Edited by: Darlene Jones
He stood alone in the shadows of the harmattan twilight, the sky overcast with gold, and thought of Okuoba. Her father had said that she was deserving of a rich man or a famous warrior as a husband. Now, thirteen full moons later, those words came back to him. As they were growing up, he’d watched her play with boys and girls from the nearby compounds. He’d gladly accepted her invitation to play with her and the other children only to be stopped moments afterwards by her father, who stormed in on them and pulled Okuoba away from him. He couldn’t understand why, but he was certain about the look on her father’s face. It was a warning frown that forced him into making a quick apology.
After the incident, he resorted to watching her—just as he’d previously done. That was when he came to understand that there was a gulf in class between them. This made him feel different. Hollow. Cursed. He tried to convince himself that even though he may have woken up to the wrong side of life, there was a chance that he could still shine someday. Seeing her each day increasingly made him nurse the thought that she had a role to play in what lay ahead.
Okuoba, upon blossoming into a well-rounded beauty, made him conclude that she indeed was the only key to his future happiness. Like other inhabitants in Ngwo and beyond, who believed in reincarnation, he was confident that going into a union with her would grant him a respectable status in the next life.
Because he wanted her and her father’s wealth, he’d to connive with the rejects he’d hired to eliminate her brother—the heir apparent to the lands and livestock he coveted. Through a juju priestess he then offered her brother’s blood to his gods in return for cover from being spotted as the main perpetrator of the murder, and when the time was right, to use the sacrificial blood potion as a charm that would help him ask for Okuoba’s hand in marriage without fear or shame of his very low status.
Now his ultimate plan was on the verge of being ruined. How could fate present him with Okuoba, an embodiment of pleasure and good fortune, and yet cause him to struggle with other men for her? Wouldn’t life be a cruel journey if his entire effort came to waste?
Remembering the news about Okuoba’s failed abduction made him kick up dust in anger. He drew in quick raspy breath before fisting his open palm in utter frustration. Though he was very much aware of Ibeabuchi’s friendship with Okuoba, he never expected that his clearest rival would be the lone hunter. Could it be that Ibeabuchi was infatuated all this while? So, in order to have her before any other man could, he attempted to abduct her? Squeezing his fist into the other hand, he cursed. Ibeabuchi shouldn’t be allowed to live on. Even if the lone hunter eventually apologized to Okuoba and her family in order to avoid exile, that wouldn’t stop him from taking Ibeabuchi’s life.
He contemplated for a moment if Dubem, her rescuer, desired her as well. The fool, who should have been killed alongside her brother, was a man after all. And only an insane man would give no thought or words about such a woman.
Familiar voices from behind made him turn around.
He’d been expecting the men since the sun set.
Part Eleven||Part Twelve