The funeral ended at twilight. After the new householder had been bestowed with his office, all had drifted back to their homes with good wishes for the new homestead. Yet, as midnight approached, the initiated from all over Hometown slowly made back to the venue in droves. It was left to the novices to wonder what for. It only served to add yet another myth to the many already stacked up about the spectacle.
As each arrived he joined the already swelling number for whom a sitting arrangement had been made at a corner of the compound. There was another line of seats at the other end, father away from the houses which each new entrant avoided. They knew it was for the expected guests from the land of the dead man. Now safely buried and, no doubt, well received in nether land, he was bound to return tonight with fellow ghosts to inspect the compound he left on this side for the last and only time.
“I thought I had made it late,” one of them on the seats on the other side said apparently to start a conversation. Prior to him, all the others just arrive, take a seat and stay dumb as if to a script.
“Aren’t you lucky,” another reciprocated. “You are even early.”
“Indeed he is,” yet another added. “If he had only waited another second, he would have missed the entire action.”
“You mean on account of all the hills and hillocks he had to climb to make it here from there backwoods of a village?”
This was said in the spirit of the gathering that was just to exchange high-level banters.
“O yes,” the addressee retorted. “It is for you then to see all the trouble your father undertook to make your mother.”
The banter had been thrown by a man whose mother is from their side of the town. Aptly, he learnt to control his tongue better.
More exchanges were to crown the night; so much that before they could say all, the distant drumming of the night’s main act could be heard from the distance. While they had exchanged thinly-veiled insults, they had not heard the roar of their mother spirit ahead of the group that had shuttered all open crevices and seen to the extinction of all lights in the town.
The drums soon made the last turn to their destination and could be heard in an organised syncopation without the compound’s wall. The new householder in his first duty on the job went hither to welcome them in with a tuber of yam and a cockerel. Dancing to the macabre rhythm of their welter of instruments, he led them to their pre-arranged seats. The music had hardly died down than a guttural voice from out of nowhere announced its presence from outside the compound. Truth is, while the musicians had entered, the spirits of the night with whom they had come were yet outside.
“Dear mother of mine,” one of them was saying; “where in this world are we presently situated?”
“Do I know?” the mother replied. “But I hear it is somewhere in the land of the living.”
“The living?” the earlier questioner continued. “But mother I hear they smell, those humans.”
“That is what I heard too.”
“Then why all the border?”
“At least they just gave us somebody.”
“Unless that; that man that came along today?”
“O yes, this is where he was living when he was yet smelling.”
“Hmmmmmm, I can perceive the smell of them. Are they about?”
“Yes o, plenty of them.”
“Do they want to come over?”
“Not yet. Is that how you came over yourself?”
“But mother, they may want to come.”
“They never want to; rather, they are always wanting us to come to them.”
“Like presently; pray thee, what are they in the want from us?”
“Wait till I find out from them.”
The silence that followed amplified the quietness of the night. It proved with absolute certainty that but for the little crowd that gathered here, every living thing in Hometown had gone to bed.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” the masked ancestor of the night went again. “Wherever we are, who is supposed to be the head of this household?”
This was said with a raised voice conveying the notion of its ostensible destination.
“Eye Insatiable,” the new householder answered on cue, “have I been waiting?”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes; are we to proceed or retreat?”
“Eye Insatiable, who is talking of a retreat when you are already halfway in. Do step in to your welcome.”
As they made their way into the compound, it turned that there were some half a dozen of them in the strangest of attires. While their contemporaries that operate in daytime are made to look either sinister or beautiful according to the purpose they are meant to serve, these ones at once convey their utility without regard to looks. Mostly accoutred with objects that jangled or made one nasty noise or the other, the combined riot of noises that they made as they shambled on in unison was remarkable to hear.
They all shuffled to their own seats arranged well beyond those for their instrumentalists doing a rapid dance that involved some brisk movement that lasts less than the twinkle of an eye. Congratulating themselves much for the effort, nevertheless, they variously assumed their seats for the core ceremonies to begin.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Eye Insatiable went again at the end of the sacramental preambles that offered the now enlarged ensemble time to dig in properly. This was followed yet again by a riotous instrumentation to which the night masquerades shuffled in a confused choreographic arrangement that stopped before it could be said to have started.
“What a hot one,” one of the masquerades muttered.
“And sweet too,” another concurred.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Eye went again, “where did you say we were again sweet mother of mine?”
“Lucky us,” the mother replied, “the say that it is in Central Kingdom, among those of them they say do not sleep in the night.”
“They do not sleep in the night?”
“That is what they said o!”
“I’m not convinced. How can they not be sleeping in the night?”
“You can always find out for yourself since you doubt.”
A small pause ensued during which the masked spirits of the night appeared to hold a brief discussion, each apparently talking to one another and then nodding in agreement.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Eye went again. “Is Omemgboji here?”
A swallowed tumult rumbled through the crowd of spectators that massed at the other side of the compound, closer to the inhabited side.
“Omemgboji!” Eye called out following a hint of confirmation in the tumult that slowly died down as it started. “Are you there?”
“Eye Insatiable,” Omemgboji answered, “how can I not be here?”
“That’s fine. We thank God for you. You should be around to direct these kids of nowadays who hardly know left from right.”
“You should know now, like every other thing that transpires under the sun.”
“Eye Insatiable. The biggest of all the masquerades in town.”
“Excuse me, but please where did you lead Okafor to penultimate moon back?”
“Lead him? Doesn’t he have eyes?”
“I can see, but please did you accompany him to his in-laws’?”
“Now I see. Yes, he had to return an erring wife to stay a while with her people.”
“An erring wife? Please what was her offence?”
“Perhaps, Okafor can best tell.”
“Is he here?”
“I cannot know; it is night.”
“Is Okafor here?”
Another tumult of subdued voices rent the still night air, waving to and fro amidst the gathered crowd as each peered at his neighbor but none seeing the subject of the exercise.
“O, he is not here,” Eye reported from the unspoken message passed through the dark night by the combined tones of the crowd. “Perhaps he has stolen back to his in-laws’ to complete what he had started.”
A swell of laughter pulsed through the crowd now, in acknowledgment of the flown kite.