Crunch. Crunch. Crunch
Sewa cried out as she accidentally stepped on a sharp tiny stick. She gingerly lifted her leg and removed the stick. Between her wet eyes, she could see that there was a trace of blood.
Why didn’t I wear my dunlop? She asked herself, grumbling as she began to trudge more carefully. The tears began to pour out more hurriedly due to the pain she was feeling as the sky turned a dark shade of blue. She could barely see.
The dunlop though was already worn out. Mama Ibeji, her stepmother, had refused to buy her anything. All she got were the Ibeji’s aloku. Ever since Maami died, life went from heaven to earth and after Baba died, earth to hell. Mama Ibeji had somehow managed to convince their entire family that she was the one responsible for her parent’s death.
So seese? How is that possible? She loves…loved her parents.
As she made her way down to the stream, she could hear the talking drums.
Tonight is the night.
The night when the Prince would select a maiden to be his wife. She had found her mother’s red aso oke with beautiful patterns among the old clothes Mama Ibeji had packed together to give to the poor in the village square. Funmi and Bunmi, in a fit of rage and jealousy, used the ada to tear it into pieces. All she had left on her was her mother’s old black ileke
The gangan’s melody was fading as she approached the big wide stream with her brown clay pot. Their stream was a sight to behold. A glorious waterfall with lots of trees around. It was very easy to bathe there as the trees seemed to form a circle, a protection. Looking up at the waterfall, the moon had risen, big and white, and its reflection shone down on the water.
Maami’s favorite song came to mind.
Eledumare so mi
Eledumare so mi
Ma je ki ota bori mi
Ma je ki aye seleya mi
Eledumare so mi
As she sang the soulful ballad, the tears came down, twisting rhythmically as if they were fairies.
As she stood in front of the stream, Sewa sang from within, her voice – a small echo among the trees.
Ma je n si aye wa
Ma je n si ore ni
Something moved along the trees and Sewa was startled.
“Taa niyen? Who goes there?”
She couldn’t see anybody but she could see something moving.
“Please, keep singing. Your voice reminds me of my mother’s”. A voice said at her back.
Sewa turned and gasped. As she tried to pay her respects, she lost her footing and down..
Arms grabbed her and pulled her up. Her savior’s face was pulled back into a teasing smile.
“You like tripping, don’t you?”
Sewa could barely talk as the shock was still in, full force. He was as tall as he was handsome.
“I’ve been following you from Alagbede’s junction.”
That woke Sewa who couldn’t help but retort “So you follow random girls around in the village?”
She quickly covered her mouth in fear and shame. What did she just say?
He looked surprised, still smiling. After a moment, he replied.
“Only random girls who walk at night crying. Why aren’t you at the Palace like everybody else?”
She regarded him with a sad expression, turning back and walking barefooted into the stream.
“Not every girl is meant to be a Princess, my Lord. Some are meant to be the maids.”
“But every girl is meant to be treated like an olori.”
He watched as she lowered her pot into the moonlit stream. Different images sprung into his mind that left him surprised at how fast his mind was going. She started singing again and he lowered himself on a nearby stone, listening to her sing.
“Why aren’t you at the Palace, My Lord?”
“Please don’t call me that. Feel free with me.”
“No one is here. I wanted to go for a brief walk. Besides, it is at night that true beauty is revealed.”
He gave her a look which went unnoticed. She was still bent over, fetching water.
“What is your name?”
She turned around and gave him a teasing smile.
“One should not tell strangers her name especially at night. The stranger could be a god…or a demon.”
“You think I’m a spirit?”
“If that’s what you say you are, My Lord.”
He watched as she bent, washing her feet and kicking the water playfully.
“Your ileke…it’s very beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with black shining ileke like yours.”
Her face became solemn, as she stopped and fingered the beads thoughtfully.
“It was for my mother, Aduke the fish seller. She said a white man who was in love with my grandmother gave it to her.”
“Now I know where you get your beauty from.”
Sewa looked down at the muddy stream bashfully, unable to look at him.
“So how are you going to pick your bride tonight?”
He sighed. “I’m not entirely sure. Somehow I will.”
She stared at him, tilting her neck to the side.
“Surely, you know what you’re looking for?”
He grinned. “I don’t think I do but I know that I’ll recognize whatever it is I’m looking for when I see it.”
They watched each other coyly, unsure of what next to say.
“But then how will you know what it is?”
“I will know. Meeting one’s soulmate is like the rhythm of the bata. You know and understand what it speaks immediately so it’s easy to pattern your dance. Both the bata and the dancer are therefore in unity. They understand each other.”
Sewa looked thoughtful
“Wise words, My Lord.”
“You shouldnt call me that and yes, a wise woman told me that.”
“Omooba! Prince Ademoyewa!”
Different voices started calling. They seemed to be afar off but were getting closer.
He turned to Sewa.
“I guess I’m needed at the Palace. Please wait here while I quickly set their mind at ease that I’m still alive.”
Sewa gave him a doe-eyed smile, one that made his heart miss a beat.
Quickly, he ventured forward, towards the direction of the voices. Within a minute, his fast legs brought him directly in front of Sarunmi.
“Sarunmi, I heard you calling.”
The serious faced man with Gombo tribal marks looked relieved, though his face was still contorted into a scary mask. The guards with him also heaved sighs while carrying torches and different weapons.
“Where have you been, My Lord? The ceremony has already begun! How did you manage to escape again ehn?”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to go for a walk and got held up at the stream. I think I might have met someone special. Come, let me introduce you.”
Sarunmi looked doubtful and hesitant.
“Are you sure it’s not one of your imaginary friends you were talking to?”
“I’m no longer a child, Sarunmi, and which imaginary friend? Come jor.”
Sarunmi and the guards followed. On getting there, no one was in sight.
Ademoyewa was confused.
“Haha, but I left her here.”
Sarunmi looked round as well and said with annoyance “There’s no one here, My Prince.”
“I swear I left her here. I’m not joking.”
In order to save time, Sarunmi put his hand on Ademoyewa’s shoulder, who was getting very frantic by the minute.
“Maybe she’s from the river. If she’s truly a human, then you’ll see her at the ceremony. All the maidens in the Kingdom were called. Do you know her name?”
Ademoyewa shook his head. Sarunmi’s patience was growing thin.
“Let’s go, My Prince. You’ll see her at the Palace, I promise.”
Ademoyewa looked around once more and sadly, trudged after Sarunmi and the guards. He looked back at the stream again.
I’ll look for her, he said to himself.
The girl with the black ileke.