Latest Opportunities:

Read with us today: Enter Olowo-Aiye

Episode 1 | Culled From In the Forest of Olodumare by Wole Soyinka (Nelson Publishers, ISBN 978-978-8197-41-6)

One bright afternoon a long while past, after I had lunched, I left my home, strolled outside the fence of my compound and climbed on a huge rock. Arrived at the top, I sat in the shade of a tree that covered the rock, perched like the lord of all he surveyed, even as the sun beat down relentlessly and humanity heated up like the pot of yam flour, sweat oozing from every human pore, so that the only relief could come from dousing oneself in cold water. Even I tossed off my clothing, leaving only my shorts to cover my buttocks. I who had earlier donned a cloth cap, cocked its pouch stylishly over the forehead, was forced to toss the covering from my skull. Now the breeze of well-being caressed my occiput, but the afternoon reddened intensely; even farmers had fled from their farms, reduced to giggling in their hide-outs. Porters lost their power of speech, they could only wheeze as if at the end of a steep climb, eyes were hardened as stone, tree stumps were hard as knobs, the earth burned red as palm oil, trouser hems were bleached white while the sleeves of the agbada shimmered red. I had nothing but pity for drivers as they were covered with dust and grime, just like foliage on the roadside, while the passengers seated at the back of the lorry, found themselves unwilling wearers of cosmetic powder they shared the colour of brick walls. Dust was the cover of humanity all over. Countless were the ones who knew the malice of the sun. Lizards were restless, their skin crinkling stridently over dry leaves, birds were silent. I have known the cooing of the dove, heard the cry of the cuckoo, listened to the camwood bird chatting, I tell you, each one of them fell impenetrably silent wherever their Maker had assigned them on that day. Only the minnows of the air, the alapandede, flew ceaselessly hither and thither, restless as leaves on water surface, hopping from tree to tree and chirping like chickens. For my part, I simply sat tranquil, gazing on the face of the earth, thinking on the children of men, for I have cohabited with all sorts in my life. The time we speak of was a most significant phase of my existence, for it was then that my father closed his eyes forever, when he crossed to the other side of the river, bade the world good-bye, when the cock crowed the departure of a man. It was a loss that reached into my bones, for my father was not an ordinary being among men. He and his wife loved each other, they set a good example for us their offspring: I, Adeyemi, Ojuolape, and Omotunde. Racheal Osunyomi who was my mother was a woman who loved her husband and loved children, so much empathy was lodged in the eye sockets of my mother. My mother still lives, but my father is no more, and this absence of my father never ceases to give me pain. For he did that for me which a father does for his children, and I also endeavoured my uttermost to ensure that he knew that I treasured this. It was such weighty matters that occupied my mind, how, if my father had not died so early, I would have repaid his care. For even if one is attired only in tattered clothing, if one could only saunter out in borrowed clothes, as long as we do not forget out begetter, the good Lord would also not cast us out of his mind. However, even as I pondered these matters, the plan of the Almighty differed from mine, and He is of course wiser than I. Thus it pleased him that one morning, a messenger came from home to inform me that my father had gone into the other world. Grief bowed my head to the ground, my body heated up like a pot on fire, my stomach was in turmoil as when the wind disturbs the branches of the forests and I was weary of the world like the rags on a beggar, and heaven appeared as desirable as gold in my mind. These were the thoughts that coursed through my mind that plain afternoon after I had left home, when I perched like an outcrop on the face of the rock.

Little did I suspect even as I sat that there was someone lurking in a little bush beside me, settled down in my solitude, gazing outwards, in total disregard of the copses that
surrounded me. Had I known different, I would have headed in a different direction, chosen a spot that was safe from discovery. For I needed some reflection at this time and did not wish any interruption. For a time of play deserves its space, a time for fighting is meant for fighting, the time for weeping is when one weeps, the time for rejoicing calls for rejoicing. Whoever sets out for a community gathering and is girded in the loincloth of the hunter has clearly carried his sacrifice beyond the crossroads. I wanted to reflect at this very time, and did not take kindly to disturbance from anyone.

However, like it or not, this man imposed his presence on me. I was furious, my face was contorted by a frown like the face of a starving man, I sucked in breath as one in pain, tightened my lips like a house servant who has just dropped valuable crockery and dares not confess but drags himself along one wall after another, his stomach churning like the mottled froth at the mouth of a keg of palm wine. When this stranger greeted me, I returned his greeting with some courtesy but why? Because I did not want to plead guilty to excess, did not wish to earn a bad reputation, giving people an excuse to say that one is not of wise disposition. This was what made me court the goodwill of the world of opinion for, I must confess, my greeting did not proceed from the heart.

That greeting conceded, I began to behave in a manner that would make him depart in annoyance. I remained silent, said nothing. He spoke, I did not smile. I rose from my perch and descended to the base of the rock, nor did I bother to excuse myself as one should. When I returned, I found he had not budged, so I resumed my seat without a word to him, without so much as a glance in his direction. I hummed, I whistled, and did not offer him a seat. What I found aggravating however was to be compelled to watch this man take his buttocks to the ground right next to me, his body against mine as when a child clings to his mother. I said to myself, matters have truly come to a head! I fled disturbance at home only to encounter trouble on a rock; I loaded a morsel beyond the mouth’s capacity; I tried to eat my boiled rice with a bean cake, tried to transform yam flour into paste with cold water; offered a white man eba to eat! Even as I considered this situation, the man himself let out a totally unexpected cry. His voice was as one might expect from a querulous servant who throws down the burden of his assignment from a great height. Fright took hold of me as it does the heart of a wife whose husband sets off to war, and I felt disorientated like a faulty motor-cycle attempting to climb uphill. For this man’s voice was like a lion’s roar, it penetrated earth like that of an elephant and reverberated round the bush just as when the railway train approaches its station and blows on its klaxon. This caused me to scrutinize the intruder more carefully and, lo and behold, it was none other than my erstwhile friend, that man among men, Akara-ogun, he with a life-and-death commitment to his stomach, the same who battled the wild Agbako in the Forest of a Thousand Demons, journeyed to Mount Langbodo and back, he who visited me that other time with the tales of his adventures that earned him renown throughout the land. He looked at me and burst into laughter. I returned his look and laughter erupted from my mouth. We embraced. In my view, he did not appear to have aged, but his gun seemed darker than before, it shone like the kijipa cloth of a truly aged owner, one that had been purchased before my mother was espoused to my father, dyed and beaten a million times over and thus taken on the dark deep gloss of antiquity. And Akaraogun’s cap had always held a special attraction: when he loaded it with matches and tobacco and slung it over the back of his head, it resembled a clump of fruits on a tree. At other times when he swaggered past, having chosen to lob it forwards, it looked more like a decorated walking stick. When he raked it sideways over the ear, it was transformed into a gourd hanging from a palm tree. And now I cried, ‘Akara-ogun!’, to which he chortled, ‘Indeed, it is I’. Again I called out, ‘Akara-ogun,’ and he replied, ‘It is I indeed, so let out what is on your mind.’ A third time I saluted, ‘Akara-ogun’ and he burst into laughter. He hit himself on the chest and declared with unabashed boastfulness, ‘Akara-ogun’ yes - that is my name. I bear a name of substance, this praise-name I have acquired is one that suits me, it is the course that befits me that I pursue all over. I am your friend of many years, and my powers remain undiminished. The bones remain sound in the body of this man. Dig into your pocket, perhaps the tools of your trade are conveniently lodged in there. Today, the crook of the drum will reverberate, for I have a message to impart to the children of earth through you, great issues are lodged in my skull and great lessons in my forehead. Therefore I implore you in the name of the black race, stretch yourself out on this rock, let us use it as a desk. I shall stand in as chairman and you as the scribe, while the leaves of the forest remain in place like members of this union.’ When I heard these words, I was indeed excited, rather like one standing trial with the risk of imprisonment but finds himself acquitted and set free. For I had stumbled on that which I inwardly craved, encountered a visitor of my longing. God had buttered my bread and so, without further ado, I dug into my pockets and extracted writing material. I stretched myself out on the rock and began to carry out the mission of my trade. Akara-ogun eased himself to the ground beside me, and began to speak in the accents of the hunter. ‘Indeed I am Akara-ogun. My father was a great herbalist and Ifa diviner. Herbs and charms filled our home from doorway to ceiling, even as unearthly potencies lurked in the nooks and crannies of rooms. Medications filled the rafters, and all forms of protection littered the family compound. Epileptics found cure at the hands of my father, the guinea-worm afflicted were equally healed. Numberless were lepers who became elites of society after treatment in our home. My father punished small-pox, humiliated glandular ailments, ruined the very name of rheumatism, stomach pains were turned to ancient fables, headaches were reduced to infancy, backaches were rendered speechless, coughs went into hiding, chest diseases took to their heels, dysentery turned mute, fever walked with regrets, skin rashes sobbed, dysentery hung its head, skin yaws lamented, sores hissed, skin diseases frowned, chills took to self-pity, the lunatic woman turned fashion model, male lunatic resumed shaving, the pregnant delivered with ease, the mother walked with joy, sorcerers bowed, witches asked forgiveness, all forces of darkness paid obeisance before my father. ‘My dear friend, even as I narrated that other time, my mother was a true seasoned witch. She flew in broad daylight, she flew at night, it was a human skull that she used as a drinking cup. My mother had accompanied her corn meal with the arm of a child, garnished her rice with the thigh of an adult, she had used the cheek of a hefty man for her gari. ‘The story of how my father came to marry my mother is worth telling, for I have never revealed this part of the story before, and yet what an engrossing tale it is! There is nothing of my father’s life that I do not know, and he was one man whose feet did not grow weeds on the ground while he lived. Even as he roasted yam in the embers, his eyes had already begun to seek the stew, and while he lived he ceaselessly impressed upon us this counsel: ‘ “A man who sets out early to burden his mind with woman matter will never matter in his life. A woman who sets out early to burden her mind with man matter will never matter in life. A man who, when it is time to wed, takes woman matter seriously will definitely become important for life. A woman who, when it is time to wed, takes man matter seriously will definitely become important for life. A gossip of a man who marries a gossip of a woman has made gossip the centre of his mind and will never amount to much in life. A gossip of a woman who marries a gossip of a man has planted gossip in the centre of her heart and will amount to little in life. A worthy man who marries a gossip of a woman but does not plant gossip at the centre of his mind will attain worthiness in life. A worthy woman who marries a gossip of a man but does not plant gossip in the centre of her mind will remain worthy for life. Any worthy being who plants the important matter of another in the prime place of his or her mind will remain worthy for life.” ‘In this manner did our father advise us in our youth, whenever we sat at his feet, enjoying his company. Even as I speak to you, this very moment my friend, it is with difficulty that I restrain tears from forming in my eyes as I recall him, Olowo-aiye, a man of great beauty. But it will not be until tomorrow that I shall narrate the full story of my father. The former adventures that I told to you, tales that you set down for others to read - those were tales of my own life. I then spoke briefly of my father’s own adventures. Therefore, my friend, rise from your prostrate position on this hard rock, do not begin to incur chest pains. I know your house, I shall visit you tomorrow, and when I return, it will be to continue the life story of my father. Till tomorrow then. May God grant us a reunion in goodness.’ Thus did the man speak, and I saw him no more. Quickly, I also rose from the rock and found my way home. The following morning, after I had breakfasted on fried bean paste and cold corn pap, and taken my seat in comfort, I saw Akaraogun emerge suddenly before me like a ghommid. His cap was cocked forward in one of his accustomed styles, hooked onto his forehead like the beak of a bird.

To be continued.