Rosaline was so beautiful that Orobosa felt lucky to have met her. She brought a spark into his life. His new wife, Stella was becoming quite a bore with her constant whining and endless demands. Orobosa had always had a weakness for beautiful women and thought nothing about starting an affair with this latest catch. To boost his chances with Rosaline, he promised her a gift; one that she would cherish forever.
Every time he wanted to win the heart of new lady, he gave her one of his artworks. It worked like a charm, probably because it held a promise of better things to come. The precious artifacts, which Stella had locked away, had been left untouched for a few months. He had not been to the storage room since his wife moved the artifacts there but now, he decided it was time to revisit the place. He was sure his new girlfriend, Rosaline would be grateful if he gave her just one of the prized statuettes; as grateful as Stella had been when he gave her the painting.
As soon as he stepped into the storage room, his face tightened in a frown. The entire shelf where they arranged the sculptures was bare. He let out an angry growl and hurried out, summoning the maids, the gardeners and everyone else who worked in his house. An uneasy tension hovered over the domestic workers, as they huddled together in the living room. Orobosa threatened to rain fire and brimstone on the culprit.
Stella arrived home as he was questioning the helps one after the other. ‘What is going on?’ she demanded.
‘My treasures!’ Orobosa fumed ‘Someone has been tampering with them. They are all gone.’
The workers shuddered at his angry tone and stood quietly with their hands behind their backs.
‘Let them be,’ Stella said. ‘I was the one who took the figurines.’
He looked at her in surprise. ‘You took them? Why on earth would you do that? You hate the sight of them.’
‘Precisely. That is why I sold them off.’
The room grew so silent, one could almost hear a pin drop. With a wave of his hand and a slight nod towards the door, Orobosa dismissed the helps. They scurried off, relieved to be out of harm’s way.
‘What did you just say?’ he asked, when he and his wife were left alone.
Observing her husband’s countenance, Stella felt her courage waning as she watched his face grow cloudy.
‘Honey, I can explain. You know I had told you my reservations about those statuettes. Well, they were just lying in the storage room, so I sold them off. I was cleansing our home!’
She heard him laugh; a deep guttural laugh that sent shivers down her spine. ‘You sold them off?’
‘And you made some good money?’
‘So, I guess you just exchanged one idol for another, didn’t you?’ He asked. ‘And where are the proceeds from this cleansing act of yours?’
‘I have not gotten it yet,’ she replied. ‘Rico, the antique collector, said he was a little hard-pressed and would send it to me later.’
Orobosa walked towards the front of the living room and stood quietly for a minute, staring at the painting, which Stella had hung on the wall.
‘What about this one?’ he asked eventually. ‘Why didn’t you sell it as well, if you hate traditional art so much?’
‘That is different. You gave it to me as a gift.’
‘Oh really?’ In a rage of fury, he yanked off the painting and threw it across the room. It hit the front window with such force that the glass pane shattered into several pieces.
‘There!’ he bellowed. ‘How do you like your gift now?’
Stella did not have time to answer. In a few long strides, he was across the room and standing in front of her. He hit her across the face and she winced from the impact of the blow.
‘Are you trying to ruin me?’ he thundered.
She opened her mouth to reply, but was silenced as he hit her again and again. Stella tried to scream for mercy but when she opened her mouth, she tasted blood. Her mind told her that if she did not get out of there, she might not live to relate her ordeal. Gathering what little strength she had in her, she fought him off. Orobosa yelped and recoiled from the piercing pain as she bit him on the shoulder. Taking advantage of the brief moment of relief, she made a dash for the door, calling out to the domestic workers for help. No one answered her.
As she flung open the front door, she heard his footsteps coming behind her and a fresh wave of panic swept over her. She had to get out of there. Grabbing her car keys from out of her pockets, she hurried outside, dove into her car and sped off. She drove like a maniac until she was a safe distance from the house. Pausing briefly by the side of the road, Stella attempted to calm herself down. She was not sure how she made it here or how long the drive took, but she finally arrived at the cream colored bungalow and knocked on the door.
With a sigh, Stella sank back into her chair, while Edede looked horrified.
‘That is how I ended up here,’ Stella said. ‘I am sorry about your painting, grandmother. I know it meant a lot to you.’
‘Forget about the painting,’ Edede replied. ‘I am just glad you left to find help.’
‘Orobosa proved to be the other extreme of who I thought he was. I could not believe that he would not let me do all the things I had always dreamed of.’ She frowned. ‘I wish there had been some kind of sign to warn me ahead about the kind of man he was.’
Edede nodded vigorously. ’I wish so too. You know like a huge hand appearing out of the sky and writing a big ‘No way!’ in the clouds. Because obviously, the ring on his finger as well as his flirtatious behavior when you first met him, was not a good enough warning that you should keep away.’
Stella felt hurt by her sarcasm. ‘You can be a bit tough at times, grandmother.’
‘Forgive me,’ Edede replied. ‘But life itself can be tough. The moths will always gather around a flame.’
This time, the younger woman had to agree. ‘Yes it can.’ The road to the fulfillment of her dreams had been rocky. She left Edwin to marry Orobosa, who at the time seemed like the path to her ‘promised land’. But instead of taking her to the desired paradise, her second husband left her high and dry, choosing rather to focus on the young ladies who flocked around him, seeking his attention.
Ifueko had also remarried. As the town slowly returned to normalcy and the wasted areas were rebuilt, she wed Enoma; a quiet and unassuming commoner who was training to be a teacher in the town’s first school. Ifueko would often tell her children that there was nobility in her posterity. ‘Ours is the kind that emanates from within and bubbles outward,’ she would say.
‘Enoma and I had six children and fourteen grandchildren; twenty offspring in all.’ Edede announced. ‘But for me, the greatest miracle was how we turned to serve the living God.’
Reflecting on what Edede called her greatest miracle; Stella’s mind went to the ancient figurines which Orobosa cherished so much. With a nod of agreement, she told Edede how the statuettes had littered her new home and how she detested them so much, she decided to get rid of them any way she could, incurring Orobosa’s wrath in the process.
‘I want nothing to do with idol worship either,’ the young lady declared. ‘That is why I sold off those offending items.’
‘And did you successfully rid your home of all the idols?’ the old woman asked.
‘Yes,’ she affirmed. ‘Every single one of them.’
‘What about the ones in your heart?’
Stella looked at her in surprise. How could she possibly harbor idols in her heart? She concluded that Edede must be suffering another bout of memory loss for her to make such a ridiculous statement. But the old woman seemed quite sure of herself.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘The images of affluence, fame and power which you built in the high places of your heart that led you to make all those compromises?’
The younger lady shook her head disagreeably. ‘I am not into this idol’s thing,’ she affirmed. ‘The very thought of it ...’
‘Is appalling, yes?’ The old woman finished for her. ‘In this day and age, very few will buy into the worship of carved images. But the gods have survived; just in their ethereal form, that’s all. Over the last century, I have had to deal with the two different god-forms and I can tell you that the deep rooted ones are those which quietly find their way in here.’ She placed her hand softly over her heart.
Stella stared pensively into space. ‘Actually, now that you mention it, I do see a similitude of the love-god in Orobosa or I should say the lust-god.’ She shrugged. ‘Whatever. The bottom line is, he is a dog.’
She wondered at what manner of man she had married. Edwin once said that Orobosa had an eye for beauty and Stella had taken it as a compliment to her. But now, she realized that Orobosa would chase anything in a skirt. Sometimes she would walk into his office and see a young lady sitting in his lounge, the same way she too used to sit there. The scornful look which the young lady gave her, gave Stella a good idea of what was transpiring between the woman and her husband.
‘Not to mention, a similitude of the war-god, with his violent temper.’ she continued.
Her voice trailed off as the old woman reached out and touched her cheek. The bruises had healed but the scars were still obvious, distorting Stella’s picture-perfect face.
‘No one deserves this treatment,’ Edede affirmed. ‘Not you, not anyone else.’ She withdrew her hand and leaned back. ‘But as much as you must despise Orobosa right now, he is not here. So let us do a bit of soul searching instead. Our people say that if a person falls twice, one should check the load he or she is carrying.’
‘Ok. So even if I do harbor strange deities as you say, how do I begin to deal with them?’
‘On your knees. That is where the strongholds come crashing down and the real battles are won.’
Stella bit her lip. ‘I am afraid to go there,’ she admitted. ‘I am afraid of what I would have to give up. ’
‘Remember the imperishable crown,’ the old woman replied. ‘When you understand the real thing, it is really not that difficult to give up the shadows.’
As Edede rubbed her wrinkled hands together, Stella studied her and knew the old woman had very little time left. Feeling glad that she found the aged woman at the nick of time, before she exited the world, Stella got up and held the old woman’s hands in hers. Edede’s fingers were so frail, they felt as though they would crumble under her grasp. But Stella knew the strength that had come from those hands. The older woman had fought her fight and kept her faith.
Leaning back in her chair, Edede squeezed Stella’s hands gently. Her face was pale and her breathing grew heavy and more pronounced. ‘This library is my favorite room in this house,’ she said, her voice draining away as she blinked exaggeratedly and glanced around at the well stacked shelves all around her. ‘Ever since Ebo taught me to read, I never stopped. Even in my old age, these eyes have not dimmed.’
‘They pierced right into my soul every time I looked at your painting,’ Stella replied. ‘Just as they do now.’ She paused and shook her head. ‘But what do I do about Orobosa, grandmother? Am I to return to that ill fated home?’
The old woman tried to reply, but her heart fluttered and only a squeak came out. Stella saw her gasping and hurried out quickly to call for help. The nurse emerged within a few seconds and rushed into the room. As she bent over to check the old woman’s pulse, Edede dropped her head backwards and lay still. The nurse caught her breath and was silent for a moment. Then, as Stella looked on helplessly, she stretched out her hand in one swift motion and closed the old woman’s eyes.