We were sitting in Grandma’s living room in Ijẹ̀bu Igbó. Grandma and I were shelling ẹ̀gusi kennels while Dad and Taiye, my twin brother, were looking out of the large bay windows of the old house. I’d been day-dreaming about the dress I’ll buy when I go shopping with Mom next week, when I heard something interesting.
“You said the Orò is blue, red, and green? And it has a frightful face?” Taiye asked Dad.
“Wow!” we both said. Orò masquerade is the most amazing thing ever!
“As he moves, he wields several pankẹrẹ canes that go whoop, whoop, whoop as they cut through the air.” By now, Taiye and I had joined Dad in spiraling around and cutting the air with our hands. Grandma just continued shelling the ẹ̀gusi.
“And it makes sudden stops.” Dad stopped and we both crashed into him. We giggled but Dad put his finger to his lips and looked around suspiciously. “And speaks in a thin, eerie voice.” Taiye and I crept behind Grandma’s large tan couch. Of course, we could not resist peeking at Dad. He points a trembling finger at Taiye and declares in a reedy voice, “You stole Baba Laje’s hen three months ago!” We gasp imitating shock.
“How does he know?” Taiye whispered just what I was thinking.
“The Orò knows everything,” Dad responded mysteriously, “that’s how he maintains order and peace in the society.” Then he swooped toward Taiye whining, “the offender must be whipped by the Orò for his offense.” Taiye dodged behind the love seat and I ran to get out the way.
“Can we go see the Orò, Dad?” I asked.
“Ehm…” Dad said. He walked to the couch and sat down. ‘Uh uh,’ I knew when dad said “ehm” he was trying to say something nobody wants to hear. I was right.
“Honey, the Orò can be seen by men only.” He grimaced like he could do nothing about the situation.
“What do you mean, “can be seen by men only? Is the Orò invisible to women?”
“No, I mean,” he paused. “Only men are allowed to see the Orò masquerade.”
“So, I can’t go either?” Taiye checked. Dad shifted in the chair.
“Actually, you can!” he said looking at Taiye. “The Orò festival is an initiation into manhood so boys are welcome. “Tonight, you and I will join the masquerade when it passes by the house.”
“So, I can’t go just because I’m a girl? Why can’t I be initiated too? After all, I’m older than Taiye!”
Grandma finally looked up from her shelling. “Kehinde dear, women are forbidden to see the Orò. Any woman who sees the Orò will die!”
“But, it’s not fair!” Why should women be excluded from seeing such an amazing spectacle?
“Oh well,” Grandma shrugged, “but, from the time of our forefathers, this is the way of the Yoruba.” Though, I had better arguments, I couldn’t speak them because grandma gave me a squinty stare that meant “be quiet!”
By 6:00 pm when we ate dinner, the street in front of Grandma’s house was empty. No women returning from the market, no night hawkers, and no children playing in the moonlight. It was like a ghost town.
Even inside the house, everyone went about their tasks quietly. As I helped grandma with dinner, I asked, “May I sleep in your room tonight, grandma?”
So, I was tucked up beside her when I heard Dad and Taiye close the front door on their way to join the Oro entourage. Then the death calm continued broken only by grandma’s occasional snore.
My eyes were just beginning to droop when I heard a faint noise from the street. The Orò was coming. And it was bound to pass in front of grandma’s house because it is on a major street. I carefully lifted the wrapper that covered both of us and crept out of grandma’s bed. I went to the corner of one of her large bay windows and wrapped myself in the curtain that hung by the side.
The noise grew louder and louder but I didn’t see anything. But I couldn’t change positions so I won’t be seen. Then I saw it. Surrounded by men chanting and swinging pankẹrẹ canes, was a spiral-shaped spectacle. Just as Dad had described. It moved in cyclical motion and dashed one way then another whipping every man in its path. And it was multicolored not just red, green, and blue. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘this is the most fantastic thing I’ve seen, ever!’
Then it stopped right in front of grandma’s house and raised its head. It looked directly at me! And pointed! I froze wrapping the curtain closer around my body. I shrank closer to the wall. Surely, it couldn’t see me?
“Ọ̀gbọ̀ nrùn, ọ̀gbọ̀ nrùn,” it whined in a voice that sounded like nailed scratching a chalkboard. I turned to stone.
Then, the Orò started making its phantasmal way down the street. I took a deep breath noting I was still alive.
At breakfast, Taiye went on and on about the Orò. “Kehinde, it even stopped in front of grandma’s house!”
“I kn…” I was about to respond when grandma tapped me on the hand. “Young lady, eat your food so we can go to the women’s celebration.”