Oyinade Episode 2.3: “This world is not for women”
Weeks passed and Oyinade continued to live as a slave in Ajao’s house. She learnt quickly how to cook, grind beans and pepper, farm, wash, weave hair and fetch water without slipping into the stream from the muddy banks. But most importantly, she learnt how to keep her head down.
The one thing that she found difficult to adapt to was Ajao’s abuse of her. She wished desperately to be ugly and took extra care to look unattractive. She rolled her hair up into tight knots so as not to show the length off in any way. She wore the oldest clothes she could find and paid little attention to grooming herself. Still, Ajao would call for her often. It became apparent to the other slaves that she was favored by him and soon even his wives noticed it too.
One day, after a long day at the farm she was peeling off the skin of a large yam beside the kitchen hut in preparation for Ajao’s dinner. Iya Ewatomi came out of the family house chewing a walnut and watched her for a while. One thing was undeniable, Oyin was graceful, even as a slave. No matter what was said or done to her, she remained graceful. Even her cooking was distinct, there was a refinement about it that testified to her elegance. She observed her long neck and slim fingers, her long eyelashes, her dark, almost full lips, her oval face, her slim waist and pointed breasts. Even though her honey-complexioned skin had now turned dark due to its exposure to the sun, her skin remained smooth. She could see why Ajao was attracted to this woman, she was better than any of the women in the town and she had captivated her husband. She was different, nothing she could aspire to, and it angered her.
Oyinade was singing a song about the love of a father and to her annoyance, she realized that even her voice was pleasant to the ear. She hissed disgustedly and walked back into the house. Oyinade looked up after and wondered what she had done wrong.
Iya Ewatomi found her husband under a tree at the back of the house. A slave girl massaged his thick foot while he drank fresh palm wine and ate peppered snails.
“Iya Ewatomi, we see you here, hope there’s no problem?” he asked nonchalantly, observing the dissatisfied look on her face.
“Vanish from this place.” She said to the slave girl who quickly scampered off.
“What do you want?”
She sat on the remains of a felled tree which now served as a stool, spreading her legs wide and stuffing the folds of her wrapper in between,
“That slave girl, Oyin…”
“What about her?”
“I don’t like her. My spirit tells me that she has a bad fortune and she might infect this household with it.”
Ajao licked his oil stained fingers. “Is that so?”
“Yes my Lord.”
“Whether her head is good or not, she is my slave and she is going nowhere.”
“Why? Because of the thing in between her legs? There are other slaves, do you want to sacrifice your household for a woman?”
“I am the head of this household and what I say is final. She is not leaving this place. She is mine and mine alone.”
“So why don’t you marry her if you she’s so important to you?”
“She’s not important to me.”
“She is and you know it. She has captured your heart in her slim hands. You can’t do anything without her. We hear you almost every night moaning her name like a deranged man. She is…”
Ajao hit his wife across the cheeks violently. “Your father is a deranged man! No one has control over me, especially not a weak woman.”
Iya Ewatomi held her face and got up. “So this is Ajao, the one who killed a lion and has conquered seven kings, reduced to nothing by a mere slave girl.”
Ajao shot up from his chair and she ran.
“Why didn’t you wait?” He yelled. “Smelly woman!”
He sat back down and thought about his wife’s words, they had sunk deep into his soul.
Oyinade was eating her dinner of lafun and okro soup. She didn’t like it much but it was one of the things that she had learnt to adapt to. She missed her hometown and sumptuous meals of pounded yam and egusi soup with abundant pieces of bushmeat, and smoked fish. She listened to the other slaves talking about the pieces of fish they were able to steal from the soup pot and sighed. Somebody would be made a scapegoat, Iya Abioye’s ever watchful eyes would recognize that the pieces of fish in the pot were considerably less than they ought to be.
“What is it Oyin?” One of the male slaves, Dada, a stocky dark man said to her.
“There is nothing wrong. Why do you ask?”
“I heard you sighing. Who are you sighing at?”
“No one, my mind was elsewhere.”
“We understand, he’s going to call you again tonight isn’t he?”
Oyinade bowed her head and refused to respond.
“You won’t answer us?”
“Oyin! Oyin! Oyin!” One of the other slaves moaned, in mockery of their lord.
Dada licked his stubby fingers and pointed at her accusingly. “There must be something different that you’re giving him. So different that the other women are no longer as important as they used to be. Even our mothers are getting crankier!”
The other slaves laughed. Oyinade continued to eat her food, choosing not to respond to their insults.
“Come to think of it, it might not even be what we think, he might be doing something different to her!”
The other slaves laughed and debated in graphic terms what they imagined went on between Ajao and Oyinade. No longer able to take the bullying, she took her food outside and cried.
You don’t ever have to worry about anything, I am your father, nothing bad can happen to you.
She remembered her father’s promise and cried even louder, if only he could see how low his favorite child had been reduced to, being raped by her father’s enemy countless times.
In truth, Iya Ewatomi was right. Oyinade had Ajao’s heart in her hands and though he wouldn’t admit it, he couldn’t deny how fast his heart beat whenever she came into his bedchamber, when he thought of her during the day, when he saw her doing chores or when anyone spoke of her. He adored and loathed her at the same time. Ajao slowly realized that he anticipated seeing her even though he knew she didn’t care for him, he wanted something more from her. Something he refused to define, even though he knew that she would never give it. It was this knowledge of the fact that she didn’t care about him that made him need her, it also made him loathe her because he had never needed anyone else, apart from his father. He did not know how this had come about but he suddenly recognized that from hating Oyinade and using her in the vilest manner as punishment for her father’s suicide, he had come to want her in an unusual way.
Oyinade remained outside, under the oak tree behind the kitchen hut, sticking her feet in the sand and enjoying the feel of it. Ajao had sent for her again and she needed to prepare her mind for him.
She turned to see Atinuke walking towards her.
“I knew I would find you here.”
She sat by her and sighed. “Don’t mind all those people, they are just trying to get over their own despair.”
Oyinade didn’t respond.
“What is it? He has called for you again hasn’t he?”
“I don’t know how much longer I can stand this. I am tired of this life.”
“Do you have any other choice?”
“I should just kill myself, what kind of life is this?”
“Oyin…” Atinuke held her and let her cry. “You have to be strong, you just have to be. It will get better.”
“When? How? This man will keep using me until I am no longer desirable and what happens to me then? They’ll give me to one ugly man to marry and I will bear ugly, cursed children…”
“Don’t talk like that! You will marry a good man.”
“How? When the whole world has heard of how Ajao uses me like a rag?”
“You can’t lose hope, your life will be better than this. You don’t know how Eledumare has planned it. Wipe your eyes, harden your mind and go to him before he gets angry and whips you.”
Oyinade did as she said, took a deep breath and went inside the house. Behind her, Atinuke shook her head sadly, her friend future didn’t look so bright.
When Ajao saw her, his heart became lighter but he kept his face hard.
“Why did you keep me waiting?”
“Please do not be offended.” She said kneeling.
He wanted to hold her and never let go but he hardened his mind, no woman would ever take hold of his heart. He would rather kill her than let such happen.
“Lie down.” He ordered.
She obeyed and steeled her mind for his touch.
“The first day I saw you, you were seated by your father in front of Oyemakin’s house. I was standing on the ire hill, I saw so much of your land from there. He talked to you as If you were an equal and you, proud as you were, laughed and chirped like a talkative bird. So disrespectful! A king should be feared, and no one, least of all, a girl should disrespect him by talking to him as an equal. I don’t know how it is that your father’s chiefs didn’t call him to order. I made up my mind to take you as well as kill your weak father, I planned to show you that this world is not for women and I will continue to show it to you.”
Oyinade couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down her eyes even though she didn’t make a sound. She wondered what had caused this talk and wished he would just get on top of her and let her go. Ajao slapped her legs apart and pulled down his trousers.
Minutes later, she got up from his raffia bed and retied her wrapper.
“You stink, I don’t know why you don’t take time to wash yourself. Don’t come to me next time without bathing first.”
“Yes, my Lord.” She said quietly and left him.
Ajao sat down dissatisfied, he used to enjoy berating her but tonight it gave him no joy. Restless, he went to Iya Abioye’s room, she was happy to see him. She sang his praises as he stripped, he insulted her. He complained about her smell and her big body yet she praised him even more. Ajao’s heart soared, he found fulfillment in his grateful wife.