Life in the village sometimes can deal more than you ever bargained for. Life can be slow-paced and interesting and at the same time whenever there was any drama, everyone feels the impact, whether or not you liked to be involved.
It was one summer school holidays, I was in the village from school just like many school children. Long holidays are always very eventful. Two weeks earlier, there were words going around that someone has been stealing yam and maize from the farm huts. A few farmers had huts in the farms for produce storage and also for livestock. My father had a few dozen chickens at the time, he fed them twice daily and with plenty of insects to snack on, these chickens grew very big, a few other farmers in my village kept chicken in their huts too. It is very rare for anyone to complain about missing stuff in my village because we were only about 350 people at a given time and everyone knows everyone else’s business. Most young adults have one thing or the other to do, the output may not be great, but enough to keep them out of trouble.
Akinbayo was a police officer, he had been at the job for a long time but unfortunately he came down with mental health problem. Mental health patients in Nigeria are not treated well, it is a taboo, especially in rural areas. I knew Akinbayo had a son who was about my age, he was doing well at school. Every mental health patient in Nigeria had a similar story, it is always about a witches casting spell of some sort on them. Akinbayo was let go from his police officer’s job when he could no longer cope. He lived in a neighbouring village to mine and I have seen him and his son passing by on many occasions.
In the village, he was lonely to put it mildly and struggled a lot, however, being in the village at the time was still his best bet as he could at least plant some food crops to survive on. However, after a few years, Akinbayo’s mental health got the best of him. As it turned out Akinbayo was the ‘thief’ that people have been complaining about. He stole all my father’s chicken and because the dried maize was right there neatly arranged still in cobs, it was easy for him to take them away in hundreds. My father was not alone, lots of other farmers were affected.
My father came home one evening to tell us that the thief raiding our farms had been caught in one neighbouring village, it was in the night, and that he was beating up really badly but managed to escape – Nigeria jungle justice. The news that was sent around was to be on the lookout.
With all these warnings, life still goes on as normal. I had begged my sister that we’ll be better off starting work early at 7am so we can get a lot done before our Eku ( a designated place just outside of the village for carrying out certain farm work) got busy at 9am, the plan she agreed to. Our jobs was to peel cassava, there were lots of them, the payment is directly tied to daily outputs so worked well for me. For my sister, she was there to provide company, she was not as fast as I was in the cassava peeling business but the deal was for me to buy her a small gift afterwards.
Ope and I sat down at Eku, we were the only one there, 7am August in Nigeria was still quite dark, we had kerosene lanterns with us mainly to be able to see our mountain of cassavas. People do this all the time and there were no real reason to fear. About half hour after we sat down, we heard intermittent heavy breathings, it was laboured as if someone was choking, this time, the day had broken and we could hear people chatting on the road on their way to the market. Ope wanted to shout for help, but I reminded her I needed to finish today at four 0’Clock so we can be home on time to help with dinner. We both agreed to stay quiet and not to shout so we moved our knives swiftly against the cassava peels will minimal sound.
By 8.30am a few older women joined us so we told them about the heavy breathings we’ve heard and showed the direction it was coming from. My sister and I got up with Mama Ade to see where the noise was coming from. How he managed to get here was not clear but it was Akinbayo lying helplessly beside a kolanut tree, his head rested on a rock, seeing us, he opened his mouth but no sound came out, his eyes were wide open, a third of his skull was gone, on top of his exposed brain were maggots, hundreds of them feasting, by this time we already had a crowd of about 10, all women, all with teary eyes – the pain on faces were much more than the one displayed by Akinbayo.
Noone knew what to do, no doctor to call. The only nurse we had, Brother Mathew lived about 10 miles away and we didn’t even know if he was around or away in town. Older women ran to the village, I stayed behind with my sister to take it all in, we were unable to continue to work as I was too shaken up. Mama Ade came back with a gallon of an insecticide, this was the same spray she used to kill bugs eating into her kola nuts, the idea was that this should help Akinbayo as it will kill the maggots, I stood still, not that I had any better Idea but yelled loudly at Mama Ade that the insecticide would likely kill Akinbayo too. Ignoring people’s outburst, Mama Ade poured the mixture onto Akinbayo’s open skull, a few minutes later, he was turned to the other side, maggots poured out in what looked like grains of rice.
His eyes still opened without blinking, a few minutes later, he had his last breath in front of me, my sister and a few other older women – right there. This happened a couple of decades ago, just writing about it, it feels like it was only yesterday.