Chattering, laughing and squealing, they flocked along the red-dusted road, each with empty water-pots, clad in nothing but tie-dye clothing around breasts and waists. The leaves crunched beneath their bare feet. Far above, squirrels and birds were hopping from tree to tree, bush to bush, singing and whistling. The sun was sinking into the orange-blue clouds, beyond the furthest forest, blanketing the atmosphere in twilight, as though the earth was tinted in lemon yellow.
“Have you heard the latest news?” asked one of the maidens after a fit of laughter.
“You and your news, parrot mouth, we’re all ears,” someone mocked eyeing the four others, as if to say ‘let’s hear another lie’
“I can’t just imagine this,” she clapped twice, “eh, eh, Akanbi proposed to Abeni of all people, when the princess is still struggling to have him.”
“Abeni,” said another, puzzled, “which Abeni are you talking about?”
“Stay there, the one that wanted to fight me at the stream on the last market day.”
“You mean that…that saucy thing?” somebody exclaimed.
“You can’t be serious, are you?” queried yet another, “When was that, when did Akanbi propose to her?”
“According to Fadekemi, her best friend, it was this same yesterday.”
“Things are really happening in this village.”
“But men are naturally blind, you know,” said the first speaker, “I’m going to deal with that Abeni.”
“Not only you.”
Cupping her palm around the palm-oil lamp, Abeni slammed the bamboo door. Her body shivered, as did the golden flame, at the cold wind.
Olodumare, the supreme god, had dethroned the moon tonight, for in the afternoon the earth was drunk to stupor. It was the first rain of the season—the fifth moon— so the children had gathered at the village square, singing merrily, jumping excitedly like toads in a swamp. When Osumare, the god of rainbow, had crowned the sky with his beautiful colours, some elders had saluted, “Homage to you, the god of my ancestors!”
The wind was now blowing colder. Abeni dropped herself on a stone, leaned forward, pampering the lamp, elbows on thighs.
“Oh, Akanbi…” she whispered, shaking head, her emerald eyes glinting in the dim light.
Akanbi was a young hunter who, as a teenager, had slain a tiger with magic and spear. And he had refined the wild-skin to a loincloth, the teeth a necklace, which he further wore for hunting. He was revered by every hunter in Oloyade and far, far beyond. To his credit, he was charming beyond natural and thus, the dream of every maiden. Abeni on the other hand was the daughter of Ayandele, a popular drummer.
Four days back, Ayandele was invited as a musician at the egungun festival held by Balogun, the royal warlord. Ayandele sang and drummed with his band of seven, while Abeni danced along with five other maidens. Akanbi was seated among his hunter comrades. He could not resist Abeni, her pretty face and willowy figure—her skin was as gleaming and likewise coloured as a fresh palmwine gourd. Like river ripples swayed her slim waist, her ample bums, her blossomed breasts, to the drumbeat. Akanbi sent for her afterwards.
Walking towards him, her chest rumbled like thunder, her body shook. Together they strolled towards a nearby cashew tree; she tilted her head, covered her face—as though Akanbi’s eyes were a sun. Tall as she was, she was a dwarf beside him. His masculinity was profound, from his well-built figure, mountains of chests, wide shoulders. At last, he expressed how beautiful she looked and how well she had danced. She smiled like a girl of nine seasons, covering her face again. And she was nearly twenty-five.
Akanbi had buried his intention, until three days ago. Abeni received a male visitor who presented a leaf to her, a folded leaf, stating Akanbi as the sender. After revealing the item she clutched her chest, “A cock feather!” she gasped, eyes ablaze, lips trembled. It was aroko, an iconic sign, meaning, “I love/adore you.”
Abeni was now worried, utterly confused. Princess Ewatomi had come on the previous day, with three hunky warriors, to warn her, “If you ever accept his proposal, you will be severely dealt with. That, I promise you. If I want to share a man with someone—not even you, this wretched thing. The daughter of a beggar!”
Abeni and her parents were no descendants of Oloyade. Any attempt to defy the princess might lead to their banishment.
Taking a deep breath, her eyes glistened tearfully.