A Novel Written By: Kolade Segun-Okeowo (KSO)
‘Sixteen thousand dollars…That’s approximately 240,000 naira. If you collect the money, you can use part of it to do what God has called you to do, that will make the work easier you know….or won’t you use money?’
“Should I tear this resignation letter now?” He asked himself. His thoughts were ready with the answer ‘Yees! Go on, tear it. Think of this money and other allowances coming your way soon. Do you know that Gbayike may refuse to marry you because of this? Think again.’
He sat there thinking about the new development, suddenly, he stood up, picked the letter with ‘Ford Foundation’ and tore it into shreds. He packed the rest of his files and documents into the briefcase. The office was empty now; he had been packing his books gradually in the last one week. He picked the briefcase and made for the door with the resignation letter on the right hand.
At the door, he stopped, turned back and cast a last painful glance at the office he had used for seven years. He opened the door quickly and dashed out.
Chief Priest Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru led the procession of the nine village elders to the feet of the Iroko Oluwere tree at midnight. Folagbade the King followed Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru closely bearing a white calabash in his hands. He was doing it for the first time in seven years. The Chief Priest said the gods asked for the sacrifices to be performed on weekly basis with a special ritual involving human sacrifice to be held annually.
Folagbade hated the idea of human sacrifice but what could he do at a time like this? If it meant that a single person would have to die to save the lives of hundreds, then why not. He had paid some men to kidnap a virgin girl from the city. They brought three girls on the instruction of Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru to ensure that at least, one of them would be a true virgin.
The first two girls were not virgins, only the third was fit for the sacrifice, so they tied and prepared her for the sacrifice. The first two were released after three days of torture, rape and maltreatment in the hands of Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru’s men.
When the King saw the young girl caught for the rituals, tears swelled in his eyes. He pitied the parents of the girl. They would be all over the city searching for her, not knowing that their daughter was over a hundred kilometers away from home. He shook his head and turned away from the now-dumb maiden.
That night, as they led the maiden to the feet of the tree where she would be beheaded, Folagbade felt the guilt conscience pricking him continuously. Another man’s child, to save his own people! The voice of the Chief Priest invocations reminded him they were now at the feet of the demon-infested tree, a huge and imposing Iroko with a circumference of about forty feet at the base.
“Oh gods and goddesses of our land” Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru started his strange invocations
“You mighty powers behind our ancestors
We invoke your immortal spirits
No woman defies the cry of her child
We plead in prostration, hearken to our plea
A sick bird is never found in its nest
No one discovers the secret of the ocean
None uncovers the secret of the sea weed
Let our secret remain a mystery to the world
When the dead is called along the pathway,
The living responds
You gods of Onigba-Iwofa, we beseech you
Come and accept our offerings”
He paused after the invocations, looked around to be sure all was well. Satisfied, he continued. “We have brought what you require, a young virgin girl, your delight!”
Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru drew out the sword from the sheath attached to his dress and held the young girl now blindfolded. He led her to a stump about ten metres away from the huge tree, assisted by two elders. The girl was tied, hands and foot and forced to kneel with her neck across the stump. The elders stepped back. Folagbade’s heart was beating faster now. He wished he could stop the rituals; but he knew the implications of even suggesting such a thing.
He closed his eyes as Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru raised the sword and brought it down heavily severing the head from the body. Folagbade gnashed his teeth and groaned. It was dark, no one saw him.
‘An innocent girl!’ he thought. He remembered his daughter studying Medicine at the University of Ibadan and shuddered. ‘This could have been my daughter’
The body fell away from the stump while the head rolled violently to another side. Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru picked the head and placed it inside the calabash in Folagbade’s hands. Folagbade closed his eyes. He cursed his luck for being the King of the village. The whole thing was disgusting, the head of a virgin in his hands!
The Priest tapped the tree thrice with an object in his hand and stepped back. Then it happened like a dream. Folagbade saw it but could not believe it was happening… but it happened!!!
From inside the tree came out a fearful looking demon. The lower part of its body was the image of a gorilla while the upper part seemed to be half human, half vampire. The monster was completely black. Folagbade stepped back. All the elders bowed in worship, he quickly joined them. Folagbade felt like jumping up and running away but he had heard tales of people who ran from such strange creatures, they kept running till they died! He stole a glance at the creature; there were blood stains all over its mouth.
The demon roared fearfully, its voice reverberating through the night. The King shivered.
Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru rose and took the calabash with the virgin’s head and stretched it towards the demon who took the calabash and disappeared back into the tree with another roar. All the elders hailed the demon as they rise with jubilation. Only Folagbade was sad; he wondered what they had to rejoice for after killing another man’s child. He looked at Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru and cursed him under his breath “Bloody Murderer!”
Morakinyo left his house in the University Staff Quarters as early as five-thirty in the morning. He chose not to travel with his car; he was going to Onigba-Iwofa for the first time. The distance and the bad roads do not encourage private transportation. He was just going to have first hand information of what the village looked like before returning to pack his things down.
The church had already promised to take responsibility for his movement and upkeep for the first twelve months in the mission field. The church has always been doing that for her missionaries and others; using the Mission Funds.
As he stepped out of his house that morning; a small traveling bag across his shoulder, he knew he was taking a giant step that would change the course of his life entirely. He closed his eyes and prayed as he stood at the door
“Lord Jesus, I have obeyed your call to go out into the world and evangelize. You called me to be a missionary and here I am ready for you. It’s a painful sacrifice you know Lord, but I consider your sacrifice on the cross more painful. I don’t know where am going but I know you are there. Lord Jesus, I surrender my life into your hands, lead me as it pleases you”
The tears flowed… they flowed freely….. He cried.
By the time he arrived Shaki via Oyo town, it was already one O’clock. The vehicle he took from Ibadan broke down on the road twice. As soon as he alighted from the vehicle, two garage boys approached him seeking to know his destination.
“Oga…… where una dey go?”
“I’m going to Onigba-Iwofa village” Morakinyo replied hoping he was talking to the right people. Garage touts could be mean.
“Onigba-Iwofa village for this time?……. ah oga, you don late o! Na only one vehicle dey go that village efry day. E just commot now, e no reach thirty-minutes.” The first tout, a bulky light skinned boy of about twenty said.
“Na only market day na im motor dey travel that side well well” The second tout explained.
“When is the market day?” Morakinyo asked.
“Yesterday na one, the other one, e go reach four days now” The first tout said.
“Four days!” Morakinyo stood there thinking of what to do; the boys left him and continued their own business. He knew it was not the best thing to return back home. He thought of all the hindrances and temptations he had left at home. He tried to remember if he knew anyone in Shaki, none came to his mind.
“Oga abi you go enter Sepeteri motor?” one of the touts came back.
“Which one is Sepeteri?”
“Na the next big town to Onigba-Iwofa dey answer Sepeteri, you fit get motor there go Onigba-Iwofa.”
“Are you sure?” Morakinyo asked; excited that at least he is getting closer to the target.
“Haba! Oga, I swear, you go get motor there. From Sepeteri to Onigba-Iwofa no reach thirty minutes.”
Morakinyo joined the vehicle going to Sepeteri, an old wooden wagon. He was the last passenger, so he only managed to perch near the door. It was the most uncomfortable journey of his life. He sat beside an old woman with a baby-goat on her laps. The odour from inside the vehicle was great. Morakinyo was grateful to God that he sat close to the door; he poked his head out occasionally to receive fresh air.
That stopped as soon as they left Shaki environs. The rest of the road was un-tarred and heavily dusty; the harmattan was just setting in. The dust entered directly into the vehicle. Morakinyo had to bring out his handkerchief. He appeared clearly the odd man out. The rest of the passengers seemed used to the uncomfortable journey. No one complained about the dust or bad roads; in fact, most of them slept!
They only wake occasionally when the vehicle negotiated a sharp bend causing those on the right row to bump into the passengers on the left or vice-versa, then they shouted on the driver not to break their backs. The journey took three gruesome hours. Three hours that seemed like three days to Morakinyo. By the time the vehicle arrived Sepeteri, it was twenty five minutes after four.
Morakinyo was completely soaked in the dust. His hair had turned brown. He got down from the vehicle and met the greatest surprise of the journey; there was no single vehicle in the garage apart from the one from Shaki. He asked his co-passenger if there was another motor park in the town.
“We have only this one!” She explained.
“Where are you going?” another villager offered to help.
“Ah! Onigba-Iwofa!” The man bit his lips as if in regret “You can only get vehicle to Onigba-Iwofa before seven in the morning……”
“Where are you coming from?” The woman asked.
“Haa!” The two chorused in pity.
“Can’t I trek to the village; I thought it’s not far from here? I haerd its only 30 minutes by road”
“Ha! Onigba-Iwofa? It’s far”
“I can’t advise my enemy to trek to Onigba-Iwofa” The woman said picking her bags, she adjusted one on the head, pulled her little son and left.
“To walk from here to Onigba-Iwofa will take about four hours!”
“Four hours? No problem I’ll go. This is just four thirty, before nine I’ll get there.” Morakinyo said, happy that at least there was a way out. Having spent years in the Evangelism Sub-Group both on the campus and the church, four hours trekking seemed like a child’s play; he wondered why the woman was making hell out of a four hour trek.
‘I thought they said villagers can trek a lot?’ The man smiled and took Morakinyo aside.
“My friend, it is not that the distance is so much, but…The road that leads to the village passes through Alupayida forest!”
“Alupayida forest!” Morakinyo grew goose pimples.
“The forest is terrible and evil. It is full of evil spirits, demons and strange creatures. That is why we don’t dare trek to Onigba-Iwofa village.” The man explained wearing a fearful look. Morakinyo listened attentively.
“Only brave hunters and powerful medicine men can enter the forest. In fact, many of them used to die there or immediately after returning”
“I see” said Morakinyo, he knew the man was sincere, but he was not going to allow fear overcome his plan of getting to Onigba-Iwofa that day. He remembered the prayer he said before leaving his quarters in the morning and wondered if God would allow him to die in the hands of demons and strange spirits.
“If I have to trek to that village today, I’m ready to go; one thing is that I cannot return back home. Can you please give me the description of the route to the village?” The man looked at Morakinyo and pitied him. He shook his head and wondered why anyone would place a curse on a fine young man like Morakinyo. Was he walking under a spell? He quickly gave him the description before anyone would see him discussing with Morakinyo and say he was the one who laid a spell on him. As Morakinyo picked his bag and walked towards the direction, the man turned and shook his head in pity. “His mother must have offended some powerful ones” he thought.
Fadiora carried the goat across his shoulders towards the imposing tree. His first son had been attacked by the epidemic. He had started shivering right in the sun while playing with his mates. Fadiora was not going to risk it again. Two of his children had been claimed by the mysterious epidemic. He quickly rushed to the market, bought a goat and other sacrificial items and made straight for the Iroko Oluwere tree.
The silence around the vicinity was scaring. He stopped, surveyed the surrounding, no one was in sight. He had seen the tree afar off. He moved closer until he got to the base of the tree.
A red-tailed parrot flew low across his head, he jumped, frightened. He looked to and fro quickly and dropped the goat.
“Oganranganjan!” the goat bleated as if responding. He called the name again “You mighty demon in Iroko Oluwere, I, Fadiora the son of Gbonjubo have come with the usual sacrifice of appeasement to save my son; Ilelaboye from dying” He stopped and looked around again; satisfied that no one was watching, he continued “Save my son!” He looked again. “I have brought your black goat, let my sacrifice be accepted!”
With that, he dashed fiercely out from the tree, his cap falling in the process “My cap fell, yet I must not look back” he thought. The Chief Priest had given a warning that no one must look back after offering the sacrifices , and it must be done a jiffy, lest they incur the wrath of Oganranganjan.
A few seconds after Fadiora left, Bombata, one of the most trusted aides of Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru stepped out…He had been hiding behind the imposing tree listening with amusement to Fadiora. That was the twenty-fourth goat he would carry away from the base of the tree. His boss, Ajamolaya-Bi-Eru had specially created a big traditional oven to accommodate the meat from the sacrificial goats. He kept a few others for rearing within his large compound. Bombata smiled again as he untied the goat and lifted it to his shoulder, he saw the fallen cap and kicked it off ‘Fool!’ he thought.
The man who directed Morakinyo was wrong; he said four hours instead of seven hours! The journey to Onigba-Iwofa on foot will take seven hours! Morakinyo trekked for four hours and saw no traces of a village, five hours flew past then seven! He looked at his wrist watch, it was eleven forty-five. He became alarmed! He must have missed his way. Fear gripped him. He blamed himself.
To be continued in Episode 9.