“I would tell you both a bedtime story, only if you both promise to be good,” Granny said, having a lightning of affection flash in her eyes.
Ada and Obinna, just cuddled themselves up underneath the duvet, waiting to hear another exciting moonlight tale from Grandma. It was hard to believe that that was the last story they were going to hear from her, at least for a while.
“There was a monster who lived on Ugboma hill, a long time ago. Oral tradition said he was 300 years old and had been a tyrant for most of its long life. So, everyone feared it. Those who were not scared only were able to say so inside their bedroom, their voices not a little louder than a whisper. Every time a warrior would rise up to save the people, that warrior would mysteriously disappear In the middle of the night. It was so bad that no mother wanted to hear their child say he wanted to be a war… a slap would follow before the rior could be pronounced. Generations upon generations, community versus community, all seeking a way to end the reign of terror.”
“Nne Nne, were you born at that time?” Ada asked. (Nne Nne – grandmother)
“My little one, don’t be in a hurry,” Granny replied.
“The monster had an enormous appetite. It ate 5 square meals when most of the villagers could only eat one, sometimes one and a half. A few of the richer folks ate two, and the Igwe’s family ate three. Why was this so? The villagers had to donate large portions of their produce so that the stores would be full of food for the monster. Barns upon barns, loaded with yam, heap upon heap. Maize? It was as much as the sand on the seashore. And to make matters worse, the monster was very selective of food. It wouldn’t eat if the food tasted a little less sweet than it had been for many years. And when it didn’t eat, it was big trouble, larger than what the Igwe and his council could solve, larger than what a sorry, a very tearful one could solve. So, they appointed Ihuoma the beautiful damsel as chief cook for the monster because it loved her meals, she prepared like a Calabar woman would. It was very delicious. The Igwe (village king) had said that ‘if not because of the enormous task involved in preparing 5 square meals for the monster, he would have made Ihuoma his twelfth wife.”
“Twelfth wife?” Obinna asked, sounding as surprised as Ada did too. They both used their hands to cover their mouth, which was the only way they knew best to express surprise as little children.
“Yes, his twelfth wife. The Igwe liked two things more than his life. Do you want to know what those things were?”
“Yes, Granny!” Ada and Obinna both spoke up at the same time.
“He liked food and wives. He was just like his father, who married 22 women. My grandchildren, odiegwu o!” Granny said with a smile, adjusting her glasses over the bridge of her nose, so that it could balance better. She wanted her little eyes to focus on the only two assets she had; Ada and Obinna. (Odiegwu – an expression of surprise)
“So, Ihuoma spent her entire day cooking for the monster. She would wake up at 4 am just to prepare its breakfast. The rumor that had circulated all over the villages was that the monster only slept for two hours, and that was usually from 2 am – 4 am. Once it had awakened, the monster was hungry, and if it found no food, terrible things were going to start happening. For one, it would purposely destroy all the crops and eat a few animals; chickens, goats and guinea fowls. But ever since it ate Ihuoma’s food, it’s monster life had never been the same. The monster had become much nicer and wouldn’t destroy anything as long as Ihuoma cooked for him. So, all the villages and villagers agreed that they would put together their resources, and provide Ihuoma with all she needed to ensure that they all had peace.”
“How old was Ihuoma?” Ada asked.
Granny just laughed and shook her head slowly. “Ihuoma was just 17 years old and just as beautiful as you.”
Ada chuckled, as young as she was, she enjoyed being told that she was beautiful.
“Once Ihuoma was done cooking breakfast, she would quickly run, far away from where the monster wouldn’t see her. Then Dee Cadastral would blow a horn, and go to the village market square to welcome the monster. Dee Cadastral had been the only man to see the monster, and live, so rumor had it. So, he became the mediator between the monster and the villages. In the midst of starvation, Dee Cadastral was growing fat. People said it was an evil fat, the curse of seeing the monster. Well, whether it was evil or not, his entire family also suffered it with him, everyone was fat as if they were storing up food in their body against famine. Dee Cadastral’s last son… hmm!” (Dee – meaning uncle in the Igbo language)
Ada and Obinna laughed when mama said hmmm. She said it with such an awkward look on her face that you would want to laugh.
“The boy was so fat that someone had to help him open the holes of his nose so that he could breathe well. Dee Cadastral also employed two of the village warriors to carry him on their shoulders because he could barely walk. How would he, when he weighed as much as an adult elephant? Well, let me get back to the story of the monster. Nobody dared to lurk around when it was time for his meal. Except you wanted to be on his menu for that day. The monster maintained it’s meal schedule; 4 am, 10 am, 3 pm, 6 pm and then 10 pm, and then it would recline for the day. They said when it snored, the mountains would shake and tremble. Shaking so violently that it seemed an earthquake was rocking the village. But you know what happened one day?”
“No grandma,” Ada began, “Yes grandma,” Obinna said.
“Tell me Obinna, what do you think happened?”
“The monster got very old and died.”
“That would have been great, but not so my grandson. What happened was this – Ihuoma fell in love.”
“With whom?” Ada quickly asked, being as curious as Obinna, but more sanguine than he was.
“A young man named Chibuike Kanu. The only son of Mazi Augustus Kanu, the village town crier. Now Ihuoma had someone else occupying her mind. Thus her attention became divided. Instead of waking up early to prepare the monster’s breakfast, she would oversleep. Every time this happened, the village will be in chaos by the next morning. People crying and wailing because their only goat, the one they had kept for the new yam festival was missing. Or because their chicken, that special one that had fattened up and had been destined to die on Christmas day, was missing.”
“Christmas day? Did they have Christmas day back then?” Ada asked.
“Yes, Christmas day started a long time ago. Even before the monster began terrorizing the people. It had always been a special day in that village. There was so much celebration and jubilation, the monster usually wouldn’t show up that day. No one seemed scared, everybody walked up and down the village as if they owned the world. Children would play from dusk till the sun would move to the east, so it could also get some rest. Before I forget where I stopped; the Igwe was very displeased with Ihuoma for falling in love with Chibuike. So, he sent for Chibuike and ordered him not to ever go anywhere close to Ihuoma. Warning him of the dire consequences that would follow if he refused to obey. Chibuike thought that that was going to be very easy for him to do, after all, it was Ihuoma who was in love with him, and not the reverse. But it only took two days for him to realize that he was as much in love with Ihuoma as she was with him.”
“In love?” Obinna asked, smiling as if he understood the depths of love.
“Shhhhhh! If your father hears me telling you about love at this age, no more stories for you both again.” Granny whispered to Ada and Obinna.
“Ok, Granny!” They both whispered back.
“Chibuike couldn’t sleep, neither could he eat too. His father became so worried that he went to plead with the king, requesting he reconsiders his stance on the issue. The king was mad, angry at the suggestion that he retracts his decree.”
“Onwe ihe n’eme gi?” (Is there something wrong with you?) The king asked Chibuike’s father. And then, he ordered that his guards throw him out of the palace. It was a wonder that he didn’t even think of sending him on exile. The king had made such rash decisions in the past. The man who stole from his farm was sentenced to a lifetime of labor on that very farm. The lady who laughed at him while he was yawning was immediately taken from her husband and made the executive taster in the palace.
“What is a taster?” Ada asked.
“It’s who is a taster, my little girl. In those days, kings had people who would taste whatever food or drink that was presented to them. If it were poisoned in any way, the taster would die first, and the king would be spared. But by making Ngozi Oti, yes – that was her name, the chief taster, she would have to taste everyone’s food in the palace before they ate. Imagine that? The king had 11 wives, 35 children, and a lot of domestic staff that were on his payroll. Well, feeding roll would be a better word. He fed them in exchange for their service. By the time Ngozi was done tasting for the entire palace, she would be ‘seeing stars,’ whether it was the morning, afternoon or the evening meal.”
Obinna was really enjoying the story, but already feeling sleepy, and so was Ada.
“Should I stop now, you both look really worn out?” Granny asked.
“Noooo!” They both screamed at the same time.
“Ok then, I’d tell you the rest of it. Chibuike knew that the only way he could get to see Ihuoma again was if he made an offer to the king. One that the king could not refuse; Challenge the monster to a fight!”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Ada and Obinna said, both already afraid of what was going to become of Chibuike.
“Chibuike’s friends all came to ask him if he was going crazy to even consider such. But love seems to work the same effect on all men, whether tall or short, white or black, it seems they completely lose common sense when they fall in love, and Chibuike was no different.”
“Grandma, did Grandpa lose his own common sense when he fell in love with you?” Ada asked.
“My little ones, there are things I cannot tell you, for you are too young to understand. But when your grandpa fell in love with me, it was so intense that I could tell him to go and buy me Okazi and Okra, and with all the muscles he had, he wouldn’t question me. It was like magic. But that how love works a lot of times, just like that. You would get to understand many years from now.”
“No one could convince Chibuike Kanu that fighting the monster was a death wish, signed and delivered by his own hands. Maybe Ihuoma would have been able to convince him, but the king’s decree still stood, and Ihuoma could not be anywhere near Chibuike. It was the reverse, I beg your pardon, Chibuike could not be anywhere near Ihuoma.” Granny said, coughing slightly, and once more adjusting her glasses so it could rest on the bridge of her nose, where it would be steady.
“The king easily agreed to Chibuike’s offer for two reasons;
- Everyone was tired of the terror and reign of the monster and
- If the monster killed Chibuike, which was very certain, Ihuoma’s senses would come back to normal, and life can go on just the way it had been. That simply meant that whatever the outcome, it was a win-win situation for his village and its allies. So, the king immediately summoned Dee Cadastral and informed him of Chibuike’s decision. Dee Cadastral screamed – ‘alu!” (alu – meaning abomination).
“Is it your son? How is it your business?” The king replied him.
“I had great plans for that boy. So young and handsome. He would have been one of the greatest palm wine tappers. I can just imagine how famous he would have been.” Dee Cadastral said, looking so sober.
“Well, the king didn’t care about what Dee Cadastral said. Neither did he care when – High Chief Okai, Mazi Eto or Lolo Opuruiche all came pleading that he intervenes. Those were the only people besides him whose families also ate three square meals.”
“Papa Chibuike hired the strongest warrior to train Chibuike. Imagine Chibuike being trained by a warrior, who himself was scared of the monster. Nevertheless, Chibuike kept training and wouldn’t reconsider the decision he had made. Why? Because love is the greatest force on earth, it’s so strong it defies logic.”
“Dee Cadastral had informed Chibuike that the fight would hold at the village square, but that the monster would only allow 10 people to be present, of which Cadastral was number one; then the Eze (king of the village), Chibuike’s father, Ihuoma and whoever Chibuike deemed fit to be there. Chibuike was asked to select people he cherished so that they could witness his death and bury him when the fight was over. The bad news did not stop there. The monster told Cadastral to tell everyone that would be there that once Chibuike was dead, and buried, he would kill all of them one by one, slowly. For, no one was to see him and live to tell the story of what he looked like.”
“Granny, Did Chibuike kill him?” Ada asked, feeling sleepy, but anxious about the outcome of the bout.
“We will get there my little one,” Granny said, and then she continued to tell them the story.
“When the king heard that all who watched the fight would die, he quickly said he wasn’t going to look at the fight. Rather, Ngozi Oti the taster would taste the fight for him. That sounded pretty awkward to everyone present. This was a fight and not palm wine, bush meat or Ofe nsala (local Igbo soup). How does one taste a fight? The king in his wisdom suddenly declared that he had upgraded Ngozi’s appointment to taster/forerunner, the one who would go before him to both taste and see before he showed up. Someone carelessly said ‘Eze idi wicked.’ That person thought he had just whispered it, but it was loud enough for everyone to hear. Guess what happened to that person?” (Eze idi wicked – you are a wicked king)
“The Eze banished him?” Obinna asked.
“No. Eze appointed him as forerunner number 2, then and there. Others became scared and kept quiet. When the D-day came, Chibuike Kanu was the first to get to the village square, such was the confidence he exuded because of his love for Ihuoma. When everyone had gathered (except Ihuoma), the mountains began to quake, fire, strong winds – so strong that all the building made from caked clay gave way. There were echoes, thunder and blinding lights flashing in the sky. No one needed to tell the villagers not to look, they all gathered themselves inside their rooms, praying that Chibuike’s death would satisfy the monster and that it would leave their village quietly. ”
“Chibuike kept wondering why Ihuoma wasn’t around. While he was still thinking, a little animal that looked like a cross-breed of a cat and goat, black as charred wood, with red crossed-eyes came close to him. He felt it was just a stray animal afraid of the tremor that had just rocked everywhere, so he paid no attention to it. Then Dee Cadastral walked up, a few meters to where both Chibuike and that animal were, and he informed Chibuike that he was standing before the great monster who had arrived in all it’s ‘monsterish glory.’
“When Papa Chibuike heard that the small animal was the monster that had terrorized them for so long, he began to laugh and laugh.”
“Nga e nye gi flash. O ga eme gi vuuuum nanya.” The monster said to Papa Chibuike in a shrill monsteric voice. It sounded so funny to hear an animal speak Igbo, with such a tiny shrill voice. And all of them began to laugh. But the laughter lasted for only a few seconds because it only took one slap from the monster to make the second forerunner mad.” (Nga e nye gi flash. O ga eme gi vuuuum nanya – I’ll give do something to you that will surprise you like light flashing into your eyes.)
“Mad?” Obinna asked.
“Yes, I mean MAD. Papa Chibuike started to speak something that sounded like German, and then he started confessing to killing people who never even existed in that village. He even confessed that he was the real mother of Ihuoma. How can a man mother Ihuoma? But such was his madness. It was a high-leveled kind.” Granny said, smiling and looking at her watch, checking up on what time it was. It was a few minutes past 9 pm, so she decided to skip a lot of things and bring the story to an end.
“The monster dazed Chibuike. Kai! It was so bad that Chibuike was reciting poems he had never read in his life. But just when the monster was about to finish off Chibuike, Ihuoma showed up. You would never believe what happened. Chibuike was dead and gone, but suddenly, he received strength from where no one could explain. It seemed like some force arose within him. It was the power of love, pushing him to overcome the forces of darkness and all its powers. You know, that’s how love always works. It overcomes, every single time. Chibuike dealt with this monster to the point where it started to confess too.”
“It ran mad too like the second forerunner?” Ada asked.
“No o! Its confession was the truth. It confessed that it only ate 2 square meals out of the five that the village offered the remaining three was consumed by Dee Cadastral and his family. It confessed that it was a vegetarian, and all the missing chicken, goat and guinea fowls that had been said to be eaten by it, was not actually consumed by it, but Dee Cadastral and his family. It was no wonder Cadastral’s son was having difficulties breathing, the food was so much for just one family to consume, but avarice – that is the name of a wicked slave master.”
“Yaaaay! So, did Chibuike marry Ihuoma?”
Granny laughed so hard that Ada and Obinna were wondering why.
“Well, I’d give you two endings to this story, and you’d pick anyone you like best. Firstly, Chibuike got married to Ihuoma, they had children, and both lived happily ever after. The second, the king made Ihuoma his twelfth wife and appointed Chibuike as his chief of staff. No matter which of the endings you like most, I want you to know that Chibuike never stopped loving Ihuoma, until the very day he breathed his last. It was the kind of love the angels coveted, and demons feared. It was so intense that the entire power of the monster and his darkness could not comprehend nor defeat it. That how much God loves you my little ones. And if you will love yourselves and others the same way Chibuike loved Ihuoma, there’s no force of darkness powerful enough to defeat you.”
“I like the first ending,” Ada said.
“Me too,” Obinna began, “What happened to Ngozi Oti, was she restored to her family?”
“My little ones that would be a tale for another day… I have many stories to tell you stories about Akpala-the-great, Okai (the man of few words), Agodi (the lady of songs), the squash (Blackberry, Vine, Tangy, and Olive), Pee Kelenus (the man of visions) and many others. But that will be when I see you both again. You must rest, for now, you have to be up early tomorrow. I love you both dearly!”
Grandma kissed each of them on the cheek, turned off the light, and then she walked away quietly.
1 Corinthians 13:13
Dedicated to my grandma, the best story-teller of all time.
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