I could imagine the shadows of spirits that would be coming in with the shadow of the night to walk the lawns of the village when mere mortals lay dreaming on their beds; only to be freighted away as the light of morning come pushing the darkness of night away.
Ebimote’s father was taking his nightly drink when I walked into their sitting room. There was an Aladdin lamp standing on a cupboard against the wall. It illuminates the room brightly, compared to the gloom outside. Every household has a hurricane lamp or a bush lamp, which was a construction of a tin cup, an iron pipe with wool running through it, which feeds the light with kerosene that is inside the cup.
It will take hurricane wind strength to put out the flickering light of this lamp. It emits dark fume from the burning wool that if one was to stay with it for a longer time in an enclosed place, his nostrils will be soot black, as he, unknowingly would be inhaling this toxic fumes. But, this is Enyumuama village in the 60s, and that was the way we lived.
“Aha, young man, how are you this evening?” he responded to my greetings.
“I’m fine, Uncle,” I looked around the room; Ebimote was sitting on a chair by the window to my left-hand side. He waved at me to join him.
“What about your parents, I understand they have gone to Iseleogono?”
“Yes, Uncle, and I have told Ebimote that I would pass the night with him.”
“You are welcome. I’ve told you and your brother that this is your second home. You do not have to take permission to sleep in your house. Do you?” he smiled at me.
“No, Uncle, thank you.” I stared into his eyes; blood shot there were, even in the night. He was a very tall man, about six feet, dark and heavily built. He was a very big trader, selling his wares along the length and breadth of the whole Niger Delta. In addition to speaking the Nembe dialect, he can also speak the Okrika, Kalabari and Izon dialects.
I eased off toward Ebimote and sat beside him on the double settee.
“Where is everybody in the house?” I asked him. He has five other siblings; three boys and two girls.
“They’ve all gone to bed. Don’t you remember what our headmaster always says, ‘early to bed early to rise, never be late to school,’” he said smiling.
“But tomorrow’s Saturday, there will be no school.”
"Habit dies hard, you know. and there will be nobody to tell a story and none also to listen this weekend, there is no point staying up late, there will be no story-telling at the village square.”
“It’s because of the burial. Many people have traveled to Iseleogono,
“Have a good night sleep, boys. I’m off to bed,” his father stood up from where he was sitting and headed toward the passage by the right-hand-side of the front door.
“Good night papa we both chorused in response, as he walked into the passage. It was a very big house. I looked around the room from where I was sitting with Ebimote there were four bedrooms, a store, and the sitting room. The passage he had entered has two rooms. There was another passageway just beside where we were sitting.
There were two rooms in the passage facing one another and a door that leads to the back of the house. There were two other doors by the side each of the passages in the sitting room and the main door opening to the main road; this was just a lane.
Ebimote naturally sleeps in the room on the right facing his mother’s by the left. This room also has a door that leads one outside to the kitchen.
It was this room we retired to, late in the night after out chatting in the sitting room. We have a bush lamp on a stool by the door leading to the kitchen, flickering silently, casting its glow dimly around the room.
There was a double-spaced bed by the wall. I lay down at the inner side of the bed. I did not fall asleep
I could also pick out the sound of bats plucking the guava fruits, struggling and fighting among their selves in the church compound nearby, as they struggled for possession. Somewhere deep in the bread-fruit garden behind the churchyard, the croaking sound of frogs was like a chorus that has lost its rhythm.
I strained my ears trying to shut out this nightly sound from my immediate vicinity, but another sound floated into my ears; this one was from the distance: it was the sound of the wake-keep. The giant trees that were barricading the village could not shut out the sound of the drum from Iseleogono, as the wind sailed with it, permeating through the leaves and branches into my ears on my bed.
I fantasized the scene of the dancing that was going on there. It was in an open square surrounded by Aladdin lamps supplied by one Joshua Hook; a man that makes a living by supplying the Aladdin lamps in every wake-keep. It was like a taboo if he did not supply his lamp in any burial ceremony.
I could see, in my imagination, the drummers, sitting in the center of the square while the women, in a circle, dancing around them. The singers would be in the circle with the drummers, raising one song after another.
The crowd would form a circle around the square on various table set, according to the various groups, club or families drinking the locally brewed gin known as ‘Ogogoro’, which would be passed around the square at various intervals in the course of the night.
I cannot tell if I was just imagining the scene or dreaming about it, but I came awake with a start when Ebimote nudged me gently on my side.
“Look at that,” he whispered to me, pointing to the lamp flickering by the door.
As I looked, I seemed to notice that the flame of the lamp was being blown to one direction as if someone was deliberately blowing it with a fan or something.
I peeped at the door; it was firmly secured. I looked at the flame as it was again blown so vigorously to one direction. Ebimote firmly gripped my hand suddenly and pointed to the wall beside the lamp. I cannot believe that what I saw was real; there was a silhouetting of someone’s hair cast upon the wall by the lamp.
Suddenly, there was another stronger blowing of the fledgling flame and the lamp went out, throwing the room into a thick impenetrable darkness. We became still as statues, lying on the bed, breathing heavily.
“Or-gum; Or-gum; Or-gum” the voice was husky and the sound filled the room as if it was coming out from the wall.
And for the second time that night, we cried out together as one voice into the night.
It was Ebimote’s father who came first to the door outside the room, shouting questions at us. We neither heard what he was asking nor answered him but kept on crying out.
I did not know how he did it, but he kicked the door open from the hinges and came crashing into the room with his touch light flashing.
Like persons demented with an evil spirit, we jumped out of the bed, and into the passage. Soon the whole house was filled up with people, and everyone speculating what could be the meaning of this nightly visit and the interpretation of Or-gum; Or-gum; Or-gum.