An African star apple tree stood at the centre of the vast compound that lay sprawled in clusters of thatched mud houses, some bigger than others. The biggest, inhabited by Amanze when he lived. It was a night of vast silence and the gigantic barn of the compound was very conspicuous in it. A fence of bamboo sticks surrounded the compound, and a grove of oil palm trees flourished at a stone throw distance from it. A large metallic pot embedded in a large hole in the ground was near the African star apple tree. This pot was for boiling palm fruits prior to extracting their oil. Beside the tree also was a cluster of jute bags, filled with oil palm fruits. Pestles of different lengths and mortars of varying sizes lay.
The night was still. And the atmosphere, cool. It was pitch dark. Large oval eyes of two owls were prominent. They hooted with the presence of light. The one from the cloth-in-oil lantern Ada carried, which threw grotesque shadows around. She came to pick up apple fruits for her own consumption, but got herself shrouded in huge disappointment.
Ada was a tall and dark complexioned young woman of twenty-three. Her lips were full, and her skin, warm with youth. Her face creased in defeat, as her gaze settled more on fallen apple fruits, all badly bruised and rendered inedible by squirrels. She had to swallow her simmering anger, as there was absolutely nothing she could do.
“I won’t worry anymore,” She murmured. “I’ve been beaten to it today, but not again,” She concluded. Ada adjusted her loosening wrapper and left.
Dawn later arrived with its freshness, and not without its youthfulness. Birds chirped in the sky. Cocks crew in coops. Footsteps throbbed in pathways in a mounting bustle. Akoga traders carried things like yams, corn, waterleaf and garden-egg fruits to the market; men, women and children alike. Even wine tapers were already on top of raffia palm trees, prospecting. Ada was beside the sooth-coated kitchen, washing plates used for dinner the previous night. A pot of soup was on fire. It was Ada that placed it there. Warming the soup was part of her early morning chore.
“Have you released the hens?” Came a question from Ada’s mother, Ogazi, who was busy pulling out sacks of palm fruits she intended selling at the market.
“I will do that,” Ada replied and moved swiftly to the coop and opened it. Cocks, hens and chicks ran out, flapping their wings in a show of celebration of their found freedom to once again go about their feeding business of the day.
Running Amaze’s business gave Ogazi little time for recreation. She would either be in the compound tending the oil mill or carrying palm fruits to the market for sale. Sometimes she toured the vast farmland which Amanze her late husband inherited from his own father. Her busy schedule notwithstanding, she also eked out time to share with Ada, her only child and daughter, whom she saw as a precious jewel. Living to see Ada have a child of her own, especially male, with Okorie was a delight she would treasure. Her excitement grew as the agreed time for Ada and Okorie to get married drew nearer.
Ada was almost through with washing the plates, when incoming footsteps broke the near tranquillity that existed in the compound, heralding Ngozi’s presence. Just like Ada, she wore a wrapper folded above her breasts and was barefooted. Apart from Okorie, Ngozi was another person close to Ada. Her light complexion was all the difference; otherwise, both friends resembled each other. Astonishment widened Ada’s eyes as they set on Ngozi, revealing how much she never expected to see her.
“Look at you!” Ada exclaimed in excitement. A wide grin slowly lit up Ngozi’s face. Both girls held each other in a warm embrace. Their fullest of joy was shown. “You are welcome,” Ada continued, relaxing her hold. “I can see you are now alright.” Ngozi nodded as she withdrew herself from the embrace and offered a grin. Guilt gripped Ada’s conscience at the same time. She never made out time to visit her friend when she was sick. Now she believed Ngozi must have felt very much offended. She could not immediately find words for an apology. There she stood and stared at Ngozi who was quick in sensing that something had gone amiss.
“I am sorry I couldn’t come when you were sick,” Ada finally said in a smothered tone.
“Is that It? Oh! Come off that bad feeling,” Ngozi responded quickly. She was certainly vivacious. “What is forgiveness for? Is it not for times like this? Forget that and let’s go to the stream if you are ready.” Ada’s relief came at last. She quickly recommenced washing up the remaining plates. While she did so, she wondered why Ngozi would be going to the stream without her earthen pot.
“Where is your pot?” She inquired, her face radiating her usual ravishing smiles.
“It is outside!”
“I was wondering if you came prepared to fetch water without it.”
“Stop being funny, my friend. How could you in the whole wide world have thought that I would do that?”
“It left me gasping for breath.”
“Please get serious, Ada! That can only happen the day you get the news that I am out of my mind. Prepare and let’s go!”
Ada was through with her washing in five minutes. She removed the pot of soup from fire, and doused the burning wood with sprinkles of water. With an earthen pot on her head, she was ready for the stream. Before she stepped out of the compound however, a call from her mother drew her attention back. The call was to inform her of Okorie’s planned visit. Ada grew up being quite close to Okorie, whom she took for a brother, since she had no biological brother.
“That is alright,” Ada responded, as niggles of excitement shot through her. “My brother. I hope he is not coming empty handed.”
“What are you expecting?” Ogazi asked Ada.
“Mother, no one must come here to visit me without a big live cow.”
“You cannot be serious, Ada.” Ada exploded in laughter. Ngozi joined her too.
“Don’t be a thief, Ada,” said Ngozi. “Don’t extort from a brother!”
“Both you and mother can’t really discover when I throw down a joke. Mother is a prisoner of her busy schedules.”
“It was a joke?” Ogazi asked.
“It was a joke,” Ada shouted. And the three went on laughing.
“Come on, Ngozi, said Ada,” Let’s go!” And both girls left for their early morning chore of fetching water.