.

“The person knows that you know, yes?” she nodded and Yomi went on. “How long do you think it will be before she decides to take care of you?”

Anu looked up at her, startled. It clearly hadn’t even occurred to her to doubt the bargain she had struck with a killer. Yomi shook her head.

“What did she give you to stay quiet?”

“Nothing!”

“Then why-?”

“Because I didn’t want any trouble.”

“Well, the time for that is past now.”

Anu looked at her, and Yomi went on. “If you don’t tell me, I’m going to Ifabunmi’s mother. Maybe she can get you to talk.”

The woman looked at her for a minute, smiled, and shook her head.

“It was Moradeke”

“What?”

“Moradeke. His wife. The one he was always shaking over. She killed him.”

Yomi looked at her, and Anu met her eyes squarely. It was clear that she was telling the truth, in fact she seemed almost glad to get it off her chest.

“But why?” Yomi whispered. She was stunned and not a little confused. For all her thoughts she had never expected this, not really.

“Do I know? Maybe she got tired of being treated well.”

“But-”

“Look, I don’t know why she did what she did. All I know is that Alayode came running home and told me she saw Moradeke running when she snuck into Afin to see Remi’s daughter. I didn’t even think about it till she came to my house later, in the middle of the night, and started to threaten me, and told me to tell the child to lie. I told Olaniran everything, and at first he said we should tell people the truth, but do you think anyone would believe us? Over Moradeke, a friend of the Oni’s daughter? Believe the word of a child?”

Yomi had no answer. With all the conflicting stories that eventually emerged, she honestly couldn’t say what would have been believed.

Anu went on. “Olaniran decided to go there himself, to say he saw Dada as Moradeke had instructed. He didn’t want our child to lie.”

“So it was Moradeke?”

Anu nodded, Yomi sighed and looked away. And Anu stood and watched her as she stood there thinking, turning over this strange new information and wondering. What was she to do now?

*****

The question continued to plague her after her quick farewell, after her promises of discretion, and all the way home. Luckily Feyi and Laja were waiting, and were full of ideas. Most of them were unworkable, but one particular daring plan found favour with her very quickly.

It was suggested by Laja and it consisted of laying a trap for Moradeke by spreading gossip that Yomi had a personal item from the site of Ifabunmi’s murder, that she intended to show it to the Oni, and then placing her in Afin to await the inevitable attempt on her life.

Feyi quickly threw cold water on the plan, branding it an excellent way to get Yomi killed, and no amount of reassurance about the timing of the plan would sway her. She remained fixated on the possibility that Laja might not be able to alert witnesses in time, and would probably arrive with half the royal family in tow only to find Yomi’s dead body waiting for them.

Eventually, Yomi gave up quarrelling with her and waited for her to leave the room before securing Laja’s assistance. Once he got over his excessive concern for Feyi’s feelings, he agreed to go along with it and to recruit Dolapo to help him set the wheels in motion the very next day. They were to be vague about what exactly Yomi had and hope that Moradeke’s conscience filled in the gaps itself, bringing her to the palace at the designated hour.

Once all this was settled, Laja rose to go. The sun was high in the sky and he still hoped to catch the Akunle-eye, the man charged with bringing fire to Afin. The fire would be lit by the Yeyemolu well. This would lift the embargo on fire in the palace that had begun at sunrise and of course this meant cooking would begin, followed by dancing, celebration and festivities.

Feyi returned just as he was leaving, and a longing look from her was all it took Yomi to realise she desperately wanted to go as well, so she sent them both on their way. She stayed at home, pondering how Moradeke, a woman who was so beautiful on the outside, could have done something so ugly.

 

 

18

PLANNING

 

 

After the festivities of the first day, the second day of the Edi festival was far less eventful. With no activities scheduled till afternoon, Laja was free to spread the gossip amongst his many idle and loquacious acquaintances. With him working from one end of the town and Dolapo working from the other, half of Ife seemed to know of Yomi’s daring plan by midday. It was only a matter of time before the news reached her father’s ears.

Unfortunately for Yomi, the news found Adewunmi while he was at Afin. In an audience with the Oni, in fact and he was consequently less than amused to hear it. He returned home shortly afterwards and tore a strip off both Yomi and Aweni, who was unlucky enough to walk in on his tirade.

Yomi’s query about how the Oni had taken the news only served to infuriate him further and only her quick return to a denial of any plan, and the possession of any evidence at all saved her from what would no doubt have been a beating of previously unparalleled severity. It was only after he was done venting his spleen and had stormed out that it occurred to her that this latest temper fit was the first time he had addressed her directly since Duro’s recovery.

Surprisingly, she was less upset than she would have expected and after a moment of idle thought, she stood up, pushed aside any speculation about what this might mean for the future of their relationship and went off to take the next step in her plan. Dada was in prison facing a future with no promise and right now, Adewunmi’s feelings were the least of her concerns. He simply wasn’t her priority.

The next step involved sending a message to the Oni’s daughter Remi. She had returned for the festival and it seemed to Yomi that while approaching her was sure to raise the King’s ire when he found out about it, she would be far easier to reach and arrange a meeting with during this busy festive period than her father.

In fact, Duro had seen her earlier in the day, at Iraye visiting her mother’s mother. He had passed en route to his maternal grandmother’s house, and had seen her entering. It had been a couple of hours ago, but Yomi made up her mind to send him back there on the off chance that he might find her still visiting. She sent him bearing a simple message. An invitation to meet in the great hall at Afin, the very same one where the Oni often received important guests, tomorrow evening, while the celebrations continued outside.

Duro’s luck was in. Remi was still there, and while visibly puzzled, she apparently listened intently to the message and looked only mildly startled when he darted away as soon as he was through speaking. Her companion Moradeke had also remained silent. Moradeke, whose period of confinement for mourning was now over. Moradeke, for whom this whole plan had been constructed.

So there was no need then to worry about whether the information would reach its intended source. Duro had, in one fell swoop accomplished all that they had set out to do.

*****

A fact which left Laja a little put out when he turned up on their doorstep much later. The discovery that a hard day’s worth of gossiping had been for nothing was only a little annoying though. It had given Dolapo something to do and Laja had not seen him so animated since Ifabunmi’s death, so at least something good had come from it.

Feyi arrived shortly after Laja, also having heard news of Yomi’s plan, and to say she was furious would have been an understatement. However, after several minutes spent trying to defend Laja’s involvement and reason with her, Yomi began to recognise that she was also scared.

Even pointing out the risk that Ifabunmi had taken trying to meet them made no difference. As far as Feyi was concerned, Yomi had gone as far with this as she could safely go and it was now well past time to give up and admit failure. She managed to bring Laja round to her side of the argument as usual, and soon Yomi had both of them pleading with her to stop this now before she found herself seriously harmed or sent away in disgrace.

The pleading went on for an hour. It took them that long to accept that she had no intention of changing her mind, and even then they would probably have continued had Aweni not returned home, necessarily bringing a swift end to the conversation.

She eyed the three of them suspiciously, asked if they were coming to watch the Yegbata’s arrival later, and after they nodded in unison, she left, still unconvinced, but with no real excuse to question them further. They watched her disappear into the inner room and Laja turned to Yomi.

“Do you think she heard us?”

Feyi shook her head slowly as Yomi looked on. She frankly neither knew nor cared. She was going ahead with this, no matter what anyone said. It was her last chance to save Dada, and, as she looked at Laja and Feyi she realised that, on some level, they knew it too.

Feyi looked at her, studying the set of her jaw, and sighed. “You’re still going to do it?”

Yomi nodded.

Feyi shook her head, then turned to Laja and smiled at his hopeful look. “You have to go with her.”

He nodded and grinned, relieved to be allowed to continue his quest for revenge. And Yomi, used to the oddity of their friendship, left the room to change and ready herself for the festivities.

*****

The second day of the Edi festival was the day on which the Yegbata chieftain would bring the Ogunsho torch from the bush. The torch signified the means by which the people of Ife had routed their enemies all those years ago, and four torches would, in fact, be brought in. Each longer than a man’s arm, and made up of palm fronds, wrapped thickly in the rough wick which burnt so well.

The Yegbata would lead the way, surrounded by dancers from his area, and followed by a helper, who would carry the torches on his head. The spectacle was a colourful one, and popular with the people of the town who customarily turned out in large numbers to watch the torches’ journey into town and into the Yegbata’s compound where they would remain until the following day.

Yomi had come along to watch the dancing, following her mother and walking side by side with Feyi all the way. Laja had left shortly after their discussion. He would be attending with his own family, but it was not a long ceremony, and it was unlikely that they would have much chance to talk there. Instead, he was to come over the next day, early, to get their plans in order.

As they walked along, Yomi continued to replay her encounter with her mother earlier, when she entered the room to change. It had been strange to say the least. It seemed her mother had indeed overheard them, or perhaps had heard Yomi’s plan elsewhere, it was all over town, after all.

Her reaction, though, was what had left Yomi baffled. There were none of the accusations or admonishments that she would have expected. Instead Aweni had looked at her directly and told her calmly and quietly, that she was to make sure she was not alone tomorrow, and that she was not unarmed.

She was still trying to figure out whether her mother had just given her permission to injure Baderin’s murderer if it came to that, but at the time, she had been too startled to ask. She had simply nodded and watched as Aweni left the room, seeming older, and somehow… taller?

She had told Feyi what their mother had said, whispered it as an aside, as they set off, and been met with a nod of approval, and now it occurred to her that for a group of such supposedly traditional people, her family seemed to take to both violence and rebellion frighteningly well. Still, both Feyi and her mother had one trait in common, if they were to do a thing, they did it wholeheartedly or not at all.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the noise of the crowd and the sound of the leather fans. They had reached the festival site, and in the distance, the Yegbata could be seen approaching, surrounded by the brightly dressed, painted dancers. She looked to her side and noticed that Feyi had been carried forward by the surging crowd. She made a move to follow, and stumbled over someone’s leg.

A large, hard hand came out to catch her and she looked up, straight into Akintade’s dark eyes. She stumbled back and he let her go. Dropped her really, as though she were something distasteful, and turned away. She looked at him, and noticed Adeleye standing on his other side. It had been a while since she had seen him, and he surprised her with a smile. A cold, tight one, but a smile nevertheless.

It was strange that he would smile at her given her connection to the man accused of killing his brother, but perhaps having recaptured Dada was making him feel magnanimous. She returned his smile as well as she could, and looked again at Akintade’s cold, unyielding profile. He was obviously still angry about the incident at his house, and perhaps a little ashamed, now that she knew the extent of his wife’s perfidy.

She kept on staring, and he kept on ignoring her, until she noticed that Adeleye was still watching, and his smile seemed to be stretching now into one of genuine amusement. She quickly righted her wrapper, which was unravelling, and she moved on, jostling towards the front of the crowd to join Feyi and her mother and watch the dancing.

All the ceremony was over quite quickly, and Yomi enjoyed very little of it. She was conscious of Akintade and Adeleye’s nearness the whole time, and it made her unaccountably uncomfortable.

The feeling only increased when, as the crowd was dispersing and they were turning to leave, she noticed Oyekanmi, standing in the distance, set apart from all the activity around him, just watching her with an expression on his face that was difficult to decipher, but seemed most like worry. She wondered what he had to be worried about.

 

He leant back and sipped at the cool palm wine. And he thought of the next day, and he smiled. They had gone in completely the wrong direction, and given him the opening he needed.

So they thought they had evidence against the culprit? Well he had no idea what that might be, doubted it was anything of value really, but this was a golden opportunity and he intended to take it. All Moradeke had to do was follow his instructions. Tomorrow, the warrior’s devoted betrothed would cease to be a nuisance to anyone. Tomorrow it would be over.

 

 

19

EXECUTION

 

 

Day three of Edi was a beautiful day. The sun shone bright and strong, and almost took the edge off Yomi’s nerves. Now that the final day of the plan had come she was both nervous and scared. Nervous about the plan, its outcome and its chances of success, and scared, terrified really, of what it would mean for Dada if she failed now that for the first time, she was considering that possibility.

It was a possibility she could ill afford to dwell on. She bathed quickly and prepared for Laja’s arrival. They had a great deal to plan, and not much time in which to do it. Her father had left the house early, no doubt to head to the palace, and her mother was also out, visiting a friend with Ebun in tow. In fact the only other person at home when she rose was Feyi, who could now be heard splashing noisily in the back while bathing.

She heard the door creak open and leapt to her feet, only to be met with the sight of Adediji standing there, grinning at her in that inexplicably annoying way. Her face fell, and for a moment he almost seemed to notice, but she quickly recovered herself, pinning on that bright, false smile she saved especially for him, and asking him what brought him here so early.

He hesitated, and then said “I heard that you went to Afin.”

She looked at him, not sure what he was talking about, and he spoke again. “Last week. My father told me.”

Of course, Adeleye was there. Oyekanmi must have mentioned it to him. But why was Adediji bringing this up now?

He took in a deep breath, squared his shoulder and spoke up again. This time in a loud, forced voice.

“You must not go back there.”

She blinked. “What?”

“I said you must not go back there.”

Yomi gazed at him in fascination. Was Adediji laying down the law for her? This wasn’t going to work. She had no intention of obeying him even when they were married, and if he carried on in this fashion, it would be a very short lived marriage indeed. She needed to stop this right away.

“I’m going back there tonight.”

He shook his head. “You can’t.” His voice was lower now, more urgent.

Why was he so desperate to keep her away? She looked at him, standing there, and realised it didn’t matter. She didn’t really care why he was so insistent, and she certainly didn’t care what he thought. She’d offended so many people at this point, what was one more?

“I can do what I want. If you don’t like it, then go.”

He blinked, clearly shocked, and tried again. “I’m telling you, as your husband, that you should stay at home tonight.”

Yomi chuckled, and shook her head. “Diji, what are you saying? When did you become my husband?”

At that point, he was completely lost for words. Not surprisingly, since he had never seen this side of her, this openly rebellious, rather aggressive side, the side Dada liked so much.

After opening and closing his mouth a few times, he shook his head and stepped back, and after looking at her for a few more moments, taking in the stubborn set of her jaw, the set of her shoulders and her general demeanour, he seemed finally to get the message, and turned on his heel and left without a word.

Yomi smiled, almost sorry for him, and turned to see Feyi, with Laja standing by her side. He had arrived during the confrontation and called her sister quickly from the back yard. They had watched the scene unfold in trepidation, and Yomi noticed that Feyi still had soap clinging to her ear.

“He’s going to tell our father, you know.”

Feyi looked grave, worried on more fronts than she had ever been.

Yomi simply shrugged. “So?” she said, as she came forward, and wiped the soap away with the corner of her wrapper. Laja stood still, looking at her, and Yomi turned to him, ready for another fight if necessary.

“What?” she asked.

He started slightly, and she noticed that he had actually been looking through her, and the question he asked gave her pause, though only for a moment.

“Why did he come here?”

“To tell me not to go out.” She answered. Did he not hear the whole thing?

Laja nodded. “Yes, I know, but why?”

“Maybe he was jealous” Feyi offered. Laja nodded slowly, clearly not quite satisfied, but Yomi had far more important things on her mind, and brushed away any further talk or thoughts of Adediji. She ushered Laja further into the room, and soon they were sitting, planning the activities of the evening ahead.

It was quickly decided that, much to her dismay, Feyi would attend the festivities again, in as prominent a way as possible. It had worked so well the last time and Yomi saw no reason to mess with a winning combination. So Feyi would be involved in the festivities in their own compound, while they slipped away ostensibly to watch the torches be carried to Afin, but in truth so that Yomi could keep her appointment.

Dolapo had insisted on being involved, so he would be on lookout, but Laja had asked him to stay at the front of Afin, watch the festivities, and follow anyone suspicious who left. His thinking was that Moradeke, whose identity they had kept from Dolapo, would be too discreet to be noticed. With any luck, Dolapo would spend the evening in hot pursuit of the wrong person, and hopefully stay out of trouble.

His increasing fervour since Laja included him in the plan had actually become quite worrying, and if he found out what Moradeke had done, he might very well kill her before they could present her to Remi and he might end up simply joining Dada in prison.

They managed to complete their plans before Aweni arrived back home with her junior wife in tow. Not that it would have mattered much. She greeted Laja pleasantly, treated his presence with an uncharacteristic lack of curiosity, and headed out into the back yard to begin preparations for the evening meal. Ebun, never what one would describe as an inquiring mind, followed her quite happily, chatting non-stop about the cost of Ilorin cloth, and the evening ahead.

Laja left soon afterwards, and Yomi and Feyi joined the women in the back and spent what turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant morning, talking and working side by side. Even Adewunmi’s brief return for his afternoon meal and the dark, threatening looks he kept shooting at Yomi failed to dent her good humour, and she took this as a sign of good things to come. She was sure of it. Tomorrow, she would have Dada back. The plan was going to go well.

*****

Things started going badly almost from the start. Laja was late, and Deinde was following her around the house like a little tail. Try as she might, she couldn’t seem to shake him off, and she was almost beginning to consider taking him with her. Thankfully Laja arrived at last, with little time to spare. They were going to have to run to Afin to be there on time.

Already the torches had been lit and were en route from Afin to the forest. Feyi had run in only moments earlier to escape the crowd following the Oba lara and Akunle-eye. The two were out and about with their clansmen in tow. They were masquerades, covered head to toe in long grasses like the Igbo warriors of old, and the youth of the town gathered when they saw them coming.

Spectators had to be fast on their feet if they intended to see the masquerades, and also see the two torch bearers, each carrying a torch in each hand, on their way from Afin, as the masquerades and the torch bearers were forbidden to meet. The masquerades, for their part, would often make a game of their duty to avoid the torch bearers, resulting in a lot of running here and there.

With all this already in progress, there was little time to lose. They could only just about make it now, and Deinde was clinging to Yomi’s wrapper, refusing to let it go. She looked up and saw her father in the distance watching. He smiled and looked away, and she realised he had probably instructed the child to keep her there at all costs.

She tried reasoning with him, questioning and cajoling with no results as Dolapo grew increasingly short-tempered and impatient, but it was Laja who found the simplest of solutions by convincing the little boy that they were going to fetch him some of the deep fried plantain snacks he so adored.

He let go of his sister’s wrapper immediately, and waved them goodbye as they headed out, and though Yomi had only a moment to savour the expression on her father’s face, it was a very enjoyable moment. He seemed about to follow them, but Feyi instructed the dancers around her to go to him, and in a moment he was cut off, effectively surrounded and unable to follow without making a scene. So he was forced to stay there and dance as Yomi headed out unto the street and broke into a run, heading for Afin.

*****

They arrived at Afin surprisingly quickly, and were let in by the young guard without a word. Dolapo hung back to speak to him, then turned and headed back out to the front of the palace to watch the end of the festivities and those in attendance dispersing.

As they hurried down the corridor, Yomi enquired breathlessly of Laja how they had convinced the emese to let them in, and was told he had been a great admirer of Ifabunmi. In fact, he had been Dolapo’s chief rival for her affections and once he was bluntly informed of their plan, he had come on board without any further convincing. Yomi nodded in quick comprehension. They hurried on, and soon they were at the great hall.

Afin was almost eerily quiet inside despite the noise, music and dancing just ending outside, and Yomi felt a shiver go down her spine. She could hardly help remembering her last adventure with Laja and its disastrous outcome. Still, she pushed the fear down. They had come too far now to back away.

Laja, seemingly untroubled by such thoughts, simply scanned the room and left her, intending to position himself a little farther away, in a darkened spot on the corridor where he would see Moradeke pass but would remain unseen himself. He found the spot and settled in to wait.

The minutes stretched out as Yomi sat there, alone in the hall. She took in her surroundings, the ornate throne nearby, the carvings on the tables and walls. She had never been in this room before. Her father had, but it was not a place many of the townsfolk could lay claim to having seen, and it was unfortunate that she was here under these circumstances.

It was also very risky. If this plan came to nothing, she would have invaded the Oni’s inner sanctum for nothing, and her punishment at her father’s hands would be grave indeed. Her punishment for this, and for her treatment of Adediji. She tried very hard not to think of those things as she sat there and waited.

 

He made his way silently down the corridor till he saw the young man. Then he stopped, stepped further into the shadows, and waited. He smiled inwardly. What was that boy’s name? Laye, Lape? Whatever it was, it was no wonder that his father despaired of him, complained so often of going hunting with him. What kind of hunter lay in wait with his leg sticking out, gleaming in the lamplight? They must think him the worst sort of fool.

Well, Moradeke would arrive at any minute, should be shaking Remi off even at this moment, and soon, very soon indeed they would know that he was no fool, and the girl would take the knowledge to the grave with her, like that other girl, so long ago.

 

Laja pressed back against the wall, pulling his legs as far inwards as he could, and wincing at the tingling sensation in his limbs. He really should have found a larger space. His father was always saying he never really studied his surroundings as well as he should, and perhaps the old man was right. He stretched his neck and leant forward, looking down the corridor. Perhaps there was somewhere else…

“Laja.”

He jumped, and struck his head against the wall with the speed with which he turned. And there she was, Moradeke, standing there, staring at him with those enormous eyes, with that simple, sinful beauty. How did she know his name? He opened his mouth to ask her that, hand resting already at his waist, on his knife, but she cut him off.

“Where is Yomi?”

“Why?” he asked, then remembered Duro’s errand and said instead “Don’t you know?”

She paused, seeming a little taken aback at his rudeness, and she seemed tempted to answer back but instead she chose to smile and, looking down at his hand, to step back rather quickly. She went on in a more conciliatory tone.

“I was coming to take her to Remi”

Laja continued to look at her, not answering, wondering what she was up to now that she had seen him, and what to do next.

“Let me take you instead.”

He smiled at this. Was she going to try and attack him instead? This tiny woman? And what would be the point of that? He shrugged inwardly. The only thing to do was go with her, and see where it led. At least while she was with him, he would know Yomi was safe. So he nodded.

“Let’s go.”

She smiled and nodded back, once, an inclination of the head really. Then she turned on her heel and led him away, the way she had come, away from the great hall.

*****

They walked on for quite some time it seemed, and soon they were out of the building and headed for the first gate. Now Laja was getting really worried. Where was she taking him? This made no sense at all, where were they going? Just as he had made up his mind to ask her, the gate swung open and Oyekanmi stepped in, almost tripping over them. He stopped in his tracks and seemed surprised to see them there, but as Moradeke tried to cut around him and hold the gate open, he caught her wrist.

“Where are you going?”

She shook him off and answered, “I’m going to meet Remi.”

He nodded and turned to Laja. “And what about you?” Laja shrugged, really confused now, and Oyekanmi rephrased the question.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m taking him to see Remi!” Moradeke cried, her agitation becoming obvious now, and Oyekanmi looked at her again, before answering slowly.

“Remi is not outside. She came in, maybe to look for you.”

Moradeke shook her head. “No, she’s outside.”

He repeated, quietly. “No, she isn’t.”

At this Moradeke, stopped, drew in a breath, made a visible effort to calm down, and then she looked up, turned that bright, sunny smile on Oyekanmi, and Laja watched him blink, and visibly soften as she spoke.

“You’re right, maybe she came inside. But we won’t find her if we go back in now. It’s better for us to wait outside.”

With that she turned to Laja, still smiling, and she took his hand, and tried to cut around Oyekanmi again. But he stopped her again, and as Laja looked down at the hand holding her wrist, he could see her shaking visibly. Oyekanmi spoke to her, softly, and quietly.

“We’re going to go back in”

She looked at him, searching his face for some sign of softening, some sign that she might be able to sway him, but she found nothing, and she sagged, visibly folded in on herself, and nodded. Oyekanmi turned to Laja.

“Where’s your friend?”

“Yomi?”

He smiled, and Laja noticed he was still holding Moradeke’s wrist. “So she’s in there. Waiting?”

Laja nodded warily, and Oyekanmi’s grin became even wider. “What a stubborn young woman. Well… We had better go there, and see what is happening.”

Laja hesitated. What if Oyekanmi were involved in this in some way? What if he was covering up for Moradeke? Another quick look at her face killed that idea. He had never seen anyone look more scared. Oyekanmi spoke up.

“We need to move quickly” His smile was gone now, and without it he seemed harder, and far more dangerous. Laja stepped aside to let him pass and lead the way, but for a moment found himself unable to follow.

Then a squeaking sound caught his attention, and he turned to see Dolapo’s dark face peeking through the gate, looking askance at him. He heaved a sigh of relief and turned, just in time to see Oyekanmi turn back, and in time to block Dolapo from view. He quickly joined Oyekanmi and the now silent Moradeke, and as the chieftain turned to lead the way, he gestured to Dolapo to follow, then turned and did the same.

 

 

20

REVELATION

 

 

Yomi continued to sit. Watching and waiting, as the sun sank and the room darkened, wondering when something would happen. The fact that she was actually impatient for a confrontation with a killer surprised her only a little. Time was getting short, after all, and Remi would arrive at any minute. If Moradeke was not here before her it would all have been for nothing.

She fingered the rough blade hidden away in the folds of her wrapper. It had been a gift of sorts from Dada, given to her during a visit when he had scandalized her mother by joining her in the cooking area and watching while she cut and dressed the goat meat for the stew.

Her knife had been too blunt, and he had given her his. She in turn, had thanked him sweetly and refrained from asking why he chose to walk around town with a dagger. After he left that day, she had smiled to herself at the oddity of having a sweetheart whose idea of a gift was to give her a weapon. Now she was forced to realise that he had perhaps always understood the world better than she had.

She heard a sudden, scraping noise and flinched. She turned in the direction of the door, the direction from which the sound had come, and saw a figure standing there. A figure too tall, too large to be Moradeke. She froze as he stepped out into the light. What was Adeleye doing here? Had he heard of the plan to entrap his brother’s killer? Had he come, like Dolapo, seeking revenge?

Then he smiled, a cold, thin lipped smile, and she knew. And she realised how obvious it was. It had been there the whole time. He had more to gain from his brother’s death than anyone, and he was closest to her, Moradeke, his brother’s beautiful, cruel wife. Still something, maybe sentiment, stood in the way of acceptance and as she found her voice, she asked him only what he was doing here.

“You know why I’m here”

Yomi stood up and shook her head, backing away as he advanced. Fighting Moradeke off was one thing, but if Adeleye got close to her she was done for. He was a warrior, a fighter and a hunter. She could never prevail in such a struggle. She looked towards the door, but it remained shut, still and silent. She needed more time, more time to reason with him.

“My father knows I came here.”

He smiled even wider. “Good. Then he will know where to find your body”

Yomi stopped and looked at him, truly shocked, and asked “What did she promise you? Or is she so beautiful that you have forgotten she killed your brother?”

He laughed out loud at this. A full throated, joyous sound. “Moradeke? Kill Baderin? The woman can barely kill a chicken. She still thinks that foolish girl fell and broke her neck. Moradeke did not kill Baderin. I took care of him when he found us together. And now I will take care of you.”

He advanced on her and Yomi began to back away faster, dodging behind the throne, and then dashing across the room, from one side to the next. Adeleye pursued her in good humour for a few moments, but soon they were both becoming tired, out of breath, and it was clear his patience was running thin.

“Look Yomi, you can’t get past me to the door. If you come here, and stop wasting my time, I’ll do it so it doesn’t hurt.”

She looked at him, standing there, offering her a less painful death in such a calm, reasonable tone of voice, and she wondered how it was that no one had ever noticed that this man was insane. He must have been this way for years. She had never studied him closely herself, but surely someone had? Surely someone must have noticed?

Apparently not, because she was alone with him and no one was coming. For one crazy moment, she almost considered his offer, and he seemed to believe that was what she was doing, because he stood there and waited for her to think it over.

Instead she used the time to loosen her knife from the edge of her wrapper and to get a firm hold on it. They might get there too late to save her, but she was determined to do him as much damage as she could. That would at least make it harder for him to escape. But they would get here in time. After all Laja was still out there somewhere.

“Laja’s outside. He will have gone to get Remi, they’ll be here-”

“Your little friend is with Moradeke. She’s taken him outside to meet Remi.”

Yomi shook her head in disbelief. Laja would never…but why not? He thought Moradeke was the killer. Of course he would follow her.

“Yomi, just come here. Let us do this thing, and let me go. It won’t be painful, I swear. It won’t be like Ifabunmi. I’ll make it like it was for her.”

“For who?”

“Oladunni”

Yomi froze, unable to move, speak, draw breath. Unable to stop thinking. Oladunni. Her mother’s friend who had died all those years ago. She had been so popular. So well loved, so beautiful. Aweni had told them of how they found her, naked, and cold, her neck swollen and bruised.

And how devastated Adeleye had been.

They were to have married then, she was promised to him, and Aweni had told them how it had changed him, made him more distant, colder. So he had killed her. She wanted to ask him why he had done it, but she couldn’t. She wasn’t really sure she wanted to know, but Adeleye seemed to want to tell her.

Like a madman exposing himself in the market square, like an old woman bewitched, about to die, he continued to speak. Saying how much he had loved Oladunni. How she was everything to him, how angry he had been at her betrayal with Baderin.

He had offered to forgive her, agreed to marry her anyway, but she had insisted it had to be Baderin. She would have no one else. Would be Baderin’s second wife instead of his first. And when he had tried in every way to change her mind, he had pulled her closer to him, tried to reason with her, but she had refused and he had finally seen the truth, seen that he had lost her.

And then he had wrapped his hands around her neck, and he had squeezed. It couldn’t have hurt, because she never made her sound, barely struggled. She had looked surprised really, then she had relaxed, closed her eyes, and looked at him no more. It was Baderin who had found them, and he had helped him cover it up. They had stripped her wrapper away, to make it look like something it wasn’t.

It had worked. The town had been so horrified at the nature of the crime, that the instant assumption had been that it was a traveller, someone passing through, and suspicion had never fallen on Adeleye or Baderin. Adeleye had become an object of widespread sympathy in fact, and Baderin had been saved a serious public embarrassment and involvement in yet another death so soon after the drowning of Omiyale. In fact, for a time, it had even made the two brothers closer, but only for a time.

Eventually their relationship had resumed its old pattern of toxic competition, or, as Adeleye put it ‘Baderin getting the best of everything’, and that pattern had led to that day. To Adeleye’s affair with Baderin’s wife, to Baderin’s discovery of their secret assignation on the day of the festival, to the quarrel that followed and to Baderin’s death.

And when he struck him with the Olo Moradeke had left as she fled, he had remembered that feeling. The same one he had all those years ago when he took his revenge on Oladunni, and finally it had been complete. This time he had won, and with his story now told, he had only one problem left to solve.

Yomi suddenly realised she was the problem he was referring to, and at the same time, realised that he had been creeping closer as he was speaking, and was now standing almost right in front of her. She stepped back as he pounced, dodged, and brought her arm sharply up. He howled partly in pain, but also in shock as the knife sliced deeply, and blood arced from the wound, splattering the wall behind him.

It only slowed him down for a moment though. He continued to stalk her, moving slowly around the room, and then he lunged, striking her a glancing blow across the head, hitting her only partially, but hard enough to make her fall. He advanced on her and she scrambled to her feet, kicking a carving in his way and he fell, striking his head against the steps in front of the throne.

She inched out from her place behind the throne and edged past his prone form slowly, inch by inch, almost past him, almost there, when his hand shot out and grabbed her ankle, dragging her down and knocking the knife from her hand. He dragged her closer and rolled unto her, trying to hold her still, but she remembered Dada’s lessons and brought her knee up sharply into his stomach, and rolled away. He stood and faced her, blocking the exit, blood on his arm, blood on his head, snarling. She backed away.

And he lunged at her again, and this time she was too slow, and his hands were around her neck. And he was squeezing, and mumbling, muttering about how she had to make it difficult, how it could have been beautiful. Her eyes were watering, and her throat was closing, the pain was incredible, and her chest felt like it would burst.

There were white lights dancing before her eyes, and the room was darkening, everything was narrowing, and her arms were heavy now, she couldn’t seem to hit out hard enough. She made one last attempt, sweeping her arm out towards him. The arm seemed to blur in front of her, and then she let go. The room finally, suddenly went dark. And the pain stopped.

 

He felt her go limp under his hands, but he kept on squeezing. It would be a few moments yet before he was satisfied. So he kept squeezing, so hard that he never heard nor noticed when they entered the room, never noticed they were there till the guards pulled him away, held him down. Till he saw the look of horror on Remi’s face, till a guard crouched over Yomi, rolled her over, and checked for the pulse at her throat. Till the young man stepped aside and he could see her, and see the terrible testimony to his failure.

The rise and fall of her chest, subtle, but still there.

Oyekanmi and Laja arrived a few moments later, dragging Moradeke along between them. She had tried several times to stall them on the way in. Oyekanmi had confronted her directly and asked what she was so afraid of finding. He had been only a little less surprised than Laja when she pulled her arm away from him, took a few steps back, and broke into a run. Only Dolapo’s immediate pursuit of her had stopped her from getting away, and only her subsequent protestations of innocence had kept him from doing her permanent harm.

She had broken down and confessed, saying Ifabunmi’s death had been an accident, but that she was unsure of Adeleye’s plans for Yomi, and they had rushed to the hall immediately, dragging her along behind them, to find Adeleye in the hands of the palace guard, and Yomi lying on the floor, unmoving. Laja slid and fell in his haste to reach her, and it took several moments to reassure him that she was, in fact, still alive. It took no longer for Moradeke to realise that Adeleye had tried to kill Yomi and had in fact, also killed Ifabunmi.

There had been no accident and Remi confronted her, clearly still hoping her friend would have some sort of rational explanation for her part in the whole debacle. She had nothing to offer. Instead she began to weep and wail, hurling abuse at Adeleye, and generally behaving as though she were the greatest victim in the whole situation.

After listening to Moradeke carry on for a few minutes, Remi, now tired and disgusted as well as shocked, ordered her to be taken away. It was just as well that she did, as Dolapo was still giving her the look of a man who dearly wanted to get her alone in a corner, and not for the usual reasons. Adeleye was taken away as well. They would both spend the night in the jailhouse and the Oni would decide what to do with them in a few days, once the festival was over.

Yomi regained consciousness just in time to see them being led away, and once she was helped into a sitting position, Laja filled her in on everything that had transpired as Oyekanmi looked on patiently. Finally she turned to look at him, remembered all the terrible things she had suspected him of, and opened her mouth to apologise.

He waved her words away with another of his wide smiles, but the smile seemed comforting now, and she noticed how it reached his eyes. Their moment of comity was interrupted by Remi’s dry observation that the person most owed an apology was still in prison, and it was only then that it finally hit her.

They’d done it. They actually found the killer. Found him, or them…she really didn’t care who bore the blame between Adeleye and Moradeke, the result was the same. Dada would go free. His name would be cleared. He could come back to her. She felt her throat, already so sore, closing up, and the rush of tears behind her lids, and was just about to give in to the emotion when Feyi came running in, nearly knocking Oyekanmi over, and reporting in breathless tones that their father was coming.

She stopped and looked around then, and she saw the people gathered, the signs of a struggle, and she looked back at Yomi still holding her throat, then at Laja.

“It was Adeleye.” He told her.

Feyi was still trying to absorb that revelation, to make sense of it, when her father came charging in bellowing Yomi’s name. Seeing Remi in the room only stopped him long enough to exchange pleasantries, to greet her as was customary, and once she excused herself, leaving to see to the prisoners, he immediately launched into a tirade about Yomi’s unseemly behaviour. He never even asked what had actually happened. So incensed was he that he barely noticed when Oyekanmi left the room and Dolapo followed. He just carried on shouting.

Not letting anyone get a word in, he shouted all the way home. Laja bade them farewell at the junction to his home, and still Adewunmi just kept on shouting. The only time he stopped was when they reached their compound, and he only stopped long enough to bypass the people still celebrating in his compound. Once they had entered the house, he led the way to the back room and started shouting again.

At this point Yomi had had enough. She turned on him and yelled back. Ignoring the pain in her throat, she pointed out that she had almost died tonight, and that if she had, it would have been because Adewunmi himself, her own father had refused to listen to her, had refused to help her, had refused to care about what she wanted, who she wanted.

Oyekanmi had been more help tonight than her own father. Her father who had called Dada a killer, who had been proven wrong, and who still stood there shouting. To this, Adewunmi had no response. Yomi had never dared raise her voice to him in quite such an insolent fashion, and he just stood there for a moment in stunned silence.

A silence which Feyi very unwisely broke with a giggle. He lunged at her instead, narrowly missed, and chased her all the way outside, right into the midst of the festivities.

There he was forced to make a game of it. No one wanted to be seen attempting to beat their children on the day of a festival, and to allay any suspicion, and prevent any subsequent gossip and attendant mockery, Adewunmi found himself stuck dancing again, well into the night, while his wretched daughters went off to bed, no doubt laughing at him behind their hands.

 

 

21

REUNION

 

 

Both daughters were wise enough to avoid their father the next day. They stayed in their room till he had left the house, Feyi entirely out of caution, but Yomi largely from exhaustion. She rose later and headed out to take part in the dancing around town. Days four, five and six of the festival were days of dancing and celebrations. There was no work done in the town, but there were no rituals either, save for the practice of laying leaves and grass at the pathway to the homes of all known thieves in the town.

Luckily for Adeleye’s wives, the practice did not extend to murderers, which was just as well, considering that they had woken this morning with problems enough to be going with.

Within an hour, the celebrations which she had previously found so amusing had begun to wear a little thin. She was still very tired, and she hoped to visit Dada later in the day. The whole town was abuzz with what had happened, and between people trying desperately to pry information from her, and those giving her curious looks and whispering when she passed, it was no wonder she wasn’t really enjoying the festivities.

Perhaps her previous experience as the betrothed of an accused murderer had simply taken the fun out of mocking the relatives of thieves. Whatever the reason, she wasn’t enjoying it, so she excused herself and headed home.

As she reached her house, she saw Dada standing at the doorway, talking to her father. What on earth was he doing here? He should have been at home resting, but instead he was here, checking on her. Still, she couldn’t pretend that she was anything other than delighted to see him, she had missed him too much and before she realised what she was doing, she was running, rushing towards him and rushing straight into her father’s arms.

Adewunmi had stepped in the way, cutting her off from Dada, and she got only a glimpse of him before she was hustled into the house and into the front room. It was enough for her to see that he was as angry as she was at her father’s behaviour. She ran to the window, just in time to see Dada’s back as he stormed out of the compound, and then rounded on her father.

This time Adewunmi was ready for her. He outlined in detail just how much he had lost face from her actions. She might have cleared Dada’s name, but the way in which she had done it had left a lasting impression in the town that Adewunmi was, in fact, the proud father of two of the most wayward young women Ife had ever seen. It was debatable now whether anyone would want anything to do with either of them.

At this Yomi just shook her head and left the room. He was talking nonsense, people had been nothing but kind to her and Feyi today. A little curious certainly, but their transgressions paled in comparison to the scandal that Adeleye had brought on his family’s head. With brother murdering brother, they were pretty much ruined, and as the cause of the crime Moradeke would not fare much better. With all that to digest, who would even have time to dwell on Yomi and Feyi’s actions?

She decided to go back and point that out to him, and she tried, she really did. In her calmest and most reasonable tone of voice, she pleaded with him, but he remained unmoved, stony faced and stony hearted, and she realised that his greatest problem was his shame. He had been wrong, he had abandoned a friend and his family in their time of need, and now he was unwilling to admit it, face up to his actions, and ask Aremu for his forgiveness. So he was going to keep them apart and ruin her life instead. She finally gave up in disgust and went off to the back room. Perhaps her mother would be able to reason with him later.

Feyi returned early in the evening with Laja in tow and full of information as usual. A meeting had been held at Afin to discuss what would be done with the culprits. It was clear Adeleye would never see the sun rise in freedom again, but the nature and the location of his incarceration was yet to be decided. It was a difficult matter to deal with a man of his stature and a crime of this magnitude.

As for Moradeke, her infractions amounted to leaving her cooking to meet with her husband’s brother, fleeing when they were discovered, and later helping him in his attempt to cover up what she believed to have been an act of self defence. These might be serious errors in judgement, and she had shown herself to be faithless and stupid, but she was no killer. Her previous association with the Oni’s daughter had counted in her favour and, coupled with her genuine ignorance to the extent of her lover’s perfidy, had won her the relatively light sentence of exile.

She would go to the north to live, and it was not expected that she would ever return. She had chosen to leave her young daughter behind with her sister Olaitan who, though not blessed with Moradeke’s beauty, and never invited to share in Moradeke’s good fortune, must now nevertheless share in Moradeke’s disgrace and raise her child.

Still she was a quiet, good natured woman, not the sort to mind. At least that was how she seemed. If Yomi had learnt anything in the last few months, it was not to take anyone at face value. In fact, it occurred to her that she actually knew very little about Olaitan, but on the heels of that realisation, came the knowledge that luckily, that particular family no longer had anything to do with her at all.

Laja also brought details of Adeleye’s full confession as recounted to Dolapo by the young guard, their accomplice of the night before. Apparently it was through their father, Adewunmi that Adeleye had heard of Anu’s earlier visit to their house on the day of Ifabunmi’s death. He had suspected that she had told them something, and had chosen to come to their house and lie in wait for them, perhaps to stop them if they took the evidence to the king. Instead they had headed out into the dark, and he had followed them, curious as to what they were up to.

Once they reached the forest and it became clear that they were waiting for someone, his suspicions had been confirmed. He knew that they still had no culprit to hand to the Oni, so he waited, expecting Anu to come to them, and meaning to stop her. But Ifabunmi had come, so he had stopped her instead.

Apparently their father had been there to hear all of this, to hear how narrowly his children had escaped death, and also to hear Adediji’s confession of how he had suspected his father of Ifabunmi’s murder all along. How he had once heard his father and his uncle speak of another young girl, a murder they had covered up together, and how the similarity between the two had struck him.

That was why he had come to warn Yomi when he heard of her plan in the town, but she had not listened to him, and he could not risk being clearer, not without giving his father away, and hurting his whole family in the process.

He had told them that he knew nothing about Baderin’s death, if he had known his father had killed his uncle, his own flesh and blood, he would have surely given him up weeks ago. But he hadn’t known, had known nothing of the affair, nothing of Baderin’s disastrous plan to catch them red-handed and it’s fatal outcome. So he had stayed silent.

Yomi was silent too when she was told. So that was why he had come to her, so urgent and forceful. She felt sorry for him thinking of it. His life would never be the same now, through no fault of his own. They would always be the family of the man who killed his older brother, his own mother’s son, for his wife. It would be a long time before life was normal for them again, if it ever was.

It also explained why her father was so subdued when he arrived home later. Adewunmi slunk in quietly, refused any food, and went straight to bed, no doubt to consider how he had nearly forced his daughter into the home of a man who enjoyed murdering young women.

Of course the next day, he was back in high spirits, laughing and joking with everyone in the house, but still avoiding Yomi assiduously. She returned the favour that day and the most of the next, and it was late on the evening of day six of the festival before he finally cracked. He had just turned Dada away from the door for the third time that day and Aweni, infuriated at his continued deafness to her pleas, slammed his food down in front of him so hard that most of it ended up on the floor.

Ebun had refused to speak to him at all since his harsh response to Dada’s evening visit the day before, so he was forced to make do with the little food left in the bowl. His other options, facing Feyi’s thinly veiled amusement, or approaching Yomi and risking her rage bubbling over again were less than appealing. After a miserable, small, and lonely meal during which even Duro deserted him, he sidled into the room and summoned Aweni.

She returned moments later to wake Yomi with the news. Adewunmi would visit Aremu the next day, to mend fences and renew the marriage arrangement. He was as good as his word, leaving early the next morning before Yomi was even awake, and returning not much later with news of her wedding date, ten days hence.

News which earned him a spontaneous embrace not just from Yomi, but also Feyi and Duro, much to his surprise. Luckily Laja restrained himself, as that familiarity might have been too much for the man to bear.

Still a little uncomfortable with his promotion from public enemy number one to ‘the best father in Ife’, Adewunmi took himself off shortly afterwards, going to Afin to watch the final day’s celebrations. Feyi went with him and Laja tagged along, to watch as the dust and dirt swept from Afin and placed in a calabash would be covered with palm fronds and placed on the Tele’s head, in order that he might carry all bad things from the town symbolically.

He would go along, surrounded by townsfolk, chieftains, and of course, the woman chosen to dress up as Moremi. She was the main reason for Feyi’s interest. She had heard how well the woman had danced around the torch outside Afin on day three, had seen her for a moment, but in her rush, had been unable to stay and watch.

Now she would have a chance to enjoy her performance, to see ‘Moremi’ dance around the Tele, taking care not to jostle him and risk knocking the calabash from his head. She might even pick up some moves, and it would be a chance to see Oyekanmi again in his element, and this time to really enjoy it.

Yomi, for her part headed straight off to Dada’s house to finally see him again. He was full of stories of his travels, though he talked less of the difficulties he had been through and more of what he had seen, from the Ibo trader who had hidden him, shared his food with him, and taught him strange sounding new words, to the rushing river he had crossed in the dead of night, to the elephant that had followed him in the bush for two whole days, and for no apparent reason.

After a while, it was clear he was talking just to keep her with him, and she was happy to stay, arriving home so late that she woke her mother when she entered the room, provoking the poor woman to comment rather waspishly on how she could hardly wait for the week to pass and for Yomi to take her trouble to her husband’s house.

Of course, that only made Feyi laugh, which only woke Aweni up even more, and sleep was soon abandoned. Yomi settled in between them, and they lay there together and talked, long into the night.

 

 

 

An alphabetical list of Yoruba words, names and phrases.

•Abike- (n) an Oriki, meaning ‘Born to be cared for’.

•Ade Are- ‘The Iron Crown’, The Oni’s crown of coronation.

•Adediji- (n), meaning ‘Your crown is abundant’.

•Adelaja- (n), meaning ‘To come bringing peace’.

•Adeleye- (n), meaning ‘A crown is becoming/attractive’.

•Adeniyi- (n), meaning ‘A crown has honour’.

•Adewunmi- (n), meaning ‘I admire the crown/royalty’.

•Adunni- (n), an Oriki, meaning ‘Sweet/pleasant to have ’

•Afin- The palace.

•Afobaje- ‘Kingmakers’ the chiefs involved in the coronation.

•Agbalumo- A fleshy fruit with a large, dark seed.

•Aiyejina- (n), meaning ‘Life is far away’

•Akintade- (n), meaning ‘A warrior is as important as a crown’

•Akunle-eye- A priest of the Edi festival.

•Anu- (n), meaning ‘Sympathy’

•Aremu- (n), an Oriki, for a first son.

•Asejire- Area on the road between Ife and Ibadan.

•Atiba- Compound in Ife, near Afin.

•Atunpa- A clay lamp fuelled with oil.

•Aweni- (n), an Oriki, meaning ‘Worth cleansing/caring for and keeping.’

•Ayo- A board game involving a wooden board and seeds.

•Ayorinde- (n), meaning ‘Joy has come.’

•Baba Yomi- (n), ‘Yomi’s father’

•Baderin- (n), meaning ‘Associated with the crown’

•Bambo- (n), (abbrev.) meaning ‘Come with me’.

•Bankole- (n), meaning ‘Help me build a home’.

•Bidemi- (n), meaning ‘Born and awaiting me’.

•Bukola- (n), meaning ‘Add to my honour’.

•Dada- (n), given to a child born with dreadlocks.

•Dandongo- A short sleeved male top.

•Deinde- (n), meaning ‘Arriving a bit late’, a sought after child.

•Diji- (n), (abbrev.) Adediji.

•Dolapo- (n), meaning ‘Put our honour together’.

•Duro- (n), (abbrev.) Durojaiye.

•Durojaiye- (n), meaning ‘Stay and enjoy life’, an ‘abiku’ name.

•Durosanma- (n), meaning ‘Stay and be my child’, an ‘abiku’ name.

•Ebun- (n), meaning ‘Gift’.

•Edi- Festival for the remembrance of Moremi.

•Efo- Leaves used to prepare a stew/ the stew itself.

•Eluyomi- (n), meaning ‘God has delivered me’.

•Emese- Servants and guards to the king.

•Emu- Palm wine.

•Eru Ife- ‘Ife’s property/burden’, the centre of the Oni’s crown.

•Feyi- (n), (abbrev.) Feyisara.

•Feyisara- (n), meaning ‘Add this unto yourself’, for a loss replaced.

•Gbenga- (n), (abbrev.), meaning ‘Lift me high’.

•Gbongan- Small town near Ife.

•Ibadan- City in western Nigeria, to the south-west of Ife.

•Ibo- Eastern Nigerian Tribe.

•Ifa- A Yoruba oracle for worship.

•Ifabunmi- (n), meaning ‘Ifa has given to me’.

•Ifayomi- (n), meaning ‘Ifa has delivered me’.

•Ife- (abbrev.) Ile-ife.

•Igbo- A forest.

•Igbo Edi- The area in the forest where the Edi rites are performed.

•Ilaro- Town in southwest Nigeria, near Abeokuta and Ota.

•Ile omo- Afterbirth (placenta and amniotic sac).

•Ile-ife – ‘Home of expansion’, S.W Nigeria. Oldest Yoruba area in mythology and archaeology.

•Ilorin – Town in Kwara state, to the North west of Ife.

•Iraye- Province of Obalaye, in Ife.

•Isanire- An Ife inner chief.

•Iwofa- An indentured servant.

•Jaran- An Ife inner chief.

•Jide- (n), (abbrev.) meaning ‘Early return’, of a reincarnation.

•Kiriji- The 16 year war in Yoruba land in the late 19th century.

•Laja- (n), (abbrev.) Adelaja.

•Lape- (n), (abbrev.) meaning ‘Honour is complete’.

•Laye- (n), (abbrev.) meaning ‘Honour becomes me’.

•Layo- (n), abbrev.) meaning ‘Is joy’.

•Leke- (n), (abbrev.) meaning ‘Conquer/win’

•Loko Loko- Emeses in peacekeeper role during the Olojo festival.

•Lowa Arode- An Ife inner chief.

•Mama Leke- (n), ‘Leke’s mother’.

•Modakeke- Yoruba tribe who came to Ife as refugees from war.

•Modewa- The Ife inner chiefs. From ‘Omodewa’, meaning ‘Child, come here’.

•Moradeke- (n), meaning ‘A crown to cherish/a crowning glory’.

•Moremi- An ancient Ife woman, the focus of the Edi festival.

•Moromoke- (n), meaning ‘I have a child to care for’.

•Oba lara- A priest for the Edi festival.

•Oba Tele- The Edi chieftain who symbolically cleanses Ife.

•Obalaye- An Ife outer chief, chieftain of Iraye.

•Odesola- (n), meaning ‘Honour from hunting’.

•Oduduwa- Founder of the Ife kingdom.

•Ogi- Hot cornmeal with a similar consistency to custard.

•Ogun- The Yoruba god of iron.

•Ogunsho- The four torches bound together, used in the Edi festival.

•Ogunye- ‘Sacrifice accepted/Ogun lives’.

•Okemogun- Clearing where the Ogun sacrifice is performed.

•Oladunni- (n), meaning ‘Honour is good to have’.

•Olaitan- (n), meaning ‘Honour never ends’.

•Olaniran- (n), meaning ‘Honour has descendants’.

•Olo- A tubular stone pestle, used with a flat mortar.

•Olojo- Festival for the worship of Ogun.

•Olola- (n), an Oriki, meaning ‘Wealthy/successful one’.

•Olori- A Queen, wife to a king.

•Olorin wa je- An Ifa incantation

•Olusola- (n), meaning ‘God has given you honour’.

•Oluwadare- (n), meaning ‘God has vindicated me’.

•Omirefun- (n), meaning ‘Water/prosperity in excess’.

•Omiyale- (n), meaning ‘Prosperity detoured to our home’.

•Omoyele- (n), meaning ‘The child suits the home’, a child born in a new home.

•Oni/Ooni- The King of Ife. Derived from Oduduwa’s original title, ‘Oni’le’ meaning ‘Owner of the land’.

•Oriki- A name used to sing one’s praises, as a term of endearment.

•Oshogbo- Town in Osun state, North east of Ife.

•Oshogun- Ogun high priest, presiding chieftain at Olojo festival.

•Oyedele- (n), meaning ‘The chieftaincy has come home’.

•Oyekanmi- (n), meaning ‘The chieftaincy falls to me’.

•Refun- (n), (abbrev.) Omirefun.

•Remi- (n), (abbrev.) of Remilekun, meaning ‘Stop my tears’.

•Rewa- (n), (abbrev.), meaning ‘Is beautiful’.

•Rike- (n), (abbrev.), meaning ‘Acquired to be pampered’.

•Sari- A veranda.

•Shokoto- Trousers.

•Tele- (abbrev.) Oba Tele.

•Todunbo- (n), meaning ‘Born in festivity’, a child born during a festival.

•Tolulope- (n), meaning ‘Glory/Thanks be to God’.

•Tunrayo- (n), meaning ‘See joy again’.

•Wale- (n), (abbrev.) meaning ‘Come home’.

•Yegbata- Chief in charge of torch provision and bearing at the Edi festival.

•Yele- (n), (abbrev.) Omoyele.

•Yomi- (n), (abbrev.) Eluyomi .

 

 

 

(n)-name.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Labake Akinyosoye is a doctor turned novelist and screenwriter. This is her first novel.

 

Fiction by Labake Akinyosoye:

The Yomi Olola Mysteries:

Flesh and Stone

 

For more on current or upcoming work, visit:

http://labakeakinyosoye.tumblr.com/

 

 

Part 2 of The Yomi Olola Mysteries is Bloodstained Brass, coming soon.

For more information:

 

http://twitter.com/flesh_stone

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Official website: www.labakeakinyosoye.com


Flesh and Stone

A Young Adult Mystery set in the Pre-Nigerian era. As these things begin... In the year 1907, Yomi Olola is nineteen years old, a young woman with the blood of warriors in her veins. She is preparing to wed the man of her dreams when during the yearly fall festival, she is thrust into a mess of someone else’s making. A man is murdered, and not just any man, a man of stature, a man with many rivals and many secrets. In the ancient city of Ile-Ife, an act such as this cannot be ignored. Someone must be punished and in the rush to judgement, Yomi’s future is shattered. Now, running out of options and with only the help of her sister and a friend, she must find the killer herself. No matter what she risks, no matter what it takes. Will she uncover the truth in time? A murder mystery rich in romance and adventure, Flesh and Stone is a story about love, family, and the never-ending struggle between tradition and freedom.

  • ISBN: 9789789247271
  • Author: Labake Akinyosoye
  • Published: 2016-12-11 01:05:16
  • Words: 56549
Flesh and Stone Flesh and Stone