It rained heavily for three consecutive days, the clouds remained dark and heavy. No one could go to their farms, and everyone watched from their doors how the rain was slowly becoming a flood. If it rained for one more day, the rain would seep into their houses. The atmosphere in Iluope was tense, Iya Ajike had been a powerful woman but no one expected that her death would bring about such an occurrence. Was there more to her death, were the gods revealing their anger against the people of the land, had something terrible been unleashed by her passing because she longer protected the land?
King Adegbite paced the floor of his bedchamber, worried about what was happening in his land. The chiefs hadn’t come to the palace but he knew that it was only a matter of time before they braved the rain and came to ask him what he intended to do about it. The king didn’t want this, Oyemakin, always the cautious one would likely suggest that they consult the oracle and he would have no choice but to do so. But consulting the oracle could bring trouble, trouble that he hadn’t thought of in a long time.
He sighed, sat on his raffia bed held up by strong bamboo sticks and stared at the hole in the ground that he alone knew existed. Beside him, beneath the ground was the gourd of life, his most powerful fortification. Iya Ajike had given it to him after his coronation twenty-five years ago.
“It holds all the answers you seek, but you may only use it thrice in your lifetime. If you use it a fourth time, it is death. Save it for serious problems.”
He had used it three times already, but he was still to keep it.
“I do not wish this for you but there are times when a king has no choice but to do a hard thing.”
“What is the thing?” he had asked.
“You will know, if the time ever comes.”
He looked away from the hole and held his head in his hands. A lot had happened between him and the old woman, secrets too heavy for anyone else to hear. If the oracle revealed some of these secrets, he knew that it would be the end of him. He was certain that this continuous rain was from her, a sign of her displeasure in him.
“Iya Ajike, why can’t you just let bygones be bygones?”
Oyemakin looked out of his window at the rain, something was not right, he could feel it in his bones and on his skin. There were forces at work, forces that were trying to communicate their anger to the people. He had to go to the king and talk to him about consulting the oracle but the rain was too heavy.
Behind him he heard someone shuffling into the room. His first wife, Ayanfe, plump and no longer as beautiful as she used to be hobbled into the room, favoring her bad hip. He looked away from her and back into the heavy clouds.
“My husband, how many times are you going to stare out of the window? Is there something you’re looking for?”
“What do you want?”
“I came to ask if we should bring your food.”
“What did you cook?”
“Serve me a little.”
She returned with a slave girl shortly after, who placed the food in a corner of the room and quickly departed. Ayanfe remained, looking worriedly at her husband.
“What else do you want?” Oyemakin asked, feeling her presence in the room.
“What is the matter?”
Oyemakin said nothing for a while.
“I am suspicious of this rain and I want to talk to Kabiyesi about it.”
“My husband, why are you so concerned about this rain? There is nothing to it…”
“It has rained heavily for three whole days, right after the death of Iya Ajike, and you don’t think anything is wrong?”
Ayanfe turned her hands inside out, signifying her confusion about the matter.
Her husband turned back to look at the clouds. “It is all right, bring my food.”
Oyinade hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Iya Adigun who her father had forbade her from seeing. She tossed and turned in her sleep, thinking about what she had said.
See that you heed the woman’s call, it is for your own good.
It was mid-afternoon, and the palace, as well as the rest of the land was quiet. Everyone had been forced to stay in their houses. Oyinade realized that an opportunity had presented itself, for her to see the woman unhindered by the guards or observing eyes. Her maids had gone to their hut after serving her food. Her mind made up, she grabbed her ipele and walked towards the forest.
At the entrance to Iya Adigun’s hut, she stood, shivering and drenched. The woman’s door was closed. What if she didn’t let her in? Just as she was about to turn away after standing nervously on the same spot for a while, the door opened and the woman beckoned at her.
Inside the hut, Oyinade was relieved that it was warm, yet she was nervous and uncomfortable wondering what the woman might do to her.
Iya Adigun sat on a mat and picked up her bowl of eko and akara. “You have come again.”
“Yes, our mother.”
Oyinade was still shivering, she wiped her face with her wet ipele and wondered if the woman wouldn’t ask her to sit down.
“Why have you come?”
“Iya Ajike told me to.”
The woman stopped eating and looked at her.
“She told you this? When?”
“Two days before she died. She said it was important for me to heed your call.”
“And what do you think about that?”
“I don’t have any thoughts about it… I just want to obey her.”
The woman continued to eat, then stopped to throw a brown and red aso ofi at her and finished her food. Setting the bowl aside, she wiped her hand on her wrapper and looked squarely at her visitor.
“Your father has done so much evil and the land must pay for it.”
Oyeleke was unhappy, he had been trapped in the house for the last three days. He missed his friends and their adventures, and he missed going to the palace. In his house, his father constantly nagged him about his inactivity and predicted a bleak future for him.
“Laziness will kill you! Why can’t you work with your hands like the other young men?” His father had said to him earlier in the day.
“My father, I am not like every other young man. I am the son of Chief Oyemakin, the most influential chief in this region. Why do I have to toil like other people?”
“You show yourself to be a responsible man!”
“So that I can impress who?”
“You don’t have to impress anyone. Do it, because it is what a well brought up child would do. Do it for your own pride as a man.”
“I am proud of who I am.”
Oyemakin shook his head sadly, wondering where he had done wrong in bringing up this boy.
“Get out of my sight. You are a child of sorrow.”
“But I am still your child, there is nothing you can do about that.”
As he stared outside at the rain, he saw one of the slave girls running towards the kitchen hut. She was probably going to get something for his father to eat. She was one of the new ones that Chief Akinrinade, Olabisi’s father had brought home from the war with the people of Igboadun. She had a small body but her curves protruded from her body like a well carved pot. Her skin was dark, and her hair short.
As she moved in and out of the kitchen hut to do the bidding of whoever had sent her, an idea occurred in his mind. He had been standing in his room, looking forlornly at the pouring rain, bored and frustrated, yet here was an opportunity to embark on a thrilling adventure with the slave girl in the rain. Warmth spread across his groin as the idea began to take shape.
Excitement pumping through his veins, Oyeleke got out of his hut and ran towards the kitchen hut, which was at the back of Oyemakin’s compound. He peeked into the hut and saw the slave girl stirring the soup pot.
“Ssss….” He called out to her.
The girl jumped, startled that there was someone else out in the rain.
“Good day.” she curtseyed.
Oyeleke watched a drop of rain water slide from her short curly hair, down her neck, on to the space between her breasts and down into her wrapper. He licked his lips and stared mesmerized at her.
The slave girl saw the way Oyeleke was looking at her and it repulsed her. She had always considered him with distaste, he was lazy, arrogant, and rude to everyone. She’d avoided him so far, running errands for his mother and working in places where he would not be. Yet here he was looking at her with so much longing. He was so different from her deceased older brother who had been a pillar of strength to her widowed mother and her siblings. Odewale had easily stepped into his father’s shoes, working hard to make sure that they lacked nothing and that their family heritage was kept away from envious hands. He was dead now, killed by the warriors from Iluope in almost the same spot where his father had collapsed, after a heart attack two years before.
“Did you want me to serve you some food?” She asked with slight disdain.
“Yes, I want food, but not the kind you are talking about…”
“What kind my Lord? We have prepared yam porridge, do you want pounded yam?”
Oyeleke laughed hysterically, he liked this girl and the game he was playing with her. He could tell that she not only knew what he wanted but was being willfully uncooperative. He liked girls like her, ones who played hard to get.
“Why don’t you come with me into my room and see the kind of food I’m talking about.”
“I am not allowed to go into the rooms of the princes and princesses.”
“Who told you you’re not allowed?”
“My mother? She’s not here, so why don’t you come?”
“Don’t be offended, I cannot go into your room.”
Oyeleke stopped being amused, the girl looked serious.
“All right, I am giving you an order. Go into my room.”
She folded her arms defiantly. “My Lord I am sorry, I cannot disobey our mother.”
Oyeleke couldn’t believe his ears, he wondered at the effrontery of the girl and stared at her.
“I am ordering you to go into my room.”
She looked away from him. “I cannot go.”
Oyeleke looked out of the kitchen in bewilderment, overwhelmed by confusion and anger. And then he thought to himself, why go into the room, when he could take her right there in the bushes where they would be uninterrupted in the rain? Suddenly, he grabbed her and pulled her out of the kitchen.
The girl didn’t know where he was taking her to but she knew that wherever it was, she would be defiled in a most violent manner. She had suffered so much injustice, her father and two of her brothers had been killed, she had been taken captive and she had no idea about the whereabouts of her mother and her three sisters. To think that she would now be defiled by her master’s son and become a person of reproach was too much for her to bear. She fought with Oyeleke, pressing her feet into the ground, and refusing to be dragged away.
“Help me! Help me!” she screamed, hoping that someone could hear her above the sound of the heavy rain.
Oyeleke couldn’t believe the strength of the girl, she trashed about, and refused to move her feet. She was screaming, it wasn’t good for him, someone could come out and spoil his fun. He hit her face hard and she fell to her knees, holding her face and howling in pain.
“I will taste this thing you don’t want me to eat. You have no choice, you’re a worthless slave, and I can do whatever I want with you.”
The girl had grabbed a stone on the ground, and as he grabbed her arm and looked around to make sure that no one was watching, she struck his head with it. Oyeleke was stunned, then angry, then furious. He hit her face one more time and pounced on her, grabbing her neck and strangling her. She hit his arms, scratching him and throwing her legs in the air.
“Who do you think you are? What do you have? What do you have that I have not tasted? Do you know how much I will give you if you’re good to me? Hmm?”
He cursed her all the way to her great grandfathers, blood dripping down his forehead and annoying him all the more. He didn’t notice that the girl had stopped fighting until he realized that the rain was suddenly reducing. The girl lay limp, her eyes looked defiant, and her wrapper had come up to the middle of her thighs.
“I’ve killed someone!”
Oyeleke got up quickly and looked down at her. What had come over him? The rain was gradually reducing, and soon someone would come out. He hastened towards his hut and closed the door.
Iya Adigun suddenly stopped talking.
“Something has happened. You must leave now before they find out that you’re here. But remember to come back, you have been kind to me, so I will tell you how to escape what is coming.”
“All right our mother…”
Oyinade hurried back to the palace, changed her clothes and lay on her mat and wondered what evil her father could have done as the rain reduced to a drizzle.