Ilu-Oro: The Abode of Death
Author: Akintayo Akinjide
Sule hurried back towards the house, arousing Chief Ajamu’s interest. His chief servant was supposed to be at the market, to return when the sun was over their heads. What was he doing back at this time? His raffia fan produced the breeze he needed to calm his nerve.
‘Sule, why are you back?’
‘My lord, I’m sorry I have to leave here and go to Ipetumoja’.
Sule looked about. Beads of sweat embroidered his face. His eyes were red.
‘Is your wife sick?’ Chief Ajamu said, trying not to get angry. Chief’s Ajamu wife strutted out, towards them. Chief gestured to her to return to her room.
‘My Lord’, she said grudgingly and returned. Her grumble filtered to his ear, but he wasn’t up for such naughtiness, at least not yet. He placed her punishment in his right hand, so that he won’t use it to eat. Being a rich lefty, he had defiled tradition and used his left hands instead of the right to do many things. Very few people, including his mother, found it preposterous and audacious to eat and do everything with his left hand. Other people either overlooked his actions or praised him. The punishment being in his right hand would help remember to starve his wife of intimacy for a full moon.
‘What happened? Where’s the thing I sent you?’
‘My Lord! I saw death. I saw her’.
‘What does she want?’
‘My lord, I don’t know. She just made face at me. And made a threatening gesture.’
‘That’s not good’, Chief Ajamu said as he stared into the sky. Everyone knew death. She worked for the Kings and everyone that could afford her. She killed anybody at any time. She had the power to transform to any form she loved.
‘So, you are leaving for Ipetumoja?’
‘Yes’ Sule said, nodding severally. Chief Ajamu considered all options. When death threatened anyone, it meant she wanted to kill such person that day. And she killed only at designated places. If, by chance, the person wasn’t there, she postponed their death.
Sule rose, dusted his body, and raced off towards Ipetumoja, his sturdy legs upsetting dusts. Chief Ajamu called on the next most trusted servant in the house.
‘O my father’. Dento smashed himself on the floor as he prostrated.
‘Go to the market and meet Iya Alagbede, tell her to send the things to me’.
‘I’ll be back in a jiffy my lord’. Dento ran off, dust scuffling in his wake.
Chief Ajamu sat there as he stared at the rusty ring on his feet. Just as his fifth wife took away the empty plate she used to serve him pounded yam and Egusi elefo, Death walked towards him from the other side, but that didn’t rattle him.
Her dark weaved hair were dazzling in the sun, especially with the series of cowry fixed into them. Her red beads shrilled as she walked towards him. Her clothes were series of ominous colours, but well designed. Chief Ajamu looked at his big toe again and sighed. Awojimi, the most powerful herbalist in the four villages of Ile-oro (later known as Fortune City), had given him a ring.
Death, for that reason, had agreed that she couldn’t take him while the ring was on his leg. All he needed was to douse the ring with a new baby’s blood, every seven years. Since the child will die seven years later, he felt at peace. Sometimes, he assumed he even helped those children live longer. So many of them were born into impoverished home that only the money he gave their parents could have helped them survived the harsh economy of the land.
The last blood he used belong to one of Sule’s twins. Chief Ajamu paid three bags of cowries for the small drop of blood.
‘Death, my friend’, Chief Ajamu said as he waved his fan over the calabash of palm wine. One of his wives was frying antelope meat for him. His slaves could have done that but he wanted hers.
Death smiled and took her seat. One didn’t need to invite her to seat. She touched him, making his heart cold; his belly also. What just happened to him?
‘Ajamu, remember I’m still here. Anytime, even in your bedroom, you remove that ring, I’ll come for you’.
Chief Ajamu nodded. He wanted her to take away her fear. Her presence was chilly. In her presence, his soul seemed dark as though he was already in the bottomless pit. Every spice of hopelessness and fear in his life popped in front of him and all he could think of was ways to stop living.
‘Sule said you threatened him in the market’, Chief Ajamu said, trying to quell her hold on him.
‘No. I didn’t threaten him. I was only surprised to see him here because I planned to take away his life at Ipetumoja’, Death said as she fiddled with her wooden staff. Report had it that the staff was the wand she used to win over all other evil to her side. She wasn’t all that wicked unless she needed to be.
‘Oh!’ Chief Ajamu’s heart bled for his benefactor. He must do something to save Sule. Dento, the fool, hadn’t returned.
‘Why will you kill Sule?’
‘Ah. You know why. He gave you his daughter’s blood for money, and his conscience had been disturbing him and me. His conscience kept calling me to take him away’.
Chief Ajamu sighed. The connection of one’s conscience to repercussion and death was beyond imagination. The consciences of people call on those two as though they were doing one end of a river to another. The flow was always uninterrupted.
‘See, Ajamu, let me do my bidding in your house’.
‘Your what?’ Chief Ajamu said and glanced at his leg.
Death smiled at him and blushed. The joy gathering in his face was instantly flushed.
‘He that enters the small calabash cannot go along with his children. I’m here to take away your new born baby.’
‘A soul for a soul?’
‘That’s too much. That’s even two souls. No. You can’t take him away too. You’re taking Sule’s and my son’s. No. That’s not fair’.
‘Hmm! I never thought of that. You have found favour in my eyes. Will you give your life for your baby’s?’
‘Yes’, Chief Ajamu shouted, not minding that passers-by looked at him, bemused. It was believed that Death made herself known to only those she wanted. So, none of the others saw her in her splendour.
‘Good. Remove the ring’.
Chief Ajamu took his hand to his leg and paused amidst the chirping birds and the swirling of trees. His wooden chair squeaked in the silence that engulfed the area.
‘Why can’t you take the elderly ones?’
‘They have a long way to go’.
‘But this child too. It has a long way to go?’ Chief Ajamu said, sweats covering his dark, tough skin.
‘No. It doesn’t. Why am I even telling you? Sacrifice yourself or watch the baby die’.
Chief Ajamu stared into the space. For more than 90 years of marriage, none of his thirty wives, had a son. Now that his last wife gave birth to a son, death wanted to take him away because of his sin. He mustered courage and removed the ring.
‘I’ve not even named the child’, he muttered.
‘Good. You can now’, Death said, and gave him a hearty smile. ‘I will come for you next five years’.
He sighed. At least, he would have the time to play with his son. Even is his old age he was still agile. And that was why he was the most feared man in the whole part of Orungbeyi village (later known as Sun City).
‘Death, you’ve done well. I should rest in peace now’, Chief Ajamu said and rested. That gave him a little peace of mind. He had always been afraid but now that the ring was gone, he felt relieved. Death was at liberty to come for him anytime she wished. After her announcement, Death became invisible. He smiled. Then, she appeared again.
‘I didn’t tell you? I still have to take your son’.
His eyes redden. He became mad at her that he leapt off his seat and grabbed her neck, tightening it with all the strength him. Darkness and cold overcame him. Every souls he had killed at war, for wealth, and for long life cried to him from the deep. His fears, evil thought, and sadness all held his soul tighter. He released her and sprawled on the ground.
‘Are the gods playing with your brain? You dare touch me. If you ever try that, you’ll never see me again. I’ll never come to you, but I’ll send sickness to you. I will send sadness, despair towards you. You will battle them till you are frustrated. You will want to kill yourself but I won’t allow it. I will haunt you with everything in my arsenal. I’ve gotten your permission’.
Her eyes were as red as fire. Chief Ajamu rose and sprang to his knees.
‘Please, spare my son. He’s the only son’.
‘I’m sorry. So sorry, but your son and Sule’s daughter have a joint-destiny. He was supposed to die seven year before her. They were supposed to fall in love and live for 127 years. Your son will die at 120 and Sule’s daughter was to die at 127 years. They were lovers from heaven.’
‘You can’t take him away, I’ll tell the whole world’.
Dento arrived, swaying under the heavy load he got from the market.
‘Dento, run after Sule and tell him he mustn’t get to Ipetumoja. He should go to Ibugbeaje’.
Dento dropped the load. Eggs cracked and some other wares but he didn’t mind. Dento ran off.
‘You can’t kill Sule too. I forced him’.
Death half disappeared. The remaining half of her body cried, ‘sickness’.
A lanky, haggard boy appeared. Mucus hung from his battered, and spits drooped down his haggard mouth. He stared at Chief Ajamu as he shook in the hair.
‘Afflict him till I forgive him’.
Chief Ajamu released her cloth. ‘Please, let my son live’.
‘I’ll do anything you say’.
Death stood erect. ‘I love that. Anything?’
Chief Ajamu nodded severally. ‘Anything’
‘Good. Let all your children die and I’ll allow him leave’.
Chief Ajamu stared at her. He shifted his head to the left and right. He cried in pain. His son was useless without his destined wife. He was a man who believed in destiny. He cried out in pain. His children were all girls but he had trained them to become a formidable force. About four of them were generals of wars and the first was the general. Another one just became a ruler in Ibiiso (later called Green City). They were his pride.
‘Kill him’, Chief said.
‘Good. I’ll come for him tomorrow. And I know you. You are obstinate. Sickness hold his tongue and health. I’m coming for your child tomorrow’.
For five years, Chief Ajamu lived in incurable sickness; yet, exuding in the knowledge of having a great number of mighty independent, powerful women. He remained there and never heeded death’s request to restore his life through theirs, so that he would have another son before death.
He was there until a man with two-legged horse entered the village, calling himself a missionary. Iwaade, his last lazy daughter brought the man to Chief Ajamu’s house two days before Death came for him.