I always told myself that one day, I would join the palace elite guard, serving the crown and revered by all in the land. That was my dream. Ever present in the back of my head. That was everything I wanted in this world. But first, I needed to be good at hunting. First I needed to acquire the strength and develop the aura of command that men who served the crown had.
I bent under the bush. The porcupine was a few meters away. I pulled my arrow, squinted and aimed.
I missed another shot. The chuku chuku beef was definitely beyond my reach now, skittering away into the far off thicket. With a frustrated sigh, I leaned my crooked bow against a slumped shoulder as I paced back to the farm.
“Ewohna, if papa were here, he would have scolded you,” Agda said from the farm, bent over a furrow she was weeding and sweating like the swine that she was. Her back to the skies and her body cast a long shadow beside her, as the sun descended toward the horizon. What a fat shadow it was, I smirked furtively. “Honestly, can you catch anything?” Agda added.
“As if you too can catch meat,” I grunted.
“Don’t mind him,” came another of my cursed sisters, Banda the thin one. “Papa used to say that Ewohna should have been a girl. You will never make a palace guard.”
“Watch who you talk to, Banda, else I’ll strike you with this,” pointing one end of my bow at her. “Look at your stringy neck,” I attempted an insult. You will never make a palace guard. Banda’s words haunted me. I hated to be doubted. I will not yield. I will not.
From a farther end of the farm, came trudging Suru and Arrey. They had gone to fetch some wood which they had bound to their heads.
Ewohna is the name my grandfather gave me. It did not sit too well with my father, I think, since he had always called me by another name—Antoh. I guess for some reason he did not want me to have his father’s name. Nor his. Ask me, I’ll say papa was a very complicated man. Anyway, no one else called me Antoh. It was a thing for papa and me.
I have seven sisters. I had gone hunting while five of my least favourite people farmed the vast land that was granted us by the fon. However, it had been our family’s to cultivate for generations and had become somewhat, an heirloom.
Eposi and Ojongtambia were at home, helping mama with chores.
Mama had almost given up on ever giving her husband a son. Papa had been considering taking another till the gods timely provided them with me twelve years ago. The joy of having me, as I surmised supposedly was so intense that papa had to forget the whore he had intended to sire a son with. Well, whore is a word mama calls every other young lady who is not one of her daughters.
I wonder what she’ll call the woman I wed, I thought. She never really discussed the early days of our family with me but she always did with the girls—something about it being woman-talk. Papa would nod to that. But I wanted to participate in the woman-talk. They were always so juicy and long, and…entertaining. Perhaps that is why papa seems ever so offended with my behaviour—branding me as a sisi, most of the time.
I may not have realized it at the time, but considerably, he was right. I was more interested in the silly fancies of the female world than I was when it came to manly attributions.
Despite all this, my sisters were the most annoying bunch of individuals I could ever recall. They all had certain unique qualities that did not personally strike as impressive. Agda was the oldest and fattest. She had passed the age of marriage and was still hoping for some stray young man to woo her. Ashia, good luck, I smirked.
Banda was the thin one. Thinking of her gives me the image of a structure of sticks put together and rags thrown over it to capture the effect of clothes. Strangely enough, she was the cleverest of my sorry lot of siblings.
Suru was my favourite. She was very beautiful. She had full lips, wide eyes and a smile that was to die for. Papa saw her as a good investment. When she attains marrying age, he would say, which was just a year away, Suru would fetch some momentary wealth for my papa. The dowry for such a beautiful girl was always very costly. Usually young men ran into a lot of debt to procure the funds to acquire the hand of a light skin girl in marriage. But suffice to say, my sister Suru was the dumbest—by my vote, and by my siblings’ part because they couldn’t match her looks.
Arrey, is my least favourite. She is also the shortest and most talkative. She is the one who always has the stories. Where she gets them from, only the gods can tell. I don’t know any other muscle of Arrey’s short body that was busier than her mouth, and it had put her through many a fight. Fights that were often resolved with the intervention of Egbe, the only girl in the house with a man’s physique.
Egbe intimidated all the sisters. I claimed she couldn’t get me agitated but my honest guts protest. And she knew it. I can always tell from that judging, piercing and satisfying stare in her eyes. It was spine-chilling, every time.
Eposi was always home. Never doing much and frankly she couldn’t. Eposi seemed to fear the sun for some reason. Of what use was anyone to society if they could not work under the sun? Mama would vouch for her, explaining her curse as a deterrent to her smooth bodily function. Eposi was albino and at a young age, it wasn’t the name that mattered to me. My mind simply registered her as the strange white sister. If Eposi were born in the neighbouring village, she would have been sacrificed to the gods so as to uplift the curse that had befallen our family. Papa can be hard, but I wonder if he would sacrifice his own child, even if culture warranted him to. He was a stubborn man and I still don’t know the extent to his resolve.
Then, there was the curvy Ojongtambia. She was the most helpful at kitchen work. I could readily brand her as mama’s favourite daughter. But when I think of it, I wish she really wasn’t considering that. All the boys in the village viewed her ample bosom as a ticket to call Ojongtambia a harlot. It was unwise to say that before mama, since she thinks other girls are the ones with the problem. Her seven daughters are perfect.
I, Ewohna am the lone boy—the runt of the litter as it were. However, I am the king, as I like to think. But the way these women disrespect my manly role often have me wondering how papa does it. How his mere presence would demand composure right to mama. Maybe Banda was right. Maybe I should’ve been born a girl.
What a disturbing thought.
I sighed as my toe struck against a stone. I sat on the ground, rubbing my swollen foot with my thump and gazing away at the gold-smeared horizon, when a thunderous sound came from above. The sky seemed to crack open. It became gloomy. I know what dusk looked like and this was nothing like it. Neither was it a sign of a downpour to come. It was oddly sudden, and the air had an eerie chilling tinge to it. The farm was quiet. My usually voluble siblings noticed the murk overhead and I knew that it was new to all of us.
“It is a storm,” Arrey said.
“This is no storm. Something foul stirs beyond the skies,” Banda added.
The rest of us just watched as the skies displayed an unearthly flash of blue and yellow light. It was as if lightning with two different hues struck at each other.
The display lingered for a time and then a swaying gust of wind passed through the land right to the horizon, and beyond the ngoketunja hill.
Banda dropped her hoe to the furrow. It landed with a squelch. She darted toward the direction of the gale.
“Where are you going, Banda?” Suryu yelled, saving me the urge to.
“Didn’t you see?” her inquisitive eyes flashed. “The light went behind the stonehill.
“It is dangerous,” Arrey the talkative added. “It is the province of men to inquire strange happenings.”
“And do you see any man here?” Banda put curtly and nonchalantly, as if her words would not strike a chord within me.
“Wait for me,” the virile Egbe called to Banda. Egbe must see herself as the closest thing to a man here.
I protested the idea of running toward the unknown. If they would go, I wouldn’t. I would stand my ground and they would understand that my absence undermines their little escapade.
My sisters? It didn’t matter. Before I knew it, all five of them were rushing toward the ngoketunja—the stonehill.