10th October 1962 – Chief Akiri’s Compound at Iri
Low shrubs covered the space surrounding the main house, like a carpet grass, and the house, a 5 bedroom duplex, was painted Yellow and White.
Flowers were planted in a decorative manner, on the low grasses, and at each end of the large compound, a tree stood – Mango tree, and then an apple tree.
The painting on the storey building was quite fresh, considering that Chief had only recently completed building the house.
Before now, the Akiris, mostly based in Lagos, had a bungalow they spent time whenever they visited the village for holidays.
The village was for relaxations. But back in the city, Chief, a huge dark skinned man with well shaved mustache, was mostly involved in politics. His wife, Chief Mrs. Akiri, helped run the family businesses which had to do with manufacturing, packaging and sales of several food items, in wholesale.
25 years old Rodah, fair skinned like her mother, and their only child, had recently returned from studies abroad, graduating with a sound 2:1. Like her mother, she wasn’t interested in the tradition that said women couldn’t or was it shouldn’t, hold positions of authority.
She was too educated for such nonsense talks and she aimed for the sky when she insisted on going abroad to get her degree, so as to hold better positions in life.
On touch down at the airport, she was received by her parents who told her, executive positions in all their companies were empty, waiting for her to occupy the seats.
“Yes!” She jumped, and then pulled them into a tight hug. She thanked God, everyday, for the type of parents she had, especially her father. He gave her opportunities other men, despite wealthy, deprived their female children of.
A welcome home party was thrown in her honor that weekend.
However, the following Monday morning, while she prepared to get properly introduced into her family’s business, Chief announced they would be going home to spend about a month with his brothers and sisters.
Her mother didn’t like the idea of abandoning business for so long. But Rodah liked the idea. She hadn’t seen her childhood friend, Ese, in a very long time and this was certainly not an opportunity she wanted to miss.
Rodah met Ese long ago, just before her junior WAEC. She had come with her parents to the village, and then the house to see an Uncle, Uncle David, who was really ill. Her father brought along a doctor from the city and immediately he got into his brother’s house, he ordered the woman, treating his brother with native herbs to leave.
Rodah, although just thirteen years old then, didn’t like, one bit, the tone of her father’s words. It was sad, angry and authoritative. Not even a thank you for your efforts so far, was rendered.
“But why?” The woman asked. Obviously she was surprised at the very rude dismissal.
“Isn’t it obvious? Your herbs have been useless”, her mother said from where she stood, holding Rodah.
“My herbs can help. They have kept him alive for this long. I just need a little more time to perfect the healing”, the woman explained. But Chief was having none if her excuses.
“You’ve had two months. My brother doesn’t have much time. I’ll do what I can to get him well again. So please leave, before I call some boys from the street to carry you out!”, he pointed at the door.
Having no other choice, the lady, tall, slim and ebony, got off her mat, put her things together in a black bag and faced Chief one more time.
“I am leaving. But you have to know, my medicine is already half way through the healing process. If I do not complete my work, your brother may die”.
“Don’t you dare threaten me, woman!” Chief was angry, pointing warning fingers at her, “just take your leave so we can focus”.
The medicine woman bowed slightly and left, but not without Rodah noticing the girl by her side, almost same age with her. If not same. Their eyes locked, for a while, and then their smiles took over, broadening.
They had clicked, even though one’s father was angry with the other’s mother.
The next time they saw each other, was the following morning. Having put up in Uncle David’s place with her parents for the night, Rodah woke up the next morning to help Uncle David’s wife fetch water from the village well.
Her mother didn’t like that her daughter wanted to engage in such hard chores. If only she had brought along one of the servants from their home in Lagos. But Rodah insisted, as her Uncle and Aunty hadn’t been lucky with children or servants.
Though not really used to village life, she loved the settings and thrills that came with joining the young girls at the community well to get water. Although she never liked the long queques at the well.
However, that morning was different. On getting to the community well, she saw the girl from the day before, the medicine woman’s daughter. And it was her turn to draw water from the well.
Upon sighting Rodah, she waved her over and asked her to put down her bucket so she could fetch water into it.
Other boys and girls in the queue, all teenagers, grumbled about being cheated, but when Ese turned angry eyes on them, they kept quiet.
Rodah chuckled at the way the others seemed to fear Ese, and as they started on their way home, she asked, “what did you do to make them afraid of you?”
Ese giggled like a child, “I just remind them my mother is a medicine doctor and if they treat me anyhow, I will ask her to turn all of them into frogs.
“Frogs?” Rodah was surprised, mouth agape, “can she really turn people into frogs?”
“I don’t know o!” Ese laughed. Rodah joined her.
That day their friendship started. Rodah would always take excuse from her parents to visit Ese or spend time with her at the river, in the farm or just strolling around the village.
The new development worried Chief and his wife though. They feared the medicine woman will device a way to harm their daughter, as a payback for sending her out of his brother’s house in such a harsh way.
Not wanting to take any chances, they were forced to make peace with the medicine woman. They bought her gifts and tendered unreserved apologies.
Weeks rolled into months, and months, into years. The girls, now 18, had grown into beautiful young ladies. Their friendship blossomed
Every time the Akiris visited Iri, Rodah spent time with Ese, catching up on the happenings in the village and Ese’s latest exploits.
They attended moonlight tales together at the village square, went swimming in the river every afternoon, visited the market together, and laughed heartily at the village boys and men that tried to woo them.
For Ese, this was everyday life; nothing so exciting about it anymore. But for Rodah, it was different. Despite being the daughter of a very wealthy Chief, she loved the simplicity of village life; a simplicity that was rare in the city.
However, now of marriageable age, Ese started to participate in the village’s maiden dance competition – a competition where every single lady of marriageable age danced in the village square in front of eligible bachelors, for marriage selection.
It was the one thing Rodah found gross. Yes, at her age, a lot of the politicians in the party her father belonged had started to woo her, as well as some business men and even the everyday guys she meets on the streets of Lagos.
18 years old or not. She kept her focus. And although she dated two or three of the business men that approached her, secretly, she turned down all marriage proposals. What she wanted was to further her education. Not get tied down with marriage and child bearing.
Being an educated lady with an independent mindset, displaying her wares for suitors by dancing in scanty clothing was gross. But she always cheered her friend up whenever she was around to attend the event.
But poor Ese. The men hardly approached her afterwards. The few who did were broke men who spent time drinking palmwine than working to earn a living.
At one time though, about a year later, one of the popular and most loved teachers in the Grammar School approached her, under their usual meeting tree, for marriage, after the maiden dance.
Rodah had thought Ese would be happy. But Ese wasn’t impressed. She turned him away with very harsh words that stung at his heart.
“What’s the problem with you sef?” Rodah asked, after she witnessed Ese insult the living day light out of the poor teacher.
“Why wouldn’t you ask me that?”, she hissed, “you have men of substance bowing at your feet whenever you’re in the city. You don’t need stupid poor men like the ones we have here in the village”.
“Stupid and poor?” Rodah shook her head, wondering why she even told Ese about her escapades in the city. Did she now want to use that to measure the men that approached? “The man is a teacher, Ese. He earns a living by teaching students. He dresses nearly, he is loved by our people. If you marry him, you become popular too. What else do you want?”
Ese shot angry eyes at her, “what kind of question is that? If not that you’re my friend, I would have beaten the daylight out of you for what you just asked”.
“Meaning?” Rodah dared her, even though she knew Ese would beat her black and blue, as she was the strongest among the two.
“Rodah”, she softened, “you’ve told me countless stories about life in the city, the grandeur, the parties, the kind of men who live there and the way they spend so much money living comfortably. You’ve dated some of them too. You don’t think I want something like that for myself?”
Rodah sighed, taking the empty space beside Ese at the foot of the tree. “I know you want good things Ese, but you think men who have tasted city life and city women will come home to pick a wife?”
“Why not?” Ese scoffed, “You think its only you city girls that can attract a good man? Besides, your father’s money and all that exposure helps you a lot you know”.
“Really? Are you going to keep reminding me of my father’s wealth every time we have this discussion?”
Ese looked away. Rodah was right. She was only trying to make her see reason and so she had no right making her angry.
“I’m sorry”, she apologized. A brief silence followed.
“What if you come to the city to spend holidays with us?” Rodah asked, finally, “I could talk to my parents about it. You’ll have some exposure too and, well….”
“Aaaarrrrrrr” Ese screamed and pulled Rodah into a tight, suffocating embrace, not allowing her finish her statement.
“E…we…” Her voice was muffled, “you’re going to kill me”. She repeated the last part again before Ese realized and quickly let her go.
“I’m sorry Rodah. Are you Ok?” She was concerned, but smiling.
“Well”, Rodah robbed her neck, “I’m still breathing”, she chuckled. Ese laughed.
Night soon approached. They hugged each other good night. While Ese went home to her dear mother, Rodah went home to face her parents.
Unfortunately, Chief wouldn’t hear of her request to have Ese in his house. Rodah spent the night begging him. But his mind was made up. And even she knew, it was the first time he refused to fulfil her wish.
“But why?” Rodah was in tears,”she is my best friend, daddy”.
“And I am your father. I keep warning you to stay away from that girl”.
“Why? What wrong has she done?”
“She is the daughter of the village’s medicine woman”, her mother explained, “do you know how dangerous such people are, if wronged?”
“Dangerous? Her mother is a healer!” Rodah almost screamed, “she heals people of ailments, how can such a person be dangerous?”
“Ok. She’s not dangerous”, her father said, “but the idea of bringing her to stay with us in the city, take it out of your head”.
“Rodah. I am serious. I can only do one thing for her. She can stay with us here, in the village, for a brief holiday”.
Rodah closed her eyes. But her expression couldn’t hide her disappointment. What was she going to tell her best friend? That her parents considered her dangerous and unfit to visit the city with them?
How would Ese take the news?
The next morning, escorting Ese to the village well to fetch water, her head hung low, as she told her friend in simple words, “I’m sorry, Ese. My parents say a holiday with us in Lagos wouldn’t be possible”.
Ese stopped in her tracks, placed a finger under Rodah’s chin and forced her head up with it. “Raise your head, Rodah”, she laughed, “you look like someone being taken to the slaughter house”.
“I couldn’t get them to agree. I’m sorry I disappointed you”. Rodah removed Ese’s hand from below her chin and looked away.
“No. You did your best. Come here”, Ese insisted and pulled her into an embrace, “now guess what?”
“I had sex with Efe last night”, she whispered, then pulled back to look at her friend. Ese laughed hard at the expression on Rodah’s face.
“You did what?” Rodah’s eyes grew wider, like their aim was to pull out of their sockets.
“You heard me. I’m not repeating myself”, she smirked, admiring her newly painted finger nails.
“Wait. Which Efe? The school teacher you insulted the hell out of yesterday?”
“Yes of course. I was thinking, maybe I should just consider him”.
“But you didn’t have to sleep with him first”.
“Oh, go away Rodah. For a girl who is well exposed, you’re almost naive”.
“I prefer being naive”.
“Whatever”, she waved Rodah off.
“What if you get pregnant?” Rodah voiced her concern.
“I won’t. She flung her hips stylishly. Rodah frowned. But when she looked up again, the reason her friend was trying so hard to be sexy was heading in their direction.
Efe, tall, slim, dark skinned, walked gently. He was dressed for work, white long sleeved shirt on black trousers. He looked from Rodah, to a seductive Ese.
Rodah noticed though, he was shy. Of course, he must know Ese had leaked their secret to her.
“Good morning”, Ese greeted as soon as he was close enough, all smiles.
“Good morning, Ese”, he replied, “you’re off to the well?” his voice was soothing to the ear.
“Yes”, Ese grinned, “it would have been nice if we could go together”, she pulled closer, intertwined her fingers with his and planted a wet kiss on his full lips.
Rodah’s brows went up. A smile curved her lips and before long, she was chuckling.
Poor Efe. He quickly disengaged from Ese, “I’ll see you later. In the evening”, he smiled, though he was nervous, and then started on his way.
Ese turned pouty lips at Rodah. Her expression was that of, “hey. So you had to make him feel uncomfortable by laughing?”
Rodah winced. She ran in his way and waved him to stop, “please don’t rush off. Don’t mind me at all. I just couldn’t help myself. Please finish your discussion. I’ll give you two some space”.
And she did. She took the big water basin from Ese and started towards the village well alone.
Rodah had in the past, enjoyed her own moments with few ex-boyfriends. She felt she had no right to disturb Ese’s.
But of course, day time or not, Ese spent some reasonable time with Efe. It was when Rodah found herself from the back of the long queue ag the well, to number four in it, that she sighted Ese some distance away, approaching the queue. She looked really excited, like she won a lotto. Rodah shook her head, then smiled at her knowingly. Ese is definitely a bad girl. She thought.
Well, all the above happened years ago, just before Rodah gained admission and went abroad to further her studies. She did miss Ese, and she tried, once every two months, to send her letters. But she never got any reply.
Rodah wasn’t mad. She understood it was possible Ese had no money to send letters abroad. And so she kept writing anyway, while forming in her head the kind of responses she was sure to get, if Ese could really reply.
And now that she was back home, visiting Iri sounded nice. And this time, as an adult with a mind of her own, she was going to bring Ese to the city. And if her parents refused, she’ll simply pack out of their home to a rented apartment, where Ese could stay with her.
“Home sounds good”, she beamed at her father, “I didn’t know you had finished the new house”.
“I have my dear. I wanted it to be a surprise for you”, he patted her cheeks fondly, “you’re going to truly love it”.
“Great! And I hope Ese can stay in it with us?”
“I’m serious, daddy”.
“One would think after all these years, you’d let this issue go”, her mother said, shaking her head, as she supervised the new servant setting up the table.
“But mom what’s wrong with that? Ese has been my friend all these years and nothing of what you both feared has ever happened”.
“My sweetheart”, her father smiled, lightly, “let us not spoil the celebration mood. More than 4 years, you’ve been away. We only got to see you when we traveled over for business or holiday. Now that you’re back home, just relax. Besides, you’re grown now, enough to make your own decisions. So yes. If you want Ese to stay, so be it”,
“Daddy?” Rodah couldn’t believe her ears, “daddy are you serious?”
“Well, I do not look like I’m joking”, he struggled to keep a straight face. Rodah laughed and her mom followed.
So here she was, in her father’s new house. A beautiful duplex that overlooked the market square. They had arrived late that morning, and spent a lot of time helping the servants put the house, and their bags, in order.
Chief however, left to see Uncle David, his sister and in-laws. And Rodah, after putting together in a bag, gift items she bought, left to see her old friend.
“Be careful out there, Rodah”, her mother called after her, “not everyone is happy you were successful with your studies abroad”.
“I understand”, she pecked her mom’s cheeks before heading out of the house, and then the compound. She really looked forward to seeing her friend again.
To be continued…
©Karo Oforofuo. July 2017. All rights reserved
Don’t get entertained alone, share the love, so your friends can read too. And don’t forget to drop your comments. I love to hear your thoughts.
Have you gotten your free copies of “Love at Sunset Beach” and “Gentle Wild?” Get it here