Speaking in Metaphors and Aphorisms

By Okey Ikechukwu

Ejindu`s grandfather, Okachie the wise, was always a man of great insights. He knew Alaoma and its people like the back of his hand. But he was also not a man of many words. Were he a man of many words, he would have told Ejindu, his grandson, and many other people, that his insight into people’s nature and character was a gift of the gods. He would also probably have said that it was partly because he had seen so many years in the village that he could tell the turn of events simply by sniffing the wind.

But he was no talkative. Thus, no one knew his thoughts on these matters.

He was always his own man. He believed that the spoken word should be accompanied by action; hence his aversion for people who talked too much. He once rebuked an imprudent prattler by advising him to watch his steps, lest he step on a rattlesnake and join his ancestors prematurely.

Okachie taught his son Obidike, and his grandson, Ejindu, that one must always do one`s best to ascertain which bridges to burn and which ones to cross in life. He always warned them never to forget that no one could do an evil did and truly be at peace with himself, or with the gods.

He sometimes spoke of destiny, but of destiny made by each individual for himself. He would not give window to the lazy and unsuccessful who blame destiny for their failings. Nor would he approve of the attitude of the brave and successful who make the mistake of flaunting their achievements, as if in defiance of the gods.

He respected and praised diligence and responsible behaviour, in leaders and the led alike. He had no regard for the bad people in the community, whatsoever. The repeated attempts of many good people to call the depraved among them to their senses over the years had all been to no avail.

Okachie, therefore, knew for a fact that the bad, the depraved and the temporarily triumphant in Alaoma, had prepared their own fate. He also knew that the fate so prepared had become inevitable.

He has seen many people rise and fall in his long and eventful life. He has also watched the fortunes of those who overrated themselves plummet. He has come to realize, with time, why the fate of people who overrated themselves was always easy to predict.

He likened them to reckless butterflies which, thinking that they could take liberties with the flickering light of the open flame of an oil lamp, soon discovered that the fire usually burnt flying insects to death. And the discovery always came when it was too late for the unfortunate insects.

The few reckless, fire-loving, night insects that managed to survive such encounters usually got de-winged and diminished; unable to ever fly again. Thus, de-winged, they would not show themselves anywhere among flying things ever again. They had become crawling things, through their own efforts at folly. They would all be eventually eaten by ants, rodents, frogs and worms. Their tomfoolery made their fate inevitable.

Okachie used to warn Ejindu, his grandson, not to be deceived if some bad and reckless people appear to be doing well. Not even when their prosperity lasts for a while! And not when their apparent good fortune seemeds to make a mockery of the gods and of the laws of the land. It would only seem to be so, Okachie would say.

Such people usually came to no good in the end. More often than not, their end was quick and inglorious. They would pass away with appalling ease, unsung; to be remembered occasionally when parents wished to admonish their children about the dangers of presumption and reckless living.

Like the morning flower that withered with the upward climb of the morning sun, the memory of such people served as perpetual reminders to others; that only fools used the early morning flow of customers to make proud pronouncements about how the day’s sales would be in the market.

Okachie once told a group of reckless young men that a man who refused to learn from the mistakes of others was like an oiled calabash that remained dry inside and outside, after long hours in water.

The oiled calabash absorbs no water. Therefore, it gives none. It gets immersed in the richest abundance, but only serves as an instrument for carrying such abundance to others. It is no example of how to absorb water when immersed in it.

Okachie would call such people forests without game! Cobs without corn! Castles without gates and guests! Clouds without rain! Hens that do not know the value of ‘kwom, kwom’, the calling sound, for guiding young chicks along the path of life and away from danger!

He once warned a disrespectful young man thus: ‘When elders see the first dance steps of a young man who receives the Ozo title at the age of twenty, they know whether he would live to be an old man.’

Okachie could say that because he had seen many such young men come and go. He was an old man now; a very old man indeed, from whom even other old men often sought wisdom.

Ejindu, his grandson, often recollected the many patient lessons and kind words of wisdom from his grandfather. He always felt humbled by the fact that his grandfather was a man so completely without airs that you sometimes wonder who, or what, he really was.

Through this patient old man, Ejindu had come to know and understand much that he would not otherwise have ever known, or understood, without the benefit of being close to his grandfather. Yes, Okachie was a man from whose words you sometimes discerned the voice of the gods.  It was as if his ancestors knew his nature and gave him that name.

The name, Omee-Okachie, means ‘one who does, or says, and rules that it is over and cannot be redone – or undone’; `one whose actions, and pronouncements, are to be accepted as a matter of course’. An Omee-okachie is not to be contradicted in word or deed. He earns, receives and enjoys respect without being arrogant.

And this particular Omee-Okachie has held his position as head of his filial clan with a quiet, unobtrusive but unassailable dignity and authority.  As head, he was the custodian of a family tradition.

He lived true to his name, but almost like some kind of benevolent guardian spirit to everyone. Alaoma people knew that for a fact. As the oldest and wisest man in the community, he was now also the village Patriarch. He was, at once, leader, guide, teacher, nurse, mentor and healer.

While his position as community patriarch was conferred on him by age and wisdom, his status as Patriarch of his extended family was conferred on him by the filial Patriarch before him. It would be his task to also eventually identify another and hand over this custodianship, the way he was identified and given the mantle.

He thought about this from time to time, often wondering whether he was taking too long in handing over the custodianship to another. At least the feeling was creeping in on him that he was running out of time and that he needed to discharge this burden sooner than later.

Then, one fateful Eke market day, an incident occurred that led to his son, Obidike, becoming the new head of the filial clan. And it came without any warning.

It was just like any other day for Agbonma, his wife, Obidike and his siblings, until Okachie came back after the day`s work. They were all surprised, even a little startled, when the man of the house walked into the family compound with strangely slow and heavy steps. This was most unlike him.

When he stopped midway and stood on one spot in the compound, apparently lost in thought, Obidike and other members of the family sensed that all was not well. More so, because they noticed that he was not fully conscious of what was going on around him.

He was like a man in a semi-trance, or someone who was seeing only the thoughts in his head. Strange!

It was still early evening when he walked into the compound. The full evening was merely sneaking up from behind the late afternoon, to subtly drag it along and force it to become night. Yes, the sun’s eyelids were beginning to look heavy. They were slowly covering it in the western sky. And it looked so terribly red.

As the giver of daylight was quietly disappearing under the massive, crimson eyelids of clouds, while it was still visible, with its wide afterglow, Okachie was still standing there in his compound.

The full evening finally came! The evening birds started singing and chirping in neighbouring bushes. The crickets started clearing their throats and warming up their wings for yet another round of night music. What would moonlight games be without these musicians of the night? How would you enjoy the moonlight tales without the sounds that made them so genuinely traditional and real? The crickets, the insects and other creatures of the night, usually created the chorus of sounds that added joy to every night in the community.

But Okachie could hear none of that as he stood transfixed. Whatever put him in this state must be serious and ominous. Given the sombre air, there can be no gathering of children under any benign moonbeams. No dreamy, and sometimes scary, stories about the amazing exploits of the ever-cunning tortoise, no!

But enough of Omee-Okachie and all that.

The above, from my coming book, “The Return of Ejindu, deliberately “speaks in tongues”. Nigerians are perplexed. There is fear and trembling, everywhere. Riots may escalate, as insecurity and hunger escalate. State and local governments ignore their roles as primary custodians of the people’s welfare. The precipice is so close, but is overlaid with coloured mats. Do you smell bad news in the air, from Okachie; who is still standing in the compound – as night closes in?


Nigerians are perplexed. There is fear and trembling, everywhere. Riots may escalate, as insecurity and hunger escalate. State and local governments ignore their roles as primary custodians of the people’s welfare. The precipice is so close, but is overlaid with coloured mats. Do you smell bad news in the air?

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