It happened that when we came in fresh as daisies in ’78, Iva Valley still retained its natural innocence and glory.
The trees were tall, sturdy and great as if from ancient times, with their variegated foliage of different sizes, shapes and hues of green, the grasses of differing heights danced and swayed whenever the breeze blew through, creepers and crawlers intertwined wherever they got a hold, buds and flowers in various stages of bloom and blossom registered their colours like the rainbow.
Birds of divers plumages chirpped, shrieked and sang to their heart’s content unto their Creator, as the higher inhabitants of their own native world, rodents scurried around freely, reptiles and other crawlers held sway in the thickets and dampy moisty grounds, insects and other creepers were not left out of the jungle family kindred.
Even microbes, viruses and bacteria were on duty to fulfill God’s purpose of co-existence in the assignment of balancing the ecological equation.
Both fauna and flora were in ecobalance in the beautiful valey of Iva……..by then, the forest of Iva had not been visited by the destructive motive, tendency and action of mankind, who always forgets that we share this beautiful and resourceful earth with other neighbours, but always insists on substituting the beauty of nature with the ugliness of modern contraptions, that are even life threatening to his own survival on the long run.
Always forgetting that, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof is destruction”
When we came in, in awe and with pride, as the very first Jambites who were captivated and inducted into the spirit and essence of Unife by the very first sight of the quintessential Road1 approach that unravelled the unequalled and exceptional aesthetic splendour of the campus to be our home for a glorious spell of time, we received two rude shocks that sort of dampened out elation briefly.
The scarcity of water in Awo Hall of residence and the lack of electricity in the entire community. Imagine, I have always been used to pipe borne water all my life living in Lagos Island, Surulere, Ikeja,
Victoria Island and Maryland……until Unife happened. For this water dilemma, we in Awo were forced to become fetchers of water, thank God the cafeteria system was in order and top class, we would have also become hewers of wood to cook our own meals…….and this water palaver, I will return to shortly since it was in the search for water that I encountered the strange being.
The electricity or lack of it however did give me another memorable experiential brush with death.
Since we were compelled to use candles to read because we were not permitted to fail, a portion of my afro hair got singed, my arm got burnt, my lecture notes got melted with wax and the room desk too got a fire created crater when I fell asleep reading with candle fire in the room while studying (I wonder why we insist on calling it candle light? that stuff glows fire and it burns). It was the smell of my hair and the pain in my arm that awoke me and saved me from being roasted alive like bush meat.
But a timely lesson was learnt from my baptism of fire that day, get a big fire resistant plate for candles and get rid of your afro.
There was this stretch of bush path that repeated traverses by commuters on foot through the forest of Iva had established permanently and its main vein ran in a racey pattern from the side of the Health Centre to another side gate into Fajuyi Hall. Of course there was a lesser bypass that took off appropriately from around a quarter of the main vein towards Moremi Hall.
This shorter footpath was mostly used by Moremi occupants to visit the Health Centre, but I guess that pathway never complained nor rejected the feet of other users that needed it to go from Moremi to Awo and vice versa on visitations to their babes and bobos.
It was this route, the first evidence that Iva Valley would one day be totally trampled upon and desecrated with the invasion of caterpillars, bulldozers and tractors of all monstrous capabilities, that we now resorted to employ to go from Awo to Fajuyi to fetch water for daily utilization.
We usually form ourselves into a kind of chain gang on a routine detail, with buckets swinging merrily as we strolled to go fetch water for use against the next day.
A motley crowd of about seven, eight, nine or more from adjoining rooms. Because we always set forth at dusk, when the sun was already retired, darkness was fast taking charge and the moon was still peeping timidly from around the earth’s circle, some of the guys that still have every sign of village nativity and naivety were clad in only vests(singlets) and wrappers or towels, like folks in their various village squares. The more city minded fellows like us were usually in jeans or short knickers and T-shirts.
On the day in question, we walked past the Health Centre and the two nurses on night duty who, as their custom were, were sitting and gisting outside the building by the side doors overlooking Moremi and the beginning of our water route shortcut to the Fajuyi Oasis.
We had to form a single file because the footpath couldn’t take two walking abreast and no one wanted to plod on on the thick grass since it was already dark and you couldn’t see clearly, except for the faint light of the hesitant moon.
Usually anybody could take the lead, our positioning was never sacrosanct. We were also always gisting, arguing, joking and talking all sorts of sweet nonsense at the top of our voices so that no matter where you were in the rank and file you’ll hear and be able to participate.
We had just disappeared deep into the wilderness of Iva when the lead guy I was following closely suddenly stopped short and froze. I had to bump into him so hard that I almost lost my balance.
The chain of events that followed afterwards must have taken just seconds in totality, but relaying it now would make it look like a slow motion movie.
I knew he had seen something….I knew he froze……and I knew he was shaking…….because the second I bumped into him, I felt him shaking and it was like he transmitted his fright into me like an electricity flow.
The instant I felt his fear, I wheeled around him to see for myself what had caused such paralyzing effects in him and then I saw what he saw……I saw a figure in the distance, it could not have been more than three feet, give or take a few inches, carrying something on its rather large head and walking fast and briskly towards us. Well, don’t bother to ask me……I’ll tell you about the others.
Of course the fellow following me dumped into me too and felt what I felt from the lead guy and from what I saw, so he too peeped around me to see for himself…….I can’t tell if the fourth guy repeated our drill or not, but the interpretation that the three or four of us in front gave to the sight that assuaged our presence and sensibility was that we had just seen a live EGBERE – the dreaded forest spirit imp that made up the scariest of tales by moonlight and folklores our grannies, older uncles and aunties told us repeatedly in our most impressionable growing up years.
Like characters in D.O Fagunwa’s classics. This forest impish spirit was supposed to be good or bad luck for whoever encountered it depending on your courage and disposition to African magical powers at the moment of the titanic clash.
The story was, once you had the fortune or misfortune of meeting this African version of a Lilliputian size spirit, you just must wrestle with it, there is no avoiding it, and if you are able to wrestle it to submission and dispossess it of the precious mystical cargo on its head you are made for life.
You would be richer than Midas and Croesus lumped together, but if you fail, you are done and dead. Please be cognisant of the fact that everything that happened took place within a time frame that is faster than the moment between the two shakes of a duck’s butt, that is, it all took place so quick like a flash of lightning. I don’t think any one of the three or four of us that saw this forest apparition thought of the prospect of getting rich, not to talk of wrestling this pocket Hercules of a demon. To confirm our reading of the situation right, the bloody midget was also weeping, a trademark of all Egberes.
They say for the eyes not to see evil or in our case that has seen it, for it to escape from evil, the only medicine lodges in the legs.
So we all spoke to our legs without uttering any audible command. We took off like quicksilver…..even the others way down the line who did not see what we say, bolted too. In fact they ran faster than us.
Like someone said, “Worse than war is the fear of war”. They ran faster because even though they did not see anything, their imagination told them that it must be really gross and grave….they resolved that it would be better we that were at the back be sacrificed for their safety. When we all broke into the light of the Health Centre and the two nurses sighted us running towards them, they too got up and ran inside the building attempting to lock the swing doors and lock us out.
Especially with some of us appearing with bear torsos having had to discard wrappers and towels in their flight. But we got there before they could lock us out, wrestled and yanked the doors open to join them in safety.
We were panting furiously and peeping through the glass slits in the doors in the direction of where we expected the object of our fright to emerge from, even as the nurses were bombarding us with the repeated question of what is it that we were running from.
Within seconds the gory sight appeared from the edge of the forest and as the Health Centre’s surrounding brightness began to clarify the image of the frightful figurine, alas he was only a weeping little boy with a rather large head carrying a bunch of firewood and no sooner than we realised this than we saw emerge from behind him an elderly woman carrying stuff too…
Apparently, they were the Ife town people doing odd jobs on campus, but whenever it’s too late to go home simply go up the Bukateria height to pass the night anywhere and anyhow they could….
Suffice it to say we did not have the courage nor strength to go back and pick all the buckets we flung away in our flight for dear life. We only retrieved them the next morning, but had to make do with scavenging for water in bits and portions from others that morning….
Laugh all you want, but I know you would have ran faster and harder than all of us did if you were there that night…..even some of you would have “shat” in your pants. My eye see for Ife o …but I still wouldn’t have it any other way. Shalom!