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PART 20 (I)
Edited by: Darlene Jones
As the sun dipped below the horizon, its heat almost silenced, Umeh, along with his seat carrier and servant, Maduako, arrived at the village square for the meeting with his fellow noblemen which he had earlier called for. Umeh hadn’t envisioned the hunt for his son’s killers taking this long and yet yielding nothing positive. A fool’s errand it increasingly seemed. What continued to torture him in private was the thought that his firstborn would forever wander as a restless soul, if all efforts toward bringing his killers to justice failed.
“Ichie Umeh, Ichie Umeh …” a male voice, from behind, repeated in a hushed tone.
Turning, Umeh said, “Ah! Ichie Amadi …” He inspected his friend’s face. “Is everything all right?”
“Ye—er—no. No. Not quite.” Amadi quickly came up to him, his breath slightly faster than normal. “I was tending to one of my nanny goats in labour when I heard the village crier announce you wanted us, the noblemen, to gather here, around this time, for an urgent meeting. This meeting … it’s about your son, right?”
It took Umeh awhile to evaluate the question, yet the motive remained unclear. Knitting his brows, he said, “Yes. Why do you ask?”
Amadi glanced about, then at the noblemen who were still arriving for the meeting. Like those already seated under the tall historic Ekpu tree in the heart of the busy village square, they were all fully dressed, their wrappers passed under their right armpits and tied over their left shoulders, red beads adorning their wrists, and accompanying them were their seat carriers who were either their sons or servant boys.
He refocused on Umeh, purposefulness still evident in his eyes. “More than three market days ago, when Ichie Amaefuna, your brother, Eloka, and I visited you, we all agreed that as part of our investigation into your son’s death, I’d also notify the council of his murder, requesting their assistance. I admit a counter thought later came up: I wasn’t so sure I could really trust every member of the council. Not that I could point out anyone in connection with his killing, but then … Anyway, I didn’t inform the council.
“Something tells me you can’t wait any longer for me, Ichie Amaefuna, or Eloka, to come up with answers, or at least, a clue as to the identities of your son’s murderers. You now want to ask the entire council to aid you in the search for these men.” Amadi took a moment to catch his breath. “As much as this sounds like a better approach, I have my fears, too. The same fears that stopped me from consulting the council in the first place …”
“What if his murderers are in attendance? Don’t you think all deliberations made here will eventually work in their favour and not yours? You and I know quite well that no fighter strategizes in the presence of his enemy.”
Umeh blinked. He couldn’t easily dismiss the possibility. But considering the advice of Okofia, the juju priest, which he’d earlier failed to adhere to and the grave mistake Eloka had made afterwards by beheading a young boy in Isiochie, the safety of the rest of his family was now top on his agenda. He thought it best to first save them from a likely retributory attack by the boy’s people before refocusing his energy on the unknown—the murderers of his son.
“What’s he still doing here?” Amadi was referring to Maduako, who was within earshot of their conversation. Before Umeh could respond, Amadi stabbed a finger toward the circle of noblemen under the Ekpu tree. “Ngwa, place your master’s stool over there and join the likes you far behind that tree.”
The tall lanky servant jumped at the order. As he made a frantic effort to balance the black wooden stool on his shoulder, Amadi thundered, “Leave us!”
The young servant ran along. Grasses, the straw-gold hues of dryness, dangled from a leather strap tied around his waist.
With the dull end of his walking stick, Umeh gently dispersed some of the small blackish stones in front of him. “I’d be a liar if I said there’s no wisdom in what you’ve just said.” He slowly raised his head. “But I think I’m now standing at the crossroads between letting our people know what’s really going on in my family and trying to brave the ugly situation without their support. Asking the council, at this point, to help me find my son’s killers isn’t just the reason why I’ve called for this meeting. There is more to it.”
Amadi looked perplexed. “More to it … how?”
“It’s about my brother, Eloka. He’s compounded my troubles by bringing home a human head from Isiochie.”
~~NOTE: “Ichie” is a revered title for elderly men in some parts of Igboland. In Igboland, titles are either conferred on a person after his father’s passing, or by selection~~
PART 19||PART 20