He was ugly in every way. You could not look at him twice; all the same he used his unpleasant looks to great advantage. His face was broad and flat, adorned with small sized lumps under the skin closely packed together so that overall, he looked ghastly. His nose was so badly positioned that his large, flaring nostrils falsely gave the impression, when seen from a distance, of been turned upwards. His rabbit-like pointed ears were set so far behind and apart, that from a side view in a poorly lit environment; you would think that you were looking at a ‘Frankenstein’ rabbit. His face was totally asymmetrical; disfigured by prominent eyes protruding from deep sockets, giving the impression of staring. He was scary to look at. His appearance was intimidating and it gave him a fierce look. When the children saw him coming down the street, they tried to avert their gaze or they would rapidly cross the road, quickening their steps until they were eventually running as he approached.
He was tall but he walked awkwardly and strangely as he could not carry his long legs, shuffling along lackadaisically in his oversized, locally-made shoes that quickly wore thin, raising dust as he ambled along.
He mumbled as he spoke, making it difficult to hear what he said. You had to listen and concentrate hard as you made every effort to understand him. It would simply be detrimental to you if you didn’t, for he expected you to follow what he was saying meticulously. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. If you made the mistake of asking him to repeat what he had just said, he would strike an unforgettable blow at you for he was strong.
He was blessed with the arms of a killer. His palms were broad and spade-like. His lips were large and thick, with his upper lip inexplicably turned upwards, abutting his nostrils. The movements of his lips, as he spoke, appeared exaggerated and uncoordinated; this was not a good sight to observe.
People came to learn the unusual circumstances of his birth. His mild-mannered mother, while heavily pregnant, trekked for ten miles to reach a huge, bustling open market in another distant village to stock up on essential food items before she gave birth. She had lumbered along for miles and at last, now in the market, she approached a familiar dry fish section. She bent down to pick a nice, good-sized fish when the baby unexpectedly popped out screaming. Bystanders who had heard the popping and the crying looked in the direction of the sounds and they ran away. What they saw was too much to take. The newly born baby looked more like a monster rabbit than a human. His birth followed such a precipitous labour; she had never expected it that quickly.
When not talking, his lips quivered non-stop as if he was about to have a fit. Often, he tried to avoid the embarrassment by making a voluntary effort to hold the upper one still. He was named Nwadibia by his parents, but he never liked the appellation, so he planned to change it when he grew up, but it never happened, and his name remained the same.
He was bad in every sense – a street fighter and a wife snatcher. You wouldn’t give him a lift in a car. His father taught him he must fight to the death and not to take any prisoners. As a result, he lurched from one killing to the other and he became a hunted man; a dead man walking. He was wholly a man of evil, a godless devil.
He lived with his father who was a prognosticator. Both tormented and tortured the inhabitants of a small village with a population of three thousand people. The two had dealt badly with the natives who they resided with, in every way imaginable. They were deeply flawed and unredeemable characters, unpardonably shameless.
Nwadibia was brought up on the dusty floor of a tiny hut, infested with rats, cockroaches and all forms of reptiles, milling constantly around. He was doomed right from the onset for his father was the most notorious local prognosticator ever known in his native land. His father, Urdu, was surrounded by a countless number of wives. He was small with a protruding abdomen. He moved along at a slow pace with a shuffle, and appeared bent over as he walked, stopping often to rest and to lean heavily on his walking stick. He could be heard talking constantly to himself in a low-pitched voice. He was so feared that no one got near him as he went by. His eyes were so piercing that they could make a weak heart quiver uncontrollably to a stop. Children would hide behind trees, if they were lucky enough to spot him early, for he made little sound as he approached, and one could easily be caught unawares.
He wore short unwashed shorts and his white shirt had turned dark brown. He was seen constantly chewing a stick which he used as a toothbrush. Frothy saliva poured constantly from his mouth. He walked awkwardly along with no real purpose, other than to constantly think of who he could exterminate next. He was always in deep thought; obsessed with the mode of death of his next victim, often using unconventional methods. He was a complicated character who used soothsaying as a cover, attracting crowds wherever he visited.
On one occasion, Udenka aged seven and his elder brother, Cletus, who lived in the same village as Urdu, were walking along a footpath early one morning. As they passed close to Urdu’s compound, he suddenly appeared like a stealth bomber facing the two boys. Udenka made a quick dash into the bush and disappeared. His brother, Cletus, was bold and unruffled at the same time, with no inkling of what danger meant and he stood still, facing this most dangerous man. His heart did not miss a beat. Udenka watched apprehensively from where he hid in the low shrubs and he heard them exchange words. When Cletus joined him, he said that Urdu had recognised him from his looks as the son of their father, Francis. Udenka inquired as to why Cletus didn’t run away, knowing how deadly the man was. Cletus said nothing, he just couldn’t be bothered. Udenka found the chance encounter terrifying but he was happy to have seen this dreadful person for the first time. He could not stop narrating the story repeatedly to those who cared to listen.
Urdu lived in a compound of considerable extent, the size of two football fields in the middle of the village. The entire compound was well demarcated and marked out from the rest of the village by bamboo stick fencing, which was replaced every two years. The large space was rectangular in shape and well-kept.
Several huts were erected along all the corners of the compound, next to the fencing, to house his countless wives. The way he procured his wives would be obvious later. He found it impossible to know all his children and was unable to keep tabs on his numerous wives, and as a result, they conducted affairs and some of the children born were not his, biologically. They were from other men for he only slept with the newest and the youngest wife.
He would only accept cooked meals from his latest and most recently procured wife. Despite this well-known rule of his, the older ones tried to tempt him from time to time by bringing hot meals to him in the evenings, hoping to sleep with him if the food was accepted, only to be summarily dismissed and turned back. The other wives were completely discarded as if they never existed. It meant he only slept and interacted sexually with the latest wife.
The villagers witnessed frequent fist-to-fist combat, bickering and all sorts of commotion amongst these obviously neglected wives. He had very poor relationships with his offsprings, who also didn’t get on with one another. It was not a cohesive community of wives but a man-made dysfunctional oversized family. The fact that Urdu was absent for long periods of time meant that he was unable to control things, and this allowed the tension in his household to reach feverish heights.
He travelled on foot and crisscrossed the whole region effortlessly, taking several days to reach his destination, obviously due to his mode of travelling. His only option was to get there on foot; vehicles were so scarce. He was to visit a faraway town called Okpu.
The news spread like wildfire and everyone prepared for the big occasion, excitement was in the air, at the same time they began to get worked up about the special visitor. There was a touch of nervousness among some of the town dwellers that they themselves could not comprehend. He was regarded as the best prophet in the whole region and no one had yet been able to compete with him. He was revered and yet hated at the same time. His name sent shivers down people’s spines.
Preparation for his forthcoming visit went on for about a month, in eager anticipation of his arrival. On the day that he was due to arrive in the town, people woke early and they drifted down to the town square where the reception for Urdu was to take place. The crowd continued to build up and by midday, it had peaked. The square was now a sea of people.
There were women with their children, farmers, and various dance groups, dancing to the beating of drums and various contraptions. Titled men in their easily identifiable special costumes were allocated a seating position that befitted them.
Suddenly, the music and dancing quickened to indicate the arrival and the grand entrance of Urdu, his son, Nwadibia and the rest of his entourage. All eyes were on this famous man. The crowd looked at him in awe. The people who’d gathered wondered how this small man could command this degree of respect. With all eyes on him, he soaked up the moment while Nwadibia towered over him. He eventually sat down amidst the elders to watch the various dance groups displaying their various dancing skills to the applause of the large crowd of town dwellers gathered under the burning tropical sun, intensified by a clear, cloudless sky.
The dancers came out in turn until a popular dancing troupe made their presence felt at the time allocated to them. Their effortless movements and heart-stopping singing thrilled everyone. The lead singer who was lined up in front was the sole attraction, loved and admired by the crowd. She was tall and blessed with exquisite beauty, dancing flawlessly with amazing grace. Her movement was fluid and very enchanting to watch. She moved in a well-choreographed rhythm but rather timidly towards Urdu, as a form of salutation and veneration. She got closer and closer and she bowed her head as a form of respect, but unknown to her or to anyone else this final move had sealed her fate.
Urdu gestured to his fearless son, Nwadibia, who suddenly stood up, and grabbed her with his huge hands. He pulled her down with such force that she ended up sitting next to Urdu. The people were stunned at what had just taken place, but they were unable to figure out the best course of action. They quickly succumbed to Urdu’s charm. The dancers scattered and the crowd, not knowing what to make of what had just happened, moved in all directions in a confused state of mind. Urdu soon realised that his familiar method of picking a new wife in each town or village that he visited would be overshadowed by this latest move for the mesmerising dancer he had grabbed was the wife of a well-respected resident in the town where they visited.
Urdu was feared for his powers as a seer that no one challenged him. He cut his visit short and he headed home with his forcibly acquired wife trailing behind him, sorrowful and sobbing. The town felt so humiliated and helpless. The elders speedily held a meeting in the dead of night and it was decided that Nwadibia who was the first point of contact with the lead dancer would be hunted down and eliminated. They debated and debated into the night on who in the town was the most suitable to carry out the onerous job of finishing off the ugly one. Eventually the town crier, Ezikia was nominated to hunt him down.
Ezikia had been picked up as a homeless child wandering the streets, abandoned by his mother. He was brought up by a local farmer who was uneducated, but he was hell-bent on sending the helpless child to school. At school, he was unintelligent, slow and was soon on the verge of being labelled an imbecile by the schoolteacher.
Once in class, the teacher had pointed at him and he asked a simple question of why Christ was nailed to the cross. He got up and started to cry and then he said, “I didn’t kill him sir, I never killed him.” He kept sobbing uncontrollably. The whole class burst out laughing. The teacher ended up trying to console him. Memories of his childhood spent wandering the streets never left him. He was seen often half clad, walking up and down the busy tarred road come sunshine or rain, singing, laughing and crying, all at the same time.
He had a loud voice, and that qualified him to be picked as the town crier. He was blessed with a booming, sonorous, blood-curdling voice. You could hear it miles away in the dead of night as he announced the village meetings or deaths. He often caused great havoc and consternation with his job as the town crier.
Not long ago, at a well-attended village meeting, he got up to speak his mind about a pressing topic that had caused a heated argument and he was shouted down by Fred, a local rich businessman, who called him a ‘retard incapable of making an informed opinion’. This hurt Ezikia to the bone and it made him feel so humiliated in public that he didn’t sleep a wink that night but kept on restlessly rolling around in his bed.
In the middle of the night, he jumped out of bed and the next thing he was out in the street to perform the job that he was well-known for. He was normally told what announcements to make by the village chief. This time, he took the law into his own hands. The villagers were woken up in a panic on hearing him crying and shouting on the top of his voice, as well as laughing, announcing the following, “Fred is dead, caught stealing, a bullet in his head.”
In no time the villagers rushed down to Fred’s huge, immaculately kept compound, barely having time to dress properly. The women, on approaching the house, ran faster than ever, and then they threw themselves at the gate, crying their eyes out and wailing uncontrollably; their bodies shaking in grief. When they eventually pulled themselves together and moved into the compound, they were taken aback when they realised that Fred was alive and well.
A second village meeting was convened in a short space of time to decide on what action to take against Urdu who had come from another village to snatch one of their wives, and if time allowed, to touch on the recalcitrant town crier who went beyond his job description. The villagers concluded unanimously that the two incidents were somehow linked up. It was the town crier who for seven nights continued to announce the impending visit of Urdu and they reasoned that he was partly responsible for Urdu’s reckless act. Ezikia was to hunt down and eliminate Nwadibia, the son of Urdu, for he was the actual person who did the snatching.