“A Father’s Heart.”
Oyemakin discovered the slave girl. He had abandoned his bowl of porridge, suddenly aware of the cessation of the rain and anxious to see the king. He saw her head first as he stepped out of his hut and recognized that she had been the one who served his meal. Was she asleep? When he saw her rumpled wrapper and how still she was, he knew that she was dead. He stood still for a moment, wondering what had happened. Had she been struck down by lightning?
He touched her neck, her body was still warm. She had died not too long ago, just when the rain had stopped. He looked at the ground around her and observed that the earth had been disturbed, there had been a struggle. The girl had been killed by someone who had only just escaped.
Oyemakin rose to his feet and thought about what had happened and who was guilty of her death. He studied the ground and followed the footprints to Oyeleke’s hut. Shocked, he barged in and found him changing into a new pair of clothes.
“Oyeleke! Why? What did she do? Why did you kill her?”
Oyeleke pulled up his trouser slowly and stared expressionlessly at his father.
“If you lie to me, I will curse you and you will die disgracefully!”
Oyeleke averted his eyes and folded his hands behind his buttocks.
“What did she do to you?”
“It was a mistake my father, I didn’t intend to kill her. I don’t know how it happened…”
“Tell me exactly what happened.”
“I saw her going to the kitchen hut to prepare food… I don’t know, I suddenly felt like being intimate with her. So I… I went to ask her… I told her to follow me. She was supposed to follow me but she was very stubborn, she wouldn’t come and I really wanted to be intimate with her… I don’t know what how it happened, I dragged her out of the kitchen, she was screaming so I slapped her, and then she hit my head with a stone. I was angry, I was very angry… I grabbed her neck and… I strangled her to death…”
Oyemakin looked at his son with so much disappointment and anger.
“You have committed a punishable offence. She may have been a slave but you had no right to take her life.”
Oyeleke slumped to his knees and clasped his hands. “My father, please, don’t expose me!”
Oyemakin sat on the bamboo bed in the hut and held his head in hands. There was no way his son would escape death except they came up with a plan to exonerate him. Deep in his heart, Oyemakin knew that he should fulfill the requirements of the law and give up his son but he wasn’t so willing to let his first born and heir to his wealth be executed like an ordinary peasant. So he decided that a lie had to be fabricated a lie against the deceased.
“We will tell everyone that she stole your money and that you had charmed it. She died as a result.”
“What about this cut on my head?”
“You’ll say that you hit your head against the wall, that you were drunk. No one would doubt it because you’re always drinking.”
Oyeleke pursed his lips. “How did you know that it was me?”
“I followed your footprints here, because they were fresh. The rain should wash them away, so one would find them.”
“Take some money from your room and then go and put it in her wrapper. Do it quickly before someone sees you.”
Oyeleke returned shortly, panting and trembling with fear. His father took a charm from the pocket of his agbada and handed it to him.
“Go and put this in your bag of money, people might want proof.”
Oyeleke did as he was instructed while his father sat dejectedly on the bed.
“I don’t know how it is that you have chosen to live this irresponsible life, but I will no longer consider you as my heir. You are a child of sorrow and I have been patient enough with you.”
Oyeleke wanted to ask him what he meant but he was too aware of his father’s anger.
“Let me go back inside before anyone else comes out. No one must know that I know your part in this.”
Oyeleke got on his knees and held his father’s hand. “Thank you my father! Thank you!”
Oyemakin snatched his had away from his son’s and stomped out of the room. It was now apparent to him that he had to do something about his son’s irresponsibility before he destroyed everything he had worked so hard to build.
Another slave found the dead girl lying in the wet sand, a few minutes later. Her scream brought everyone out, they debated what had killed the girl and whether she had been an offering to the gods. It was hard to ignore the fact that a corpse had been found shortly after a three-day rain.
“Carry her away. We will call a priest to discover the cause of her death.” Oyemakin said, looking at the girl expressionlessly.
Two slaves lifted her off the ground, and as they did, the cowries which Oyeleke had stuck beneath the wrapper on her chest fell out.
“Where did she get it from?”
“She must have stolen!”
“Maybe she wanted to run away.”
The members of the household discussed this new development and concluded that the money was the cause of her death.
Oyemakin called for order and ordered the slaves carrying the girl to put her down. “Did anyone lose any money?”
“I did.” Oyeleke spoke up, playing his part in the plan his father had hatched. “I was looking for it not long ago. My friends gave me some money to keep and because I knew that it was a lot, I put a charm on it. I didn’t know that someone would steal it.”
Oyemakin shook his head sorrowfully. “Do you slaves see that it is bad to steal? Nobody can steal in my compound! If you do it, you will die like an animal. Take this girl away and bury her far away from here.”
As the slaves carried the girl away, Oyeleke looked at his father in awe. Not only had he completely removed any suspicion about the girl’s death, he had instilled fear into the slaves.
Oyinade could not stop thinking about what Iya Adigun had said. What worried her the most, was whether what she said was worth believing. She wondered why the woman had chosen her of all people to talk to about her plan, and also wondered if she was as powerful as she portrayed herself to be. What if her words were the mere ramblings of a deranged mind?
She needed answers, and as she sat on the mat in her father’s throne room and looked up at him intently, she decided to take a risk and see if her father could corroborate the woman’s claim.
“I have been having these bad dreams, I don’t remember them, but I sense that something bad is about to happen because some people are angry with this town.”
King Adegbite looked at his daughter in surprise, wondering when his daughter became so perceptive and concerned about the spiritual.
“Some people are angry with this town? Did anyone tell you this?”
He shifted in his seat. “And since when have you been having this dream?”
“Not too long ago.”
“Hmm, and this has nothing to do with the witch who lives close to the forest?”
“Who is the…? My father, this has nothing to do with her.”
“You haven’t been to her hut after my instruction?”
“No my father, I have not.”
“I think you need to get married and focus on other things…”
“Yes. If you were in your husband’s house and nursing a child or two, would you be worrying about the enemies of this town?”
“But I’m not ready to get married…”
“You will be ready, as it is, your mind is bearing burdens it has no business bearing.”
Oyinade became sad, this was not the answer she was expecting. The last thing she wanted was to get married and be trapped in her husband’s house, unable to seek the answers to the questions plaguing her mind.
“Come and see…!”
As Oyinade stared worriedly at the ground, she realized that she still hadn’t seen the contents of the calabash in Iya Adigun’s hands.
Oyemakin sat pensively beside the king as the other chiefs left the throne room. He was thinking about what had happened in his compound the previous day.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?”
He rubbed his face and sat up. “My Lord, I want to ask you something and I hope you will not consider me forward. You are the one that Eledumare has chosen to lead this land and I dare not presume to be wiser than you…”
The king chuckled. “Oyemakin! What is it you want to say that has your lips trembling like a leaf in the rain? You are my most trusted chief, speak freely. If I do not agree with you, then so be it.”
“All right then my Lord. I am grateful that you think so highly of me.” He shifted uncomfortably and adjusted his fila self-consciously.
“It is about your son, Oyeleke.”
“What about him?”
“I fear that he is being unstable, playful and irresponsible. But I believe that he will change once he is married. Responsibility will force him to remain focused. However, I know that we have already set a time for their wedding, so if these words I speak do not sound appealing to your ears, there is no problem. I will find another way to make sure that he is worthy of our beautiful princess.”
King Adegbite laughed and shook his irukere. “Oyemakin, there is a reason why you are my right hand man! You always know my mind!”
Oyeleke stared at the king, pleasantly surprised that he seemed to find the idea a good one.
“My Lord, you see no problem with my idea?”
“I do not Oyemakin. In fact it is as if my head whispered the idea to you. I have also been thinking of hastening the marriage our children. Oyinade is worrying about unnecessary things. I want them be married soon. How soon will you be ready?”
“Whenever you say my Lord. We are ready even if you say it is tomorrow.”
The king laughed. “All right, let it be in five days.”
“I cannot get married in the next five days. I’m not ready to be married.”
Oyeleke said to his father later that day after his father told him about the king’s decision. Oyemakin was reclining on his favorite wooden chair, fanning himself with his cap.
“You don’t have a choice. The king himself set the date and I will not go back and tell him that you don’t like his decision. You better tighten your trousers and prepare to be a man.”
“Why didn’t you discuss it with me first?”
“Discuss it with you first? It will never be well with you! Did you consult me before you killed that innocent girl? Are you so blind that you cannot see that I’m saving you from yourself? If I let you carry on like this, you will do something that will bring disrepute to my name.”
“I don’t need you to save me from anything!”
“Is that so?” Oyemakin said, rising from his chair.
“Yes, you should have let me handle things myself. I am no longer a boy, I don’t need your help”
Oyemakin shook with fury, it was hard enough to see that he had raised an irresponsible man, being scorned for trying his best to save an already bad situation was more than he could take. He lifted his hand to slap Oyeleke but the younger, agile man caught his hand.
Oyeleke looked at his father incredulously, holding on to his hand. “You want to slap my face?”
“Leave my hand if you don’t want me to destroy your life.”
“You can do nothing!” the son said, dangling his father’s hand for a while and then dropping it abruptly.
Oyemakin’s eyes widened. “You disrespect me in such a manner? You will not live long, and I will make sure that you live such a wretched life so that you would prefer to die miserably.”
Oyeleke laughed humorlessly and walked into the house. His father sat down on his wooden chair, shocked at his son’s audacity. There was a coldness to him that was new, and chilling. He got up and paced the area around his hut slowly, thinking to himself that his son now had the heart of a ruthless killer.
He said her name over and over again, thinking about the idea of his son’s marriage to her and persuading himself to believe that she would change him.