I woke up before sunrise. I peeled my face off my straw mat, with its patterns imprinted on my skin in thin lines. Adeyinka was sleeping on her mat beside mine. As I stood, she rolled onto her side. With blurry eyes, I pulled myself onto a stool near the window of my quarters. I pressed my elbows against the window pane and glanced into the still courtyard.
I could hear the beads on my arms rattling. I had not stopped trembling since I’d heard news about yesterday’s attack. I could still feel the cold breath of doubt blow onto my neck. I could feel its chin sweating over my shoulders. I could hear its voice howling like a crow in my ears.
It reminded me of the last Ijakadi I attended before I got married. I still lived in Offa, my hometown. My mother had insisted that I attend. She said the crown needed to be seen supporting my people. My marriage to Oranmiyan was one of the first times that an Ife prince had chosen a girl from Offa. She wrapped me in ankara iro and buba, braided my hair into a tight suku, sandwiched me between her fat sisters, and sent me off.
It was hot. I’d watched young men in flimsy loincloths toss each other about the field, their feet making a fog of the dusty ground. I was bored. I’d watched the royal drummers aimlessly sing and dance with the participants in each round. I occasionally tugged at my clothes, much to my mother’s chagrin. I could hear her teeth gnashing from across the field.
Someone had suggested a match between the Olofa and the Eesa, and I was ready to leave. I’d shuffled my feet and then thrust myself off my seat. I’d tugged on the cloth caught in my shoe, and then I looked up. The Olofa and the Eesa in their mighty agbadas had withdrawn from their match and fixed their gaze on me. The entire field was looking at me. My mother, in particular, stared me dead in the eye.
Olofa extended his greetings to me and emphasized his gratitude for “the crown’s support of Ijakadi.” I smiled and shrunk back into my seat. The old men resumed wrestling.
Olofa made the first attack, hiding Eesa’s head in his armpit. Eesa withdrew stylishly. Olofa waited him out, Eesa made the second attack. Both men shed elements of their clothing as the fight progressed. With the rest of the crowd, I’d mindlessly cheered for Olofa; I’d screamed to support every advance he’d made, I’d held my tongue as his opponent vengefully flung him across the field, and I’d occasionally hunched myself over, unknowingly following both men’s motions.
Olofa thrust himself at Eesa and grabbed Eesa by the waist. The entire crowd erupted cheers. Olofa raised Eesa on his shoulders and paraded the man around the field. Eesa struggled to be released. Everyone laughed. Olofa arched his back majestically, and in a final motion, threw Eesa onto the ground. The dust from the impact made a fog around Eesa. The whole of Offa went mad.
The royal drummers ran around the field, hailing Olofa. I distinctly remember a shirtless drummer—skinny to the bone, thrusting his drumstick in the air as he roared through his rounded lips.
Then the fog around Eesa cleared.
I stood, but I could barely see. Eesa hadn’t gotten up. The crowd’s uproar dissolved into silence within seconds. Caught in the shock of what we believed had just happened, the whole of Offa became stiff. We just stared at the motionless body that lay on the ground. Eesa, Olofa’s friend. Olofa’s second in command. Could he really be dead?
I immediately looked at Olofa. He was looking at me. Like everyone else in the field, he was looking to the crown from Ile-Ife to fix the problem.
I stared straight at Eesa, too broken to believe that he was dead, but too ashamed to look at those who expected me to help him. I was to marry the most powerful man in Yorubaland. I had become one of the most powerful people in Yorubaland. I had tremendous authority, yet I had none over that which truly mattered in that moment. As I realized my limitations on that day, my arms began to tremble.
That was the first time I was shaken like that.
Last night marked the second time. I was still trembling from the memories of both.
Image Source: https://guardian.ng/art/ijakadi-festival-begins-on-monday-in-offa-organisers/