SCENE. – Oritameta Oke, the junction where the journeys of the beginning and the end of life meet; the curtain that separates the world we know from the one unknown, where all forms of life pass through on their way to becoming and unbecoming bodies.
It is a point that exists outside the limits of Time, so it is neither day nor night in this act, nor do we know if it is yesterday or tomorrow.
AGBA, the ageless Judge of All, sits at the head of this junction, flanked by his twin advisers, ARIBI and ARIRE. Before the trio are the souls of two men, BABA and AWE, which had previously occupied old and young bodies respectively.
AGBA: (Looking down at scroll.) The first case to be reviewed for consideration of atunwaye this day is that of a young woman, Aduke. (Turns to ARIRE.) You give a curious description here, Arire: you say that her womb is a clenched fist.
ARIRE: (Somberly.) It is, our lord. Years had climbed upon years after her marriage, and in all those years the womb never opened to hold life inside it.
AGBA: Not even for one day out of all those years?
ARIRE: Not for one morning in a whole day… It seemed that as the years grew longer behind her, the womb grew tighter inside her, and it looked as if it would never receive that sweet burden of a child’s body in the woman’s lifetime.
AGBA: (Shakes head in pity.) Hmm, the greatest tragedy that could befall a female body – to have all the parts that make you woman but not be able to carry another life inside you; to look like woman on the outside, but be wood inside. Such devastating tragedy.
ARIRE: (Nods) Hmm, yes, our lord. And the years! The years have no mercy on a woman – while they’re pushing her time further away from the edge of the closing window of motherhood, they are also pressing her spirit to the ground as one year mounts another.
AGBA: But what was the woman doing in all of this time? Hiding her rotting hands inside her pockets?
ARIRE: (Sadly.) No, she was throwing herself before the faceless deity.
AGBA: Ah, I see, she is one of those who have missed their way and followed the stranger’s god.
ARIRE: It took her a very long time to realize that she had been pressing her voice unto ears that were stone.
AGBA: (Shakes head.) What a pity!
ARIRE: When she did not get any answer, and the silence that filled her womb became too heavy for her to bear, she peeled the ‘faith’ from her eyes and sought out Fatona.
AGBA: Ah, the great one whose work never turns back on him.
ARIRE: Yes, him – the one who sends fire on errands. It was he who brought the matter to my ears. (Lowers voice.) So, he says that he has finished his work, but he doesn’t want to place it inside her yet.
AGBA: (Furrowed brow.) Why? Does the woman owe him money? Is she one of those who you do a great deed for and they pay you with air in their mouth?
ARIRE: No, our lord, that is not what it is; it is the opposite instead. Fatona says that she has been good to him, very kind indeed, and he would like to give her a gift that would make her heart burst with joy.
AGBA: Isn’t a child enough gift to burst one’s heart? What does he want to do – put a god inside her?
ARIRE: No. Her father’s soul has just completed its final transition unto our side, but Fatona wants us to send the old man back through the son he has prepared for her.
AGBA: Why? Has the man not lived enough? He grew to be of many years on that side, didn’t he?
ARIRE: He did, he did grow to be old and grey – touched the grand mark of ninety even, then five more.
AGBA: Then what more does he want to live for? Does he want to live the lives meant for ten people?
ARIRE: No, our lord, it is not the old one that has requested to go back, it is Fatona that wants us to send him back, as a gift; a double gift in fact, as it is not just for his daughter, but also for the man’s wife. And since the young woman, Aduke, is the apple of her father’s eye, it would be good to have him return to her in his grandson, close to her bosom, so as to be able to watch over her and protect her from evil.
AGBA: Hmm. Father, son, and guardian spirit, all for one woman. That is a very hefty present Fatona plans to give this woman; she must be of considerable weight in his hands, for him to go to such length for her.
ARIRE: Yes, our lord, but the situation has become caught in a twist.
AGBA: What is the thing that twists it?
ARIRE: (Casts look at ARIBI.) Her husband…
ARIBI: (In a dark, heavy tone.) Yes, her husband. He had also been translated from his bodily state unto our side, and he has now requested to return to his wife in the form of a child.
AGBA: Hm, a twist indeed.
ARIBI: It twines even tighter… The man does not have such noble intentions of returning as ‘gift’; he wants to go back into that world as a curse on the wife.
AGBA: A curse? We do not deploy the goodness of atunwaye for such evil! You know that, Aribi.
ARIBI: Not if it is to counter the evil that had been initially wrought; then using it in that manner can’t be judged as ‘evil’, but as justice.
AGBA: (Leans forward.) What do you mean?
ARIBI: The purpose of the man’s return is to exact vengeance on the woman who was responsible for his unbodying. That is an act of justice, not of evil.
AGBA: (Incredulously.) Are you saying that it is this woman who sent her husband on this journey into the dark?
ARIBI: In the plain terms of their tongue – his wife murdered him, yes!
AGBA: (Leans back in his seat, in low voice): One can never know the bottom of the wickedness that the people of that world can reach; you think you have seen the deepest of its depths, then you realize that it is a black abyss of devilry that only their minds have the capacity to accommodate.
ARIBI: It is because of this wickedness that there exists the instrument of justice, to maintain a balance.
AGBA: The balance is supposed to be provided by goodness.
ARIBI: (Snorts.) Goodness? That exists only as an oppositional idea to evil, it does not provide adequate balance, because it is subjective. You might say that a thing is good because it has its good side turned towards you, but I can’t see it, so I don’t think it is. But justice does not concern itself with the dichotomy of good and bad, it seeks to achieve fairness. And justice is what the husband seeks, not to do evil, or to do good like (Turns a side of his eye to ARIRE.) our dear friend, Fatona.
AGBA: (Sighs.) Fatona is a good man, yes, and has only good intentions towards this woman; how do we accommodate this your man’s dark request within the ambits of this good, Aribi?
ARIBI: Think about it strictly in judicial terms, not morally. The husband is seeking to restore the scales of justice to their state of equilibrium and we’re only helping him to do that.
AGBA: It is not that simple.
ARIBI: Doing the right thing never is. If it were, everybody would be doing it.
AGBA: Speaking about doing the right thing, how could this woman have done that to her husband? Didn’t they say she was a worshipper of the stranger’s faceless deity? Isn’t murder one of the ten things they are commanded not to do?
ARIBI: (Raises eyebrow.) Those ones? Ohhh the many, many dark things they do underneath that nice ‘religion’ of theirs; don’t be fooled by the clean, white surface of their holiness, turn it over and you’d be hit in the face with a stink straight from the devil’s anus.
AGBA: But, why – why would she do a thing like that to her husband if she was looking for a child? Does she plan to come about the child by magic? Or through that questionable manner the virgin got their deity’s son inside her?
ARIBI: Now, the answer to that question is where the knots get tighter, where the plot twists into a noose. We know that she had been scattering herself at the faceless deity’s feet in prayers and tears for years, asking for a child; but that was not the sole subject of her desperate supplications – she was also praying for great wealth, as she had always had her sights set on the sweet parts of life as a young girl, but Fate had laughed in her face and cast her in the path of a man who could give her neither riches nor child, and then she had broken herself to pieces before a deity who couldn’t give her either of the two as well; so, naturally, she turns in the direction of the deep parts of the world, and finds Fatona, or Fatona finds her. He convinces her that he has all the power in the world, and has the power to give her the two things she most desires. But the price would be heavy – her husband. It is cheap for her. She doesn’t think of it as a murder, she sees it as getting rid of the obstacle in her way to acquiring the desires of her heart. So she pays the price, and Fatona collects. But he has other intentions, amorous ones. Hence, the removal of the poor husband from the way is also beneficial to the strong medicine man.
AGBA: So Fatona giving this woman a child is not just a spiritual act, he would also be involved in the physical activity.
ARIBI: Yes, he has replaced the dead man in his wife’s bed.
AGBA: (Shakes head sadly) Fatona has misused his power, because of a woman.
ARIBI: They have been known to bring the strongest of men to their knees.
AGBA: And he has the effrontery to request that a soul be reincarnated in a child he wants to give to a woman whose husband he conspired against.
ARIBI: You see why it is the husband that we have to send back? Justice weighs more than all the good intentions in the world.
AGBA: But would it be wise to leave the burden of justice in the hands of the one to whom evil has been done?
ARIBI: No other hands would understand better the enormity of the evil done than those of the body to whom it has been done, hence the primary responsibility of administering justice should rest with the soul that has had contact with the evil; as it is in the traditional system of oku riro, where the victim has the responsibility of delivering vengeance as a form of justice, so should it be with atunwaye.
AGBA: But in this case, wouldn’t leaving the responsibility of administering justice entirely to the victim lead to an abuse of that power?
ARIBI: I think it would be unfair to the victim, considering the level of injustice that has been suffered, to restrict the limits of how the powers of justice can be exercised.
AGBA: But justice without boundaries is chaos.
ARIBI: Justice with confinements is injustice in disguise.
AGBA: So, you’re advocating for a man to be reincarnated in his wife with limitless powers to wreak havoc on her; you have to take into consideration that households do not exist in isolation, some of the troubles this son intends to bring on one family could have ripple effects on certain parts of the society they exist in, which could result in social upheavals.
ARIBI: (Laughs.) That is merely an exercise in stretching the limits of imagination, Agba. I doubt that the scale of vengeance in this case would have that kind of reach. Besides, he wants to go back as a daughter; how much influence do women have in contributing to destruction of such magnitude in that world of theirs; their men have the monopoly of all the wars and riots and general carnage.
AGBA: (With narrow eyes.) He wants to return as a daughter? Why would he want that?
ARIBI: The woman had always wanted a son, because in their society, only a son is considered a whole child; it is a son that makes a father a real man and a woman an accomplished mother, and Fatona had assured her that he would give her a son. Giving birth to a daughter would reduce her joy and show her that the man’s powers are limited.
AGBA: Hmm. But how does the husband intend to achieve this vengeance?
ARIBI: He should answer that himself. (Turns to AWE.) Ngbo?
AWE: (Bows.) Greetings, Great Judge. In reincarnating as Aduke’s daughter I hope to retain my distinguishing body marks and mannerisms, which she would recognize instantly, and which would haunt her as the girl grows and these familiar markers become more pronounced, then I would begin to unleash various shades of terror on the household as the years on the daughter’s head increase and she becomes a young woman.
AGBA: (Sighs.) If evil is paid back with evil every time, there would be nothing but darkness in the world. Now, what kind of world would that be?
ARIBI: A fair and just world, where the workers of bad deeds get a refund everytime they pawn their soul off to the Chief Devil for power to harm others. And this is the opportunity for Aduke’s husband to make her pay the debt of justice that she owes.
BABA: (Plaintively.) Great One, my daughter is a good woman, a good wife, she did not intend to do evil; she only wanted a good and full life and did what any woman in her position would – look for somebody who has the power to help her; it is this man that took the innocence of her deed and twisted it into something evil.
AGBA: So, you’re saying it is Fatona that should be blamed for this man’s death, not his wife, your daughter.
BABA: I am saying that it would be wrong for my daughter to be the recipient of the judgment for an offence that wasn’t her intention.
AGBA: Even if she was manipulated by the medicine man, she is now joined to him through this evil, and whatever falls on his head will definitely touch hers too.
BABA: I am just asking that you be merciful.
AWE: (Snorts.) I had asked for mercy too, as life leaked out of my body while the two of them watched; where was Mercy then? She was laughing at me inside their eyes. Instead of mercy, her medicine man had taunted me, saying, when next I come back to this world, I should steer clear of their surroundings, or I would face the same fate over and over again. But Aduke does not believe in the dead returning to life and she had responded confidently that I could not even come back, since what is dead is dead, and death is final, an end.
ARIBI: (Smiling.) Ah, well then, I guess it is our responsibility to show her that sometimes death is the beginning of another life. More than justice being served, it is important that she is shown this lesson about the continuity of the spiritual link between life and death.
AGBA: (To BABA.) If you ask for mercy, on what grounds should it be given? Because your daughter couldn’t have claimed ignorance of Fatona’s intentions; she entered into this Faustian relationship with him with her two eyes wide open and her heart fastened upon doing evil. There is no room for mercy in there; she had shut the door to it.
ARIRE: Let the judgement be served cold, as their evil deed was, with no mercy to soften it.
AGBA: Well then, that would bring us to the juncture of judgement. And this is what I have decided: we will send both souls to be reincarnated in the child.
ARIBI: How are you going to do that?
AGBA: Half of one, and half of the other.
ARIRE: But they each want to go as different genders.
AGBA: Then the two souls would be reincarnated in an androgynous body. The couple will not know what to make of it; half a son, the other half a daughter.
ARIBI: Then how do we balance the good and evil, to attain justice.
AGBA: The first ten years will be a period of bliss, followed by another ten of sorrows, the child responsible for both, before it returns to us, in ghastly circumstances, as culmination of the torment. Fatona gets his request for a gift granted, the husband gets his request for justice granted, the woman gets her request for a child granted, and our job as the administrators for reincarnation is fully done.
ARIRE and ARIBI: So shall it be.
Olubunmi Familoni is a dramatist who has written plays for stage and for radio. His debut play, Every Single Day, was selected by the British Council for production as part of the Lagos Theatre Festival; his second play, Big Masquerades That Dance Naked, will be published this year. His works have appeared in Ake Review, Jalada Africa, Kikwetu Literary Journal, Bakwa Magazine, among other publications. He lives in Ibadan, Nigeria.
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