Isio’s legs felt heavy but she forced one foot after another; holding the little bulge of her stomach as she ran along. There was chaos as women ran past her clutching the little they could grab from their matted huts. The air smelt of burning thatch and blood as sparks of fire lit up the starry night sky. Isio could still hear the high pitched scream of Agama; the widowed mother of two ringing in her ears – in her mind. She could hear her mangled plea for life as the Ogbús’ sharpened blades hacked down her son, a piercing scream reaching her ears; forlorn. Isio tightened her grip on the wooden rail of the fishing stall as a pang hit her. The pain seared through her pelvis, clasping her walls. She doubled over as the stench of salt reached her nostrils. The pain came to again more intense than it had been earlier.
She could see familiar feet running towards her. Feet the distinct color of red mud the Ake tribe were known for. She shook her head crazily as the woman tried to pull her up. There was no point helping her; she would only slow the pack down and she could already hear the war drums drawing closer. The warriors were close, wreaking havoc in their wake. The woman persisted, beckoning on a few others to help. They helped her into the closest stall afar right. Isio let out a muffled scream as the pain pierced through her again.
The women worked fast. One clearing the work table set in the middle of the stall; removing fish blood and grime just in time for another to lay a woven wrapper atop. Isio struggled through the pain as they laid her onto the table. She prayed to the stars; a silent hopeful prayer and through gritted teeth she pushed as hard as her strength could carry.
The women supported her, urging her on in unison. Sweat stuck to her brows, tears ran down the sides of her cheek; the long cut in the middle of her forehead folded in a painful furrow as she pushed again. The air filled with the shrill cry of the new born. Isio collapsed, staring into the single orange light of the lantern hanging from the stall’s thatched roof; the voices of the women just a faint sound in her ears. In the shifting glow of light, Isio could swear she saw Her. Somewhere far in the distant, surrounded by mangrove and moss, she could hear the steady shake of the shekere.
Amidst the thick of trees, in the burst of sunlight; the divine lady of Ake, clothed in white cotton – a thin coral bead etched in the middle of her temple. She mouthed words to Isio; soothing words that calmed her heart and gave her strength to move on. Isio swelled with thankfulness. The stars had heard her prayers and victory was born.
The hushed prayers of the women permeated the still air. They were familiar ritual words of prayer but in that moment she held onto every word, lacing each meaning to the birth of her son.
Like red mud, your life would hold magic
May the divine lady watch over you
May your erhi fulfil its power
May your life be prosperous just as Oghene ordains
Let your breasts suckle the weak and give hope to the helpless
May you live long young child