My freshly widowed mind could not bear the pain of losing my husband. He was not just my husband, he was also the prince of our land. Tradition forbids a prince of the land from naturally dying in his prime. But mine passed in his sleep, right next to me. I can’t tell how it happened. At least, death didn’t announce its presence that cold night. He was unusually excited and full of life moments before bedtime. He sang the epic warlord songs and made some dance moves to my excitement. I sat on the bed cheering him up as he danced and beamed with life. I was his only audience which made it all fun. Each dance step he took reminded me of all the true reasons why I married him. He danced till he was drenched in his own sweat. I remember teasing him not to come close to me in that royal sweat. He chuckled as he made his way to the bathroom for a body wash. Sleep, perhaps death, overshadowed him as soon as he got out of the bathroom. The sleep was deep; I mistook the depth of his sleep for exhaustion. He died peacefully. He died in his sleep. I shook his cold body severally but it was too stiff for warm blood to run through his veins.
My narration of all that had happened the night he passed fell on deaf ears. The elders won’t believe or have any of that. The chief priest reeled out strange tones of incantations the day I was summoned. They were so fierce that they thundered through my heart causing pre-heated sweat to assemble around the lines that started forming on my forehead. I shivered terribly upon realizing that I must go through Amoto ritual to prove my innocence as touching my involvement in the death of the prince . Amoto ritual is a dreaded ritual undertaken by accused widows to prove their innocence. The rationale behind the ritual is taking the accused, mostly women, to the camp of the death for them to either convict or acquit the accused. It involves spending the night in the graveyard with a piece of white cloth wrapped around the chest. If a woman is responsible for her husband’s death, the dead husband is given the opportunity to avenge. Mine was non-negotiable because my late husband was the prince. He wasn’t permitted by the gods to die young.
Days leading to my Amoto, my taste buds lost the strength to savor flavors, my eyes could no longer differentiate day from night. Peace fled. I was left to waste away in my anguish. I knew I was ready for Amoto the day nothing made sense. All of a sudden death became appealing to me.
On the fateful day, I was shaved and plastered with white powder from the crown of my head to the soul of my feet. The women in charge of that procedure repeatedly sang a dirge with the line “death walk through her soul and find the wand of wickedness in her”. I was forced to respond with the words “so be it”.
I was escorted at night to the graveyard by the wailing of friends and relatives. I was not allowed to bid my folks farewell because the beasts dwelling in the tombs might decide to have me for dinner. Each step I took made my feet heavy and my limb lazy. I dragged my burdened soul behind me with shame laced around it.
The path leading to the graveyard seemed cold and warm at the same time. We got to a point where others were asked wait while I in company of the chief priest took hastened steps to locate my late husband’s grave. Some of the graves were very old the degree that the moonlight could not hide their sorry state. Some were relatively new.
Dido’s grave was not to be mistaken. It was nicely decorated at an obvious angle beneath a mango tree. As soon we got to the spot, my tears developed a mind of their own. They started flowing without consulting me. The tears didn’t deter the chief priest from proceeding with the lousy incantation. The moon gave its full attention to his lanky face. His broken and coloured teeth gave free access to the consonant sounds in his words making them sound almost like the vowel sounds.
Upon completing the citation or invitation chants to the spirits, he walked backwards until he was buried in the dark and became out of view. I stood there like a lost puppy. I was confused for lack of agenda on how to spend my lonely night in the almost impossible place. First, my legs began to shake in fear. Then my lips followed. I looked round hoping to fix my gaze on something familiar but found none.
Fresh wave of grief engulfed my semi- functional mind in no time. I wailed and soaked myself in both my sweat and tears. In my subconscious mind, I waited for the spirits to start crawling or creeping towards me. The thought made me wail louder, hoping to make them hasten the process so I can reunite with my husband, Dido.
The sound made by crawling insects made me cringe with a fresh wave of excitement that the process would soon be completed and forgotten. No widow who had gone through this ritual returned. Although it had been rumoured that most of them took their own lives to defeat the shame and wagging tongue that accompany the ritual.
I waited but no spirit showed up. No creepy looking creatures came to sight. Although the atmosphere felt different in a strange way. The cold struck differently. About the same time my intestines began to plead and crave boiled yam and red oil. I started salivating. I couldn’t control it for a while until the thought of my beloved husband clouded my mind. I enjoyed every moment of bliss we shared in my head.
To compound my issues, sleep didn’t respect my predicament. It rushed me without apology or hesitation. When I couldn’t bear the burden it placed on my eyelids, I gave in. I spread my body helplessly across the tomb. I bothered less about the cold. I allowed the mosquitoes to feast graciously on my bare body. My only wish was to force death my way; to end it all peacefully in my sleep. True to it, my sleep was deep even though it was void of dream.
I woke up at dawn to a bright day, alive but hungry. The graveyard is actually a peaceful place, after all. I dusted my behind to mark the end of the ritual and made my way to the palace ready to face the next phase of life fate has for me.
Peace Habila, a resident of Jos, Plateau state is passionate about creative writing. She wrote in via email@example.com