Twice Dead: A Short Story by Ike Adegboye
Ede, Osun State, Nigeria
On this bright and sunny day— the day of my daughter’s wedding— we dance. Yet, the dead watch us. This morning, I had awakened to the complaints of bleating goats and to the clumps of cattle hoofs. Out in the soft morning light they stood, a sea of livestock. More gifts from Alao. A dowry fit for three queens. In the corner of my hut sits rolls of fabric cascading over each other, the prints embossed with delicate gold dust from markets across the Northern desert. But also in the wake of the morning, the dead whisper dark secrets that make my skin tingle. The tendrils of fear slither up my back like a panicked gecko, for on the outskirts of Ede, along the narrow village path, lays the body. Already, the dust winds from the desert settles over him, the dew of the dawn wears him a damp coat and the birds of the air find in him their meal of the morning. Yet today, we dance.
Something nudges me in my ribs. I hear the sounds of the talking drums. They are distant, like I am beneath the waters of the river— their voices, muffled, yet speaking. I feel the nudge again. The drum speaks. Another nudge. I am inconvenienced out of my reverie. It’s my friend, Aduke, sticking her elbow in my side. Her dark face is beaded with sweat, her teeth bare, and from her mouth shrills the songs of the friends of the Iya Iyawo*. She dances like a young girl of eighteen rain seasons, flirts with the drummers with the sway of her hips and winking eyes. She nudges me once more, and yells into my ear, “It is abominable to dance harder than the mother of the bride.” Her sharp eyes squint. Behind her is Feyike, Miliki, Remi, Dara, Riyike, Fali, Omodun and their sisters. My friends. My well-wishers.“Ore mi, it is your day!” Aduke yells. Her eyes pause with knowing. I feel the cold wash of fear once more. She throws her hip out, her foot follows. The drummers follow the cadence of her rhythm.
Today, we dance to the sorrow of my child as the talking drums echo in the town square.
Now I hear them, clear and crisp—speaking blessings and goodwill over my precious child and her husband as they dance to the beat.
Will she be happy? No, she will not be.
Was this a mistake? Yes, it was. But every mistake—as all unhappiness— is lightened by the distraction of comfort. A new fabric here, some corals and glass beads there, a full belly at night, a barrel full of palm wine and the giggles of an infant will dull the aches of Alao’s blows. I watch my daughter’s tired frame twist and sway to the beat, surrounded by her friends— young ladies with youthful thighs and narrow hips. She had never been much of a dancer. But today, her heart is absent and her dancing is terrible. Does she weep beneath that veil? Yes, but it will be dried by a silk cloth from the markets of Arabah.
It was dawn before the pigments and healing herbs dried over her wound. The women stayed up all night mending the gashes of Alao’s wrath on my baby’s cheek. She should have known better than to run off with the musician. By the time Alao found them on the outskirts of town, the gods could not restrain him. By now, the birds would have begun their feast on the bald-headed singer, digging their claws into his dark flesh. I shivered thinking of it. But whoever heard of the daughter of Lasisi Olamuwonre Omo Baba Ire, whose ancestor was the great hunter, Timi Agbale, running off with a court jester, a performer—without a dowry. While the fool waited on the side of the narrow village path, we did it swiftly—Aduke and I. He knew not what hit him, at the swat of a bat’s wing, the heavy mill stone hit him from the branches above. His lover—my daughter met us there, standing over the imposter, his head bashed in. The blood soaked into the loose-grain sand that formed the village path. She fell on his lifeless body and cried, and there, Alao met us. He had me to thank. He did, lying face down on the ground in a humble prostrate. I blessed him and he rose to his feet. Still, she wept over the dead singer. Alao breathed a deep sigh of relief, the folds on the back of his neck running over each other like mounds of amala piled high, he carefully made his way to her. Bone crunched as his fist knocked her off the dead man. His leathered foot kicked her face. My eye twitched. My foot moved of its own accord. Aduke held me back.“The dowry has been paid”, She reminded me in a whisper. “Today, we will weep”, She added, as Alao tore the clothes off my child. Her screams rended something deep in my chest, “But tomorrow we will dance.” She was right.
Today, we danced. She is a married woman now. The dowry has indeed been paid. A dowry of three brides, no—three queens, for Ajoke mi. Goats. Cows—at least one for every day of the week until the next two full moons, sacks of cassava, palm kernels. The yams were piled high, the barrels of palm oil would last us till their first child was walking, and the mounds of kola nuts made her father lose his breath, the cascade of beautiful fabrics made me lose mine. It was time for her to go. She kneels and the crowd parts. I trace my steps to her with unsure feet. She swims in my gaze, the tears warm against my cheek. Mothers look on, gazing with envy as I take these measured steps.
I finally stand before her, and lift the veil from her eyes. The girl before me isn’t my precious daughter. Her eyes are swollen, the skin above her left brow and cheek dark and stretched raw by pigments and healing herbs, her lips are twice the size of a crinkled pepper, twice as red.
Indeed, my daughter is dead. Her corpse lies beside that of the singer on the narrow village path.
As I bless her as a new wife, she weeps. It is a blessing she takes to her new death— into her new home—a cage, a coffin— embellished with fresh flowers and sprinkles of new spice, laced with the silks of Arabah, beads and corals, goads of palm wine and all comfort. She thanks me. The crowds close in on the space between us. My girl is gone. Her friends sing after her. My friends rejoice. Yes, the dead watch us closely as we dance, but the one who dances among her friends—whose dowry makes queens jealous— is the one who is twice dead.
Copyright ©2018 by IkeOluwapo Adegboye