Book written by Daniel Nkado
He may have lived long ago, but tales of him will hardly ever depart our hearts. They were tales every grandfather told to their grandchildren. Tales of an exceptional wonder.
Dum! Dum-dum! Du-du-du! Dum! – The drums go off.
Tutulu-lululu. Tutu- tulululu – The flutist thrills the night with his object.
The moon is full, a bold white occupying the sky with great confidence.
But now the sounds stop!
Silence stills the air.
It is time.
The storyteller pulls at his beard—a grey bunch hanging from his jaw like second chin.
He clears his throat and asks if the children are ready.
From the jumble of voices, the blind old man can tell that his audience hadn’t been just children this time.
Wives have come.
Husbands are present.
Young men and women, from far and wide, they have all come. To hear about Ebubedike and his much talked about journey to the distant land of Uforo.
The children cluster round the old man’s oche-nze. Their older companions stand behind, most with their arms folded.
The old man smiles now.
And so the story began!!!
It was a time long ago. The time of Ebubedike, the greatest warrior Aban ever knew.
He was tall and huge.
In some of the stories you would hear that he stood equal to a palm tree, or that he cut palm fruits while standing, because there was no need to climb.
That his chest was the size of two cocoyam leaves placed side by side each other.
His thighs looked like tree stumps.
He had become a warrior at just age 17, after he threw Ikuku, the wind, in a wrestling match.
It had been a shocking defeat; Ikuku had never been thrown before. He was the wind nobody touched.
None of his opponents saw or touched him, till they were on the ground, and he was already dancing round them in victory.
But it wasn’t that Ebubedike dirtied Ikuku’s back that had amazed all so much, it had been the ease with which he’d done it.
He had seen the wind, touched him, grabbed and held him, and sent him crashing to the ground.
The people that gathered did not give up the usual loud cheer that mark a win immediately.
Many mouths were open, but they were silent. All stared at the scene, too shaken to talk.
Ikuku was on the ground, one of Ebubedike’s feet on his chest, his right hand up in the air to indicate his victory.
It wasn’t till the spectators recovered that they gave up the loudest roar the wrestling grounds of Aban has ever known.
And that is where, Nwokonkwo, the warriors’ trainer then, picked Ebubedike and made him one of his students.
Several months gone, he’d coached young Ebubedike into a warrior of matchless strength.
And Ebubedike was an unconventional warrior. One who fought without weapons.
A bow felt feathery in his hand. A machete he knew not how to use. His strength was in his hands and he fought with them bare.
With one quick movement of his hands, he snapped his victims’ necks to a side. A tiny clicking sound and the head is seen swinging loose from the person’s neck.
Rarely would they give out a scream before dropping to the ground in death.
One blow from him sent a man flying into the air once, like a bird with wings. In some of the stories, you will hear that the man never returned to land.
But with all the strength, one was Ebubedike’s weakness.
Ihuoma was her name.
She was the dove that tempered the warrior’s heart. The soothing drink that quenched his thirst. The woman in whose presence Ebubedike cursed the days he was alone.
As the stories tell of Ebubedike’s strength, they also of Ihuoma’s beauty. One word described them both – matchless!
Her skin shone like morning sun. Her steps, the elegant winding of a cat. When she smiled, Ebube would momentarily forget who he was.
He met her first on his way to the stream. It was a cold Nkwo morning.
Ihuoma was walking up the river bank with her friends, each burdened with a pot of water.
They increased their pace as they sighted Ebube. Maidens of Aban were never the most comfortable in the presence of warriors. In Ebubedike’s presence, they saw terror.
‘Stop!’ he called. His voice was like thunder.
The three maidens snapped still, shivering. Neither was bold enough to turn to look at his face.
‘What are you called?’ he asked.
‘Who do you refer to, great warrior?’ the maiden on the extreme left produced. Her voice was shivery, like one with cold.
‘The one in the middle.’
The middle maiden felt a deep thud in her chest. She turned slowly to the heavyset warrior, her eyes steady with fear. She placed one hand on her chest. ‘You mean, m…m..me?’
‘Yes, you!’ A hint of smile descended on Ebubedike’s face now, cutting off some of the dimness caused by dark warrior markings. ‘Tell me your name,’ he said.
His expression confused the girl just as much as it surprised her. Warriors of Aban do not smile. Ebubedike least of them all.
He celebrated victory with deep animal-like bellows. Smiling was what no man of Aban would associate with him.
‘Ihuoma, I am called, great warrior,’ the maiden said with a bow.
The softness of her voice sent a soothing coolness down Ebubedike’s chest. The air around him tasted sweet now. The smile on his face enlarged.
‘The two of you can go now,’ he told Ihuoma’s friends.
The maidens held their water pots firm and began hurrying away, their relief evident in their quickened steps.
Ihuoma turned to follow them.
‘Stay,’ Ebubedike commanded.
Ihuoma twisted back to him. Her face was crumpled with unease.
Ebubedike came and carried her pot into his arms. In his huge arms, the clay vessel looked like something he could drink with.
‘Come,’ he said to her. ‘I will escort you home.’
The maiden’s eyes flew wide. ‘No, warrior, please. You can’t.’
‘It is not proper that you carry my pot.’
‘And how proper is it that a beauty such as you walked without maids?’
Ihuoma took in a slow, relaxing breath. ‘Thank you, great warrior,’ she said, suppressing the urge to smile.
It wasn’t often that maidens of Aban received compliments from warriors. One as respected as Ebubedike, not to mention.
‘Can we go now?’ Ebubedike said.
‘Not until you allow me carry my pot, my warrior.’
Ebubedike stared at her. Finally he gave her back the pot, but he followed her home.
The people that saw them on the way had their eyes wide and mouths open in surprise. Many believed the girl had offended him.
And they so waited to hear of her punishment. The other less-beautiful maidens prayed he tied her to a tree and whipped her back. So that she would have ugly whip marks on her back and no one would talk about her beauty again without mentioning the denting marks.
When Ihuoma’s mother came out of her hut and saw the warrior standing beside her daughter, she threw her arms into the air and began to wail.
‘Still yourself, woman!’ the warrior commanded.
The plump woman turned quiet, but did not stop shaking. And then Ebubedike told her that he fancied her daughter and that had been the reason he followed her home.
With mouth agape, Umeaku, stared steadily at the tall and huge warrior.
In three market weeks, Ebubedike returned to the compound with his people to pay Ihuoma’s bride price.
It had been a marriage well talked about.
Yam was pounded in a dozen mortars. Gourds of wine abound. Fresh high-tree palm wine.
Guests trooped in from far and near villages. Many warriors were in attendance to celebrate with their fellow. And so were also many maidens, maidens seeking their own warrior-husbands.
There were also a great lot who had come out of their curiosity to set eyes on the maiden who was blessed enough to steal the great warrior’s heart. And when they saw her, they nodded slowly in concession.
For only a beauty as glowing as hers was able to.
But Ebubedike and his wife’s first conjugal night did not go as smooth as the wedding. One could say it was embarrassingly amusing. Both individuals were inexperienced.
And then you must not forget that Ebubedike was triple his wife in size.
But eventually nature took its course and Ebubedike was able to lie with his wife.
A few months later, Ihuoma’s belly has bulged with child.
Ebubedike became the happiest warrior on earth.
But in the night of her delivery, something that was no man’s wish happened.
The baby came out still and stiff.
For many months, the great warrior and his young wife mourned.
In another year, Ihuoma became with child again.
In her blooming months, Ebubedike allowed his wife to do nothing. He did all the chores himself and provided her with all that he heard was good for someone in her condition.
But in the morning that Ihuoma was in labor, the birth ended sadly again.
The little child came out already dead.
And this happened again.
The evening was cool with the sign of rain.
The silence was broken only by Ihuoma’s scream as she tried to bring forth another child. Chinelo, the birthing nurse, and some other women were inside the hut with her, urging her to push. To push through it with the strength of a woman.
Ebubedike sat in front of his hut, legs swinging in restiveness. His ears ached for the sound of a crying child.
He had prayed to both his gods and ancestors. His heart overflowed with faith.
For many hours, Ihuoma screamed and pushed, but when the birth eventually succeeded, it was same old story.
Chinelo walked slowly out of the hut.
Ebubedike ran to her, eyes filled with expectation. ‘The rain is coming. Tell me something good this time, nurse, please.’
Chinelo shook her head.
‘The story has not changed,’ Chinelo said. ‘The last of her strength is gone now, you will see her in the morning.’
Ebubedike nodded. His chest rose and fell in sorrow.
‘You must go and fetch Akuenwe immediately,’ Chinelo advised. ‘The priestess will tell us if the gods are behind this.’
Ebubedike nodded and strode off into the night.
The Ama-Ngene priestess walked slowly, her bent self inclined to a slender stick. Her hair, grey from age, were worn in long fat plaits sectioned into three and held with bands of cowries.
Finally she arrived and entered the hut where Ihuoma was laid.
When she walked out, Ebubedike ran to her. ‘Wise one. Tell me.’
The old woman heaved a deep sigh. She hummed and stood her stick firm to the soil. ‘Warrior,’ she called, ‘you must travel to the bare lands of Uforo. Deep in the underground caves of the desertlings, right in the centre, lies a small pool of water. It is the clearest any man has ever seen. The water that strikes a lightning with the sun. Bend to it and you will see your face in it as if in a mirror. Dip into it and bring an ample amount of the sand at the bottom of the water. The pure, white sand of the pool has the remedy to your wife’s problem.’
Ebubedike nodded. ‘Thank you, wise one.’
Ebubedike’s eyes steadied on the priestess.
‘You must return home in seven days!’ She gripped her staff firm. ‘Seven days! That’s the longest your wife can endure.’
Ebubedike nodded and flew into his hut.
Just then the sky glowed with a flash of lightning. There was a clap of thunder and the sky opened its showers.
Akuenwe raised her face up, nodding slowly as if in understanding.
Ebubedike came out of the hut, his warrior coat tied firm to his belly and his animal skin bag slung over his shoulder.
His obejiri was clasped in his right hand. He tried to feel comfortable with the grip of the machete, but eventually couldn’t.
He dropped it aside and was running out into the rain and darkness when Akuenwe called him back. ‘Wait, great warrior!’
Ebubedike turned back to the priestess.
‘Remember that you must not enter Uforo in darkness.’
Ebubedike gave a quick nod.
‘The desertlings are wily creatures. You need to go with the things they like and don’t forget to always save for the last.’
Ebubedike nodded again.
Akuenwe reached into her priestess bag and brought out a string of beads. She extended it to Ebubedike. ‘Ochendo Ngene. Let it not depart your neck.’
Ebube took the beads from Akuenwe. ‘Gratitude, favoured daughter of Ngene.’ He wore it over his neck.
‘Go well, good man.’
‘Thank you, wise one. And please keep her for me.’
‘The gods will.’
Ebubedike strode off into the darkness.
Akuenwe ran her palm over her rain-soaked face and exhaled gently.
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