The Ogboni Society was formed centuries before the European explorers came in contact with Diamankor. Speculatively the institution was established in the mid 9th century. This was the era of the Aiwughobasinins, the Mountain Lords who ruled the island at the time. The Ogboni Society emerged from a system of checks and balances to safeguard against any one ruler gaining too much power. In short, it was an elite club of Kingmakers— issuing and depleting power. On these shoulders, the weight of the government rested. Of course this was long before the Portuguese showed up and upset the near perfect equilibrium. By the end of the fifteenth century, there were no longer any Aiwughobasinins, and subsequently no use for the Ogboni Society. The Portuguese induced Ikerenken Dynasty had no use for checks and balances.
In the Colonial era, native Islanders of aristocratic descent faced a social problem:
despite the fact that they were Oxford/ Cambridge/ Yale/ (and what not) educated, and were lawyers, bankers, architects, academics, et cetera, they were excluded from all existing social clubs and circles on account of their race. Slighted, piqued, but not to be outdone— considering they were on their own soil; many of these Diamankan elite banded together toform their own power clique known as The Reformed Ogboni Fraternity. Wealth and lineage were instrumental in gaining membership.
It was the weight of these people that persevered in the struggle for national independence. And when this was attained, they went to their drafting boards, designed a new regime: doling out power to members only.
And so it came to pass, if you lusted after political power and the untold wealth that comes with that; you needed to join the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity. Even if you were not interested in political power, but just wanted wealth— you still had to join the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity. To the unconnected soul, this turned out to be a no win situation. Easier the fat man to enter the eye of a needle than the poor man to get in to Ogboni circles. Of course if you were smart, you could befriend one of the alleged and get in on his recommendation. But that was the other thing, the Fraternity consisted of invisible power brokers— no one could really say for sure who they were.
The Ogboni Social Club was created to cater to the pretensions of middleclass aspirants. It offered access into the outer concentric circles of power and the extended arm of influence. The prime purpose to keep a surveillant eye on that part of a growing proletariat fast transforming itself into landed gentry. A system of checks and balances.
Access to any power, any wealth, even a teeny weenie bit of it, usually kept most people content.
It was upon the benefits rather than the covert meanings (to which he was oblivious,) of the Ogboni Social Club— that Benjamin Eremite Okonjo of 152 Alaguade Quarter ruminated as he walked his bicycle down the steep mountain path, early this Friday at dawn. He had just come off his night shift and was on his way home. It was a pale misty green morning, the earth smelled of wet rock and green things, the sun a powdery lemony moon. And the bells of Pater Nostrum rang, clearly, loudly, tugging at, piercing at him— as always.
For as long as he could remember, the sound of those bells welled up so much feeling within— feelings that he could neither articulate nor vouch for. They always struck at the impulse to cry…
But he resisted that impulse all these years, as he did today. But the other impulse, the one to which he always gave in persisted and prevailed. As the bells of Pater Nostrum chimed their hauntings, his thoughts shifted from the Ogboni Social Club, to his mother—
His beautiful dark and gleaming mother. He was the oldest of her three sons. It was he who bore the bulk of her contempt; the remaining weight exhausted on his father before him. No one was ever allowed to forget that she had married below her station.
She had been born into a fairly wealthy aristocratic family, whose prominence lay in the purity of their untarnished bloodlines. He had been a village transplant. Probably a distant, distant relative, the recipient of some long forgotten favor owed. His name was Bright and he worked as a houseboy for the family; his wages were is food, board and secondary school education. They were about the same age — sixteen. She seduced him out of habit, visiting his mat in the corner of the kitchen every night for a season. She alarmed him with the vicious pleasure she took in taunting him with the other children in the daytime and then totally submitting him to her pleasure at night. Of course she was the worldlier wiser of the twain. He became a man liberated and enslaved in the same token. The daily grind of household slavery, the logistics of classroom multiplication tables, algebra, verb conjugations— all blurred by sensory escapades the night invited. This would have continued until she had tired of his servility, but as fate had it—
(a) They were caught, a scandalous and shameful incidence really— for both parties involved. He would have been sent back to the village from whence he came and she sequestered in a convent until the embarrassment had died down, but
(b) She was found with child. So indeed the family kicked them both out. Literally hurled them down the mountainside.
There were seventeen offspring to this household, and Feintola was just another girl— not indispensable. Bright was equally unfortunate. People like him have slaved through their circumstances to become great men of power and position. He had blown his chance.
Now young Bright was not as bright as one might root for him to be— given his unfortunate circumstance, but he was very honest and hardworking; little else. He was prepared to marry Feintola and keep her in the manner she was accustomed to. Feintola on the other hand had predestinated great things for herself; success was the best of all revenges on the family that had treated her so shabbily. She was clever, but did not overestimate her charms or her will to power: they would get her everywhere, but it was all a matter of timing. A spouseless pregnant woman was anathema, so she married Bright through gritted teeth. A man, any man, can be a ladder, a ramp or a doormat, she determined, depending on the strength of his spine.
When Benjamin was born, they lived in one room in a communal dwelling in a crowded part of the township. Bright worked as an office boy in a shipping company. It was hard work with little pay, but many have risen from office boy to District manager (in fact the present chairman of the board started out as a messenger twenty-nine years ago). So, it was not such a rotten deal. But Bright was not the sort to provoke advancement upon himself. The opposite in fact. He had this talent for victimization. Something in that pleasant near-idiotic smile incites the sneer in all of us. It would take great moral restraint not to respond to this slow cumbersome passivity, the defenselessness that motored that limpness.
A square room and a rusty roof were not Feintola’s style. No sooner had she restored her figure, after three months of nursing, she went out to seek a livelihood. She came back one night with a new position for Bright, as a steward to the Archbishop of Pater Nostrum. The Archbishop of Diamankor, his Holiness Sandro Rizzoli was a lusty Italian and a lover of fine things. For one who had renounced the pleasures of the world, there was bit of blatant transgression here; the Archbishop dwelled within palatial proportions surrounded by pagan opulence.
Bright wore a uniform of Red and Gold livery, purple and bronze on Sundays. His duties comprised of— what did his duties comprise of? Pointless things, nothings. What was demanded was that he blend in with the scenery, the parish was already fully staffed; its indigenes performing their duties invisibly, with minimal fuss. To keep Bright busy, the Archbishop sent him on errands to the hinterland Missions. These journeys, back and forth, lasted four, five days even a week at times. For these he was given an inconspicuous khaki brown messenger boy uniform and a bicycle.
To Bright, things seemed to be looking up, his woes were few. The only thing that niggled him every now and then was the in the Parish, co-ed living was not tolerated. So Feintola and child were placed in the guest quarters for the sake of decency. Bright could not very well argue with this logic, after all, the Archbishop was displaying great magnanimity by taking them in. Besides, the sumptuous guest quarters were far more appropriate for someone like Feintola than the sparse servants lodging. At least he was providing her with the luxuries she deserved. And he could visit whenever she sent for him.
Benjamin’s sharpest memory of his mother was getting his ears boxed. He was getting his ears boxed because he cried every time Archbishop Rizzoli entered the room. He was four years old and armed with an instinctive dislike of the large bellied self indulgent cleric who pawed at his mother and had him (little Benjamin) locked in another room, a dark room, while he visited with his mother. Sometimes he would be forgotten in that dark locked room all night, he would cry himself to sleep only to be woken by the bright clear chimes of the bells of Pater Nostrum. Sometimes they would announce the dawn. At other times the Angelus. And then he would cry some more because he didn’t like being separated from his mother.
The day she had enough of his whining, she boxed his ears and threatened to give him an even more sound beating if he didn’t quit. Later that evening, she dragged him through the plush silent halls of Pater Nostrum to the less padded servants’ quarters— to his father’s room. This was where he was to live from now on.
To his four-year old mind the events were confusing. He ceased to see his mother, and the silly man in the silly red gold suit was his father. What about the other Father who used to have him locked in the dark room? Sometimes he saw him swishing past in the Parish corridors, but the other stewards (wisely) kept Benjamin out of Father Rizzoli’s sight.
Other memories though acute, were not as painful as the initial numbing. There was the birth of his two younger brothers, Andrea and Gianni— who got to stay with his mother in the guest quarters. She lavished all her love on the two boys born within a year of each other. They were dressed in fine linen sailor suits, angelic creatures that they were, their heads agog with dark ringlets. Toys were ordered from all over Europe and Asia for the prancing little pashas…
Apart from their mother, no one except for their nanny was allowed near them. Not Benjamin and certainly not Bright. Bright was sent on more and more errands into the villages, for longer periods of times. For what, he couldn’t tell. At twenty-three, he felt like his life had ended seven years earlier. A comprehension of his circumstances floated vaguely over his head.
Bright died when Benjamin was sixteen. At the time, Benjamin was in the boarding school at Sacred Heart. He worked in the kitchens for his board and school fees. He remembered being called home to his ailing father; only to find to his surprise that home was no longer Pater Nostrum. Archbishop Rizzoli had been recalled to Rome, Feintola and her two sons accompanying. Bright once again was out of job, the new Archbishop had fastidiously spartan tastes and no room for his predecessors’ perks.
Benjamin found him in a cluttered room in a squalid end of the township. He had been working as a laborer, but suddenly his health had broken down. He lay dying. No one could diagnose his illness— it had no name. He became leaner and leaner, wasting away into non-existence.
When Benjamin found him, his body seemed broken by an incredible weight of sadness. Bright was pleased to see him, a son in his exact image and likeness—
“My son, my son,” murmured the grey smiley near-corpse. Benjamin struggled not to withdraw in distaste. God forbid this pathetic creature identify him as a son. But Bright was oblivious to this unwillingness, he wrapped his skeletal grey fingers about Benjamin’s hands, as if to grasp the future—
“You know your mother—she betrayed me,”
His breath stank lightly. Benjamin froze in his breathing, realizing his father had always been something of a corpse,
“Andrea… Gianni,” he continued, shaking his head with tepid difficulty,
“these are not my sons…”
Benjamin’s jaw dropped in stupefaction. The man was a bigger idiot than he had thought! How long could it have taken him to figure out what had always been apparent? Blatantly apparent, one only had to look at them to determine paternity…
Bright continued to babble on and on, how he had been cuckolded, how he had served the archbishop obediently— but Benjamin wasn’t listening. It occurred to him that all his own misfortunes to date, were as a result of his father’s incompetence. This was the reason why he had to work in the kitchens to pay his way through school while his mother and half-brothers lived in even greater grandeur in Rome. No wonder his mother had despised her husband— he was a fool. No wonder she shut me out— I am his son. At that point Benjamin decided to cut off any ties or resemblances to his father, he left the room with dying man babbling. He learnt that Bright died a few days later. He was only thirty-three and no one had attended his last rites or given him a funeral.
That September Benjamin enrolled in the seminary at Pater Nostrum. This was his ambition; to become a priest, climb in the ranks and voila, one day he would be called to the Vatican on appointment. Given his newfound power he would bring about the fall of the adulterous Cardinal Rizzoli and then confront his mother. And then punish her. And then forgive her; she throwing herself at his feet for mercy; he with the swish of papal vestments extending his ring for her to kiss…
And perhaps this would have worked out if all had gone well. But the specter of his father presented itself, in the form of Serena.
At Pater Nostrum, as with all seminaries protocol calls for celibacy. And the flagrant disregard for this amongst the novitiates is ignored and winked at. Boys being boys, one only hopes that they expend that excess libidinal energy in their youth— to steady them for the more serious preoccupations later in life. For the young Brother who wearies of his own solipsistic activities, and is not prone to his fellow brothers — the kitchen maid carries the distinction of being very attractive on a molecular level. The kitchen maid in the seminary is intended to be invisible, but the younger they are, the more in awe they are of the Man of God-to-be. So they take a peek here and there and generally lag in their duties, and this is how they are nabbed as mistresses of sorts.
Benjamin wasn’t doing anything extraordinary when he took up with Serena— not even when she got pregnant. This was a non-event, as with other young women who found themselves in this same position, she was fired from the seminary. There should have been no hulla-boo, it would be her word against a would be priest. She would probably move discreetly to the village to birth her shame. Benjamin would be called into the Archbishop’s study and strongly cautioned about the deceitfulness of women. End of story. However, as fate would have it, Serena’s aunt and guardian was the president of the local market women’s organization— and was not about to allow the Church to get away with this. She marched down to the seminary with a number of cohorts, threatening the Archbishop that if Benjamin did not marry her niece, she would cause a ruckus and let everyone know exactly what went on in this so-called seminary.
Benjamin was kicked out of the seminary and forced to marry Serena. He was only sixteen.
Sedote was born several months later, in spite of the fact that Benjamin had beaten Serena everyday in the hope that she would miscarry. Like many, he was doomed to work at the Coca-Cola factory. This was the year of Independence, the promises of prosperity, autonomy, were still ripe and alive in the air. Each man full of defiance at fate. In retrospect, Benjamin decided not much had changed. And every time he looked at his wife and son he was reminded of his blighted career, the Vatican he would not be living in; the adulterous Archbishop left unpunished; and his mother…
To console himself he battered Serena viciously, and verbally abused his son, Sedote— depending on how much energy he had left from the Coca-Cola factory.
This year, Benjamin turned thirty-three, and seemed to be a particularly good year. Things were changing. Earlier in the year he had taken to playing a hardcore game of cards, the result being a co-worker, a certain Septimus Imo, owed him so much money, that his annual salary could not possibly cover the size of the debt. To settle accounts, he offered his seventeen-year-old daughter. And what a lovely daughter she was. Her name was Ndidi and she was all gazelle limbs and lashes. She already had an unfortunate mishap in which she was left with a son (and thusly to the thinking of most people, damaged goods), but Benjamin new he had been more than compensated; he had not slept with Serena since his seminary days, and his sexual experience since then had been determined by brothels, the threat of gonorrhea swimming about his head. But now…
The only regret he had about taking Ndidi as a wife was that he could not keep her in the luxury she deserved. And this was the major premise behind his leaving the Coca-Cola factory. He had received three raises in sixteen years, and with that, still grossly underpaid. It was a job that had promised no advancement. The old dreams of success fired through him once more, he decided he was only thirty-three and still young enough to reverse his fortunes.
Which is why we see him this morning coming down the mountain from the night shift of his job as a Night Watch at the home of a “high-up” government official. A Night Watch’s job is more than just keeping guard, it is to deal with armed robbers, family vendettas, and diverse levels of darkness, spiritual and other wise. In spite of the risks involved, the job did not pay much better than the Coca-Cola factory. But Benjamin had not selected this job for its great benefits. There was something else. His employer, the high-up government official, he knew to be a member of the Ogboni Fraternity— of course there was no chance of entering that clique. However if his boss was a member, then surely, some members of the Ogboni Social Club would report to him. Something that would only happen, logically, at night. After a couple of months he would be able to determine who was what.
What tipped him off was the sanctimonious cook, Lucius, who complained that the wrath of God had not yet come down on a former member of the household staff who had risen in ranks somehow from a houseboy— to a relatively comfortable position in Customs and Immigrations in the space of months.
“He has sold himself to the Great Satan, and prostituted himself before the Almighty;
As Heaven is my witness, his punishment will be even greater than all of Sodom and Gomorrah combined!”—
and thus spake Lucius, cook and cowboy of the righteous man. It was he who pointed out the object of this demonization to Benjamin, one Mr. Samuel Ikhifa, who made it a point of duty not to appear at the gates before 10 p.m., and sometimes, a good deal later. Benjamin wasted no time in procuring Mr. Ikhifa’s friendship. Within a month he was up for sponsorship as a new club member, the nomination was accepted. And now this evening was the initiation ceremony.
This morning, as he walked down the mountain path, his thoughts once again shifted, from his mother to the more practical requirements of the initiation. He would have to ride to the Edaiken Market this morning to buy certain objects for the ceremony. Then he could go home, eat breakfast, sleep. At six p.m., he would awake, ready for the world. As he hopped on his bicycle, the din of Pater Nostrum escalated; in his minds eye, Cardinal Sandro Rizzoli hung from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, at the point where Adam touched God.
It was five to six, Benjamin jumped out of bed at the sound of— it wasn’t the alarm clock, it was Serena. She was putting away the goods he had purchased for the ceremony,
“Stupid woman. Come on, get out of here!”
Serena quickly assembled herself out of the room. Benjamin decided that after tonight she had to go.
He walked past the small parlor into the communal courtyard outside. Women were tending to evening fires, soup, peppers, songs, bubbling. Children played happily naked and dirty beneath palm trees, Ndidi’s son amongst them,
“Osakwe, where is your mother?”
“She go out” replied the three year old, not troubling to look up from his game of rubber seeds. Where was she? There was something vague and displeasing about this,
She appeared. Where was his supper? It was Ndidi’s turn she replied. For that she got a slap. She did not flinch. And now that Ndidi was not here, what was he to eat? Serena went to the kitchen.
Now he went into the other room where his sixteen year old son, Sedote, sat, studying for his General Certificate exams. This enraged him. The boy was always reading. Last Christmas he had announced that he intended to enter the seminary this year to become a priest. He had beaten that nonsense out of him. What was the meaning of that?
With distaste in his mouth, father informs son, that he will be accompanying him this evening. Somewhere.
Sedote sits in his mother’s bedroom, his textbooks open before him. He contemplates the discrepancies between the logic of fate and that of the future. He cringes, not at the sound of his father, but the bells of Pater Nostrum. It is six o’clock. He remembers his vows. Last Christmas he had informed his parents of intention to be a priest. What he hadn’t told them was that Father Murray thought he showed enough promise in Latin and Greek translation, that he might well get a scholarship to study Antiquities— in Rome, of all places. He could well be starting out his career in the Vatican. Possibly. This was to be his passport, his escape from the crammed, loveless poverty he found himself wedged in. His mother had received the news of his priestly ambitions with characteristic stoic darkness. Her irrational silence frustrated and perplexed him. His father beat him and called him a homosexual. He mentioned nothing of the matter again.
Thankfully, his father is not omnipresent, and a scholarship had been presented to him. In August he planned to disappear, and then a month later write his mother from Rome. He had also taken vows, private, personal vows of celibacy, and a life in the service of the Catholic Church. To the existence of martyrs he could ascertain, his mother being living proof. Of Sin and Sinners he can ascertain, of which his father is chief. Of God, he wavers between belief and uncertainty, true miraculous grace has touched his life— but how to account for unjust suffering? He does not know, nevertheless he kneels beneath the compassionate gaze of the Virgin during candlelit evening masses at Pater Nostrum. He is irrevocably moved; sometimes he weeps, a sea of great feeling wells up within. This, this is the finger of God. Or perhaps only the heavy cavernous sweep of candlelit drama? Is it the sonorous beauty of the mass read in Latin, or perhaps the cool marble limbed loveliness of The Virgin, smiling, questioning?
Of God he is not yet sure, of the Devil— yes. The Devil is alive and well. Her name is Ndidi.
From the time she entered the household she had always ignored him. They were about the same age, but she treated his mother like a cudgel. She was spiteful. Sedote could not be bothered with her. He was indifferent to her beauty, besides, he would be leaving home soon. That was his father’s business if he wanted to be a cuckold, as for his mother, she had picked out her lot in life. So be it. These were his feelings until the time of his vows. A demolition signal seemed to have gone off in Ndidi, she began a relentless campaign of obtuse seduction. His mother would be out of the house, his father sleeping in the next room, Ndidi would parade about wordlessly, terrifyingly, naked. She would pry open the shower door, eyes glittering malice, press that terrifying nudeness against him, and then leave- before he could recover from the blood rushing to his brain. At night she would leave his fathers bed reeking sex and tower above him as he lay tossing on the mattress set up for him in the parlor.
The thought of her angers and stiffens him. He wants to abolish evil and make the world a better place. He finds her confusing, in his mind the existence of God has become a two faced monster; white virgin/ black whore. God and the Devil become one and the same. In Rome there will be no more of this nonsense.
His father enters the room, they are going somewhere tonight. They regard each other with mutual distaste. Sedote is about to protest, he thinks better of it. Let him have his way, I won’t be around for much longer. He has no idea where they are going.
He would not remove his shirt. He had simply refused, but no one particularly cared for his opinion— whether he thought this was barbaric or otherwise. Everyone else, including his father had removed their clothes and marked their bodies in luminous white chalk that glinted in the darkness. Sedote grew impatient with the surrounding folly. He was ready to leave when suddenly he felt himself over-powered and bound. He looked up to see his father bringing down a steel machete down on him. He did not scream, he thought he might be dreaming. If this was the case there was no point in waking his mother up. The steel blade ripped into his neck: his thoughts turned to God— not the current amalgam of confusions, but that much simpler paternal figure. This was no dream. In seconds he was dead.
Twenty something grown men drank from the guzzling fountain of youth. Benjamin was bathed in the blood of his first-born. All requirements had been met. Now he was a bona fide member of the Ogboni Social Club.
It is midnight. The initiation ceremony is over. The beach is forsaken, save for the skeletal luminousness of the initiate. He has been left here to confront the spirits on this chilly night. There is no moon, no stars: the ocean ripples are molten lead—beginning to take shape— humanesque forms— marine hybrids of males, females, tetraphrodites; sea imps; mermaids (?). They are everywhere suddenly and loudly. There is clanging activity, they are bathing him, anointing him, clothing him in silks, damask, brocade, coral, suedes…
Oils, incense are burning, it rains and snows as suddenly as lightning creates hailstones. And then quiet. The initiate is suddenly alone on the beach, but then not quite. The sea goddess, Queen of all Oceans and Waters stands before him. He hears the winds threaten and the screams of drowning sailors. Her eyes are very deep and very old. She transports him…
It is the Jules Vernes at 9 Place du Visages in Paris. You have come here by land, air, sea— you do not know how, you know nothing except that you have arrived at this world famous restaurant in a, in a… In a custom-built Mercedes-Benz, naturally. With the Goddess(?) at your side.
Your usual table M’sieur?
The silver haired Maitre D’ is as usual, excited to see you, you are led through the red gold and lacquer velvets of the Jules Verne. The staff are buzzing with excitement, your patronage means so much to them you see. There is a discreet murmuring and then a respectful hush amongst the clientele when they realize who you are. They wonder about your companion, who is she? She is wearing a silk sheath with genuine sparkles at strategic locations. You suddenly desire for her to be… nude. You throw her on the table, the crystal and silver shimmer and crash. You have her there and then, shredding her garments to the “oohs” and “ahs “ of the audience. The table collapses with your final surge of energy. You audience rises to a standing ovation. The waiters beam with pride at the event that has graced their restaurant. The applause causes the chandeliers of the Jules Verne to tremble…
…The rosy glitter of the Casino Royale in Monte Carlo. You have been winning all night, Lady Luck, herself at your side. All the demimondaines, wives, mistresses, grande dames throw themselves at you, desiring, attempting seduction with various gesturing body parts. The men subdued at your very maleness. You feel their envy of you, at your glittering companion. Power surges through you, you rip off her overpriced garments and slam her down on the billiards table.
A hush falls on all.
Never again will they witness such a display of male power. In between the applause, there is bitter wailing and gnashing of teeth— those who can never aspire to such heights. The emotional tremors reverb throughout the room. You look up, the chandeliers tinkle with many faceted images of you at the height of your powers…
…. The soft chamois interior of the champagne hued custom built Mercedes sports car. You have sent your chauffeur on his way. You are driving somewhere… Where is it you would like to go now? A distant memory excites you— Rome, the Vatican,
She says, No
Did she speak? You cannot remember her speaking all night. You look at her, she is completely nude, except of course for the Van Cleef and Arpels dripping all over her body, you have a certain desire to take her there and then,
Did she say No?
You frown, something is not quite right here, you grab for her body,
She says No.
You ignore her all the same, pawing and slurping all over her, Suddenly in her protest you recognize her face. Her voice. Serena. How can this be? A desire to slap her…
Suddenly she is coiling around your body, this Serena/ Goddess, she is stronger than you, all muscle…. all snake. A boa constrictor, a python (?), something dark, muscular and diamond flecked in pattern. Something that will kill you…
It can’t be, you scream no no no no—-
Six o’clock in the morning. The bells of Pater Nostrum ring out. This is not the only sound the residents of 152 Alaguade quarters awaken to— there are shouts and protests coming from outside. Everyone rushes into the courtyard at the same time. They are alarmed to find their neighbor, one Mr. Benjamin Eremite Okonjo, a Night Watch by profession, trapped in the branches of the giant iroko tree. Riding a bicycle, yelling no no no against the din of Pater Nostrum.
©1996, 2013 onome ekeh