“Let me make your hair.” Oyinade said to one of her maids one cool evening as they sat in the courtyard.
“That is forbidden princess, the queen will be furious if she sees you making my hair.”
“But I want to learn it, and how can I learn if you don’t let me practice?”
“But why do you want to learn it? You don’t need to.”
“I’m just interested in it. Please let me do it, my mother won’t come here.”
The maid sat down on the stool she got up from and she began to make her hair, weaving her hair into cornrows. Her hands wobbled as she struggled to keep the weave in a straight line. The maid behind her began to giggle, looking at the wobbly line she was making.
She eventually spoke up. “Princess! Please sit down!”
But Oyinade was not discouraged. “Keep laughing. I will soon be better than all of you.”
Suddenly Olabisi and Romoke came into the courtyard, snacking on bananas. The maids quickly got up and collected the comb from the princess.
“What is going on?” Romoke yelled. “Why is the princess making your hair?”
The maid stepped back in fear. “She’s the one who said she wanted to learn…”
“Learn what?” Romoke yelled.
“Romoke! Why are you shouting at her? I told her I want to learn…”
“Because I want to learn!”
“Is it a crime to learn?”
“It is a crime to let your slaves use you!”
“Calm down and stop shouting!”
“What is going on?”
The queen, Olori Folasewa came out into the courtyard, her royal beads jiggling on her large body. Her fair skin contrasted well with the royal blue asooke. she wore. Her hair, even longer than Oyinade’s was woven into a bun. Red royal beads adorned her head and her eyes were made up with tiro, the local eyeliner. She was plump but she carried herself well, her gait was firm, her aura was intimidating.
“Good evening Queen!”
The girls all got on their knees.
“I asked what was going on.”
Romoke spoke up and pointed at one of the slave girls. “We found the princess plaiting the slave’s hair.”
The queen’s eyes narrowed. “Is that so?”
“I am the one who asked her to sit. I wanted to learn how to make hair…”
“You wanted to learn what?” she turned to Romoke and Olabisi. “Go to your houses.” And to the slaves she said. “Go and wait for me beside the kitchen.”
The maids scuttled away, trembling with fear as the princess’s friends walked away. The queen sat down and faced her daughter who was still on her knees.
“How many times have I told you to act like a princess?”
“Mother, I only wanted to learn…”
The queen hissed. “You are too playful with your maids. They will take you for granted.”
“Keep quiet! Your father has spoilt you with his special attention! How dare you talk back at me?”
“Please do not be offended, mother.”
The queen stared at her daughter and wondered why she was so different from the other royal children. What was it that made this girl behave in such a contrary manner? Why couldn’t she act like the others? Why did she feel the need to stoop so low to the level of the commoners?
“You are too vulnerable and you’re not discerning! You are royalty, you can’t behave like other people. Not everyone loves you, they might smile and laugh with you but you never know who has ill intentions towards you. I’ve told you several times, be discerning! How could you let yourself serve a slave? Do you know the curses on her head? Do you know what sorrows you have infected yourself with because you touched her head?”
Oyinade stared at the ground and wondered why her mother was overreacting. What was so bad in her learning hairdressing? Why couldn’t she have a life like the others? Why did she need permission to learn, to communicate, and to make friends? She felt most happy when she was with the commoners and her maids, she didn’t feel the need to impress or be uptight. She laughed freely with the palm wine seller, played with the children and enjoyed telling them stories, and listened to the fables and parables of the maids. There was much to learn from these seemingly unimportant relationships.
“Tomorrow you will go with me to Iya Ajike’s house, we must go and wash your head again.”
Oyinade started to grumble.
“If I hear you say a single word, I will slap your head so hard that you will sleep all through the night! Know your place Oyinade, don’t bring disaster upon yourself.”
Iya Ajike scratched her grey head and stared down at Oyinade who was on her knees, then she began to chant some incantations.
“Bend your head.”
The old woman took a sharp razor and made a swift incision on the girl’s head. She winced but the woman held her head firmly and rubbed in a mixture that she had made in a small gourd.
“Every evil from your hands will not get to your head.”
“Amen,” The queen said, raising both hands in supplication.
“Your soul will escape from the plans of evil people.”
“Let your mind be at ease wife of the king, all is well now.”
“Thank you mother.”
“Before you leave, let me have a word with the princess. I want to give her some instructions and no other ear must hear it.”
The queen was suspicious but she got up and left the consulting room.
Oyinade shifted uncomfortably on her knees, wondering what this was about.
“Look at me. There is something on your mind.”
Oyinade stared at her hands.
“There is something going on in your mind, it is heavy and you don’t know how to say it.”
“There is nothing on my mind mother.”
“You’re telling a lie. All right, tell me about the dream.”
Oyinade looked up at her. How could she have known?
“It is I, Ajike, the creature with ten eyes, the eyes of the world. Tell me about the dream.”
Oyinade narrated the dream.
The woman smiled cryptically. “So when will you go and see her?”
“I should go and see her? But my father forbade me…”
“Your father knows nothing. He sees nothing. See that you heed the woman’s call, it is for your own good.”
Oyinade was confused.
“And when you do, don’t tell a soul. That is why I told your mother to leave us.”
“But how do I…?”
“Find a way to do it.”
The old woman turned away from her and started to cough.
Perplexed, Oyinade hurried out of the room. At the door the woman called her back, coughing violently, yet holding her hand out to prevent her from coming close.
“Don’t trust anyone!”
On the way home, the queen was silent, waiting for Oyinade to reveal the details of her meeting with the old woman. When they were a few yards away from the palace and it was obvious that she would say nothing, she told the guards to excuse them and faced her.
“What did she say?”
“She said I should beware of false friends.” The girl said as convincingly as possible.
“Do you now see that I was right all along?”
“Yes my mother.”
“I hope you will now listen. Iya Ajike knows what she’s saying. You must do whatever she told you to.”
The queen left her standing there and walked into the palace. Oyinade heaved a sigh.
Later that night, Oyinade was with her father. He was eating some peppered snails and had asked her to join him.
“I’m not hungry your majesty.”
The king stopped eating and observed her.
“What is the matter?”
“Did someone offend you?”
“No, your majesty.”
“Why are you not calling me father? Something is wrong with you. I am your father, tell me what is bothering you and I will take it out of the way.”
“Nothing is wrong my father, I’m just a little tired.”
“Is it Oyeleke?”
“No it is not.”
“So then what is it?”
The king washed his hand in the calabash of water nearby and wiped it on his cloth. Then, he set the plate aside and moved closer to his daughter.
“Oyin, the one who came and tuned around the fortune of my house. The one whose smile warms my heart and takes my sorrow away. Oyin, the one who has the heart of the king in her hand. Tell me what the matter is. Is there anything too hard for me to hear? Is there any problem I cannot solve? Talk to me!”
She sighed and pulled back her hair self-consciously.
“Father I’ve been having dreams.”
Don’t trust anyone! The old woman’s voice rang out in her mind.
“I dream of…”
Don’t trust anyone!
“I dream of… I dream of Oyeleke and I, I don’t know if he will treat me well.”
“Is this what is bothering you? I’ve told you not to bother about that! Look, he has no choice but to take care of you. If he does not, I will personally deal with him. I’ve told his father that you must be well taken care of. Don’t worry about it at all.”
“You will talk to him for me?”
“I will, don’t worry. Now will you eat with me? I told them to serve me more because I wanted you to join me.”
“All right I will eat some.”
“You don’t ever have to worry about anything, I am your father, nothing bad can happen to you.”
Two days later, when Oyinade stepped out of her chambers in the morning, the clouds were heavy and it was dark. She found her maids talking in hushed tones, hugging themselves in the windy atmosphere.
“Good morning. What is the matter? Why are you whispering?”
“We heard something.” One of them said.
“What did you hear?”
“Iya Ajike is dead…”
“They said she died in her sleep…”
“It has been windy since, what do you think is going to happen?”
Oyinade couldn’t respond, all she could think of was what the old woman had said.
Your father knows nothing. He sees nothing. See that you heed the woman’s call, it is for your own good.
“Princess, hope there is nothing wrong?”
Suddenly it began to rain, like hard pellets, hitting the skin painfully.
“Princess, get back inside!” One of the maids yelled. “This is no ordinary rain!”