Eze Aram! Eze Aram!
Okwudili’s feet stumped the grass merciless as he moved each with the strength of a gorilla. The roots of the giant Akpu tree at the center of Nkwo market square crawls into the footpaths. It was a massive tree, the center of Odinani spirituality in Umunkwo village.
He stumbled, came down with a thud. He had tripped on a visible root, his hands flying into his front to break his fall, he barely touched the ground before flying up again like the famed Nza bird that twitched faster than a hunter can shoot. His reputation as a cat in the wrestling floor in full display to no audience except the Gods that lingered with absolute calm, the afternoon sun was lazy, the village was quiet, many had gone to tend their farms.
‘Who is calling my name like this at this hour of the day?’ Eze Aram remarked as the wind carried Okwudili’s call of urgency into his ears.
He has been uneasy today. The cock had crowed earlier than it should, the owls hooted and shrieked severally behind his hut.
He had woken with creaking bone pain at the waist, the morning seemed dull to him, when he poured out the libation to his Chi for the morning, he had more questions than praises for the Gods.
To any other that looked at the day, it was a beautiful one, the sun was merciful, the trees swayed gently, the birds were fair in their songs – it seems the Gods have set up a pleasant atmosphere for farm work – one would expect that from the ancestors.
But to him, it all went more profound than that. The worry that lingered in his mind seemed to be without cause, the omens through the night, unclear. He had tried to drown his disturbing thoughts with the fresh palm wine Obinna brought home this morning, but it seems his uneasiness lurked deeper than a glass of wine could erode.
‘Are you a spirit or a human?’ He intoned, ‘What would you want from Eze Aram at this time of the afternoon?’
He was walking out from his obi as Okwudili swooned in through a small opening at the base of the palm frond fence.
‘Okwudili. Don’t you know that you are supposed to lend a hand to repair my fence, but you seem to want to destroy it further?’ He hissed
‘Children of today, during our days as young men, we went about the village looking for old fellows to help, it was the days when the world still feared the Gods’
His countenance seemed to change; this little history lesson to Okwudili appears to have brought back more memories than he had hoped to access.
‘Now, our people have turned their backs on our Gods,’ he hissed again; a heavy sigh followed, then he took a more detailed glance at Okwudili, who was now standing right in front of him with unsaid words choking down on his throat. His sweat ran down freely, patches of dirt, dried leaves dotted on his hair, his foot bled profusely, but it looks like he hasn’t noticed yet.
‘Nwam, what is after you. Is it man or spirit? You are in the house of Eze Aram now. Not even a spirit would dare attack you in my house.’
‘Eze Aram! They are coming……..’
‘Don’t speak. Come to my Obi, let me look at your foot first, then you can tell me what chased you to my place with such grave urgency.’
Okwudili took a surprised look at his feet, the right one was bleeding at the toe, he winced from a pain that just registered in his mind, he must have hurt his leg when he stumped on the akpu root. It was a large wound, seemed like an extended tear from the toe down into the inner sole, blood dripped freely from it, he wondered how he didn’t notice he was injured as he ran to this place.
Okwudili watched on as the older man looked to his feet, the white chalk mark that ran across the base of his eyes made him look calmer, his trembling hands gently holding his leg up as he washed them out with water gotten from a small clay pot behind his reclining chair. His obi was little, much smaller than his father’s, Okwudili thought, but here, even ndi nze and ozo (Men of affluence and reputation) would happily sit on the floor.
Eze Aram is the Osu-Agwu in charge of the Nkwor shrine. He had inherited his priestly duties from his father, who got it from his father before him.
He was the mediator between man and spirits. He talked to the Gods like he was one of them. His words bore much weight to everyone who remained faithful to odinani (traditional spirituality).
‘Our father, I must tell you this, it is a matter of urgency.’ Okwudili intoned while the bloody water dripped from his foot.
Eze Aram stood up with a subtle groan. One would imagine he didn’t hear what Okwudili said. He reached into his iron box beside the clay pot, hissed, retrieved some grey clay molded into a hardened ball, walked back to where Okwudili was sprawled on the floor holding out his injured leg, sat back down beside him, scratched off bits after bits of the grey clay ball into a small calabash.
‘Okwi, my son. Life is more important. The tortoise doesn’t run as fast as the dog, but he doesn’t die as quickly as the dog too.’
Okwudili swallowed the next quick words that wanted to escape his lips. He knew this was a lesson in patience. If there was anything Eze Aram was known for more than his position as the major priest of the Aram shrine at Nkwor, it was his patience that they said rivaled that of the python.
He grounded the clay bits into a fine powder, added a little water, and mixed it into a sticky mold, carefully applied the wet clay mold on the open cut that ran through Okwudili’s foot. His old hands quaked, visible nerves ran all through his hand like an intricate channel of intertwining roads.
‘Don’t use this leg for any hard job for the mean time,’ He advised. Okwudili nodded.
‘Now, tell me, what chased you to this place?’
‘They are coming for you?’ Okwudili reeled out.
‘Who? Man or Spirit?’
‘The people from the mission.’
‘Why? Have I offended the white man’s God?’
‘They said you and the Aram shrine are the major reason why Umunkwor is in darkness.’
‘I don’t know’ Okwudili answered, ‘I heard they have been in the mission praying for the past three days, the new priest insists they must prepare for the battle to expel Aram from the village.’
‘Has the eagle suddenly realized it doesn’t want the kite to perch anymore?’ He asked to no one. ‘I remember when the first white men missionaries came to Umunkwor, my grandfather would take yam from Aram shrine to them. He always insisted that the Gods demanded he treats every stranger with love and kindness even if they worshipped another God. Haaaaa!’ He reeled out, ‘The goodwill of my forebears has come to hunt me.’
‘They are coming here for you. Nna anyi, you must leave the village for your safety’ Okwudili added peering into his face
‘And go where?’ He said, looking at Okwudili ‘And leave the Gods of my fathers? At my age, few things in life can scare me. Those we welcomed with open arms has turned to bite us.’
He sighed again. Picked up the calabash with redshot water from Okwudili’s wounds, threw the water away to the front of the Obi, picked up the little calabash and grey clay ball, walked to his reclining chair, opened the rusty metal box again and placed them back.
His eyes were misty, he could recall when Umunkwor only worshipped the Gods of their ancestors, today, the missionaries brought schools and medicine, but they have also deceived souls to their God as payment.
Today, sons and daughters of Umunkwor look at the Gods of their fathers as evil, they look at him with contempt and he could swear, pity. The one called Brother Edward, son of Ikanta had dared to tell him to his face that he would be taken to a place where his spirits would burn forever if he dies unless he served the white man’s Gods.
‘Nna anyi, let me rush home and tell my father,’ Okwudili announced, dragging himself up from the floor, favoring the foot that has been generously smeared with grey clay.
‘Thank you, Okwudili’ He patted him on the back. ‘Tell your father I send my greetings.’
They both paused for a bit, seemed there was a tiny disturbance coming from outside, faint sounds of voices and clapping swayed to them with the gentle breeze of this strange afternoon, it was getting nearer, nearer, growing more audible. The thunderous claps, excited voices yelling a tune stumping their feet on the ground, it was a huge crowd.
“Anyi bu ndi agha nke obe
Ndi agha obe
Anyi bu ndi agha nke obe
Ndi agha obe
Ndi na ebu agha, megide ekwensu!”
‘They are here’