“Who is that?”
I shouted and ran in the direction of the noise, forging a path with my left hand through the army of ɛ̀pɛ̄ (spear grass), which stood on either side of the bush track. My right hand was already on my Shìkì (knife), which was usually hidden in a small cloth tied around my thigh.
My path came to an opening and right in front of me, under a palm tree was a sight for sore eyes.
Her hair cascaded down to her waist in thick locks, she was hunched over on the ground and holding her right elbow. As I got closer, I could see she was actually crying softly, I looked around to see if there were others with her but she seemed to be alone.
“Were you the one that shouted?” I asked. She did not look at me but continued crying and holding her elbow.
“Are you ok?” I asked again and moved closer, trying to see if she had other wounds while being cautious, it was well-known that younglings up to no good would lay an ambush for anyone who would fall prey to their tricks.
“If I was ok, would I be on the ground?” She asked through tears and raised her eyes to me. They were blue.
“If I was ok, would I be crying?” She asked again and cleaned the tears from her eyes.
I kept looking at her face. Speechless. I had never seen anyone with such strange eyes; then I remembered that Osonye, Mrs. Gossip had mentioned to my mother some time ago about a family who had a daughter whose eyes were the colour of the sky. Was this her?
“Why are you looking at me like that?” She asked, this time inspecting me from head to toe.
“Why do you have eyes like a cat?” I asked. I wasn’t one to keep a closed mouth.
“Why do you have a head that is like swollen àpɛ̀ (paw-paw)?” She hissed and dusted the dirt from her clothes.
“Heeesh, is it because I came to help you? I have other things to do.” I said.
“Then go ahead and do them, I did not request your assistance. When one trips and falls on their elbows, it is allowed to shout and I do not see how that is wrong.”
“I thought you needed help, that you were being attacked.” I could feel my anger rising.
She let out a laugh and looked at me again from head to toe, clapped her hands, shook her head and bent to pick up a wooden staff that laid not too far from where I found her.
“How were you going to help me?” She laughed again. “With those sticks, you call legs.”
I walked away. “Why did I even run to help eh? This is what you get rewarded for being nice; insults are what you get.” I heard her laughter follow me all the way to the stream.
I was lying down by the stream bank, drying myself when she passed by. I regarded her with the corner of my eye and hissed loudly as she plunged into the water. Immediately angered, I got up to leave; the sight of her was infuriating. She was one of those people you called àpɛ̀chà, ungrateful.
“Oh, you are still here, Helper.” As she laughed, her head bopped up and down in the water. I eyed her angrily and packed my belongings.
“Wait oh” she shouted and swam towards me. “I’m sorry Rè. I have been told that I can be ungrateful so I apologise.”
I was not in the mood, I was angered and the only thing that stopped me from kicking her in the shin was because I was still flustered about her eyes. Who knew what curse she carried?
“Wait!!” She shouted again and ran towards me. “Are you angry? I have apologised, Rè.”
I didn’t answer, I wondered who she thought she was and had the mind of slapping her across the face, a hot one for that matter.
“Are you not going to answer me? Hmm, a person who holds anger in his heart is a step away from death.”
I sneered. “Why do you think I should accept your apology? I have a choice, just like I had a choice of not coming to your rescue when I heard you scream.” I said, increasing my steps; she followed. We walked all the way to the beginning of the bush path that led to the stream and stopped. I turned to her and gave a hot a slap across her face.
“Now I accept your apology,” I said and walked off.
She was waiting for me at the bush path the following day; I prepared myself for another encounter but she smiled and nodded her head, acknowledging me.
“I deserved that slap yesterday.” She said smiling, “It was a surprise oh, and I was not expecting it. My name is Onma.”
“Aicheni” I said.
“Aicheni” She repeated, as if allowing the name to roll in her mouth. “Are you always this quiet?”
Onma and I caught on like wildfire; we were everywhere together, like a cold and a sneeze. If one person was around the corner the other was not far behind, ahhh those were simpler days. She confessed to me that she wanted to be a warrior, which was a joker’s dream and I told her so. The only way to become a warrior was to become Achèzu, one without a heart; and Onma was not one of those people. She cried about everything and for everything, even when she was happy she shed tears. She got angry easily and was quick with her mouth.
To become Achèzu, you must have been chosen right from when you came out of your mother’s birth canal. The obligatory birth beating on your bottom would not have made you cry and as a result, an incision would be made under your ankle so that at the appointed time all would know that you are Achèzu. Onma did not have the incision. Three of my brothers are Achèzu, and I do not envy them, their lives are always dedicated to one war or the other, I don’t think they have enjoyed the true meaning of life. Though they have profited from these wars and have married wives from all over, I know the traumas of war follow them at every turn. The other day, Ujar’s wife, Ogodo was lamenting about how he awoke in the middle of the night screaming and gave her the beating of her life for no reason. Hmm, that is not a life to live. Onma could not even stomach the killing of ìɡbí not to talk of being a warrior, like I said, a fool’s dream. I know you are wondering why I am talking so much about Onma and her mad dreams and how these affected my life.
Oya (friend), the fool in this matter was no other than myself. Before our breasts budded, Onma ran away from our village and it was the most dreadful time of my life. You see, we had gotten so used to each other, our days were not complete if we didn’t see or talk to each other so for her to get up and disappear without telling me, I was angered and pained. At first, it was thought that she had been kidnapped by Ogori, these were idlers who captured women for entertainment but after a quick search around her compound, her parents found out she had packed a few belongings. They turned on me, believing that I was in on her plans. Nobody believed me when I said I knew nothing of it. Onyeyibo beat the warmth of the sun out of me and I spent days shivering, crying for the pain I was feeling in my heart and also the one on my skin. Days past and slowly the thought and talk of Onma running away faded into memory, some of our villagers believed she was cursed, any person with those type of eyes was definitely not normal, the gods had her case. A few people said she must have been killed and laid dead and then everyone’s eyes were on me. You see to run away from one’s village was a surprising thing. According to the elders, we had everything we needed. There was an abundance of food, men, women, and drink. To run away was ìpí (taboo). I kept to myself after this and banned myself to my hut. I stopped going to my wrestling matches and even the stream unless absolutely necessary. I could hear the whispers; she has gone mad they said.
“Aicheni” the voice behind me called.