if witches were horses

A Novel Written by Kolade Segun-Okeowo (KSO)

Professor Adarabioyo had poisoned his mind. He was confused. Totally confused…

As he hurried out of Professor Adarabioyo’s office, he remembered the words of Pastor Kalejaye; “If you answer the call of God, will your students leave the school… or will the campus be shut down?”

Two days had passed after Folagbade the King of Onigba-Iwofa sent for Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru the Chief Priest. By the time Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru came, fear had already gripped Folagbade. Why would the Chief Priest refuse to come? Has he offended the gods or has the Priest decided to abandon him at this crucial time of stress?

Several thoughts raced across his mind. If the Priest eventually refuses to cooperate, what hope does he have again? Within the two days, six more deaths have been announced in the village, all of them youths! Folagbade’s world was already crumbling.

He was ready to give up that the Chief Priest would ever come when Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru stepped into his palace, his eyes red with anger and burning with fury that almost sent Folagbade into wishing he had not sent for him, but he knew he had to withstand it all, no matter what.

“Folagbade!” shouted Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru. He always called him by his name. He cared less to respect him. Folagbade’s grandfather was his contemporary. Despite his advanced age, Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru’s strides compare him favourably with men, two generations younger.

Being the most powerful and feared medicine-man in Onigba-Iwofa and the other adjoining twenty villages, Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru was ready to dare anyone. When Folagbade ascended the throne, Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru had said to himself; ‘I will not hunt tigers in the morning with the father and squat in the evening to shoot antelopes with the son’

He simply sent a congratulatory message to the new King.

“The little child in his folly speaks evil of the iroko tree.” Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru continued shaking his fists violently at Folagbade. “The little child looks back and rejoices saying ‘did they not say that the iroko kills?’ The child is ignorant of the fact that the iroko strikes when least expected!”

Folagbade knew he was in real trouble. He searched his heart for the right words to use. Finally he got some and stood up to address the aged Priest, unsure whether his words would ever be appropriate.

“Baba Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru, you wrap your words in riddles, why must you pelt me with arrows of words like this. Why do I deserve all these?”

The words came out as if from an unwilling mouth. Folagbade stopped, looked at the priest like a student waiting to hear the result of his promotion examination. The words seem to have fallen on the wrong side of Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru. His eyeballs shot out with anger, starring bitterly at Folagbade, he grind his teeth and bursted!

“What have you not done?” He screamed “I say what have you not done?” He repeated, shaking his horsetail menacingly at Folagbade.

“Ever since you, Folagbade son of Ajagungbade got to the throne of your fathers, how many times have you come to pay homage to me; the wicked python across the pathway! Your father Lagooku never ceased in consulting me all the years he spent on that throne” He said, pointing menacingly at the throne.

“I thought you have neglected me! What else do you expect from me?…… Well you sent for me and I have come to answer since I know it’s a taboo to ignore the call of the royal highness. Folagbade, I take my leave!”

Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru stormed towards the door. Folagbade ran after him and went flat on his chest in prostration.

“Baba Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru…. Forgive me! Consider my prostration. I beg you in the name of my father ‘Lagooku Agbaruru bi Agabdo’ The little child can never boast of perfection in eating the wrapped pap. Please put me not to shame” Folagbade remained glued to the floor as he pleaded.

Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru looked at the King on the floor; he felt like spitting on him, he smiled sheepishly to himself.

Folagbade paused, waiting to hear from the old Priest. When he heard no word, he continued the pleading. “According to the wisdom of you our elders, one does not get angry with the rubbish dump and discard one’s rubbish into ones house. Do not allow calamity to destroy my reign I plead. You elders say, one does not get angry with one’s head and therefore use one’s cap to cover one’s buttocks. Permit my effrontery to say proverbs in your presence”

Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru turned back, considered the King on the floor, he smiled to himself. He had always known that a day like this would come. Having witnessed the reign of three Kings before Folagbade; all of them his ancestors, he saw no reason why little Folagbade will not pay him homage.

He knew one day, the arrogance of Folagbade borne out of his experience of working with the white-men and the government in the city would give way. He turned around from Folagbade still lying on the ground, hissed heavily and returned to his seat. Folagbade rose and followed him like a rain-drenched chicken.

“If I were to do that which I have conceived of, I would not have come at all….” He hissed again. “A young python, seeking assurance of adulthood measures itself with the length of a palm tree.” He stopped, looked at the young King disdainfully and turned away from him and returned to his seat.

He hissed again. “It is only in a small stream that the crab can make its oil; when it becomes huge and swift the river sweeps the crab away… Well, may we hear that which has been troubling your feeble heart? I will listen to you this last time, just for the sake of your father, Lagooku….. Let’s hear you!”

He relaxed fully on the cane chair, his head resting on the wall. He tapped his left feet on the ground causing a monotonous rhythm in the palace room that has become completely silent as Folagbade waited to gather himself together and be able to use the right words.

“Baba! May you live long. I believe this issue is not strange to you.” He was choosing the words. He paused again to see if the words were doing well; the expression on Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru was simply blank. He quickly continued hoping that the words were sinking at least.

“Sudden deaths have become rather rampant in the village. There is hardly any family that has not been hit by this calamity.” He paused again to feel the response of the old man, but there was none. The Priest turned to him as if to say; ‘Why did you stop?’ Folagbade quickly continued, hoping that he has not offended him.

“The most disturbing aspect of these deaths is that the victims were always screaming a strange name ‘Orogojigo’ as they die. I have investigated from the elders and they said such a name has never been heard of and neither is there a god that goes by that name in Yoruba land.” Folagbade said with an air of authority and assurance as if to let Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru know that he was confident of his report.

The old Priest maintained his non-challant stance expecting him to round off his speech.

“All these has brought me much confusion, as a result, I have decided to call upon you….. Please Baba, come to my rescue…”

He prostrated again rising immediately to ensure none was watching around the palace. He knew it was a taboo for him to prostrate to any of his subjects but in this situation, taboos could go to hell! Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru stared at him in a pitiful mockery, laughed and sneered at him drawing up the tip of his nose to mock the King.

“Terrible words indeed” The old man said sarcastically. “Are those all the things that trouble your heart?” Folagbade nodded sheepishly. “You see! You’re but a small child that possesses not the spirit of bravery. If only you associate with people of our caliber, things of this nature will never trouble your heart again… a position of valour is not for childish minds.” The Priest said relaxing and speaking with such boldness that gave Folagbade a bit of comfort, at least there seems to be solution if the Priest could talk like that.

“We shall make necessary enquiries from the gods that we may know what is the cause of all these calamities in the village.” The Priest announced with an air of finality, stressing each word as he mentioned them as if to let Folagbade know that he was sure of himself.

“Through the enquiries, we shall know what necessary appeasements and sacrifices to make.” Folagbade knew it will come to that. Sacrifices and enquiries are ‘twin brothers’, they walk hand in hand. Whatever be the case, Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru the Chief Priest will be looking for an opportunity to strike back at him and collect his long overdue ‘entitlements’ from him.

Folagbade smiled to show his appreciation of the presence of the Priest. He had to, although he knew Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru would cheat out through the items of the sacrifices, but what else could he do? The bitter alternative would be to allow the village deteriorate and be wiped out by the strange epidemic; the cheating of Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru was better than the devastating effect of the strange epidemic.

“The devil you know is better than the one you don’t know” Folagbade thought.

“But Baba, what sort of enquiry are we to make and how do we go about it?” Folagbade asked trying to force the words quickly out of the Priest. He hated the old man, but he was his last ‘Messiah’. He had no choice than to accept him. Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru is known all over the twenty villages around Onigba-Iwofa, no other medicine man could withstand him. After him, Folagbade knew no other medicine-man.

“We must not waste time on this at all!” said Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru with pride and confidence. Secretly within him, he was rejoicing.

“Go into the power room of your father, Lagooku and bring out the calabash of Onimomotirimo; the knower of all truths. We shall make enquiries from Onimomotimo the one who divinates for Onimomotirimo, the brave and mighty spirit who knows all things!”

The Priest has already changed his look. He turned strangely away from Folagbade and widened his eyes as he spoke. Fear gripped Folagbade as he mentioned the calabash of Onimomotirimo. Ever since he ascended the throne of his fathers, he has never entered the power-house of his father let alone touch the strange calabash.

According to the legend of the village, the King must never look into the calabash except on a suicide bid. One of the Kings who reigned about a century before him was said to have died when he opened the calabash. The village hated him and rejected his regime. He felt bitter and chose to end it up a brave man. Only powerful medicine-men could look straight into the calabash where a strange demon who knows all truths resides.

“You mean I should bring out the calabash?” The fear was clearly written on Folagbade….. ‘What if the calabash opens while carrying it?’ ‘What if the lid breaks? ‘What if …..’

“You waste time!” barked Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru, forcing Folagbade out of his soliloquy. “Go bring the calabash. It is the only source of truth!”

Gradually, Folagbade arose from his throne and turned towards the inner palace. He walked briskly out of Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru’s sight pretending and trying to keep his fear. As soon as he stepped out of the palace hall, his legs grew weak, he shivered.

A thousand ‘what ifs’ ran across his brain. He tried to answer all but none came through. Could it be that Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru wants him dead? He thought. “Why did he ask me to bring that deadly and strange calabash?” He stood there not knowing what to do.

“Be quick!” The loud, husky voice of the old Priest boomed from the palace hall. Folagbade shivered, a drop of urine managed to escape through before he could stop it. Death! He thought. Fear ran through his spine. He thought again “What could be worse than what I presently experience now?……. Even if I don’t die by the calabash, what if the epidemic strikes me next?” He let out a hiss and dashed towards the power-room. He was confident that death could not be a sufficient threat for him.

“I have seen enough deaths than to fear death again!” He got to the door of the room and stopped, his heart missed a beat. He looked at the imposing door of the room painted black with stripes of blood, a human skull hung above the door. A look at the skull melted away his boldness.

Then remembered Psalm 23!

He had been taught series of Psalms when he enrolled for the compulsory baptismal class. In those days, baptism was a compulsory prerequisite for students who wish to enroll in the only public ‘Modern’ Schools. He had taken the name Francis, but that was all! He tried to remember the words of the psalm, but they simply will not come.

He closed his eyes and pushed the door gently, he waited for any strange sign so that he might bolt away…nothing happened. He pushed a bit further, nothing! He entered gradually, still closing his eyes. He turned around three times as he had been instructed by the elders, a few years ago when he ascended the throne.

He opened his eyes slowly and saw six human skulls staring wickedly at him, he jumped. He remembered Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru waiting outside; it would be a tragedy if the old man gets annoyed and leave. He looked around for the calabash; it was there! Conspicuously placed on a table covered with a dark, dusty and faded red cloth!

The room was dark though he could slightly see. Fortunately, the calabash was painted white, there was no way he could miss it. He stepped near the table and picked the calabash, his hands firmly gripping the lid to avoid any form of accidental opening.

He turned around to survey the deadly room. It was already over grown with cobwebs. The dust on the calabash had almost turned it to brown.

He quickly stepped out of the room, locked the door and walked back to the palace hall holding the calabash firmly to his chest. The dust had entered his nostrils so he sneezed twice grabbing the calabash closer each time he sneezed.

“The lid must not open” He said to himself.

“Baba, this is the calabash you…” He stopped, froze and opened wide his mouth. He could not believe his eyes, the old man was not there again….!

‘Ha! He got annoyed! I delayed too long and he left!’ He told himself.
‘So what is the essence of living if the only hope I have is no longer there?’

He dropped the calabash gently adjusting it to sit perfectly on the floor. ‘Why don’t I open the calabash now and die. What enquiries do I know of now!’ He turned around, surveyed the palace and knelt beside the calabash; he placed a hand over the lid and set to open it.

“Death is better than shame!” He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.

To be continued in Episode 6.

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