It had been a long day of fetching water, hoeing and cooking. Grateful not to have been called by Ajao, Oyinade had collapsed on the mat in the longhouse and promptly slept off. The other slaves were outside, enjoying the moonlight and sharing stories of their hometowns. Back in the longhouse, Oyinade turned away from the window and continued sleeping, soon she began to dream. Iya Adigun and Iya Ajike were staring at her sadly and telling her, “Trust no one! Trust no one!”
Suddenly her body tensed up, there was an alien presence with her. Soon, she felt a hand touch her waist and slide down to her thighs. Immediately she jumped up. The room was dark but she could still make out the stocky frame of Dada.
“Dada? What are you doing?”
“Do you think it is only Ajao that knows how to enjoy a good thing? Let me taste from your pot too. I promise you will even like me better than Ajao.”
“Are you out of your mind? Dada! Don’t touch me!”
“Don’t touch what?” Dada replied teasingly, trying to encircle her in an embrace.
She pushed him back violently. “Do you want to be unfortunate? I swear if you move close to me again, I will shout!”
Dada stared at her with cold eyes. “A smelly whore like you, you have the boldness to tell me not to touch you? What is so special that you don’t want me to touch? Who doesn’t know how filthy you are? You will end up used, and ugly. I swear they will beg me to marry you and I will, but your life will be miserable. You will wish that you never said no to me today.”
Oyinade stared at him indignantly. “I would rather kill myself than marry you, even if you were the last man on earth.”
“We shall see.” He got up and made to leave. “If you like, tell people what happened here and see if anyone will believe the word of a smelly whore.”
He smirked and walked out of the room. As soon as he was gone, Oyinade broke into bitter tears, she couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
“What is the matter with you? You’re unusually quiet this morning.” Atinuke said to her the following morning as they walked home from the stream in company of the other slave girls.
Oyinade desperately wanted to tell her friend what had happened but she remembered what Dada had said about people not believing her.
“Nothing, and your face look so gloomy? Did Ajao do something to you last night?”
“Did someone offend you?”
“Let’s forget about it. I just want to concentrate on work.”
“Someone offended you. Who is it? Talk to me!”
“Forget it Atinuke, it’s just one of those things.”
Atinuke kept quiet until they got to the compound and then said earnestly to her. ”What are we friends for if we cannot talk to each other?”
Cornered, Oyinade told her what had happened the night before.
“Ehn? That horrid creature? How did he think of such a thing?” She looked closely at her. “Did he do anything?”
“No, he did not but what difference does it make? Ajao does it to me almost every night.”
Atinuke saw the sadness and shame on her friend’s face. She didn’t know how to talk her out of her feeling self-loathing.
“You should tell Ajao…”
“Tell him what?”
“He likes you, he will protect you…”
“From what? The same thing he does to me? It’s all the same Atinuke, it’s all the same. Who will save me from him?”
“So you’ll do nothing about it? What if he decides to try it again?”
“What can I do Atinuke? Who will believe me? Who will believe that a loose woman was raped?”
“You’re not a loose woman!”
“If your relative wants to marry me, would you support it?”
Oyinade smiled sadly and shook her head.
“Well, I am going to do something about it. I won’t let him think he has accomplished anything.”
Oyinade got up and grabbed a small basket. “I’m going to pluck water leaves.”
Atinuke was peeling cassava tubers when Dada walked up to her, scratching his crotch.
“Atinuke, lovely girl!”
“I hope you are not insane?”
“Ah ah, Atinuke are we fighting?”
“No, we’re best friends!” She hissed disgustedly and continued her chore.
“Ah ah! Atinuke, what happened? You and I still joked last night.”
“And after we joked, you went to try and rape my friend?”
“Who? Oh you mean Oyin? I was only joking with her!”
“What kind of stupid joke is that?”
“Atinuke, what are you getting upset about? We’re talking about Oyin here. The smelly thing that Ajao has used like a rag. There can be nothing more left to her, I just wanted to manage her.”
“You wanted to manage her? Your mouth will wither! You of all people want to manage someone! Have you taken a good look at yourself? Or is that thing you are scratching everywhere like a mad person that you think is so special? I’m very sure that it is not more than my little finger.”
Dada smarted from her words. “You should just tell the truth, you want me.”
Atinuke dropped the knife in her hand. “Me? Me, Atinuke?”
“Yes, and do you think I’m interested in your little breasts or your lumpy body? I’ve observed you and there’s nothing to be desired about you. Your hair’s all over the place like a deranged person, you always stink, your skin is dry and cracking, your mouth is big, you upper boy is smaller than your lower body. You don’t even have a backside that a man can hold. Do you know how many women chased after me in my hometown…?”
“They are all blind…!”
“Say whatever you like, see, you’re already crying!” he started to laugh heartily, taking pleasure in seeing her affected by his words. “That’s why you’re friends with Oyin, she has everything you do not have. Despite the fact that she has been used, every man still wants her, even the king! Nobody wants you. You’re here defending her! Two foolish friends, a beautiful whore, and an ugly imbecile.”
He walked away, scratching his crotch again.
Atinuke’s mouth trembled, distorting her plain, round, face. Soon large tears rolled down her cheeks and onto the peeled cassava.
Ajao had been in the bush behind the area where Atinuke was sitting, answering nature’s call, when he heard the altercation between her and Dada. He smiled humorlessly, thinking of the fact that someone had tried to take over his possession. Had he not made his claim over her evident enough? He said nothing and acted as if all was well throughout the evening, thinking of the best way to punish Dada and set an example for others. Yet he wondered how he could do this without attaching too much importance to Oyinade. He still refused to believe that any woman had him in her grip.
After he had had his dinner, he sat in the same spot where the conversation had taken place and took out his snuff. Akinde and Durojaiye sat on either side of him and drank palm wine.
“You’re unusually quiet my lord.”
“What is the matter my Lord?”
“Someone tried to eat out of my plate, when I wasn’t looking.”
“Who is it?” Durojaiye asked, sitting up. “Tell us and let us teach him a lesson.”
Ajao scratched his scar. “His name is Dada.”
“Dada? That short dark slave?”
“We’ll teach him a lesson he’ll never forget my Lord. Don’t worry about it.”
“Do it with some discretion, let him know that I’m not to be trifled with, but preserve his life.” He could feel the snuff in his head, his eyes widened and he suddenly felt peaceful.
“Rest easy my lord.”
Later that night, Durojaiye and Akinde crept into the longhouse and poured a bowl of water on Dada’s head. He woke up with a shout and looked around him widely. The other slaves woke up and stared at the display in confusion.
Akinde looked scornfully at him. “So you’re the one who is bold enough to eat from our master’s plate?”
“Me, who am I? How dare I?”
“So we’re lying?”
Durojaiye slapped him hard.
“Did you steal or not?”
“I did!” he replied eagerly.
“We will treat you the way we treat other thieves.” Akinde pointed at a wide-eyed slave. “You, go and bring the knife on the hot coal for me.”
“Please! Please! I did not do anything, help me to tell him that I did not do anything!”
Durojaiye slapped him again. “Shut your mouth!”
The slave returned, holding a hot knife with a rag. Akinde took it from him. “You and you,” he pointed at two buff slaves. “Hold him down and do it properly otherwise I will mark you too.”
Dada screamed for mercy as the two men held him down. Akinde moved towards him, his eyes twinkling, feeling exhilarated. It thrilled him to exercise power over the helpless.
“Let this be an example to you all, don’t ever think that you can steal from Ajao, the lion slayer, the one who has conquered seven kings.”
He stamped the hot knife on Dada’s chest as the smell of burning flesh filled the room.
The news of the slave who had stolen from Ajao and was marked spread like wild fire. Few people knew what had actually happened, the executors of the judgment had a vague idea what it was that Dada had done, none of them bold enough to actually ask. Dada himself refused to say exactly what he had stolen, he kept moaning in pain and avoided every woman he encountered.
Oyinade knew Dada’s offence but wondered who had told Ajao about it. As she spread the wet laundry on the grass behind the house, she saw Atinuke carrying used bowls out of the kitchen hut and walked over to her.
“You told Ajao?”
“No I did not. I don’t know how he found out.”
Oyinade looked at her doubtfully. “Are you sure?”
“Ah ah? I am sure! Are you sad that he was punished? He got exactly what he deserved, now everyone who sees his skin will know that he stole something and was caught. Did you see the way he was crying like a baby? Fool, my head is stronger than he thinks.”
“Your head? Did he offend you?”
“No, but he offended you and you’re my friend.” she lied.
Oyinade smiled for the first time in a while.
Iya Ewatomi got the truth from Dada after she had threatened to whip him until he bled.
“You attempted to rape her?”
“I was only joking our mother, I didn’t know that it would turn out to be something of this magnitude.”
“So Ajao ordered for you to be marked because you attempted to rape his whore?”
She smiled, she had finally found the one thing that would make Oyinade become unattractive to her husband.