Awero woke to the sound of wails. It was the second time in three weeks that the procession would pass her house.
“Awero!” Her mother wailed as she ran into her room, “Come and see o! They have found two more dead men in the forest.”
“Ehen? Who and who died this time?” she asked sleepily as though she didn’t already know.
“It’s Moshoodi o, Moshoodi the mechanic and Ojo, Iya Alakara’s sister’s son,” her mother replied.
“Eeya!” she said drily and turned on her side to continue sleeping
“What kind of thing is this, ehn Olorun? I’ve always suspected that there was something in that forest,” she rambled on as she left Awero’s room to join the growing procession outside. Awero was glad to be left alone; she wasn’t really up for her mother’s long commentaries that morning. Three weeks before, it was Dauda’s body that had been found, lying by the Odan tree. When the man who found him walked forward to call for help, he found some other people staring at another dead body – Chief’s. His body had begun to rot.
After they were removed from the forest, Awero didn’t go to the village square to look at the bodies. She felt sorry for Dauda, but not Chief; the pig got what he deserved. That would teach him not to rape women in his next life. She still remembered how he handled her in the forest that day, threatening to kill her if she made a sound. Who is dead now?
Just one more man and she would be free. Yeye had come into her room again the previous night, reminding her that she was running out of time.
Awero got up, dressed, and headed for the village square. People were gathered to look at the new bodies. Her eyes searched the crowd, lingering a second more than a cursory glance on each person until her eyes met his.
He was smiling at her. She had been avoiding him; she didn’t want to talk to him before her mission was complete, so she turned her face away. Dare was a good man. He was nothing like any of the others; in fact, he was the only man she liked in the village, and now he was making his way towards her.
“Awero, where have you been hiding? I’ve asked after you from your mother several times since I came back from the city; didn’t she deliver my message?” he asked.
“Yes, she did,” Awero replied.
“So why have you been hiding?”
“I’ve not been hiding, I’ve just been busy.”
“Let’s get away from here, so we can talk.” Dauda said, tilting his head in the direction of the village path. Dare did most of the talking, telling her about the days he spent in the city and the things he saw. She told him she needed to leave because she had some errands to run for her mother, so he let her go. He promised to visit her at the canteen soon. As she headed home, she spotted Akanbi the village drunkard, or rather, he spotted her.
“A.We.ro. hehe, bawo ni?” Akanbi slurred.
“I am fine,” she said, eyeing him with disgust.
“Fine, fine lady. You know you are fine.” he said. “I forgot to give your mother money for the rice I ate this afternoon, come and collect it.” He said and swayed on ahead of her.
She followed a few steps behind him, pinching her nose to keep out stench of days-old sweat and alcohol. When they got to his house, she stood outside, but he invited her in.
“Come inside Awero, are you afraid?” He stood at the door, smiling.
She stepped in quietly, and he quickly locked the door. She knew what he wanted to do, in fact, she thought his movements were rather precise for someone who was drunk. She didn’t struggle when he shoved her on to the mat. His repulsive breath fanned her face as he thrust in an out of her. She tried to keep her mind on the reason why she was there: she wanted to live.
It was her turn to bring in meals for The Gathering, and five male lives were all that was required. If she succeeded, she would move up a rank. If she failed, she would die. She didn’t want to die, not yet. She wanted to stay alive, and who knows? Maybe the gods would favor her and Dare would marry her and take her to the city.
When the drunkard rolled off her, she knew exactly what would happen: in a few minutes, he would begin to choke, and then he would die. She didn’t want to be there when it happened, so she got up quickly, and headed home.
As she got to her room, she quickly grabbed her door for support as she had started to feel a sharp pain in her lower abdomen. It passed just as quickly as it came, but as she took another step, it came back with greater force. She felt something warm trickle down her legs and she raised her wrapper to the sight of blood; she knew what this meant, she tried to scream for her mother, but no words formed, she was losing strength, so she dragged herself to her mat and sat quietly. Life was ebbing out of her fast, and all her actions and hopes were flashing before her eyes, “but…I did…I did what was asked…” she thought in disbelief. “I did what was asked…”