Evening in my village is not without birds. You could see them flocking together in an orderly fashion in the sky, as though they had an important meeting at their king’s palace and must arrive according to their ranks, for no matter how fast each flies, it never overtakes the one in front. They tweet and flap their wings in an almost undivided group. Most of the birds are black while few are white. The white ones are believed to be auspicious. Upon veiwing the white birds, little girls returning from the stream will drop their water pots and begin to sing the infamous song of bird, ‘leke leke bami leke’ while checking their thumbs for the half moon shaped sign ostensibly dropped by the white birds. I watch the girls with a feeling of nostalgia, wondering what it would feel like to join in the song and jump up and down while my breasts bounce under my buba, the image seems dangerously ridiculous as though I had not been like them five years ago.
Iyanga is a riverine town. There is a lore about our ancestor, the mother that lost her only daughter and cried for seven years and whose tears formed the large river that sorrounds the village. The first time Iya Agba told me the lore in her hut while we were removing the shells of snails, I asked her if it was possible for a human being to cry a river that big and she gave me that look when she smiles without showing her teeth and moves her head at the same time as though what I did was wrong but she was proud that I did it. Then she said ‘Arewa, a i wi baun’ and she pressed her forefinger on my lips, the snail water trickled down my mouth and I tasted it and laughed at how tasteless the snail water is.
I envisioned how it would be telling my granddaughter the lore in my hut while we remove the shells of snails, she would ask me if it was possible for a human being to cry a river that big and I would give her that look when I smile without showing my teeth and move my head at the same time as though what she did was wrong but I was proud that she did it. Then I would say ‘Omo mi , a i wi baun’ and I would press my forefinger on her lips, the snail water would trickle down her mouth and she would taste it and laugh at how tasteless the snail water is.
The folklore is also the foundation of the very famous Omi day that brings together all indegenes of Iyanga and even the people from neighbouring villages. Omi day is the final ceremony of a procession of rituals that started seven days ago by our chief priestess. Yeye Iyanga dresses in all white. Her entire body covered with Efun, a chalk-coloured line that runs accross her body from her shoulder blade to her leg on both sides and also form a circle around her left eye. She goes around the village crying and praying at the same time. On her right hand is a short broom and on her left hand she carries a small calabash of water which she dips the broom into and sprinkles the water at every hut.
She even sprinkles the water at Fada Paul’s house and prays for his house with the same enthusiasm she prays for every household in Iyanga. I wonder why she does this since Fada Paul is the Christian who openly condemns Yeye Iyanga and threatens her with the raging fire of hell. He gathers children under the Igi Orombo to teach them his new religion that has the father and the son as equals. He also teaches them the white man’s language because he said that prayers get answered fast if it was spoken in the white man’s language for it will save God the trouble of searching for an interpreter and who knows, their prayers might even be misinterpreted.
Iyanga is also quite. A stranger entering the village for the first time would think it is mourning the death of the king. The silence sometimes is deafening and it is often punctuated by the voices of the children under the Igi Orombo as they sing to the jingles of the tambourine ‘jesus started with prayer and ended with prayer’ I often wonder who this Jesus is and why he seems to pray and pray. The loudest noise is that of the town crier who goes around once a moon to report an important message. At night, when the Atupa is lighted in every hut, it gives the village an image of thousand wild cats on a hunting game, silently and vigilantly waiting for their preys.
My father’s compound has three huts camped with a wooden gate to prevent goats from straying into the compound. Baba’s hut is the first one and it is also the biggest, my mother’s hut is next to cages of chickens and Iya Agba’s hut is at the end of the compound near the corn farm. I sometimes sleep in my mother’s hut but I live with Iya Agba. Iya Agba is always cold, it does not matter the weather, the firewood in her hut is always burning with a pot of Agbo on it. She would later drink the Agbo and buries her face inside the bowl and inhales the Agbo while she sneezes. She once told me that the sneeze signifies that the Iba has left her body. This ritual of Iya Agba leaves her hut with a scalding hotness and I wonder if the hell of Fada Paul’s God is as hot as Iya Agba’s hut.
I knew I would be pregnant immediately Jegede went limp on my body. Today’s meeting is adventurous. It was on one of those nights that Iyanga looks like a thousand wild cats playing a hunting game, silently and vigilantly waiting for their preys. I waited till I heard Iya Agba snore before I tiptoed out of the hut, knocking over the pot of Agbo. The screech sound widened my eyes and I bit my lower lip for fear of waking Iya Agba up. I did not need to carry Atupa to get to Jegede’s hut, I have made this journey almost a million times over the year. The only sound I heard apart from my footstep was the chirping of crickets and sometimes whispers inside huts.
Jegede was already waiting for me outside his hut with his Atupa. He had his white singlet on and the towel he got from Fada Paul was wound around his buttocks. The singlet stopped well above his navel and I could see the sparse hair below his navel. He ushered me in and I immediately realized how chilly it was outside. Jegede’s hut is warm, not in a way that makes you want to yank away your clothes like Iya Agba’s hut but in a way that makes you want to get comfortable with your clothes on your body.
Jegede seemed to be getting right down to business. Normally, we start the night pretending not to have planned for sex, as though the sex was something that’d happen accidentally. The night was different and it was not just that it started unusually but it was also the absence of my shyness, the things I allowed Jegede do to me. Perhaps it had something to do with the warmth in Jegede’s hut or because I was already getting comfortable with him. Before, I would close my eyes on his mat and let him take off my buba and iro and in a flash, he would crush me with his body and I would feel him between my legs as he jerks and gasps and makes that sound like he was speaking in a foreign language.
Tonight, I looked at him in the eyes as he took off my Buba and as if he could sense my sudden bravery, he let me take off his white singlet and then he took my nipples in his mouth and he went down below my belly and he pulled down my iro and then he put his mouth where I did not know that lips could touch. I was even more surprised as this abnormal act sent a feeling down my body. A feeling I have never felt before but it felt like something I should have felt a long time ago. Then his tongue did something that I never wanted to stop. I did not know that the sound of someone speaking a foreign language was mine until Jegede raised his head and that sound was still coming. The love making that followed was different, it started slow and then it became faster as our breathing became heavy.
Iya Agba was the first to notice I was pregnant. She called me into her hut after I vomitted next the corn farm and examined my palms, she pulled down my eyes and exclaimed ‘Arewa, o ti fera ku’. She ran inside my father’s hut and minutes later she came inside her hut with my parents. Baba looked as if someone just told him that his daughter is dead. My mother already had tears in her eyes and I worried that Iya Agba’s head might remove from her neck as she shook it violently.
I was supposed to be married to Jegede as was the customary. I did not want to get married to Jegede, I told my parents and Iya Agba this and they all looked at me as though I was an alien in their daughter’s body.
I really do not know what I want to do but I know that I want to sit with my daughter in my hut after she returned from the stream singing the bird song of ‘leke leke bami leke’. On nights when Iyanga looks like a thousand wild cats playing a hunting game, silently and vigilantly waiting for their preys, I would tell her the village lore while we remove the shells of snails, she would ask me if it was possible for a human being to cry a river that big and I would give her that look when I smile without showing my teeth and move my head at the same time as though what she did was wrong but I was proud that she did it. Then I would say ‘Diwura mi , a i wi baun’ and I would press my forefinger on her lips, the snail water would trickle down her mouth and she would taste it and laugh at how tasteless the snail water is.