Oyeleke, the son of Oyemakin crouched in the bush, his gaze intent on the grey bush rat beside the bamboo tree. The bush rat was the biggest he had ever seen. It scurried around the tree for a while and then settled on a rotten mango, gnawing at the flesh of the fruit. Oyeleke waited for it to be taken with the fruit before the released the arrow in his hand.
“Kill it now.” Akinniyi whispered softly.
“No, don’t kill it yet!” Obembe warned. “It needs to be still.”
“What do you know?” Akinniyi snapped. “Kill it now!”
His friends Obembe and Akinniyi crouched on either side of him, waiting for Oyeleke to kill the animal. Obembe’s mouth was already salivating, he imagined a large bowl of pounded yam and egusi soup garnished with the meat. He would also take some to his future mother-in-law. It had been a while since he had taken her some meat and he didn’t want her thinking that he was incapable. It didn’t matter if the meat came as a result of another man’s efforts.
In one swift movement, Oyeleke let the arrow go. It hit the animal’s head. It twitched violently for a few seconds before it lay still, blood pooling around its mangled head. The men yelled in triumph as they dashed towards the dead animal. Oyeleke was proud of himself.
“This is the biggest one we have ever killed.” Obembe pumped his fist in the air.
“You mean the biggest one I have ever killed.”
“It doesn’t matter, your meat is my meat.”
“I’ll remind of you that the next time we’re in Iluoba when you refuse to share those voluptuous women.”
“That is different, you cannot ask me to rush that meat.”
Akinniyi hissed in mock disgust, cutting off some banana leaves with his cutlass. “Just tell us that you don’t know how to go about eating it, instead of pretending as if you do.”
Obembe was humiliated. “You don’t know my fame! Ask those women, they are always clamoring to be with me, because they know that I know how to deal with them.”
His two friends laughed.
“Women will be the death of you Obembe, you never know when to control yourself.” Akinniyi said, stooping down to gather the dead animal in the leaves.
“Everybody dies of something, if women kill me, then so be it.”
“What you need is a good woman,” Oyeleke said. “You need a good woman who can satisfy you all the time.”
“Be quiet! You of all people, satisfied with one woman?”
“I’m getting married to the king’s beautiful daughter, what else is left?”
Again they laughed.
“I’m different from you two. Even if I get tired of her, I can marry another worthy woman. I can no longer contend with you over smelly whores.”
“We know, we know, you don’t have to rub it in our faces!” Obembe replied unhappily.
As they walked out of the forest towards the town, Oyeleke heart soared. He would soon be marred to the most beautiful woman in the town.
Oyeleke and his friends were feasting on the bush rat which they had told the slave girls to roast and stew. His personal slave had also been sent to get the freshest palm-wine from Ige, his favorite palm wine tapper. They laughed as they reminisced on their last encounter at Iluoba where young men went to sow their oats and discover the heights of lasciviousness.
Obembe held one juicy piece of meat to his mouth “She begged me to stop but I said no, you said you would collect twenty cowries, I’ve only spent fifteen!”
They roared with laughter as Obembe began to cough violently.
“You talk too much!’ Akinniyi said, laughing at him and handing him a bowl of wine.
“It is the girl’s head that has come for you. You will suffer!” Oyeleke said, wiping the tears from his eyes.
“I hope you are enjoying yourselves.”
The men stopped laughing and looked up at Chief Oyemakin, the right hand man of the king.
Oyeleke set down his calabash and wiped his mouth.
The chief looked disdainfully at him, then turned to his friends.
“You are bastards! You’re eating and drinking in my house at this time of the day, when your peers are just returning from the farm?”
“Father, we worked hard to kill the bush rat, we even saved some for you. How do you like it? Stewed or roasted?”
“It will never be well with you!” the chief thundered.
Obembe and Akinniyi slunk away, each taking a piece of meat with them.
Oyeleke shook his head angrily and licked his fingers slowly.
“I’m standing here and you’re licking your fingers, you’re a disappointment. How I wish you were like me! How can you be here carousing at this time of the day when your mates are working hard to provide for their families?”
“I’m not my mates. I’m the son of a rich chef, I cannot struggle like a poor man. You should be happy that I know who I am.”
Oyemakin was furious, he wondered how he had gone wrong with this child who was unfortunately his firstborn and heir to all he had. What kind of future would his grandchildren have? Would his family’s wealth not be squandered by this irresponsible son of his?
“I pity Oyinade, she will be married to a man that can’t provide for his family.”
“You don’t have to worry about her needs. She’s the daughter of a king, we can never be poor!”
Seeing the futility of talking to his son, Oyemakin went inside the house.
Oyeleke’s sister was getting married a month later, it was the day that Oyinade and her friend had been waiting for. They were dressed in their best clothes, with the best-crafted beads adorning their necks, hands and wrists. Their hair was plaited in the flattering koroba style, and Oyinade’s hair fell down her round cheeks.
The Alayo dancers and singers were dancing energetically to the beat of the drums from Ayangade and his companions, their feet stomping on the brown earth, filing the air with dust. Young slave girls served hot akara, eko, moinmoin elekuru and oily pepper sauce. There was also steaming hot amala and abula served in earthenware plates, goats and chickens had been killed, and the palm wine was abundant. Oyemakin had proven his worth as the king’s right hand.
The guests were seated in a semicircle facing the chief’s compound, Oyinade was seated with the royal entourage on one side of the crowd, eating a piece of akara slowly, staring expressionlessly at the leaf the food had been wrapped in. She had dreamt of Iya Adigun the fourth time the previous night. The dream had been the same, she held out a calabash to her and told her “Come and see…!” What did the woman want her to see? Why did she want her to see it?
The king glanced at his daughter, wondering why she looked pensive. Her mother was chatting with her colleagues, biting into a piece of meat. He’d observed that their conversations had become irregular and most times stunted ever since the incident concerning the outcast woman. Had she held back something about her meeting with the woman? Was her present mood related to it? King Adegbite didn’t like feeing ignorant, he hated mysteries. He beckoned to his bodyguard and told him to order the dancers to begin a new song.
Oyinade told herself to forget about the mysterious woman and look for her friends and fiancé. Olabisi was being spoken to by her aunt, and Romoke was running errands for her mother. She wandered towards the side of the compound, hoping that she would find Oyeleke there. At the back of the compound, she found several people talking animatedly in clusters. She found him standing under an orange tree with a fair-skinned slave girl with an ample bosom, who was smiling and fiddling with her fingers. Oyeleke was gazing into her eyes, his shoulder leaning against the tree.
Oyinade found it difficult not to be suspicious of this posture between her fiancé and an attractive slave girl. As she approached them, the slave girl looked up, saw her and took a few steps back.
“My wife, the princess!” Oyeleke said, grinning widely, looking very happy to see her.
“I was looking for you…”
“I was looking for you too, that’s why I came here. And then I saw this slave, she was telling me that her friend said she wants to marry me. Can you imagine that?”
He laughed as she smiled uncomfortably.
“Don’t worry, I’ve told her that my heart is already taken by the beautiful princess of Iluope. No one can take your place, no matter what they imagine.”
He pinched her chin, looking at her longingly, completely ignoring the slave girl who stood behind him awkwardly.
“Whenever you wear this outfit, the colour of the leaves, you look even more royal. Let’s go back to the party, let me show you off to my friends.”
Oyinade smiled, Oyeleke always knew how to make her feel important. She marveled at how he had completely put the slave girl in her place, she thought it was a sign of respect.
Ajadi, the son of Ajanaku stood on the ire hill, looking down at the bonfire in front of Chief Oyemakin’s house. The night party of the wedding was in full swing, he could hear the sounds of the sekere, omele, and gangan drums. He saw the women dancing skilfully, and the palm wine being served. They were happy. He smiled cheerlessly at their ignorance, they rejoiced as if they had everything under control.
The weather was cold, and it was making him drowsy. He scratched the scar on his right cheek and took out his snuff from the pouch hanging on his neck and sniffed it. Warmth spread through his head and his eyes widened, forcing him to focus on his business on the hill.
He heard the crackling of dry leaves behind him but didn’t turn.
He cleared his throat. “You kept me waiting.”
“I was trying to…”
He turned swiftly and hit his visitor across the cheeks with a force that swept him off his feet. The man tried not to howl, it was bad enough that he had been slapped, expressing his pain would be even more humiliating. He held his face and rose up slowly. Ajadi was facing the party again, he started to laugh.
“Look at that woman with the ofi, the colour of blood. Who is she?”
“Atinuke, the daughter of…”
“I didn’t ask you about that, I only need to know her name. She is beautiful, I like her.”
“She is married.”
“I like her. I will have her.”
He started to chuckle slowly, scratching the scar on his cheek. He stopped laughing abruptly and turned to face his visitor. “Do you know the source yet?”
“No, not yet. But I’ve found someone who might know, but it will take time to get the person’s trust.”
“I will come again by the next full moon, see that you know it by then.”
And then he walked away, down the hill and towards the forest. The visitor sat down on the hill and held his head in his hands, wondering if he hadn’t gotten into more than he could handle.