You are trembling by the threshold of the shrine. The night holds the rain up, but its wind spreads the moisture over your back. Behind you, out in the yard, your mother is still wailing, and your father’s other wives are still holding her down. A huddle of elders stands there, too, murmuring, their tones grave. You don’t see them when you look back. The moon is full, but the swollen rain clouds have eclipsed it. Perhaps after tonight, your mother will never sell dyed cloth again, never show her face again before people. In the shrine, a lone oil lamp flickers and casts half-light on the grim faces standing around. The Oluwo’s voice comes in echoes, loud echoes, but you don’t hear them. You are staring at Lakiitan. You can see him in the shadows. He is crumpled at the far end of the hut, the red-earth wall behind him. The low flame makes him look like a ghost. Is he, too, afraid of the unknown, of this fear crumpling your insides? Does he feel same?
The Oluwo is chanting incantations—you can now hear him clearly—clattering his seeds-gourd, calling on the witches of the earth, invoking the gods of the dome between heaven and earth who preside over abominations, and asking them what exactly should be the penalty for you and Lakiitan, for doing what nobody has ever done before. What nobody has ever done before. The expression has clamped its teeth into the skin of your ears; everybody has been using it.
“Why did you do what nobody has ever done before? Why? Since when had you been nursing that idea?” your mother had asked, peering into your eyes as if to cull the truth from there, the truth that would be a lie. “You know how things are in your father’s house. You know that my enemies in this house have been waiting to laugh at me. Omo mi, talk to me. Ba mi s’oro. Just say one word.” She clasped your shoulders and shook. “Ogunna kansoso, eyin ookan! You won’t say a word to why you have let the enemy get you. You have put me in disgrace!” She wept, disconsolate and disheveled as the whole Dasofolu village trooped to the chief priest’s compound earlier in the day, the sun a sinking, burnished bowl in the sky. You and Lakiitan were walled-in in the middle of the two hunters who found you in the river, where you had bent over behind Lakiitan, while he moaned and wriggled his buttocks against you.
Your father’s words were not much different. They return to you now, with the wind. “I have always known that you are not my son,” he had said, a little too quietly, a little too slowly. And you almost believed you had broken his heart, and you hated yourself, and you hated him for making you hate yourself. “No son from my loins would be caught committing eewo with another boy.” His voice rose. “No son of mine! Eewo!” He spat. “And in the Ojuna river, too? You found nowhere else for your evil act; it had to be the river the whole village worships.” He covered his eyes. “How do you want my fathers who bore offerings to the river and danced to praise it through their lifetime to look at me now? I confirm today that your mother brought a bastard to my compound. I felt it from the day you ran away from a snake that you should have killed with an ordinary stone.” He rocked his head with his hands.
“It is just unfortunate that everybody has been seeing you as the one on whose shoulders I will crest my name, and the names of my forebears. Agbo’le Kutuje. But you have done a foreign thing. You can’t be my blood. You have brought shame on my head.”
And you accepted it calmly, that you had brought shame on his head. Is it not the duty of first sons, of any type of children at all, to bring shame on their parents’ heads, simply by living life away from their parents’ expectations? Only your father had been permitted to come into the communion hut with the Oluwo. Others had been barred by the Oluwo’s acolytes.
The Oluwo stops chanting. He pats down the dog-ears of his white cap. He stares at your father with a piercing gaze.
“My fathers have spoken. My mothers, too, have said their own.”
Your father hangs his head as if hiding from another calamity.
“What did they say?”
“A firewood that is not useful in making fire for cooking has its final abode behind the hearth.”
“Oluwo. It is you elders that also say no word can be big enough to require a knife to cut it. Say it to me exactly how it is. Stop speaking in parables.”
The Oluwo takes a long time in replying. He strokes his amulet. You try to catch Lakiitan’s face again, but he has looked away. You catch, instead, the impenetrable visage of the village idol in the corner, and the fresh animal skulls lolling against the wall, shedding blood and matted with feathers. A row of calabashes, containing things you cannot see, sits at the base of the muddy wall. The shrine heaves with the spirits of the dead and of the super-living. Inside this shrine, especially during the times of intra-tribal wars, the fate of Dasofolu’s enemies had been negotiated and decided. The Dasofolu idol is particularly renowned for redirecting and drowning these battle-bearing foes in Ojuna, to protect its people with impartial—if not more heavy-handed—ardour, Dasofolu’s sons and daughters who have erred in the past have also been judged: adulterers stricken by lightning during a dry day, thieves struck with leprosy and elephantiasis, murderers bursting into curling maggots for months before they eventually die. Perhaps the idol would swell your stomach, distend your scrotum, whiten the skin of your hands and legs. You and Lakiitan.
The Oluwo clears his throat. “L’ooto ni. We do not die on the exact spot we stand while talking. The water jar has broken and its content spilled on the bare floor. Know this, Nikawo. It is not I that speak, it is the oracle that has pronounced it.” He glances towards the glowing flame as though to call it a witness. He raises his eyes. “He shall be banished.”
“Oluwo!” your father shouts.
“There is no going back, there is no going forward. Tuoo!” The Oluwo spits and the missile lands like a hailstone. “The Devil has spoken. When the spittle falls on the ground, it does not find its way into the mouth again.” His smile faces the light, a slash of dull orange in a face that looks bloated with glee. “The gods of this land are in their benevolent mood tonight, Tadenikawo. You should thank your ori. You should be thankful that they did not ask for your son’s blood to be spilled to appease them and cleanse the land of this great impurity.”
“Do not call him my son!”
You catch the Oluwo simpering. “Whose is he, then?”
Your father glares at Lakiitan. “What shall be done to the cripple?”
“The cripple is an orisa. A deity. He has been defiled. He is the victim here. Don’t worry about him. I will keep him here for three moons. He will undergo some rites. And then he will be purged of all impurities.”
“Nothing for my… the other boy? No animal sacrifices?”
“His mother can dance. She can dance in the market. She can cross seven hills and—”
Laughter cracks through the night air.
“Tadenikawo!” he says, flexing his eyes at your father, adjusting the shawl draped over his shoulder. “Agbalagba kii se langba-langba! You are an adult, born into the arms of this village, and you know the way things are done. You know our gods. You know our traditions. You know your son is a reprobate of the land. Nothing can undo what he did. Except he is expelled from the land he defecated on.”
“And nothing can chase out the evil spirit inside him?”
“You think I didn’t ask the noisemakers of the night that? You think I didn’t consult from the ones who drink from human skulls? I would prescribe goats, rams and yams. But I just want to eat. I would ask you to bring seven yards of white cloth. But I just want to make another agbada. No solution was revealed to me. Nothing can reverse this pronouncement.”
The world inside the hut pauses. Your father shakes his head.
“This is unfair.”
“When something bigger than the barn is dug up, we sell the farm. We do not know the way of the gods. So, we do not search, or question them.”
“But you claim to speak with them all the time!”
“What do you mean?” The Oluwo’s eyes harden. “It is communing, Nikawo, communing. Communing is listening while the gods rumble like thunder!” He jiggles the staff in his hand, which rattles with a hundred castanet seeds, and suddenly points it in your direction. “You! You took advantage of his condition!”
No, you want to cry. You want to lunge forward, grab and break his staff, kick down those effigies, smash those calabashes.
“You forced your way into him!” The Oluwo’s words echo.
“No! Stop! He didn’t rape me! I seduced him!” Lakiitan makes as if to get up.
“Shut up! Or the gods will cast you out with him!”
You are led out by the priest’s acolytes, a forked stake hooking your nape, into the forest. Your mother wails and wails. Her world has come unraveled. Her enemies have seen her end.
The rain has finally begun—tiny darts on the back of your neck, on your back, on your arms. You are shivering. The moon follows you, a guide for your ostracisation. As a child, you had listened as your father gathered all the children in the household and told them how the moon got a scar on its face and how that scar represented a man lifting his hand and hitting his wife for being disobedient and disrespectful. You gaze up at it now. The scar is buried in a watery film because of the rain, so you think it is not a man beating his wife; it is two people standing in a river, bent over, moving, rocking each other slowly, discovering grave truths about body and life. Your eyes stream; you drink from the sky. The forest does not mock you, and you are grateful to it. It parts and parts, makes room for your blind penetrations and assuages you with an envelope of peace. It is not evil at all. Perhaps tomorrow, when the rain stops, anytime it stops, you will look to the east and find Osumare, the rainbow deity, the guiding god, stretching its hip across the sky. And it will lead you to where you will go and begin your life as yours to live, anew. You are suddenly filled with a cracked joy. You have always found the gods funny. You didn’t ask to be born at all, let alone this way. You have never held the thought of a naked girl in your dreams. You have always avoided the girls who pranced around you during Erebe dance evenings in the village square, pushing their barely covered breasts at your mouth, or who cavorted too close, deliberately close, in the river while you swam. You avoided them, not because you were protecting your virginity as the arole of the Kutuje clan, but because you were repulsed by them. You didn’t plan it, the epiphany in the river. It was deserted, at a time when farmers were bent over in their farms, cultivating and making ridges, when palm wine tappers were tapping their second round of gourds, when the women who washed in the dawn had long gone. You had prepared your sling as usual and taken your yam and palm oil breakfast, and were on your way to the bush close to the outskirts to see how many games the trap you had set on the path the evening before had caught. But you needed a swim first. Your underarms were slippery with sweat, and your back itched. You untied your wrapper, hung it on a branch, removed your rubber slippers, and waded into the river. The water lapped against you, against the lump of you that had never known a girl’s body. Or anybody’s body. You daydreamed and stroked gently in the water. When you thought you should stop fooling about and pull out, a limping figure emerged, a lost look in his cross-eyes, crutches under his arms.
You knew him long before he showed up. He is Balogun’s son, his lastborn by his second wife. He barely left his father’s courtyard. You would see him sitting inside what you assumed to be his mother’s hut, holding his wooden flute, his misaligned eyes shining through the low eaves. You didn’t know about his limping until that day. You had heard that he was not just a talented singer but also a skilled swimmer, even if people whispered innuendoes behind him when he sang in the market square or during festivals that his legendary ugliness was too desecrating for the waters of the great Ojuna river. So, you asked him to enter the water. He laid aside his crutches and obliged you. Or rather obliged himself, as you later realised, because as he sang about the tortoise and his clever wiles, and you felt yourself rise and swell under the water, and drifted away and away from him to lose the turgidity, he stroked closer and closer to you, until only the sharp water reeds were left for you to escape to. You stopped, and he bobbed up to you, until your legs in the water touched his deadened ones. You wondered, illogically, if he felt anything from the contact. He grinned, still singing, then stopped, and turned, turned, until his barely clad bottom covered your furiously pulsing groin. When you groaned and set the beast free and instinctively rubbed it between his buttocks for long seconds to soften the way, and then finally eased it in, he did not refuse. He merely chewed his lips and closed his eyes.
You thought of asking him if there was any pain. But you couldn’t say a thing. It was as if what was going on needed no spoken words. It was when you were inside him, moving, so raw, so warm, so tight, that he finally started mumbling to you about how he had the body of a man but he had never felt like a man. You heard him clearly, even in the din rushing to your tip. You unlocked that door of your soul, the door that had always kept you from transcending your dreams, and you poured yourself out. Then the hunter who saw you first appeared. He yelped for his mate to come quickly and see what nobody had ever seen. It was that moment you knew that the sky over your head would change, that you should have at least told your mother about your forbidden dreams. You loved Lakiitan that moment. But it wouldn’t matter to anyone who heard. When does love become an abomination? When it expresses its lust? When this lust dares to be different, unfamiliar?
Howling winds are your answer; they gust against your light frame, taking advantage of your twisted, hollow insides, bringing nausea to your throat and deafness to your ears. The forest has hardened towards you, become arcane and alien. A new blindness is spreading over your eyes, infernal and internal. You are surprised that you are not stopping. It is like a force is behind you, driving you, propelling you. You stumble over outgrowths and snag your face on thorny branches. But for the lightning that set itself upon the forest through the overhanging foliage, you would have run into a ditch. You follow the frenetic flashes and totter around it, tilting to the edge of the forest where you think it is safer to tread. You don’t know whether you are crying or it is the rain, but your eyes sting. Trees are crashing all around you, tired boles succumbing to the sound-waves bellowing from above. Strange flights are happening around you, the beating of wings, the panic of beaks, the shrieks of creatures whose homes have just fallen apart. In the commotion—and in the illumination from above—you find a disemboweled tree trunk. In your blindness, you choose it for shelter. You see a startled python scramble out, and your body grows cold. It glares at you, its enormous head hissing and twisting in front of you. You do not move a muscle; you try not to think of your mother. You imagine the snake swallowing you whole. Is this how scandalized gods kill people? A soldier ant is crawling around in-between your thighs. It will bite you and you will move and the snake will strike. The musty breath of the beast fans your face and shoulders steadily. Finally, it slithers away, crushing undergrowth in its wake, and you collapse into the hollow of the tree where your deafness and blindness increase.
A soldier ant bites you wake with a yelp. The rain has reduced to a drizzle, and only the water drops from the foliage land on your bare back, tauntingly, like stones. You can see the first faint stirrings of the sun. Your neck aches. Your arms and feet throb. Your back is stiff. You step out of the tree trunk and stagger towards the light. The forest path feels mushy underfoot, as if all you need to sink through is to tighten your calves and apply pressure on your soles. A bird caws, unseen. A noise behind you stops you in your tracks; a twig snaps.
You whirl around, your heart rate quickening, because you recognize the voice. It is the voice from the river. It is the voice on moonlit nights. It is the voice in your heart. It is him, quite all right. It is him.
Enit’ayanfe Ayosojumi Akinsanya
was born in his motherʼs hometown, Ijebu-Igbo, and raised in Sagamu, Ogun State. A graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, he teaches—in this season—at a college in southwestern Nigeria. He bagged a House of Levite “The Ready Writers” Fellowship in 2016 as an undergraduate. His full-length fiction was a finalist for the National GTB Dusty Manuscript Prize for Fiction in 2018—among over 10,000 entries—and his essays and interviews have appeared in various top blogs within Africa. Enit’ayanfe has a passion for the kind of humanity that transcends all popular borders. He has a saviour in solitude, pure Afro-centric music and, sometimes, foreign pop and R & B. He is crazy about four items: family, men, ice-cream and Jesus (not necessarily in that order). He currently lives in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. He can be reached on Facebook via “Enit’ayanfe Ayosojumi Akinsanya” and on Twitter: @AyomiOsumare.