It was an assignment he had set himself. Babatunde came back to the village determined to find out as much as he can about the herbs and barks of his village. He also wanted to know about a strange esoteric attack that was simply called ‘ATA”, which translated simply meant ‘pepper’. He had trained as a pharmacist because he had an almost instinctive knowledge of herbs and that always unsettled him. His father would stare at him for long moments but very rarely said a word.
Tope had doubled over in mirth when he said he was going to the forest alone. Tope gave him amused glances, shook his head and grinned, “You don’t even know the proper names of the plants and would not know a ‘dogonyaro’ plant from the other.”
“Well, I know the proper name as the Neem tree, besides everyone knows the ‘dogonyaro tree’ and what it is used for. In fact we are actively studying the plant and why it does not have the same side effect as the more common drugs we use for patients.”
“That is my point, you are westernizing everything. We do not do that, we talk to the plants and ask their permission before we cut them, so we have no need to go looking for side effects because you fellows have extracted everything.”
Babatunde was curious, “Why do you that? I mean why do you feel you need to talk to plants, they can’t hear you can they?”
“Silly, we want to inform the beings in the plant that we need their help and want them to change location before we use the plants.”
“The way I see it, this particular kind of ailment if you want to call it that, is not done physically.”
“ATA” as we all know it is a kind of attack done through radiation, all you need is the shadow of the offender or even call the person’s name, then you call the precise name of that part of the anatomy that has offended you. You see there are different types of the attack, but the anatomy that manifests the affliction indicates what the offence was, like someone who runs off too often at the mouth will have the affliction on the mouth and face. If you were interested in a lady and she said no with too much disdain or contempt for your person, you afflicted that part of her anatomy that indicated her feminity, which could be her face or her privates.”
“So why do you call it ‘ata’? As that means pepper, does it mean pepper is used in preparing the concoction for the attack?”
Tope shrugged, “I did not call it by that name, it is the name everyone, in every part of the Yoruba kingdom calls it. So if you went to any village, you will find that as the general name. I do not know if pepper is used either. I never had a need for it.”
“Why?” Babatunde asked then amended when Tope stared at him angrily, “I meant why people do that?”
“You really have gone soft in the head with this education of yours. It is a general fighting weapon. Remember when you came home from the holidays and Papa insisted that you were to be given the same antidote incision from anyone who might inflict that on you?”
Babatunde frowned as he remembered, “Don’t change the subject, why do people call it by that name?”
Tope sighed in patient frustration, “It is because, using pepper is the only way you know whether the thrush, rash or skin cancer you think you have is local attack or garden disease, if you apply it to the spot you suspect and you feel no pain, it means you have been afflicted with ‘ata’ and you must get a herbalist to divine who did it and have it washed out.”
“Washed out?” Babatunde leaned closer to his half brother really interested, “How is the washing done? With soap?”
Tope roared with laughter almost doubling over, “Of course not, soap indeed. It is a collection of herbs picked at first dawn to ensure it has potency and with a few words chanted over it, it is used to wash the ailment.”
Babatunde wrinkled his brows, “Chants?”
Tope was firm, “Yes chants. You need to tell the beings in the plants that you need the properties in the plants for healing.”
Babatunde shook his head,” you fellows do have confusing styles, beings in leaves..” then he stopped as he abruptly saw the picture of the old man on the farm path and what he had gone through after that. It was an experience he rarely wanted to relive. It had brought the question of reincarnation sharply into focus for him. Not that I need a reminder with a name like mine.
There was a lot he still needed to learn and he had found himself moving closer to his half brother and trying to learn as much as he can from his more traditionally grounded brother.
Babatunde gave his half brother a keen look. Tope had become a really successful farmer but had yet to pick a wife saying he would wait for the next virgin dance and see what the village had to offer. He still lived at home but had made a small hut for himself behind the main building and it had become a meeting point for all the boys. Babatunde tended to spend most of his time there now.
Tope still made early dawn trips to the farm and there had been times when he spent the night on the farm. Papa had given him a small portion of the family cocoa plantation to manage for himself. Babatunde was impressed with the way Tope had expanded and built on his small holding. He frowned as he thought over what Tope just said, “what do you mean you inform the beings?”
Tope gave is half brother a smile before he replied, “You are losing more and more of your local touch. Don’t become too much of an educated ass. Everything has a name and Olodumare gave everything a name. If you want a plant to work for you, you call it by its name. Isn’t that why Ekun Agba became so famous?”
He was silent after that comment knowing there was some truth in what his brother said. He had become more inclined to acting the civilized jerk he told himself. Babatunde wondered if he was really interested in drugs and their uses or that he was just searching for himself and the meaning of his life. There were so many confusing things in his life and sometimes he just wished to be left alone.
He went still as a voice jumped in his mind and spoke distinctly, “if you ever want to qualify as a man you must know why you are here.” Babatunde went still and stared at Tope, he wondered if his half brother heard the same thing, “Do you hear strange voices sometimes?”
Tope laughed and replied flippantly, “Yes Amoke’s voice but then after I have had a bottle of palm wine at ‘Apata gangan’ the palm wine shed. Oh, you have seen your Imole Ife, your friend again? I had the strangest feeling when she walked past me the other day”.
“That friend of yours, the strange one. Imole Ife, I just mentioned her name, have you gone deaf?”
“You know her name and you call her a strange friend?” Babatunde asked mystified.
“I used to think you had fallen for her hence you rarely want to go girl chasing again”. Tope said with a shrug.
Babatunde laughed but felt funny inside. He did not want to make a joke about her. He knew who Tope was talking about but did not want to acknowledge that even to himself. He felt the enquiring looks of his half brother and tried to shrug it off.
He had never been able to identify his true feelings about Imole Ife. After that fantastic experience in which she had experienced his past with him, he had been unnerved.
Tope gave him a curious look, “Something happened to you about that girl didn’t you?”
“What do you mean exactly?”
“Okay, act like a fox and see if I am going to ask you further questions”.
“You do not need to ask me further questions, I see the fear, longing and desperate hunger in your eyes. You cannot approach her, you are not allowed to, and if you attempt to fall for that girl you will be hungry for her all your life. I think a simple girl like Amoke will be a good choice, she is warm in the right places, you do not need to think before you talk to her and all she wants is to have your children. Her mother had seven sons so you will not have to worry.”
Babatunde snorted disgusted, “What are you jabbering about? Me and Amoke?”
“Papa thinks I should sound you out about your intended bride now that you have finished the almighty western education, even though you still do not know much about our plants and barks. I am not seeing any sign of quick money in this venture of yours. I sold almost five tons of cocoa last season, and got good money. Papa says he can let you have the farm portion on the western side of mine whenever you are ready.”
Babatunde stared in anger at Tope, “You fellows are not serious are you? My intended bride? That is some joke I take it”, then he sighed and tried to make his tone conciliatory knowing that Tope meant well, “I will have a farm and job when the time is right.”
“Well I told Papa that I never heard you discuss any women with me and we both know there is no road in your longing for that strange girl, Imole Ife.”
Babatunde gave him a look of disgust, “Just keep your nose out of my business.”
“I should tell Papa that?”
“Are you mad or something?” Babatunde fumed. “Papa did not send you on such an errand and we both know it. How come you are not married yourself?”
“We are not discussing my marriage”
“Neither are we talking about me, how did I ever think you were smart?”
Tope was not finished and Babatunde saw the amused glint as he looked at him, “Fancy yourself as Joseph right?”
“You know, I used to hear these Christians talk about the Virgin Mary and well you seem to be the male counterpart, after all her husband was called Joseph, and he always dreamed right?”
Babatunde stared then threw a punch, but Tope ducked and made pretence of cowering in abject fear, Babatunde chuckled, “You horrible pagan. You have mixed them up and as usual did not bother to check. Men are not virgins. There are two Josephs alright but I don’t how I fit into any one of them you heathen.”
Tope slapped at his face and laughed, “That is what I told Papa but he said you are the gentleman. He was worried that you might bring a strange girl from another town home as a wife so he asked me to quietly check the girls for him and felt I would know your taste.”
Babatunde shook his head in real bewilderment, “You must have taken a whole keg of palm wine to have been stupefied into thinking you had an idea at all. You, of all people, besides, how could I want to have your left over?”
Tope went cold suddenly and snarled, “My taste is better than yours brother Alakowe.”
“Yeah? I am not interested in village idiots as you.”
Tope stood and walked out slamming the door.
The voice laughed softly, “That was not very clever.”
Babatunde snapped, “He is not very clever.”
“Not clever maybe but very lethal, you had better see your friend, the one you call Fancy pants”
He looked round him wondering why he was talking to himself and sighed. He was tired and really should sleep. He closed his eyes as he remembered fancy pants. He smiled.
Would have been nice if he could just see Fancy pants right now. He sighed and closed his eyes as he tried to relive the memory of fancy pants.