Hard as he tried to dismiss it, the notion of orphan persisted in his subconscious. Without either parent, could he upstage Chimenam in the quest for the longevity formula? He turned to go back home. Only then did he realize that he had been followed. For how long, he could not tell. From deep inside his throat, he released a symbolic throat-clearing sound in a manner that translated: ‘Beware, I am here’. He got an instant reply, in kind. He looked in various directions but there was no one in sight. Then the other party did the symbolic throat-clearing again just as a shadowy figure emerged from the hold of an anthill behind huge bamboo trees. The woman – for it was a woman as far as Dioti-Ojioho could tell – was covered from toe to head except for a small quasi-rectangular space around her nose and eyes. This space was also spared by a head tie wound around the rest of her oblong face and flowing down to join her gown.
“He came here to peep at us.”
Dioti-Ojioho stood still, like a tree in a windless night. His already skipping heartbeat did a little skit and would have altogether stopped.
If spirits were not themselves afraid, why would they move about only at night?
The proverb found its way into his brain cells and strengthened his manly resolve. He then involuntarily pinched himself, clearing his throat again.
“Who came to peep at you?” he summoned 24 karat courage and asked the woman in a sharp voice, as if to say, ‘We may all be in the deep forest, but I am the man here, and you are the one who ought to be afraid.’
“Your father. He came to peep at us, at our sacred dance.” She laughed; rather mischievously, sending conflicting signals to Dioti-Ojioho.
“My father passed this way then?”
“Does your father miss the allure of virgin tracks? Paint a mermaid’s boobs in the tattoos of the strangest horrors and like the Eleshin Oba that the Ake bard would croon about, your father would feign illness to lay his hands on them. It was your father alright, the insufferable womaniac”
“Where can I find him then?” Dioti-Ojioho asked, half-imploring, half-demanding.
“Go wherever maiden breasts adorn sacred rituals. Go where the lobes of genitalia lure the lame-hearted through lurid paths,” she said, never looking directly at Dioti-Ojioho.
“Did you then try to ensnare him with some enchantment?” Dioti-Ojioho tried to prove who was the man, by daring to look her in the face, or, in any case, whatever bit her hijab left uncovered.
“What enchantment?” demanded the old woman, now acting in kind. She had the advantage; at least she could clearly see the face of the one she was addressing.
“Like flaunting your nakedness in the name of some ritual dance.”
“I can see that you too were born to be irreverent. We were never naked. He was the one naked. We were chaperoned in nature’s adornment, in our festival dance. But he came naked. Naked to his wanton soul, to feed his lusts and vanities.”
“You speak not of Okpuzu, the forerunner of lightning. My father’s mind is of noble bearing”, Dioti-Ojioho charged back.
“I speak of the one I know too well. Easily vulnerable to venal invocations. I led him on. One heave of dancing breasts and he’d miss his steps; [then sternly] Unless you say he is not your father; which position I believe, places a moral burden on your late mother.” Anger now swelled over Dioti-Ojioho. Late mother!
“Enough! Tell me which way he went!” he demanded, with trumped up assertiveness.
The woman lapsed into a long silence. Then with a tone more suited for bargains, she said, “Do you wish to go the way he went?”
“Yes” Dioti-Ojioho burst out, “I am quite ready to trace him, Tell me now, this instant!”
The old woman now looked at him with pity, then calmly said “He went the way of all flesh.”
At that moment, the woman raised her two hands, shed her clothing and de-materialized.
Then a poodle of water formed where she had stood, soaking the pieces of clothing and the arcane accessories.
FROM MY UNPUBLISHED NOVEL, Imminent River.