The whole town of Alegongo was in turmoil; the King’s only son had run into the evil forest. The palace was in uproar; women were crying, men were stomping, children were hiding. Asake, the daughter of Alade the court jester had seen the Prince go into the evil forest. From a corner Ojo, the town’s best dancer watched everything with keen interest.
A bell rang in front of the palace and the women stopped crying, the men stopped stomping and the children, well the children remained in hiding. Ifayose, the Priest was at the gate. A dead silence fell on the whole crowd as the King stepped out of the palace. He walked across the yard, his head bowed and his legs heavy. He stopped in front of the Priest.
“What have I done that the gods have given me a stupid son?” The King asked.
“My king, this is not the time for questions but we know a child can only take after his father.”
Ojo wanted to laugh but he knew it would cost him his head.
“Or his mother.” The Chief Priest added. “But like I said, this is not the time for questions. The gods have told us what to do to get the Prince back.”
“The gods will return my son?”
“Yes, my king, they will.”
The crowd murmured with surprise and fear. Ojo didn’t blame them. Everyone knew the gods never gave anything for free.
“And what price must we pay?”
“Seven young men, my King.”
The gods were getting greedier in their thirst for Alegongo’s young men.
“Seven young men in three days.” The Priest said.
“And what are we to do to the young men?” The king asked.
Silence filled the palace as the people waited for the Chief Priest to respond.
“Nothing.” He said.
“Nothing?” The king was surprised.
“The young men will go into the evil forest to bring back the prince.”
“So they will come back alive?”
“They may.” The chief priest said. “If the gods allow it.”
The young men of Alegongo gathered in the village square to find out which of them would go into the evil forest to get the prince. The women and old men were gathered also, praying the Priest would not pick their children. Ojo did not have a family, he had no one praying for him.
The King had told the young men they were doing their town a big favour and one day children would write songs about them. Ojo knew this was a lie. He had been a child once and he or his friends never wrote any songs about anybody. His eyes caught Akintunde the town’s best wrestler. Akintunde would be picked for sure. It would not be a bad idea too. It would mean no competition for Asake.
The bell rang and the young men stood upright.
The Priest walked into the village square and looked the men over. Ojo hated that a single man would determine the fate of seven people he had no hand in bringing to the world or raising.
“Odepidan, the hunter.” The chief Priest said. Ojo closed his eyes, it had begun.
“Osunshowo, the fisherman.
“Owolari, the trader.
“Arapalulu, the drummer.
“James, the teacher.
“Ogungbemi, the blacksmith.”
Ojo sighed, Akintunde the wrestler was going to be seventh person.
“And last and the least,” The Chief Priest said. “Ojo, the dancer.”
Ojo froze. No way, he had heard wrong. No, he could not go to the evil forest, this was a mistake.
“Ojo, the dancer.” The Chief Priest said again.
Ojo looked around, the other six men were already in front of the Chief Priest. He moved forward slowly, hoping his lethargy will make the Priest angry and substitute him. It did not work.
“Young men,” The Priest started. “I did not choose any of you, the gods did. They have appointed you for a reason. They have promised me some of you will return if you do not show fear. And my children, I promise you, there is nothing to fear.”
Ojo raised his hand. The Priest looked at him with disdain but he did not care, he needed to know something.
“You said we have nothing to fear in the evil forest?” Ojo asked.
“Yes, nothing to fear.”
“Have you ever been there?”
“No I haven’t.” The Priest said. “But my father has.”
Maybe this wasn’t as bad as he thought. “And your father said there was nothing to fear?”
“No, he didn’t say so. He never came back.” The Priest said, with a straight face to Ojo’s astonishment. “Now, young men, say goodbye to your family members and meet me here by sunset. You will receive your instructions and by midnight you begin your journey.”
Ojo had no one to say goodbye to. He looked around and saw Asake talking to Akintunde: she had moved on already. Maybe dying in the evil forest was not a bad idea. At least there was a chance that children would sing songs about his bravery. Or cowardice. It did not matter as long as they sang about him. He would do it. He would go to the evil forest, he would save the prince and he come back alive. He did not care what Asake, Akintunde or anyone else thought about him. He was a brave man and he would prove it to all of them.
Sunset came and the young men were gathered at the village square. But there was a problem, there were only six men.
“Where is Ojo?” The Priest bellowed.
Nobody knew but Ojo was in the town across the river. He had skinned his head and drawn tribal marks on his face. And his name was now Ibiyemi.
He would never return to Alegongo so he would never hear the song they sang about him.
Ojo, the wise one
He ran away from Alegongo and the evil forest
He saw death and fled
Ojo, the wise one, he considered himself first.