Egwu ụmụ nma, iyo oko oko
Egwu ha amaka, iyo oko oko
Ọ dị ka m bụrụ ha, iyo oko oko
That had always been her favourite song on her way to the village stream or to fetch firewood. She loved singing and dancing the maiden dance held annually during special festival. Unfortunately, she was not part of that dance due to circumstances surrounding her existence. With her melodious voice and artistic dancing skills, the damsel displayed for her only friend, her grandfather who had become everything to her. He had become the mother she lost at a tender age and the father she never knew. Everything she knew about life was from him, a good teacher, kind and generous grandfather.
Akwaugo loved the serenity she found when walking to the stream in the early hours of the morning, when the sun was yet to grace the earth, and the people on it savoured the peaceful, quiet sleep; when the plants and trees had a quiet refreshing of the dew, while birds enjoy the freedom of perching from one tree to the other, listening to her sweet melodies. She could feel the trees awake by her presence as they gently swirled from side to side, responding to every sound of her feet and the rhythm of her melody.
“My dear friends, I have come again to take some herbs and save another soul,” she would say to the plants and trees. “Once we save this life, there shall be merriment for us all,” she smiled.
There was an understandable connection and communication between them and her. She would smile and speak to them while they responded by swaying from side to side, while the animals made the noises each of its own kind. She knew because they were all she had known since she was a toddler. Her love to care for people she took an early interest in herbal medication, and was mentored by her grandfather Ifeatụ, who was once a herbalist before his banishment from Ụmụogu. Without customers from Ụmụogu, his skills became useful to villagers close by who patronize him. He often travelled many miles to check his clients till his bones became weak to carry him. She was quick to learn and soon took over from him quite early.
Whenever Ifeatụ went about his daily business of farming, Akwaugo would steal out to Ụmụogu, looking for a chance to interact with them but always met rejection, booing and name calling. She would run back home in tears, complaining to Ifeatụ about the negative reaction from the villagers. He comforted and advised her to stay away from the people as much as she could; she would not understand why she was so despised by the villagers. But he promised to tell her the whole story when she was old enough to understand.
On one of her lonely walks on the village path to collect herbs, she heard some people discussing Igwe Ọnọchie, the Chinyelugo IV of Alaukwu.
“That was why the ikoro was sounded,” Chukwujekwu said sadly as he took off his hat and shook his head. “Meanwhile why were you so late?”
“I left very early to check the trap at Ọtanya. Talking about the Igwe, I am very worried about him. He must be going through hell now. That child is the key to sustain his throne and if anything happens to him, the crown will depart from his household,” Nwaọra said.
“The Igwe’s younger brother Egwuatụ is very wicked and would abuse the authority if he should ascend the throne on the demise of Igwe Ọnọchie. Igwe is very old now and hopes to retain the crown in his lineage. I just pray the great Ikuku will be back from his sudden travel to remedy the situation,” Chukwujekwu said as they continue the slow walk.
“But, can't we consult other doctors? Surely, they must have a solution to this rare illness,” Nwaọra asked in frustration. “I really want Obielumanị to ascend his father’s throne; the whole of Ụmụogu and Alaukwu love the young lad. I mean he is very humble and kind.”
“Unfortunately my dear friend, Ikuku happens to be the greatest of all those other dibia you mentioned. I hear they even go to him for assistance. Like Ole said during the meeting, we can only pray to the gods to bring him back so he can reverse this ugly wind that is about to blow in our land,” he said as he quickened his steps to meet up with his friend he spotted ahead of him. “Let me hurry to Ụka and collect my cutlass he took sometime ago. I will meet you at the farm,” he said.
When the coast was clear, Akwaugo came out from hiding place and rushed home to tell Ifeatụ the conversation she overheard. He felt sad but said nothing about it.
“Papa, I want to administer herbal medication on him; it may save his life and that of our people from having an evil ruler,” she said.
“Akwaugo, are you out of your mind? How can you even think of such thing?” he questioned, giving her a hard look.
“I don’t understand why you are furious,” she replied.
“Igwe Ọnọchie and the entire Ụmụogu banished your mother and grandparents and will have nothing to do with us,” he told her.
“You have always drummed this banishment into my ears. I understand; but that has nothing to do with saving Obielumanị’s life. You taught me how to use the gift you developed in me to give back to humanity, to save people’s life,” she reminded him.
“Do you not understand what banishment entails? Akwaugo, those people rejected you before you were born. They cannot have anything to do with us irrespective of the odd, don’t you understand that?”
“No papa, I cannot understand you. This is against what you taught me about kindness and forgiveness. I do understand that we are rejected but that does not mean we should fold our hands when we see our enemy suffer and we are in a position to help,” she stated.
“Shut up Akwaugo, you don’t use my words and teachings against me. My dear daughter, many ugly things will develop should you think of embarking on this mission. I don’t want to see you get hurt by them. It does not worth it,” he said.
“Why papa, why do you not want me to? Maybe, they will not reject my offer to help. We are talking about the future of Ụmụogu and Alaukwu, our ancestral home. Though we are banished, we are still part of Alaukwu; that cannot be changed by our present status,” she replied. She is the kind of person that does not give up on a worthy mission or cause of action she feels passionate for especially when it has to do with human life.
“My daughter, it is better you forget this …”
“No papa, I will not forget it. If the wicked ruler ascends that throne, Alaukwu will perish. Is that what you want to happen? Papa, you need to see the faces of Ụmụogu people today; there was so much pain and agony on their face. I read the doom painted on their faces and I cannot leave with myself knowing I could have helped. At least, papa, let me try and let my kindness be thrown back in my face,” she went on her knees and pleaded with Ifeatụ.
“Okay, if you insist,” he replied looking away. He was not comfortable with that.
“Papa, I want to help.”
“Fine but before then, I think it’s time we talked about the past. You showed me today you are very mature to know why we were banished. Meanwhile, I commend your guts and instincts. Your late mother will be very proud of you as well,” he said genuinely.
... to be continued