The loud blast of the gun sent chills down everyone’s spines. Sorrowful cries floated in the air. Even the Oba, the 13th king of Bini kingdom was squirming on his seat under the shade of umbrella in the royal carriage held firm by his guards. 14 elders dressed on white wrapper with the front part of their heads shaved off.
Adesuwa had never seen the elders uneasy. But the queen mother wasn’t an ordinary person. Queen Osaro: the womb that bore the Oba, the mother figure whose counsel had led Bini kingdom to greater heights.
Today, her six-foot five inches frame was bound in white linen and lying in a coffin wrought out of bamboo.
”Iyoba is gone….” A shriek rent the air.
A fresh wave of cries burned the air and the diggers climbed out of the grave. Their bodies smeared with mud and sweat. Adseuwa’s legs began to shake. But she stood firm. Her eyes peered through the crowd and landed on her mother’s. Her mother’s eyes brimmed of tears. She looked at Adesuwa in pride as a smile broke through her face. Adesuwa looked away. Her heart sank like the hope of the rains in the land ridden by drought.
Four royal guards were bearing the Queen’s corpses as they approached the grave. Adesuwa was standing beside two other maidens, Efe and Esomo. It was the three of them that had served the queen and as tradition demands, the Queen’s maidens must serve her still in the world beyond.
As the queen’s corpse was lowered into the open earth, the Oba’s uneasy cough rose in the air. Four guards approached the queen’s maidens. Efe was kicking as she was being led to the grave, her cries pierced the air. Her white clothe flew off her chest. Esomo was pleading, her pleas met the cold faces of the mourners.
Adesuwa already knew the futility of tears and worthlessness of pleas. Today, tradition will be observed. Her own mother had told her, even as she was just a twelve-year-old child that her family had offered to the palace as a gift.
”Your life, henceforth, belongs to the queen, in joy you must serve. And in loyalty, you must abide. For even at death, this service shall endure.” Adesuwa’s mother had said.
These words re-echoed in Adesuwa’s ears as she walked obediently to the grave, not in tears, not in pleas but in the honour of her family and the pride of her mother gazing in the crowd.
The guards pushed Efe into the grave, her attempts to jump out proved abortive. Esomo came next, she landed into the grave in a thud, her face crashed on the bamboo coffin. Blood smeared her mouth and her two front teeth dangled free.
The guards reached for Adesuwa but she raised her hand and her voice rang out.
“In joy, Adesuwa will serve her queen even unto death.”
The crowd froze.
A loud cheer broke from the mourners.
A new pride burned in Adesuwa’s mother’s eyes. Adesuwa saw it. That was her joy, her payment. She lowered herself into the grave and in silence she stood. Even as Efe and Esomo scrambled about the grave, Adesuwa stood in courage, her eyes fixed upon the queen’s coffin as the grave diggers poured piles of red sand to fill the grave.
WRITTEN BY CHIOMA NGAIKEDI.