Onwudiwe’s sitting room, old fashioned and faint. The atmosphere is gloomy; a dozen wailers sit in groups of men and women, sulking and seething. On the floor lays a still body; it is the body of Onwudiwe on whose side Ijeuwa kneels.

IJEUWA:       (Shrill snap) Onwudiwe! A warrior on a battlefield does not fall to sleep at its first call. Onwudiwe, I know you can hear me. Arise from your slumber, black warrior of silky valour, in war with the thieving force of nature. Arise now, and we shall hire the best composers to sing you a song of triumph over death. 

NKEONYE: Ijeuwa! Ijeuwa, how do you open your throat and blab foolishly like a child in torment? Have you no regard for the sacredness of death?

IJEUWA:       I am not a coward, Nkeonyediriya; I do not fear death, I take it by its scruff and shove it out the door where it’s not welcomed. (Arises)

NKEONYE:  And on whose authority do you do that?

IJEUWA:       Authority? Should I need any, the knowledge of what worked for my fathers is sufficient.

NKEONYE:   Oh! So, you think that makes you a match for Ikuku; you think you are immortal now, the one death obeys?

IJEUWA:       Tufia! May it not be heard outside these walls that I am immortal. I do not dispute the transient nature of life, but I would be foolish to concede so easily to the thieving grip of death over our brother.

NKEONYE:  You dare refer to death as a thief?

IJEUWA:       He stealth his way into Onwudiwe’s hut while the earth slept. What else to call what invades a home in the cool breeze of the night?

IFEKANDU: Allow the sleeping dog lie, Ijeuwa. For a fine warrior, Onwudiwe neither raised an alarm nor repelled the force of death. Does that not tell you he is fully consenting to its allure?

NKEONYE:  He has gone mad! Always trying to outshine the sun with his crazy takes.

IJEUWA:       A dog on guard does not bow to sleep at the first chirp of cricket. I solicit your hope, my brothers, let’s put together our hopes and awaken Onwudiwe from his sleep.

(He retreats and walks over to the assembly of women where Akweke and Sochima—Onwudiwe’s wife and daughter—are wailing. He casts a long gloomy look at them and snap his shoulders.)

IJEUWA:       Wipe your tears, woman! You don’t cry over a sleeping man, otherwise you summon the spirit of death to take over his body. Rejoice! The dark clouds are fizzling out for the rainbow.

AKWEKE:    Were you not a bosom friend to my husband, I would have said you are drunk with the palm wine of Okenna this early in the morning. Do you not know the difference between sleep and death, Ijeuwa?

IJEUWA:       Perhaps you have called me drunk already. However, Okenna’s palm wine is good for the soul but even a baby will agree he is not back from seeing his trees by this time of the day.

AKWEKE:    So, you are not drunk after all. Why do you make mockery of the dead?

IJEUWA:       Me? Make mockery? May the vultures feed on my carcass tonight if the gods sense as little as a pinch of mockery in me. Your husband sleeps.

AKWEKE:    Ijeuwa, I do not doubt you, but I don’t believe you either.

(Akweke continues wailing. Ijeuwa casts her a bleak stare, shaking his head in amazement. He takes short measured steps to the centre of the stage and talks as though addressing the audience.)

IJEUWA:       (Aside) When will my people become masters in the smallest things of life that matter? Kai! Our ancestors will be writhing and sulking in their grave at the gullibility of this people who cry more than they cling to hope. I ask myself, what is that thing one tends to lose when they hold on to the slightest grain of hope? I do not have an answer, but if you can tell me, I would like to know how such thing is less important than the thing gained when not holding to anything at all. Can you tell me? Can you?  You see… Nobody has an answer. It is easier for them to open their mouth and wail than it is for them to hold on to a tiny strand of hope. Pathetic!

(He returns to the assembly of women, mimicking their wailing to the audience. At the other end of the stage, Nkeonye and Ifekandu resumes).

IFEKANDU: He is finding the loss of his friend hard to take, that I assumed. But now I understand he is overreacting, after all, Onwudiwe was our friend and kinsman too.

NKEONYE: What manner of man makes light the weighty log of death?

IFEKANDU: His head has left his body. Look at Onwudiwe, still lying lifeless after his senseless conjectures, he has lost his mind.

NKEONYE:  This is madness, and we cannot sit idly and watch. We must send for Ikuku.

IFEKANDU: Ikuku does not dance to the drumbeat of a baby drummer. Let’s go ourselves, that he receives the urgency of the message directly from our mouth.

(They arise and walk across the stage, briefly halting to console the women. Ijeuwa still quietly mimics their cry to the audience. Nkeonye shoots him a scathing look and mouths morbidly).

IJEUWA:       Please, I am still waiting for you to lend me your hopes so I can add to mine, and you will see an alive Onwudiwe on your return.

NKEONYE:  The gods forbid you run into the market on our return.

They exit.

(Ijeuwa snaps and scurries to Sochima, a teenage girl)

AKWEKE:    Why do you need an extra strand of hope?

IJEUWA:       (Ignoring her) Sochima, those elders who have just left would be very thirsty when they return. Go to Okenna’s shade and get a keg of fresh palm wine for them to quench their burning throats.

SOCHIMA:   We are in mourning, Mazi.

IJEUWA:       (Taken aback) How it is easy for you to question an elder is a testament of how thorough your father imbibed in you the crux of our custom. I don’t question culture, but I am not blinded by it.

AKWEKE:    Sochima, go do as you have been ordered.

(Sochima grudgingly squirms up to her feet.)

IJEUWA:       One more thing. Stop by Egwugwu’s hut and tell him to come with his magical flute and make a fitting melody for our soul.

Sochima leaves.

AKWEKE:    A melody in mourning?

IJEUWA:       A melody of triumph over death.

AKWEKE:    You speak with so much conviction one would think you have death in your pouch.

IJEUWA:       I do not have death in my pouch, Akweke. But Akweke, death does not thrive in a vacuum. Shut the door against it, and see it scamper off to the caves.

AKWEKE:    I want to believe you. I am tempted to believe you, but I don’t want to mourn twice.

IJEUWA:       Is that the reason for rejecting hope and accepting death? (Laughs)

AKWEKE:    Will you blame me, Ijeuwa? Nothing kills one quicker than watching their hope evaporate before their face.

IJEUWA:       And what happens when you don’t watch it; when you just pretend it’s not there, however, clinging to it?

AKWEKE:    It numbs your muscles and forces your blood flow to a standstill.

IJEUWA:       Your rhetoric amazes me, Akweke. But a strand of hope, however fragile, brings to birth a far-reaching desire. Perhaps, hope is not a thing for the weak.

AKWEKE:    I have never been a person of strength, Ijeuwa.

IJEUWA:       It is okay to fall short; but it is not to question the strength of others.

AKWEKE:    Why do you need an extra strand of hope?

IJEUWA:       Because two strands of hope conquer tens of thousands, but a single strand conquers only a thousand. Your choice.

(An indiscreet hum from backstage erodes their conversation. Enter Nkeonye and Ifekandu trailed by the enchanting Ikuku.)

IKUKU:         (Chants and parables in Igbo) When a bird perches on a robe, neither the bird nor the rope will be at rest. (Performs a cheeky dance)

IJEUWA:       Welcome, Ikuku, the invincible force of the universe. What message do you bring us from the gods? Are they on the verge of restoring laughter to our soured faces?

IKUKU:         Taaah! Laughter piawa gi anya! In your madness you have been trying to avert the course of nature and etch yourself in immortality (Delirious laughter). Beware! Who the gods choose to kill they first make mad.

IJEUWA:       I do not seek immortality, Ikuku. I’m only asking for the hold of death on my friend to be relaxed.

IKUKU:         Lee anya, nwoke m, I have not come here to haggle words, I’m here to cushion the effect of what your foolishness has brought upon your head.

IJEUWA:       Foolishness?

(Ikuku is lost in his incantations, swaying to a mystical rhythm. He digs into his bag and brings out an earthen calabash, four pieces of cowries and a precious stone which he rolls on the floor after sinking to the ground beside Akweke to continue the rest of his incantation in morbid silence).

IJEUWA:       (Turns to Nkeonye and Ifekandu) What is this thing you people have done by casting darkness on our only source of light, is it not enough that you are hoarding hope when it is most needed?

IFEKANDU: It is to your advantage. You can see that we are back and Onwudiwe is still lying just as we left him. I’m afraid if we don’t solve your problem now, you will soon run into the market.

IJEUWA:       I would gladly roam the market naked to see Onwudiwe live again than witness your palpable weakness which is an eyesore.

NKEONYE:  That is why we brought Ikuku to chase that spirit of madness out of your head.

IFEKANDU: We know this is difficult to accept. Onwudiwe was a healthy man with no sign of illness. He is your friend, no doubt, but he is neither an enemy to any of us in this room. As a matter of fact, he was in my house yesterday to discuss his choice of land for the next planting season. His death is as painful to me as it is to you, but I am being a man. You don’t expect me to join the wailing women, neither do I expect you to lose your mind over it.

NKEONYE:  Yes, Onwudiwe is my wife’s cousin; he is no stranger to me. But I have not let my emotions sweep me off my feet as a man that I am.

IJEUWA:       That is not the problem.

IFEKANDU:             Tell us what the problem is.

IJEUWA:       It is easier to call me mad than it is to admit to your weakness. 

NKEONYE:  Look at this madman we are trying to help.

(The sound of Egwugwu’s flute suffuse the stage, its tone is melancholic, which drives the women into an aggravated cry. Sochima leads the way with a keg of palm wine which she places at the centre.)

IFEKANDU: Is that not the scent of a freshly tapped palm wine; what is it doing in a place of mourning?

SOCHIMA:   Mazi Ijeuwa asked me to get it from Okenna.

NKEONYE: How does a sane person put a heap of ant infested firewood on his head?

IJEUWA:       Don’t you need some wine to quench the scorch in your throat?

IFEKANDU: Certainly!

NKEONYE: What do you mean by certainly, Ifekandu? Have you forgotten the consequences of drinking in the place of death?

IJEUWA:       I did not send for the wine to cast contempt on our tradition or provoke the spirit of death. In truth, the wine was provided to give you something more relaxing than water.

NKEONYE:  Did Akweke tell you the water in her pot got dried up?

IJEUWA:       No!

NKEONYE:  Did she say to you that we are enemies of water?

IJEUWA:       No!

NKEONYE:  Has our stream stopped flowing with the finest water among the seven clans?

IJEUWA:       Certainly not!

NKEONYE:  Then why have you chosen to be unfortunate?

IJEUWA:       We needed more than water for the triumph we were about to witness.

(Ifekandu momentarily gets lost in the melody of Egwugwu’s music and nods in enjoyment. Nkeonye taps him to consciousness)

IFEKANDU:             Ijeuwa, I see you were serious when you spoke of hiring the best composers. See the effect of that young man’s flute on my soul.

IJEUWA:       Had you not interrupted, had you agreed to lend me a strand of hope, Onwudiwe will be dancing to it by now. 

NKEONYE:  (Bursts into a sinister laughter) Could that be the gong of defeat in your tone? (Turns to Ikuku) Oke mmuo n’eti onwe ya, continue. His head is returning.

(Ikuku meanwhile performs a spirited dance, intermittently breaking into a morbid writhe that presses his body to Akweke, his mouth twisting and uttering inaudibly).

IJEUWA:       What you hear is no sound of defeat; it is the helplessness caused by your weakness and greed.

IFEKANDU: (Mockingly) It is a wise way to concede defeat.

IJEUWA:       On the contrary, it is a good place to ask you all to leave me and Onwudiwe alone.

NKEONYE:  And who are you to ask us to leave you alone?

IJEUWA:       I am the hope-filled one. Perhaps, the noise of your doubt has confined his spirit into oblivion.

(Akweke cuts in from behind, making her way to the front).

AKWEKE:    We will all go away. The presence of an inordinate spirit in this house is insulting to the memory of my husband. He is not welcomed here. 

IFEKANDU: Are you asking us to leave? 

IJEUWA:       She is not asking you to leave. I am asking for an alone time with the spirit of my friend. You can wait outside and return when I am done. 

AKWEKE:    May our interruption not rob Onwudiwe the chance to see the light again. Whether or not we believe in this, it is worth giving a try.

(Ijeuwa’s face creases with a smile)   

NKEONYE:  We will leave, but don’t come calling on us when it gets worse.

(He looks unbelievably at them just before putting a foot out. And then, there is a sneeze, an awakening. Onwudiwe jerks back to life. A momentary commotion and collision unravel. Ifekandu scampers off; Nkeonye runs into Ikuku, both reaching the ground and taking off again; the women all take to their heels, leaving their fallen wrappers behind. Only Ijeuwa and Akweke stay put. Sochima watches from the door.)

IJEUWA:       (Sheepish smile) It took you so long, enyia. Welcome, back. (Turns to Akweke) Get him something to eat.

(Akweke is numb, mouth open agape.)

IJEUWA:       Don’t you hear what I say? Get him something to eat.

AKWEKE:    Who enters the kitchen with her husband laying still?

IJEUWA:       Oh! Pour him some palm wine then, get a cup.

(Akweke hurries out the crowded doorway. Nkeonye, Ifekandu and Ikuku slowly approaches.)

NKEONYE:  It is true o. (Dabbing his eyes) I am not dreaming.

(Ifekandu is holding on to sand in his palms and pours it on Onwudiwe for confirmation.)

IFEKANDU:             It’s a lie. Onwudiwe. No, this can’t be real.

(Akweke returns with a cup and serves wine to Onwudiwe who gulps it at a go. She refills the cup which he again downs in one gulp. The elders exchange glances. She is about to fill the third cup when Ijeuwa stops her.)

IJEUWA:       Onwudiwe! If it is you, speak. Speak to me, Ijeuwa.  (A short pause and eerie silence hovers)

ONWUDIWE:           It is me.

(A raucous jubilation rends the air, Egwugwu strokes his flute and gets to work, Sochima serves palmwine to everyone, Nkeonye is apparently the happiest person in the room. Ijeuwa shoots him a stare.)

NKEONYE: I have always known you will not bow to the force of death. There was something telling in the way you died that made me think it was not yet over.

IJEUWA:       The same palm wine you spoke against is already fueling you to deceit. 

NKEONYE:  (Faking anger) What do you mean by that?

ONWUDIWE:           It means you and Ifekandu denied me a pass back to life even after I received access from the gatekeepers of the underworld.

IFEKANDU: How did we deny you access; have we ever been to the spirit world? I don’t know about Nkeonye, I am speaking for myself, I have never been there. I was back here to protect our custom.

ONWUDIWE:           How about protecting your interest because of the piece of land in question, the one I mentioned to you yesterday? You desire it, you want to farm on it and you would rather have it for yourself than see me return to life.

(Ifekandu buries his head in shame)

NKEONYE:  Ah ah, Ifekandu, that is appalling! How can you choose a piece of land over a man’s life? No, I’m not in support of this. You didn’t get it at all.

ONWUDIWE:           You are not left out, Nkeonye. (Nkeonye cuts him side glances which he either ignores or does not notice.)

NKEONYE: Me? I did not do anything; I did not send death to take you in your sleep.

 ONWUDIWE:          I have not said you did. But Nkeonye, you are not exempted. You who love my money more than my life. The money your wife begged me to lend you during the last planting season is yet to be repaid, that money is the reason you brought Ikuku into my home to block the path of my return.

(Nkeonye puts down his cup to fan himself with his hands.) 

IJEUWA:       (Whispers) He knows the mind of everyone now. Could I be in trouble?

ONWUDIWE:           Ikuku, the mighty force that sweeps the earth, you forced….

AKWEKE:    (Kneels by him and grabs his heel) Please my husband, keep the hairy anus of an old man out of a child’s view.

ONWUDIWE:           (Proudly) Because I am proud of you, I will oblige your request and reward you specially for honouring my name.

IKUKU:         (Pointing to Ijeuwa) A chameleon that wants to survive the burning bush must abandon the majestic walk of its ancestors. But since you have refused, that palm wine will scourge your stomach and bring you to your knees.

(He slaps his staff thrice on the ground, grunts violently and swerves out of the stage, followed by Nkeonye and then Ifekandu)

ONWUDIWE:                       (Wild laughter) Don’t pay him any attention; he is a sore loser. (Silence) Thank you. You know that everything I have, except my wife, now belongs to you.

IJEUWA:       You owe me nothing; you don’t have to pay me for carrying out a responsibility.

AKWEKE:    The responsibility of hoping is a sweet rewarding thing.

(Ijeuwa arises and twists his body to the flute of Egwugwu, joined by Onwudiwe and Akweke on the dance floor. But after a while, he clutches his stomach and gnashes intermittently, slightly at first, then morbidly, until he sinks to his knees and begins to vomit. Onwudiwe rushes to him, patting his back, before the vomit sudden turns into a convulsion. Egwugwu suspends his flute and scurries to the body of Ijeuwa to give Onwudiwe a hand and carry him out of stage. Akweke follows them out.)


Uchenna Edwin Eze is the Associate Drama Editor for The Muse Journal No 50. A screenwriter with a few films and web series to his name, he is an undergraduate student of English and Literary Studies, UNN. Away from screen/play-writing, he is a seasoned tailor. His works have appeared in The Muse Journal, Fiction Niche Mag and elsewhere.