Although he hadn’t loved his wife for a very long time, Anosike was plagued with guilt for what he had done to her. Oriaku had tried her best to win his heart, to keep his love but her love wasn’t enough. Days had passed since the death and disappearance of his wife, and nobody had noticed. Oriaku’s absence wouldn’t be unnoticed for too long. She was a good woman and many of the kingdom dwellers loved her. If they had gotten wind of his affair with Obiajulu, he would’ve been greatly hated throughout the seven villages that made up Ezeudo. His wounds had healed perfectly now, and he could stand on his feet.
“May the gods be merciful…” His lips shivered in fear. His heart was heavy as he considered all his misdeeds in the past. Oriaku deserved proper treatment, yet his mistress had treated her body like that of a bush animal. Even bush animals were skinned with dignity.
The King had sent for him. The news of his farmers defiling women had spread like wildfire through the kingdom. Perhaps, the gods were punishing him for what he had done to his wife. A strong fear entered into him which he couldn’t fight. He needed to speak to Obiajulu. He had made up his mind to confront her and end their liaison which never benefitted him. He was prepared for the outcome of this decision.
As he considered the possible outcomes, he heard a knock on the door. At first, he had wanted to ignore it but he shrugged and moved to open it. Surprisingly, it was Okeke his friend. A wave of guilt washed over Anosike as he recalled how Obiajulu had suggested the elimination of Okeke. There was something evil about that woman. Oriaku had always warned him about her, but his lustfulness had blinded him to her true nature.
“My good friend, how long it has been!” Okeke wore a glee smile on his face. He walked into the hut with two kegs of palm wine without invitation.
Anosike was happy to see Okeke. He realized that since his affair with Obiajulu blossomed, he had not spent much time with his friends, especially Chinedum.
“You are welcome Okeke,” Anosike forced a smile, as he tried very hard to cloud his anxiety.
Okeke gently dropped both kegs of palm wine on the floor.
“I present this to you. Initially, I had tapped for two but I learned that Chinedum isn’t around. You must be discreet about this information.”
Anosike raised a brow, “Where is he?”
“I paid a visit to his house. I met his in-law, Ifeyinwa, who told me about it.”
“Oh…” Anosike nodded. He couldn’t believe that Chinedum would leave without telling him. His heart skipped as he considered the possibility of Chinedum knowing about his affair with Obiajulu.
As Anosike pondered, Okeke observed that his best friend was acting out of character. Usually, Anosike was vivacious or grumpy. But this version of the great farmer seemed timid like a bush rabbit. His eyes were filled with wonder and sadness.
“I know that you are worried about your farm. But I do not think Ikemba is an inconsiderate man. He will not take your lands from you.” Okeke had a feeling that Anosike’s mood was related to the trending news of his workers. According to the law of the land, the King had the right to seize any land where evil was being perpetuated.
Anosike wished that could be the bane of his worries. He wished Oriaku could return to life. He wished everything could go back to the beginning. He regretted ever desiring a married woman; his friend’s wife.
“Thank you for your kind words.” He nodded.
Okeke settled on a stool. He had a feeling that Anosike was keeping something from him. He had known this man for many years now.
“Um, what about Oriaku? Where is that good woman?” Okeke smiled.
This question worsened his anxiety. Anosike’s hands began to vibrate. Sweat gathered at the tower of his nose. It was his strong will that prevented his voice from being shaky.
“She is well. She has gone to…she travelled to see her people.” He cut in.
“Hmmm,” Okeke rubbed his beard.
“Why do you stare at me like I stole something?” Anosike scoffed.
Okeke smacked his hands together and rose to his feet. He could tell that Anosike wasn’t being truthful.
“I have known you for many years. I know you are hiding something. I hope that woman isn’t pregnant for you.” He waved a finger over Anosike’s face.
Anosike swallowed and pushed the finger away.
“What woman?” He pretended not to know.
“Obiajulu of course! That woman is evil and would bring you bad luck. I hope you have stopped seeing her.”
Anosike couldn’t fight with Okeke this time, because he knew that his friend had been right all along. But he had been too adamant to listen. He felt ashamed of his actions.
“I have heard you Okeke.” He smiled.
“Ah! This one that you aren’t arguing with me today, I hope everything is alright?” Okeke thought this strange.
“My mind is on the King’s verdict. I will do as you have said.”
As Okeke walked out of the hut, Anosike escorted him outside. The men talked about the disappearance of Adaora. They talked about the people of Amabara and their evil King. Their conversation came to an end when Okeke mounted on his bicycle. As he drove away, Anosike sighed with relief. He felt better after talking to Okeke. Now he would find a way to make things right no matter what it would cost him. He had already lost his god-given wife. What more could he lose?
He crossed his arms against his chest, like a man in mourning.
“If only I had been contented!”
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He was about retreating to the hut when the scent of her evil nature wafted into his nostrils. In the past, her fragrance was like an aphrodisiac. It got him excited. It drugged his senses but it was over now. The spell was gone and he was totally free.
“My darling…” Obiajulu had carefully watched the environment before bellowing her presence.
He responded with a deadly stare and silence.
“Good morning,” she smiled and marched towards him. She missed her lover and had come to announce that they would’ve ample time to themselves now that Chinedum was away.
“What are you doing here Obiajulu? You only complicate things for us by constantly showing up at my house uninvited. What do you want to achieve with this unruly behavior?” He couldn’t hold his anger any longer.
She froze in shock. She had witnessed his temper, but it had never been directed towards her.
“Are you angry with me? You are supposed to be happy that I have come…” She fixed her golden eyes on him.
She had taken special care to moisturize her skin with some leaves. She had nourished her skin with coconut oil and shea butter. That wasn’t enough. She had worn the finest beads that he had gotten for her from a popular foreign market. Her feet had been designed with light pink clay. She had expected him to draw her close and give her a calming kiss while she thought of the best punishment for her husband.
“Why should I be happy to see you? You killed my wife and you intend to kill me. We shouldn’t continue with this abomination. It is over between us.” He walked away from her before she could say anything else.
Obiajulu was deeply hurt. She couldn’t believe that Anosike would talk to her like a common slave. Tears rushed down her cheeks as she watched him leave.
“You ungrateful bastard!” She called out to him carelessly, oblivious of the power of the wind. Like the birds of the air, and walls of houses, the wind could carry words.
How could Anosike change overnight? She hadn’t known that Oriaku’s death would hurt him this much. His reaction confirmed her deepest fear; he was only using her to warm his bed. She felt like a fool for going out of her way to love him. At first, she’d wanted to walk away, but she decided to face Anosike. With long strides, she went after him until she reached the hut.
“You are a fool!” She launched her palm towards him but he dodged and held onto it.
“Don’t ever lay your filthy hands on me!” He barked.
She could feel the saltiness of her tears by now.
“How could you turn against me? How could you forget our love and the passion we shared? I sacrificed my marriage and my husband’s love for you. I killed that miserable woman to set you free, for us to love boundlessly. What crime did I commit?”
Anosike scoffed and released her hand.
“We should never have shared any love or passion. It was wrong from the beginning. That wasn’t love. That was lust and we will both be punished. Oriaku was the perfect woman for me, but I was blinded…”
Her skin crawled as she realized he still honored his wife even in death. She found it difficult to believe that Anosike would betray her.
“Please…don’t do this.” She fell on her knees. How could she live without him? She had conditioned her mind to love him always.
“You are wasting your time Obiajulu. If you ever show your face here, I will have no option but to confess to Chinedum. You have wrecked enough havoc. I will tell my wife’s people that she went to the stream and got missing. That should end that matter. You must rise and be on your way.”
As he walked away from her, a soft breeze touched his face. Anosike walked towards the King’s palace like a freeman. He was free because he was on the path of straightening his crooked ways.
“No! This isn’t happening,” Obiajulu’s head dropped on the hard ground as she realized that her world was falling apart. She had mistreated Chinedum. She had played with his feelings and manipulated him. Perhaps, this was the reason he had refused to trust her with his secret mission.
Her shoulders shook as she sobbed. When she was totally weak from crying, she untied her wrapper and used it to clean her face. Her eyeballs were reddish and swollen. Moisture dripped from her nostrils. She wiped them all away.
“I will regain my dignity, no matter the cost!” She swore underneath her breath. With determination, she strolled out of Anosike’s hut, but not without casting one last glance at the home of the man she had fallen in love with and had once loved her.
As she stepped into a path, she heard someone address her.
“You never cared about the information…”
It was Ifeoma the palace maid. Obiajulu bit her lip to prevent herself from screaming at the fool. Though she was interested in her husband’s whereabouts, she was more interested in visiting the oracle of the water deity. She remembered being taken there as a young girl before her marriage with Chinedum had been consummated. It was her mother that had taken her to the shrine of the goddess where she had offered some sacrifices. After her marriage was blessed with the first child, she saw no need to return there. But life wasn’t an easy journey. She had encountered an obstacle in Anosike. It was an obstacle that needed to be removed.
“Oh please! I do not have any cowries to give to you. If you know anything about my husband, just say it or you keep it to yourself.” Obiajulu blasted her.
Ifeoma was surprised.
“For one who seeks information, you are very rude. The information is important but we must trade.”
Obiajulu pulled in a deep breath.
“Fine, will you leave me alone after this?” She quickly untied the waist bead that Anosike had purchased for her and handed it to the maiden.
Ifeoma had always sold information with the hope of receiving a few cowries. She had never received such an expensive gift.
“Why are you giving this to me?” She was shocked.
“Do you want it or not?” Obiajulu was growing impatient.
Ifeoma quickly composed herself.
“Your husband is at Amabara on the King’s command. His duty is to retrieve the sacred and ancient dagger of Ituri, the moon goddess. He is also to rescue Adaora.”
“What?” Obiajulu moved back.
How could the King send her husband on a mission to save Adaora?
To be continued…