ACT THREE: SCENE FOUR
EZEULU’S obi. Early nightfall. EZEULU is seated at his usual place while MAZI AKUEBUE is on a goatskin mat spread on the floor with his goatskin bag beside him. There is an empty gourd of palm wine, a lump of white clay in a wooden bowl, and an empty bowl. There is a long, uneasy silence akin to a house in mourning as both men are wrapped in their individual thoughts]
AKUEBUE: [breaking the silence, with deep bitterness] That was why I came to see you. [Pause] It troubles me because it looks like the saying of our ancestors that when brothers fight to death a stranger inherits their father’s estate.
EZEULU: [opens both palms towards his friend in self-vindication] What do you expect me to do? If any man in Umuaro forgets himself so far as to join them let him carry on.
[AKUEBUE shakes his head in great despair and lapses into silence. Suddenly, he springs to his feet]
AKUEBUE: I think I have to go now before the night catches up with me here.
EZEULU: That is all right. You did well by coming to inform me. [Rises to his feet too] I am afraid I shall not be able to see you off.
AKUEBUE: I understand. Stay well and may Ulu protect you and your household.
EZEULU: Ise! May the day break.
[They both reach the entrance door and AKUEBUE exits. EZEULU stands at the door for a while and returns to his seat]
EZEULU: [calling out] Oduche!
ODUCHE’S VOICE: [off] Nna.
EZEULU: Come here.
[Enter ODUCHE from the inner compound at a run]
EZEULU: [ignores the greeting] Sit down.
[ODUCHE obliges and sits on the long mud-seat facing his father]
EZEULU: [after a pause; without a preamble] Is it true that your people are offering protection to those who wish to escape the vengeance of Ulu?
ODUCHE: I do not understand you, Father.
EZEULU: You do not understand? [Fiercely] Are your people saying to Umuaro that if anyone brings his sacrifice to your shrine he will be safe to harvest his yams? Now do you understand?
ODUCHE: Yes. Our teacher told them so.
EZEULU: Your teacher told them so? Did you report it to me?
EZEULU: Why? [Silence] I said why did you not report it to me? [No answer as father and son regard each other steadily in silence]
EZEULU: [in a calm and grief-ridden tone] Do you remember, Oduche, what I told you when I sent you among those people? [ODUCHE uneasily averts his father’s gaze and casts his eyes on the big toe of his right foot]
EZEULU: [with great bitterness] Since you have suddenly become dumb let me remind you. I called you as a father calls his son and told you to go and be my eye and ear among those people. I did not send Obika or Edogo; I did not send Nwafo, your mother’s son. I called you by name and you came here – in this obi – and I sent you to see and hear for me. I did not know at that time that I was sending a goat’s skull. Go away, go back to your mother’s hut. I have no spirit for talking now. When I am ready to talk I shall tell you what I think. Go away and rejoice that your father cannot count on you. I say, go away from here, lizard that ruined his mother’s funeral.
[ODUCHE gets up to go, shamefaced, sniffing. He brings his right fist to his face to clear the driblets of tears. Exits into the inner compound]
EZEULU: [calls out] Nwafo!
NWAFO’S VOICE: [off] Yes, Father.
EZEULU: Come here.
[Presently, NWAFO rushes in from the inner compound]
NWAFO: Here am I, Father.
EZEULU: Go and call Obika’s wife for me.
NWAFO: Yes, Father. [He runs off through the door he came in from]
[There is a brief silence. Enter OKUATA, heavy with pregnancy]
OKUATA: [curtseys] Ezeulu.
EZEULU: E-e-i. Where is your husband?
OKUATA: He has gone to Ogbuefi Amalu’s funeral.
EZEULU: I thought it was tomorrow?
OKUATA: Yes. He has gone to help them with the preparations.
EZEULU: I see. But didn’t I hear that he was not well?
OKUATA: It is true, Father of my Husband. He had a slight fever but refused to heed all my entreaties to stay indoors for the night.
EZEULU: [gnashes his teeth in disgust] Tck, tck, tck. You have a stubborn husband, my daughter. How many times have I warned him about his fiery temper and stubbornness? I always say to him: “Look, my son, it is praiseworthy to be brave and fearless, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live. The man who has never submitted to anything will soon submit to the burial mat”. [Pause] You may go. That is what I wanted to find out from you – his whereabouts. Don’t worry your mind so much about him. Ulu will always protect his own. Nothing shall happen to him.
OKUATA: Ise! Thank you, Father of my Husband. Good night.
EZEULU: May the day break.
[Exit OKUATA into the inner compound. EZEULU gnashes his teeth again. The lights are dimmed for a few minutes to reflect the passage of time. When the lights regain their normal brightness, it is past midnight in EZEULU’S obi. EZEULU is discovered still sitting on the iroko panel. On his right side, within the reach of his right hand, lays a matchet. He stokes the smouldering fire made of two big ukwa logs underneath his feet. Suddenly, the silent night is pierced by the eerie passage of Ogbazulobodo, the fearsome night spirit. It is a cacophonous sound as if a legion of runners each covered from neck to ankle with strings of rattling ekpili, tailed with the loud, ethereal cry of: Ewo okuo! Ewo okuo! several times. These unearthly noises suddenly fade away in the distance. Presently, the sound of a cannon being fired nine times is heard, punctuated with the beating of ekwe, a talking drum. There is a brief calm in the earth. However, this rather riotous night has had an uneasy effect on EZEULU, who reaches forebodingly for his matchet and rises to his feet. He makes for the household shrine to offer a prayer to Ulu]
EZEULU: [standing before the shrine, chants]:
The hour is come, Ulu
The night is far spent
And, alas, the fight has reached your doorstep
When we see trees shedding their leaves
In their last menstrual cycle of the season
We know that harmattan is here.
This uneasy hour calls for the manifestation
Of your awesome majesty
And you must give a lie
To all your lame challengers
The birth-pangs of the night
Only foreshadow the stillbirth
Of your enemies’ plans.
Arise, you fearsome god of my fathers
That destroys a man
When his life is sweetest to him
Slow in anger but quick in action
Like the thunderbolt of Amadioha
The snail may well crawl as long as
The journey may take
It never fails to reach its destination.
My father’s fathers and their fathers before them
Did you shower your mercy and protection
Let my fate be not different
For what is sired by the leopard
Cannot be different from the leopard
The fowl does not eat
Into the belly of a goat.
My father’s fathers and their fathers before them
Have you not brought to shame
And neither will mine be different
Their worthy descendant and successor
Let my head not roll
In this impending fight of the gods
No, let my harvest not be
A deluge of tears.
Let this doom
Looming in the horizon
Not engulf me.
O let my end not be a tale …
[Sound of footsteps is heard, approaching. EZEULU pauses for a while to confirm the sound. It is unmistakable; it grows louder, and with human voices too]
EZEULU: [barks] Who is that?
[There is an ominous silence, the footsteps having suddenly stopped, so are the voices]
EZEULU: [puzzled] I say who is that?
A VOICE: [from without] People.
EZEULU: [menacingly] Who is called people? My gun is loaded, let me warn people.
VOICE: [off] Ezeulu , it is me, Ozumba.
OZUMBA’S VOICE: [off] Eh.
EZEULU: What brings you out at this time?
OZUMBA’S VOICE: [off] An abomination has overtaken us. Goat has eaten leaves from off my head.
EZEULU: [clears his throat] Give me a moment. Let me build a fire to see your faces. [He re-stokes the fire, blows it a few times and it breaks into a flame]
EZEULU: Come in and let me hear what you are saying.
[Enter five men bearing an inert body, shoulder-high; the sixth one is an old man, OZUMBA, who is their leader. It is OBIKA’S. As soon as EZEULU sees it, he rushes fiercely at them with his raised matchet as a mother hen would a hawk]
EZEULU: What happened to him? Who did this? I said who?
OZUMBA: [with a cracked voice] It is not what the mouth will like to tell. As he was running as Ogbazulobodo round the clan, suddenly we saw him racing back to us. We couldn’t believe our eyes that he was already returning. What could have gone wrong? Had he left out any of the paths? These were hardly out of our mouths when he raced in and fell down heavily at the foot of the okwolo tree. We rushed up to him and shook his body. He was short of breath. Quickly I removed the ike-agwu-ani necklace from his neck, called him by his name three times. Obika, Obika, Obika. He couldn’t answer me. I poured some of the cold water we always keep handy over his face and body and called him again. No answer. When I touched his chest …
[EZEULU raises his left hand fiercely for him to hold his peace, and as if in a daze, he approaches the inert body of his son slowly. A sob escapes his lips as the matchet falls from his hand onto the floor with a clatter. He slumps down on both knees beside the body]
EZEULU: [cries agonizedly] My son. [Pause] Ulu, were you there when this happened to me? Oh, my son. [He buries his face on OBIKA’S lifeless chest and sobs heart-rendingly. A low dirge rises in the background, reaches a crescendo and then fades away. Lights fade]
[End of Excerpt]