Edited by: Darlene Jones
Wide-eyed, Okuoba took in Ibeabuchi’s alarming new face that screamed of something unusual.
“Someone? You mean someone like a gossipmonger?” She lifted her hands up a bit, exposing both palms. “I—I don’t understand.”
Ibeabuchi said in a low desperate tone, “Now is not the time for questions. We have to move away from here.”
Her hands hopelessly dropped to her sides. It was indeed strange for Ibeabuchi to talk this way. Why would he refuse to hold further discussion with her in the midst of her father’s servants? Was he trying to give her a word of warning? Perhaps, pull her away from imminent danger? Or was this entirely about something else; something urgent, but in need of a discreet approach?
Taking a quick look at the servants on the field, Ibeabuchi made a gesture with his head. “Look at them; do you really think they can be trusted?”
Surprise, like a torrent, hit Okuoba. With it came an instant feeling of dreadful uncertainty, which prompted her to look at the servants and back at him again. Never before had she a reason to evaluate the trust she had in her father’s servants as she did now, considering that her family was very much on a murder hunt for whoever had a hand in her brother’s death.
Leaning in close beside her ear, Ibeabuchi said, “It’s your right to decide whether you want to listen to my story or not. But I sincerely hope that as I walk away, you will follow me for what I have to say is real. Remember, it’s for your own good.”
Watching her childhood friend leave forced Okuoba to reflect deeply on the time ahead, the possibility of danger still lying in wait. Ibeabuchi’s talk, though inconclusive, had reeked of something else. Something sinister. It brought the uncomfortable feeling of danger even closer. She could feel her hands tremble, sweat gathering in her palms. Slowly, she turned her attention to the servants on her father’s largest farm. For the first time in many seasons, she had cause to look at them in a different way—like a woman trying to separate chaff from breadfruit seeds. But then, who among them stood out as the oddity, the one brimming with malicious intent?
She watched as Dubem abandoned his work, scooped one of the female servants up in his arms, and together they spun around playfully. This drew the attention of the other servants, who broke into laughter. As if they all were craving for more of the drama, they dropped their farm tools and began clapping their hands, stamping their feet at intervals on the ground and chanting “Odimnobi.” When Dubem met Okuoba’s eyes, he immediately put his fellow servant down on her feet again. The excitement and laughing vanished like a swift wind, each servant quickly embracing the work abandoned a little while ago.
But Dubem didn’t move. He seemed transfixed, his eyes unblinking.
Okuoba couldn’t understand why she was still gazing at him. This, of course, was not the first time their eyes were locked in a way she found rather fascinating.
Shaking herself free from the trancelike stance, she headed quickly for the footpath that cut across the farmlands in the vicinity.
She was more than eager now to meet up with Ibeabuchi.
A life of fear was worse than death itself.
“Wait!” Okuoba shouted. Her heart was pounding into her chest as she ran toward Ibeabuchi. “Wait … please!”
The second call got his attention and he turned around. When she was within spitting distance, he said, “I’m so happy you heeded to my words.”
“Yes, I want to…” Okuoba continued to pant. “I want to hear what you have to say.”
Ibeabuchi ruffled his beard. He scanned the surrounding bushes with jumpy eyes as if he was anticipating an attack. But nothing happened. Just the fluttering of birds among the nearby trees, crickets chirping, and a few grasses rustling in the passing air—such a peculiar melody to a fallow place. With his fingers spread, he swiped both palms on his chest and on the sides of his loincloth. “It’s been a restless period for me lately. But I think the time is right to let you know…”
Okuoba waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. His face was twitching and he repeated chewed on his lower lip as if that would steady him. When she wanted speak up, he interrupted. “You … it’s all about you.”
“Me? What are you talking about?”
“Can’t you see it? Everyone wants you. Your brother’s killers … they want you.” Ibeabuchi came closer and managed to speak softly, “But I … I want to protect you.”
He took her by the hand and grinned. His eyes left her face, down to her beaded necklace and then on her wrapper-covered bosom. Without a shadow of doubt Okuoba could feel the lusting now; he wanted to strip her with his eyes, he wanted to strip her wrapper right off her and see what she was like in the nude. And this made her uneasy. So uneasy she broke away from his hold.
“What has come over you?”
Ibeabuchi wetted his lower lip with the tip of his tongue. “Just you, asa m.”
Taking a few backward steps, Okuoba said, “I shouldn’t have listened to you in the first place. I shouldn’t ha—”
“Why go against your heart’s wish? It’s reaching out to me. We should be together. Forever.”
Ibeabuchi frowned. With quick springy steps, he approached Okuoba and seized her despite her very vocal resistance.
Lifting her off the ground, he spat out, “You’re coming with me!”
Part Nine||Part Ten
Odimnobi — The one after my heart
Asa m — My beautiful one