Later in the evening, he still smarted from the teasing of his mother and his younger siblings. Their father had marched them back to the farm not saying a word throughout the silent ten kilometer journey. The day at the farm had passed silently. First he had been furious then gradually he wondered how he could have that stupid. Of course there was no such thing as tree spirit. He cringed inwardly at the thought of any of his educated friends who came from rich homes discovering that he had taken to his heels because he met an Iroko tree spirit. He refused to take part in the moonlight tales or offer answers to the riddles.
Those riddles used to interest him as he would attempt to anticipate the answers but he had refused to be drawn and he also noticed that Papa had been more withdrawn. When they came from the farm he had called him aside and questioned him closely about the old man. That had set him wondering why his father had been curious. He saw papa go into the room he slept in alone and close the door. That indicated no one was to approach him. Some two hours later he had emerged in his evening native wear and gone out. It was close to the curfew time and he started worrying if his father was coming back in good time else he if the hunters that watched over the town caught him he would be asked to sell bean cakes for the rest of the night.
It used to amuse him as he wondered if they actually make them sell bean cakes at night and who was going to buy. One night Uncle Osupa had been caught late and he was asked to hawk bean cakes. He remembered not sleeping for most of the night as he listened to the hoarse voice of his uncle going from one end of the street to the other asking people to come and buy bean cakes! His mother had been upset and angry. The next morning though a weakened uncle had laughed at his troubles. He had asked who actually made those bean cakes and uncle had laughed
“It is not real bean cakes son else I would have simply eaten them and given them their money but rocks arranged in a basket”.
“Yes son and well I did not know I had taken such a long time, plus my captor was my friend really”.
“And he could not simply let you go”?
“It is the law. I would have done the same to him, no movement after ten p.m, so” .. he shrugged and groaned flexing his muscles.
It was the emabarassment of being berated by your wife and the women in the house that usually brought the men to their beds early. In a farming village as his , he guessed it was the best way to maintain security. Most men lived often on the farm especially if it was the cocoa season. It was really a tedious job, you cut the cocoa pods and then handed over basket upon baskets of golden yellow cocoa to the women who would sit in a circle around the growing pile, deftly cutting the pods in two and using their hands to empty out the creamy seeds in into big bowls. When he was much younger, he would take scoops of the creamy seeds and suck them. He would get slightly tizzy and chase his sisters round the farm or go crab hunting with his friends.
It was a life he had been very happy with until he got admission into university and he had to leave outside his immediate environment. Each semester, he needed to return to the village so he could work on the farm. It was the only way he could be able to have money to manage his financial needs. Each time he needed to adjust to a different pattern. Rising very early for the farm, having only lunch of sometimes just fruits from the farm and then coming home early evening for the one solid meal which was usually pounded yam with lots of vegetables and the occasional game if Tope had been particularly good.
That was another thing, Tope had a strange way with animals and beliefs too. He said certain types of animals may not be easily killed in case it was some witch or spirit using the body of that animal to hunt in the farm. He used to be horrified and would be reluctant to eat some of Tope’s game in case it happened to be human. His half brother will tease him and make strange sounds and they would argue good naturedly.
One of the things that had bothered him when he got admission was how he was going to relate with his brother seeing Tope was the older one and by Polygamous hierarchy ought to have been the one in school. He was half brother as Tope’s mum was the senior wife of the family. Everybody called her Mama. Even father did, which was the law for she was the one who laid down the law. She hardly ever slept in father’s room and always woke up late. She would call all the children to her room for the compulsory herbal drink they all had to take each morning., including all the younger wives.
She had a special herbal drink for the men, that is Papa and his brother uncle Osupa. It was a fairly peaceful polygamaous home, an indication that Papa was in control of his family. He gave his senior wife a farm of her own and she generally planted yams, some cocoyams, pepper and okro on the farm and would go to her farm every morning. The other wives were given small portions.
He used to wonder if all his father’s wives actually loved him equally but well, that was just speculation as he was sure that his mother at least did not care much for Ronke’s mum. She would purse her lips and sigh but not say much. Ronke’s mum always had a reason why she was too tired to pound yam and would be sharp with Ronke if she stayed too long in his room. His mother would then start singing and one day he listened to the songs. They were jibes directed at a woman who had a weak woman since all her witch making efforts had only succeeded in making her have only witches like herself.
Mama had come out of her room after listening to those songs and said nothing. She just stood there and after a while, the angry songs had faltered and gradually stopped while Ronke’s mum who had been in tears simply picked her headtie and said she was going out.
He jerked out of his reverie when he had the front door open and Papa come in with an old man. His heart almost stopped as he stared at the man. The man winked at him and said nothing. His jaw dropped. The old man followed Papa to the room and he suddenly shivered. He was sure that was the old man that had given them a bad fright. What was he doing with his father? He tip toed to his father’s room thinking he might hear what they had to say. He was also hoping he might be able to catch the old man’s name. But there was only faint murmuring from the other side of the room and then silence. He quickly rushed back to his room and quietly closed the door his heart thumping. He listened for the outer door so he could go and ask his father what the old man was doing in his room. Papa had feigned ignorance of their reason for flying home. Was he playing a practical joke on them and using the old man to check on them?
His mother’s gentle touch woke him. He opened his eyes to a dawn. The house was silent and he sat up with a jerk. What? It was morning. Everybody had gone to the farm. He was going to beat the living daylights out of Ojo. Imagine! No one messed with him not even “Gbangban” the feared wrestler. One minute he was talking to Anike and then Ojo had the gall to come over. What was he supposed to do to the wretched boy. He looked at his mother. She was considering him with worry in her eyes. He shrugged her hand off and asked if he was the only one in the house. She simply nodded yes.
He swung his feet away from the edge of the mat and checked for his calico top. He also checked for his cutlass. His mother asked him where he was headed and he said he was going to the farm but would check on his palm tree to collect his palm wine for the evening. Besides he had promised the hunters good wine for their meeting. Two good kegs. He planned on keeping a small gourd for himself.
He walked briskly along the farm road, it was fairly deserted as anyone who had any business would be on the farm now. So he made his way to his palm trees. He wanted to check one that had only just started giving out palm wine. It was very milky, and very sweet, evidence of its newness. He planned on making that his own as it could be very strong. Its sweetness would ensure that he would get a good bargain as palm wine sellers would mix in a little bit of water to dilute and have more wine to sell. Arranging his climbing gear near his waist he considered the tree. Not that tall he might just climb it without using the gear he thought to himself. Good practice too. So he clambered up like some squirrel and he suddenly thought of Ojo as he climbed. The idiot wouldn’t be able to do this and he wants to compete with me over a girl. He got to the top of the palm tree and checked the gourd. It was half way full. He decided he should take that and replace the gourd with a fresh one. As he leaned over to untie the knots he had used in securing the gourd to the palm tree, he lost his footing and came crashing down.
Everything went black.
He did not know how long he had been on the ground. He opened his eyes slowly to see a pair of eyes watching him speculatively. He tried to turn and the eyes told him to lie still.
“You had a fall you know”
“I know stupid”.
“You are the stupid one I think”
“Who said you could think?, it is obvious even to a blind fool”
“Okay I will come back when you are ready to talk but chew that leaf when your back starts to hurt” the eye said and receded.
His back hurt and sharp stabs of pain shot through him. He couldn’t lift his leg neither could he lift his left arm. His head felt as if it was on fire, he groaned, remembered he had been asked to chew on a leaf so he looked round with his other arm felt around him.
“It is on your chest stupid” a voice said
He used his uninjured arm to pick the leaf and thrust it into his mouth grimacing at its sharp bitterness. He swallowed severally, tears coming into his eyes from the sharp pain. He drifted off to sleep after a few minutes. It was a deep sleep for the whole day. When he opened his eyes again he could move his arms, both of them. He felt light and thirsty. Where was he? Then he remembered he had fallen off his palm tree! He raised his shoulders as he tried to rise. He saw that he was some distance from the tree. His cutlass was some metres away as his gourd of palm wine which was shattered. He looked up at the tree and shook his head.
That was some fall he mused
“One hell of a stupid fall if you ask me”
“Well I did not ask you did I?” he retorted looking round him to place the voice.
A very small being walked up to him and regarded him solemnly
They both stared at each other.
“You are kind of tiny aren’t you” he asked
“I have better sense to go climbing trees especially when my mood is wrong”
“I don’t recall asking for your opinion”
“Yes I know, so how is the back”?
“It was you who placed those awful tasting leaves on my chest”?
“You ate them right?”
“Well I did. My back was hurting really bad”
“Okay, I know that. You will have to lie still today too”.
“Hmm I am thirsty, be a good fellow bring that gourd over there and tip it into my mouth will you?”
The tiny fellow smiled and simply went over to the left side of the gourd and brought out a small shell from which he fetched some liquid and without a further word tilted his head up and poured it into his mouth. He slept again. He became friends with the tiny being for the next three nights. It will come, observe him and then give him a nut or fruit to eat and then leave. On the next night he got curious enough to ask him the name of the leave he had chewed the first night of his fall. Tiny as he called him shrugged and said he was not concerned with names but asked him to take a long look at the leaves.
“When you want to heal anyone with a bad fall, ask them to chew it and swallow everything. Talk to me before you need to pluck the leaves or friends of mine then we will put the healing property in it before we give it to you. Will you understand that”?
“Pluck leaves and herbs only early in the morning and late in the evening, that way we get a chance to put the properties inside before you take them away and we also have a chance to move out”.
“Hmmm…. But why are you telling me all these, I am going to be a palm wine tapper not a herbalist”.
“I knew you were stupid but I guess I have to tell you. You are going to listen? It is important you listen, you smell”
He was outraged “I beg your pardon!!!”
“All humans smell and wear funny clothes”
“You don’t smell so nice yourself fancy pants”
But that had been on the third night, he had been so irritated that he went searching for a stream the next day and had a wash.
The next night when he woke up, he was very refreshed and had a sense of well being he had not felt ever he stood up and stretched, no pain. His back was healed. He looked round for the tiny fellow he had chatted with but saw only the shell and nothing more. He wondered if he should head home. He would be missed, He had been away for almost five nights. His mother would be in a real panic by now.
Then he opened his eyes straight into that of Papa. There was concern in Papa’s eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes” he nodded
“What is your name”? it was standard to test to know if he was normal. So he grinned.
“My name is Babatunde” he said then paused and amended, “no my name is ALALE OSUPA, the owner of the lunar land”.
Papa smiled, “Welcome home, grandpa, I was told you were back and I did not know it was you I thought you were in Tope”.
Then the old man stepped forward a smile in his eyes.
“Yes fancy pants” Babatunde snapped.
The old man grinned and raised his lantern. He stared, “so it was you.”
“You ran boy, after all that trouble of looking after you, making you a successful medicine man, a powerful one from the way I heard them say, you ran when you saw me. They never knew why you never liked palm wine after that fall of yours, or why you will sit in a corner and talk to yourself. You couldn’t tell them that you talked to spirits right? Now you are back learning fancy medicine in fancy schools calling those leaves by some fancy names and you call me fancy pants!”
“What are you doing here now, I…”
Things were getting blurred again and the old man with his lantern was receding, someone was shaking his shoulder and he struggled to be conscious as he screamed
Wait!, come back we can teach the modern ones too. We can show them the medicine of the old, how it worked. He looked round wildly then into his father’s alarmed eyes
Papa, don’t let him go, he means well. He taught me medicine
Who are you talking about
My friend fancy pants, you know, when I fell from that palm tree he healed me.
His father was gentle as they brought a cup of herbal tea to his lips urging him to drink it. “You will soon be well. I have sent for Ojo to consult with him. I really should have told you about talking to strange human beings on your way to the farm. I did not know you really took him in. I know you do not like Ojo or his type of medicine, grandfather also did not like Ojo’s father, heard they were once rivals”.