Oyinade was up before the cock crew. Her first thought was the incident of the night before. With tears flowing down her cheeks, she wondered why it seemed that she alone was to suffer so greatly. Her father had killed himself, her brothers had been killed, and her sisters and mothers continued to live in Iluope doing the bidding of their new lord and living in relative peace. Only she was subjected to such a bitter life. She wondered if she had in fact done something to bring all these woes on her head.
Tired of crying and lying on her side, she sat up slowly and winced, sitting down on the hard floor was painful. It was dark in the longhouse but she could see the glow of a bright fire from a crack in the wall. Getting up gingerly, she limped out of the musty warm room into the early morning chill. Ahead, she saw three young women dressed as she was, in adire blouse and wrapper. Two peeled beans in large bowls and one stirred cornmeal in a large cauldron with a big stick.
“Good morning,” she greeted.
They all stared at her pitifully, they could tell from her limping gait that she had been the one screaming in pain the night before. Their master was a rough man.
“Good morning,” Alaba, a thickset young woman said, pausing her job with the beans.
“How do you feel?” Atinuke, a plump girl with small breasts asked, putting down the bowl of beans that had been in between her legs.
“I feel pain…” Oyinade replied, bowing her head in shame.
“What is your name?” Omotoyosi, the third of them asked, not stopping her stirring.
“Oyin?” Alaba said observing her closely. “Is that the full name?”
She nodded her head. “Yes.”
“Why do you bear that name?”
“My father gave it to me.”
“What village are you from?” Omotoyosi asked, stirring the cornmeal vigorously.
Omotoyosi continued her work and said nothing more.
“Why don’t you sit down there?” Atinuke said, pointing at a low stool and watching as she shifted from one buttock to another. Oyinade stared blankly at the fire under the cauldron.
“You will need warm water. Go and start the fire on that side.”
Oyinade gaped at her hands.
“What is it?” Alaba asked.
“Nothing.” She didn’t know how to explain to them that she couldn’t make fire.
“I think there’s some warm water in that pot.” Atinuke said gently. “Just wait for me.”
Oyinade glanced around. ”How can I help?”
Omotoyosi stopped stirring the now ready cornmeal. “Go and get that big pot.”
Oyinade held the pot steady while Omotoyosi poured in the cornmeal. Later on she watched as Atinuke and Alaba ground beans, pepper and onions efficiently on a wide, smooth, rectangular stone with a smaller rectangular one. Feeling useless, she offered to help but found that she couldn’t do it. The beans kept falling of the stone. Irritated by her sluggishness and ineptitude, Omotoyosi grabbed the stone from her.
“Look go and sit down. If we wait for you to grind this beans, the sun will come up and it will be lumpy and uneatable and we will all suffer for it!”
Oyinade went to sit down by the fire and tried not to cry. Atinuke glanced at her sadly and continued her work. When the bean paste was ready, they portioned it into pockets of dark green leaves, the stems bent to avoid it falling through. Still Oyinade couldn’t help, she watched from her seat as they did the chore swiftly, placing the full leaves into a hot cauldron. Sighting a broom in a corner, she got up and attempted to sweep the floor but Alaba stopped her.
“You can’t see what you’re sweeping, it’s still quite dark! Wait until dawn.”
“So what can I do?” she cried in frustration.
“Nothing! Just go and sit down!” Omotoyosi snapped. “You know how to do nothing! What kind of woman are you? You will suffer greatly here.”
Oyinade resumed her position by the fire and cried silently, thinking of all the time she had begged her mother to let her do some chores and how she had insisted on her doing absolutely nothing. In a short while, the other slaves woke up and began to sweep the compound. She grabbed a broom and joined them.
She was glad to get her mind off the events of the past week and took pride in the fact that she could do something when she felt a hand fall heavily in the middle of her back.
“What do you think you are doing? Who is this one?”
Oyinade looked up at a tall, heavyset woman with thick tribal marks on her dark face. Her eyebrows creased in fury and her wide mouth was crooked in a sneer. Her grey and blue wrapper was wound around her large body firmly but she could still see folds of her breasts hanging over the cloth.
“Good morning our mother.” Oyinade quickly got on her knees.
“I said who are you?”
“Are you part of the new slaves?”
“Yes our mother,”
“Where are you from?”
“And is this how they sweep where you’re from? Do you intend to sweep all the sand away?”
“Please don’t be offended our mother.”
“I don’t tolerate lazy slaves. I will whip you until the skin on your back peels off, if you don’t work hard in my house. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, our mother.”
The woman observed her closely, there was a gracefulness about the girl that unnerved her.
“Where did you sleep last night?”
“In the longhouse our mother.”
“Are you sure?”
A young child came over to them. “My mother, my father is calling you.”
The woman left Oyinade and walked away. As soon as she was gone, Atinuke went over to her and whispered.
“Lift the broom up, sweep only the dirt, not the sand! We will talk later.”
Oyinade corrected her sweeping and had done a fair job by the time the woman came back. She looked at the ground and walked away, some other matter bothering her mind.
Oyinade cried out in pain.
“Relax! Let me put the cloth there, you need to stop feeling pain before he calls you again.”
“Calls me again?”
While the rest of the household had gone to the farm to do the day’s work, giving the new slaves the opportunity to learn as much as they could about their new environment, Atinuke massaged Oyinade’s body with hot water.
“Yes, he will call you again. I don’t know when but he will and when he does, it will be better for you to have gotten over this pain otherwise you will almost die from the pain he inflicts on you.”
Oyinade began to cry. “Whom have I offended?”
“Look, you have to stop crying. If you don’t stop crying, your suffering will increase. Iya Abioye is a very strict woman. She will not go easy on you. Look at my back.”
Atinuke looked round and pulled up her blouse. Oyinade could see several dark scars on them.
“She did that to me because the pepper I ground wasn’t smooth enough.”
Oyinade’s body went cold as fear filled her mind. “You have to be strong…”
She embraced herself wondering how she could live in this strange world of fear and rules.
“What else do I need to know?”
“Ajao has two wives. The other one is Iya Ewatomi. She’s even more wicked than Iya Abioye. She is a few years older than I am but she looks older. She used to be beautiful. She has five children, while Iya Abioye has six. I think she’s pregnant again.”
“No, her junior wife. She’s been eating so much lately and Ajao has been calling for those of us who are not bleeding.”
“Doesn’t he sleep with Iya Abioye?”
“Don’t you see how ugly she is? What is so desirable about her?”
Oyinade sighed. Why doesn’t he marry more wives and let us be?”
“He only marries into wealthy homes. I’m sure he’s planning another marriage soon.”
Oyinade wondered why her case had been different. Why had he not married her?
“So Ajao will call me back?”
“Yes he will and when he does. Just lie down and let him be done with it.”
Oyinade held her head in dismay.
“That is the least of your problems. Drink this herb.” she handed her a bowl of bitter herbs. “It will prevent you from becoming pregnant. Make sure you drink it every time he sleeps with you. Now, let me teach you how to grind beans and pepper before we go and fetch water.”
Ajao was proud of himself. He looked at the wide stretch of land that the king had recently gifted him with. He would plant palm trees there and marry a new wife from the proceeds. He wanted to marry an eastern woman next.
“Congratulations my Lord.” Akinde said.
“Thank you. Next we will cross the river and conquer the eastern lands, I want my next bride to come from there.”
“My Lord are you never tired?” Durojaiye asked nervously.
Ajao looked at him. “No, I am not tired. I do not get tired. That was my father’s mistake and I am going to be better than my father.”
Ajao looked at the expanse of land again, imagining it filled with palm trees.
“Why didn’t you tell the king about Oyinade?”
“Because she’s mine and not his. I conquered her father and I will be the one to conquer her. Not him and his obese self. The man sickens me, eating, drinking and sleeping with women like he has no serious thing to do.”
“But what can we do about that. He is the king.”
“Yes, for as long as I say he is.”