Edited by: Darlene Jones
Umeh leaned by the wooden window of his hut that looked out to the hill in the distance. Although his eyes could see the tall Afara trees with their leafy branches and the verdure that stretched all the way to the top of the hill, he was not aware of the untamed beauty that lay before him for he was lost in thought.
In his dreams, he’d seen himself play several times with his late son, Nnanna. But strangely enough, his son had appeared as a little child in servant clothes. This bothered him. If the gods could fill his nights with dreams about Nnanna, why would they present him as a servant boy instead of the child of a nobleman?
A day after Nnanna’s funeral, he had taken a white ram with him to Okofia, the juju priest on the outskirts of the village. There, a special sacrifice was offered to the gods. If the gods were indeed just, wouldn’t they have revealed the identities of his son’s killers soon afterwards? A growing realization that he no longer had a natural heir to his lands and livestock made him sigh deeply. Now that his son was no more, who then, would bear his name? For sure, age was neither on his side nor his wife’s. Even if he should pick a young woman as his second wife, he wasn’t even certain he could bed her for procreation.
A familiar female voice startled him from behind.
“What is it?” he asked in a cold tone.
“It’s about your brother and your friends from the village council…they’ve come to see you.”
Umeh faced his wife. “Oluchi, didn’t I tell you that am not in the mood to see anyone today?”
Bending a knee slightly as a sign of admission, she said, “You did, Nnaanyi.”
“Good. Now tell them that I’m in no good shape to see them.”
“Please don’t turn them back again. I’m sure they want to find our son’s killers as much as we do. But we can’t achieve this quickly if we don’t work together as—”
“Hold your tongue, woman!” Umeh exploded; the solid black of his eyes very prominent. “What right have you to tell me the steps to take? Perhaps you are indirectly telling me that I’m weak and incapable of finding our enemy. Isn’t that right?”
Oluchi shook her head; her lips pressed hard against themselves.
She cowered back, trembling.
Umeh soon realized what his internal tumult was leading him to. His loving wife deserved none of his aggressiveness. Feeling remorseful and at the same time hateful of his situation, he took a few steps away from where he had been standing.
“Where are they now?” he asked, his tone several decibels lower now.
“Inside our compound.”
He regarded his wife, who tactfully avoided eye contact with him. She had been as mournful as any concerned mother could be. Between both of them, he thought she had handled the pain and grief better. Despite their loss, she’d ensured that work still continued on their cassava and cocoyam farms as the planting season was fast approaching.
“Invite them into my obi. I’ll be with them, shortly.”
“Yes, Nnaanyi.” Oluchi nodded and backed out of his hut.
Walking over to the wooden stool beside his bamboo bed, Umeh picked his special tread which his then wore on his ankles. Next, he picked up his hand fan. He was about leave his hut, when he was plagued by the words of the juju priest: “Perhaps the boy who appeared in your dream is not really your son. Perhaps he is your enemy.”
The smiling face of the child from Umeh’s dreams flashed in his mind. The facial features of the child were not different from his son’s. But there was something about his laugh…
It was not Nnanna’s laugh.
Part Two||Part Three
Obi–a small place for relaxation
Nnaanyi–title meant for a married man or master of slaves.