It was dusk in old Essien town, people were returning home from either the market or their farmlands, where they had toiled for the day. It was a normal evening for the villagers, but in the palace of the Obong Kparawa, it was a gloomy one.
The queen, Abasiama had refused to see anyone, she had locked herself up in her room, not answering anybody’s call, and not eating any food. The day had begun with Abasiama waking up with an idea of how she would give her husband of many years, a child and a heir to his throne. She had resigned to her fate of barrenness; she was not oblivious of the names the villagers called her as she walked past them.
They called her the “Barren Queen”. They clamored for a heir to the throne, but the goddess had not deemed her worthy to bear a child.. So she found a beautiful girl in the village, from a family with pedigree, to bear a son for the Obong. She would take the child as her own and reward the girl bountifully.
But the Obong refused to even consider the idea.
Obong: “It is repulsive. You are my wife, and if you cannot give me a child from your bowels, then I rather remain childless” he said vehemently, with finality in his tone.
Abasiama: “You find it repulsive because, it is not you who is mocked every day. Oh the scourge of a woman; no one cares to know if the fault is from the man, I am called barren because a baby’s cry has not been heard from this house.” She replied in a broken voice, anger and frustration evident on her face.
Obong: “Uyai, how can you say such, is it not the place of a woman to cover her husband’s shame? Would you rather, they called me infertile?”
Abasiama: “No my husband, but I desperately want to give you a child, whether through my bowels or another’s”
Obong: “I said no and that is final!” he thundered and left his wife. She ran into her room and locked herself up, her heavy sobs could be heard outside her door, as people banged on the door and begged her to come out.
On the third day of her self induced fast, with exhaustion she opened the windows of her room, as the bell in the only church in Essien town began to clang. She paced around her room, the wheels of her mind whirring, as the church bell continued its loud clangs, calling her faithful.
Abasiama: “If nnem mmong will not give me children, then I shall seek the Whiteman’s god” she thought within her and tingled with the birth of a new idea. For the first time in three days, she opened the doors of her room.
Abasiama began to attend church services, despite warnings from her husband.
Abasiama: “Give me a child or allow me seek one wherever I can find one”
Obong: “Abasiama, if you don’t have shame, I do. What would the people say, you who is the mother of the clan, and meant to uphold our beliefs is seen patrolling the Whiteman’s church” the Obong would say, pleading with her to stop the disgrace.
Abasiama: “The people can say what suits them, they have called me the barren queen, so the onus is on me to bear a child and a heir to you, my dear husband” she would reply, her determination was fierce.
One night, after eating ekpang nkwukwo the palace maids had served them, in a tensed silence, they got into a heated argument, still on the issue of childbearing. They shouted on top of their voices, it was the first time they were having such quarrel since their marriage. The palace hands were discomfited; they did not know what to do, even as they heard their queen crying so brokenly.
Abasiama: “I just want to give you a child, even one” she said, her shoulders shuddering with the force of her sobs. The Obong was moved with compassion, he loved his wife so much, it was the reason he did not heed the call of his council, to marry another wife. He hated causing her pain, and seeing her so broken, he was ready to do her bidding.
Obong: “Ima mi, child will come at the right time, do not worry” he kissed his wife passionately, and soon they were rolling in the sheets. He told himself that, he could be infertile, but one thing he was good at, as an Efik man, was giving his wife, a good time in bed.
Abasiama: “It has been a long time you dealt with me like this, my Lion” his wife cooed as they took a rest, spent and satisfied.
Obong: “It is because; you have been too fixated on giving children, rather than enjoying the gift of our love”
Abasiama: “Give me some more, my husband” she giggled as he tickled her, and so they began another dance of lovers.
The Obong kparawa was sitting in council with his chiefs, when a palace maid rushed in, genuflecting nervously.
Obong: “Speak woman” he thundered in his authoritative voice, he hated being interrupted when he was in council with his chiefs.
Maid: “The queen, the queen, she is terribly sick” she stuttered. The Obong stood up abruptly and rushed out, to his wife’s hut. There, he saw her lying on the bamboo bed, perspiring and writhing in pain.
Obong: “Call the palace physician immediately” he yelled. When it came to his wife’s wellbeing, he threw civility to the wind. Doctor Abbott, the European doctor had been given to the palace as a token of appreciation, from the resident Europeans to the Obong, for his hospitality and good will. The doctor came, and after a series of poking and prodding, he turned to the Obong, with a wide grin on his face.
Doctor: “She is not sick, she is pregnant” he announced. The whole hut became quiet, if a pin dropped at this time, the sound would be heard distinctly. Then one of the women in the hut broke out in an Efik song. There was jubilation, the queen was finally pregnant, it was a sign of good things to come, or was it?
Abasiama walked the length and breadth of the village, showcasing her protruded belly. She was glad that finally, the shame had been wiped off her face. She was now, worthy to be called a queen. The womenfolk brought her gifts, especially fruits and caskets of olive oil. They wanted the heir to be healthy, and they also wanted their queen to remain beautiful in spite of the throes of pregnancy. The Obong pampered his wife, he had lost hope of having children, but the goddess had smiled on them, so he thought. He refused her doing anything, except eat, and stroll. He also made sure guards followed her everywhere she went, for he knew there were those eyeing the throne, and who were not happy that his wife was pregnant.
One fateful morning, just as the cock gave its first crow, a shrill cry was heard from the palace, it was coming from the queen’s hut. People ran helter shelter, in a state of confusion. This pregnancy was a prized one, and any form of danger to the queen was a danger to all. The Obong rushed out of his hut in his loincloth, which he slept in.
Obong: “What is happening to the queen” he asked nervously, as he ran towards her hut. An elderly woman held him back.
Woman: “Your queen is in labor, nothing to do now but pray to Awasi. The midwife has already been called”
Obong:”Sound the alarm, the queen is in labor, an heir is about to be born” he shouted on top his voice. The town crier beat the talking drum through the village. Gom gom gom, the drum spoke.
Towncrier: “The queen is in labor, an heir is about to be born. All those who are not down with sickness or age should report at the palace to herald the new heir” he said as he beat the drum, gom gom gom. The villagers thronged to the palace bearing gourds of palm wine, tubers of yam and bush meat for the new mother. For the first time in years, a baby’s cry was about to be heard in the palace.
At the palace, Abasiama groaned in pain, sometimes, she would faint, and the midwives would pour water on her.
Midwife: “You have waited so long to have a child; do you want to kill the child before it sees the world? Push your baby out now” she said in a stern voice. The expectant mother groaned and cried as the contractions tore through her.
Midwife: “Push now” she smacked her on the thigh. Abasiama gathered every ounce of energy in her and pushed, the child tore through her, she wanted to give up in pain, but she continued pushing, till the tiny baby slipped out of her. The air rented with the piercing cry of the newborn. The midwife picked it up and began to clean the goo from its body. When his sex organ was revealed, the midwives shouted in excitement. One ran out to where the Obong was sitting with the villagers who had come to herald the new heir.
Midwife: “It is a boy!” she shouted and the whole people burst into singing. The Obong was overjoyed, Awasi had smiled on him, and He had made everything good in his own time.
Obong: “Rejoice with me, I am the proud father of a son” he exclaimed. His chiefs paid obeisance to him, now he was really their king. They were still rejoicing, when they heard another labor cry.
The midwives were cleaning the mother up, the boy child was wrapped in a swaddling cloth, and sleeping soundly, when another contraction ripped through the queen, they dumped their washcloths in shock, as the queen let out a loud scream; another child tore through her and slipped on the bed. They rushed out of the hut; fear gripped them as they stumbled over themselves.
Midwife: “Abomination! Abomination!” she shouted. The Obong rushed into the hut, and saw his wife laying helplessly, a child still covered in goo was at her feet, while another slept by the side.
Obong: “Twins! Awasi, why have you done this to me” he cried. Abasiama looked on sadly; her dreams of being a mother had just come crashing at her feet. She looked at the children and her heart broke even more.
Question: What would be the fate of the twins? Is this a blessing, or a curse?
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Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.
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