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Beneath the rocks | Busola Aboyeji



My skin grew chilly as we reached the peak of Olumo mountain, one of Abeokuta's numerous tourist centers. The air changed from the hot one that had filled my spaghetti-strapped jumpsuit to a chilly one that made me shiver.


The short, stout tour guide, who had playfully winked at me earlier, ushered us to the peak by rattling off the eight words that the Yoruba word, Ogun, could represent if one understood the different accents and intonations. I wondered how many times a day he did that to achieve such a flawless flow of words at such a fast pace.



It almost sounded like a love song in a rap; medicine, twenty, God of Iron, war, he climbed, it's long, charm, and Ogun as a state. Eight words with the same spelling in one local language, only if you knew when to speak with your nose or raise the back of your tongue. In writing, you needed to know when to crown a vowel with an accent that faced either the right or left or add a dot beneath. I carefully recited the words until they stuck.


Before the tour guide could speak further, my aunt asked us to huddle up for a picture. Sensing that we needed to bask in the euphoria of reaching the peak, he swallowed his words. I chuckled lightly at his sudden benevolence.


Two stops before, when we had bent to view the kitchen under the rocks where the women of Egba had prepared food during the war that disintegrated the Oyo Empire, he had left us behind. I caught him smiling as we hurriedly took inferior pictures and ran to catch up with him. It must be something he did to add to the thrill of the tour. He strode forward gaily as he told us that was how the town got its name, Abeokuta, which translates to "Under the Rocks."


My aunt drew her two young children to her side, and one of them clung to my hand. I smiled, but the smile froze in place as her husband placed his robust hand on my shoulder and drew me back to stay in line, not to ruin the picture. I tactically shook his hands off but remained where he asked me to.


Later, the tour guide called our attention to a huge tree whose peaks were just a little higher than the mountain. It was the last agenda on tour. He said the tree was two hundred years old, and anyone who plucked its leaves and went back down the mountain with it would live up to that age, but the mountain peak was steep, and one could fall. It seemed like such a fable, but my aunt's children lapped it up.


That was my cue. I walked to the tree and stretched my long hands. I plucked three leaves at once. I handed each child one and kept one to myself. I took in their excited faces, which was enough consolation as I slipped to my death. I caught my uncle's shocked look, and it delighted me. Far more than the satisfied grin he wore after having his way with me the previous night.


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