The worshippers of Alaogbaga were also excited at the news of Obi’s death. Everybody had been very scared of him when he was alive; he had terrorized the villagers so much that they dare not utter their displeasure in his presence. Obi had chosen to oppress everybody around him, even his friends. He got the most favor from the god because knew how to get whatever he wanted from it and they couldn’t really understand.
But he was gone now. And even though they still felt wary of each other, they believed they could handle the present situation. Anything was better than not having Obi around; a dead lion was still preferable to a barking dog.
They didn’t see his son as a threat; they believed they could deal with him. They believed he did not know much about the great god like his father knew and he would have to come to them for advice on how to please the god and get his favours. They knew that Obi had always wanted his son to be a strong member and was doing his best to ensure this, but what they really didn’t know was the extent Obi had gone in imbibing the ways of Alaogbaga.
But they intended to make him inferior; they wanted to get back at Obi through his son. The boy might think that he was just going to continue from where his father had stopped or that they would just give him his ways just as they had done to his father. Well, it was their strength against his. The first step, they decided, was to make him feel very threatened; perhaps this threat might subject Chika to step down from taking over his father’s mantle. They would see that he was a nobody. He was going to pay back all that his father had taken from them.
Chika had been very much eager for the morning to come, and when it finally came, he woke up very early, got himself psychologically ready and went into his poultry to pick the healthiest white cock. He was going to offer it as sacrifice to the great god.
Chika was very optimistic that the outcome of his mission was going to be good. He didn’t allow any negative thought to come into his mind because he could not afford to let his father down, he’d rather die than become a failure. If his father did it, he could do it, he thought. After all, wasn’t the same blood running through their veins?
The shrine was situated about two kilometers at the outskirts of the village. Although Durujians knew its location, they still seldom went anywhere near the shrine. They chose to avoid farming on lands close to the shrine, thereby leaving the surroundings of the shrine looking much unlike a forest. The children had already been warned not to even go towards that area because of the horrible stories told to them about the shrine. The only road that led to the shrine was a road track that was almost covered by bushes due to few foots threading on either sides of the path. And within a few rainy seasons, even the middle of the road would sprout shoots. The quietness of the track that led to the shrine made it even scarier for anyone who was not a worshipper to walk alone.
Chika was not even aware of how quiet the road was. Of course he had never been; all he cared about at that moment was how he was going to succeed in his mission. He got to the shrine. It was built entirely with raffia and bamboo sticks, not a single brick could be seen among its minute architecture. The shrine swayed to the right as if it was going to collapse but it had been in that position for over twenty years now and no breeze that had ever blown had ever been strong enough to bring down this little edifice. Chika believed that this was because the oracle resided therein; the oracle controlled not only the lives of the Durujians but also the Durujian elements. The two guards who usually stood at the entrance of the shrine were not present and Chika began to wonder if he had come too late. He wondered why the shrine looked so still and deserted and thought maybe the priest and his servants had gone into the forest to get some shrubs for ritual or even to perform some rituals there.
While he was still standing there in thought, one of the chief priests’ messengers came out of the shrine. He was a young man of about twenty years old. Chika was familiar with him; he was the younger of the priest’s messengers. He wore a piece of animal skin around his groins to cover up his genitals, there was white chalk painted all over his exposed upper body.
He didn’t look surprised seeing Chika at such an early hour. He took his normal position and said, “Good morning Mazi Chika, please sit down here, the chief priest will see you after his morning prayers.” His chalk-stained face was expressionless as he pointed towards a thick log of wood very close to him.
Chika was about to sit down after thanking the polite messenger when the chief priest spoke from inside the shrine in his husky voice. “Let him come inside, I will see him now.”
Chika quickly entered the shrine. It was a small room with an inner chamber. On the wall opposite him hung a black clay pot with palm fronds and other leaves shooting from the inside, these leaves were always fresh and Chika could not tell if they were changed every morning or were kept fresh by some magical means. The wall behind the pot was painted black and on the floor stood animal bones and strange materials lying carelessly. There were also smaller pots filled with some liquid substance and shrubs.
“Greetings, oh great one! The only one who has the power to see and hear from the great Alaogbaga, the god of our ancestors.”
“What is it that brings you out so early at this hour, son of Obi? The toad does not come out in the daytime for nothing.” the chief priest calmly said. He was a small man in his late forties. His eyes were wild with a white substance thickly painted around them. It was believed that the white substance made it possible for him to be able to behold the great god of destruction. Since the day he became the servant of the great god at the age of nineteen, the priest had never cut his hair, making him look wild and fearful. On his hair were three strange-looking feathers of which the source could not be determined. He walked around bare-footed and bare-chested, with a piece of animal skin around his waist. His body was painted with the same white chalky substance with beads of different sizes hanging down from his neck. The calling of the chief priest and his servants was a divine one.
“Oh great one, he who only can speak with the great god of destruction; he who is blessed by the god to see him. I come that I may be blessed by the great Alaogbaga.” Encouraged by the silence of the chief priest, Chika continued, “I come that I may receive the protection of my father from the great god. I pray that the blessing and honor that my father once received from the great god may also be granted me.”
There was silence for some minutes, it seemed like an hour to Chika. His head was bowed towards the black pot by the wall. The chief priest picked up some cowries on the floor, and began to communicate with something invisible. This seemed to be taking more time than Chika could bear. He wondered what was happening. Was the god rejecting his request? Had his father done anything that might have incurred the wrath of the great god, causing it to reject his son?
At last, the priest looked up at him; he stared at Chika sternly in the eyes and called him by his name. “Chika, the son of Obi.”
“The great one.” Chika answered immediately.
The chief priest repeated his name twice and asked him to come with him. They walked to the back of the shrine and Chika had the opportunity to see how it looked like for the first time.
Surrounding the shrine were clay pots similar to the ones inside and some wooden sculpture similar to the ones the village masquerades danced with. There was a small tent like a resting place for the priest and his servants just near the shrine building.
They walked into the tent and sat on a big log. There were some burnt wood indicating that the chief priest and his servants did their cookings here.
“There are lots of sacrifices you have to make before you can become as great as your father. I am sure he did not tell you some of the important ones he made to Alaogbaga.” The chief priest said.
“Great one,” Chika began, “You know the challenges that I have to face out there in the village now that my father is dead. It is a tug of war for me. Everybody thinks this is their opportunity to get back at my father through me. I am not willing to let either my father or myself down.
“You must be careful for what you desire son of Obi. Alaogbaga is ready to give you whatever you desire, but I doubt if you are capable of reciprocating his gestures.”
“I am!” Chika almost shouted. What was the chief priest thinking? That he left his house so early only to be doubted?
The chief priest stared at him for a long time then said, “Your father gave his life to Alaogbaga. Nobody in Duruji village had ever made the god such an offer and that was the reason Alaogbaga made him so great even…”
“His life?” What do you mean by giving his…”
“Be quiet and listen, young one. You must listen to me. Your father’s death was as a result of the covenant he had with the great god. Twelve years ago. Obi asked the god to make him greater than all his peers in Duruji village. Your father wanted to acquire everything and he asked that his life be taken from him after fifteen years in exchange for a wealthy and powerful life.” He kept silent for sometime allowing Chika to absorb the little he had said, then he continued, “The god refused to grant him his wishes, for the reason that fifteen years was too long, but he was later granted twelve years by the great god and after that he must die. This was accepted by your father and so a covenant was made.”
“But my father was always making sacrifices to the god; I thought his faithfulness bought the favor of the great god.”
“No, no,” the chief priest shook his head, “Those were the sacrifices required of him as a true worshipper. Offering libations to the god was his obligation. He was made great above all because of the life sacrifice he made. You see, nobody understood the story behind his greatness and even the story behind his death. He went to the grave with his secret.”
Chika was short of words, he sat quietly his face revealing obvious confusion, he was thoroughly amazed. So this was the reason why his father died such a strange death? This was beyond his expectation, he had never expected this. What was he to do now? Despite the fact that he desired such greatness as his father’s, even more, he didn’t think he was able to make such a life sacrifice.
The chief priest heard the sound of someone greeting and excused himself. Before he entered the shrine he said, “You can now see, the ball is in your court and for your information, there are men who are ready to do whatever it takes to be in your father’s position, they might not be as great as he was, but you will have to fight very hard to be able to contend with them.” Having said that, the chief priest left the confused Chika in a state of abject bewilderment.
Would he be able to take such a decision? Would he be bold enough to emulate his father? It was just too obvious that he wouldn’t be able to do it. He was still a young man for god’s sake! He had not even seen his first child yet. No, he would not allow his greed to make him give his life to Alaogbaga. But his mission still remained unaccomplished. Would he be able to face the intimidation, oppression and humiliation that would come his way? What should I do? He kept on asking himself.
By the time he looked up to the sky, he realized that it was almost mid-day; he didn’t know that he had spent almost the whole of the morning pondering over his problem. He decided to go home and think of another solution to the problem. He stood up and slowly walked out of the small shed. The chief priest was attending to somebody or people in the shrine. He asked the messenger to keep the rooster he had brought for the priest, and he was about calling on the priest to inform him that he was leaving when he discovered that the herbalist and his guests were coming out of the shrine.
The chief priest was with one of the prominent worshippers, Mazi Nduka. Nduka was one of the worshippers who wished by all means to take Obi’s place. He was in the same age grade with Mazi Obi. Nduka was a very large man with a strong sense of importance. He had always wanted to be as powerful as the Obis. Now that Obi was dead, he saw an opportunity to take his place and not even Obi’s son could stand on his way.
“Ah, Mazi Nduka, Good morning.” Chika greeted him. Then looking at the chief priest, he said, “Great one, I will have to go now, I will be back to see you in two days’ time. Please I pray the god accept my small gift, it is just a token to thank him for listening to me.” He was pointing to the white cock in the hands of the young messenger.
“I am also about to leave, maybe we should walk together. You know how close I was to your father; there are some issues I would like to discuss with you.”
“Alright, the two of you can walk together. I will have to go back to my shrine, may the god of our ancestors go with you.” The chief priest said and hurriedly walked back into his shrine.
Nkechi never anticipated that her husband was going to stay so long at the shrine. He had left so early without even taking his breakfast. She could not understand why he had to leave so early; after all, during papa’s days he never visited the shrine at such early hours of the morning even though she wasn’t always aware of his every visit to the shrine. She had taken her time to do her house chores, had even prepared his breakfast. A breakfast that must have gotten cold by now.
She loved her husband and she was very glad that she would soon be having a baby for him. Nkechi wished that she would be able to provide him a son because this would go a long way in increasing her status among the Obis.
Now she was sitting in front of her house on a wooden stool as she waited for her husband.
Then she once again allowed herself to ponder over the problem at hand. It would be a big let-down if the name of the family suddenly went down; she would be the laughing stock of all the women in the village. What was her husband up to to save this situation? Would the god accept him as his father was accepted? And now that he had stayed so long, she couldn’t wait to know what would become of the family’s new status. She hoped that the news would not be negative because that would spell doom for them all.
She looked up and saw her husband’s younger brother coming from the narrow street that led to the house. He was holding a short thick stick in his right hand and a big grasscutter on his left hand. Chima was not really bothered about power and riches nor was he interested in safeguarding his father’s ill-gotten wealth, he preferred living a simple and easy-going life. Oppressing others was not his style. He was just nineteen and wasn’t prepared to make enemies like his father and brother had been successful at doing. He had tried so many times to beg his greedy brother to forget all about this whole power-tussle and lead a more honorable life now that their father was dead. He tried explaining to him that the fact that he was a worshipper was enough instead of going further to take away from people the little they had.
“You mustn’t take other people’s belongings and instigate fear in them before they accord you respect; respect is earned and not enforced.” He has said this to Chika, his elder brother.
“Are you telling me to close my eyes, fold my hands and allow our enemies to take from us all that our father had acquired? Are you not happy with all the plots of land, trees and properties that father had acquired for us? Now tell me, how do you want to earn respect by being a weakling and a coward like Mazi Madu and the others? Look boy, if you don‘t like respect and power I don’t know what else you are living for. As for me, they are the only essence of living and I must achieve them.”
The look in Chika’s eyes had made Chima realize that his brother was not ready to listen to him or change his mind, so he gave up and allowed him to do whatever he liked.
Now, as he approached the house, and seeing his brother’s wife sitting all alone, he guessed that his brother had not yet returned from the shrine.
“You are welcome.” she greeted him.
“Is my brother not yet back from the shrine?”
“No, in fact, that is what I have been wondering, don’t you think it would be better if you go searching for him?”
“What for? I don’t see any reason for that, Chika knows his way back home and he can take good care of himself. That, you are sure of.” He was just about to leave her and enter the house when something occurred to him. Perhaps he could persuade Nkechi to talk to her husband about his greed.
“Please, Nkechi, I beg you to ask your husband to forget about this whole desire for power. We won’t die if the whole villagers come and take all that is theirs from us. Look at all that papa had acquired, they are all still lying here while he is rotting away in the grave, where are we going with all these things, making enemies across the whole village.”
“But your father left all these things for you,” she sharply replied. “Just look at you, are you not supposed to join forces with your brother and be the greatest men in Duruji? What legacy do you want to leave for your children when you die?”
“A good name is what I want to leave behind for them and that is better than land, trees and cattle that will end up leaving my children at the mercy of the enemies I make while acquiring them just like papa had done. All that I am trying to say is that my brother already has the protection of the great god and with that he should be okay. Going extra miles to be like papa will require extra sacrifices, have you really given a thought to what the extra mile might be?”
“I don’t think that there is anything my husband is not capable of handling. If your father did it my husband will, he is the true son of Obi, sometimes I wonder if you are truly his son. Well, it is my duty as a wife to help my husband be what he has been destined to become and I won’t let him put the family name to shame.” She firmly replied.
“Alright, I think I have said enough, the two of you should do whatever you think is right. As for me, I am not interested in such greedy venture.” He quickly left her to prepare his meat before she could say another word.
Nduka and Chika were moving at a snail’s pace. This was what Nduka wanted; he wanted to use this opportunity to sow seeds of fear and doubt in the younger man’s mind with words of intimidation. The narrow and quiet road provided a suitable atmosphere for him to relay his information effectively.
“Eh…I am really sorry that I had not been able to see you since your father was buried. I’d wanted the chance to have a one-on-one chat with you. There were some problems at home that had really kept me very busy. In fact, that is the reason why I suggested that we should walk back home together.” Nduka started.
Chika did not respond to the older man’s apology, he didn’t think that the apology was necessary.
Nduka continued, “I want you to be strong. As you know, your father was a very strong man; he was a very brave man and was well-respected in Duruji. I know that what he expects from you from wherever he is is that you should continue from where he stopped. May his humble soul rest in peace.”
Chika was beginning to get angry. Although he couldn’t detect any trace of sarcasm in Nduka’s voice, Chika knew the man was mocking his dead father, but he tried to curb his anger and still remained calm as he listened to the older man.
“It won’t be fair to your late father if I fail to guide you, especially in anything that has to do with Alaogbaga. You know that the great god can be very unpredictable, you must be very careful not to step on the wrong toes, follow our footsteps and learn from us, I promise to lead you past anything that might be confusing to you, we your elders will lead you.”
Chika was now really provoked. What was all this? He thought. What was this old fool telling him?
“I am sorry, Mazi Nduka. I don‘t think I will be in need of your advice or guidance. In this struggle for power, everyone is on his own, I am sure you have children that you can guide and advice. My father did his homework before he died. I will do whatever I want, I can get whatever advice I need from the chief priest, I am sure he will put me through,”
This boy won’t be easy to handle, Nduka thought, he was just like his father, but he won’t stand the young man talking to him like that.
“Young man, you mustn’t think that I am here to struggle for power with you, it’s a pity that your father left you thinking that Duruji is a war zone. However, you must realize that he is no more around to protect you and you are all alone, you are no more what you used to be.”
“Are you trying to intimidate me or what? You want to make me scared and vulnerable so that you can pounce on me?” he smiled, “Well, for your information, that won’t work out for you; I am the true son of my father.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Nduka defended himself, but continued his threat, “You must be loyal to us, I want you to realize that before you were born, we have been the worshippers of Alaogbaga. We have seen it destroy properties and kill people, we know what it is capable of doing, and we know it much better than you do. Don’t go thinking that you are just going to inherit your father’s position, because that will be a big mistake for you. You will have to earn its favor and that is the reason why you must follow our lead.” Nduka was getting frustrated, the young man was pushing him further than he wanted, trying to make him come out openly with his threat.
Chika didn’t even display a sign that he was feeling intimidated, “Well, thank you for your concern, you just don’t worry about how I fare even without my father, I can take care of myself. But one thing you should know is that I can never let my father down, my father’s position will never slip me by, I know what I am doing. I am not weak; you will see my strength, just watch out for it.” He concluded confidently.
Nduka was surprised at how Chika was talking. This boy was surely not weak, he thought. He had underestimated him. Then he must open up to him if that was what he wanted. “Well, that is by the way. There is something important that I will like to discuss with you. Emmm…the big plot of land, I mean the one close to Maduka’s big iroko tree your father claimed to be his is not really his. Actually, my grandfather gave it to your grandfather to use for some time and it is time I take it back.”
“What piece of land? I don’t understand; my father did not mention anything like that to me.” Chika wasn’t expecting this sudden change of topic.
“Well I am letting you know now. I intend to farm on that piece of land on the next farming season, I just thought you should know.”
Chika felt a sense of fear; he felt a bitter taste in his mouth. How was he going to handle this man? “Mazi Nduka, you should have discussed this with my father when he was alive, you don’t just expect me to hand over our land to you just like that. By the way, what proof do you have to back up your claim?” Chika said, trying to sound more courageous than he felt inside.
“I don’t have to prove anything to you boy; you don’t expect an old man like me to lie to you. I really wanted to discuss it with your father, but I never knew he was going to die such a sudden death.” Mazi Nduka noticed that the discussion was really getting at Chika, he smiled and continued, “Don’t let this cause a quarrel between the two of us; I am just collecting what is simply mine, so I expect you to show maturity in this matter.”
Chika was shocked; He was dumbfounded, and before he could recover himself, Nduka gently said, “There are things you don’t know, young man. Don’t let your ignorance make you believe you are fit enough to drag this land with me, just simply and peacefully let go of it, it is not yours, it is mine.”
“I won’t do that! I will never allow you to have that land; it is my father’s. Mazi Nduka, you seem to have forgotten whose ground you are threading on. You really surprise me, how do you expect that I will let you come into the Obi’s family and take anything you want? You better forget that land for your own good.” He started walking faster; he didn’t feel like talking to the old man anymore.
Mazi Nduka couldn’t walk fast enough to meet up with him, so he allowed him to go ahead. But before Chika could double the distance, he said loud enough for him to hear, “I will like you to go and think about this discussion and do what you are supposed to do. But don’t force me to coerce you into giving me the land; you won’t like the scene, I tell you.”
This was too much for Chika, but he remained silent. He was now sure that life was going to be miserable for him if he continued like this. All he wanted to do right now was to get home and do some deep thinkings while he rested.
Nkechi was just coming out of the house when she looked up and saw her husband coming. She waited for him to get to the house before welcoming him home. The look on his face wasn’t encouraging; this made her heart skip a little bit. But she knew that that was not a good time to inquire anything from him. She hurriedly got his food ready.
Chika didn’t want to tell his wife what the chief priest had disclosed to him about his father. He wasn’t going to let anybody know about it, not even his brother. After taking his lunch he lay down on his bed that was made of wood, grass and sack, and allowed himself to go through the day’s event. The scene he just had with Mazi Nduka had made him make up his mind. He will go back to the shrine and do the same thing his father did twelve years ago. He prayed that he would be able to have the courage to do it. But he decided that death was better than the humiliation that awaited him.
Later in the evening, after Chika had rested well enough, Nkechi gently walked up to him, pulled a little stool closer, sat on it and in a cool feminine voice asked, “My dear husband, you don’t look like you had a nice outing today, may I please know what it is that is bothering you?”
Although Chika didn’t intend telling his wife the outcome of his meeting with the chief priest, he was surely going to tell her about the confrontation he had with Mazi Nduka. He quickly told her what happened between the two of them and his reaction.
“I wonder who is going to come next and what next they are going to demand from us?” Nkechi cried, not understanding why her husband chose to avoid telling her of his meeting with the chief priest, but she felt he was saving that for the last. She began to sob, “Oh! I feel like just running and running, just until I get out of this environment. They want to kill us, just like they killed papa, they want to take away from us all that papa had suffered for, my husband…”
“It is alright, I don’t want you to get yourself upset. It’s okay, you know you are pregnant and the baby doesn’t need you getting upset.”
“Am I going to bring a child into this cruel world? Just to face all these oppression? How would it survive? All the women in this village are ready to pounce on me and devour me, they feel I’m not worthy of voicing out my opinion any longer.”
“I really will like to relax right now; I have a lot to think about. But I promise you that I will take care of everything, I have another appointment with the chief priest. Then we will settle it all with the great god of my father, my father’s god will not let me down.”
“But what was the outcome of your meeting with him today?”
“The chief priest said that I should come back in two days’ time, he said that I should give him time to talk things over with Alaogbaga on my behalf, he promised me that all would be fine.”
“I pray that the god will favor you as it did to papa.” Then she remembered her discussion with Chima. “Chima was trying to convince me that we should allow our enemies take all they want from us.”
“You know that he is still a very young man, he doesn’t understand what it means for a fellow man to take all you have from you, by the time he gets married and starts having kids, he will realize how important all these things are.”
“Don’t you think that it is better that you convince him to join you in the struggle? You will be a stronger force if the two of you are into this together.”
“No, let him be, I don’t think he is capable or will ever be strong enough to face those cruel men out there. Moreover, I don’t intend to share papa’s properties equally with him, I don’t want him telling me that we fought for it all together. We will soon be having our kids, you know? Just let him be.”
After some time Nkechi asked her husband for permission to take her leave and while Chika was once again left alone, he started to think again. He would ask the chief priest to tell the god to give him more years than it gave his father, maybe three more years, but what would happen to his children if he died? He thought. No, there was no need for that now; when the time came he would take care of everything.
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