The Great Discovery
By Kenechukwu Obi (Nigeria)
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THE GREAT DISCOVERY
Short Story by KENECHUKWU OBI (Nigeria)
A tall agbalumo tree stood at the center of the vast compound that lay sprawled in clusters of mud houses with thatched roofs. Surrounding the compound was a fence of bamboo sticks. Stray West African dwarf breed of goats of different colors, roaming about, sniffing around, for anything they could pick up and chew. Some of them pregnant, some of them not, and some were wandering with their young ones, with feces occasionally dropping from their anuses as black pellets. It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Iseyin, a place roughly an hour and half ride by road from the historic city of Ibadan. The Ebedi hills flourished with their distinctive rich store of greenery from trees, weeds, grasses, and shrubs. All of which combine to give them an alluring appearance of a sculptural masterpiece whose sculptor was nobody but nature, of course, a beautiful landscape very much worth capturing on canvass by a painter. Tunde the thirty eight years old Ebedi farmer, was home, and under the agbalumo tree, seated. He was looking sad, with his chin rested on his right palm in deep thought. On his face was a sea of sweat that slowly trickled to the ground. His eyes spoke his weakness and confusion.
Lying in front of Tunde were few tubers of yam, which were mere dried up stub, he and his family had harvested, marking the end of the yam planting season. Tunde had three wives and seven children, all threatened by hunger. He and his family over the years had provided enough labor for the large expanse of land inherited from Tunde’s father who was a successful farmer in his lifetime. This however, did not yield results, as Tunde and his family continued to record lower yields far less commensurate with all effort they were putting in.
Tunde walked to the biggest hut in his compound, occupied by him alone. He stood in front of it, looking very determined to come up with a workable solution to his problem. His mind raced about, searching, as he stood and watched the shriveled yam tubers. Tunde was very sure of one thing, which was that he did nothing that had displeased the gods he worshipped to warrant the present challenge in his farming life. Confusion further encased his mind as he stood. The more he tried in his thoughts to get to the source of his misery, the more it proved to be far-fetched.
Tunde finally decided to confide in Bakare, an elderly man, well respected and loved for his sound knowledge of traditions and humane qualities. A man who needed not to be looked at more than once, for one to see he was a man from Oyo. His ten tribal marks boldly showed this, very deeply cut to form shallow grooves along his cheeks. Without further hesitation, Tunde set out on a roughly thirty minute’s journey by road, from Iseyin to Okehu village, in order to see Bakare whom he was not sure of meeting at home. Tunde was fortunate as the elderly man was sitting in front of his hut when he arrived. It took him no time to recognize Tunde his sister’s son. He smiled as Tunde prostrated before him in greeting.
“Get up, get up, my son,” Bakare said quickly. Tunde complied. “How are you?”
“Baba, my world is upside down.”
Tunde’s voice was a cache of bitterness when he responded.
“Upside down like how?” Bakare said with his mouth half ajar in expression of shock and surprise. He shut his mouth quickly afterwards. “Sit down first,” he said, and pointed to a wooden seat that was by his right side.
“Thank you, Baba.”
Tunde sat down and told Bakare what had been causing him sleepless nights. Bakare thought for a while as soon as he had heard what Tunde had had to say. Then a grin came to his face, which got wider. Bakare stopped grinning after a short while and said, “I know the source of your misery, Tunde.”
Tunde nailed Bakare’s wrinkled face with a searching glare; as if all the answers he sought were bold inscriptions there.
“What do I do to get my yams yielding high?” He quickly asked.
“You are a hardworking man,” came Bakare’s response, “but you have all along been forgetting one important thing your father used to do before planting. You know you young people of these days no longer think it is important. Some will say once you add that thing that kills the soil you people like to call fata.. Fatalisa.”
“You must mean fertilizer, Baba. Our people that have gone to study with the white people say they make yams grow fat.”
“You can call it that, Tunde. What I call it is fatalisa. And you have been using the nonsense?”
“Yes, Baba. For a long time now.”
“And why did it not get your yams fat?”
“I do not know, Baba. That is why my search for wisdom brought me to you, Baba.”
“Now listen very well, Tunde, and make sure you do what I will tell you. It is the solution to your problem.”
It was a welcome knowledge to Tunde. It filled him with so much joy that he got up from his seat in a flash and prostrated before Bakare, full of appreciation, his face rich in smiles fuelled by springs of joy that had emanated from the depth of his heart.
“Thank you, Baba,” he said.
“Get up, young man. Get up.”
“This wisdom you have planted in me will never rotten,” Tunde remarked. “Ese gan ni, sir,” he further thanked Bakare in his native Yoruba language. If Tunde was a happy man when he began to leave for Iseyin, then Bakare was a man who got fulfilled for rendering help when it was needed most.
The next planting season arrived. And with it was sufficient rain that provided a part of ideal conditions for crops to flourish. Tunde welcomed it with delight. And as usual, he commenced planting yams with his family. But not like he had long done before now. Tunde first gathered the yams he planned to plant at a spot. Not just any spot, but a spot where his late father had always done something important. On this spot was a wood effigy from which slight black smoke rose. Thick dark patches that happened to be very stale long congealed blood, dotted the figure, all over. Surrounding it were pieces of black and red rags, and very old, discolored and ruffled feathers at varying very advanced stages of decay. This effigy located in one of the barns, which Tunde’s father used for storing his yams, had plenty of dust on it, evidence of its long abandonment. But there was not to be a single doubt that it was alive, well, but only thirsty, and would still prove its efficacy if tended the proper way, the smoke it issued, speaking volumes of this.
“Drink this,” Tunde said, referring to the effigy, as he began doing what he had to do. “Drink this for the sake of my yams. Let them not drown in too much rain or wither in so much heat from the sun.”
Tunde had held a fowl and a knife above the effigy before he began speaking. He went on to slit the neck of the fowl after uprooting some of the feathers around its neck, which fell on the effigy. Blood soon began to wriggle off the fowl’s neck, which had by now taken its last breath, kicking here and there in vain. The blood from the fowl trickled down and unto the figurine. More smoke, thicker too, rolled upwards as soon as blood reached it. Its black color which showed its state of dormancy turned to luxuriant green that was sign of its rejuvenation.
“I quench your thirst with this,” Tunde went on to say.
He concluded by taking the dead fowl home. He gave it to his eldest wife, Iya Folake, who prepared a meal of amala and ewedu soup, which he alone ate, as women were forbidden to eat of it.
Nothing but great joy was what deluged Tunde’s heart when the next harvesting season came around. His wives and children were not left out. Words were insufficient to express the abundant joy their hearts got filled with, at the sight of huge tubers of yams they had to pull out of their farm. The gigantic harvest was awesome. The yams were so many that Tunde could not do without building bigger barns. He could not believe what he had missed all along, for not paying his dues to his father’s deity of abundant harvest.
“Oh… see how stupid I have been all along,” Tunde said to himself, as the reality of his costly blunder over time, hit him hard in spite of the huge presence of joy he had come to finally find, as a farmer, his gaze strolling through the Ebedi hills and its evergreen wealth of flora.
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