Longings Of A Caged Love

The Clash Of Love And Tradition — — African Fiction Part 4

Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

It rained and stopped before Akoga people started streaming into the village square for the farmers’ festival. It was an annual festival which farmers in Akoga looked forward to attending, as it afforded them the chance to display their farm products with the hope of winning the prestigious prize of the best farmer in the land. Several palm fronds were erected to provide shade in which farm products for display were kept. These consisted mostly of yams, cassava, pepper, cocoyam and African star apple fruits. These important crops made up the categories upon which winners were selected. The yam category always showcased fierce contest, and the winning farmer in the yam category would naturally emerge the overall winning farmer of the festival, yam being the king of all crops. That was why all farmers with plans of entering the contest, always apportioned special attention to growing their yam crops, in order to produce not only big but also healthy tubers.

Back home, Chuka lay on his mat starring at the roof. His father had earlier left the hut a bit angry, when he spoke of his encounter with Ada. What peeved Iweka was not that Chuka saved Ada from being raped, but that Chuka told him of his developing interest in her. Iweka’s face creased in a manifestation of his displeasure. Bitter was another word for how he felt. He could not even wait for Chuka to finish his story before bringing forth his interruption.

“Wait!” He exclaimed. Even his eyeballs bulged out in some kind of wild manner never seen by Chuka before. “That is the late Amanze’s daughter and I don’t want your interaction with those people,” he thundered. “Don’t you know they are different from us? They are the rich, my son. Your desire cannot happen. These are people with very large compounds in which there are large barns that contain up to five hundred tubers of yam. Can you compare the small land you farm with their vast farmlands? Look, my son. Their hens hatch chicks in tens and twenties. The rich have many goats. Is it in anyway comparable to just two skinny goats we have here? Hands off, my son.” And that was when Chuka got the hint that his father would not really welcome his involvement with Ada if he went ahead.

Chuka couldn’t believe what his eyes saw when he withdrew his stare at the roof and threw a glance at the antiquated wall clock his father bought donkey years back. Then he realised he ought to be attending the festival.

“I’m late for the festival,” he said. Haste suddenly became what Chuka needed. He sprang to his feet, ran out of the hut and proceeded to fill a partly rusted metal bucket with water. “The gods of our land will give me victory,” Chuka enthused, carried the bucket and dashed into the bathroom. Not really a bathroom, but just a little space enclosed with very closely erected palm fronds. It had a sandy floor with few weeds that took advantage of the moisture there to establish. Iweka was proud that he owned such a bathroom at last, having used none in his childhood days, when he used to bath outside, without a care in the world as to who could be watching. But the onset of puberty, with little black hairs springing out in his groin area, left him with no other option than to be waking up before dawn to take his bath or do it late at night.

Chuka scurried off with two of his biggest yams, and joined others on the way in all the scurry and scramble that typified the farmers’ festival.

A trumpet sounded and kicked off activities at the Akoga village square. The chief priest of the Akoga shrine first took a very fat goat for sacrificial consecration to the god of harvest. It was acknowledged throughout Akoga that the god of harvest blessed them abundantly each year with bumper harvests. The chief priest offered prayers to Ubu, the god that blessed them with water. In all, he appeased the gods on behalf of the people.

The sacrificial goat had started roasting on top of a log of firewood placed at the centre of the village square when some young women of Akoga danced in. They danced round the fire, which built a cloud of thick smoke above their heads. Ada and Ngozi were prominent among the rest. This was not because of their very different coiffure, but the way they danced, made all the difference. They were just so good at it. The two later separated from the rest, and made more intense rhythmic movements of their bodies. A cheering response that was thunderous came from the crowd for that. The sacrificial goat had burnt to ashes by the time dancing was through, and the chief priest took everyone’s attention again. He chanted a song on re-entering the village square. A song with which he praised the gods of the land of Akoga for showering them with protection and health. Above all, for the valuable gift of life that enabled them attend the festival.

He was a short old man not more than fifty years, with an unusually big head, very hairy chest and bowlegs. He would pass for a monkey at night. It was very easy to swear that his ancestors could not have been anything else but primates. Gorillas and chimpanzees to be exact. His chest had spots of white chalk and a live lizard hanged around his neck. His hands held two cocks specially bred for the festival. It was the thirtieth festival he had chaired and it was his wish to live longer, so as to continue with what he knew how to do best. The chief priest paced the whole village square, chanting songs and exalting the gods as the crowd watched till complete sunrise arrived.

The sun rose and filled the square with its light. The chief priest ran to the centre of the square and began to dance around the two cocks that lay there panting. He sprinkled white powder around the cocks. People from neighbouring villages who were in attendance, wondered what he would do with the cocks. The priest picked up the cocks while kneeling down. He pulled out feathers from the cocks and threw them up. A breeze that came upon the square carried the feathers away. This was a sign that the gods were ready for a full and final acceptance of their offering. Then the priest threw both cocks up and the cocks fell back dead. This triggered celebration, as the cocks’ death was an indication of the delight of the gods in the offering.

Masquerades filled the square instantly with different sorts of acrobatic displays. Some even climbed nearby palm trees without ropes. Everyone got drowned in exhilaration and danced. Not even the priest was left out, as he danced his peculiar way. Slow and articulate, putting his left leg forward, followed by the right, and swinging round his waist, with vigorous shaking of his head. What a dance style.

Chuka had optimism to hold on to when it was time to announce the farmer of the festival because he made the final short list of possible winners. Ada was glad to see him hoping to be declared the winner. He stood out in the short list because of his age. He was the youngest there, the rest being mostly of his father’s age. Their grey hairs were the majority in the mist of the very minority black hairs Chuka carried. But it was never in the history of Akoga that a man’s age won him the prestigious prize. Chuka’s confidence and sheer penchant for success were what Ada figured out while watching him. She longed to meet him all the more again.

Two she-goats were awarded to Chuka for emerging the overall farmer of the festival. Surprise did not over run him because he knew he prepared well for the contest. The crowd rejoiced with him. Many elders closed in and showered a lot of blessings on him.

“Our farmer, our farmer!”

“You are the bumper harvest!”

“Blessed of the gods!”

“Blessed of the gods!”

Ada ran all the way to Chuka , embracing him. She danced with him as well, and held on to his body in the process. Chuka then carried her shoulder high for a while. The smile on Ogazi’s face left as a result of these. How one moment of unwanted sight could trigger the emotion of displeasure into where that of joy had initially occupied. Has Ada gone mad? That was the question Ogazi asked. It was the first time she had seen her only daughter go so close to a young man other than Okorie, whom she knew the tradition had destined to be her husband.

That was absolutely unacceptable. She turned a sad face to the sight and walked away. Ngozi was disappointed as well with Ada’s conduct. There was no way she could understand what her friend had to do with Chuka. She summed up her observations in discomfort. Okorie felt like a rat that fell into water. He was so embittered that he tried to shut his eyes. But the more he tried, the more he kept watching. He clenched his teeth as some pain slid into his whole body. How can an antelope be feasting on food the lion knew it had exclusive right to? This he asked himself. Iweka sensed things were going against his wish. He too saw nothing good in his son getting involved with Ada. He believed girls from rich homes do not make good wives. The sight was to his displeasure without doubt.

The crowd waited for the python-man to entertain them. His real name was Amadi, but branded the python-man for his stunts with the python. Amadi was the product of a broken home, a man still going strong, despite his old age. His long beard was a bushy magnificence. An excellent wine-tapper who would tap wine and share it on equal basis with whoever that owned the raffia palm. His family crumbled when he resorted to consuming a lot of palm wine. This left him drunk each time he came back home. He often turned Uwe, his wife, into a punching bag when drunk. He inflicted injuries on her times without number. Uwe suffered enough physical abuse. She had to flee with her two children when she could all take it no more. The last thing Amadi would think of was about his wife and children. Owing nobody any responsibility, he went on entertaining people, tapping wine and drinking.

Dressed in his usual soiled shorts without a shirt on top, the python-man rode into the village square with the python around his neck. He truly had mysterious power over the python. Very thunderous cheers heralded his awaited entry. The crowd yelled and scrambled to watch from vantage spots. “Feed us with tricks! Oh master of tricks! Feed us with tricks,” the huge and enthusiastic crowd chanted. The python-man somersaulted while his bicycle was in motion. Then he rode the bicycle without his hands on the handle. He lay on the moving bicycle with his two legs well spread out on opposite sides. This left the crowd calling for more. The crowd all saw him as a genius ever to hail from Akoga. Again the bicycle rolled, he got up and swung it to the right. Within a couple of seconds, the front wheel was up in the air while the back wheel was down.

The crowd went wild in excitement. People yeaned for more. “More tricks! More tricks!” They yelled. The python-man jumped down the bicycle and removed the python around his neck. He so much took after his father who was also a brilliant entertainer. While the python lay quietly on the ground, he commanded it by pointing a stick at it, and secondly, at the palm tree which stood at the centre of the village square. The python uncoiled gently to the crowd’s huge amazement. It crawled up the palm tree. Most enthusiastic persons had climbed up surrounding trees in a bid to better feed their eyes. Some wished they had giraffe necks as they stretched.

At the python-man’s command again, the python crawled down to find comfort around his waist. It coiled around his waist. The crowd pushed, yelled and yeaned for more. “Give us some more! We want some more!”, became the chant that took over the whole arena. It became rowdy when the crowd could no more hold back its excitement. No sooner than the crowd gave way that the python-man once again set the front wheel of his bicycle in the air and rolled out of the village square with the very excited crowd, especially children, after him. They wanted more. They cheered and ran round until tiredness overtook them all.

Chuka was glad at his first major achievement. He walked home remembering the warm embrace he got from Ada. It filled him with joy, for he knew somehow, that his life partner was gradually coming. But he did not give a thought to how difficult things could be.

Okorie appeared from a pathway and met face to face with Chuka, who was thrown aback. He glowered at Chuka.

“Don’t you know she is mine?” Okorie roared, looking fierce in anger. “What do you think you were doing? Let me not see you beside her again.”

“My thought has taken her as its object,” Chuka firmly replied after he had flicked Okorie a scathing glance, as if his threats were of know consequence. “I’m just waiting for time to prepare the soil into which I will plant my flower that will bloom forever,” Chuka added. A battle of eyes raged. None of the young men talked for the moment. Each dared the other.

“Do not fetch water from the same stream with me if you value your life,” Okorie vociferated. Chuka chuckled and began to walk back home after saying, “If she is your stream, then she is my ocean. An antelope can only make its home in the den of very sick pride of lions. For Ada and I, it also goes this way. I love to love. I love the way she loves me. We love to love. We love to love each other. I love to love. And I love the way she loves me now.

“Let’s then see!” Both Chuka and Okorie thundered simultaneously, and in consequence, drawing a battle line.

Longings Of A Caged Love: Watch Out For Part 5

Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

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Kenechukwu Obi is a Canadian writer with a marketing degree. He writes articles, poetry, plays, novels, short stories and song lyrics.

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