The next morning came with a deadly mixture of fear and anxiety for Adaobi. She had gone over the plan so much in her sleep that she even dreamt of it. Now it was so deeply embedded in her memory that she knew every single detail by heart. Without a doubt that was the type of commitment her mother would have expected of her. The importance of their little act was, to say the least, extreme.
Adaobi managed to find the strength to crawl out of her bed. She could feel her heart racing, and her legs wobbled so much she didn’t trust her steps when she walked. She tried to tell herself that everything was going to go as planned but that wasn’t making her feel any better. For a second she thought about Afam; was her affair with him worth the danger it was putting her through right now? Yes, of course it was worth every single bit of it. These were not the kind of thoughts Adaobi needed to survive the day, but she couldn’t help it.
The cock had crowed long ago. Less privileged women had gone down to the stream to fetch some water for their morning chores. They were probably cooking at this time. The men should have return from hunting and would now be waiting in their huts for food to be served. Adaobi never knew anything about that life. She woke up when she pleased, and all she needed to do for food was ask. This morning fear had tied her stomach in knots so that she didn’t feel the slightest form of hunger but it was part of the plan to ask for food.
Adaobi knew that once she asked for her food there would be no turning back. For the plan to work, she and her mother had to maintain their normal way of life. Chinelo was outside stirring a pot of hot soup on the firewood. She was waiting in anticipation for Adaobi to set the plan in motion. For a moment she wondered if fear had got the better part of her daughter and forced her to back out. Chinelo tried to believe her daughter was wiser than that. If the truth about her was found out, Chinelo would have a lot to answer for, but Adaobi would suffer the most. Chinelo hoped that Adaobi understood this, and that it was enough to give her the heart to carry out their plan as discussed the night before.
After a few deep breaths that did very little in reducing Adaobi’s tension, she decided that there was no turning back from here. If this wasn’t done now the truth about her would be found out at some point. The earlier it was found out, the less agony she would have to go through waiting. But if she was to succeed in her plan the secret would be buried forever and she would go on to live a normal life. With a voice that was no reflection of how afraid she really was, Adaobi called a maid from the compound. This was the maid that she called every morning for her food. However this particular morning Chinelo had put the maid to work that would not let her serve Adaobi. The maid was kept busy separating chaff from beans that would be served on Adaobi’s wedding day. It was enough to feed a small village.
The maid in all innocence told Adaobi that her hands were full. Adaobi was very familiar with the chain of command in the family so she didn’t ask any questions. Her mother’s orders were in line before hers. There was a house-boy, Eziokwu, sweeping the compound. Adaobi politely asked him if he could take a break from sweeping to fetch her food. The boy’s looks suggested he had seen just about sixteen rains. A lifetime of manual labour had moulded his body into a muscular frame that would have appeared intimidating even on a battleground but he still maintained his boyish looks.
The boy was more than happy to be of service to the soon-to-be princess. The truth was that for so many years he had seen Adaobi in the morning, which was when she had the least clothes on. He had dreamt and fantasised about what lying in bed with her would feel like. He had thought of her full breasts and heavy buttocks as he stroked himself. Of course he wasn’t stupid enough to try anything with her, but an opportunity to walk into her hut was one he could not pass on.
Without a word he dropped the palm frond broom and walked towards Chinelo’s hut. It took the best of his self-control to keep him from grinning or sprinting. Adaobi watched as the boy paced his way to her mother’s hut. She tried not to dwell on his innocence. She had enough fears in her already. A guilt trip was the last thing she wanted to put herself through this morning. If she felt any worse than she already did there was a very big chance she would get cold feet and pull out of the plan.
Adaobi didn’t know the boy by name, but she knew she would get to know it soon. She had seen him sweep the front of her hut since they were both little. Even though they never exchanged words, he had become a part of her life in a strange way. Like the birds that perched on the thatched roof every morning, the boy was needed for Adaobi to feel like her morning was complete. She was so familiar with the paced strokes of his broom that it felt almost like a sound of nature to her ears. Adaobi knew she was going miss the boy, but as her mother pointed out the night before, this was a sacrifice they had to make to survive. Adaobi scored very high with morals, but her weakness in courage sometimes undermined her moral efforts. She really did not want to put the boy in the position her mother was asking her to, but she was too afraid not to.
Adaobi quickly dismissed these thoughts. She knew they were eating away what little will she had to carry out the plan. She freed her mind of all sorts of moral judgment. The boy was going to come back to the hut with her food and she was going to do what her mother asked her to. It was as simple as that, no hesitations, no moral justifications. She got into this frame of mind and she felt a wave of confidence pass through her. It was a devilish confidence, but if the gods hadn’t done anything to help her up until now, she had to do something to help herself.
The boy was afraid of Chinelo for reasons he couldn’t explain. When he told her he was there to get Adaobi’s food she looked at him in a strangely.
‘Nene is removing the chaff from the beans,’ the boy said to defend his agenda. Chinelo nodded and began to scoop out some rice and chicken stew for her daughter. Chinelo noticed that the boy was too scared to look at her. It was a good thing because her face was marked with worry that anyone with half-baked common sense would spot at a glance.
After she finished dishing the stew, she faked a smile and passed the tray to the boy. He accepted the tray without a word and hurriedly made his way back to the hut. The plan was entering the most crucial phase. Chinelo could only hope to the gods her daughter had both the spirit and physical strength to see it through to the end. She wished it was her who had to handle this part of the plan, but there was no way it could work out that way. It was very much out of her hands now. She just had to wait patiently for the planned signal. It shouldn’t be too long now. Chinelo told herself not to panic because it was going to make the waiting time appear even longer. She had to stay calm.
The boy, totally unaware of the unkind fate that awaited him, strolled towards Adaobi’s hut. His heart raced with the feeling of excitement. He tried very hard to hide his vulnerability, but he wasn’t doing a very good job. Adaobi was used to men giving her lustful looks. She could tell when a man was trying to suppress it.
The boy stood outside the hut and waited for Adaobi to tell him it was okay to come in. Barging into her hut to catch her undressed would put him into more trouble than the pleasure of seeing her naked was worth. Adaobi knew the boy was outside. It was time for her to be stronger than ever. She reminded herself of the burden the success of this plan would lift off her shoulders. She didn’t try to compare it to the loss of human life. In her hearts of hearts she knew that there was no shame she was trying to avoid that was worth a boy’s life, an innocent boy. She saw this as a matter of survival. It appeared simpler that way, and it shut out the voice of her powerful conscience. She told herself before she invited him in, ‘This is not about wrongs and rights, but about burying a secret that would ruin your life and the lives of others.’ With those words echoing in her head, Adaobi moved into position and called for the boy to come in.
The boy wasn’t sure what he expected when he pushed the door open, but he sure didn’t expect to catch Adaobi half-naked. He wasn’t sure if she was dressing or undressing, but he was sure he was lusting for what his eyes were seeing. He felt his amu get harder and he concealed his embarrassment by looking away.
‘Come in and drop the tray by my bed,’ Adaobi said. The boy wasn’t sure what this was turning into but he had no reason to back out. After all she was Onwa’s daughter. She had the power to give him orders and it was his duty to obey them.
The bed was closer to where Adaobi stood half-naked, playing with clothes the boy wasn’t sure if she was ever going to put on. He took careful strides, not wanting to fall over or knock down anything he couldn’t afford to pay for in his lifetime. He noticed the mirror in the hut and it amazed him how an object could reflect life so clearly.
The boy didn’t exactly have the words to explain what was going on inside him. He felt somewhat uncomfortable with everything. Something in him told him to be careful. He was treading in deep and dangerous waters.
Adaobi stood with her bare back exposed to the boy. He couldn’t help eyeing her smooth dark skin that he kissed only in his dizziest daydreams. She wore her wrapper so low on her waist it left her waist beads were exposed. Any lower and he’d see too much for his own good. There was the temptation to just drop the tray and pounce on her but he knew doing that was like buying himself a rope to be hung with. He chased away these thoughts as soon as they materialised in his mind. What in the world was he trying to get himself into? His mother had often told him that wealth and women were every man’s weakness. She warned him against letting his lust for either of the two blind him. If there was ever a time to heed to his mother’s words, it was now.
With each step closer the boy took Adaobi convinced herself that this had to be done, and even more importantly, she could do it. When the boy was close enough for her to feel him standing right behind her, she turned around. The boy tried to get the food tray out of the way but Adaobi tried harder to make sure she hit it. The hot food came down on the floor and Adaobi screamed like never before. His eye caught her full naked breasts, but he didn’t immediately realise what she had just done to him.
‘Sorry, please don’t shout. I will leave!’ The boy wished he didn’t scream those words when he realised Adaobi wouldn’t stop shouting. The screaming had nothing to do with spilled food. At this point, the truth of what Adaobi had done dawned on him. His eyes swept the room and he noticed a ripped cloth by the corner. Why was this happening to him? What had he ever done to deserve such ill fate?
He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He thought about running. That would probably make him appear even guiltier. Staying here with Adaobi till someone walked in to beat him to a pulp wasn’t a very safe option either. The truth of the matter was that he had missed his opportunity to walk away. No one would believe him when he told them that Adaobi was half-naked when he walked in. Not only would her word carry more weight than his, he would be asked why he would walk in the first place even if she ordered him to. He should have known better than walk into the room with Onwa’s daughter looking so indecent.
Adaobi began to knock things about to set the scene for her supposed rape.
‘Somebody help, please leave me.’ In the middle of all this madness the boy’s survival instincts kicked in. He wasn’t sure if this was the right move, but he had to do something besides watching Adaobi set him up for a very good beating, for his death. He reached for her throat with such speed that she couldn’t have avoided his grip. Her voice was drowned almost instantly. She made animalistic sounds with what little gasps of air she was getting. The boy tightened his grip. Adaobi smiled at him and it angered him even more. At this point he knew he was a dead man. He should never have walked into this hut in the first place, and even worse, he should never have laid a finger on her.
The maid blowing the chaff from the beans heard Adaobi’s screams and Eziokwu asking her to be quiet. She ran to call a guard for help. She knew Eziokwu could fight off her and Adaobi together with relative ease. On the way to the hut the guard picked up the sounds of Adaobi losing air and he knew someone was trying to squeeze the life out of her lungs. When he entered the room, he caught Eziokwu slapping Adaobi’s face. The slap was so powerful that it sent Adaobi flying to a corner of the room.
‘I am Eziokwu Chibundu, I have done nothing to her,’ he protested. Eziokwu knew enough to know that this was the end of the road for him, but he wouldn’t go quietly.
Eziokwu could have easily killed Adaobi, but compared to the guard, he was just a little boy. He was wrestled to the ground in no more than two breaths and before he could utter another word, a hard blow to his temple knocked him unconscious. The maid ran over to Adaobi to comfort her and cover her nakedness while the guard carried out Eziokwu’s unconscious body, making every effort not to stare at Adaobi whom he believed to be a victim of the terrible crime of rape. What in the world was Eziokwu thinking? That was the question the guard asked himself. Was he being paid to do this? Or was he foolish enough to bring his amu out in the same room as Adaobi? It didn’t matter which one it was. He should have known better. He should have known this would get him killed. Ikem the guard had looked at Adaobi lustfully. He had satisfied himself imagining her naked body. But not even in his wildest fantasy had he imagined raping her. How utterly foolish of Eziokwu. Ikem smiled to himself because he knew Onwa was not a man who let good deeds go unnoticed. He would testify against Eziokwu, even if he had to lie. This opportunity of praise and a raise in the ranks was not going to pass him by. One man’s misfortune was, after all, another man’s miracle.