The Tale of a Tattooed Belly

Once upon a time, there were four girls who lived in the same compound. But one of the girls was lazy. In fact she was possibly the laziest known person. Whenever her colleagues were doing their chores, she would is still be at play. And when her friends were done with their work for the day, that’s when she would set off to start working. Her girl friends would be long gone to the well, while she was still leisurely taking her time at home. And so it was that when her friends were already on their way back, she would set off for the well.

One day messengers from far away came to the village. They had come to spread news of a dance that was going to take place far away from there. Everyone was invited to come. Now everybody else had finished their chores. But the lazy girl had just started her duties. Her friends ran off to wash at a beautiful stream. By the time they got back from the stream, they found that she was just setting off for the well to draw water. When she got back from the well, her friends were making themselves up and decorating themselves. When her friends were ready, they burst into song and walked all the way to the arena where the dance was going to be held.

The girl also prepared herself to go but when she started off, she could not catch up with the other girls. So she decided to take her time and enjoy her walk as there was nothing to lose. Along the way she came upon an old lady gathering firewood. She stopped and asked the old lady, “Did three girls pass this way?”
The old lady replied, “Yes, I saw them pass this way. Please help me gather some wood first, then I’ll show you where they went.”
The girl went along and helped the old lady gather bundles of wood. Unknown to her, this woman was a ghoul and she used to trick people and eat them. But before the woman ate her victims, they had to pass a test to determine whether or not they were worthy of being eaten. In this case the old lady had said to herself, If this girl is sloppy and throws down the bundles of wood, she’ll be eaten. But if she sets the wood down like a nice cultured girl then she’ll live.
Now the girl had finished arranging the wood and needed lengths of spear grass rope to tie the bundles together. She cried out, “So, there seems to be no spear grass here to be made into rope for knotting the bundles of firewood. Otherwise where is your rope for tying these bundles of wood?” The old lady answered, “Let me go and get you some special rope of mine.” The old lady sneaked away and hid. When she was safely out of sight, she peeled along the length of her skin and freed three lengths of skin. She held the three fine ropes of skin and took them to the girl. She handed them to the girl and the girl used them to tie the bundles of wood. The old lady then led the way to her house and the girl followed behind. When they reached the old lady’s compound, the girl did not throw down the wood. She gently placed the bundle down then arranged it so that it was neat and tidy.
The old lady entertained her visitor. But as it was getting late, the girl decided that it was time to go back home. So she told the old lady that she wanted to go home. “So you’d like to go back to your homestead?”
The girl answered yes. So she said she had a little gift to give the girl, and with that she began to tattoo the girl’s belly. She tattooed all sorts of beautiful patterns on girl’s belly just below her belly button. When she was done she instructed the girl not to allow anyone to see the tattoos. If anyone saw the tattoo, she would come and take the girl’s life. She was prohibited form going to bathe with the other girls, she was also not allowed to spend time with her friends. She was to remain alone. Because if she was with other people they might see her tattoos. The girl went back home.

Whenever it was time to help with the chores, the girls mother would plead, “Aya, please help; climb into the granary and take some millet out.” But she would not. When there were visitors, her mother would come and say, “Aya, come and help with whatever you can do.” Or she would say, “Get the water pot and go to the well, like your friends do.”

One day her mother had had enough of being soft on her. So she demanded, “Aya today you’ll climb into the granary and take out the millet.” There was a little child watching the whole time. This little child used to leave in that homestead. The child followed Aya to the granary and watched as Aya climbed into the granary. The child saw the tattoos and shot away. When he reached Aya’s mother he said breathlessly, “Ma, Aya has a tattooed belly. Ma, if you see Aya’s belly you’ll be awed. Ma it’s so beautiful.”

Aya had taken the millet out and was shaking with fear. She was afraid of being eaten. She walked slowly till she reached her mother’s kitchen. When she entered her mother’s kitchen, her mother said, “Aya could you please show us what you’ve got under your bellybutton?” Aya refused, and her mother insisted, “You must show us what is under your belly button.” Aya said that she could not. “If I show it to you, I’ll die. The thing that put it there said that she’d die is she showed it to anyone.”
Aya’s little brother was there together with their two dogs. One was called Oloro and the other was called Uruka. They went off to call all the animals to come to their home. All kinds of animals turned up. The meek and gentle animals came. Then the savage and ferocious ones also followed to homestead. After that, the people of the village were invited and they came too. They set about building a moat surrounded by a high fence. After the construction was done, they carried Aya and placed her in the middle on of the enclosure. They asked her to show them what she was hiding. When she revealed her bellybutton, all the creatures’s eyes were fixed on her and they dropped to the ground dead.

From the distance, an awful sight was approaching with a song:
Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second leg
I’m one legged
Aya is in debt.

Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second eye
I’m one eyed
Aya is in debt.

The awful thing was booming in the distance. It’s voice was like the sound of thunder and it ripped up the trees and scattered broken branches in its wake. When Aya’s brother saw what was happening in the distance, he sang to his dogs:

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

As the awful thing got closer, its fury had turned everything dark and whirlwinds of destruction walked with it, destroying whatever was in its path. It was singing it’s song:

Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second leg
I’m one legged
Aya is in debt.

Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second eye
I’m one eyed
Aya is in debt.

Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second breast
I’m one breasted
Aya is in debt.

As the awful thing approached the homestead. Aya’s little brother was also singing:

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Ulut and Uruka
Ready your guard.

Now the weird woman had breached the wall of dead creatures and stood in the presence of Aya singing.
Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second leg
I’m one legged
Aya is in debt.

Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second eye
I’m one eyed
Aya is in debt.

Aya is in debt
Aya is in debt
Even if you give me a second breast
I’m one breasted
Aya is in debt.

It stretched out her lone hand to touch Aya. The dogs were taut ready to strike. And leapt at her when she touched Aya. The thing dropped dead. Aya was dead too. Everything became calm at once.
The song that Aya’s brother was singing was to remind the two dogs to get ready to strike a death blow to the weird creature. When the dogs struck it down, one by one the dead creatures rose back to life. Aya lay there with her body bare. There was nothing she could do. It was too late.

This story teaches us that intelligence is stronger than brute power. If Aya’s mother had not had the mind to suspect that something was wrong, she’d not have bothered Aya to the point of exposing her secret. She wouldn’t have sent the little child to investigate Aya at the granary. Otherwise on seeing it, only death would occur without end.

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