Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. Oyelola
DISCLAIMER While there is indeed a place called Ayetoro-Gbede in Kogi State of northern Nigeria, the author has fictionalized all aspects of her rendition of Ayetoro-Gbede including but not limited to; the description of the village, and its inhabitants. All characters, though named after real-life individuals, are fictional figures. All events, though seemingly inspired by real life occurrences, are also completely fiction. Any similarity or resemblance to actual persons dead or alive, or to events past or present, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Olutunu Oyelola. Cover image from http://ugochinyere.tumblr.com. Cover design by Olutunu Oyelola.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the Author and Publisher.
relationships. I visited my paternal grandmother every Christmas with my family without fail. her eight cats.
. I felt centered. love and life in general from this place and her people. then cherish. I grew to love. From Lagos. even when we moved from Lagos to Port Harcourt. So every year. Mama1. and eventually crave the place that is AyetoroGbede. long before I moved to Canada. letting each one change a part of me as it came to me. we took the long drive to Ayetoro-Gbede.
See Glossary on Page 21. They lived a life very different from the one I was used to. I drank in their lives and their stories. holding up against our whining and groaning and protesting. year after year. It seemed almost unrealistic to think they lived on the same earth as I did. This was a tradition that stood as far back as I can remember. saw no concrete purpose for the dedication to this annual trip but we obliged our father’s wish year after year. Regardless of how far away we lived. her food.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. and even our mother. I learned lessons about people. and the air was light and inviting. Oyelola
Preface As a little girl. it would take us seven (sometimes more) hours. and from Port Harcourt it took no less than thirteen hours. I felt at home. content and relaxed there. her church members. My siblings and I. The tranquility and simplicity of the little red-earth village was comforting. with wide eyes and a slack jaw. and the village people fascinated me.
FATIMO Ebeli is probably furious with me by now. could still be felt when little feet pounded the stairs above him as the children brought their tokens of gratitude to Pastor’s doorstep.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. but came back every year to celebrate odun in Ayetoro-Gbede. Capri-Sun and Cabin Biscuit for their children and grandchildren who lived luxurious lives in the faraway cities. pronounced AY-beh-lee Instant noodles made in Nigeria 4 The Yoruba variation of the Arabic name. blankets. What could possibly be keeping her? Ebeli2 thought from where he hid all six feet and two inches of himself. tote bags commonly used in Nigeria. light evening before Keresimesi. pans. and the buzzing of Oga Telo’s sewing machine as he worked around the clock crafting the trendiest wears for the village people. usually plaid patterned. Bunmi. buckets. under Pastor’s staircase. He knew exactly what this meant. It was a short distance from Mama’s house to boda Ola’s house behind the village ago olopa. but trekking the winding bush path with the loads they were carrying made the trip a gruelling ordeal. The oja had been very busy that day. She was supposed to be here about half an hour ago. everyone was filled with that special type of joy only odun can bring and they were all was ready to celebrate. and be merry”. there was a stampede. Fatimo4 thought. snacks and drinks like Indomie3. everyone had been stocking up on supplies to last them for the odun period with their families. Ebeli could hear rapid thumping of feet on the red earth rushing towards the village’s main road. Some mamas in particular. and odun was really and truly here. filled the air. as it was the season of “eat. spice sellers and those who brought in imported goods from Kabba. Abel. as it could mean only one thing. It was Osu Ope. the oye air hung tight and crisp above him. Oyelola
EBELI I will wait a couple more minutes and then I will go and see where she is. drink. curtains. What people merely called “Ile boda
The Yoruba variation of the biblical name. cutlery.
. The bleating of maluu and ewure purchased for the holiday feasts. They had come to purchase the finest of imported foods. and some wrappers. Fatimo and Daisi took off with “Ghana-must-go”5 upon “Ghana-must-go” filled with sheets. Buki. It had been especially busy for palm wine tappers like Ebeli. plus carton boxes filled with pots. It was a great day that day. beamed proudly and had springs in their steps as they walked around the oja from stall to stall. I was truly going to meet him tonight but Mama had informed me at the last minute that boda Ola and his family were arriving today. and festivity was in the air. the first “returned son of Ayetoro-Gbede” had arrived. plates. pronounced F-AH-tee-mor 5 Large reusable. The aftermath of the last ojo oja before odun celebrations began. a cool. It was a still night. Suddenly. from the moonlight and prying eyes. lanterns and food stuff. Fatima(h).
An ologbo rested itself at her feet and began to purr and as Fatimo petted the animal. She needed to be out of this house as quickly as she could. boda Ola’s tiny last child. so everyone joined in. through the crowd and onto the makeshift red carpet. or “daddy” as Buki and Bunmi called him to his face. one by one they made their way shyly out of the car. and a fountain. She had a healthy selection of foods available to her. a garden. the church there had taken her in. which she had come to love. She also had something very important to tell him too and with Keresimesi drawing nearer. Fatimo was about losing her patience with the girls and their pettiness. despite her raspy voice and complete lack of singing talent. One of them being that she had to go to church with Mama every Sunday and she had to participate. Mama hoisted her up and started dancing again. had arrived. Islamic roots and all. By the time Fatimo and the girls returned to Mama’s house. a gazebo. had to offer her. she had joined the choir. a three-bedroom guest house. it was well after sun down and boda Ola. He had said he had something very important to tell her. Mama was singing and dancing. After Pastor arrived and prayed for the family. three living room. said something in English that no one could understand. she wanted to go to school. and boda Ola gave everyone what they wanted. As they all settled down for dinner. Not to mention the vast lawn on which the property stood. if not great. Oyelola
Ola” was really a sprawling estate with a seven-bedroom. she began to long again for the life that she never had. let alone to talk in private.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. before Ebeli lost his temper with her. A crowd had gathered in front of Mama’s house and passersby trickled in from the street. and brought her to Deaconess Werejomo who she now called “Mama”. and she wanted to be successful in life. As soon as Kekere’s feet touched the ground. So. life had been good to her. and fairly simple rules to follow. but her brother Debaba and her sister Itunu laughed. even though the odds seemed stacked against her. Fate had smiled upon her again when Pastor told her he had found a host family for her. Fatimo tried to hurry the girls through the clean-up but they were in no hurry at all. Fatimo sat outside in the back by the pile of firewood and sighed. a four-room staff quarters. money when she needed and asked. The next day was Sunday again. two-kitchen and nine-bath duplex. Fatimo was not in the mood for these shenanigans. stopping ever so often to talk about and dramatize their latest exploits and escapades. when they all returned and declared that they were finished and ready to go. which meant Fatimo needed to
Abbreviation for “Local Government Area”
. there would be very limited time to talk. owo odun. the crowd began to disperse and the family was finally able to move inside. The last three years had been good. After her parents could no longer care for her and siblings. gossip about fellow village people. making it imperative she saw him that night. But. nor did she feel like trading words or stories with the loudest mouths in the whole of Ijumu LGA6. She had spread a wrapper on the floor for her omo omo to walk on. Kekere. she just wanted prospects that were better than what Ayetoro-Gbede. Fatimo wanted to speak English. or share their collective disdain for boda Ola’s family.
When they had gotten far enough. jetblack curls were usually plaited neatly as they were now or pulled away from her sweet face. she heard a swift but quiet smash. and she insisted on getting what she had to say off her chest. As she moved the ologbo off her feet and stood. she said his name. of the life he saw in her eyes. Oyelola
iron her chorister uniform and head to bed immediately. she was standing at least two feet away. Fatimo was one not willing to be compromised. full thighs. she moved closer and closer to him until there was only skin and cloth between them. and he was not looking to break free. What could she want to say? What could possibly it be? He pondered. sure to avoid the windows when he saw the family gathered in the front room eating. sturdy calves. There she was. Then. She nervously announced that she had something to tell him too. and a bosom ample enough to make him blush. she grabbed his arm in her palm and pulled him away after her. He was constantly in awe of her. standing right before him. As he stood longing for her touch again. he lurched forward to run and banged right into Fatimo. to a tree near the small hill at the end of the strip of houses. she surprised him by lifting a trembling finger to his lips. full pouty lips and small eyes that were a lighter shade of brown than most he had seen. Quickly. Now. even the privilege of a long hug. but he knew not to. She looked torn between excitement and fear. he drank in the sights of her. to his wide eyed disbelief. and how he upset he was having waited for her for over four hours. and in the darkness he could see her crystal clear. He had to immediately peel himself off her to calm the drunken sensation that was coming over him. Ebeli was thrown into full blown panic. her beautiful round face was clearly stricken with panic. His Fatimo stood no more than five feet and five inches tall. before he said anything. Ebeli… Her voice rung in his ears like a thousand cymbals and wind chimes. As he ducked his tall frame and maneuvered his way as stealth as he could.
. He caught his breath. Slowly. of her fire.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. round and chubby with dimples. round hips. She had the softest hands and the smallest feet he had ever seen on a girl of seventeen years of age. he knocked over a small odo. They had been over this before. unruly. and she would never let him touch her. She had him spellbound. He wanted to pull her close to him. she finally let herself breathe. Certain he had blown his cover. tight.
EBELI Ebeli snuck up the side and then towards the back of Deaconess Werejomo’s bungalow. Her short. As he opened his mouth to speak. He had almost forgotten the rage with which he had marched up to her house. Her skin was thick and ebony and her body was the very essence of African womanhood.
kicking up dust as she darted away towards her house. Oyelola
Ebeli was not even sure how to react. then she had lost her family. vanishing in the darkness. he did not think he could possibly go through with this. Within seconds she hoisted her iro up and started running. which was now made even worse by the confession Fatimo had just made. her face had lit with rage and betrayal. She looked worried as she peeked up at him through her lashes. especially not now with Fatimo resting her cheek against his chest for the first time and so peacefully too. After years of being just her friend. and she laughed. He had loved her for as long as he had known her and he had told her from the moment he was aware and sure of the feeling. it was quickly washed away by what exactly he had to tell her. The first time he had told her. Patiently he had worked his way past her guard and defenses by listening quietly when she spoke and being there when she needed to speak. the words glided out of her mouth. He grew stiff with sadness and started to choke on the news he had to deliver. up the hill and to the trees were they stood. for now. Ebeli nearly died in that moment. No one knew him like Fatimo did. and till she finally said it back. till she began to believe it.
In English. but that did not stop him from telling her again. and surely no one cared for him like she did either. till she stopped getting mad. from the big news he had to share. she had taught him to control his anger around her. Free.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. an opportunity he did not take for granted. the soaring in his heart and the triumph in his soul was almost unbearable for him. slowly and surely they had arrived at the warmth and understanding they had now. and he had learnt that there was no point in trying to stay angry at her. Their friendship had endured many bumps and turns. Ebeli let it all sink in at once. he smiled so hard. the one he loved. Fatimo had come from a broken place. Mo n’ife e7. till she started to smile. He smiled. And just like the wind blowing softly about them. till she started to feel it. the wind carried shouts of Fatimo’s name across the tall grass. “I love you”
. loved him too. How wonderful it was. Beside her. but it seemed he would not have time to think as Fatimo guided his hand and rested his palm on her ibadi. She had begun to trust him fully recently. Just as the excitement and fulfillment of this realisation had overcome Ebeli. He told her till she stopped running away. he had finally been granted the grace to become her ololufe. she had had to provide for her family when her omuti father could not. and he tried to reassure her by continuing to breathe. Before he could say the words. she had accused him of lusting after her foolishly and trying to ruin their friendship. Matching his stubbornness with hers. He began to sweat. And now. she loved him too. and though it took a while. he truly became himself.
she hung her iborun on a nearby branch and peeled off her iro as she began a race against time and a rapidly cooling bucket of water. She knew the confusion was apparent on her face. before the first cock crew. The sad silence that surrounded them had eventually been broken by Debaba’s shouts. and put a thick aso-oke iborun over her shoulders to shield her from the oye cold. particularly the moment with Ebeli. Blowing out her atupa. before she froze up completely. His reaction had not been quite what she had expected. She looked around for Debaba who she could had sworn was shouting for her. she urged the family of ewure that was resting in her bathing spot away. Hurriedly. He had just stood there initially. she replayed the day’s events in her head. but Boda Ola. She had finally said it. Shooing and waving her hands frantically. she had been met at the back by Mama who apparently had not noticed that she had been gone and had had no idea what she was apologizing for. and how he would react. or even tried to kiss her like she had always envisioned. She walked briskly with her own pail of cooling water towards the back of the house where she bathed. She had been so afraid of what he would say. Iya Itunu. Debaba. he had been cold. She tied her iro over her breasts. He had not picked her up. Oh no! What time is it? How long have I been gone? Mama would be furious. while the sky was still a sombre blue. she had arrived at the house before Debaba had to shout her name again. She knew he loved her. Fatimo arose. She could feel her lips cracking and the skin on her heels drying up as she stood outside by the boiling pot of water on the wood fire.
. Fatimo hurriedly dusted off the remnants of her atike from her hands and adjusted her tiro through her reflection in the louvers. but she had had anxiety over what his reaction to her revelation would be. spun her around. signalling to Mama that her bath water was ready. she carried the steaming pail to the door of Mama’s room and knocked quietly. narrowly avoiding a tumble by a quick thinking step.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. Oyelola
FATIMO Fatimo slid into her bed and under her aso ibora. and then had shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot after a while. It was particularly brutal that morning. the water finally reached a boil. he had continued to hold her. Walking up the front steps of the church a few hours later. Something was wrong. Though she could feel the look of great concern over his face. Breezing past the trees and running as fast as she could down the hill. so she had quietly excused herself before she raised any suspicion. she had to flee. She had looked up at him a few times and all he could manage was a smile. Luckily. And just as it had seemed Ebeli was finally about to confide in her. She lifted the scalding pot off the wood and portioned some of the water into a pail. Already cooking up her excuse and readying herself for a scolding. **** The next morning. Fatimo had thought. Itunu. Setting the bucket down. and Kekere were gone.
And when she had finally opened up to him. She needed to know what the matter was. and tales of seeing Fatimo sneaking out of his house at night had brewed. to follow Ebeli to the palm grove. but she had sped off claiming she was late and that she had no other one to wear. she really needed to see him. calling after her that the pinafore was far too tight and inappropriate for church. She remembered the first time she had accompanied him to the palm grove.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. waiting expectantly for Ebeli to pass by. and she had put it to Fatimo straight. He had made her fall in love with him. Ebeli was the one she wanted. She had lied. the townspeople had made it increasingly difficult for her to condone it. They had been planning for weeks how she would make her great escape from home and out to the grove so early in the morning. The risk of this journey was far greater than that of any other meeting plans they had ever made. Their walks to the grove took longer than usual. but nosy neighbours had taken the news of their budding relationship to Mama. Ebeli actually lived in a house on the opposite side of the road Fatimo lived on with Mama. Oga Telo had fitted it so tight that the white inner shirt was now jutting out at the abiya. and she had quickly been gaining a reputation. as he had not responded favourably at all to her confession. They had to walk off the main road and through bushy foot paths and back ways to make sure no one saw them. While Mama was not against boy-girl relationships. she had perfected her timing after much practise over the past months. as they had to take an unusual route. but she was not late at all. Suddenly. and he was leaving her with her feelings all alone. Oyelola
As she walked towards the choristers’ pews. Mama had had enough of the talk. under the respective claims that they were headed to church. Not only did she have other pinafores to wear. Soon rumours about suspicious noises coming from Ebeli’s bedroom had been sparked. He was the man she wanted to give herself to. Before long. that Ebeli was withdrawing from her.
. Fatimo and Ebeli had managed one day to sneak off. one that Mama did not want to be associated with. and their houses were out of the question. but it was doing her some good. In fact. a Deaconess’ house. She took a seat by a set of louvers where she could see him if he passed by the church. she was filled with anger and the after taste of betrayal. they could only see each other on the farm. she was very early. She thought she had figured it out. She came to church early every Sunday. she adjusted her newly tightened navy blue choir uniform. Never had she thought joining the choir would do anything other than embarrass her. She needed to ascertain that it was not just womanly insecurities and worry that plagued her. Fatimo had been new here. She felt the sting in her eyes and fought hard to stop the tears. any relationship that would cause tongues to wag so much was completely unacceptable in her house. Fatimo would be in big trouble. With teary eyes she looked out the church windows at the waking world. Before then. he had gone cold and quiet on her. He usually came by around this time. or at the oja. Soon. If they were caught. this practice became routine as it raised few eyebrows and ruffled no feathers. Especially after last night’s meeting. Naturally this should have made it easier for them to see each other. Mama had frowned at her as she left home. Neither of those places where particularly exclusive.
his past. Fatimo looked around to see choir practise starting. Fatimo was the first one through the church doors. Ebeli on the other hand. at some points. When Ebeli had descended. On non-oja days. **** Church service dragged on longer than usual. he had sliced open a fruit. in hopes of getting out of boda Ola however much money they needed for the renovation and other church expenses. and they had talked. Fatimo was slightly jealous of Ebeli. as Fatimo sat on the ground and leaned against the trunk of another nearby tree waiting. she stopped only to look at Ebeli’s house. where she was originally from. They talked about everything. the only Muslim in an Apostolic Christian village. They were living with the uncle their mother had abandoned them with. He had sat by her. the whole village had partaken in raising him. and song. applause. their present day-to-day mundane lives. Not only was he a boy. Fatimo was the newcomer. She had been sweaty and out of breath. but she was just a mere village girl with no prospects. non-alcoholic juice to Fatimo. Oyelola
Only Fatimo. She knew basic mathematics and some English vocabulary from her few years in Primary school. Fatimo wanted to move back to Iyamoye. but Ebeli had been full of energy still. Fatimo had been exhausted. The congregation broke out in cheers. She contemplated for a moment
. That was his dream. and Baba Ebeli’s bicycle was still there. her past. and they had embraced his freespiritedness and daring attitude. he had gone to school. Marching down the stairs and breaking into a run by Pa Oyelola’s house. Offering after offering was collected. Mama had helped her set up a stall in the oja where she sold the crops she got from the farmland Mama had also bought for her. Being in love was not going at all how she had hoped. When they had finally made it the grove that first day. and take her siblings back. the intruder. with the arrival of boda Ola and his family causing the church to erupt into frenzy. The windows were covered. Snapped out of her thoughts by the loud thump of hymn books. Ebeli had not shown up. taken a big gulp. He put them out of their misery when he declared that he would be donating a very large sum of money to the church. and most especially the future. as Ebeli had nothing to worry about. and he wanted that life. Ebeli wanted to move to the big city. He saw the fancy cars that drove through Ayetoro-Gbede and the oko ofurufu that flew by in the sky. The moment the “Amen” after The Grace was said. and then offered the rest of the sweet. praising God. Up the first tree he had gone. was everyone’s son. She was crushed. she used the money made at the oja to buy other things like toiletries to re-sell in a kiosk Mama let her open in front of the house. before fleeing the village after her father’s alcoholism had become increasingly worse. but he lived with only his father since his mother had died when he was much younger. praising their “golden boy” and also.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. His dreams of Lagos and Abuja seemed attainable for him. but Ebeli had gone as far as finishing secondary school. while she had not. She had two sisters and a brother and they had been too small to come with her when she left for AyetoroGbede to find a better life.
Keeping herself busy was the key to keeping her emotions under control. he softened. Boda Ola gave her a skeptical look. still. Ebeli played along. but she reassured him that all the adiye would be dead and edible before sun down. Once they got far enough out of the adults’ sight.
. de-feather. and it was tempting to just leave him be. Bending over to poke the fire. She did not know when next she would even see Ebeli. She looked up at him adoringly and smiled. She tapped him sharply on his leg. who had said she knew just the person to call for assistance with the adiye. clean and cook them. It was when boda Ola relayed to him that Fatimo herself had been the one. Boda Ola thanked him for coming and gave him some money. but the sound of church members catching up with her ushered her on. Ebeli pulled her close and pinched her cheeks. They must have ridden over in boda Ola’s car. about five hundred naira. Clearly thinking nothing of it. that Ebeli finally caught on. As soon as the sleepy haze cleared. Dashing boldly to Ebeli’s house. Outside by the bushes in the back. and then Ebeli turned and followed her. She stood off to the side behind boda Ola grinning slyly. Fatimo had a plan. her heart ached. Immediately. Dutifully.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. she had told herself. Fatimo cleared her throat again and continued on. he picked her up and he finally did it. she went outside to the kitchen and started to make them lunch. He kissed her. so working herself up was of no use to her. Ebeli rubbed his hands over his face and picked a shirt off the chair by the bed and followed her home. By the time she had gotten home and had stripped off her chorister uniform. and he recognized who it was. It sounded so brilliant in her head that she had to stop herself from smiling. which quickly switched to impatience and irritation. and she hung tightly around his waist. Fatimo swung open the main door and walked right through the curtain covering Ebeli’s door frame. but Fatimo reminded herself that she did not come all the way to back down. The adiye for tomorrow’s Keresimesi meal had arrived and Fatimo was to kill. She poured a couple handfuls of rice into a pot of water and set it on the firewood to boil. He gave a confused look. Fatimo thought. Mama and boda Ola’s family were also back from church. causing his eyes to fly open and dart defensively towards her. mentioning something about being woken up and then something else about taking his father’s bicycle to the fokanaisa’s. and declared that boda Ola had requested his assistance at Mama’s house. He called her his smart girl. Oyelola
throwing caution to the wind and walking into his house in broad daylight. Fatimo heard boda Ola call her name. A sleeping Ebeli lay in bed. she told boda Ola that she knew nothing about killing adiye. But. He looked tired and peaceful all at once. She mentioned that she could find someone who would do the killing for her. Gathering all the courage she had. Fatimo ignored his sheepish smile and partial nudity. Realising she had only a few seconds to make her play. Still insistent on being angry at him.
Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. Fatimo… Her name escaped his lips as he closed his eyes. She knew he must be upset. he pressed and grabbed as much of it as he could in his palms. she felt it. One by one. she had been more concerned with why some boy was following her everywhere and asking her so many questions. paired with his disabling smile. She had not been looking at his face. but here was certainly was not the place for something he wanted to be so special for Fatimo. back.
EBELI He could feel Fatimo’s eyes on him. made him certainly the most beautiful man she personally had ever seen. Her man was built like a jagun jagun. He was tall and had a gallant stance about him. she suddenly pulled away. then his mouth opened as if to speak but she interrupted him saying simply. Oyelola
Three years this kiss had been in the making. The sculpted and chiseled muscles in his arms. Virgin or not. intestines and adiye heads everywhere. she kept her eyes on Ebeli. And then. then hot and deep like a man in love. his skin was impenetrable and as black as coal. Kissing her neck now. She grabbed his face. He was rock solid. He reached underneath her adire dress and touched her bare inner thigh. and she knew that to mean only one thing. pressing her closer and tighter till the muscles of his stomach felt as though they were being imprinted on her body. held it her palms and looked him in the eyes. adiye. and moving slowly. or at least disappointed. he quietly picked up each loud protesting bird. He blinked rapidly. not his looks. he tried his luck even farther. he was sort of relieved. and calves. and it was everything. With the feathers. beheaded it. from her waist to her buttocks and when she did not stop him or pull away. as if in disbelief of how close they were getting to finally doing the only thing she could think of when she was alone. He was not sure what was going to happen if they let the passion and their desire take over. Leaning her hips and thighs heavily into his pelvis. out in the bushes behind Mama’s house was not what he had imagined. First soft and light like a lazy afternoon breeze. His hands fell slowly. And. stomach. gutted it. he wanted her first time with him and his first time with her to be special. chest. He knew she was probably worried that he was mad at her for abruptly changing her mind about going further. but if he was she would never know as he said nothing. though he had never asked. blood. His eyes flew open. but honestly. It was electric. and somewhat shyly. She could not put a word to the feeling. He held her very close to him. She gasped. and handed it to her.
. He assumed she was a virgin. happy-go-lucky attitude and perseverance. She had been initially won over by his boyish charm.
Ebeli shifted his foot slightly causing him to step on Fatimo’s foot. ma gb'omi ife mu Ololufe iwo leni t'okan mi yaaannnnn Bi nba se e o Dariji mi o Iwo ni mofe Iwo ni temi Semi ni tireeee He was sure he was not doing a good job of the singing. After she had confessed her love for him and had had to flee. There he had seen Agbekoya and Jemisi8 returning to the village from Lokoja. and it was not coming from Fatimo. she neither dusted her foot nor moved it. it had not been intentional. taping his foot against hers rhythmically. he had seen her standing by burning firewood perhaps boiling water to bathe with. Fatimo had already woken. where they attended the yunifasiti. mo maa le gba ilu kin jo 'Tori re o. he had stumbled into his house where he fell into bed and had slept till Fatimo woke him up about an hour ago. she fought back a fit of giggles. 'Tori re o. ma gba eran ife ma je B'ofun gbemi. or so it seemed.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. their eyes met. he had returned home though the forest. She looked up at him slowly in mock surprise. He had stood her up this morning. Squirming like a worm in his lap. By the time he reached his house in the morning. Toe to toe as they sat facing each other. dusted her foot with the back her free hand and moved it back further under her stool. This time Fatimo did not react. She jumped out of his embrace and adjusted her dress as he whipped his head back to see who else had joined them outside. He sang it her all the time when words failed him and silence abounded. Then there was laughter. She started humming along the tune with him. His fingers dug into the flesh around her waist as he started to tickle her. as she stood up to put the cleaned adiye in the pot of water behind them. James. It was not that he had forgotten. She smiled and he smiled too. pronounced JAY-mee-si
. Ebeli took this as a green light. but he knew Fatimo always felt the words. Ebeli reached over. Bent forward with her back to him. For the first time in ages. He repeated the playful gesture. it was their little tradition. he serenaded her with a love song. They usually went to the palm grove very early every Sunday before Fatimo’s choir practise. tugging the helm of her dress until she stumbled back and landed in his lap. Excited to see his former school mates and friends. he had followed them home and then to the local bar for some emu and oti. Oyelola
She was probably mad at him too. Three
The Yoruba variation of the biblical name. mo maa le sun lai jeun B'ebi npa mi. In his tipsy state. though that is how it may have seemed.
making it sink even further that odun was over. At least. Itunu’s. she had already told him so. it had taken him three tries to write and pass his JAMB exam9. Oyelola
little faces. Seeing how sad she looked at the thought of him going back home just across the road broke him. had been hard at work all day that day and it was almost sun down now. but he could already see the sadness in her eyes. she thought to herself. Fatimo. She would not come with him. anyone walking outside and finding them sitting like that by themselves in the dark. Because of the odun festivities that week. slow pace once again. The merriment was coming to an end and the presently lively Ayetoro -Gbede would fizzle to its quiet. Boda Ola and his family were leaving for Lagos the next day. and tumblers. In that very moment. She was definitely smarter than him. She did not think city life would suit her well. There was no way he could tell her that he was going to Lagos in the New Year. Two days’ worth of cleaning was to be done now. They had washed. he was the one off to the big city to study and he had to leave her behind. and Fatimo was left with the dirty plates. He would take her to the city and make her his wife. He had tried to convince her of the options but Fatimo was stubborn in her ways. and swept. because Fatimo was still very sore and bitter about it. and mopped. she had not seen him in about three days. and she always brought up her lack of education as her first line of defence. along with Bunmi and Buki. there was no doubt about that. leaving them only with memories and wishful thinking. She had a valid argument. and scrubbed.
FATIMO Keresimesi had come and gone. pots. It was probably time for him to leave now. Iyamoye was where she wanted to die. and wiped. Ebeli wished there was something he could do. and rinsed. Now. He knew not to bring up the matter much. or worse. Ebeli and I would be less busy again and we would be able to spend time together as usual. an examination all graduating secondary school students are required to take and pass in order to gain admission into university in Nigeria
. He took Fatimo’s hand and kissed her palm.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. a seventeen year old girl could not ideally return to primary school. he vowed he would come back for her. Fatimo was bright and smart.
Joint Admission Matriculation Board exam. He thought of telling her his big news now. emerged from the bushes making mock kissing noises as they turned to scurry away. He did not want anyone getting suspicious about how long it was taking them to kill and clean adiye. The loud music and bright camera flashes would fade. Kekere’s and Debaba’s. She had had to leave school to help supplement her mother’s income when her father had taken up oti mimu as his way of life. The streets lined with brightly coloured cars and being trodden on with high-heeled stilettos would return to their bare red-earth form soon enough.
and folded until their fingers were going numb. who may be marrying who. who may be pregnant for whom. had died. forgetting shoes. and how one could smell the urine all the way from the main road. Wide-eyed Fatimo listened up as Buki went into the details with a dramatic recount of Iya ‘Dekunle beating up Baba ‘Dekunle for bed wetting in their matrimonial bed. she caught up on all the stories and village gossip Bunmi and Buki naturally brought with them. Boda Ola and his family were there. and bellowed. Everything just began to fall away. The village people shouted blessing and prayers at his feet as he walked out of the house. They filled her in on who was sleeping with whom. but Fatimo just stood there. gut-wrenching shriek. Soon. and whose wife was beating who. He was inconsolable. his pain. shoving people out of her way till she got there. as they watched old Mama rush down the street. who was taking a second wife much to his first wife’s disdain. Sprawled on the ground wailing and shaking as if possessed by spirits was Ebeli. Her ololufe was rolling on the red-earth road. He continued to scream. A crowd was forming fast. Her strong. Each tear that rushed down his face washed a part of her soul away. People were weeping and throwing themselves to the ground around her. He mumbled to himself occasionally and sighed deeply from time to time. gallant jagun jagun was a weeping mess. he banged his palm into his head continuously as if to shake the anguish out of his mind. Ori mi! Baba mi o! Aye mi! Iku! Gbe emi na o! The only other person Ebeli had.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. He was beside himself with grief. The children were seated on the front step shell-shocked. and dried. Ebeli struggled to break free. his dearest friend and closest confidant. Ebeli wept. She stared as Iya Dani tried to contain Ebeli. but eventually he gave up. when suddenly there was a loud. and screamed. and his grief in her embrace. Fatimo could not move. He did not reply any of the
. He had since stopped shouting. Fatimo broke. More and more people gathered and the grief and mourning engulfed them all. the whole of Ayetoro-Gbede was seated outside Ebeli’s house. No one was to be allowed inside the house or near the body till the dokita came. Oyelola
and cleaned. His father. but the tears continued to flow. Sitting down with chilled bottles of Fanta Mama had rewarded them with. she bolted down the road. Boda Ola ordered that a dokita be called from Kabba to thoroughly investigate the situation and determine a cause of death. and more wailing and screaming could be heard. had been taken away from him. The girls jumped off the ground nearly knocking over their beverages. When Fatimo’s eyes focused in the mayhem. Screaming loudly. quickly securing their iros as they rushed to the front of the house. begging for death to take him too.
and defeated. while other hurled insults at the bereaved iya arugbo. as far as they were concerned. exposing her breasts. She spat on the ground and dropped to her knees. for their future. By the time she regained presence. Baba Ebeli was hale and hearty. **** Fatimo must have fallen asleep. He had died from a brain injury which lead to swelling that had caused him severe headaches. like her lungs had collapsed. Watching Ebeli in so much pain took the life right out of her. Fatimo was not even sure how she felt. weak. but he probably had not known. The air was tense. including a time to be born and a time to die. and into her bedroom. Though it seemed selfish. there was a blaring noise. and the air hung a little thicker and the wind blew a little sharper. Now. Mama. the dokita from Kabba arrived and the crowd began to disperse. She could hear the crowd gathered again. Boda Ola explained in laymen’s terms what had happened. and cursed the Heavens. Pastor arrived to calm the crowd. After Pastor escorted the embittered iya arugbo to the church with him. Fatimo felt like dying too. it all began to fade into nothingness. the thoughts came flooding in. Would the death of his father change anything? Would it change the way he felt? Would it change him? She let herself think.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. Only Baba Ebeli could have saved himself. nor did he look up from where he had crouched all six feet and two inches of himself in the doorway. Oyelola
greetings. and assured them that nothing they could have done would have prevented it. and as a matter of fact. and ultimately killed him since it went undiagnosed and untreated. Nobody had any idea what he was talking about. for their relationship. Poor Itunu. She demanded that God explain to her why her entire linage was being wiped out one by one. dead. The sky was a little darker that night. no one knew of him having any aisan. The whole village just sat outside their houses and waited. People began yelling prayers of forgiveness. Ebeli just sat there and continued to shake his head. As Fatimo moved outside and secured the door behind her. There were no more tears. and then she proceeded to list all the children and adults alike in her family that had died during her lifetime. She was furious.
. loudly daring God to strike her dead if He was indeed really God. Fatimo and a sniffling Iya Itunu walked slowly back to the house and waited. She could not breathe. He opened his Bibeli Mimo. Debaba and Kekere looked terrified. At that point the villagers erupted in an uproar. In shock they all watched as the fragile iya arugbo ripped open her buba. Soon. Slowly everything drifted away. by seeking treatment. Understandably. Her eyes were sore and the neck of her dress was soaked. Red and blue flashing lights reflected through the house. Fatimo could have sworn she heard Ebeli hiss under his breath. she let herself wonder what this meant for them. He eventually did look up when his great-aunt arrived from Iyah-Gbede. the wailing started again. and talked to them about how there was a time for everything. The dokita from Kabba had determined that Ebeli’s father was truly. This time it was tired. “God giveth and God taketh” was just not going to be enough to comfort him. It must have been past midnight. She found herself gasping for air.
and did not even look up when she entered.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. Her Ebeli. she had been mistaken. Oyelola
Wrapped in a white cloth. It had been good having them around. but he still did not move. and the rest of the village had retired for the night. He just knelt there with his mouth parted. When she was sure the coast was clear. Fatimo stood outside by her and waved as the car drove away. mourning. She looked over at her ololufe’s house
Sombre songs of sorrow. After what seemed like an eternity in the silence. so full of life. revealing the grey. Ebeli who had previously been sitting quietly as if oblivious to it all. Fatimo got her iborun and slippers and prepared to sneak out. The elderly women broke out in dirges10 and the men chewed their lips as they fought back tears. but today it had this foreign coldness to it. but he did nothing. but Ebeli did not blink. Waving “good bye” and praying for his soul to be accepted at the Pearly Gates of Heaven. he sighed deeply and closed his eyes. lay untouched where they piled up in front of the house. Ebeli flung the cloth away from his father’s face. Ebeli fell away from the gurney finally and to his knees. Fatimo loved listening to the children talk in their funny sounding city accent. The dokita from Kabba closed the doors of the ambulance. He offered for him to stay at the church. but he said nothing still. and out of the cold finally. After a few minutes. she dashed back quickly across the road to Ebeli’s house. Iya Dani and a few others from Pa Oyelola’s compound brought food for Ebeli. they turned and finally went home. the body of Baba Ebeli was carried out of the house. He was seated in the front hall staring at a wall. After the visitors and mourners had gone. making his breathing shallow. Fatimo was shocked. He begged and begged for his father not to leave him alone by himself. He shook his father’s shoulders are begged for him to wake up before the people took him away. without looking at her or pulling his hand from hers. **** The next morning. pasty skin of a recently departed one. Right before the body was placed in the back of the ambulance. and the women and children ran after the vehicle as it drove away to the mortuary. They were leaving for the city. Pastor returned and prayed for Ebeli where he was planted still on his knees. All the food that had been given to him and the money that had been gifted. and with the sleeve of her dress she cleaned the dried up tears from his cheeks and the mucus from his nose. boda Ola and his family came to say their good byes. She reached over to wipe his face. was now a broken orphaned child. grief and lament
. Pastor squeezed his hand in condolence and walked away. His hand was usually rough and hard from farming and hunting. Ebeli had moved inside. She intertwined her fingers with his and squeezed hard. to hopefully return next odun. his nose was runny. If Fatimo thought the village had been mourning before. sprang from the ground and unto the gurney. She watched as Mama wiped tears from her eyes as she watched her precious only son and favourite child leave again. Eventually. She stared at him for a while. She whispered a “hello” and sat gingerly beside him. as if midsentence.
He had been seated in the front pew at the church. when the men and ministers from the church arrived. but decided against it. She yelled again. and ensuring he did not harm himself. and contribute nothing. Ebeli was back outside. in a white guinea brocade kaftan. women from Pa Oyelola’s compound attempted to lure him to their houses with offers of warm breakfast and a hot bath. They decided on a time. Boda Ola had gone over to talk to him. Fatimo contemplated going to Ebeli that night again. mumble to himself. She wanted a future together. She was trying hard not to break into a run. if that was what he wanted. These past few days had shown her that she wanted to spend forever with him. Fatimo was beyond relieved. but under control. She pushed against the front door and made her way into the house. when the time came for him to pay his last respects by the graveside. She reasoned that it was best to leave him be. She needed to hold Ebeli and tell him that she was here for him. they would make it through together. Fatimo just wanted to run over there and hold him. and seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. The men came to talk about his father’s burial rites and funeral that were to take place the next day. when Fatimo decided to check back on Ebeli. seated on the ground in front of his house. Ebeli had still not moved. eaten or spoken. and Ebeli contributed nothing. that whatever it was. The walls were bare. and was answered by her own echo. No one was watching Ebeli’s house closely anymore. Ebeli had shown up looking slightly better. the men and the church minister’s took their leave. Yesterday at the funeral. women and children took turns seating by Ebeli. All the food stuff and ewure that had been dropped by were gone. Oyelola
across the road and there he was. but Ebeli said nothing.
. and all the furniture was gone. She finally reached Ebeli’s house. and he had also smiled a little at the children. He just sat there unmoved. a wave of relief had washed over the whole village. She would move to the city. but even one of his idols could not get him to budge. but she wanted to get there that very minute. keeping him company. He had even replied people when they wished him well and offered their condolences. that it was all going to be okay. Her heart began to race. She would go wherever he was going. As she rushed to his house. She yelled out for him. She just wanted to take his pain away. By night time. The village was finally moving past their grief and carrying on with their regular daily life. As the morning progressed. Pastor returned on report that he was not eating to plead with him to take some food. The men discussed and deliberated amongst themselves. pull him out of the sand where he was seating. where she had been able get a good look at him from the choristers’ pews. place and the arrangement of the ceremony. When he opened his mouth to read and words had come out. The whole church had held their breath when he rose to do the first scripture reading.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. When Ebeli still continued to stare on. **** It was the day after Baba Ebeli’s funeral. and noticed that the front yard had been cleaned. He had looked clean and had appeared calmer. He had been emotional. Her heart bled for him. Throughout the day. so she could probably sneak there unnoticed. By noon. And again. It seemed he may heal after all. Fatimo could not walk fast enough.
Breezing through the house. Sensing her confusion. Soon. the lady continued on to inform her that he had gotten into yunifasiti in Lagos and had taken a bus from the motor park around noon.
. she was outside at the back of the house. She ran quickly to his neighbour’s yard and the young woman there informed her that Ebeli had left that morning… for Lagos. The air ceased around her. Without her. Her head began to spin. What? Why? How? She thought. she burst into rooms and continued to call out.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. How could he just leave like that?! Ebeli was gone. Why did he not tell me?! Her mind screamed. Without telling her. Oyelola
There was no reply.
if she ever moved back to Iyamoye… If she ever thought of him… If she forgave him…
Water sold in square or rectangular nylon bags Small. and the noise came in in full blast waking his sleeping wife. but he could still recognize it. Children were running to Pastor’s house as was usually done. his friends. he was a banker “originally from Kogi State”. “I am the first returned son of Ayetoro-Gbede!”. Then the cheering began. Ebeli was finally home. experience the culture. His wife. The village looked slightly different. She was born and raised in Lagos. as he had once done. life in the village was bound to be very strange in her eyes. The pure water11 maker was still there by the fokanaisa. She had been against coming for such a long time. what is going on?!”. As the road narrowed further inside Ayetoro-Gbede. till he had finally worn her down with his pleading. he replied with a hearty shout. and then in annoyance. Fatimo… He felt that pang in his chest again. Deaconess Werejomo. He had always wondered about her. as she snapped her head around startled. and a couple new businesses lined the main road. He wondered at random where she was. Maluu and ewure were being purchased and the sound of banger12 filled the air. drink fresh palm fruit juice. the church members. she asked. the people at Pa Oyelola’s compound. Onyedikachi.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. delivering presents for odun. he was a proud son of Ayetoro-Gbede. did not understand. She looked at him in confusion. To her. He was bursting with pride as the chants and songs filled the car. He pressed his horn and flashed his headlights to alert people of the incoming vehicle. the familiar smell welcomed him. and most especially meet all the people he had lived there with. He could not wait for her to eat the delicacies. “Abel. he felt his heart flutter and he gripped the steering wheel tighter. Oyelola
Many Years Later…
EBELI As Ebeli drove out of Iyah-Gbede into Ayetoro-Gbede. but to him. loud fireworks
. what she was like now. The General’s house was still the first building as one entered the village. He wound down the car window to wave at his people. There were a few more local bars. Pastor.
Everyone suddenly vanished. Villagers had lined the road. she could feel the excitement reach fever pitch as people chased the car and banged on its trunk. Their eyes locked. From where she stood. Wedged between Pastor and a visibly pregnant omo Igbo pupa. With the excitement infectious. Nothing could have prepared Fatimo for this moment. She rocked her baby back to sleep as she joined in the singing from her house. Omo Igbo in Ayetoro-Gbede? She thought. and started running towards the main road. As she put on her slippers and secured the baby on her back. Her sister returned and said something about a boda in a shiny car with an omo Igbo. She looked up. They were making isu sisun for supper. Before she could close her mouth and tear her eyes away. Her young son was running around pushing a rock with a stick when suddenly he shouted. villagers sped past her front door all seeming to be headed to church. and there he was. She could hear the cheers. His name escaped from her mouth and she did not stop it. she began to dance too and clap her hands. and her son who had found her. She wondered who it was this year. Fatimo’s curiousity was spiked. Making her way to the front of the crowd. there Ebeli stood. and she felt seventeen again. Her sister went to the front of the house to get closer view. This should be interesting. waking the sleeping baby on her back.
. the villagers seemed much more excited than usual. The crowd quieted down but she. shuffled forward still.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. Oyelola
FATIMO Fatimo and one of her sisters stood at the back of the house. fanning a fire. she heard Pastor begin to pray. the first returned son of Ayetoro-Gbede had arrived for odun. he looked up and caught her gaze. and they were singing a song she knew by heart. Ebeli… Ebeli had returned.
sign of respect. illness. male market market day. Oyelola
Glossary abiya adire adiye ago olopa aisan aso ibora aso-oke ati atike atupa baba Bibeli Mimo boda buba dokita emu ewure fokanaisa ibadi iborun ile iro isu sisun iya iya arugbo jagun jagun Kereke Keresimesi mama odo odun Oga Telo oja ojo oja oko ofurufu ologbo ololufe omo Igbo omo omo omuti Osu Ope oti oti mimu underarms. blouse doctor palm wine goat vulcanizer lower back. sickness. the small of one’s back shawl house wrapper. “olopa” = police officer. drunkard the month of December. “Osu” = month alcohol drinking. cop ailment. disease blanket. “ojo” = day. “oga” = sign of respect. armpit tie-dye fabric Chicken police station. plane cat lover. female mortar holiday season “telo” = tailor. aeroplane. a person from eastern Nigeria grandchild(ren) alcoholic. male.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. alcoholism
. cover cloth woven fabric and powder lantern father. “oja” = market airplane. girlfriend an person of Igbo heritage. older relative. wrap skirt roasted yams mother old woman warrior “small one” Christmas grandmother. boyfriend. elderly father Holy Bible brother. uncle.
“owo” = money. mo maa le sun lai jeun B'ebi npa mi. college
Translation of Song Lyrics on Page 11 (Originally by Kunle Kuti) 'Tori re o. I will eat the food of love If I am thirsty. I will drink of love My love. Oyelola
owo odun oye pupa tiro yunifasiti
holiday money. I can sleep without eating If I am hungry. mo maa le gba ilu kin jo 'Tori re o. light-skinned black eye pencil/eyeliner. ma gba eran ife ma je B'ofun gbemi. kohl university. you are the one my heart chose If I offend you Forgive me You are the one I want You are the one for me Make me your own
Translation of Ebeli’s Mournful Words on Page 13 Ori mi! Baba mi o! Aye mi! Iku! Gbe emi na o! My head! My father! My life! Death! Take me too!
. I dance Because of you. ma gb'omi ife mu Ololufe iwo leni t'okan mi yaaannnnn Bi nba se e o Dariji mi o Iwo ni mofe Iwo ni temi Semi ni tireeee Because of you.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí
Olutunu Q. “odun” = holiday harmattan Yellow.
.Fátím àtí Ébẹlí