SoniaDash is a Nigerian author who is heavily influenced by her surroundings and finds the right balance in creating conversations. Her major motivation is to create conversations around what makes us human.
18 August 2021
All characters portrayed here are a work of fiction and bear no resemblance to any person living or dead. Any coincidences are just that. Regretful coincidences.
Certain times are described as pivotal moments to one knowing who they are or their purpose in life. Some say they knew they would be preachers because they got a summons from God, others to be doctors because they killed little animals growing up. For Simi, it had nothing to do with any of that.
Simi was raised to be seen and not heard, to follow the rules with her head to the ground lest her eyes meet that of a man. She was born to follow the rules. And the rules said she learnt to cook clean and cater for the household. The rules said she got an education, enough to increase her brideprice but not too much so that she became a burden to her family, and that is exactly what she did.
Simi was an enigma. She was meek but full of courage, beautiful and regal yet humble and straightforward. She was fiercely intelligent yet pride was far from her heart. After she graduated from standard six her parents decided she was ripe for marriage. She was 15.
In her time it was quite normal to be shipped off to a man trice her age. It was an honour to get suitors to flock a Dara's compound once his daughters crossed the age of 10.
And so the process began for her journey to her second home.
A woman has only two homes. Her father's compound, her husband's compound and if she was a dutiful daughter, wife and mother, she earned a resting place with her ancestors.
That was the way it was.
Out of the many suitors that came for her hand, her parents chose Badung. Badung was the first and only son of the 5th wife of the newly crowned Da Manjei of Vwai. His mother, a beautiful fair woman, a thank you the Da Manjei had brought back as a child after the great Vandebong war from the neighbouring Afizere stronghold.
He was a man to be feared the Da Manjei. He was large and black with arms the sizes of large Quanpaan yams complete with spiky hair. Before he became Da Manjei, he was called Chwei! The man whose roar was frightening and whose bite was deadly. Badung grew up under his tutelage and soon enough began making a name for himself. He wasn't as large or as frightening as his father, but he was nonetheless formidable.
He was a farmer only because of peace. Some say he had more thirst for blood than any other warrior his age, even more than his father but his kind won wars and that was alright.
That was the way it was.
At 33 he was a force to reckon with.
For Simi, she had come to terms with her lot. Nobody asked her of her desires, and she never mentioned them.
That was the way it was.
She was to be married off to Badung even though the innocent stirrings of love had been awakened by Izam the 17-year-old from Jwahr, the neighbouring Afizere stronghold. He was a gentle spoken boy who wanted to become a painter but since that was unheard of he was becoming a doctor. That was the way it was. See, back then, you were what your parents decided. It was non-negotiable. If they said you become a doctor, a farmer or a palm-wine tapper, you became a doctor, a farmer and a palm-wine tapper.
That was the way it was.
Izam who was in standard seven had written the yearly scholarship examination and was going to London at the end of harvest. When he heard the news, he cornered her at the marketplace and poured out his heart to her. He begged and cajoled and promised and yet nothing. She stood unmoved to his pleas. She was going to marry Badung and that was it.
Simi had accepted her lot and so would he, or so she thought. But that was not his fate and he knew it. He knew he couldn't live without her. His nights were plagued with her smile, the heat emanating from her skin whenever they walked together. His waking moments were filled with charting their lives together.
He was going to become a doctor by day and a painter by night while she was going to become a teacher and a mother to his children. He knew nothing else.
It happened so fast. She had lifted the earthen pot filled with water on her head and was headed home when she heard footsteps. Before she turned to search the owner of the feet, she was floating. A hand clamped hard over her mouth preventing her from screaming, and even the pot somehow didn't smash. One moment she was there, and just like in ghost stories, she disappeared.
At dinner time, her mother had gone beyond fretful. Simi was nowhere to be found. She had watched the road leading to the stream as if by sheer will she could conjure her daughter. Knowing she couldn't keep it away from her husband any longer, she placed one foot now replaced with concrete in front of the other.
As she approached where he was resting under the Dinya tree, she heard the voice of Badung. Her heart did a triple somersault. Surely she couldn't tell her husband that their daughter was missing in front of her betrothed. His fiery anger was not one to trifle with. Moreover, she told herself Simi could at this very moment be finding her way back armed with a logical explanation for her whereabouts.
But what if something had indeed befallen her daughter? Her mind poked at her. Wouldn't she want Badung to lead the search for her? But instead, she approached them and inquired if they were ready to be served. It would be well by sunrise she mused. Everything has a way of setting aright by morning.
When he woke covered in sweat from a dream he had no recollection of, he knew the sunrise had come pregnant. He quickly prepared himself and went to his farms to check what was amiss. There was nothing out of place, nothing wrong at his new structures or even at his barn that was easy prey to rodents and the village's riff-raff. The nagging feeling of impending doom had persisted into late morning. Even as he sat to enjoy the food presented to him, he couldn't stop his mind from wondering. As he devoured the tuwo'n dawa and miya'n gyeda his wife set before him, his visitors arrived.
It was not uncommon in Berom land for lovers to run away when faced with adversity. It was also not uncommon for a young man to plan together with his friends to *steal* his beloved and place her under arrest. Once the sun rose to meet a young maiden under the roof of a man, she was considered defiled. It was a common practice people got accustomed to and is still practised today. So much so that it was jokingly referred to as jut tele literally translated to steal her. That was the way it was.
So as Dara Simi worked up an apatite with each mouthful he swallowed, in walked Izam in the company of his father, two elder brothers and best friend. They had come to inform their new in-law that their daughter was safe and that they were ready and willing to proceed with the customary rights to make Simi an official wife.
He went to Badung's place after he dismissed them as quickly as his legs could carry him. Badung was uncharacteristically calm as Dara Simi recounted the events of the day. His jaw was clenched as he listened intently to the events that transpired. When Dara Simi finished his tale, Badung called on Ladi his slave to bring palm wine for his father-in-law. When the wine was brought and libation observed he excused himself and went to the inner chamber.
Simi woke to a shrill voice and as the mist from her induced sleep ebbed, she recognized the voice as hers. Strange, it seemed the scream she had been denied had finally found a way out. Even though she was still heavily sedated she struggled to find a way out of her captivity.
Her mind even though too weak from the poison in her body, the urge to survive propelled her forward. She found an opening through the darkness and in one desperate last move busted into brightness.
The bright sun perched in the middle of the sky, the noise of children playing, goats bleating, metals scraping, all sounded 20 decimals louder than usual., Humanity assaulted her. She pressed on her ears, hoping to block out the torture as her voice, shrill and ragged joined the cacophony.
Izam, his father Atsi, two elder brothers and best friend arrived to find a growing crowd in their compound. Navigating through the maze of sweaty, chattering onlookers and feverish talkers, they saw Simi sprawled on the ground like a discarded rag doll, with her hands clasped to her ears as if to shut the world out. Atsi, a renowned medicine man dispersed the crowd and ordered his sons to bring her to his chamber. Izam's best friend Azi was sent off to the forest to gather much-needed herbs. The potion used during the jut tele was so strong that it had drained the strength from her small frame. The battle for her life was now in the hands of the gods.
Izam could feel his father's anger towards him even as he worked to bring Simi back from the clutch of death. His father was a man of few words and today his words were fewer still. He had never seen his father this apprehensive or angry before.
Even in the face of what would normally send a man to the deepest trenches of madness, his father passed over with little irritation. today was different. As they sat silent under the night in the courtyard, his heart began to grow cold. He should have known better than to steal from his father but fear is as potent a drug as love.
He was afraid his father would advise him against his plan to steal Simi using the medicine. He was scared his father upon hearing she belonged to another would order his steps in a different direction. And so he snuck into his father's inner chamber and stole a sleeping potion.
Administered properly, it was used to calm a being troubled by dark spirits so his father could perform the necessary exorcism. For if the person was to be awake when it happened, the chances of survival become minimal. What he didn't know was administered on a person who wasn't troubled by dark spirits, was an open invitation for possession. And so, in his quest to steal a love he felt had been wrongly taken from him, he had handed her over to spirits yet unnamed, yet unknown.
In the night, the sound of drumming filled Vwai! The horns followed shortly and the night was awake.
War had come!
Atsi had seen the beckoning of war. For Bubrukah the eye; had warned him of impending doom but because he was still clouded by grief, didn't sense the whole picture. His vision had never been what it used to be since the death of his wife 5 years ago. But when Izam told him on the morning of Simi's capture what he had done, he grew anxious. The people of Vwai and Jwahr had brokered a peace deal after years and years of intense turmoil. The deal signed a long time ago however had deteriorated over the years. Border disputes were commonplace now and even though they shared many similarities there was also a deep enmity buried just underneath the surface.
Atsi had quickly rushed to the house of Dara Simi to perform the rites as expected to prevent an escalation of events but discovered a new dimension to the tale, one his son had forgotten to mention. Badung. He knew Chwei's lust for bloodshed first hand during the great Vendabong war. He also knew he had had his eyes on Jwahr for a long time but because of the peace accord, was held in check.
Now his son had provided the best opportunity for invasion. He set foot with his sons and Azi in tow for the Da Manjai's house, hoping that age and domestication would make him more approachable to reason. He was wrong. Very very wrong. Even his sister's cries, who merely a child was given as a thank you after the Vendabong war fell on deaf ears.
Back in Jwahr, he went straight to the Agwom with the news. To prevent the coming doom he had been warned about, Simi had to be returned untouched by the Agwom himself to the Da Manjei. He pleaded with the Agwom to send emissaries to Vwai immediately with the news of her coming, together with a King's apology. However, even before the emissaries set foot, that night, a neighbouring settlement was burnt down. No survivors.
Young love is bold yet impatient, adventurous yet unwise. Young love has led many a man to his doom, but most often though, it has led many a man to his purpose. Young love needs guidance to grow, to escape the many loopholes that have bedevilled it.
And so the drums of war were struck in the middle of the night. Young men and boys alike quickly said their goodbyes to their wives and mothers. The old and grey rounded up the children and marched to the ancestral cave of covering. The warriors came to Atsi for fortification and to each, he gave a mark in accordance to his spirit, all the warriors including his three sons.
Simi saw the arrow aglow and black as it coursed through the night and found its resting place, deep in Azi's heart. She heard the dying wail of Arum, the first son of Atsi. She searched through the scene of the massacre but couldn't find Izam. He wasn't standing on the field of battle. Her body began to tremble with foam forming in her mouth. Then she saw him. Frail and afraid beneath the heel of Badung, the man she was to call husband.
She screamed and ran as quickly as her two legs could carry her but she knew she would never reach him in time. She could not save the one who had stirred up feelings in her tender heart. Her body began to convulse and Atsi knew the time of possession was inevitable. During a battle, too many evil spirits run amok. And so he stood at ready, sword in hand, divine words heavy on his tongue. For if she became possessed, he would have no choice but to kill her.
Certain times are described as pivotal moments to one knowing who they are or what their purpose in life is but for Simi, duty, love and war brought her to her purpose. She died that night, a thousand deaths she had and each one, a warrior faced death with calm. Nobody knows her because only the dying truly sees her, but she is there. To those who know her, she is known as She traverses the worlds of the living and the dead with a single purpose as true as her name. Love. So with love, she follows an aged mother home, with love she renews and replenishes the land. And with love, she brought a people who for long even though one, had sought to exploit their differences instead of celebrating them. Nothing indeed is greater than love.