This story was told to me by my mother. I tweaked it a little.
Adesuwa was a dreamer. She visited places in her mind no eye had ever seen. Many times she would sit outside her grandmother’s hut after sundown, and whilst helping out with the evening meal, dream about unknown kingdoms ruled by powerful kings that walked on all fours and ate with their ears. On other occasions, she drifted off into a land where clay pots and wooden plates and spoons came to life and took over the world of men. Alone, she would break into loud, hysterical laughter that sometimes had her rolling on the floor, forgetting that her grandmother, who was always around the corner, was waiting for the slightest reason to smack her back into reality. At such times that she gets into trouble for being herself, Adesuwa would simply apologize, tongue-in-cheek, and force herself to think of earthly things. But reality often eluded her. As much as she moved and breathed and felt the substance of her very existence like everyone else, she could not fully connect with the world around her unless she turned it into a castle in the sky. For instance, the path to the stream where she usually went for her morning baths had to be paved with shiny, transparent pebbles and not the red sand that soiled her feet every day. She also had to have the sky in a particular yellow tinge like the color of ripening plantain. And whenever she thought of the trees, she saw them like kings of old whom she was told came from the sky; so the trees would stretch high up to the heavens and follow her wherever she went, guiding her to the stream and back.
“I have to marry you off soon before I lose you to the world of the spirits,” her grandmother often said. “Because I believe that your spirit husband visits you on your trips to the river. Or is it not he who tells you such tall tales?”
In reply, Adesuwa would shake her head, laugh and disappear into another daydream. So taken she was by the immaterial world that she lost the will to stop herself from falling whenever her fantasies came calling.
One evening when her grandmother had called her six times and she had not responded, the old woman threw a basket at her and screamed loudly. “Adesuwa!”
“Iye!” the girl jumped from her stool and stood in a corner, away from range and scratched her elbow like one just waking from sleep.
“I keep counting the days to when your human husband comes to take you away. It is sad that you are only nine years old or you would have been in his house already and given him five children. Then that spirit would leave you alone and find something younger to play with.”
“But Iye, I don’t want to get married.”
“May the gods curse me if you are not in your husband’s house by this time next year!”
That night, Adesuwa was sent off to sleep with no meal. She cried herself into a kingdom where her late parents held both her hands and walked her down a road flanked by tall, raffia mats and broken pottery that floated in the air. Her father and mother, like kings of the sky had no feet, so they glided above the earth until they led her to a beautiful hut that rose up to the clouds. It was not made of clay but with clear, blue water that bubbled terrifyingly and never spilled to the ground. Within the hut her evening meal was brought to her and she was served by the three idols that usually stood facing the Oba’s palace. While Adesuwa ate, the walls sang a melodious tune that her parents danced to. And uninvited, the trees came in through the door and joined in the celebration and they all danced and sang and ate as the idols fed them until darkness filled the clouds above. As her parents stood by the door to wave goodbye to her, everything around her disappeared and something jerked her back into reality. Adesuwa opened her eyes to the image of her grandmother, standing over her head, frowning heavily at her.
“It is morning already. Get out of that dream and get dressed; we’re going to the farm today.”
Adesuwa stirred from her mat and had a peep of the outside and discovered it was still dark. Scratching her body and yawning, she found her way out of the hut and prepared for the day.
The journey to the farm was a long one and Adesuwa had tried to make light conversation with her grandmother but had been shut down rudely. She ventured into her dream state and got lost there for a while but returned when a screaming, smallish woman, came running towards them.
“Iye! Iye!” the woman caught up with them. She stopped and tried to catch her breath. “It is time! Izogie’s baby is on the way!”
“Izogie? So Izogie is pregnant?”
“May God wash my eyes! Indeed I am old. I thought she had too much to eat these past few days. How was I to know she still had the strength and heart to carry another child? Oh, that woman has been to see the creator and back. To lose your three daughters in one day and still will yourself to dream of another child? If it were me, I would have died!” The old woman shook her head and the small woman sighed, albeit impatiently. Yet she endured another talk. “I lost my only daughter and I prayed for death but I am grateful that Adesuwa was put here as my consolation. Who knows how I would have lived through this life if she wasn’t here? Hmm…the times are indeed terrible. I do hope Izogie can push out that baby.”
“Iye, that is why I am here to get you. She said she cannot be delivered of that child unless you are there.”
“Because you helped her with her three daughters in the past. She says you made her feel like she was only passing out bananas.”
The old woman laughed, covering her mouth, but Adesuwa could see the dark space that marked her missing teeth.
“Oh. I am honored, my daughter, and for that, I will follow you. Adesuwa, my child, it is already daylight. Head on to the farm and wait for me until I return. I won’t be long, my little mother.”
“Just go on and if anyone disturbs you, summon your spirit husband,” she said with a naughty laugh but the nine-year old stared back with a frown. “Go on.” The old woman pushed her granddaughter and turned back to the village, talking loudly with the other woman. Adesuwa stood and watched until they disappeared, then she let her eyes search around her. It was hardly the season for planting or harvesting or she would have found easy companion to the farm area; but because they had hit hard times and her grandmother’s hands were not so steady to mold pots again, they were forced to occasionally visit the farm to find whatever they had forgotten to glean during the harvest season.
Adesuwa continued her journey reluctantly and consoled herself with the horizon which held the promise of an early rising sun. Again she tried to dream but found disturbing thoughts of hunger and abandonment lurking in her mind, so she dipped into her grandmother’s sack and found a full bunch of bananas. She plucked out one and proceeded to devour it. When she was done, her stomach growled loudly for more and she picked another. Standing in the trail, she temporarily forgot herself and consumed the second banana. Her stomach growled yet again and she pulled out the entire bunch, found a stone just beside her and sat to a full breakfast. She ate banana after banana and did not realize she was full until an unfriendly retch forced her full mouth open, making her spit out the contents within. She covered the vomit with red sand and burped loudly. The sun was already toying with the east and Adesuwa smiled. People going to the market would surely be passing by her way. She had a plan to follow a particular kindhearted woman to her stall where she would fake a certain stomach illness which her grandmother was familiar with. That would be her reason for not making it to the farm. Content with the idea, Adesuwa drank some water from the gourd that hung by her waist and waited.
Now, while she waited…
She drifted. Not on her own accord but like she usually did. And her mind was carried away to some thought brought on by the conversation her grandmother had with the small woman about women and their children.
“So, one day,” Adesuwa thought, “I will grow up and get married, even though I don’t want to. I know Iye will force me to marry that boy that lives two huts away, the one with the crooked legs and the big head. We will marry and live in our own hut and one day, I will become pregnant and carry around a big stomach like that sad woman, Izogie. And the stomach will grow and grow until I cannot stand it anymore and have to stool out that baby. Then I have a girl like me and I will name her Amenze because she will be like a calm river. Amenze will learn to sit and stand and crawl and one day, she will walk. Then she will grow teeth and start to eat and talk and dance. After a while, she will learn to run and play with her friends and soon enough, join me in making pots and baskets!” Adesuwa laughed out loud, clapping her hands. “It’s good to be a mother oh! At that time, I will not be doing anything again. I will often say ‘Amen, go there and do this or bring that to me’” She clapped again, her laugh ringing out louder.
“Amenze will follow me everywhere I go. To the market, to the women’s meetings, to the stream…everywhere! And I will put on for her those expensive beads mother left for me… and teach her how to dance like mother taught me and call her all the names mother called me…”
Adesuwa paused her in her daydream, remembering her late mother as overwhelming sadness took over her.
“Then one day… one day, I will say to her ‘Amen, please stay home while I go to the farm with Iye to harvest some yams. I have put two stones in that pot on fire. Watch them for me. The moment they boil and become soft, I will return’. And Amen will nod and begin to watch the pot. She will watch it from morning till sundown but I will not return. She will watch it some more but she will not see me. Then Iye will come walking into the compound, tears in her eyes and people following her and she will tell Amenze that I was working very hard in the farm but my hands became tired and my eyelids became heavy, so I stopped to rest under a tree but when I closed my eyes, the spirits came and took me away to their world.
“At first, Amen will not understand anything Iye says but when she looks at the people crying and how many times they have to hold Iye from falling down, she will come to know that she will not see me again. And then she will start to cry. She will cry and cry and cry…”
At that point Adesuwa was in full tears, her voice breaking with every thought of her imagined death. She put her hands to her head and wailed terribly. “Ah! Amenze! You will not see me again oh! I will die and never come back! I will go to the land of your grandmother and I will not come back oh! Hey! Amenze! My Amen! Why will you suffer like this?!”
She beat her chest severally and shook her head as her cries overwhelmed her. “This world is indeed a terrible place.”
“Adesuwa!” a familiar voice called and Adesuwa turned. It was the kind woman whom she planned on following to the market. “What is the matter, my daughter?”
Adesuwa shook her head and hugged her.
“What is it, Adesuwa? Why do you cry like this? Is everything good?”
Adesuwa shook her head again.
“Where is your grandmother? Is she well? Is she alive? Did she die? Did somebody die? Ehn? Talk to me? Did anyone die, my daughter?”
Adesuwa nodded and the woman clapped her hand dramatically after she put down the basket she was carrying on her head.
“It has happened! Hey! Osanobua!” she placed her hands on her head. “I said it! This village and their witches will be the end of us! Hey! Hey! Heywoooo” Tears quickly filled her eyes and she broke into heavy sobs. “Osanobua o! Iye mi o!” She pulled Adesuwa to her and looked into her eyes. “Small child like you, going through all this suffering….” She shook her head and held her to her breasts and cried out again. “Osanobuuuwaaa!”
“Iye, what is the matter?”
“Ehn?” The woman turned to see her eldest daughter, Esohe, standing behind her.
“Why are you crying?”
“Oh, my daughter. The worst has happened. It has happened oh. This little child has been left alone in this world with no one to care for her.”
“Oh!” her daughter beat her chest and also dropped the basket on her head to the ground.
“When I used to tell everyone that the witches in this village are too much, no one listened to me. Now, can’t we see their handwork? Can’t we see?”
And Esohe joined her mother and Adesuwa in weeping. From afar, their voices were heard and the women who were on their way to the market hurried towards them.
“What is the matter?”
“Why were you crying?”
The questions poured and by some means, Esohe and her mother amidst their tears, related to them that Adesuwa’s grandmother had passed on. A chorus of cries broke the peace of dawn as the women dropped their wares and began to mourn. In no time, a sizable crowd consisting of not only women but men and children blocked the path leading to the farms and market and a full grief procession was formed that found its way back to the village. As they walked, many of the women remembered the old woman, how she had helped them birth their babies, how hard working she always was, how kind she had been to all her neighbors. How could she have died like that? They asked themselves. Didn’t they see her just yesterday? Chests were beaten and heads held and mouths thrown wide open to wail but nobody asked Adesuwa how her grandmother had died; the company of mourners just merely trekked on with their loud wailing until they neared the entrance to the village. So loud was their noise that late stirrers were forced out of their deep sleep and drawn out to them.
By now, more than half of the village had gathered and no one noticed Adesuwa who was presently quiet and watching the whole scene with a bit of apprehension in her face. She had tried at some point to explain to them why she was crying but they thought she was rambling out of her pain; and even now as she sighted her grandmother from afar and tried to draw their attention to her, no one listened. Quietly she withdrew to a corner, resting her back on a guava tree run down by parasites and watching as her grandmother approached the bawling crowd.
“Osanobua!” a voice rang out. “Is that not a ghost?!”
Everyone turned in the direction of the woman who drew their attention and they all followed her pointed finger aimed at Adesuwa’s grandmother and instant chaos broke into the crowd. A sizable number of them, mostly women and all the children, took to their heels and ran from the ghost’s presence.
“What is happening?” the poor, old woman asked. “Who has died? Why is everyone in tears?” Confused, the old woman asked but no one seemed to have any answer for her. It was at this juncture that Adesuwa gathered the sack in her hand, tighten the gourd around her waist and proceeded down the path that led back to the farm. As she faced the rising sun in the east, she mused at how a seemingly innocent dream had stirred the whole village into disorder. She felt a pang of remorse at her actions but she told herself it was not her fault; no one really wanted to listen to her. She pondered on the punishment she was bound to receive from her grandmother later on and winced at the thought of the anticipated pain, preparing herself mentally for it. But as she trudged on and marveled at the tall trees on both sides of the path, her mind was carried off again, without her own doing, to her place of utopia. In the distance, she saw the kings that walked on all fours and ate with their ears. The ground beneath suddenly turned to smooth, shiny transparent pebbles that reflected the yellow sky above. Nodding contentedly, Adesuwa reached out both hands as if to touch the tall trees that walked and talked with her on both sides but her hands surprisingly fell into the hands of her parents.
“Erha?” she called her father and he smiled. “Iye?” and her mother nodded.
Adesuwa smiled back at them and continued her journey to the farm, already forgetting the chaos she had caused and leaving the world of reality behind her.