It was a beautiful morning. The day had finally painted the sun across the sky to reveal the alluring scenery of the village of umu-obara to Ikechukwu. He woke up early today to prepare mentally for the journey that awaited him that day. He and some of his colleagues were doing their youth service there and they somehow all squeezed themselves in the little home of Nneoma, an old friend of Ikechukwu. The supplies were exhausted and some of the corpers went to the city some days ago to get new stock. The bad roads, poorly working vehicle and the isolation of umu-obara made traveling difficult and it was days since they left the ailing and needy in the village,forcing Ikechukwu to take the decision of going to the forest to get herbs for treatment. He barely knew the forest, and the princess of the village, Ekemma, who had taken a strong liking to him,volunteered to escort him on this journey on the excuse that royalty bares the task of entertaining visitors.
“The princess is here.” Said a bright looking Nneoma, interrupting the wild thoughts of Ikechukwu about what swinging a cutlass to cut leaves and trees would feel like. He never entertained such forms of labour, but this was to help people and he wouldn’t want to let anyone down.
“Have u ever had blisters?” She asked jokingly “they are extremely painful and don’t heal until after like three years.”
Ikechukwu tittered,stood up from the rocking chair and picked up a little ‘Ghana-must-go’ bag that lay by the side with a cutlass handle poking out the zip.
“Oya now” he said “let me get going.” He hugged her goodbye and went to meet Ekemma who waited patiently at the gate. She didn’t come with any guards, she wanted to go with him alone.
“Are you ok?” Ekemma asked as she noticed Ikechukwu grip his tummy in anguish.
“Yeah,I’m good” he replied “its just a stomach ache that has been bothering me of late. It’s nothing.”
“Abeg oo!” She exclaimed “we don’t have enough burial rice here, better be ok.” They both laughed at this as they stepped out the gate,waved goodbye to John and Richie, two of ikechukwu’s colleagues that had been discussing at length that morning, and embarked on their journey to the forest.
“He must die! He must die!” The people of umu-obara roared, their chantings forcing open the eyes of Ikechukwu. He woke up to an angry crowd holding torches and all sorts of malicious weapons ready to torment and kill him. He inhaled the evil air around him and in return exhaled his fear. The mob made a circle and Ikechukwu lay in the center, the king stood in the space flanked by two guards.
“Stand him up!” An order the king gave which the guards obeyed without hesitation. Ikechukwu’s eyes were now high enough to see that the entire village was out for him.
“What could I have done?”he asked himself.
The king raised his folded palm to silence the angry noise that filled the night’s air. He stared at Ikechukwu intently. The king was vexed about something, scared Ikechukwu could feel that in his uneasy mind.
“Did you rape and murder my daughter?” The king finally spoke, his voice unmasking sadness and anger.
The question took Ikechukwu aback, he didn’t even know how to begin to respond.
“Answer the question!” The king yelled.
“What?” Ikechukwu finally muttered “No! No! Why would I ever want to do that?”
“You are asking me eeh? You two left for the forest to get herbs to help the sick in umu-obara. You children didn’t return that day and I sent my guards to search for the both of you only for them to find my princess lifeless and defiled. But thanks to your colleagues John and Richard, we found you while you slept in a hideout where you ran to.” He paused to let out a few gasps of sorrow and quickly regained himself. “After all this village has done to support you,you decide to repay us in such a manner!”
“No! My king” Ikechukwu replied “I did nothing of such. I would never do that. I am a person of integrity. I don’t know where your guards or my colleagues found me or how I got there. Probably I have been unconscious.”
“Ka m n’ukwa !” Someone shouted from the crowd in the silence after Ikechukwu spoke. “Let him swear at the shrine.”
“Yes!” The entire village agreed. They had never seen the work of the so-called vengeful gods against liars because if a suspect lived, then he must have told the truth, and those that had things to hide never lied for fear of the wrath unleashed on liars in historic folklores of the village.
Without hesitation, they hurried him to the shrine and the entire process was over in little time. He was given instructions not to leave the village for a week and no help in form of herbs or medicine shall reach him in the eventuality of illness. Ikechukwu was never a superstitious one, and he knew he did nothing wrong,so he obeyed all that was said.
Two days later, Ikechukwu was showing all sorts of problems ranging from fever, to low blood pressure and uneasiness. He lacked focus and concentration and had a continuous thirst for water.
On the third day after taking the oath, he was bedridden. His situation had gotten worse especially as he didn’t receive any form of healthcare. The two guards posted to his room made sure of this. And aside these two guards, Nneoma was the only other person that stayed with Ikechukwu and all she could do was pray and try to support him as much as she could. She was all he had left as everyone believed him a liar and murderer and would have nothing to do with him.
On the fourth day,while she was sitting beside him singing in tears like she always did whenever he slept,Ikechukwu called out to her in a weak voice “Nne baby”
“Yes!” She answered in a bright tone “you are finally awake. How do u feel now?”
“Well,” he replied “i am still alive for now.” They both smiled at this.
“You know I didn’t do this,right?” He continued,begging for her trust and belief
“Yes! Yes I know.”she replied, given him that trust and belief.
Ikechukwu smiled “go to that bag and open it,I have something for you.” He said,gesturing at a bag he never moved since he arrived in the village.
She stood up and walked quickly to the bag and opened it. It was a ring. Ikechukwu had a high paying job waiting for him at the end of his service and he saw no one else worthy to live with but Nneoma and wanted to seal the deal as soon as possible before someone else comes in; he obviously isn’t the only man with eyes!
“Yes!Yes! Yes a million times!” Nneoma exclaimed jumping in excitement. She turned to meet Ikechukwu at the bed and say the three words any man who put himself in this situation would want to hear,but he was silent with his eyes still open. “Was he asleep?” She asked herself. She checked his pulse and breathing like he had taught her once. They were both negative.
He was dead.
Tears rolled down her face as she held and squeezed on the bedsheets in anger and sadness. She was about throwing a major tantrum when the villagers began making noises in her compound.
They came to bring good news to both her and Ikechukwu;the princess was alive! She was unconscious all the while but the villagers were not educated enough to know when someone is really dead.
The princess narrated how two individuals ambushed them and knocked Ikechukwu out first,then raped her and tried killing her by hitting her continuously with a log of wood. Fortunately the hits weren’t fatal and the king hadn’t tried it to bury her immediately. She gave the names of those responsible; John and Richard. They both always had an envious heart towards Ikechukwu due to his prosperous and admirable nature and they had lustful desires towards Ekemma, so they had devised a plan to satisfy their sexual urges and get rid of Ikechukwu by raping the princess and making it look like he was the culprit.
They had moved his unconscious body far away from where they ambushed the both of them so it would be as if he tried to run away after committing the act and they had made sure this idea surfaced by volunteering in the search for both individuals and suggesting it to the king. It all worked out perfectly until the “dead” princess woke up.
The king ordered their execution and apologized to the family of Ikechukwu and Nneoma for the reaction towards their loved one. Everyone in the village however had one question on their minds; why did the gods let Ikechukwu die if he was innocent? Perhaps it was his time to go some thought, others felt he probably had some other grievous secret. The world is never fair; probably their gods were same.
*In a microbiology class at old site**
The lecturer speaks on Helicobacter pylori “…this is a bacterial species that produces urease and causes gastritis and nearly all peptic ulcer disease of the stomach and duodenum. Transmission is believed to be person to person by fecal-oral route. After constant severe ulceration of the gastric mucosa without treatment, it could lead to the organism finding its way to the blood and resulting in septic shock characterized by fever,low blood pressure and some other complications that usually result to death within days if not controlled.” The lecturer paused to watch the students hurriedly scribble what he just said. “You know” he continued “organisms like this cause panic in rural areas. When someone shows signs of sudden fever and “funny” behavior and physiology, they run away from him because they feel the gods are angry with him. It starts as a simple tummy ache which is usually over-looked and without care and things like smoking and drinking, it results in people wearing black and throwing sand into a six foot hole for a loved one.”
This was the fate of Ikechukwu. He ignored the constant sharp pain he felt in his stomach; and the ignorance and illiteracy of the villagers of umu-obara made sure Nneoma would lose the one man she wanted to spend her life with.