Uncle Jonathan and Mama jumped from their seats at my words. I had told her what had happened two months ago, so I knew that she was scared. The knock made me jump. I turned to look at the door and look back at Mama. She shook her head, her hands over her mouth. Uncle Jonathan walked to the door and opened it.
Outside the storm had not been kind; several trees were lying on the ground and two electric poles were broken. Where we lived was on a high ground, so we had managed to avoid the flood that must have filled up some parts of Benin. Chief Dominic stood with five young men in the stark early morning light. The boys were smoking openly and one or two of them had canes in their hands. Mama and I had embarrassed Chief; he had come for his pound of flesh.
Chief Dominic: “who be this? Abeg oga comot road, I want see Matilda. Tell am say make she and that her ogbanje daughter come outside now or my boys go enter that house and turn the whole place upside down.” He said, his face swollen with anger and jealousy.
Uncle Jonathan: “good morning sir. Please my sister-in-law is not too fine at the moment. Is there any particular problem?” he asked softly.
Chief Dominic: “your sister-in-law?” he muttered, a worried frown on his face. “She and her daughter ganged up on me, use brooms to whip and drove me out of the house I built like a witch. A whole me; Chief Dominic Osaigbovo Egbewi! That is an abomination; a taboo! They must face the Odionwere of this community and if I don’t get what I want, I will take the matter to the Oba. You cannot hit a chief of this kingdom and go about your business like nothing happened. No!” he shouted, saliva falling from his lips like the start of another rain.
The boys behind screamed along with him, their red weed deranged eyes unblinking in the morning light. I was scared. I had not known that the matter would evolve to involving the Oba. The Oba of Benin! God, if he swore on us, me and mother will fall and die. My palm was sweating as I gripped the door and watched Uncle Jonathan step off the porch. I could not hear what he discussed with Chief Dominic from where I stood but when they were done talking, Chief Dominic looked at me and Mama with suspicion then he turned and abruptly left.
I didn’t know I was holding my breath until I let it go. Behind me Mama did the same then we turned to each other and chuckled. Uncle Jonathan entered the house and closed the door softly. He turned to us, his face cold
Uncle Jonathan: “you are going to present two big cocks, a goat, five tubers of yam, a bottle of Aromatic Schnapps, kolanuts and ten thousand Naira to the Chief or he will throw you out of the house.” He said softly.
Mama nodded her head. I opened my mouth to speak but Uncle Jonathan hushed me;
Uncle Jonathan: “you are lucky I was around, Princess, what those boys had in mind for you ehn… I thought you were brought up better than to disrespect your elders?” he said frowning at me like I did something wrong.
I wanted to reply but I caught Mama’s face from the corner of my eyes and decided to shut up. I looked down on the floor in a show of shame and Uncle Jonathan snorted and walked to find a seat.
Uncle Jonathan: “Go and get dressed, we are going to the hospital today.” He said.
I turned to Mama, her shoulder was slumped as she nodded her head.
“Mama is not mad, Mama is not mad, Mama is not mad.” Those four words were the only words in my head as I cleaned the house while Mama had her bath and got ready. I didn’t see Uncle Jonathan enter the kitchen as I cleaned the stove;
Uncle Jonathan: “have you people heard from your Uncle Maximus since you left Warri?” he asked
I jumped at his voice and turned; “No sir but Auntie Ebube came some months ago.” I replied, squeezing the sponge in my hand
Uncle Jonathan: “when exactly?” he asked, his eyes suddenly bright.
I looked at him, unsure of why he was asking. He was searching for something but I didn’t know what it was.
Princess: “I can’t really remember the day sha but it was the first day that Mama changed.” I replied.
Uncle Jonathan: “you’re sure that it was the same day?” he asked.
I nodded and then I stopped. “Mama had been fine before Aunty Ebube came. Aunty Ebube and Mama had eaten together. But why will Aunty Ebube want to do evil to Mama?” These thoughts flashed through my head in quick succession.
Uncle Jonathan seemed to have read my thoughts on my face because he nodded his head
Uncle Jonathan: “it is suspicious ehn? We will find out soon enough. I know Ebube will not do anything except my brother says so.” He said, and left the kitchen.
“Why was he sharing all this with me? Why was he not discussing this with Mama? He thinks Mama is indeed mad.” As that thought sank in, I suddenly hated my father’s family; all of them. Though I felt like crying, I held it in and went back to my chores. Some minutes later Mama came out dressed and she and Uncle Jonathan left.
I was a shy girl, so I had no friends in school or on my street. I was not beautiful or rich like other girls around, so I did not have the attention of the boys in my class or area. It was therefore a surprise to me, when Edirin appeared in front of me, as I made my way to the shop. Mama had started entrusting me with opening and selling some drugs. The shop was almost empty. Mama did not have the business mind that Papa had and it showed on the empty shelves.
I looked at the boy curiously. He was a little bit taller than me and very slim. He stood with his hands inside his jeans cut off shorts, trying to seem relaxed. His darting eyes disagreed with the image he was trying to present;
Edirin: “your name na Princess shey?” he asked, smiling.
Princess: “is there any problem?” I asked, irritated by his use of pidgin. Papa despite his poor education had insisted that I speak only English language. I had a poor opinion of those who spoke pidgin. It was disgusting.
Edirin: “erm… me and ma friends wan go Kada Plaza. I say make I ask you if you go like come?” he asked.
I looked at him from head to feet. He had on a clean t-shirt and snickers that had seen better days. I shook my head. He nodded as if he knew I was going to say no.
Edirin: “another day then. But you fit help me with something?” he asked.
Princess: “what is it? I have to go and open the shop.” I replied, eager to leave the boy and his failed attempt at getting my attention.
Edirin: “I wan buy gift for my elder sister, Omote. Today na her birthday. You fit come help me pick something for Papa Efe store?” he asked.
I looked at him and sighed. What would it hurt to help the boy? I nodded and joined him. We walked together along the road. Papa Efe’s store was on another street. We could go to the end of our street then turn along the main road and get to the entrance to the next street and walk down until we get to the store; or we could take a short cut across a bush path. We elected to take the bush path.
We had not gone far in the path, when three other boys stepped out of the bush holding water canes. I gasped and stepped back. Among the boys was one of Chief Dominic’s useless sons, Osazee. He was smiling in satisfied glee;
Osazee: “you tink say you fit fall my papa hand go free abi? That winch wey dey your body, today you go show me.” He said, as he walked down; the cane whirring through the air as he whipped at the grass on either side.
I turned to Edirin; he looked at me with shame in his eyes and fear. I felt like hitting him so hard, he would stop breathing. I was a fool.
Edirin: “he say if I no bring you come, he go beat me or any of my sister until he catch you. Sorry.” He said then he ran away.
Osazee: “Edirin, you no go do too. Legbere!” he spat to the side. The boys with him laughed.
I turned as I saw two other boys block the path behind me. There was no escape. I turned back to Osazee
Princess: “my mother has agreed to buy the items that your father demanded; what more do you want?” I asked, my voice harsh with as much bravado my beating heart could muster.
Osazee: “ehen… since you no know, make I show you.” he said as he lunged at me.
Strong hands grabbed me from behind. I jerked but I could not escape them , then I screamed. Someone gave me a slap that blinded my eyes for several minutes. I screamed again and again. Someone’s hand covered my mouth. I did not hesitate; I bit down into the palm until I felt blood pool between my lips. Soon my scream had become a duet; someone screaming with me.
They dragged me into the bush and found an uncompleted building where they dumped me on the ground. I stood up immediately but someone punched my stomach and air left my lungs. I staggered, dizzy, from left to right. It was day time but I was not seeing anything. I retched on the floor; vomiting my breakfast to the floor. I weaved to the side, looking for support as I caught my breath and drew in life giving air. Then the blows came.
I have never been flogged before, not even in school. I was ashamed, I was in pain and I was afraid. I cried, I begged, I screamed for help but all I heard was their grunts and laughter as they flogged me. Darkness soon came and I passed out from the pain.
Question: Do you think Chief Dominic is aware of his son’s activities? If you were Princess, would you have followed Edirin?