CHAPTER 2

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“Silence!”

Diokpa Uche waited for the noise to die down amongst the circle of people gathered at Umuazor’s market sqaure. The other Umunnas standing beside him nodded for him to proceed when there was pin drop silence and he so did.

“I will now call on Ufoma to come and tell us what she saw that faithful morning. Ufoma! Where are you?”

“My Lord, I’m here!” Ufoma answered from where she stood at the back.

The crowd parted for her as she strolled to the center of the circle. Ufoma wasn’t in the least bit small. Unlike Uli, her step-sister, Ufoma was huge and robust with an enormous front and backside. She was also well known for her fountain of information and was usually the first to know and expose things that others would have rather left as unknown; this earned her the name onu bilibili – meaning mouth without control. Ufoma certainly wasn’t the woman to have around when confidential messages wanted to be passed; the people of Umuazor, one way or the other, had learnt that as an unforgettable lesson.

“It was Nkwo market day, very early in the morning, I had gone to the stream to fetch water,” Ufoma began even before she got to the center of the crowd. She was a dramatic storyteller with voice as loud as a canon. Her eyes were already searching the crowd, holding all who watched captive as she dramatically counted her steps till she finally got to the center where everyone could see her. She continued, “I successfully washed my calabash, filled it, balanced it on my head and started back home. When I got close to Udala hill, I began to hear sounds from the nearby bushes…”

“What kind of sounds?” A man shouted from the crowd before Ufoma could continue.

“Was it a scary sound?” A woman with a shrill voice, who stood right in front of Ufoma, asked.

Ufoma shook her head vigorously and gesticulated with her two hands; it was obvious she was enjoying all the attention. “It wasn’t a scary sound, Ulonma, it was far from scary. The sound was loud, irritating and odd. I was curious and so I went to check it out.”

Ufoma began to glide foward and backward without moving from the spot she stood. She did it for a full five minutes before she spoke again. “That was the move I saw Udi doing on top of Uli. I knew it was Uli beneath because I saw the wrapper that our papa gave her lying beside her bare legs. Uli and Udi were making the odd sounds simultaneously. I wasn’t surprised…”

“That’s enough, Ufoma! You’ve even exceeded the time for you to share your simple account,” Diokpa Uche interrupted Ufoma and with a wave of his hands, he dismissed her.

Ufoma frowned deeply, “But I haven’t told them how I quietly went to call Uzor and Udo, who called the guards. I havent told them how they dragged Uli away and…”

“What is your problem, you viper of a woman? Haven’t you been dismissed already? Why not keep the remaining of your venom for your children?”

Ufoma turned towards the sound of the voice. “Akudo, mother of all whores, I’m not surprised it’s you. Between you and Uli, I don’t know who is worse; only that Uli was too shameless and too stupid to get caught.”

“No one would ever believe that Uli is your sister, you jealous fat pig. It’s because your father loved Uli and Uli’s mother more than your witch of a mother, that’s why you find it difficult to control your fangs from spitting out their venom. Cursed be you and that your mother!”

Ufoma turned red. “May I be dead if I don’t leave unforgettable marks on your body today.”

The crowd parted ways as Akudo stepped forward to meet Ufoma at the center. She wasn’t a frail woman either, for she was big too with backside far bigger than Ufoma’s own. Ufoma pounced on Akudo while Akudo pulled Ufoma’s hair. Both women landed on the ground as they stuffed sand into their shouting mouths. The watching crowd exploded with laughter and quickly divided into two betting groups on who would win.

Diokpa Uche angrily called four guards to separate the women. The four guards couldn’t hold them down successfully that four additional guards had to join in the holding down process. Diokpa Uche ordered that both women be taking to the back and securely tied to the udala tree. They were to be lashed twenty-four times each for disturbing. The remaining five elders agreed and the crowd quickly fell silent; nobody wanted to be used as scape goat.

“Good! Now we can proceed,” Diokpa Uche smiled wickedly. “Based on Ufoma’s testimony, the two culprits are hereby found guilty as charged. Udi being an elder in this community, is hereby fined as follows: seven goats, six hundred tubers of yam, three gallons of palm wine and no farming for the next seven market days.” The crowd cheered. To them the judgement was fair. “Uli, the woman without shame, the loose woman of Umuazor, is to be beheaded right here in the market place by the butcher’s stand. If she is banished, she would go to another community and cause havoc there. So let her die, let peace return to Umuazor, let the gods be appeased and let other women learn from her misfortune.”

The people nodded in agreement and applauded their eldest Umunna. The woman who terrorized the married women of Umuazor would finally be put to death, they were beyond pleased. “Bring out the whore and take her to the butcher’s stand!” Diokpa Uche commanded and the guards brought out Uli.

As the guards roughly dragged her towards the butcher’s stand, the crowd followed, throwing stones on her and beating her with the back of their slippers. Some went on to fetch sticks to whip her, others were content with bathing her with their spittle. Uli didn’t cry, neither did she beg. she already knew her fate the moment Ufoma had caught her. Her only regret was hurting Uzor, she wished earnestly that Uzor found happiness after she was gone.

Uli staggered along as the guards dragged her towards the far end of the market square, where the dreaded butcher’s stand and knife was found. Uli never dreamed that she was going to die a public, humiliating death; then, she never dreamed she was going to become a prostitute either. She watched from afar as some other guards prepared the butcher’s stand for her. They sharpened the knife and hung it above the slab where her head and neck would lay. A rope was tied to the ends and held by a gruesome looking guard and once he released the rope, the knife would fall on her neck and separate it from her body.

Uli shivered at the thought of it and tried to stop, fight, but she was already at the place of her death. She was already face to face with the gruesome guard. The guards dragged her and securely tied her to the stand. They securely set her head beneath the knife, making sure that the kinfe didn’t miss its target when it fell.

The Umunnas and all the people of Umuazor watched as the guards stepped away, waiting for the man with the rope to pull on it. The man was about to when someone shouted from the crowd: “Stop!”

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