Afam crawled his way up the deck feeling weaker than he could ever remember. Sleepless nights, little food, bad air, and a whole lot of scars were taking their toll on him. He walked up to the top deck feeling so lightheaded he actually fell to the floor a few times. At this stage of the journey there was no need for violence. The slaves now knew their place. Afam’s entire body felt heavy on his legs and his stomach wouldn’t stop hurting. He wanted to be angry, but he couldn’t find the strength to ignite his temper. This feeling of weakness and bondage allowed a kind for frustration Afam had never known before to set in. This was the type of frustration that pushed a man to jumping overboard in search of freedom.
He eyed the waist-high bar railings. He was weak, but he could find it in himself to topple over it. With how tired he felt he knew swimming wasn’t an option. He wouldn’t get through one stroke before he was drowning. The wind roared in his ears and for a moment he imagined something calling his name in the water. With every second that passed the allure of the sea grew even harder to ignore. The only reason Afam didn’t make a run for it was because he thought he had come too far. Quitting now would mean that all his struggles to stay alive from the very start were a waste of time. Somewhere in his mind he believed that the worst was behind him. What troubled him was the fact that it wasn’t the first time he had convinced himself that the worst was behind him. Things on this big boat had a way of getting even worse.
He looked at Chibuzo, who also appeared to be struggling to hold onto what life he had in him. He studied the scars on Chibuzo’s body: some were deep, others shallow, some bled, others were covered in yellow pus. It was not a pretty sight but Afam knew that his back was no better. Scurvy had found its way into the ship, causing the slaves to have bleeding gums. This made eating yam particularly difficult, but no living slave missed any opportunity to feed. At this point Afam was really desperate to know how much longer till they reached land. He had listened into the oyibo’s conversation but they spoke too fast for him to grab a word, let alone a sentence.
It didn’t matter how strong you were, the big boat had a way of crushing you. Afam looked far into the water, desperately wishing to see a piece of land. Nothing was in sight. Just an endless mass of water like every other day.
Spooner and his crew were beginning to suffer as well. Two of his crewmen had fallen ill of the pox and had died. It wasn’t the first time Spooner had to toss crewmen’s corpses overboard, but by no means was the pain and fear of it diminished. He always imagined being the one getting tossed overboard one day. He feared that this day was coming. He knew that the journey was in its final phase. The winds had never been this kind to him. He estimated they would be docking in no less than a week. Almost half of his cargo had been lost to the sea, but nevertheless he was going to make a huge profit on what he had left. He just had to set them up right for the auction.
Afam’s mind had learned not to think about his home because all it did was bring him more heartache. Time and suffering had diminished his memory to an extent, but he still remembered Aboh very well. He wondered if there would be a time when he would become an oyibo in mind. If he was going to live in their land for the rest of his life, he had to learn their ways. He tried not to believe this because it stabbed hard at his pride. The only thing worse than being an outcast as far as Afam could tell was being an oyibo. Just to remind himself of his roots, he sang an Aboh song to himself and fiddled with the war charm on his wrist. He wondered what festival they were preparing for next. In his mind he could see barns full of yam, women outside cooking vegetable and egusi soup. He hungered for his mother’s cooking.
Afam thought about Adaobi. If there was going to be a time when life in the oyibo man’s land would have destroyed Afam’s mind concerning home, it meant there was also a time when his home’s mind would be destroyed concerning him. As hard as it was for Afam to take in, he had to accept the fact that a time would come when a day would pass and Adaobi would hardly think of him. He would be nothing but a distant memory. These thoughts caused him pain and sorrow. He tried to assure himself that he was wrong but somewhere in his mind he felt absolutely certain of the truth. The village was probably preparing for her wedding now. Afam knew it was going to be a big deal – wine, food, music, and even people. He wished he was in Aboh to attend it. He might boil in anger, and it might leave mental scars on him, but it would definitely not hurt as much as being on this ship and thinking about it did.
* * *
The preparation for Adaobi’s wedding was nothing as lively as Afam imagined it would be. The joy and happiness that were supposed to be enjoyed counting down to the wedding day had been taken away by the case at hand.
Onwa knew Chinelo was taking care of the matter, but not for a second did he consider that she was going to stage a rape. Onwa worried about the implications this would have on the marriage. He knew from the start that finding a solution to this problem would be difficult. Anything that came up would have been extreme, but he did not expect to have to deal with a rape case. Chinelo and her daughter had found a way of placing the burden on him. It was now his problem to present the matter to the Obi, and to convince the Obi not to pull out of the marriage. Chinelo had been wise enough to set things up so this was not so difficult for him. She had waited until now when the news of the wedding had reached every ear. Many kings from other lands had already left with their entourage to make it to the ceremony.
The first thing Onwa did was to ask that Eziokwu should be locked away where no one would hear his voice. Most likely he would never see the light of day ever again. Before he passed the order for clubs and fists to fall on the innocent boy, he decided to call a meeting.
Onwa wanted the wedding more than anyone in Aboh and that meant he had to find a way to control and clear up the mess his wife had put in his lap. Chinelo had found a way to make this his problem to ease her own burdens. It wasn’t very different from what he was doing to her in the first place. He would have done the same if he were in her shoes. He sighed heavily and hoped to the gods for the strength to persuade the Obi not to pull out of the wedding.
Onwa didn’t call just Chinelo and Adaobi, he called for Obiageli and Ikem too. It was very hard to decide what to do to these two people. They were witnesses and he didn’t want the world knowing about this little episode. Obiageli would be very easy to take care of. She was unmarried and she lived in a little hut in Onwa’s compound. All he needed to do was put out the word and she would be taken care of. He didn’t want to kill her, but Aboh was not big enough for both of them. Ikem was unmarried as well, but he could not be grabbed in his sleep like Obiageli. He was a battle-tested warrior who slept with one eye open at all times. For such a man, even though Onwa would rather have him stolen in his sleep and taken to another village where he would be warned never to return, he knew that wasn’t going to work. There was only one way of taking care of Ikem and it involved digging a grave.
Within minutes, Onwa’s hut was filled with the presence of everyone he had called for. His anger was evident on his face and that scared even the guard. Ikem had heard about people disappearing. He knew if Onwa wanted to take care of him, it was as good as done. His first reaction to this incident was that it would bring him some type of promotion. But now that he was thinking about it looking at Onwa’s face, he realised that perhaps he knew too much. He had seen too much. All of a sudden he didn’t want a promotion anymore. He just wanted to leave the hut and run away from Aboh.
Onwa studied the faces in the room. Reading faces was one of his many talents. He could tell what lurked in a man’s mind just by observing his face, reading the eyes. He could tell Chinelo was very afraid, understandably so. Adaobi buried her face so that her chin touched her chest. He figured it was fear and shame eating her up. Obiageli stood straight with both hands clasped together in front of her. Her face portrayed a little fear and a lot of confusion. She wasn’t aware that she had seen too much for her own good and that was what made her a bigger problem for Onwa. She would leave the compound and she would speak of what she knew with little fear. She would make it early morning talk at the water stream. Onwa could not afford that. She had to go, and fast. On the other hand, Ikem looked as close to terrified as his stiff face would allow. Onwa could see that the guard was expecting a visit. He made a mental note to ask the ogbunmas to show no mercy and exercise caution. Not that that was not the basic lesson of their trade; Onwa was just being careful. They had failed him with Afam, the osu. He was on a ship to Europe now which put Onwa’s mind to rest, but Onwa still believed a six-foot hole was where most secrets belonged.
He asked that Ikem and Obiageli should wait outside for a moment. He needed to share a few words with his family first. Though Onwa didn’t show it, he was scared too. He waited for the servants to leave the room, then waited a little longer to make sure the guards outside had escorted them out of earshot. Even after all this, he spoke only in whispers.
‘Come closer, and sit down,’ he said. With wobbly legs, Chinelo and her daughter shuffled across the room towards Onwa, Adaobi in so much fear she had to choke back tears.
When they were all seated, Onwa asked them to speak quietly then he asked the only question he really needed an answer to:
‘So what exactly happened this morning?’ Onwa knew that the story Chinelo and her daughter must have cooked up would cut them some slack with the Obi and that was why he needed to hear it from them. Chinelo held her daughter’s hand, which was her way of telling her not to speak.
‘He did not enter her with his amu. It was only his hand that touched my daughter. She cannot be with his child,’ Chinelo spoke with tears rolling down her face, her glassy eyes filled with grief. Onwa never knew that she could act so well. It made him question a lot of things she had done in the past, but this was not the time for that.
Onwa nodded repeatedly like he was pleased it was only with fingers that Eziokwu had touched his daughter. Perhaps the Obi would be reasonable when that factor was put into consideration.
‘Adaobi, is that true?’ Onwa asked. His daughter nodded in agreement with her mother’s story. Onwa finished by telling Adaobi and Chinelo that the incident should never be heard by another ear. They both knew it was in their best interests that this secret was kept within a small circle. He did not have to warn them.