Every time an Igwe died, the gods made it a point of duty to demand not less than ten virgin girls to escort the late royalty into the afterlife. And each time they died, which seemed to be a yearly occurrence, the Eze Muo came running with a red wrapper tied around his waist and his staff that was adorned to pull attention to himself. To achieve this, the Eze Muo had lots of metal scrap tied to his staff for decoration, he added a piece of red material. On his face, he had a white ring drawn around his left eyes, and in the silence that always followed his arrival, he’d announce the names of the ten virgins.
Each year, Osinachi and her friends would stand shaking and sweating and hoping while the Eze Muo called out the names of the virgins. Then she’d wonder why they appointed kings if they were just going to die and take ten unwilling girls with them. Maybe the gods just detested virgins and that was the only way to show it.
This year, another Igwe had kicked the bucket, but unlike the previous years, Osinachi and her friends didn’t bat an eyelash. They were no longer participants of the virgins at despair activity. Like all the past years, the entire village had gathered to wait for the Eze Muo to arrive. Mothers tried to look calm while hoping their daughters’ names won’t be mentioned. Fathers mulled in the silence. Daughters looked terrified, but not Osinachi and her friends.
The Ichies sat shaking their heads and discussing rapidly amongst themselves as if they didn’t expect the late Igwe to die so soon. As far as Osinachi was concerned, this one lasted longer than all his predecessors. One year and six whooping months, they had no idea how lucky he was. Most of the villagers had started to believe that he was the one who was going to last. Mothers had started to relax and daughters started to grow the nerves to admire a young man. Young men asked young maidens out. Comfort, joy and happiness filled the air. And then the gods looked down at them, saw their happiness, scoffed in contempt and drew the life out of the Igwe. How dare they be happy.
Alive or dead, the state of the Igwe didn’t matter much to her, she wasn’t going to die anytime soon. Across from her Nnnazirim, the young man who had ridden her of the chance to participate in the virgin at despair activity stood looking at her. Around him, his friends chatted animatedly, but he had all his attention on her. Osinachi felt no regret for losing her virginity to him, especially not after he did that thing with his chest that she liked so much. He’d vibrate his breast and Osinachi found herself blushing at the ground. And each time she looked back at him, he was smiling at her.
She still had a fresh image of the event where she had given it up to Nnazirim. They had met up as per their nightly routine, but instead of letting Nnazirim kiss her and wrap his arms around her like he usually did, she signalled for more. But Nnazirim being the gentleman he was, hesitated. She clearly didn’t remember Nneoma saying that Dubem was hesitant. If memory served her right, which it always did, Nneoma had said Dubem was all for it. So what exactly was Nnazirim’s problem? Maybe he was scared of hurting her, but Nneoma had said it was more pleasure than pain and even the pain was marvellous. She had ensured that Nnazirim got this but he was still hesitant. That was when she pulled out the big guns and told him if she died, it was all on him. That did the trick. Every time the met, Nnazirim was always saying it was okay if they didn’t do it, but she thought differently. She was always in a hurry to get undressed.
The jingling of metals told everyone the Eze Muo was close by. The birds stopped chirping as if they knew that humans were not gathering for a joyous occasion, and the young maidens went back to shaking like the only leaf on a tree branch, taking the force of the harmattan wind. Her eyes caught Nnazirim’s and he threw a wink at her. She smiled again and her mind searched the crowd, trying to figure out who was going to get called by the Eze Muo.
The sounds of the clinking metals grew closer and this time, they could hear the Eze Muo chanting his incantations in that bass voice of his. People created an opening to let him pass when he got closer to them. The Eze Muo struck his staff into the earth and stood still muttering his incantations while letting everyone drink him in. He was well structured, tall and ravishingly handsome. There was a point in time when girls threw themselves at him, they probably still do but after she met Nnazirim, Osinachi left the Eze Muo’s team.
She wondered how it felt to be Eze Muo, the mouthpiece of the gods. She wondered if the gods when they were not busy requesting for virgins to be killed, held small talks with the Eze Muo.
“Eze Muo,” Amadioha would say to him, “you will not believe what happened today. That Sango of a god tried to challenge me. I showed that useless Yoruba deity who was boss. Just because he can shoot sparks from his hands, he thinks he can challenge me. The audacity.”
It must be very nice being the Eze Muo.
“The gods have spoken. To accompany the late Igwe, they’ve chosen Ezinne, Mazi Obiora’s daughter; Adaora, Mazi Febechukwu’s daughter…”
Loud wails filled the air as mothers threw themselves at the ground, and daughters joined them. Osinachi looked at her mother, she was tying her special wrapper, the one she believed brought her good luck. And Osinachi knew the luck her mother was praying for; that her daughter’s name not be called.
The Eze Muo kept calling off names like he wasn’t aware that mothers were wailing and daughters were seeking comfort in the arms of their mothers. He looked bored with the whole thing. “…and finally, Osinachi, Mazi Ibekwe’s daughter.”
She watched her mother throw herself on the floor, ruining her special wrapper. Her father had truly outdone himself this time. She had always suspected he was cheating on her mother but the height of the disrespect was naming his illegitimate daughter after her. She could see through his plan. Two daughters named Osinachi didn’t raise any suspicion. When one spoke of Osinachi, everyone would automatically assume her.
Someone nudge her and when she looked, it was Amaka.
“Eze Muo is caliing you.”
She looked away from Amaka and to her mother who was being overly dramatic by rolling on the floor. She looked around the village square, her eyes searching for her sister Osinachi. She marvelled at the nerve of Osinachi’s mother. Why was she letting her mother ruin her special wrapper when they both knew she was the one who was supposed to be rolling in the dust. Her father looked down-casted as he rightly should be. No one wanted to lose a child, legitimate or otherwise. Nnazirim was looking too shocked for her liking.
“Osinachi Ibekwe, step forward.”
“You’ve been selected to accompany the Igwe into the afterlife.”
Osinachi laughed humourlessly. “Hear how he’s saying it as if it’s a ticket to somewhere luxurious. Anyways, the gods couldn’t have selected me.”
The Eze Muo regarded her, amusement dancing on his face. “And why’s that?”
“You see, the gods requested virgins and with that criteria, I’m really ineligible to participate.”
No sooner than the word had left her mouth did her mother pick herself up from the floor and dusted herself. She walked up to Osinachi in the slowest of motion, her large hips swaying ever so slowly. She came to a stop before her daughter, tilted her head to the side so that her ear was facing Osinachi before saying, “what did you say happened that is making you ineligible to participate in this activity?”
Feeling very brave, Osinachi held her head up high and said she wasn’t a virgin anymore. It happened so fast that even after the action had been carried out, Osinachi was unaware that an action had been meted out on her. Her cheek stung and as she raised her hand to cradle it, she looked at her mother in surprised. One would think that she’d be happy that her daughter was no longer going to die. One second, she was crying about losing her daughter and then said daughter says the gods made a mistake and she’s angry that her daughter was no longer dying.
“Is this how I raised you? You sleep with whatever comes your way?”
Another slap stopped her flow of words.
“Is this how I raised you?”
Before she could get her words to order, her mother was delivering way too many slaps that were making concentrating seem impossible. She fell to the ground and her mother got on her, beating the disgrace out of her. Osinachi had to juggle breathing, crying, and feeling pain. It was not a very easy task. Her mother got off her and despite people’s plea that she should calm down, she got a slim stick. Osinachi shook her head in silent disbelief and plea. Wasn’t she above the age of being beaten up? Her mother was not going to hit her with a stick, right? She was nineteen for crying out loud. Where was her father? He had to put a stop to this.
“I didn’t kill my mother, so you won’t kill me.”
Her mother raised her hand to flog her senseless and Osinachi closed her eyes waiting for the cane to fall on her. She heard the sharp sound but didn’t feel anything. The pain didn’t come. When she opened her eyes, Nnazirim was standing before her. Osinachi blinked rapidly. She had been on the receiving end of her mother’s strokes of the cane, so she knew how painful it’d be. Another sound and another and another and Nnazirim still stood like he wasn’t feeling anything. She made to go after her mother, to stop her but Nnazirim caught and hugged her. Osinachi screamed and demanded to be let go of but he wouldn’t and her mother wouldn’t stop delivering the canes.
“Papa, she’ll kill him o. Mama, biko. Papa, stop her. Please, Papa.”
“Oby, that’s enough.”
Her mother stopped and in Nnazirim’s arm, she could hear the heaving.
“Obi m, come and sit.”
Osinachi broke down in Nnazirim’s arms and he held her tightly while she cried. Osinachi was scared to look at his back for fear that her mother had done serious damage to him. Maybe Nnazirim would break up with her because her mother was a crazy psycho.
“It’s okay.” Nnazirim soothed but Osinachi didn’t think that it was okay, she didn’t think a lot of things were okay. But she was scared to death, what if someone hurt Nnazirim again. What if she made someone hurt him without meaning to? What if he gets hurt again because of her?
“While that had been oddly satisfying, the gods didn’t pick virgins. As if this village has any more virgins left.”
Mothers looked at their daughters and daughters looked anywhere but at their mother.
“That notwithstanding, the ten girls should prepare to die.” The Eze Muo grabbed his staff and walked away while chanting his incantations and shaking his staff.
Nnazirim hugged her tightly. “It’s okay.”