Shinan had tried her best to hide the events surrounding the birth of Tebon, for so long now and she was cocksure the secret was well hidden. However, as she peeped through the window of her smoky hut towards the entrance to the main gate to the chief's compound her heart thumbed repeatedly with fear: fear of what the midwife would say to the chief. She was afraid she would let the secret out of the bag.
Her mind was forced to review what had occurred almost three years ago.
Shinan had given birth to a bouncing baby boy who became the chief's seventh son. This brought joy to everyone in the village to an extent that was unfathomable. Nobody was more elated than Shinan, Tebon's mother, whom from her seven children, this was the first and only son she had. However, one thing was not right at all, Tebon, even at a tender age seemed to have a few deformations. First, one of his feet seemed to be longer than the other and then he had two extra toes on each foot. The midwife who helped Shinan told her how serious such deformations were unacceptable and she said it would bring a curse to the whole village. The only solution was an untimely killing of an innocent boy since he was not considered a normal child. That was, as she put it, the law of the land that was laid down by their forefathers and the fathers before them.
No mother would agree to the killing of her child, whether the child is deformed or not. None. Shinan was no exception.
She knew she had to do everything to protect her son and she had to do it quick. She asked the midwife to keep the whole thing to herself and in exchange she, Shinan would be willing to give her part of the harvest given to her by her husband. At the time the child was presented to the chief, he was carefully and tightly wrapped in a soft sheep's skin, with no chance of slipping. The chief walked through the whole village to parade his son in all the four meeting squares of the village, totally ignorant of his son's deformation.
The deal between Shinan and the midwife continued for two years. On the third year, the harvests were so poor due to the invasion of termites and locusts which destroyed most of the crops in the fields. The outbreak made the whole village wary. Everyone said a curse had been brought upon the village as neighbouring villages far beyond the mountains were not attacked by the same calamity of locusts and termites. The poor harvest made the chief not to divide the harvest to his wives as usual but decided that every harvested crop will be stored in the royal granary.
During Shinan's secret meetings with Midudi, the midwife, she had explained to her that she would double the pay in the next harvest. However, Midudi was adamant. She wanted to be given a share of the harvest they had earlier agreed upon two years ago or she would tell the entire village the secret. She gave Shinan a week to find a way to give her what she considered her fair share of silence.
Fast forward, today was the last day of the given week and as she looked at Midudi in the company of three elders, she felt like the world around her was sinking. Shinan knew the midwife had already let the cat out of the bag.
Shinan was summoned by the chief one hour later, in the royal court, after the little talk between the midwife and the three elders. It was no surprise to her. She was actually expecting it.
"Woman! Is what these people are telling me true?" Chief Nzuka asked. He had clearly lost his temper. His voice sounded like a roar of an angry lion south of river Limpopo. Everyone felt so weak inside, including the three elders. They had never seen the chief so filled with anger as he was on that day, not even that day when he found one of his guards feasting on his elder daughter in his own royal hut. Today, his anger was beyond reproach and it was because of the deceit of his favourite wife.
"I am asking you, is it true that Tebon is not a normal child?" He asked, with a more stern voice. Shinan was quietly kneeling before him.
"I am afraid it is my husband and am so I am deeply sorry. It is just that I could not bring myself to let my son be killed over something that was beyond his control or anyone else for that matter," she said getting courageous with every word. Her boldness did not escape the notice of the people in the royal court.
Well, the laws of the land were clear, the child had to be burnt alive just after sunset. Sunset was but a few hours away. The chief sent two royal guards to fetch the child. As they headed out, the chief thought he saw a smile escape his third wife. He knew in his heart that something was fishy. The guards came back almost immediately. The child was nowhere to be found.
Shinan had entrusted her child to the care of her bosom friend, Ngozi. They had left the village a long time ago. Never to return.