Walking along the streets of Iri, Rodah couldn’t help but be impressed. Over 4 years away, and the village had developed a bit.
It was clear her father was not the only one who had built a new house. A lot of the wealthy men around had too. Also, there were new hospital structures and schools. The roads, though still dusty, were wider and looked like they were graded.
Rodah came across a few teenagers, now adults, she used to queue up with at the community well years ago.
She exchanged pleasantries with some, and waved others. It was nice to see them again.
Having patrolled the village, so as to see more of what was new, at the same time, avoiding her Uncle’s, as she was going to visit him later, not now, she eventually made a turn in Ese’s direction.
The sun was just starting to set when Rodah reached Ese’s compound. Another pleasant surprise greeted her. The once, thatch roof over mud structure, had been replaced with a small bungalow made of bricks. The walls were painted orange.
Three tall trees surrounded the bungalow – one each stood at both sides in front. And the third at the back of the house
Rodah grinned. “You’re definitely doing something for yourself Ese. Or is it that the family business is growing?”
She followed the path leading up to the pavement, and then the front door, and knocked. Once. Twice. Thrice. No response.
She sighed, turned around and spent a few minutes wondering what next to do, when she heard a bolt move from the other side of the door, sharply.
She spun around in time to see the door fly open. Ebony, tall and beautiful, as always, Ese’s mom, Mrs. Eugene, stood there. Surprise written all over her face.
“Rodah!” She smiled, stepping forward with open arms.
Rodah rushed into her embrace, burying her face into her shoulders. This was a woman who had a special place in her heart, especially after she learned a bit of her history, years ago.
Ese’s mom had always been one fascinating woman to Rodah. She spoke good English and conducted herself in a ladylike manner. But Rodah could never really understand why she was not in the elite class. Why she was not in the city, holding a white collar job that would pay her good money? Or married to a wealthy man?
She had asked Ese once, about it, and Ese had explained, she had a wealthy father, who died and left them in so much depth.
Her mother couldn’t keep any of her father’s property after his death. Ese was just a 5 years old girl. She didn’t really understand what was happening. Only that she started to experience hunger a lot.
Unable to stay in the city, her mother moved back to the village and took to farming.
It was one raining day at the farm, she met an old man who needed help with his belongings. She helped him and in turn he took her as his apprentice in local medicine.
From that day on, she went to the farm only twice a week. Every other time was spent with the medicine man, going from house to house, and village to village, to heal people from several diseases and sicknesses.
And after the old man died, years later, she continued with the trade. A good thing, the villagers knew she worked with the old man, so they knew she was well learned in the art of local medicine.
Life had been hard on the woman, but of course. She pushed through, despite having a little child to cater for.
It was her likes that gave Rodah the mind and strength to want to be a strong woman, one that could survive with or without the help of a man.
“Diguor, ma”, Rodah’s voice was muffled against her shoulders.
“Vredo, my dear”, she pulled back to examine the young lady, “London is good for you”, she smiled. Rodah chuckled.
“It is. But I love home more. I arrived last week and I couldn’t wait to see you and Ese”, “Rodah couldn’t help but notice patches of grey hairs on her head. Ages was catching up with her
“So thoughtful of you. Your friend has missed you a lot”.
“Awww… I miss her too”.
“I know, I know. I saw almost all your letters. But she never let me read them”, the elderly woman chuckled, “come in, come in”, she ushered Rodah into the small living room. Two long benches, somewhat crude, were stationed at either sides of a small center table. Crude too, like a sand paper never touched it.
The walls were pained yellow, giving the room a lift.
Old curtains were pulled aside from the window. A small radio rested on the floor, beside one bench.
“Please sit down”, Ese’s mom gestured at one of the benches. Rodah sat, dropping her big bag by her side, “so how are your parents?”
“They’re fine. We all came together”.
“That is good to know. I saw the new house your father built. Lovely structure”.
“Thank you ma. Your new house is beautiful too”, she said, still looking around.
“Thank you, my daughter. And thanks to Ese”, she chuckled, taking the opposite bench, “after you left, she was very sad, especially about not being able to enjoy all the privileges you have. So I told her, why not join my healing business and together, we can make really good money to start taking care of ourselves”.
“Noooo…” Rodah laughed, “Ese doesn’t like healing people”.
Mrs. Eugene laughed, “yes. She hates to see a sick person or someone with even a wound. And blood? No, no, no. She hates blood. But I managed to convince her. Now look where we are. In a few more years, we should be higher than this”.
“Yes”, Rodah agreed, looking around again. Compared to what it used to be, they had really come a long way.
She remembered back then, when she always advised Ese about joining her mom’s business, so as to make some good money. But Ese never wanted to hear about it.
If anyone had told her Ese would come around, she’d have said not the Ese she knew.
“So where is Ese now?”
“I sent her to the market. But you already know how your friend is. There’s always something that takes her attention. And she’d end up coming late. I’ll just prepare the little garri that’s left. And there’s still some egusi soup. Although no meat, just fish. Hope you don’t mind?”, she asked, worried the food available might not meet up to Rodah’s taste.
“Oh, ma, of course. I’m ok with it”, Rodah said. Funny, despite lacking a lot of ingredients, those days, Ese’s mom was still one of the best cooks she had met. Rodah always enjoyed her food and looked forward to them.
“Ok then. I’ll place water on the fire”, she stood up and left for the kitchen.
Rodah, after admiring the house some more, reached for her big bag and started, one by one, to offload the content.
Ese’s mom returned to a pleasant surprise. Beautiful item, from wrappers, slippers, shoes, gowns, tops and skirts, perfumes, body creams to even designer hair pins, make-up kits and wigs, were displayed on the table and benches.
“This is a lot, Rodah”, she was in awe.
“It’s not too much for you and Ese, ma”, Rodah countered, “besides, I still have a full bag at home, the load will be too much, that’s why I brought only this. Tomorrow, I’ll bring the others”.
“Ese will love them”, she picked up a gown, admiring it.
“Well, I hope you like them too, ma. Ese is not the only person they belong to”. She chuckled
“Oh! Thank you so much”, she pulled Rodah into a tight embrace. And when they separated again, they sat to look through the items again, picking what would belong to Ese, and what would be her mom’s.
It was sometime later, after preparing and setting down a bowl of Eba with smoked fish egusi pepper soup, that they ate together.
Rodah couldn’t stop licking her fingers and saying how much she missed a smoked fish egusi pepper soup. Ese’s mom chuckled.
Done eating, they spent the early part of the evening with Mrs. Eugene giving Rodah updates on the latest happenings in town. Long afterwards, she put on the radio for the evening news.
“Business is really good now ma. You bought a radio! And these types are expensive”, Rodah commented
Ese’s mom laughed, “business is good my dear. But I didn’t buy this. I got it as a gift, when I went to Ozoro last month to treat a very wealthy chief”.
“Oh. What was wrong with him?”
“It was poisoning. A very deadly one, and in so much quantity. Whoever poisoned him wanted him dead as soon as possible”.
“Wow. It was very serious then”.
“It was. He was almost as good as dead”, the elderly woman’s countenance changed. Her expression, like she was remembering something.
Rodah could tell though, that whatever she was remembering wasn’t pleasant. Her countenance was that of sadness and pain, mixed with fear.
Rodah placed a hand on hers, “Are you ok, ma?”
She sighed, then patted Rodah’s hand, “I am ok, my dear. Some experiences are really not worth remembering”, she managed a weak smile.
“I’m sorry for making you recall bad memories. I never knew my question will affect you”,
“Its ok. I should be the one burying the thought”.
They continued talking into the late evening. But at 7:56 PM Mrs. Eugene got to her feet. Worry was evident in her expression.
“Ese is still not home yet”, she walked over to the window and looked out into the night. Rodah joined her. It was moony.
“Does she always stay out so late?” Rodah asked, wondering if Ese had found a friend to replace her.
“Yes. But not when I send her to the market. This is unusual”.
“Maybe we should go out an…”
“That’s her. It should be”, Miss. Eugene said, cutting her short.
Rodah followed her gaze. True, there was a feminine figure approaching. And from the way she walked, Rodah could tell it was Ese. She had a basket in hand and seemed so much in a hurry.
The ladies rushed to open the door.
“Ese”, Mrs. Eugene called out, “what happened?”
“Mama”, she called back, “I’m sorry I’m just coming”, she increased her pace. But when she got closer and saw another figure with her mom, she slowed down. “We have a visitor?” She asked.
“I didn’t know the market was as far as two villages away”, Rodah teased
“Who are you?” Ese asked. But Rodah said nothing. It was only when she was close enough that she screamed and rushed into a tight embrace with her long time friend. She was so excited, and almost threw away the food items, if not for her mother who took the basket from her hand. She went into the house, allowing the duo to catch up.
“Rodah o! See Rodah!”, Ese pulled back to admire her in the moonlight.
“I’ve been waiting for you all evening. Where have you been?” Rodah looked her all over, “you have added weight o!”
“Oh, go jor. I’m here soaking garri, which weight?” she spanked Rodah playfully.
“But seriously sha. You made me and mama afraid. Even my parents will start to wonder where I am”.
“And they are going to wonder for long o”, Ese said,
“Yes. I know. You want to hear all the gist this night before you let me go ba?”
“Well, you will have to hear my gist first”, Ese said, pulling her back into the house.
Upon seeing the item arranged on the benches, excitement took over again.
“Wow! You bought all these?”, she started to check out the items,
“For you and mama”, Rodah said. She didn’t want Ese thinking even for once, that everything belonged to her alone.
“Thanks Rodah. You’re truly a friend”, Ese said, checking out a third gown.
Mrs. Eugene came out briefly to join them. And it was when she asked Ese if she would manage the remaining soup, that she suddenly remembered something.
“No mama. Not yet. There is something we must do this night. I cannot do it alone. Please”.
“What is it?” Rodah asked,
“When I was going to the market, I decided to branch papa Tega’s shop to collect the balance he owes us”, she paused.
“Then?” Her mother persuaded.
“He was not at home. The neighbor said he went to the river. I went to the river too. I didn’t see him. But I saw a man”.
“And since when did seeing a man become news?” Mrs. Eugene frowned
“Mama, he is not a man from here. He is not one of us”.
“Really?” Rodah was curious now, “where can he be from then?”
“I don’t know yet. He was by the river. Unconscious. He has injuries on his body, mama. He needed help. That’s why I spent so much time”.
“So what did you do?” Her mother asked, straightening up. Her expression, serious.
“I pressed his stomach hard, several times. He coughed out water. And he woke up. But he was weak. I managed to carry him to our hut in the farm. It wasn’t easy. Then I prepared some medicine and forced it into his mouth. I used the rest to treat his wound. Then I uprooted one yam from the farm and boiled for him to eat with oil. The medicine made him sleep again. I decided to quickly rush to mama Aru’s house to buy some things. The market has already closed”.
“What you did was very risky”, Mrs. Eugene fled up, “You went all the way to the farm with a total stranger? What if the vigilante group had seen you and passed him off as a threat? Then you’ll be called an accomplice?”
“Mama take it easy. At least none of that happened. But I want to bring him home so he can rest well and recover. He can’t just stay in the bush all night, without company and without support. I want to bring him home. And I’m asking for your permission, mama. Please”.
Mrs. Eugene sighed, got to her feet and paced about, worried. Finally she stopped to look at her daughter, “do you know the implications of this?”
“Mama. There are none”.
“None?” Mrs. Eugene was furious now, “hear yourself Ese. You’re talking like a child. You know as much as I do any foreigner must first be reported to the Ovie”.
“When he recovers and is well enough to meet with our king he will. But for now, it is night. Let’s help him mama. Please”.
On closer look, Rodah noticed Ese was close to tears. True, more than four years had rolled by, but she still remembered clearly, Ese was never the type to shed tears. She’d only cry when something out of the ordinary touched her emotionally.
“Mama, please”, Rodah joined the plea, “at least this is night. No one will see us”.
“No, not the villagers sleeping. Because before we go and return from the farm, it will be way past midnight. The people won’t see us. But the gods will, and the vigilantes will”.
“Ok. If you wouldn’t help, at least Rodah will. Yes?”, Ese turned pleading eyes on her dear friend.
Rodah felt her anxiety. She looked from mother to daughter, and then mother again, “we have to help her, ma. I can’t tell her no”.
“I already knew you’d say so. Talk about birds flocking together”, she turned and started towards the passage, “you two wait for me. Let me get some things”.
The girls smiled. And Rodah, as soon as the elderly woman was out of sight, turned to Ese, “why are you so particular about this man. Wouldn’t it be better to just hand him over to the elders?”
“No. He is a fine man, Rodah. A man that, if things go well, I want for keeps. Handing him to the elders means he not knowing who really found him and cared for him. Then one of those old cows will hand him their daughter for marriage and I’ll be back to square one”.
“Ok. I see. This is a love mission”, Rodah laughed, “what a way to reunite”.
“I’m sorry Rodah”, Ese grinned, placing comforting hands on Rodah’s shoulders, “I promise you, as soon as we get this out of the way, it will be you and me catching up. Ok?”
“But you need to see him Rodah. He is handsome”, she was excited.
“First off, let us hope this handsome stranger is not a run away thief, like the others”.
“Well, whatever. Like I care”.
Mrs. Eugene soon emerged with a small bag containing some of her herbs. She placed it on the bench and held up two black cloths. “You girls will wrap yourselves in these. We need to be as hidden as we can. And these, will make you invincible”,
“Magic?” Rodah’s eyes widened
“I have never wanted to use magic, my dear. But my daughter has a death wish, and I do not want you nor I, to die with her. Now take it amd wrap around yourselves.
They took the black cloth from her, each and wrapped it around themselves.
“Wait”, that was Rodah, “please, can we get to my house first. I’ll go in alone to save time and pleasantries. I’ll just tell them I’m passing the night here. That way, no one will worry about my late night”.
“But your parents have never allowed you spend the night with me”, Ese frowned
“Yes. When I was younger. I’m an adult now. And I make my own decisions”.
Ese smiled broadly, “and here I was thinking this day will never come”.
“You thought wrongly”, Rodah stuck her tongue out at her. She laughed.
“No time for jokes. Let’s get to Rodah’s compound first, then proceed on our rescue mission”, Mrs. Eugene led the way out of the house, into the cold night.
Ese shut the door and turned the key in the lock. It clicked. Then she removed it and tucked it into her brazier.
Soft wind blew, causing the trees to wave. In the far distance, one could hear women gossiping away, and children playing.
The ladies stepped off the pavement and started into the night. The moon, although half, watched the three figures as they disappeared in the shadows of other surrounding trees.
To be continued…
©Karo Oforofuo. July 2017. All rights reserved
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