The beating of drums, the
cheering of the crowd and the voices of the singing dancers greeted me as I
approached the royal palace. The gathering formed a large square; the space in
the middle was where the maidens danced to the delight of the royal family and
the people. I got close to the crowd and it was very impossible to penetrate.
Someone tapped me from behind, it was Ejike and he was sweating. He had to
speak loud in the midst of the noise.
“Ama! What are you doing here?
Shouldn’t you be part of the dancers?” he asked.
“Yes I should, but I don’t know
how to overcome the crowd” I replied.
He pointed to another part of
the square where the drummers were gathered and beating the drums. “Go there.
That was where the other maidens came through” he said.
“Thanks” I said quickly and ran
to the drummers’ stand.
One drummer looked at me and smiled “you are late” he
said. It took me a few seconds to understand what he had said for the drumming
was the loudest at the stand. He gave me a cue to sneak into the centre and
join the line of the dancing maidens. At that point, I froze. This was it. I
had managed to look my best and defiled all odds to be at the royal dance, but
I didn’t know the dance routine. I was bound to look like a fool. Before I
could say mango tree, the drummer had pushed me to the centre.
I felt all eyes
on me, but the other maidens were into the dance and didn’t notice me, the
intruder. I joined the back of the line. I knew the girls there; they were
Nneka and Dumbili, the naughty ones at the rehearsals. They had somehow
perfected their skills and were less clumsy.
I searched for Etewe and Eketu;
they were not in the middle but in front doing the lead chants while the other
girls responded. I was so out of tune. My left leg was in front at a time when
it was supposed to be at the back. I also made Dumbili stumble and bruise her
knee. The people laughed and concentrated on the out-of-tune me. No one looked
at the other maidens. At that point I knew I had two options. The first was to
run away and the second was also to run away. So, basically I had one option
and it was to run away.
Surprisingly, I stood still and
looked around. In front was the royal family: the king Odoboli, his first son
prince Eke who married pretty Nsikile, prince Ume, the second in line to the
throne for whom the gathering was called and the elegant queen Nkeoma. They
looked at me, the drums were still playing and the other maidens had stopped
I started to tap my feet, and then I bent over and shook my buttocks.
I wriggled vigorously and spanned severally. I moved from one part of the
square to another while the other maidens joined the crowd. The drums and my
movement were in sync. I approached the royal stand and flirtatiously winked at
I danced for my mother. I danced for my father. I danced for my
pride. The whole village jubilated and was in frenzy. The drums stopped and I
stopped with it. The clapping and cheering was deafening. I was sweating;
breathing so fast for it was an energetic and inspired dance.
Like a movie script, Prince Ume
stood and left the royal stand. The village became quiet and still. One could
hear the bleating of goats from afar, the silence was monumental. He walked to
the centre of the square where I stood catching my breath. He got close, too
close to me and his features got stuck in my head. He was taller than me and he
had the loveliest smile.
When he held my hand that had the bracelet, I felt a
warm sensation all over. It was very alien. Our eyes were locked in each
other’s and everything around us disappeared. I looked around again and saw the
look on people’s face, it was hard to describe. All along, I didn’t spot
Agbana, but at that moment I saw her in the crowd gnashing her teeth. I knew I
was in trouble. I looked at the prince again and I pulled away from his grip.
My bracelet was in his hand and I fled through the drummers’ stand.
“Stop her!” I heard prince Ume
scream, but I didn’t wait to be caught. I wanted to go home.
To be continued