By Stanley Edokpolo
UMUOFIA-AGU III, DECEMBER 2006
“Thanks … what is your name? I really should have listened to you.”
“I am Nneka. She is my mother, Adaku, and the other is Nkiru, at your service.” Azima had seen Nkiru before she had taken her to the bathroom and attended to her that morning. They started to dress her. She just watched them, trying hard to learn the trick of putting on the dress. When they finished, she went to the mirror on the wall and almost collapsed. She saw a gorgeous princess in those movies she watched; it couldn’t have been her.
“You are beautiful my princess,” Nneka said.
“Beautiful… princess.” The older women who could hold only a string of English words said.
It was about noon when the rain subsided. The chiefs came and officially escorted Azima to the gateof the palace as she went to her maternal parents’ home. She hugged her father who was in tears; he couldn’t believe he was a father, more so the father of this adorable, intelligent, tremendously beautiful and enchanting girl. She was more than Adanne; she is Adanne’s species. At the thought of Adanne, his heart bled again as it has been bleeding for twenty-six years. Adanne was right. What right did he have to order her to stop this girl from living? It was her call to make and God she made the right one. Look at her, oh God.
Azima entered the king’s car. Apart from the driver, there was a palace guard in front; the one that came toLagoswith the elders. His name was Chibuzor. Another car followed from behind with her personal maid, two other woman and two guards. There were five motorbikes in front and behind the cars. They were part of Azima’s entourage.
Rev Theo, Margaret, and four of their children and several grandchildren waited eagerly in front of their family house. There were other relatives. Villagers formed an excited crowd in front of the compound. The driver manoeuvred the car through the path the cyclists had cleared amidst the crowd. As the car stopped, Chibuzor hastily came down to open the door for Azima. She stepped out royally with a wide smile on her face, and waved to the crowd, they cheered.
Margaret rushed to embrace her with tears of joy. Then Theo. Theo knelt down and started praying. Amongst many things, he said one thing in particular that struck Azima: since I was born, now I am old I have never seen the righteous forsaken….
There were hugging and backslapping. There were tears and laughter. There were singing and dancing. Azima was mesmerized and overwhelmed. All she kept thinking as she enjoyed the embarrassing reception was that Mama should be here . To err is human, to forgive is divine.
Suddenly people were distracted. They turned away from her. There was a loud harmonious noise of heavy vehicles approaching. She too craned her neck to look. Chibuzor ran ahead to find out what was happening; he had to make sure the princess was not in any danger.
Seven jeeps rocked the street. The sight was intimidating and breathtaking. Chineke! Chibuzor had seen some of these inLagos, but not at a blow. This was a blow! He staggered. He had almost forgotten the princess. He hurried into the compound like a wild dog, bowed quickly, and reported what he had seen. Seven jeep cars? Black jeeps? No it can’t be! Azima knew that Tessy’s father has several black jeeps. It can’t be Tessy’s father. He doesn’t know this village. But even if he knew, why would he come looking for me? Oh, they’ve not heard from her for over 24 hours. But why come with seven vehicles?…. No, it can’t be true.
Her anxiety heightened. She forgot she was a princess. She walked briskly outside to join the excited crowd. For the moment, everyone’s attention was on the approaching vehicles. She got to the gate. She was rooted to the spot as the jeeps slowly came to a halt in front of the compound raising dust. Time stopped. The doors of the cars seemed to open simultaneously. Then Adanne stepped out, as well as the others. No one recognized her, not even her parents. This woman was a wealthy and pretty woman in midlife. The visitors were stunned, as they seemed to focus on the young princess. People looked from Azima to the strangers, especially the beautiful middle-aged woman that seemed to be the leader of the contingent. They were anxious; could this be Adanne. They looked unto the princess to give them a clue.
Azima came alive and screamed, “Mama, Mama.” She was no longer a princess because as she ran her crown fell from her head; Chibuzor caught it before it touched the ground. Adanne hugged her daughter with tears and laughter. Christian, Tessy, and Jane hugged them. Michael and Funmilayo looked for where to hug. Tessy’s mum just stood there, shaking her head and smiling.
The Elders were in the court with the king and the prince discussing the coronation ceremony of Prince Azuka Azima Chukwumerieze. Everything was right on schedule.
“Now that I have seen my grandchild, I think I am ready to rest. Do you know my grandchild is getting married soon? Maybe I will see my great grandchild too.” They all said amen and chuckled. The king coughed and continued.
“Preparations should be made for the coronation and the marriage festival of my grandchild.” At the mention of marriage, the prince gave his father a knowing glance. “Yes, Mazi Okeke I charge you with the responsibility to make sure Adanne returns home and ensure they,” he pointed to his son, “are joined in matrimony.”
“Your Majesty, plans are already on ground to that effect. You have led us well, and may God help your son, his highness, who has forsaken city life to live here unlike other princes, to rule well and may your dynasty always be king.”
Chief Madume spoke now. “Your Majesty, there is a guard outside who wants to see you urgently. He has urgent news I am informed.”
“Well then let him come at once.”
Emeka literally ran in and bowed. He could hardly breathe. “Your Majesty, your highness.”
“Adanne, Adanne.” He pointed east.
The prince rushed him. The king stood up abruptly.
“What happened? Where?” Azuka asked anxiously.
“Her father’s house. She came. She came with big cars.”
Azuka ran outside beckoning to Emeka. “Take me there now.”
“Son,” the king managed to say. “No. Let her come to you, you are the Prince of Umuofia-agu.”
He bowed. “My lord,” he has rarely done this, “Papa I must go to her this time. I am the Prince, but she is the Lion of Umuofia-agu.”
The elders gave an affirmative gesture. The king remained standing. “Then wait for the car.” He turned to Emeka. “Get the car immediately.”
“Please father, I can’t wait.” The prince bowed and literally ran out like a youth.
The king took a deep breath. “Mazi Okeke, your work is half done.”
Azuka Azima mounted Emeka’s bike. It was a ridiculous sight. The servants bowed. If you are around a prince or king and something ridiculous happens to them, you either turn away or bow, that is if you can’t help the situation. Such was the custom in Umuofia-agu.
Emeka sped like mad yet he wasn’t fast enough for Azuka. “Hurry, hurry Emeka or I’ll hurl you out of this bike.” The prince cried. Emeka moved faster. He was nervous. He could hardly control his speed. A Pick-up van was approaching from the opposite direction. Before both drivers could do anything, they had collided. The bike twisted; the passengers were hurled into the bush. They rolled and were stopped by an Iroko tree. They lay there lifeless.
The driver of the van regained himself and ran towards the victims. He was cursing but panicked when he didn’t hear a sound. He turned and decided to run away before someone sees him. He was almost unto the road when he heard someone coughing. He turned again and gingerly walked towards the voice. It was the boy. But the man was still lifeless. The boy held the lifeless man who was covered in blood in his arm and began to cry. #####