Our path to Ito udala tree famous for its sweetness ran beside her low mud hut. She always stood as we passed, stooped like Gagool in Ryder Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. The udala fruit—the queen of apples—ripened and fell in December and January. It was an opportune time for city children, at home on Christmas, to tap from the exciting knowledge of fruits, trees, animals and bush tracks which village children were too willing to share with them. Thus we formed a hybrid band of child-hunters. And it was the duty of the Village Regiment to explain to the City Division why Mama Udo lived in the only house in the village that was still built of mud, and why she could only stand and stare as children threw fearful greetings at her, until they became tired of greeting: she was a deaf, dumb, unmarried woman, the mother of a queer boy (whose queerness, truth be told, had more to do with the fact that he was the son of this highly stereotyped woman than with the strangeness of his behavior) and the village witch to the bargain.
One day, she was taken out of the village by an angry mob of youth and middle-aged adults. It all happened in a flash: a child had gone missing. A search party was organized. A member of the search party had seen within Mama Udo’s mud walls a piece of footwear belonging to the missing child. And the village swore never to condone witchcraft in all its shapes and forms. Her son was forcefully taken from her and given up for adoption. Then she was taken away, and was neither seen nor heard of again.
A year after she disappeared, a lone, wandering boy entered into that forbidden hut, and had the boldness to venture into the hallowed bedroom of she that had been eliminated. He came face to face with a stunning detail of the world in pictures; engraved on her mud walls were breathtaking pictures of the wild adventures of the little ones of the village.
Unknown to anybody, Mama Udo used to hide herself at a part of the bush that was unreachable to plain eyes, from where she captured the activities of each and every child in her photographic memory, and patiently reproduced them on the well-polished mud walls of her bedroom.
Like I said, this happened a year after both she, and the person as a result of whom she had been liquidated, had gone missing. It was Christmas. For us children, this year’s Christmas was as good as any other, not knowing that a member of the band had strayed into a graphic shrine that none knew about, and had been handed a ground-shaking oracle!
The game-changer occurred when the adventurous boy observed that Mama Udo’s last art was a depiction of the last days of the child who had gone missing the previous year. It was so recent, in comparison with other pictures on the wall, that a keen observer would notice that the event it described was the last in a series, and had not been completed before the art (or the artist) was interrupted. But it had progressed enough to lead to something tangible. It showed how the missing boy was being lured by a wily adult to an unknown location. And the adult in question was none other than the son of the village chief.
We children knew from experience that adults had failed us in this matter. So we decided not to trust their judgment anymore. We planned a vengeful mission, and we took charge of the entire process from beginning to finish. We organized ourselves into a formidable brigade—the finest band of child-hunters who walked the earth—and stormed the compound of the village chief.
Nothing could match our fury, and nothing could slow our unstoppable march to the chief’s house. Our target was clear: the suspect’s bedroom. With precision, as if guided by advanced military intel, we went straight to the young man’s bed, pulled out his mattress. Under the mattress, Enyioma’s sorrowful skeleton lay buried.
Image by JL G from Pixabay (modified)