“Yèyé Oba, e kaaro.” Làbáké greeted the Queen Mother who was seated on a mat outside her hut, eating ogi (pap) and akara (beancake) fried in Palm oil. There was an unpleasant smell emitting from the older woman as usual, that even the scent of the akara couldn’t mask it. Labake had noticed the foul smell ever since she had moved into the palace and she tried not to scrunch her nose in order not to offend the old woman. In fact, she had been too scared to ask the king why his mother stank because she didn’t want to incur the hatred of the Queen mother and the wrath of her husband, but as she spent more days in the palace, she eventually gotten accustomed to the odour.
As she lowered herself and sat on the mat too, the Queen mother invited her to join her. “Wa jeun. (Eat with me.)”
“Thank you Yeye, but I just finished my breakfast not too long ago.” Labake replied. After a slight pause, she presented the issue that had brought her to the Queen mother’s hut. “Yeye, I’ve come to report your son to you?” She said with a pout.
“What is it again this time, Omolabake?” Asked the Queen mother, lifting her bowl to drink her almost watery pap.
“Yeye, it’s been four weeks now…” She indicated with four fingers with an exception of her thumb. “…Four weeks that your son married me and he has refused to touch me.”
“And I thought I advised you to exercise a little more patience that he’ll come around soon.” Yeye gave her a levelled look.
“Yeye, you told me that two weeks ago and the gods know that I’ve been patient enough. If my pregnancy does not start showing in the next three months, people will think that I’m infertile and tongues will start to wag.”
“Let the tongues wag!” Yeye answered. “I know that you are not infertile and with time you’ll fill this palace with as much children as possible that you’ll not even remember that you once had this hitch in your marriage.”
“But Yeye, when? When? I can’t impregnate myself, and your son is showing no sign of even deflowering me any time soon. When I was being escorted down to the palace by my people, I was told that every man’s joy is to have a virgin as a wife. I presumed that my husband, the king, would be proud to have such a young beautiful woman as myself, but no, I was dead wrong! He doesn’t even look at me the way that I’ve seen other men look at their wives! Did he just marry me so that Lagbedu could have someone to call a Queen? Did he only marry me just to stop the rumours from flying? Yeye, I want to be made love to; I want to know how it feels to be owned by a man.” She complained bitterly.
“Omolabakeeee! You worry too much!” The old woman tried to comfort her. “The king is yours and his attention is not being divided by any other woman! I can assure you that he has eyes for you alone.”
“Then where does he go to at night?” She blurted and Yeye flinched a bit while Labake continued without noticing it. “For the past four weeks now, I’ve noticed that my husband goes out at the dead of the night twice a week! Where he goes to, I know not! Just last night, I wanted him to touch me and I realized that he had ejaculated a few minutes before he returned to our chamber as if he had been with another woman.”
“Hmm!” The old woman heaved a pensive sigh. “Omolabake!” She called, cocking her head sideways towards the young wife. “Omolabake!… Omolabake!”
“Yeye.” Labake grudgingly answered.
“How many times did I call you?”
“Le meta, Yeye. (There times, mother).” She replied, her gaze averted with a defiant frown.
“Don’t go looking for answers that you are not ready to know. A child who dips his or her hand in fire would be badly burnt. Do not trouble your husband about his disappearance at night. Just be a good wife and keep your nose out of his business and everything will be just fine.” The old woman warned.
“Yeye, so you are in support that the king goes out to warm another woman’s thighs at night while he leaves mine cold?! Isn’t that unfair.”
“There are some things that are bigger than us, Labake. Things that we cannot handle. Your husband is still your husband whether he goes out at night or not. I did not say that he goes out to cheat on you though and my husband did the same thing. I only said that you should let sleeping dogs lie so that we can all live in peace. So ti gbo? (Have you heard?)”
Not satisfied with the Queen mother’s response to her distress, Labake reluctantly thanked the old woman, rose and walked away and her lady-in-waiting who had been patiently standing aloof out of earshot quickly followed her. As they strolled the grounds of the palace, Labake paused to watch a few guards who were displaying their physical prowess by clashing machetes or fighting gidigbo (a fight that has to do with wrestling or grappling each other until an opponent was thrown to the ground).
One of the best warriors who was quite sturdy noticed her and he straightened up and began to flex and twitch the muscles of his chest, perhaps to impress her. Labake knew him quite well. He was Adigun, one of the best warriors in Lagbedu. He had been wooing her before the king had sought her hand in marriage but she had turned his advances down. She disliked Adigun because he was so conceited, and now that she Queen, she expected him to treat her as such but the idiot still made passes at her. She thought of reporting the daring hegoat to her husband but refrained from doing so because she knew that that would lead to his being exiled from the village for flirting with a Queen.
Hissing quietly after throwing Adigun a scornful look, Labake walked away with the warrior’s eyes following the movement of her bead-adorned waist while a sly smile playing on the corners of his mouth as he played images of her buttocks in his mind, vibrating under him, before he returned to grappling with his comrades.
As Labake walked further around the palace, she got to the parts she had never visited before. She soon approached the statue of a woman set on a pedestal which had caught her eye from afar. As she approached it, she noticed that the statue was protected by a thatched fence built around it to prevent the goats from getting in and eating the beautiful blossoming flowers. Labake paused to scrutinized the statue and she didn’t like it one bit. Not only was the statue set away from the rest of the huts and deliberately isolated, it was the only place that had beautiful flowers growing in the entire palace and a tall almond tree grew over it to provide the status shade from the scorching son.
Labake noticed that the statue had a white cloth draped over one shoulder to cover the rest of her perfect body. Although, one of her wide hips was exposed, while a knee peeked out through the clothing in a seductive way that made her feminine pose very appealing. There were real expensive beads around her neck, wrists and ankles while many more adorned her hips. The statue held out her two hands to her sides. One was holding a earthenware while the other held up a royal horn-cup.
“What is this?” Labake asked her maid in distaste without taking her eyes off the statue.
“Olori, I heard that this statue has been in this palace for ten generations now.” The maid answered.
“And why is a common statue dressed in royal beads?” Labake haughtily asked with a frown. “What’s so special about it?”
“My Queen, I was told that this statue is very important to the royal family and is to be respected and well-cared for like a Queen.”
“Like a Queen?! Why do so much for just a mere statue? Who was she? Did this village once have a legendary woman that I know nothing about?” Labake was flustered.
“I don’t know, my Queen, but once a week, the king appoints some of us to clean the statue, weed the little garden around it, water the flowers daily, and pour honey into her cup and leave some boiled egg and eko in the earthernware.
“Why would the king waste such resources on a statue?” Labake asked in disgust. “Especially when pure honey is of most importance.”
“It’s not really wasted, my Queen. I don’t know how it happens, but come dawn, we find the plate and cup empty.” The maid revealed the mystery.
“You don’t say.” Labake said in bafflement. Moving closer to the thatch fence surrounding the statue, she scrutinized it from up close now, and in just a flash of an eye, she could have sworn that she saw the statue smile sinisterly down at her. She wanted to ask her maid if she had seen it too, but not wanting to be labelled delusional, Labake swallowed her words. Feeling uncomfortable, she swallowed hard and turned away from the statue which gave her a feeling of dread. She started back towards the huts, eager to put enough distance between her and the statue, that her maid had to run a bit to catch up with her. As she briskly walked by, Adigun’s eyes lustfully followed her once again and he felt a stirring in his groin at the way her waist moved so fast at every step she took.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa