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Historical Fiction Fiction Indigenous

There was no one alive who knew that this broad, harsh savannah was once a fertile river basin. But if Aela did know, he might have cursed the earth for changing its mind about that. In Benin, 1750, Aela needed to grow his yams, and here he was forced to obey the whims of drastic seasons and his place in time, and an awful drought. As he looked over his field of silent mounds of dirt with tuber seeds buried underneath, he felt in the pit of his stomach that this would be a disaster year. His family would make it through, but he knew others in the village would need aid, probably his aid, and at the very least he would come out with nothing. Aela sat on the ground and put his head in his hands. Then, he raised his palms to the sky and prayed to Ile for forgiveness, for his plants to survive while Oya took her time raising her sword and cutting through this terrible heat, allowing the rain to finally fall. If it took too much longer, his crop would die. The first rains of the season had already come down! So now, what was the reason for this traitorous dry spell? He asked his ancestors but received no reply.

Aela prayed and prayed, raising his dusty palms to the hot sun. He imagined the goddess Oya in rich and colorful clothes, thousands of strings of beads wrapped around her hips and shoulders and hair. He imagined her sword at her side, made of brass and as tall as a palm tree, Oya as a rainbow as tall as heaven. As he muttered blessings he watched her calculating eyes as she waited for the right moment to strike down this terrible heat. 

Before long he felt a hand on his shoulder, bringing him out of his trance. His first wife Nifemi had come to him to bring him palm wine and a meal. He found her towering form to be a sign of the goddess, and mentally imbued it as a good omen. Nifemi told him that the gods had heard him, and assured him that he had done everything he could. She promised that evening that they would sacrifice extra wine to his ancestors. Aela loved Nifemi. They had wed when she was only fourteen, and at first he found her foolish and too shy. But now she was thirty and she was a constant source of comfort and peace to him. She had grown into a sturdy and kind young woman, and he could never help but be very lenient toward her. While his other wives often found the extent of his spirituality- or other parts of his personality like his inclination towards music and stories- as a sign of his inner weakness, Nifemi never did. She treated him like she treated their eldest daughter, with a hand of guidance and forgiveness. Aela’s heart plummeted as he considered the burden of famine on his beautiful wives and children. Two tears dripped from his eyes, and Nifemi lovingly wiped them away. 

That night, he did as his wife had suggested and poured an exuberant amount of palm wine into the dirt before his ancestors' shrine. His second wife, Titilayo, appeared shocked at what seemed excessive to her. But Aela knew the rest of his family did not yet know the extent of the potential tragedy, although he had talked about it some and they had surely heard about it from others. So he graciously ignored her expression and told them all to come inside and celebrate with him. When Tinubu, his third and probably final wife, asked what they were celebrating, Aela waved her off as if it were a foolish question. The truth was he did not know himself. They ate stew and drank wine, Aela almost matching the amount he fed the spirits. He listened to his youngest children repeat stories about the Tortoise and his wisdom, and his coveting of wisdom. Nifemi’s seven year old son, Ade, kept changing parts of the story while Titilayo’s daughter Ifede tried to calmly tell it. He bubbled with laughter as he watched. He found their antics to be very endearing, his second youngest son Dwumi by his side and watching the spectacle with equal interest. But even in this joyful moment, a deeper piece of his mind was dragged into depths of the forest. 

As he stumbled to his sleeping hut, the moon glowed behind a haze of smoke and trees. Laying his head down to rest, Aela whispered one last drunken prayer to anybody who would listen. 

He dreamed of wild things. First Aela opened his eyes, and it was like he was waking up, but as soon as he stepped out of his sleeping hut he realized he was still asleep. In a bright white daylight, the spot he had planted his yams this year rolled out before him. He found the lighting strange, and looked up to find the sun, but was unable to. When he looked back he gasped. Before him was a stretching basin of water, like he had never seen before. He scrambled to the waterbed which soaked the dirt and waded into the mud. Aela leaned down and scooped some into his hands, shocked to find it salty. Looking further he discovered that his yams were still there, or at least the mounds were, lying dormant and drowned at the bottom of this brackish lake. 

Then Nifemi appeared to him. She was wearing a rainbow as a shawl and held a banana leaf she waved as a fan in her left hand. She was standing proudly on the deepest part of the water. Aela called to her multiple times until he came to the shocking realization that this was not her at all, but the goddess Oya on earth. He fell to his knees and felt water splash his body. He had fallen asleep naked and was still naked now, but felt no embarrassment at either his actions or his bareness. 

He praised Oya loudly, but she did not seem to hear him. Instead she merely walked over to the edge of the lake. He watched her very carefully. Finally she turned to face the water and spat out a kola nut, suddenly, violently, swinging her fan to move the wind as she did so. It hurled into the water and the lake erupted into the air, a rush which launched Aela to his feet. Astonished, he watched it turn into a rain which came pouring down from the sky. He cupped his hands together and caught a few droplets, tasted them, and found they were fresh, unsalted, and clean. 

The next morning he put a kola nut in his mouth and walked the half mile to his yams. He stood before the barren, dying field. Finally he spit the kola nut as far as he could, and it landed among his crop. 

He had a mild headache, so he hurried back to his compound and laid down to sleep some more. When he finally awoke around midday his wives gave him a meal of fufu and fish soup, which he ate gratefully, and felt better afterwards. He spent the day with his children, playing music on stringed instrument like a klogo with Ifede singing beautifully for him. 

In the middle of the next night Aela woke up to the sound of thunder. He quickly got to his feet and looked outside. Pouring rain fell from the sky without a moment of relief. The entire world became a dark blue blur between the unrelenting storm and the light of the moon. Aela wasted no time to cheer and praise. The heaviness within him broke just as the clouds had. Although he was not sure if it came in time to save his yams, he was filled with peace knowing that Oya and Ile had listened.

July 07, 2023 10:01

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2 comments

Allan Bernal
01:11 Jul 13, 2023

I like the historical fiction aspect of this - it made me feel invested in what Aela's life (or someone else's) must've been like centuries ago. Could probably still relate to what people experience today too. I did like the story, but it did also kind of end sooner than I was expecting - maybe there could've been more to the dream that the goddess Oya was asking of Aela because the resolution came quicker than I was expecting. Still liked it though, I think I just wanted more!

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Lunar Moon
05:57 Jul 13, 2023

Thank you, I'm so glad to hear you liked it :) I got a lot of inspiration from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and a collection of African Myths edited by Jake Jackson. Yes, monsoon season in Africa is very fickle and yams still are a very popular crop. I think people still worship the goddess Oya today. I found some prayers online while I was doing research. I kind of understand your point that it ended abruptly. It probably needed an extra paragraph or two at the end as a buffer.

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