Valerie stood by the window, looking out into the darkness of the night. Soft wind blew against her skin, sending goose bumps all over her body.
The full moon reflected on the river separating the mansion from the otherwise of the forest. The sky was clear, but the night was vicious.
She had started to hear it again. The wild animal in the forest. Ever since she came to the mansion, a month ago, she hadn’t heard its vicious cries at night. But here it was again. And it was a scary distraction.
When she first heard it, earlier, she had put down the diary and left in search for Ms. Grace. And she found her in the usual place. The kitchen.
“Oh”, the elderly woman said, after she looked up to see who her visitor was, “I was just going to set our table and then call you for dinner”.
“Yes. I’m famished”, she held her middle, “but that’s not why I came”.
“What is it then?” a worried Ms. Grace looked up from the food she was dishing into plates, “you can’t make any sense out of the diary?”
“Oh, no. Not that, ma. The diary is just a tale of Rodah’s life with Ese. But I really don’t know why Ese. Because the dreams I’ve had about Ese are terrible. She turned Rodah’s husband into a beast. And then took her child and caused a lot of problems. And to think Rodah’s parents warned her about that girl”.
“Well”, Ms. Grace continued with dishing food into a plate, “children are like that. They do not see what we aged people see. But have you finished reading the diary?”
“No. I just got really distracted by that animal”.
Valerie’s brows shot up, “that animal in the forest. Aren’t you hearing its cries? It attacked the camp me and fellow passengers set up. And throughout my three days wandering in the forest, I heard its roars every night. But after I arrived, I didn’t hear it again, until now. I’m just wondering if you know what it is. It seems to come out only during the full moon”.
“Yes it does”, Ms. Grace sighed, then turned around to keep the empty pot in the sink for washing.
“Why do I have a feeling you know more about this creature, but as usual, you wouldn’t say anything”.
“Because, Miss Valerie, I do know more about the creatures”.
“Creatures? You mean with an s?” Her eyes widened.
“Yes. With an s. I’m glad you’re here. You should eat, then go back to reading that diary. You should be done before morning”,
“Before morning? That diary is not a small one. It is packed full with someone’s history”.
“And a history textbook can be read in one night, let alone a history story book. You don’t have time. We don’t have time. The earlier you read it up, the better”.
Valerie sighed and looked away. If the stupid armed robbers hadn’t hadn’t taken over the road that fateful night, she’d have been in Lagos. She wouldn’t have been the unfortunate soul that wandered into a mansion where strange people lived.
Yes, Rodah’s story was an interesting read. But what did a story have to do with real life events? And why did Okis call her Rodah, the night they made out in his study?
Well, she called him Aaron too, she remembered , “Aaron”, the name escaped her lips.
“What did you say?” Ms. Grace turned raised brows at her.
Valerie shook her head, “nothing. At least nothing important”.
“If you say so”, Ms. Grace continued her duty, “Please sit and eat up quickly”, she pushed a plate each of Santana and Ogbolo soup in front of her chair,” You still have a lot of reading to do. I’ll take Andrew’s dinner to him”. She left with Andrew’s food in a tray.
That was earlier in the evening. She had eaten, freshened up and returned to the study. But the night under the gaze of the moonlight was a beauty she couldn’t resist watching, hence she was at the window again. But the creature, sorry creatures, she remembered they were more than one, wouldn’t allow the night be quiet.
Valerie did her best to ignore their cries. A good thing she was no longer in the forest. So they could raid the place if they liked. She was safe behind tall walls.
Her eyes travelled ahead though, to the other side of the river where she first met Mr. Okis. She looked further into the forest, wondering why she didn’t fight Andrew off at the gate earlier and follow the travel party. Who knows they would have been going to Lagos. Warri. Maybe Abuja. She wasn’t certain. But she’d have been out of the house and would have been by Okis’ side.
She couldn’t tell, why Omo was the most hated in the house, yet no one could fire her. In fact, she did as she liked and the others watched. Including Okis.
If she had known earlier that there would be a journey to make, she never would have fought Okis or pushed him away. No. Instead, she’d have pulled closer to him and read the diary, just as he had asked, earlier.
But no. She had to be stubborn. Only to see Omo taking her place.
She’d have loved to rant, get angry and fum all over the place, until the duo returned. Then she’ll give Okis a piece of her mind. But again, no. She couldn’t wait. Not when Okis had said the journey held two things for him. Life or death.
“I choose life”, she remembered his words, “but your actions or inactions might give me death”.
She never took him serious. At least not until Andrew and Ms. Grace had said the same thing. Okis had less than three days to live or die. And deep in her heart, Valerie knew she’d rather give her arms and legs, than see the man she had taken to, die.
But how could she help him, when she didn’t know how to? She didn’t know where they travelled to. She didn’t know how to reach them. She couldn’t even make any sense out of the diary, or how it connected with their lives.
Rodah’s diary will no doubt make an interesting novel. And that is all there seemed to be to it. She thought. But all the same, they say the diary holds the answer, right? So , I’ll read, until the answer to all my questions stepped out from the diary. If they can.
Leaving the curtain still pulled apart, she returned to Okis’ seat at the desk, picked up the closed diary and then opened to the spot a thin paper held.
She sat back and continued Rodah Akiri’s story.
October 11th, 1962.
The morning came quietly. The farmers woke up at the first cock crow and headed for the farm, while hunters went into the bush to hunt for games.
But it wasn’t up to two hours the three women arrived from their rescue mission. A mission that was quite stressful and dangerous, as Mrs. Eugene didn’t stop saying incantations just to ward off evil spirits and shield them from the prying eyes of the vigilante group.
But it wasn’t easy, trying to move fast with a man who leaned on them for support, as the herbs Ese gave him earlier had not cleared from his system. He still felt very weak and dizzy. But he was aware of the ladies, and the fact that they were taking him somewhere. He just didn’t know where. But he prayed, every step of the way, that they were not about to use him for rituals, especially because of the incantations he heard from Mrs. Eugene. He knew he was to weak to fight back.
Now they were back in the small abode. The man was asleep, on a mat in one of the rooms. Mrs. Eugene went into her room to take her rest, while Rodah and Ese laid mats in the sitting room and laid on them. But they couldn’t sleep.
They thought of what they had done and the consequences, should it be discovered afterwards, that the man was a spy or ritualist from neighboring villages that had ill intentions against the people of Iri.
And then, there was also the part of not being able to hide him, if he was a thief. Definitely, they wouldn’t keep the man sedated for long. They’ll have to let him wake up. And when he does, he wouldn’t want to be kept locked up. And when the people see him, their actions would be discovered.
“I think we should try to sleep and hope for the best”, Rodah said.
“I agree. The impression thing is, he is here. And when he wakes up, he would know who helped him”.
That was all Ese cared for. This stranger would have to be an answer to her prayers for a handsome husband who would take her away from Iri. She had to make sure. He already looked rich. His well manicured nail, neatly cut hair and shaved beards, spoke volumes. Not to talk about the quality of his clothing.
True, the shirt was torn in several places. Buttons were missing. But she still knew the quality when she saw it.
“Good morning, Ese”, Rodah turned the other way to sleep.
“Good morning Rodah”, Ese turned her own way.
The duo finally closed their eyes for a brief sleep at about 5:43 AM.
By daybreak, 9:15 AM precisely, Ese was the first to approach his door and knock. It was at the second knock the door opened.
He stood there, bare chested. Fair skinned. Tall and handsome. His only covering was the trouser on his waist. His wounds looked reddish and as he stood there, looking at her, she could tell he was still in pains
Ese swallowed, “good morning”, she greeted, “I just wanted to check on you. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes I did. You’re the girl from yesterday. The one who took me to a farm?”
“Yes”, she smiled, “and I couldn’t let you pass the night in the farm, alone, unattended to and with lots of mosquitoes”.
He rubbed his head with one hand, “I guess I owe you a lot. Thank you”.
“You’re welcome. Will you like to shower? My mom is cooking breakfast”, she played with her hands in a child like manner.
“Breakfast”, he repeated the word, “where I’m I?” His question temporarily threw Ese off balance.
“Errr…. You’re in Iri”.
“I know I’m in Iri. Or I was, before I got attacked. But where I’m I now?”
“You’re in my house. I couldn’t let you sleep alone at the farm. So we brought you here”.
“My mother, my friend, and I”.
He nodded, “I think I’ll take that shower. Thanks. Then say my thanks to your mother and friend before I leave”.
“Leave? You’ve been seriously hurt. Wouldn’t you rest some more? At least until you feel much better? You just said yourself, you were attacked” Ese looked heartbroken.
“I’ll love to stay. But there are things to be done. I survived the attack, thanks to you. But then, life goes on. I owe a lot of thanks”, he smiled – a smile that melted her heart, “and when I’m done with what I have to do, I’ll come back and say my thanks, properly”. Ese grinned, from ear to ear. “What is your name?”
“Ese”, she replied.
He stretched a hand to her for a shake. She took it, “thank you, Ese”, he maintained his smile.
Ese was over the moon when she ran to the kitchen to boil the stranger’s bath water. She hummed her favorite song and Mrs. Eugene instantly knew her daughter was up to something.
“What brings you so much happiness this morning?” She asked, stirring the akamu in the pot over the fire.
“Like you can hide anything from me. It is that man, right?”
Ese’s eyes glowed, “yes mama. He is so handsome. I nearly tripped over when he opened his door”.
“You already went to his room”, she paused to look at Ese.
“Yes. He is such a fine man mama. I can’t wait for things to fall in place”.
“Get out of the cloud my daughter. The man may be handsome, but he might not reciprocate your love”.
“Oh mama. Leave that to me. I’ll ensure he falls in love. Don’t worry”. She set up the fire and placed a big pot of water on it, before moving to help her mother with breakfast.
In the not so large living room, Rodah finally woke up. She yawned, rubbing her eyes. Unlike Ese who had been so restless and didn’t sleep well, she had been determined to get her full rest.
Now that she was finally awake, two things rang in her head. Go home and plan a visit to her Uncle’s, else they start thinking she was feeling too big to visit them.
Besides, her father had said something about expecting a guest from Lagos, a very wealthy navy officer, who was to help him with the enlistment of more navy trainees from Iri.
Her father always found a way to help the villagers. After all, they are his people. And they appreciated his efforts.
Rodah got to her feet, picked up the mat and started to roll up. While rolling it up, her eyes fell on the clothes she had dropped on the benches the night before. She shook her head. Ese didn’t let them even put the clothes away last night. And they came back exhausted.
After dropping the now folded mat at a corner, Rodah proceeded to fold the clothes back into the bag she brought them in.
She was on the third gown when she heard footsteps approaching from behind.
“Ese, look what you caused. We couldn’t even tidy the sitting room because man will not allow you see your front”.
“Hi”, she heard a male voice instead. Rodah turned around sharply. He was really tall. Fair. Bare chested, with only a wrapper tied around his waist.
She was sure her heart missed a beat. And she was almost speechless. Almost.
“Hello”, she smiled, but mentally knocked her head for not looking around before speaking, “good morning”.
“Uhh…good morning”, he greeted, obviously surprised at the beauty before him. Despite her scattered hair and sleepy face, she struck a spot, but of course, he knew love at first sight was a ruse. “I … was looking for the bathroom”, he explained.
“Bathroom?”, her brows shot up, “wouldn’t you rest some more?”
“No. I can’t. I’ve rested enough. Thanks to you ladies. But I have an appointment with one of the Chiefs in town”.
“So, can you help me out with directions?”
“Errr…. I wish I could help. But I’m, almost new here. I really don’t know where anything is anymore”.
“Oh”, that was the stranger.
“What’s going on?” Ese asked, stepping into the sitting room.
“Our… Visitor wants a quick bath”, Rodah said.
“I already boiled you some hot water. But you weren’t in your room when I came to call you”.
“I’m sorry. I thought I’ll just quickly take a cold bath”.
“Are you in a hurry?” Ese asked, uneasy.
“Yes. I have an appointment to keep”.
“You have done a lot for me already. I cannot explain right now what happened that led to you finding me in the state you found me. But I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. And I promise to come back to say my thanks properly”.
“That was fast”, Mrs. Eugene said from the passageway. No one had seen her approach.
They turned to look at her, “good morning, madam”, he bowed his head slightly.
“Good morning my dear. Hope you’re feeling better this morning?” She moved gracefully to sit on one of the beaches.
“I am. All thanks to you, and your daughters”.
“Well, thanks to them, mostly. They wouldn’t allow me a moment’s rest, if I didn’t help. You say you have an appointment?” She changed the topic.
“Yes. I do”.
“But you do not look like someone who is from around here”.
“I am not. I only honored an invitation”.
The elderly woman smiled warmly, “and here I was, scared, you might be a thief who got struck by the gods while trying to escape”.
He chuckled, revealing a set of white teeth and dimples on both cheeks. Ese’s heart skipped a beat. And Rodah, thought she felt same way, but she quickly turned away to continue folding the clothes. One more stare at the young man and Ese might think she wants to steal her trophy. Ese had eyes for handsome men. That was certain.
“But do you know your way around?” Ese asked.
“No. Not really. I’ll be grateful to have any assistance with that.
“I can assist. I don’t mind being your escort for the day?” She grinned. He smiled.
“Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate everything you’ve done so far”.
“Ese,” Mrs. Eugene broke the silence, gazing up at her daughter who looked like she had been lovestruck, “can you kindly lead our guest to the bathroom? He needs to freshen up quickly”.
“Oh, yes”, she nodded, all smiles, “please follow me”, she started towards the passage.
The stranger said his thanks to Rodah and the elderly woman before following his escort.
“What a drama”, Mrs. Eugene said, with a sigh. Rodah chuckled.
“Well, trust Ese to not miss her opportunity. She really is into him”.
“But he does not belong to her. She never should have been the one to see him first”, Mrs. Eugene’s countenance was sad.
Rodah frowned, and then turned concerned eyes on the woman she considered a second mother.
“Mama, your words are deep. Why isn’t he hers, if he is not married? Don’t you think fate made her the first to see him?”
“Yes”, she looked up at Rodah, her eyes held a sadness Rodah could not understand, “the person who should have seen him missed her opportunity. And now there’s going to be a terrible fight for ownership”.
“Mama you’re confusing me”, Rodah was even more worried, but she tried to laugh it off.
“Don’t worry my dear. I’m just getting too old”, Mrs. Eugene forced a smile, “how is your own day going to be?
“Well, first I need to rush home, and then pay my Uncle and aunt a visit, so they don’t start thinking I’ve grown wings”.
“Ok. Let me serve breakfast so you can eat before you go. Ese will have to run to the market to get some clothes for our guest, so he doesn’t walk half naked to his appointment,” she chuckled lightly, Rodah laughed. The elderly woman got to her feet and then disappeared through the open passageway and headed for the kitchen.
Time went fast. Ese rushed to the market to get a pair of trouser and shirt for the visitor. And while he had breakfast, she showered and changed into one of the lovely gowns Rodah brought in the day before. No way was she going to be his escort wearing old and terribly looking clothes.
And when it was time to leave, she was happy to be by his side. Rodah thought she looked like someone who had won a lotto.
Rodah bathed and changed back into her dress from the day before. She had a quiet breakfast with Mrs. Eugene and they talked at length about the visitor, and how Ese couldn’t seem to stay off him.
“Mrs. Eugene remained worried, but whenever Rodah asked what the problem was, she met a brick wall. The elderly woman will not say.
At 11:40 AM, Rodah left Ese’s for her father’s compound. It wasn’t until 12:00 PM dot she got home.
Upon knocking on the door, one of the servants opened it for her to come in.
“Welcome, ma” he greeted.
“Thank you”, she took off her shoes and stepped in. Voices greeted her ears from the sitting room, “we have visitors?” She asked.
“Rodah moved to the sitting room door and peeped in. The conversation between the duo was friendly, and Rodah couldn’t help but wonder if it was her uncle.
She moved closer to get a better view. Her breath caught. The man from the night, at Ese’s, sat in the living room with her father. And they seemed to be getting along very well.
“I have an appointment with one of the chiefs” he had said earlier. There were several chiefs in Iri. Was her father really the man this stranger came to see?
However, Ese was nowhere to be found. And Rodah couldn’t help but wonder if she dropped her escort duty.
“Aha! You are here”. Her father’s voice cut through her thoughts, “come come come. There is someone I want you to meet”.
She was reluctant, but having been caught, she stepped into the open and greeted her father, then the man. She could see she was not the only one surprised. The stranger was too.
Funny how she kept calling him stranger. None of them back at Ese’s had bothered asking for his name.
Mrs. Eugene said it was better that way. Knowing his name meant being stuck to him. And when he leaves, Ese would be heartbroken. She didn’t want her daughter to suffer as she did.
Rodah assessed the strangers. He had changed into a different outfit and looked very stunning, brushed afro on clean, white naval uniform.
“This is my daughter,,” Chief announced, proudly.
The man got to his feet, still trying to understand why she was the daughter of a poor woman, a few hours ago, but suddenly, the daughter of a Chief.
“Hi”, Rodah greeted.
“hello,” he smiled, “I didn’t know this is your house”.
“And I never expected you to be in my house”. She smiled back.
“I see you’ve met”. Chief said, observing the duo.
“We have, papa”, she turned back to the stranger, “I never did get your name back at the house. I’m Rodah. You’re?”
“Welcome to Iri, Aaron”, she smiled, “I sincerely hope you enjoy your stay”.
“He will”, Chief grinned, “he is going to be staying with us for a week. Aaron is the navy officer I told you I was expecting, to help recruit trainees into the service. From tomorrow, we will start the recruitment exercise. So yes, we have to ensure he enjoys his stay”.
Rodah’s brows shot up. Yes, this stranger was attractive. Add filthy rich to it. And it was easy to want to do everything to please him. But Rodah knew, Ese wouldn’t take the news well. She’d think Rodah only devised a way to have the stranger to herself.
So she was left with one option, invite Ese Over.
To be continued…
©Karo Oforofuo. July 2017. All rights reserved
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