Welcome to the Love Africa Book Club Festive series. From now until the end of the year we will be sharing our specially selected stories celebrating love during African festivities. These stories are about hope and joy and goodwill. Of course, they are all love stories and include happy endings.
Next up, we have Festival Fever by Feyi Aina. Historical romance is one of my favourite genres and I'm always excited to read one set in Africa. In this story, Feyi captures the fervour of new love beautifully and entwines it with the excitement associated with a harvest festival. I would love to read more about these characters and settings. I hope you enjoy this.
Read, comment. like and share.
Love, Kiru xx
Copyright © Feyi Aina, Love Africa Press, 2020 All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
From the moment Korede sets eyes on Arewa, he is smitten by her eccentricity and beauty. Everything she touches seems to bloom, the harvest is bountiful, and the people of Ewe are excited about the harvest festival. However, trouble looms on the horizon.
Korede had heard of being angry and seeing red, but he saw it for the first time that evening.
Two fiery spots appeared before his eyes as the boy seated next to Arewa leaned in and nudged her shoulders.
Arewa chuckled. A soft hushed sound that brightened the mood in the otherwise silent canoe, if only for a moment.
It drew a smile from her neighbour and a scowl from Korede.
He wanted to slap the back of the interloper’s oblong head with an oar and send his eyes spinning out of their sockets.
It wasn’t the boy’s fault, though.
Arewa was doing everything she could to make Korede envious, and he was sick of it.
The starless sky over the russet waters of the river beneath them spread out like a thick, dark carpet overhead. It was black, gloomy, and discouraging, a reflection of his mood though the moon sent down a pale yellow shimmer, lighting the way.
Korede dipped his oars in and out of the waters, gliding the canoe to safety.
A group of similar ferries conveying worried villagers across the expanse of the watercourse surrounded them.
They were safe now, miles away from the marauding visitors and headed for the densely packed boulders ahead of the river. Their new land.
The anticipation of finding a new home and security made his heart race.
But, he was vexed.
When the boy touched Arewa’s knee, Korede stopped rowing. A malevolent expression squeezed his face into a tight mask. For one crazy moment, he thought about grabbing the boy by the neck and hurling him straight into the water, as far away from her as he could manage.
A cool hand on his right arm broke his thoughts.
“Calm down.” Olatide, Arewa’s immediate older brother, stared at him with bold, intrusive eyes, peering past the dark skin of his face, possibly seeing into his soul.
Korede returned the look with plenty of composure.
“I’m calm,” he muttered the stiff response as he guided the wooden canoe across the watercourse.
“Control your temper,” Olatide said under his breath. “Resist the urge to throw him in.”
“She’s flirting with him, and he’s touching her,” he said through clenched teeth, eyes trained on the two young people in front of him.
“You do know she can protect herself?”
“She is only doing this to make me jealous.”
“Exactly. So calm yourself.” Olatide patted his shoulder. “He means nothing to her.”
The first time Korede had seen Arewa, she had been at a farm.
His mother had tasked him to help out a fellow farmer. The farmer had been a few farm plots away from theirs on her hands and knees, making ridges and planting yams.
Two little children were running after an older boy of around eight or nine with an older girl probably the same age as his youngest sister, sitting on a log of wood, eating a mango.
“Well done, Arewa,” he heard the farmer say to the girl as he strolled towards them. “Such a big help you are.”
“I am helping you,” the girl replied. “I’m helping you eat these mangoes. They are so good. We should pick some more before we go home. They are the kind that father likes.”
“Wash your hands, then come and help me. That’s what I brought you here for.”
“I’m coming, as soon as I finish my mango,” she said.
Korede was distracted by the girl.
She was beautiful, in a wraithlike sort of way and her light-brown skin was devoid of blemishes. The thick, dark hair done in braided plaits were packed behind her head, leaving a loose strand down the front of her face. A dainty, slanted nose perched above moist, rosebud lips.
Focused on the mango in her hands, her huge almond-shaped eyes were hidden beneath the gentle bulge of perfect eyelids and curled lashes.
He watched her bite into its orange flesh and suffered a small shiver of excitement. The feeling continued as his eyes lowered down her slender shape to the curve of her hips and thighs as she sat sideways on the fallen log, enjoying the fruit.
When he looked up, the farmer was watching him with open displeasure.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“My mother sent me,” he replied and stuck the shovel he was holding into the wet soil beside himself. “She sent me to lend you our shovel.”
“Oh, thank you.” The farmer rose to her feet, and her displeasure gave way to relief. She smiled at him. So did the girl called Arewa.
“I told my son to pick ours up as we prepared to come here this morning and he forgot.” She dusted her clothes off before reaching for the shovel, “children.”
Yes. That was what the girl was, a child.
She wasn’t the kind of girl that would notice him. For one, he was very many years older than she was, and secondly, he was too big, too black and too brawny to be of any interest to her.
Girls like her were attracted to strong warriors, sons of chiefs and kingmakers. They were courted by princes or married off to farmers with enough wealth to employ servants to do the heavy farm work.
She could not possibly see him and like him or want him, so he stopped the ascension of his heart at the sight of her, and tried to think of her like he would his little sister.
The farmer called to the children.
“Careful,” she cautioned. “Adeife, stop inciting your brother and sister.”
She turned back to him. “So where is your farm plot?”
“About a hectare away, but it’s no trouble,” he shrugged. “I can always come back and pick the shovel up when you are done.”
“That will not be necessary, I will come. I also wanted to plant some bitter leaves, and your mother promised me the seeds.”
“She did? I can go and get them for you.”
“Oh, don’t bother. My sister will follow you and collect them. That way, she’ll know where your farm plot is, and we can drop off your shovel when we are done.”
He nodded. “As you wish.”
“Arewa! Wash your hands. Come and follow him.” The farmer turned a rueful smile to him. “She can be so hard to motivate sometimes.”
“I understand.” He glanced at the beautiful girl sitting on the log, “children.”
The young girl seemed to come alive.
“I’m not a child,” she stated as she stood up from the log, still licking her mango with relish. “And you don’t look much older than I am anyway.”
He chuckled. “How old do you think I am?”
She eyed him as she sucked on the mango seed, making no move to hide the fact that it was soiling her hands and staining her lips. “Like, fifty harvest cycles!”
He turned his smile in the farmer’s direction and didn’t bother to correct her.
“Don’t mind her,” the farmer said. “Areh, don’t keep him waiting. Hurry up and wash your hands!”
“I’m going!” the girl said with an irritated eye roll. “You would think she was paying me!”
The farmer hissed and turned to face him. “I’m Sidiola.”
“Korede,” he replied, surprised that she had introduced herself by her own name and not as someone’s mother, like most women in Ewe did. She was obviously the mother of the three children running around about plot, but she didn’t look it.
“I am ready!” Arewa announced.
As she followed him to his family’s plot of land, Arewa chattered on and on about everything that came to her mind, free of pretentions. She was a straightforward person, and it was the first thing he had liked about her. Her being devoid of any airs. She was good-looking without the associated vanity.
She asked him about his family and was curious about their farm and vegetable business. Finally, she got round to asking questions about why he wasn’t a warrior or a wrestler with the kind of frame and build that he had.
He looked at her, not at all surprised the question had come out of her mouth.
“I like a peaceful lifestyle,” he told her. “I don’t like fighting.”
“You sound like my older brother,” she replied. “All peace, no action.”
He had heard about her brother. He was the boy with the funny coloured eyes and no emotion. He was also the boy who had found Ejire’s best friend in the well, years back, and saved the family the agony of looking for her body.
“Not sure I’m anything like your brother.”
She laughed and studied their farm plot while he walked over to the raffia-roofed hut at the corner of the farm used to keep farm produce and tools safe.
“You might need to have a change of livelihood!” she called to him from where she stood, staring down at their dwindling vegetables.
“Why is that?” He returned to her with the seeds tied up in a cloth pouch.
“Your farm isn’t doing too well. From the look of things, you might have to consider being a wrestler, after all.”
Looking around the farm, he too noticed the same tired-looking vegetables that she was seeing. “It hasn’t rained in a while.”
“Excuses, excuses. It’s either your land is not very fertile, or you are not a very good farmer.” She squatted and reached out to touch the ears of a baby water leaves sprouting in bits, besides some red spinach and wilted scent leaves. “You will have nothing to declare at the harvest celebrations this year.”
He tossed the pouch of seeds up and down in his hand as he watched her. “Your sister must be wondering what’s keeping you.”
She lifted her head from her squatted position, and her eyes engaged him in a playful dance. “Are you trying to chase me away?”
He felt it again, the stirring of tingling impulses that uprooted his heart from the middle of his chest, and found it a home in his abdomen. Her boldness was intriguing to the point of unnerving, almost intimidating.
“No,” he said. “I just don’t want your sister to think that I’ve made off with you.”
She rolled her eyes and ran her fingers over the vegetable shrubs. “My sister just wants to use me as her slave girl.”
“Slave girl or not, she needs your help right now.”
She fondled a leaf. “I should hurry then.”
As she stood and dusted her hands together, his eyes followed the movement. He decided she wasn’t just good-looking. She was captivating. Her beauty was ethereal and kept him addicted to staring. He also decided there and then to stay as far away from her as he could manage.
She must have sensed it because she walked over to him and put her hands behind her back.
“Are you going to give me the seeds,” she asked swaying from side to side in front of him. “Or am I going to have to wrestle them from you?”
He smiled. The idea was enticing.
The words seemed innocent, but her tone had developed a tease that wasn’t there before. The unspoken invitation in them was a solicitation to pursue her. He tossed the pouch in the air once more and then handed it over to her.
“You are welcome. I hope you can find your way back to your farm.”
She laughed, gave him a playful look and twirled around to stride out of the farm.
They met again weeks later at the market stalls, as the harvest season began. There was relief in the air after several moon cycles of hard work, and the village was agog with excitement. People started hurling their harvests in. It looked like there would be enough to eat and sell.
The in-gathering of crops meant a fiesta. There would be wine and music and dancing. Men would have their pick of girls and fathers, their choice of men.
Marriages would follow, and babies by the end of the next planting season.
It was an august festival that trumped any other celebration. One that Korede was looking forwards to.
He had just finished helping his mother and sisters unload the day’s load of vegetables for sale when she showed up.
She stood on the dirt road between their row of stalls and the next, with a fat cane basket under her armpit and a smile that curved her wide lips further.
The stalls, built on raised slabs of concrete, necessitated buyers climbing up the stand placed in front of each booth to give height.
She stayed on the sandy road, content with beaming at him.
“I can see that your soil has improved and your vegetables have blossomed,” she said.
“The harvest season is coming. Your yams should be sprouting now,” he replied.
“Harvest season, with palm-wine and half-naked girls dancing in the square.”
“Half naked girls.” He couldn’t help the feeling that pushed a smile unto his face. “Will you be dancing?”
“I haven’t made up my mind,” she said. “I prefer the market season. You can meet the farmers one on one and tell them why you like their crops.”
He placed his hands on the wall above the stall, leaning close so he could see her better. “You had better step up on the slab then if you want me to hear you better.”
“Just tell me you want to spend time talking to me, and I’ll happily climb up your slab,” she replied, still beaming.
Glancing back, he observed that his sisters were still setting up, so he looked back at her. “I’m not all that busy. You can step up.”
She climbed up the slab and placed her basket on their table. “Better.” She rubbed her hands together and looked around their stall. “Now I can get a good view of your face, as well as the huge, fresh green leaves.”
He looked at the basket on the table and raised his eyes to hers. “We usually don’t allow our customers to put their shopping baskets on our table.”
“You can make room for me, can you not?” she said, her hands still clasped together.
“I can. What brings you here?”
“What else brings women to the market? Vegetables.”
He resisted the smile that was trying to come back. “What kind do you want to buy?”
“You’ve got red spinach and garden egg leaves, my goodness look at how huge those water leaves are!”
He took his hands off the wall and picked out two broad banana leaves. “How many do you want?”
“All of them,” she said and threw her hands out to indicate the whole stall. “Everything that you have.”
He picked two each of every single vegetable that they had and rolled them up for her.
“Thank you,” she said and pushed the pack into her basket. “So how much do I owe you?”
“Take it as our gift to you for your first time here.”
She opened her mouth, placed her hands on her chest and widened her eyes. “For me? Thank you for your kindness. But my mother buys her vegetables from your mother.” Then she leaned over and whispered. “So it’s not really my first time.”
“I know. Now go ahead and buy all the other things you need from the market and hurry home to your sister. I think it’s going to rain soon.”
“Are you chasing me away?”
He stared at her oval face, pale brown skin and thick eyelashes. The last thing he wanted to do was send her away. “I’m just trying to look out for you.”
“You are such a generous seller, thank you. Though I would have taken you more for a wrestler than a market man. I shall certainly return with friends.” With that, she swung away from their stall, skipping down the slab steps.
He watched her walk away. After that, it was a little challenging to not remember her every now and then.
She came to their market stall often and brought friends with her as promised. He made sure she paid for every single thing that she bought and pretended to be immune to her unusual charm.
They walked past each other on a few different occasions and exchanged nothing more than pleasantries or at most a friendly nod. It always ended in joy for him.
He told himself it was the thrill of the upcoming harvest celebration that caused his elation, but he knew better. Arewa had stolen his heart
She breezed through the village square uninhibited, sending greetings, making friends, and spreading an aura of happiness everywhere that she went.
And it had unintended consequences.
People were awed by her, men even more. They flocked around her, and he hated having to watch her relish their every attention. There would be competition at the festival, young and old men jostling for a look of favour from her.
So, he reminded himself that she was just a child, a little girl who was nothing to him but a friendly tease.
The harvest that year was a miracle of the gods.
It surpassed the intake of previous years about three times over. Each yam was twice the size of an average wrestler’s forearms.
Ecstatic villagers reaped their crops with delight and looked forward to the upcoming celebrations.
Young maidens braided their hair with cowrie shells. Young men practised their wrestling moves. The wine tappers scored an abundance from the trees, and the musicians fine-tuned their instruments in readiness.
The masquerades dusted off their colourful adornments, and elderly women brought out their mortars for display. Husbands and wives ensured not to quarrel because festive wrappers were twice the usual price and communal pounded yam with vegetable soup was a given. Everyone was determined not to miss the New Yam festival.
That morning, Korede met Arewa in the forest on his way to the farm.
Her waist and ankles held tinkling beads, and her red lips had been rubbed with enough shea butter to make them glisten more than usual.
“My wrestler farmer.” She looked happy to see him.
“My good luck charm,” he replied equally as glad.
“I should come and check your farm. I’m sure it’s not as sad and lonely as the last time I visited, judging by the quality of your farm-produce these days. Your sister says you take them all the way to Atoka to sell.”
He laughed. “You should come. My vegetables have been booming since the day you stepped foot onto our farmland.”
“The pounded yams of Ewe will thank you. Unfortunately, my sister needs me. I’ll come another time.”
“Come,” he grabbed her wrist and dragged her along. “I’d like you to see what my desolate little farm has become.”
He didn’t know what had come over him. The urge to spend a little time with her or the curiosity to test his theory about her.
Whenever she visited their market stall, they sold all their farm produce with nothing remaining. That never happened on other days, so he summed it up to her unusual ability to pull a crowd.
“We’re preparing for the festival, my sister will be worried.”
“We won’t be long,” he promised.
He let go of her wrist as soon as they reached the farmland. She put her two hands over her mouth and marvelled at how rich and full his farm garden was.
“Walk through the rows and spread your good luck around,” he teased.
She walked into the plot and admired his long, full stalks of green vegetables. “You can’t seriously believe I had anything to do with this?”
“Yes, you did,” he said, walking up to her. “You called me a bad farmer, and I put in a little more time and hard work. This is what it yielded. Even on festival day.”
She turned around and grinned at him. “Hard work pays.”
“Yes, it does.” He stood, observing her.
Perhaps he could win her affections if he put in the required hard work. Maybe she would agree to be more than a friend.
“Will you be coming to the festival?” she asked.
“To watch you dance?” he held her gaze. “Only if you want me there.”
That evening, Arewa led the dance of the howling maidens amidst towering mounds of hairy new yams. Almost the height of the king’s canopy in size, the yams were spread left and right before the royal family and the village chiefs.
The king rose and blessed them, then poured wine to the ancestors. After that, Arewa fascinated the crowd within the square with her jiggling waist. Bare feet, and with arms waving effortlessly in the air, her body moved in tandem to the resonance of the gongs and the tinkling of bells.
Her smile came his way, and with it, the mellow sound of many flutes.
Korede watched, intoxicated by the swirling effects of the sounds of music, drumming and cheering, and of her presence in the centre of the village square. The combined display of sword fighting and acrobatic flipping excited the villagers. Still, his heart pounded in sync with the talking drums. His body responded to the rhythms of her dancing.
Aided by a powerful desire to hold her in his arms, his hands trembled, waiting for the moment when they could be together.
When the dancing ended, Korede went in search of her. The delicious aroma of roasting yam and fried fish did not deter him. He was filled with a different kind of hunger. Heat blazed in his loins, fuelled by the warmth of the carnival fires. He found her watching the wrestlers and pushed himself into their midst.
She glanced at him and looked away. He spent more time studying her than he wanted to.
She was focused on the strength of the wrestlers. He was focused on her.
Her face reflected the firelight from the dancing flames of the central blaze, and he was captivated by her intricate resemblance to the figure of a wood carving. He enjoyed the delicate curve of her cheek and stately slant of her nose, and when her fingers touched his, he seized them, interlocking his with hers.
“I loved your dance,” he said to her.
She looked up at him.
The innocence in that one look held his heart bound, but he faced the fiery display at the centre of the square, keeping a tight grip on her hand.
He was in love with her. Despite his initial resolve to stay away, his heart had taken leave of his senses, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“You want to stay here, or you want to go for a walk?” he continued, eyes stuck on the twirling batons lit on each end with fire.
When she didn’t answer, he looked down and found her staring at him.
“I’d like to go for a walk,” she said.
He turned away from her and stared at the billowing bonfire in the middle of the entertaining troupe. He was thinking about how to sneak her away from the festival without her father or brothers finding out.
They slipped away from the crowded square and hurried hand in hand down the empty roads, sneaking through the market stalls and staying within the shadowed areas of the silent settlement. Almost everyone was at the festival. But Korede didn’t want anyone seeing Arewa with him and deciding she was a loose girl.
He had no idea why he wanted to get her alone, and he didn’t yet know what he would do when he got to the riverside, but he didn’t want to let go of her hand. She, in turn, clung to his arm with her other hand and followed him.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked giggling.
“The one place that I like to go when I’m happy,” he replied. “It will be empty now. Everyone is at the festival.”
He held her hand and helped her scale the rocks and stones. He took her past the east of the village, where the river cascaded down a highland in a waterfall.
She hated rivers and stared at it in - fear, and he smiled at her.
“Come!” He grabbed her hand and ran headlong into the waterfall.
She screamed and held her hands up to stop the water from splashing into her face. She tried to run back, but he caught her around the waist and lifted her up, laughing.
“Korede!” she yelled and burst into laughter as he threw her over his shoulder and waded back into the waterfall. “No! No! No!”
“Don’t tell me you are scared of the water.”
“I don’t like falling water.” She screamed as they both slipped and fell into the pool.
She reached for him, and he swung her into his arms and carried her out, wading away from the heavy waterfall.
At the riverside, he placed her down on the wet sand and walked backwards, holding both her hands in his.
“Why did you bring me here?” she asked.
“I wanted to ask you a question.” He brought her arms around his waist and placed his around her wet form. “Why me? Why be with me? There is a whole barrage of warriors and wrestlers and princes that you can choose from. Why would you pick a lowly vegetable seller like me?”
She laughed and lowered her eyes to his broad chest.
“I did not think you were capable of being shy?” he said, lowering his voice. “Talk to me, tell me. Why me?”
“What makes you think I’ve chosen you?”
He smiled and drew her closer. “Tell me, you haven’t.”
His smile disappeared. “I have.”
She lowered her head into his drenched chest and embraced him. He took in a long, deep breath, his hands sliding down the wet skin of her arms. The fire in his loins had been cooled by the river water, but he still ached to have her. He knew, though, the right thing to do was to approach her father.