Exactly on April 23rd 1848, by early evening, Ada Asaba, princess Awele, gave birth to a baby boy. The baby was a bundle of beauty to look upon. Every man or woman who saw it had something nice to say about it. Both Asagba and Osadebe offered free food and drinks to all the people in Asaba. The fanfare was unlike any Asaba had seen previously. In a much more modern parlance, April 23rd 1848 was like Christmas in Asaba. Horns blared; gongs sounded and drums rumbled. There was a lot of singing and dancing.
Walking with his shoulders held high and his face beaming a proud smile, Osadebe greeted all who came to celebrate with him and his wife. Celebrations continued late into the night and for days.
On that day, just before sunset, Obida, an elderly woman, was on Asaba farmland which stretched toward Igbuzo, harvesting cassava. She had unusually stayed on her farm longer than she should. Fearing that wild beasts might feast on her for dinner, she hurriedly loaded her tubers of cassava into a basket and made for home. On her way home, she passed by the ancient home and shrine of Odogwu Ozala and his descendants. The sight she met was shocking. An old iroko tree which had dried up from its roots had begun to shed its dead and dry back. For a moment, Obida thought she saw a new fresh stalk, sprout out of the dead back of the tree.
She was stunned by the sight. Her feet froze and her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She tried hard to shout, but had mouth gave no sound. It took some minutes before she could take a step away from the shrine of the fallen keepers of ancient royal harem. “How is this possible?” Obida asked as her feet trembled. “They have been long dead. Odogwu Ozala and his generation are nothing more than myths found in our folklore. How is it that such an old shrine is coming back alive?” While Obida wondered at what she had seen, a gentle cold wind seized her and the basket on her head. The last thing she remembered was floating in the air away from the shrine with her basket on her head.
By late night Obida woke up in her hut with no memory of how she got home. When she ran outside, she found out that someone had peeled all the tubers of cassava she had in her basket and soaked them in her earthen pots for her. “May the gods keep me from evil. What is going on in my life? Are the dead now on errands for me? What is the meaning of this?” she wondered aloud. “Your mouth shall for no reason ever speak of that which your eyes have seen,” a male baritone voice spoke to her. She shivered with dread as goose bumps swooshed over her.
Like an arrow, she shot herself into her hut, whispering to the supposed spirit which had spoken to her, “I am only a widow with no child or grandchildren. Kill me not spirit from old times.” The moment she said that, a calm feeling settled over her and her racing heart eased up. In the early hours of the next day, a friend of hers visited, to give her the share of meat, food and drinks apportioned to her by the Asagba and the chiefs of the land. “Where are all these from? Are they only for me?” Obida asked. “Look at the sort of question she asks. Are you a stranger in this land? Even strangers amongst us know that Awele has given birth to a baby boy. These are from her father the Asagba and the chiefs of the land.”
“Forgive me Udounwa. I should have figured that out by myself. How is the newborn baby?” Udounwa drew closer and whispered, “May the gods forgive me and all those who wagged their tongues against Ada Asaba. The newborn baby is the spitting image of Osadebe. What they went through was nothing short of a test of faith. May the gods bless me with the kind of patience Osadebe and the princess have,” Udounwa explained. “Is there anything unique about the child?” asked Obida. Udounwa regarded her for a second and asked, “Is there something you know which I don’t?” “No Udounwa. I am only asking because there should be one. A child who took such a long time to arrive should come with some signs.”
“Oh! I see what you mean. Actually there is one…” Udounwa paused. The Obida drew closer to her friend, her ears attentive to hear what it was. “His eyes fit the description of legends of old.” “We have too many legends, which ones do you mean?” “This is going to sound ridiculous, Obida, but it is as I say it. The newborn baby has the eyes of royal concubines keepers…” Udounwa paused to see how her friend would react. Obida felt goose bumps all over her body along with the presence of that same spirit she encountered the previous day. “You look shell shocked Obida. Are you okay my friend?” “I am Udounwa,” she lied. “I don’t mean to make jest of what you said, but you must have had too much to drink yesterday for you to think that the newborn child has the eyes of ancient royal concubines keepers. Are you aware of how long ago they lived? Not even your grandfather was born then,”Obida added, managing a false laugh.
“Well that was the reason I said what I was going to say would sound ridiculous. However, don’t forget I have heard and told the story about Odogwu Ozala and his sons countless times. The moment I saw the newborn baby, my heart missed a beat.” “Speak no further Udounwa. My ears will hear no more of this. Odogwu Ozala and his kind are nothing short of a long forgotten piece history. There is no one left amongst them to impregnate Awele. It is as you said; the newborn is the spitting image of his father. The look of his eyes means nothing!” “I have heard you Obida! Don’t make it sound like we are fighting. I often wish that we still live in the times of Odogwu Ozala and his sons…” Udounwa rolled up her eyes dreamily and continued, “In their time Asaba was a pride land. We had so much to eat and drink that baskets of abandoned food were taken from our streets to feed hungry souls in, Ohaji Egbema, Sapele, Agbor, Ubulubu. In those days as we were told, no army dared to march on our land…!” “…only Odogwu Ozala and his sons would match out to meet such an army. By their words, an invading army would descend on themselves until the last soul amongst them had been cut down,” Obida filled in for Udounwa.
“Chai Obida! Why was Odogwu Ozala and his kind killed in cold blood?!” “Udounwa, your mouth will not take my life before my time. The king will kill for talk such as yours. I think it is too early for such dangerous talk. Let us see in the evening for idle talk and gossip. This is morning and I have so much to do,” Obida said as she carried the food and meat which her friend brought for her inside.
When she remerged, Udounwa stood up, dusted her buttocks and announced her leave, “Obida the busy ant, go do your plenty work. I will return in the evening with plenty gossip.” “I will make sure to empty my ears for new stories from you.” Obida waited outside until Udounwa had disappeared from sight and ran into her hut. Hurriedly she began to pack her few loads. “It is only the tree who was informed that it will be killed and it did not run away before its killers arrived. My eyes and ears have seen and heard enough. I will leave for my maternal home until this ominous cloud over Asaba clears,” Obida said to herself.
Isele Ukwu April 29th 1848
At Ogboliko, just beside Ezieshi’s compound, Isioma, the slave girl, who was thought dead, dragged herself into the home of a native doctor. She was heavily pregnant and was expecting to put to bed in a few months. At the sight of the young pregnant slave girl, the native doctor began to make known his visions. “Your path has crossed with the mighty, and death has spared you once. You carry the seed of the mighty and you seek revenge. You were born the day gods went on a recess and your destiny was not written amongst the stars. Twice you have been sold into slavery and bought back. Right now you are on the run… sit down child.”
Isioma stood for long staring at the native doctor. She had heard about him while she was a slave girl at Onitsha Ugbo. To have him tell her life story in an instance was unlike anything she had seen in her short and hard life. “They said you should have been born a ghost, now I see they were right,” she said as managed to sit on the chair offered to her by Anyaeke (serpent eyes). “I am really flattered by that. I do wish I was a ghost sometimes. Well, I am not one, but in my next life I will negotiate to be born as one,” Anyaeke said lightheartedly. Both of them laughed. “I know what has brought you here, child. I fear that you are about to step into a den of lions. The man whom you seek to kill eats from the hands of the gods. It is not his destiny to die by your hands.”
“How do you know this? I believe anybody can kill anybody,” Isioma said defiantly. “You are wrong child. The man you want dead is Osadebe, the mighty warlord at Asaba. He is no ordinary man.” Isioma frowned and asked, “If I can’t kill him, is there a way I can hurt him?” “I will look into his life, though that is a risky thing to do. There are many vicious and dangerous eyes watching over him.”
Isioma untied the edge of her wrapper, removed some money and dropped it on the floor. “I will give even my life to see him dead,” she said. Anyaeke raised his head and looked at Isioma with shock on his face. “If you have blood to give, there are many things you can do my child,” said Anyaeke. “I have my blood and the blood of my unborn child to give,” Isioma announced as hot tears ran down her pretty face.
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