Sewa came out of her hut with her face fixed to the earth. She stood beside her husband on a bench under the guava tree outside her shelter, his hands were tangled across his chest, and his face was set on the stars in the heavens as if he could see the star of his late son Awode, diminishing from the universe.
‘I have come to demand Awolani to present himself before me tomorrow morning.’ He said with a dry voice.
‘Yes, Awolani. the situation at hand has made it necessary that he stops everything else and focus on learning and following the ways of our forefathers.’
‘I shall tell him when he returns.’
‘What do you mean ‘’when he returns.’’ Are you saying he’s not in this compound?’
‘Don’t be angry, my dear husband, you know he has been attending the white men's establishment since he turned eight and...’
‘That must come to an end now!’ He waved his head in shame, and he interrupted her.
‘...he moved-in with the white men three nights ago, he was chosen to become a teacher among them, this selection is based on a good performance, he would live there and be prepared to travel to the white men’s country and be trained into a priest.’
'What priest! How could you do that without consulting me? Am I not his father?’
‘Of course, you are his father, forgive me olowo ori mi, I thought he’s of no concern to you since he wasn’t the first son.’
‘You thought? Send him to me tomorrow before the sun reaches its peak, or that place will be set ablaze at sunset.’ He took a glance at her and paced back to his hut.
‘How could he come for him after all these years of neglecting him just because I’m not the first wife, and he’s not the first son ehn! Now, he needs him to carry on the mantle of his ancestors. May Eledua, the creator, protect my son for me.’ She took a deep breath of relief for her scepticism was lightened with a drop of joy. -She was satisfied that her son will be one day called the oluwo of the Ijebu people. She retired to the comfort of her hut when she saw that Awoniyi, her husband is already inside his.
‘Mother, how can that be?’ Awolani asked. He was inside his mother’s shelter all the while, listening to his parent through a tiny crack on the wall of his mother’s refuge as they bargained his future. He had packed his clothes in his raffia bag, anticipating the next day’s journey which his mother said happened three days ago.
‘Your father had spoken, my son. He indeed neglected you, but our ancestors have chosen you to one day become their voice to people, maybe when your father joins them.’
‘But mother, what About St Andrew’s Anglican Mission? What about everything that I had learned there? The life that I now know? And what about Jesus?’ He turned away from his mother and faced the wall as if he could see through the thick block of mud.
‘My son, to hearken to the voice of the gods is better than to make sacrifices to them.’ Sewa said her words with caution but gently as if she was delivering a message from Orunmila.
Awolani imagined the life he was about to be deprived: Memorising the entire bible, dressing in a long robe like Mr Fuller, travelling the seas and oceans, and visiting England, and seeing the glorious Victorian civilisation that they've been shown in paintings. The thought of losing all of these future troubled him greatly for the rest of the night, and his sleep was full of torments.
‘Oko mi, oya dide, my dear, wake up.’ Sewa said to her son, who was laying down drenched in delirium and resentment.
He recited the Psalms in the middle of the night asking for God’s protection against the idols that his people are said to worship, this is against everything he’s been taught at St. Andrew’s Anglican Mission. ‘… my shepherd and I fear no evil.’ He kept on singing in his head.
‘I know you’re awake, you have to prepare and report to your father. To respond to the call of one’s ancestors is the noblest act, an act only performed by the finest ones among humans.’
‘Where were these gods all these years that I was left alone by the man that caused my birth?’
‘Don’t speak ill of our great ancestors for they are not responsible for your father’s behaviour toward you, they are to be praised for humbling him and uncovering his eyes. They have honoured you by taking away your brother and brought you the opportunity to represent them among the people. Are you going to take that opportunity or not?’
Sewa threw a fresh twig that she fetched from her guava tree to him. ’clean your teeth.’ She said.
Inside the large hut in the middle of the compound sat Awolani waiting for his father to arrive, he studied the masks, animal skulls and skins on the wall. He was stunned by the life-like presence of a shiny bronze mask that hung in the middle of a deer’s hide, the mask looks as it was over someone’s face. 'Maybe the spirits are behind it. I cover myself in the blood of the son.'
Awoniyi made his entrance known by clearing his throat. ‘That’s the spirit mask of your great-grand-father, he wears it in the nights before every Ifa festival, it is said that he sees the spirits of the ancestors when he puts it on. He once spoke with the spirit of Ogun, the great warrior who gave him a sword to deliver to the warlord, even the blacksmiths were surprised by this event.’ Awonyi sat down on his polished hardwood stool opposite Awolani, and like a grain of dust in the desert, their voices were consumed by a silence that grew from the years of disconnection between them.
None knew what to say to the other, even Awoniyi did not know where and how to start with his plans to initiate his long-neglected son whose reality is about to change.
‘I learnt that you’ve been wasting away with the white men, is that true?’ The simplicity of the question surprised Awolani and left his mouth half ajar for a moment of confusion.
‘I see, regardless of how strong your affiliation with them had deepened, you must disassociate yourself from them. These white men have no regard for our ways, and yet they want to remain in our lands and teach us their methods of living, but that also we must take responsibility. I must focus on the reason you’ve been summoned here. My son, fate, has twisted our hands behind our backs, and we must all submit to its demands to fulfil our destinies among men. This family, as you know, carries the honour of being the mouthpiece of the Gods and bears the burden of hearing all the cries of the people. Tonight, you must come with me to the shrine of our great ancestors for your initiation.’
Awolani stood up to return to his mother. At the exit, he looked back and his eyes locked into Awoniyi’s, and they looked into each other’s eyes for a minute or so.
‘My son, remember who you are, before learning that foreign religion, you were Awolani, the son of Awoniyi, Awoniyi the son of Ifawumi, and Ifawumi, the son of odu-lami the descendant of Ifawumi. And now you are still Awolani, and even after the white men are long gone from our lands, you will still remain Awolani, and when you join to the forefathers, you will be remembered as Awolani, the priest. but before that happens, you must be conscious of the choices that you make.