“What brings you here?” Dibia Njo asked sternly. His puffy eyes shone fixedly at me as I fidgeted there at the entrance. Priests that head shrines are known for their scary eyes. I was careful to avoid his which gazed at one, always bloodshot.
“Take off your sandals,” he charged.
“Have you been defiled by a man?”
“Ever witnessed live birth?”
“Hope you’re clean?”
Those were Njo’s unending questions thrown quickly at me, I kept stammering, but yet replied without wasting ample seconds.
“Hope you’re clean young woman?” he asked again thunderously. I saw beads of sweat trickle down his forehead and washed the white curved lines marked at the eye bags with white chalk, the drops further created straight lines of faded white marks down his cheeks.
“I’m not clean sir.”
“Step out,” he ordered and rose to get something behind his altar of the gods. After a minute outside his shrine, he called me back in.
We talked at length about my visit, after which he equipped me with enough guide to run what would come in the future.
He was the oldest man in my village and had witnessed the birth of every man alive in this village. I was only thirteen at the time I paid him that visit, my first time too since I saw my sacredness; a young woman’s first blood.
Okobi, my peaceful village is renowned for her rich supply of palm products. Scattered all over the several farm lands are tall palm trees bearing heads of palm fruits and green branches dangling freely from their stalks. These trees were more like aesthetic displays. We sold these products majorly for survival and a good number of us lived above the poverty line.
The peaceful serenity has been long maintained, until a group of men dressed in English wears entered the remote village. They came on a white van which first pulled at the village square. Okoro, the man that strikes the gong first saw this large vehicle and ran to inform the rest of the villagers until it eventually reached Chief Kobiowoh, the headman. The only chief with the highest number of wives, about eight of them.
After negotiating with the men, it was discovered that they understood Igbo perfectly and spoke well too. We were all convinced they came in good minds.
“We are African-Americans,” the four men introduced.
Two of them were well built with full hairs. Black hair and scanty white beards.
“Here is my twin brother James. I’m John,” the presumed older one had introduced.
The shorter of twins is usually considered to have come out first from the mother’s womb. It is believed that twin babies who get out of their mother’s womb first are usually uglier and do not get as tall as the second. It is claimed that this is due to their closer position to the birth canal. The twin men here proved that claim to an extent.
The other two men looked differently and shaved their heads bald. Matt and Kelvin. Very dark skinned with well-set dentition. Matt’s was yellow with gap between the incisors in the lower jaw. The two might presumably be of Fanti descent from Ghana. Good looking with well built muscles and the close to coal colour.
Chief Kobiowoh directed them to the guest house in his compound and asked his wives to give them good treats.
The women of Kobiowoh worked with great effort to make those men get settled just like he directed. He was a man that loved business with foreigners due to the higher value their currencies bear. He loved Okobi people as well, enough to boost their yearly sales of palm output especially the red oil which sold most.
Roughly one week after I visited Njo the chief priest, his death news came. A day after the strangers got to our land too. As it should, the news spread like wildfire and eventually got to my household where I lived with my mother and two brothers.
Mama Zel approached me that evening with a different appearance, it was a heartlifting and rather joyful news to us than to the rest of the villagers. Njo was my father and Mama’s archenemy, per se.
Just as strange as it appeared, Njo, the spiritual man, had raped her in her younger age of fifteen which led to Mama’s early marriage the same year. As feeble as he looked, with wrinkles and tough cracked skin, he climbed Mama Zeluwa. As much as I hated to frequently imagine that rape scene, it seemed necessary in a way. I imagined his then aged phallus, which should supposedly be rudiment, but was rather his weapon of perpetuating evil. It was the same periling snake he’d used on five other women after Mama. I was waxing in hate and bitterness. He devoured young girls that have known no man, putting them at risks of early marriage to cover any pregnancy that might ensue.
The way Mama was given to my stepfather, Igbanri. Njo’s bones were rigid and didn’t tremble even at his old age. I remembered his sturdy skeleton which I felt on that day as we shook hands. I remembered the way he flashed his fearful eyes at me, quivering rapidly in both directions.
“Mama.” I got back to the moment.
I observed she’d been there for a while oblivious to me. She’d stood hands akimbo.
“What did your father say on that day?”
“You know I don’t like talks about Njo” I snarled. It was my turn to fold my hands under my chest, my pea-sized breasts gave enough room to view my slender fingers from above, gently lapping by the sides of the opposite arms.
“You dare not!” Mama slammed whilst slapping my hands down. After murmuring words I didn’t let her understand, I placed those hands back and returned them straight back immediately whilst frowning and pursing my full lips. I thought about resting my weight on the right leg, the right hips became more visible, protruding well in the gown I wore. Mama liked it when we assume a straight soldier position each time she questioned us on very important issues like the present. Although that of Njo was unsolicited. To her, it showed a sense of superiority and authority over we her children. She told us how she dreaded letting us slip out of her palms due to bad demeanours or painting her name in the mud. It entailed attitudes like fighting, disobedience to elders, crooking and most specifically for me, staying so long in the farm to fetch firewood. Mama believed it is an avenue to defile oneself since bushes are lonely and hideous.
“Do not bring me the shame of being deflowered in a bush by these village boys, you’ll marry an educated man from the English man’s land,” were Mama’s resounding words to me.
It was the same evening that Ikemba had used his fingers to do something on me, in the same bush Mama talked about.
“Do you know that if you keep your virginity, I would be sure of monetary gifts for raising you well. Ị marọ?” she’d proposed.
Yet I had shed the blood of defiance. I knew I had to source means to replenish her enough for the treasure I had lost.
“Ị fụlụ gị bụ nwa?” Mama warned as she pulled my ears while I feigned and winced in pains. That meant discipline to her. For Zeluwa and Aham, my younger brothers, she flogged them on their buttocks and prefers my ears instead to avoid destroying ‘anything’.
When I first asked her what ‘anything’ meant, she was reluctant to tell me and eventually did not. I was only eleven then and it was in the same year that Ikemba put his fingers on ‘anything’. It was the price for my curiosity; afterwards I guarded ‘anything’ differently. The next year, it was his organs on ‘anything’ in a more fierce and painful way.
When I got freed of Mama’s grip, I ran out of our little compound to escape from that temporary discipline. I scurried to Njo’s compound to witness his burial. I watched the younger men lower his wrapped body in the ground while the elders stood in group of threes chanting rites to send the evil man to our ancestors. Ancestors were principled men that had legal wives and children. Honest men too that aged well. Njo had only aged well, he wasn’t an ancestral figure. I observed his bulging stomach from the white clothe he was wrapped in. He was stiff and straight and of course cold. The protruding stomach signified a bad death mostly caused by food poisoning. I wondered if those that prepared his body saw his mutilated penis too.
Just then I felt someone nudge me roughly. It was Mama Zel, summoning me to a corner where she whispered news to me; that which had landed me in a quite controversial position. I was to be conferred the new chief priestess to replace Njo.
The young Dibịa.
Eight years on seat as the eye of the gods, nothing seemed different until the English men arrived with their offer. The four men in English wears that understood Igbo. The calabash of fire by my sides were already smoldering and made my eyes wet with tears. With the back of my hands, I wiped my face and pushed the calabash away.
“Take off your sandals!” I struggled to say with blurred vision and still wet eyes. “Shoes,” I stammered again.
Those were the kind of shoes I saw in Papa Chibunna’s house, he was a land surveyor and had been overseas in the past. If I had a father like him to imitate in the quest for knowledge and education, I wouldn’t have been chosen by the people of Okobi to replace Dibịa Njo in the shrine of the village.
“We hear you can hold the skies from bringing rain,” the one with gap in his teeth spoke.
“Yes black man, it comes with a price,” I replied in smiles. He gave me a repulsive look, with his head slanting by his left side. The red and white marks on my face must have looked badly, coupled with the mouth smell and days without baths. I felt embarrassed.
It was traditional that the last to set eyes on a dibịa before his demise assumes his role. It just had to be me; aged twenty-two with only Ikemba as my defiler.
“Join us to make Okobi sterile, we want these lands dried up,” James said.
I stood and hid behind the altar of gods the way Njo did it in his time. I heard them murmur in a different language after my exit. Those news were the most exciting I wanted at that time. A good chance as well to revenge on Kobiowoh and the people of Okobi.
I returned to the meeting and walked towards James, the man that gave the offer. I dragged my long black gown along as it swept the mud floor of the shrine place of Okobi. My abode since my swearing in and the home I was forced to remain in. The cruel process of becoming a dibịa was better forgotten by accident than imagined. The cane whips, catching live bees and most inhumane, the walking on hot coals. It was the same process for males and females alike. As much as I prayed freedom, I still woke each morning to face lonely days. Days that sprung to years of loyalty to a people of common faculty.
I needed to get good air but not until I had planted the seeds of my bitterness in their lands. These angels here dragged that opportunity right to my living place where my own people hardly every visited.
“I was fourteen when I got confined to this cage. I poisoned Njo my predecessor and it gladdened me when I heard his bad death,” I was careful not to mention how I’d stabbed him in the groins and abandoned him in his helplessness.
“If I hold this rain for ten new moons, you’ll get me out of here,” I conditioned while I looked up at every corner of the thatched roof. Red head lizards were seen hiding there at different ends from the harsh sun and bearing witness to our agreement.
“Deal,” they chorused amid chuckles.
The great people of Okobi have been thrown off the good life of the previous years. Wars and hunger had increased, with a percentage rise in every new day. The sun’s rays tripled in it’s radiating heat, children were getting lean and growing bigger heads.
The English men left a long time ago, taking the young dibịa woman along and bound in ropes. While the people fought and threw stones on their van and shot arrows at their tyres, those men used their shotguns. They shot sporadically at them and a few women lost their lives. Kobiowoh had gotten a deadly disease called kitikpa. It struck him at a dangerous age and his entire household were careful with getting closer. It paved way for the strange men to carry out their plans and also made away with good economic yields in their stores.
Crops on land withered, animals got lean and sick too. This calamity spanned throughout that year and the next until life returned. There came a heavy downpour, the Okobi rains. Trees got green again and men were invigorated.
This particular night, Zeluwa the brother to the young dibịa sat under the tree at the square narrating the story of Okobi rains to the younger ones that survived it. The same square the black men first stopped with their greedy intentions in the guise of buying palm oil. The chief was deceived by their outward presentation and leaked secrets to them unknowingly including their rains that brought bountiful yields, which a dibịa alone has the power to bring.
While the special rain of Okobi boosts production and sales, drought brings sickness, hunger and death. Kitikpa is the most dreaded, the pox comes with fever and rashes which eventually kills one especially if it hits an adult. It was a disease of bad signs, though Kobiowoh miraculously survived his.
Ijeoma the young dibịa never returned too, it was heard she followed those men overseas to acquire advanced education in their formal schools.
Those little ones sat on the ground on bare bodies, sand sticking to their buttocks with keen listening minds. Seated in clusters in bewilderment, wondering why the young dibịa woman chose the English men over Okobi the land of green trees. It was very disturbing as well since a good number had lost a parent or a brother.
“This is what is to come, we may choose to ignore or work to avoid this calamity,” Njo advised as he addressed Kobiowoh and the rest of his council after looking through the mirror that shows the future.
“Get me that girl,” Kobiowoh pronounced in rage as his guards set off to get the young woman who was seen to change things in time to come.