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Fiction Friday: “A Visit to the Palace” – A Short Story by Obinna Ozoigbo, Author of The Dust Must Settle

 
The Dust Must SettleIt’s Fiction Friday! This week, we have a short story by Obinna Ozoigbo, author of The Dust Must Settle.

In this story, entitled “A Visit to the Palace”, the protagonist embarks on a journey by steam locomotive to “the House of Adeoti, the formidable palace of the Oba of Bonangu”.

After a bumpy ride, the protagonist arrives at the palace, where Aunty Maryam welcomes her with a friendly hug. The peace, however, is short-lived, when secrets begin to slip through the cracks.

Read the extract:

The old smoke-belching train is jammed with passengers. I sit by the window as the train chugs through, jangling on the rusty rails. I turn to gaze out to the scenery that rolls by. A herd of cattle. Nomadic herders’ tents. Anthills. They all punctuate the grassland, a stunning vastness of greenery sprawling down to the horizon. Like a painter’s oil on canvas. In the weary silence—between me and my co-passengers—I listen to the constant jangling and the intermittent deafening hooting. I listen to the hissing as the train spits coal-black smoke into the sunny sky. The train, I imagine, is like a giant rattlesnake slithering on the long twisting curves of the rails, time-worn rails that begin from Kharton and terminate at Bonangu, the commercial capital of Jhaba.

After a couple of hours, the locomotive gives a lurch. Then it stops at a station by a dusty shanty. Some of us begin to disembark. Men and women and children. I look out through the window. The sun is still blazing, the sky a radiant blue. Ramshackle houses desperately in need of splashes of fresh paint. Rickety shops with corrugated zinc sheets that have been trampled by time. A swarm of disheveled-looking people. Women busy with hair and cooking pots and laundry. Men, amid tobacco and beer, absorbed in draughts under gaunt trees. Burly, spirited teenage boys engaged in makeshift soccer. Hawkers, a jostling crowd, begin to hover around the entire string of coaches. Like bees flitting to their hive. They holler and cackle and whistle at the top of their lungs to draw attention to their wares. They step on one another’s toes, anxious to sell. One leaps and thrusts a bunch of bananas into my arms. I fumble in my handbag and pull out a ten-shilling bill. I slap it into the waiting hand. I cannot resist bananas.

I steer my gaze. Snotty-nosed children frolicking in the sand, in the stifling heat. A couple of boisterous dogs gamboling around the children in delight. The canines wag their tails. They prance. They pant. They kick up puffs of dust here and there, together with the juveniles.

The waiting passengers begin to enter. They push and shove their way in. Not enough seats. Some of them, obviously, do not mind standing. My coach is now over-crowded.

The train, with a loud hoot, rumbles back to life. It gathers speed again. Gradually. The air is nonetheless invigorating. It emanates from the rich foliage flanking the speeding locomotive and douses the fetid smell within. The air current, strong and daring, flutters my generous hair. But I do not care, all thanks to the long curved fruit, its smooth yellow skin and that unmistakable flavor that makes it my favorite. I take a bite and my mouth begins to dance. I relish the taste and the softness of the succulent flesh. I adjust myself. The old wooden bench creaks and groans faintly under my bum—and those of three other passengers with whom I share the bench.

All is kind of still again. Except the jangling of the train and the creaking and groaning of the wobbly seats. And the vociferous hoots that come every now and again. I look around. Many are nodding off to sleep already. It is indeed a long and dreary journey. I whisper a prayer: Lord, lead me safely to the House of Adeoti, the formidable palace of the Oba of Bonangu.

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