FADEKEMI, a widow
BABA AGBA, her husband’s family member
OLOOTU, another family member
BANDELE, another family member
SHAKIRAT, the housegirl
LILY, Fadekemi’s lover
SCENE. – The large living room at the Alades’ house in one of those disgustingly bourgeois, tree-lined parts of town with European street names.
[The room is filled with the vast light of high noon pouring in from the large French windows around the room. FADEKEMI, a middle-aged woman of sedate beauty and a perceptible air of Victorian elegance about her, sits with her legs crossed in a dainty manner in a huge gilt-edged chair that is a gaudy imitation of some kind of throne. Her face is a picture of the regal calm of the nobility as she gazes upon the three men seated on the long velvet couch adjacent to her; there is the feeling that she is a monarch waiting patiently for her subjects to cast the burden of their plight at her feet in supplication. The air is tense with this waiting. The men are squalid in appearance, in comparison to the woman whose presence they are in. The eldest of the men, BABA AGBA, a shrivelled old man whose voice despite being a shaky croak still manages to carry a distinct magisterial gravity in it, clears his throat loudly as though of cobwebs that have accumulated from not using the voice for centuries. The other men, much younger, OLOOTU and BANDELE, adjust their buttocks in the chair in response; FADEKEMI remains stoically motionless.]
BABA AGBA [Starting slowly.]: So, after the rainstorm that mourning brought, the tears have all but come down to just drizzles now, and our eyes are beginning to dry small-small, so we can see the road ahead clearly and look forward, with clarity of purpose, to what lies before us in the future, as individuals, as family, as a community. But before we carry on with that forward movement, we have to ask yesterday some questions whose answers would point us to the tomorrow that best suits our paths, and that is why we are here, Fadekemi, to ask those questions. But before we go further on that road, we want to know why you have refused to honour the invitation of the head of the family to come to the village so as to carry out some important post-funeral rites…. Or didn’t you get the message?
OLOOTU [In sudden aggressive tone.]: I delivered it myself, here, in this room, and all she said was that she had heard.
FADEKEMI [Coolly.]: And I did hear.
BABA AGBA: Then why didn’t we see you?
OLOOTU: I told you she would not come, didn’t I? But you said she dared not. Did she come? She doesn’t care about our customs or traditions! Look at her, proud in her ignorance. Look at how pomposity has swollen her shoulders and chest almost to bursting, just like a peacock! Anyway, we are here to trim those wings to a good size today, you will see…. And all that your swollen pride will burst open with a loud bang and leave your shame leaking all over the floor and stinking to the highest heavens.
BABA AGBA [Turns sharply to OLOOTU.]: Olootu! What is all this? All this theatrics like a woman! Do you think we’ve come here to put on a show of macho power? What is wrong with you? What is always wrong with you young people even, ehn? Always in a hurry to get to tomorrow before it becomes today! Let the woman answer the query placed in front of her, instead of forcing it into her mouth as if she is a child. We have not come here with knives and spears like barbarians, what we have come to do is find answers…
OLOOTU [Chuckles.]: …It seems what we have come to do is be soft in the mouth like pap.
BABA AGBA: Well, if the blood has risen to boiling point in your veins, such that it is beginning to affect the temperature of your head, ask for cold water, drink some, and cool down.
OLOOTU: See? That is part of what I’m saying; did she even think to offer us ordinary water? No!
BABA AGBA [To FADEKEMI.]: Fadekemi, the night of mourning is almost over, and as the dawn of a new chapter in the lives of the living left behind approaches, we would like you to help us clear up some of the grey clouds that are still hanging over the events surrounding the death of our son and brother, starting with telling us why you spurned the request of the family’s elders for you to appear for the post-burial cleansing rituals, and you know how important the widow’s role in that is.
FADEKEMI: I don’t do rituals, Baba.
OLOOTU [Firmly.]: It is not a request, it is an order! You don’t have a choice in it. You don’t say whether you do or don’t, you just do!
BABA AGBA: Olootu, I warned you about these outbursts of yours before we came here, didn’t I?
OLOOTU: Baba, I told you that this is how she acts musu-musu, like a cat, as if she can’t fell a whole elephant!
BABA AGBA: And you think the best way to catch a cat is by barking at it like a dog that has gone mad? Thunder rolls and shouts all over the heavens, do you see it cracking open one single mountain here on earth?
OLOOTU: See, Baba, you can’t get water out of a coconut by just rubbing your palm over it and speaking to it in the voice of a bird, pleading with it, no….You have to smash it open!
BABA AGBA: But you wouldn’t break a coconut open with an axe, when a small machete will do the job. So please, tuck your masculine indignation back inside your trousers, and let us dig slowly and carefully to get to the bottom of this matter before us. [To FADEKEMI.] Ehen, what did you say there, my daughter?
FADEKEMI: I said I don’t do rituals, sir.
BABA AGBA: Just like that? It is your husband we’re talking about here.
FADEKEMI: I know, and he is dead.
OLOOTU [Leaps to his feet.]: You see! You see what I’ve been saying. She doesn’t care! About the husband, about the traditions!! Nothing!!!
BABA AGBA [Rising to his feet to face OLOOTU squarely, his finger shaking in the younger man’s face, taking on his sternest tone.]: Olootu, this is a final warning; one more hot word out of you and I’ll plug that leaky mouth of yours with a good blow. If you doubt it, because you think I have grown too old and my fists must have turned into butter, try me, interject me one more time and see if I won’t relieve you of the weight of some of those your rotten teeth. Try me. You know me. [He turns back to FADEKEMI, as both men return to their seats.] Please, forgive the display of lack of manners. So, you were saying, that you don’t do rituals…
FADEKEMI: I don’t.
BABA AGBA: Not even if you are required by tradition to do them and they concern your husband?
FADEKEMI: It is not my tradition, sir, and as for my husband, he is dead and I have given him a proper burial, which is more than he deserved, so I don’t see the need for more ceremonies concerning the matter.
BABA AGBA: This is not just any ceremony; it is even more important than the burial itself, because it is for the living; for living to continue, unhindered by the darkness that death has left in its wake.
FADEKEMI: Don’t get me wrong, Baba, I’m not saying the family shouldn’t carry on with whatever ceremony or… rituals they feel the need to indulge in, in fulfilling the requirements of tradition with respect to their son’s passing, I’m just saying that I can’t be involved in it, neither can my children.
BABA AGBA: They are his children too, aren’t they?
FADEKEMI: Well, they are all mine now, mine alone.
BABA AGBA: Anyway, that is not the issue in contention now. Do the reasons you have for abstaining from these traditional rites have anything to do with… religion? And by religion, I’m sure you know I mean this Western religion you people favour over that of your fathers. But, from the little I know of you sef, I have never known you to be a very religious person in any way.
FADEKEMI: It is not for religious reasons; those are usually very flimsy as reasons in defence of anything… oh, and yes, you are right, I have never pretended at any religion, in any way.
BABA AGBA [Sighs.]: So, if this is not any of all that Pentecostal obstinacy and rebellion that has become quite fashionable among the people of this generation, which they brandish like a sword against things of tradition, then what is it?
FADEKEMI: Just an aversion to the practice of making a woman a victim in the event of her husband’s death, by employing different methods of terror, all in the name of tradition.
BABA AGBA: But we didn’t make these traditions, we met them here and we just follow what they dictate.
FADEKEMI: Well, I don’t. I wouldn’t follow a dangerous animal blindly into a dark cave.
OLOOTU [Leaning to the side to speak to BABA AGBA, in a low, seething voice.]: Baba, see, she did not come then, she is not going to come now, she will never come, please just leave that matter alone, and let’s move on to the important issues, why we are here. [Then he decides to speak more boldly, louder, addressing FADEKEMI directly.] See, we can see that even if we turn your stomach inside out, you will not come for those rites, it is fine, we understand that you have many things to hide concerning our brother’s death, so we will leave you to the judgment of the gods, and move on with the real reason why we are here.
FADEKEMI [Points a sweet smile at him.]: I see that you have recovered some of your tongue and regained possession of your balls; that is good to see. Enjoy the brief freedom, until your master pulls at your leash to rein you in once more.
OLOOTU [Turns to BABA AGBA.]: See, Baba Agba, it is you I am looking at o! It is only you I am looking at with respect here. You better warn her. I am not her husband that she could use that her razor tongue to cut down and press into a corner because he was more concerned with being a gentleman than being a real man; me, [beats his chest with his palm] I am a man, and I will show her that I am if she talks to me anyhow.
BABA AGBA: Didn’t I ask you to keep your tongue inside your mouth where it belongs? If you are a man, you will be the master of your tongue, not the other way round, and you wouldn’t have to tell a woman that you are a man; women can always tell, and they would accord you the appropriate respect; but when you behave like one of them, flinging your words about without caution, casting them in the wind as if they are nothing, women will treat you like one of them, and this is what I have always told you, Olootu. You think the sum of what constitutes manhood is in your penis, or in your fists? [Turns back to FADEKEMI.] I apologise, and I take full responsibility, for bringing a child to a table where the sagacity and comportment of the elderly are required.
OLOOTU [In a low, menacing voice.]: Baba, don’t insult me in front of this woman, please, this despicable whore of a woman who has disrespected the memory of our brother, and has no respect for our traditions.
BABA AGBA [Sighs.]: Fadekemi, I’m sorry… but I have to agree with Olootu on that count; you have indeed shown no respect for our traditions, especially since our son, your husband, was an illustrious member of our family and the community, and understood the importance of the institutions of tradition in this decadent modern civilisation we are in. You have not shown this same understanding nor respect, and in doing so you have desecrated the memory of your husband. [Clears throat.] Now, there are some other things you have been accused of, which the elders of the family have sent us to investigate, which we will get to now, seeing as we are not getting anywhere with that other matter. And we will like to ask for your cooperation. Thank you.
FADEKEMI [Laughs.]: An investigation. Is the whore under arrest now? Is this going to be an interrogation?
BABA AGBA: No, nothing of the sort, we are just trying to get a better picture of some of the… the anomalies that we noticed, which occurred during the period just after the death, during the burial ceremony, and after…
BABA AGBA: Yes, strange things, you know. . . For example, number one…
FADEKEMI [Smiling.]: Really? There is a list?
BABA AGBA: Actually, yes, there is. And we will take it from the top. And for the purpose of the investigation, Bandele here would be recording your responses to these allegations, to be presented to the family elders, so that they can decide the actions to be taken. [He motions to BANDELE, a mute, and the youngest of the trio, who pulls out a notebook and a pen from his pocket and begins to write. The old man clears his throat again.] Our family members, members of your husband’s family, and members of the community who had come down here, all the way from the village, leaving behind families, businesses, homes, and other affairs, to come and pay their respect to the dead, a great man of the clan, had complained bitterly about the hostile nature of the reception they received upon arrival at their kinsman’s home. Cold, is what they called it, as cold as a corpse. And this reception was by none other than their brother’s wife, you, Fadekemi.
FADEKEMI: I know nothing of a cold reception, Baba. They were received as warmly as the chilly distance between me and my husband’s people could allow. They were served hot food and cold drinks. So, which specific actions were used to measure the temperature of the reception, before it was concluded that it was cold?
BABA AGBA: Weren’t they turned away when the time came for them to turn in for the night, ehn, Fadekemi? Didn’t you ask them to go and stay in guest houses, rather than in their brother’s house?
FADEKEMI: I didn’t turn them away. I paid for those guest houses myself, decent ones. They couldn’t all stay here; it was a whole village.
BABA AGBA: A small village. . . Isn’t this a big house? Big enough to house an entire country.
FADEKEMI: It is not that big, Baba, it would have burst at the seams with chaos if we had tried to fit all those people in here.
OLOOTU: In all these many rooms?! Do you want to eat the rooms, ehn? Are they not for sleeping in?
FADEKEMI: I have young daughters that I couldn’t afford to expose to that number of strangers, Baba.
BABA AGBA: Strangers? You call your husband’s people strangers?
FADEKEMI: Baba, I don’t know most of these people…
OLOOTU: How will you know them?! How? When you are seated here in your high throne in the city being a queen! The queen of witches.
BABA AGBA: Fadekemi, you don’t have to know your husband’s people before you can accord them the adequate respect they deserve and treat them right. They are your husband’s people.
OLOOTU: What does she care! Her husband’s people are strangers to her, that is why she can throw them out because of her two daughters! Only two o! Against hundreds of a man’s relatives! Because of two… useless daughters, you throw a man’s entire family and community out into the streets!
FADEKEMI: Don’t you ever insult my daughters again. Never.
OLOOTU: What will you do? What can you do?! Are they not useless? Are they sons?
BABA AGBA: Olootu! Olootu, you are asking for a beating this afternoon o! Oh, you are. And by the gods, it is inching closer and closer to your doorstep, just keep the legs on your mouth running, running far from your reach; don’t catch it and shove it back in its place, and that beating that has been lurking around your abode will catch up with you, and you will be sorry.
OLOOTU: I’m sorry Baba, but this woman disrespected our people! She threw them out when all they wanted to do was mourn their son!
FADEKEMI: Baba, I didn’t throw anybody out. Everybody was adequately provided for. I just couldn’t bear the thought of all these people trundling back and forth, coming and going, all over this house, and in such close proximity to my daughters.
OLOOTU: Your daughters, your daughters, are you the only one who has daughters?! If they were sons sef, we will understand. Ah!
FADEKEMI: If they were sons, they might not need as much protection, or any at all.
BABA AGBA: Wait, what sort of protection are you even talking about? What are you protecting these daughters of yours from? From their people? You think our people would kill their son’s daughters?
FADEKEMI: No, it is nothing of the sort.
BABA AGBA: Then what is it?!
[There is silence as she glares at OLOOTU.]
BABA AGBA: What, woman!
FADEKEMI [She nods in OLOOTU‘s direction]: Ask him.
BABA AGBA: Olootu?
FADEKEMI: Yes, ask him what happened the last time he came to spend some time in this house.
BABA AGBA [Turns to OLOOTU.]: Ngbo, Olootu? What happened? What is she talking about?
FADEKEMI: Oh, he is silent now. You won’t hear a word from him now. All his wild words of a moment ago have suddenly turned to dust in his mouth and his voice has shrunk to the bottom of his stomach to die. He won’t say.
BABA AGBA: Olootu, I’m asking you a question; what did you do to this woman’s daughters?
OLOOTU: Do? Me? Nothing o!
BABA AGBA: Nothing? Then what joined you and them?
OLOOTU: Join bawo? Are we Siamese twins? Nothing joined us o!
BABA AGBA: Then why is your name mixing with theirs in their mother’s mouth in this way?
OLOOTU: In which way, Baba? You know how this woman’s mouth is full of lies, dirty, smelly lies that go deep down into her rotting stomach! E wo, Baba, let’s carry on with what we are here to do, the day is not going to wait for us to catch up with it, and night will soon be hot on our heels, and you already know that this woman won’t let us sleep here, and I… I don’t have money for any guest house. Please let’s hurry up so that we can make it back to our houses in time.
FADEKEMI: Baba, the passage of time has a way of painting over bad memories in black, but the colour soon fades, just as more time passes. The girls were children then, now they are young women, and we’ve tried to put all of it behind us so that we can move forward freely without the past being an obstacle; but then, these things eventually catch up with us and overtake us, waiting for us in the future. So, let’s just leave it behind, where it belongs for the moment.
BABA AGBA: I will leave it behind for now, yes, but I will come back to it. Olootu, you know I will.
OLOOTU: Ehn, come back to it, but for now go on with the matter at hand, please, the real matter we are here for.
BABA AGBA [Sighs.]: OK, back on that road. Another issue that was raised when the elders of the family met to discuss was how tight-fisted you were with money, our son’s money, for preparations for the burial. It was almost as if it was a poor man that was being buried! The coffin was dirt cheap, ugly! You shouldn’t bury your shit in a box like that. The food was barely enough to feed birds, the band looked and sounded as if it was from the backstreet of nowhere, resembled a string of rags on that stage! Why did we have to scrimp so to bury such a great and wealthy man?
FADEKEMI: Would you rather we had squandered all the money available on putting a dead man in a hole, so that we, the family he left behind, would have to scrounge our daily meals off you, his brothers and fathers? And then I would have to farm his daughters out to members of the family so that the girls wouldn’t die of starvation, knowing that there are some members of the family who can barely feed the mouths in their own homes. Would you have preferred that, Baba, ehn, to have this extra burden on your old neck, of having to feed us?
OLOOTU: Nonsense! That money is not yours! Not yours to decide what to do with it, or how much of it should be spent! And what you are just trying to do is keep it all to yourself now! You will eventually have to give it up, you know, every single kobo of it.
FADEKEMI: Judging from your appearance, Olootu, I know how much you need this money, how desperate you must be to get those paws of yours on it; but, my dear, you will have to work for your own money, like a man that you are. This is my money, and I worked for it. So I’m keeping it.
OLOOTU: Ah! Emi!
BABA AGBA: Look, Fadekemi, nobody is talking about taking anything from you; what we just want to know is why a rich man has to be buried as though he was a beggar in his lifetime.
FADEKEMI: Baba, and I have told you, I couldn’t risk my daughters becoming beggars on the streets because I was trying to bury a man that was believed to be rich. It is not a wise financial decision, especially when you have children.
OLOOTU [Laughs.]: Children. Are those ones children? Those half-children that you call daughters. You couldn’t give my brother a son, not even one, and you are here talking about children. You don’t know you are childless as you are like this. Not even ten half-children can make a whole child, so your ordinary two girls are not even up to half of a son.
FADEKEMI: Half-children, ehn? But they were full enough for you to satisfy your paedophile urges with.
BABA AGBA: What is she talking about again, Olootu? What are you talking about, Fadekemi?
FADEKEMI: Baba, let the vomit come from the mouth of the thief who has bitten more than he can chew.
OLOOTU: Oh, wait, you want us to talk about vomit? Ok then, let’s talk about yours, shall we? Or you think it stinks less than everybody else’s? Yes, who is the woman that has been by your side ever since your husband’s death, touching you with amoral comfort, and whom Bandele here caught you in the kitchen locked in a romantic embrace with on the day of the funeral, almost touching lips with each other? And you thought because the man can’t talk, he wouldn’t tell, and you would get away with it. Well, if you didn’t know, a mute’s hands are his voice, and Bandele told us everything, in as many words as his two hands would allow. So, let’s see you try to wash that vomit off your body.
BABA AGBA: Yes, Fadekemi, that is one of the things we have come to ask you about, this strange relationship with… this woman.
FADEKEMI: What about it?
BABA AGBA: Is there a woman warming your bed? The bed you and your late husband shared.
FADEKEMI: A bed that had long gone cold, if you care to know, so, yes, I am grateful for this new warmth. And I have to correct a notion, there is nothing strange about it, this relationship.
OLOOTU [Spits on the floor.]: Tueh! Tah! Abomination! The highest abomination! Ha! Now we know what killed our brother! Ah! Oro o!
FADEKEMI: Abomination, out of your mouth. But what you did to those girls is not an abomination, abi? It is more permissible than this my relationship?
BABA AGBA: Fadekemi, there is nothing that can be used to justify such a grave desecration of your matrimonial bed, especially in such a terrible manner; one of the most grievous sins there is against the gods.
FADEKEMI: Because it is a woman that has sinned it? Worse because it is with another woman. Oh, aren’t a woman’s sins always greater than a man’s. Besides, like I hinted earlier, there hadn’t been a matrimonial bed, in the real sense, for a very long time, not since your son first brought shame upon it by his own actions which nobody paid any attention to because he is a man; thus he is allowed to violate the bed as much as he wants, but the woman dares not.
BABA AGBA: At least not with another woman.
OLOOTU: Ah! This woman is the devil herself o! She should be taken to the evil forest and have her head taken off, to cleanse the family of this filth that has contaminated it! So this is what our brother had been living with, sleeping with a snake in his bed. Ahhhh, no wonder!
BABA AGBA: Does this also explain why you had refused to wear black during the funeral, and even before, and after? You came out in white on that day, white; more abomination. A widow in white.
FADEKEMI: Yes, white, because it is a colour of liberation, represents the purity of a fresh start. White as a blank page, as the sky on a new day.
BABA AGBA: And you’ve been wearing all sorts of bright colours since then, when you should still be in black, for a whole year, as custom demands.
FADEKEMI: Your custom cannot make demands of me, Baba, it does not own me. As for the colours you referred to, the rainbow is made up of the most brilliant colours, which reminds us that you can still have the most beautiful life after a storm, a dark and heavy storm, and that the future is bright. And I want my life to be filled with colours, all the bright, happy colours of a rainbow. And maybe there is a pot of gold waiting for me at the end of my own rainbow.
OLOOTU [Leaps to his feet.]: The only thing waiting for you is utter destruction! Doom. Of apocalyptic proportions. Severe justice administered by the gods themselves! Baba Agba, listen to this woman talk! This one has gone mad o! You have added madness to your sins, ah! Well, they say that when the gods are about to kill a person they first set him on a path paved with madness, where he’ll meet his death on the way…
BABA AGBA: But, all this talk about rainbows and colours, does it also account for why you are wearing flashy jewellery and such, which is against our tradition of mourning, and is not allowed for a widow, because it doesn’t show any sign of grieving. And not just that, you have refused to stay in the mourning room for the designated time; instead, there have been reports of you appearing in glossy magazines attending those flashy high-society parties and events and beaming all over the place like a new bride, shining with make-up and gold all over your body… with that woman beside you everywhere. What is all this about, Fadekemi? Isn’t the memory of our son and brother, your husband, dear enough to you, for you to humble yourself in sorrow for a few months and just pretend that you are mourning?
FADEKEMI [Smiling.]: Maybe I’m not mourning. Maybe I’m not sorrowful. And I don’t want to pretend, because I have pretended my whole life; pretended to be happy, when indeed I was mourning and in deep sorrow, but I had to pretend to be alive, to be happy, because I was a wife, a woman. But I don’t want to pretend any more. Now I am happy, truly so, and I won’t pretend that I am not, I won’t pretend that I am not happy that the source of my sorrow is gone, and I am free. I won’t pretend that I am not in love, with my lover, Lily. Lastly, I won’t pretend to love you people, or care, about your welfare, your traditions, your anything. I won’t. Never again. Never again will I pretend to be something I am not.
OLOOTU: Gbam! Baba, we don’t need any further proof. Investigation is over, the witch has sung the song of death by herself, all that is left is for us to cage the bird and break its wings and neck… Ha, you, you killed our son! Look here, a killer can never escape the wrath of Ogun’s sword o. I promise you, we will use your blood to whet Ogun’s tongue this night, for this murder of our brother! Tonight, not tomorrow! Murderer!
FADEKEMI: Are you sure you really want to know how your son and brother died? Can you bear the weight of the sorrow it will set upon your hearts, a weight greater than that of the grief which you felt at his death?
BABA AGBA: What do you mean? Didn’t you tell us that he died in his sleep?
FADEKEMI: I did, and I only said that because I had hoped we would let the dead rest where the dead go to rest, but since we have pulled out shovels and we are now on an exercise of exhumation, let’s just dig to the bottom and spread the corpse out properly before us, so that it can tell us the truth.
OLOOTU: Yes, yes, Baba, I think we have come to that point where we’ll have to consult the chief priest to help us call our brother’s spirit back from the land of the dead briefly, so that it can tell us the truth, so that it can tell us who killed him.
BABA AGBA: Fadekemi, is that what you are saying? Is that what you want? If that is what you mean, are you sure you are confident enough to go through with it? Because the end is always tragic, for the killer. But if you are not the killer, you have nothing to fear.
OLOOTU: Let us do it. Now! All this talk is becoming too much. Let us go back to the village and come back with Oluwo!
FADEKEMI: There will be no need for that; you can find out for free how your brother died, without any of all that trouble of bringing a poor old man from the village. Besides, like I had said before, I won’t be involved in any rituals or occult ceremonies.
BABA AGBA: OK, then tell us how he died.
OLOOTU: If she is not telling us that she killed him, then there is nothing to tell; it is only lies that she would be telling.
FADEKEMI: I won’t be the one doing the telling, no… Shaki! Shakirat!
SHAKIRAT [From somewhere within the house.]: Ma!
OLOOTU: What is all this? Who are you calling? Someone you’ve paid to come and lie for you or corroborate your lies?
[A girl of about seventeen enters the room. She is dressed in a plain cotton dress and has a scarf around her head, tight, covering her ears. She looks nervous, and keeps her gaze fixed on the floor.]
SHAKIRAT [Bends her knees in greeting.]: Yes, ma. Good evening, sir. Good evening, sir.
BABA AGBA: Eh-hen? What is this? Who is this?
FADEKEMI: This is Shakira, our housegirl.
BABA AGBA: Eh-hen? Why has she been invited into our midst? What does her presence have to do with the issues we are discussing here? You know this is a private family meeting, right?
FADEKEMI: I know. She is here to illuminate the dark patches of this your investigation…
BABA AGBA: What do you mean?
FADEKEMI: You wanted to know how your son died, didn’t you? This [Pointing at the girl.] is how he died.
BABA AGBA: How?
FADEKEMI: You people were desperate for a male child for your son, feeling that pressure, he had gone in search of one, in another bed, the closest he could find, leaving ours cold and unattended, because he believed what you must have fed him, that there were no sons in me…. So, Shakirat here, was riding him in the direction of the son he so desperately sought, when his heart stopped in the middle of the journey, and he disembarked from life’s rollercoaster ride.
OLOOTU: What is all this nonsense you have said? What does it mean?
FADEKEMI: It means your brother was ridden to death by our housegirl! She must have driven his poor old body to the limit, and a heart attack took care of the rest. Oh, how I had tried to hide it, so as not to bring further shame to the man’s name, but you people insisted on knowing.
OLOOTU: Lies! Liar!
FADEKEMI: The girl is here, ask her. That is why I called her out; it is why I have kept her here, I should have thrown her out. Or maybe had her charged for manslaughter, but what would be the use? The man slaughtered had become of no use.
OLOOTU: Lies! [He seizes SHAKIRAT by the neck and shakes her hard.] Liar! Tell me! Tell me how much she paid you, you lying whore! How much?! How much did the witch pay you to tell lies against a dead man!
[The girl begins to choke, as BABA AGBA and BANDELE leap up and try to prise OLOOTU’s fingers from the girl’s neck. FADEKEMI remains in her seat, unmoved.]
BABA AGBA: Olootu! Do you want to kill the girl?! You want the blood of an innocent girl on your hands?!
OLOOTU: Innocent?! Innocent, ha! She is not innocent, none of them are innocent! They killed our brother and now they are fabricating lies against him to cover up the murder! I’ll kill them all, one by one, with my bare hands!
BABA AGBA: And you’ll end up getting killed. An endless cycle of blood. Let her go! Leave her alone! We haven’t even heard from her mouth yet… Olootu, let go of her neck, let’s hear what she has to say.
OLOOTU: She has nothing to say but the lies that the witch has trained her to tell, the lies she has paid her to sing.
BABA AGBA: At least let’s hear it.
[OLOOTU lets go of the girl’s neck and she drops to the floor, coughing and holding her neck, tears streaming down her cheeks, while OLOOTU glares down at her, red-eyed and panting. BABA AGBA manages to steer him back to his seat, then he turns back to SHAKIRAT who looks up at the men with frightened eyes.]
BABA AGBA: My dear, please sit up. I am very sorry for all of this. Please. But we would like to clarify some things. How long have you been working here?
SHAKIRAT [Sniffling.]: Since three months ago, sir.
FADEKEMI: Mabel, the woman who had been with us for years, left to get married.
BABA AGBA: Three months. What was the relationship between you and your boss, your oga?
SHAKIRAT: Oga was nice. He was nice to me…
BABA AGBA: Nice to you, how?
SHAKIRAT: Buying me fine-fine things, letting me not do too much work, taking me out one time…
BABA AGBA: Your boss did all this?
SHAKIRAT: Yes, sir.
BABA AGBA: And where was his wife, Madam here, when he was doing these things?
SHAKIRAT [Casts a quick glance at FADEKEMI.]: She…she…
FADEKEMI: There is nothing to be afraid of any more, my dear, it is all out in the open now, speak freely. Tell them everything.
SHAKIRAT: She… she travel sometimes, sometimes she’s in the shop…
OLOOTU: She must have been with her lesbian lover!
BABA AGBA: Apart from these things, did you have any… any sexual relations with him?
BABA AGBA: Did you… sleep together? [SHAKIRAT gives a little nod, her eyes fixed on the floor, wringing her fingers.] You slept with him.
FADEKEMI: He slept with her… and you should also ask where this ‘sleeping’ usually happened.
BABA AGBA: There is no need for that.
FADEKEMI: Right there on the sacred matrimonial bed I am now being accused of defiling with a woman I love. It had first been defiled by the man of the house, with the help.
OLOOTU: He is a man, it is his house. He can do anything with whoever, wherever he wants!
BABA AGBA: Olootu is right, Fadekemi; you said it yourself, he is the man of the house; the man is the head, nobody questions his actions. And it is his house.
FADEKEMI: Ah, that is where you are wrong, Baba. Now that we have arrived at the bottom of things, it is time that the truth about the state of affairs in this house is laid out in the open as plainly as they are. This house is not owned by your son, or your brother; it is not owned by any member of your family. This is my house.
OLOOTU [Flies from his seat, eyes red with murderous rage.]: Lie! Bloody lie! Our brother built this house with the sweat of his brow! You thieving witch. First, you take his life, then you take his money, now you want to take his house too! We won’t let that happen! Never!
FADEKEMI: Well, you’d have to take that up with my lawyer. Babe! Oh, yes, she is also my lover.
[A dark-skinned woman of about the same age as FADEKEMI joins them in the room. She has on a severe grey suit whose cut accentuates the sharpness of her features. She has a sheaf of papers in her hand and is wearing a grim look which matches her clothes, but her face lights up as soon as she sets eyes on FADEKEMI, and places a kiss on her forehead. The men shift in their seats.]
OLOOTU [In a low voice.]: What kind of lawyer is this one?
BABA AGBA [Whispering.]: Isn’t this the… strange woman?
FADEKEMI: This is Lily, my lawyer. Do you have any questions for her?
BABA AGBA: We hear that you can help us with proof of ownership of this house.
LILY: Yes, here it is… [She hands them copies of the papers she has.]
FADEKEMI: Whose name does it say there that the house is in?
BABA AGBA: This is your name… but… but… how is that possible? How does the woman own the house that a man is the head of?
FADEKEMI: The head can be cut off, but what is yours is yours. Everything is mine, in my name; your son, Olawale Bakare, had nothing to his name, save for the clothes on his back.
OLOOTU: Lies! Bloody lies! You, you this witch, you will leave this house today!
LILY [Coolly.]: I’m sure you can read, sir. Don’t let that hot, red-eyed fury blind you and lead you further down the path of foolishness you seem so keen on treading, because that path only ends in utter destruction. Now, the only people who will be leaving this house at this point are you lot, the three of you.
BABA AGBA: Fadekemi, you are going to let this woman, this stranger throw us out of our son’s house?
LILY: Old man, your son doesn’t have a house. This is Fadekemi’s house. And if you insist on staying and claiming false ownership of the house, I’ll be left with no choice but to call in the police and we’ll have you charged for breaking and entering, trespassing on private property, and invasion of privacy. You know how the police love cases like this.
BABA AGBA: Olootu, Bandele, let’s go.
OLOOTU: What, we will just leave like that? Just give everything up like that, without a fight?
BABA AGBA: Do you want to spend the night in a cell, or beside your wife in your bed?
OLOOTU: But this woman cannot win like that! Only two women overpowering us, strong men, like this! Ordinary women. Ah, Baba Agba I’m disappointed o, I’m very disappointed in you.
BABA AGBA: You will have enough time during the journey home to express your disappointment.
[BABA AGBA nudges the two men out of the door and follows them out. FADEKEMI and LILY watch, a look of victory on their faces, as the three men scamper out.]
Olubunmi Familoni has written plays (for stage and for radio), screenplays, and short fiction. His debut collection of stories, Smithereens of Death, won the ANA Prize for Short Stories in 2015; his debut play, Every Single Day, was selected by the British Council as part of the Lagos Theatre Festival in 2016; he wrote the children’s book, I’ll Call My Brother for You, in 2019; his second collection of stories, This Blue Thing Is, is due out in 2020. His work has appeared in Bakwa Magazine, Jalada Africa, Panorama Journal, Afridiaspora Anthology, Ake Review, Kikwetu Literary Journal, and other publications. He lives in Ibadan, where he works on radio as an OAP.