Olisaka – A Short Story
The day they found him, we all ran out to see. He was laid on a bamboo bed, seven men carried him shoulder high. His feet stuck out of the mat, they were swollen, slimy waters dripping from the his toes, falling into the earth like tiny drops dripping from the tips of a thatched roof after the rain. Flies danced around his legs and hovered around the men carrying him, their buzzing melody serenaded our ears.
The women marched in the silence. The children were forbidden to cry. The men heaved and sighed, deep frowns etched on their faces.
Olisaka Ala!” they said.
Deep lines burrowed their faces. Sweat glistened on the shoulders of the muscled men carrying Olisaka. We watched in silence as Olisaka’s mother’s shoulders rose and fell. Her wrapper slipped from her hip but she didn’t bother to gather it. She walked on, stepping on it and nearly falling on her face but Eloka, her third son held her elbow and pulled her up.
Their faces were long and heavy, like the haunting images craved on the walls of Igele shrine. Eyes, colored with blood, knuckles cracking within themselves, teeth gnashing. They kept walking, their hands clamped in each other’s hand.
The giant iroko tree at the junction of the village priest’s hut drew closer. We watched Olisaka’s mother and Eloka walk slower, tailing to the back of the line. Olisaka’s mother raised her hands above her head and began to punch the wind. She opened her mouth to cry but Eloka held her.
“Quiet, mother, jide onye gi aka.” Eloka said- or so we imagined he said because we were too far away to read his lips or hear what he must have whispered but we all knew what it was. Akwaugo kindred laws are the same. It’s forbidden to cry for a man who drowned himself. Olisaka committed an abomination. Aru. He would not be buried. Anyone who dares cry would be cast away.
So, we didn’t need to be close to hear Eloka’s words but we saw that his words had taken roots. Olisaka’s mother was calmer. Even as she walked past the bleating goat tied to the Ube tree at the entrance of the village priest’s house, she didn’t cry, didn’t sigh. She just walked ahead, ignoring the looks of pity flung at her.
The muscled men dropped Olisaka at the door of the Village priest’s hut. A little, brave hen walked over with her chicks and begins to nibble at Olisaka’s foot. No one stopped it. The village priest, Dee Odi walked out from his hut with his back. He carried the pot of Ibinabuo. The smoke emitting from the pot rose to the skies, the foul fragrance stung our noses. Everyone pressed their noses, two people sneezed but Olisaka’s mother and Eloka stared on, neither bothered about the foul odour.
Two shrine servants walked out from the backyard. Each held the staff and Aju. They sprinkled the Aju on Olisaka while muttering incantations.
The village priest bent and opened the raffia mat covering Olisaka’s face. It was swollen. His fair skin had turned black. He didn’t look like the man who played flute at the market square. He didn’t look like the man who danced like a fish. He didn’t look like the man who spared a coin or two when we clustered at his foot and listened to him tell exaggerated tales of his war valour. Olisaka was a coward and everyone in the Akwaugo knew it. Yet, he was kind and we, the little children loved his tales.
“Asi na omere gini?” the village priest asked,staring at Olisaka’s face. His trembling hand on the pot already showed he knew. Yet he asked again for the second time.
Oliebule stepped out, walking through the sea of heads till he got to the priest.
“Dee Odi, Olisaka drowned himself in the village well.”
“Aru!” the priest bellowed, striking his left foot on the ground. “He that spits the gods in the face, he that flings life to the winds must dance to the wrath of the gods.”
Olisaka’s mother fell on her knees, her shoulders shaking violently. “Nwa m, nwa m, Olisa nkem” she muttered.
Eloka ran to her and held her, burying her face in his chest, his right hand clamped over her mouth. The other caressing her back.
“Olisaka will be buried the evil forest” the priest declared.