Edited by: Darlene Jones
The sight of Amaefuna approaching evoked an instant feeling of bitterness and then disappointment in Umeh. Umeh’s first thought was to rise and bark an order at his fellow nobleman to leave his compound. But a quick rethink halted him. He couldn’t afford to throw a tantrum before his guests, who were seated with him in his obi; moreover, Amaefuna wasn’t supposed to bear the brunt of his anger at the attempted abduction of Okuoba.
While the eldest of his three guests was still talking, Umeh tore his gaze away from Amaefuna and focused on the muddy red floor of his obi and heaved a deep sigh. His foot rapped on the floor impatiently as he folded his arms across his chest. He sensed the new rhythm of his heart. It had just moved up, beating at an irregular pace, leading him to reflect on the terrible events of the recent past.
“Ichie Umeh, is everything okay?” asked his eldest guest in a concerned tone.
Resting both hands on his thighs, he intertwined his fingers. Loyalty, old friendship, and trust were already at stake. To imagine taking a retaliatory action against his friend’s son amid the delicate situation of searching for Nnanna’s killers could result in an even worse consequence. As much as a part of him now believed that his son’s killer was found in Ibeabuchi, treading with a good sense was all he could pray for. Deep down, he hoped that his fellow nobleman and friend was aware of the foiled abduction of Okuoba and had come to make immediate amends.
Amaefuna bent low to gain entry into the obi. Smiling, his said his greetings with a hand raised while his eyes jumped from face to face until they found Umeh’s.
“Ichie ibe m,” Amaefuna hailed, “my salute is as strong as that of the winds that bring harmattan and as high as that of an Iroko tree.”
“Welcome.” Umeh forced himself to say. Turning his head slightly, he called out to one of his servants behind the obi to fetch a wooden stool for his new guest.
“No—no, that won’t be necessary,” Amaefuna interrupted with a wave, a restrained smile spreading across his lips, “As a matter of fact I don’t intend to stay long, considering you have guests alre…”
Umeh could see that his friend’s eyes were now aimed at the ten fat tubers of yam and gourds of fresh palm wine on the floor. Then on the dwarf tripod of a table, a small plate containing four kola nuts. If Amaefuna was smart enough, he would correctly decipher the significance of the number of the kola nuts present, hence the reason behind the visit of the other men in the obi.
Suspecting that his fellow nobleman was quite stunned by the gift items, Umeh intentionally cleared his throat.
“Ehen,” Amaefuna flicked his eyes to Umeh, “Ichie ibe m, I’ve come with something important. The situation now makes it more compelling that we discuss in private.”
It was unlike Umeh to let his thoughts wander in search of the possibilities such a statement could hold. Rather he asked, “Can’t this issue wait until these guests of mine are gone?”
An uneasy expression appeared on Amaefuna’s face. “I—I won’t take much of your time.”
Excusing themselves from the other men, the duo broke away.
When they were some distance away from the obi, Amaefuna began, “It’s about one of our previous discussions.”
“One of our previous discussions?” Umeh paused and eyeballed him. “About what?”
A soft dry wind blew across the compound. Cocks crowed.
Amaefuna took a quick look at the servants who had accompanied the guests. Raw-boned and dressed in scanty pieces of the animal skin that only managed to hide their private parts, they all were standing in the shade near the obi, waiting for their masters, waiting to carry their wooden stools once the meeting with Umeh was over.
“I can tell that by the number of kola nuts on that table those men have come to ask for something special from you. Someone in their midst is seeking for Okuoba’s hand in marriage.”
Umeh didn’t utter a word.
“But I thought I … I mean, we’ve discussed this a long time ago. And as far as our friendship is concerned, we should cement it by joining our children in marriage. I’d expected that you’d give my son the first pre—”
“I see that you have no shame! Need I remind you of your son’s foolish action?”
Amaefuna stared at him with wide-eyed surprise. Umeh continued to bark his questions, “So weren’t you aware of your son’s grave action before now? Or are you here to pretend that none of that happened, hence pursue your own interest? Know this: I will never let my dau—”
“Nnaanyi…” a voice interrupted him from behind.
Umeh turned around. Oluchi, his wife, was standing some feet away, hands clasped in front of her. The worried look on her face made him move closer to her. “What is it?” he asked.
“It’s about your brother, Eloka,” She said. “He’s just returned with a human head.”
Part Thirteen||Part Fourteen
Obi — A spot for relaxation
Ichie ibe m — My fellow nobleman
Nnaanyi — Master