Longings Of A Caged Love. The Clash Of Love And Tradition. Part 2 — African Fiction
Iweka came out of his little barn with one tuber of yam in his right hand. He shut the door carefully and took one last look at it again before walking away. This was necessary to make sure that none of his two goats that roamed the compound would have access to the few yams in there. Give the goats a chance and they eat your yams. Iweka’s compound was a typical poor one in Akoga. It only contained one small mud hut that could well pass for a shack, condemned to the mercy of a huge storm. His log of firewood was already smoldering. Roasting yams was like a ritual he performed every morning after his daily sacrifice of kola nuts to the gods. He reached for the log, readjusted it, and carefully placed the yam on it. Iweka was one man that had known poverty all through his life, and had to cling on to hunting to earn a living. He used to scour the length and breath of most forests in Akoga, in search of squirrels, which he shot and took to market for sale. His share of unfortunate incidents was enormous. The tragic death of his wife, being the most disheartening of all.
His wife did a forbidden thing that incurred the wrath of the gods of the land, by stealing a couple of yam tubers from another person’s farm. Though her act was fueled by hunger, but that was an excuse the brutal wrath of the gods never entertained. It was a grave offence punishable by a slow and painful death. Iweka was full of excruciating pain and bitter tears as he watched his wife’s life gradually grind to a halt. Her stomach first distended as if she drank a whole river, making her unable to walk around anymore. Weal of different sizes flourished all over her body, ripening, bursting and issuing very offensive odor, that made it difficult for anyone to be able to stay around her with comfort. Even the very offensive odor of an uncastrated he-goat was more tolerable. What could Iweka do? Straying away from his dying wife was not an option. Attending to her needs was one arduous task he had to combine with nurturing Chuka their only child, who was only two years old when his mother came down with all sorts of mysterious ailments. His life only came to find profound joy in one thing; his son, Chuka, when the demise of his wife occurred. He often bragged that he was able to raise Chuka from proceeds of his squirrel hunting occupation. This achievement, which he took as exceptionally outstanding and ground breaking, intoxicated him like wine.
This was not to mean that raising Chuka was a task Iweka found easy. It was a hectic experience for him, especially at times when no squirrels were seen, let alone firing at them. These lean times were very much dreaded by all hunters in Akoga. These were horrendous times for the hunters, when it seemed all poor creatures in forests had perfectly understood man’s huge appetite for their flesh and disappeared into thin air, to put themselves in extreme short supply. Iweka would walk back home full of deep disappointment and wondering how to eke out the next meal. Not only for himself but also for the growing very hungry mouth he had to constantly feed. Sometimes he fell on the inevitable choice of parting with some of his belongings to earn money. And sometimes, he would borrow money with the collateral of his future squirrel catch. But this never transpired without Iweka having to take loads of insults, demeaning remarks and unfortunate embarrassments in some occasions, which brought tears to course down from his eyes.
“You always come here for money,” One moneylender Iweka accosted, said to him one day. “You this man! When are you going to stop depending on squirrels? Be wise! You should know those things are getting smatter by the day and they will always knock you out of business.”
“The squirrels will return,” Iweka responded.
“I do not share such hollow optimism, dear beggar.”
“They will return.”
“Better be sure of what you are saying. If I don’t get my money back, your home becomes mine!”
Iweka pushed the sooth-coated tuber of yam out of fire with a stick and felt it with his thumbs. This he did five times in order to be satisfied the yam had cooked well. He began to scrap away the sooty part of the yam with a short knife that was in a wooden plate beside him, when he got the satisfaction that the yam had cooked well. The usual song he sang each time he roasted yams, escaped his lips.
This is the yam
Very fat yam
Yam of my son’s farm
Farm of bumpy harvests
Iweka scrapped the yam clean, clapped his hands free of sooth as well, and sliced the yam into small pieces, which fell into the wooden plate that already contained salt and red palm oil. He began to eat. Two bites were all he had taken when Chuka wearily returned with a hoe on his left shoulder, and his right hand holding a machete. Tall and dark, complexioned young man. Wore a soiled large black cloth well knotted round his waist. Bare-footed and bare-chested. His face completely demarcated by beads of sweat. He beamed conspicuous confidence, even in all his tiredness, and exuded great zest for success, his poor background notwithstanding.
Chuka loved the farm and everything done in it. He never got tired of going to the farm as endless joy blossomed in him whenever he watched his seeds germinate, grow and mature. Chuka just loved nature. As a child, Chuka would watch a butterfly and wondered how it evolved the ability to fly. He marveled at earthworms and their ability to subsist and thrive in the soil. The ability of bees to produce honey was his one big fascination.
“I’m back, father,” said Chuka, in a tone that clearly portrayed his exhausted strength. He dropped the machete and the hoe. Iweka offered his son a smile and went on to welcome him with a warm embrace.
“Welcome, my son, and how is the farm?” A question he usually put to Chuka when he returned from the farm.
“Fantastic!” Chuka said in response, triggering an air of satisfaction in his father, who starred with pride. The news that all was well with the farm was the tonic Iweka needed each time to reassure himself that he had a hardworking son. Chuka unknowingly added more to his father’s confidence in him when he disclosed that he was expecting a bumpy harvest. Chuka was on his way into the hut when his father called for them to eat together. Chuka quickly picked up a wooden seat and sat beside his father. Iweka studied his son as they ate. Chuka was holding his last piece of yam when a thought crept into his mind and stuck to it. As he licked his fingers, he saw his father shake his head in a way that suggested he had a worried mind. Chuka tried in vain to get a clear picture of what it could be. Then his father’s face began beaming a lot of discomfort. Surely something was bothering father, Chuka concluded, but it wasn’t something he could just shut his eyes and guess, and no matter how hard he tried.
For the first time, Iweka longed to see his cherished son get married and give him grandchildren. Thoughts tripped, fell and mingled in his mind. He became cold as the numerous thoughts in his mind battled fiercely for supremacy. Iweka’s mind suddenly became a battleground in which thoughts would even fight each other with artillery and fighter planes if they could afford them. Why hasn’t Chuka been with any woman? Is anything wrong with him? Is he shy or has he not realized he is now man enough to start thinking of having a wife? Iweka then braced up for a dialogue with his son.
“Son,” he began after clearing his voice, by coughing hard and spitting out a generous gob of mucous, as his eyes remained aglow with lots of concern. “Two years is just what is separating you from attaining the age of thirty. Don’t you think it’s time to get yourself a wife? This is ten years since your mother departed this world and my bones are getting weaker as each day now comes. I want my grandchildren. I want to carry them in my hands before I join my ancestors. Think of it, my son. It is time.”
“What you have just said is not out of place, father,” Chuka began slowly to speak. “I quite understand you,” he continued. “Finding my own wife is what I have started giving some thought. A young woman that will accept to be my wife. I hope to meet her one day because I know she is out there, somewhere and I know fate will bring us together.”
“Just think over it, my son. Think hard and long about it,” Iweka concluded, stood up and went into the hut. Chuka never had any real sleep that night. He lay awake with his mind holding firm to the thought of getting a wife. He didn’t want to get overly excited about the prospect, as it was a big plunge into the unknown in his own opinion. He thought of falling in love with a woman for the first time. He had no clue of how it felt or iota of its experience. How will it be? Sweet or bitter? What is the first step? What careful orchestration does it require? Questions like these and many more jingled in Chuka’s crowded mind, so much that he didn’t know when a scream escaped his mouth.
“Help! I think I’m going crazy!”
“Yes, I understand you, son,” Iweka who heard Chuka well chipped in. “Getting a wife will cure such madness.”
Longings Of A Caged Love: Watch Out For Part 3