Updated: Nov 28, 2019
That night, Awoniyi and his son Awolani joined some members of the Ifa fraternity who were waiting for them under an Iroko tree that signalled the beginning of the sacred forest. Two among the men were carrying burning oil lamps to illuminate their way through the thick darkness of the forest, one of the men shaded his fire from the night breeze with a plantain leave.
'Oluwo chief priest, Take this and tie his face.' A man said to Awoniyi with his hand stretched out with a red rag in it.
Awoniyi blindfolded his son with the piece of cloth and held his hand to lead him as they all walked into the forest. Their voices serenaded through the bush as they sang:
Oh great fathers, oh great fathers,
Here we brought you a son,
A son neglected and lost.
Oh revered ancestors, oh revered ancestors,
Please receive a son,
A son recovered and purified.
Oh, great Aseda the grand creator,
Receive a son from your servants.
Like a fire put out by heavy rain, the men's voices died.
And an unknown type of fear consumed Awolani's heart like wildfire, and his taught shifted from St. Andrew's Anglican Mission's teachings to the sounds around him. His senses became sharper; he listened to the cries of dry leaves on the ground as they crushed under their weights, the songs of the frogs from the nearby Aye lake, a myth to many of the villagers. Some said it's a legend, and some say the crocodiles in the lake could fold their tails and stand and walk like humans.
Awolani Imagined he was being walked to the lake and fed to the mysterious reptiles. Tears began to flood down from his eyes as he imagined his flesh being ripped apart from his bones by the crocodiles.
'Duro stop.' Awoniyi said to his son as they reached the grove of Igi-oshe that made up the grand shrine.
'Young man! kneel.' An old husky voice said.
Awolani waved his head from left to right and back to left as if he was searching for where the sound was coming from, his father, Awoniyi pressed his shoulder down to signal him to go down on his knees.
Awolani knelt and began to quiver as series of chants and prayers rained upon him. His greatest fear among all the aspects of the initiation process was that he could not see anything not even the faces of the people that touched him now and then, every one of their touches felt painful, as painful a stab with a jagged-edged dagger. His knees were so weak that they became numb to the pain that the weight of his upper body inflicted upon them.
As the night began to mature into the morning, the fraters surrounded him in a semi-circle and began to sing some unknown chants. Each of the fraters sprinkled some liquid substance upon Awolani, and two men lifted him to his feet and washed his feet before the shrine.
'Here, before the shrine of the great ancestors, you've been washed, and here you shall always return to in times of trouble and joy. The ancestors now know your smell and no matter where you go they will always be with you, for our forefathers never sleeps and forget their children.
And listen, let this be inscribed on your heart and make it the light that will guide you throughout your time on earth, this event is your initiation to the court of the ancestor's mouthpieces and the people's servant. 'Never in any circumstance will you discuss this event with any human being.' the old man said to him.
Awolani imagined it was human blood sprayed upon him. 'Oh Jesus, the son of man, the one who died on the cross, please forgive me.' He chanted in his mind.
Awoniyi held his son by the arm, and they departed from the shrine and headed home. Awoniyi untied the blindfold on Awolani when they arrived at the iroko tree where it was fastened to his face the previous night. Awolani limped behind his father as they walked home.
Guilt and shame besieged his heart. 'Why did I allow this to happen to me? I could have run away when I heard him talking to my mother about seeing me. Will Jesus ever forgive me for doing this? Ah, Awolani what have you brought yourself? Isn't this the reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? How will I explain this to Mr Fuller and my friends at St. Andrew's?' No, I can't say this to anyone, isn't that what the old voice said? Who knows what will happen to me if I reveal their secrets?
On getting home, He retired to his mother' shelter and the sleep he missed the previous night came upon him and consumed him.
Sleep released its hold on Awolani as the sun sets to retire for the day, splashing the surface of the heavens with varieties of scary and enticing blue, grey, orange, and red strokes. He came out of his mother's hut and sat down on the bamboo bench where his parent had sat the night before debating his future. The last rays of the evening sun warmed him up. He fermented his taught to go and see Akande, his mate at St. Andrew's Anglican Mission.
'Akande will understand.' He murmured to himself.
Akande ended up in the Christian Mission when his father died fighting off slave raiders in their village just a few months after his birth, and his mother became a young widow who refused to become the mistress of unsettled men - some traders and local chiefs.
Aren't those who suffered the same fate supposed to understand and stand in solidarity with each? The grief-stricken with their mates? And the neglected with their own?
The hope that his friend will understand him filled Awolani's, weary heart. But the words to say and how to say those things which he had been commanded not to reveal is now a more significant challenge than abandoning Christianity - the fear of the unknown consequence -a spell of madness, being sacrificed to the gods or being banished from one's clan.
'I will tell him that I've been told by my father to stop coming to the Mission. No, no, I will say to him that the death of my brother has put fear in my family, and my parent can not let me out of their sight for fear of losing me like Awode. Yes, that should work. No, yes, it will work.'
Akande's sister was about to finish preparing dinner when Awolani arrived at their palace. 'Add more yam in the pot.' Akande's mother said.
'Mama, there's already enough for me to pound.' Akande said.
'Keep quiet! Don't you want your friend to eat with us?'
Akande looked at his mother and then to his friend Awolani, and swallowed his word with his saliva.
'What happened to you?' Akande asked his friend who seem to have lost considerable weight over the last couple of days that they last saw each other at the Mission. His cheekbones stuck out and stood apart from his eyes that fell deep into their sockets, and his collar bones stuck out like spikes.
Awolani touched his collarbone and felt the deep hole between them and his neck. 'Akande, I hope God will forgive me for what I did. For absenting myself from the Mission for two days.'
Akande began to question Awolani if he's well, and if it was his choice not to go to St. Andrew's Anglican Mission.
'I can not go to the Mission anymore.' He said and bowed his head in shame of what Akande and the rest of his mates may now think of him.
'My parents.' He began to narrate his fabricated reason to his friend. 'I had to hide to come and see you; I'm wholly forbidden to leave their sights.'
He continued to plead to his friend to explain his plight to Mr Fuller Dwight, a Missionary at St. Andrew's Mission.
Bimpe, Akande' sister interrupted them to tell them that it was time to pound the yam for dinner. Awolani wanted to take his leave for home, but the scent of the vegetable soup that seized the atmosphere was a spell that his hunger summited him.
Awolani watched his friend sweat as he thrust the pestle back and forth and back into the dark wood mortar. He ate dinner with them liking the palm oil off his fingers like a child leaking honey for the first time. Bimpe looked at Awolani through the corners of her eyes as her mother offered Awolani more strip of the roasted bushmeat that served as the protein of the meal.
'Eat well, my son.'
'Just don't burst your stomach here.' Said Akande and they all laughed at the gag and washed down the dinner with hibiscus juice.