Olufemi bowed his head and rubbed his temples. His braids fell like a curtain, shielding his grimace. He musn’t become angry. For a moment, he imagined his internal fire exploding, flames escaping his pores to engulf the small hut and the guildsmen quarreling in it.
Their shouting continued.
“A mere blacksmith disrepects the Main of the woodcutter’s guild?! Foolish child!” The woodcutter, a man with night’s complexion and intricate rowed braids, pointed a scarred finger at the blacksmith. The woodcutter’s two assistants, sporting similar scarlet shendyts that wrapped around their waists like a skirt, nodded.
Olufemi lifted a hand. “Honored guests, please—”
The blacksmith, a mountain of a man with veined muscles, chuckled at the woodcutter. “You call a grown man, Main of the blacksmith guild, a child?” His gold bracelets jingled with his laughter. His two followers sneered. “Woodcutters are as worthless as an unmarried woman!”
Olufemi, sitting between the two standing guilds, gazed out of the hut’s window. The sun burned at zenith. Come evening, Main Tuyu would return from trading with the neighboring village to see the task he entrusted to Olufemi—negotiating a land agreement between the blacksmiths and woodcutters—incomplete. Olufemi’s rise through the village bureaucracy would be stalled and he would spend years counting herds and harvest crops. He would wither away from boredom.
With his rare power to form fire from his body, many villagers had wanted Olufemi to join the militia. But he dreamed of helping Main Tuyu on trade missions, or becoming a village planner, maybe even one day ascending to village Main. He wanted to give his only family, his unmarried sister, a good life.
This job was his chance.
The guildsmen kept shouting. Olufemi felt like a child again, arguing with his sister about who would eat the last baked yam, Ife ignoring his every word.
He couldn’t get angry. The memory of Ife on fire invaded his thoughts. His heart skipped. He fought away Ife’s screams and the sickening stench of her scorched skin. Losing control here might lead to explosions and death. Doubt and fear gnawed at him, hyenas on a corpse.
He forced a smile. “Honored guests.” He grit his teeth when they continued squabbling. “Honored guests!”
They stopped, glaring down at him.
He flinched. “Thank you. Please, no insults. Let’s sit, and talk. Both guilds are renowned contributors to the village—”
The blacksmith Main snorted. “You’re half right, fire boy. There wouldn’t be woodcutters if not for our knives and axes.”
The woodcutters rolled their eyes. “Where would you live without wood for huts? And forges don’t burn by themselves. Surely we deserve Mama Suzi’s land.”
Both guilds bordered the village’s market, specifically Mama Suzi’s large stall. With her retiring to care for her new grandson, both guilds wanted to expand on the land. Between the fields, market, temple, and living areas, no more space existed within the village’s earthen walls. Plans to expand the walls would take years.
The guildsmen descended back into arguing.
Olufemi stroked his temples.
Sandalled feet approached the curtained doorway. Olufemi abandoned them to their bickering, dragging himself outside to his sister.
“I brought you some shea tea,” Ife said while lifting the tray toward him. The familiar cooked lavender aroma loosened his shoulders.
Ife put the tray on the grass and poured a bowl. “I think I’ll stay outside,” she whispered, her good eye lingering on the curtain. “Not going well?”
He shook his head, then downed the sweet tea.
Passing militia, young men wielding spears and smirks, glanced at Ife then turned their heads in disgust. She pretended not to see it. “What will you do?”
“I don’t know.”
She stared at him. “You have that look.”
“That look you had for years after you burned me.”
His breath caught. The terror he felt that day after losing control years ago still threatened to buckle his knees, and a thousand tears could never take back one furious moment. She would never marry. Never have family beyond him. Because of him.
His sister grabbed his shoulders. “I should have told you long ago. Scars may heal, if you let them.” She kissed him on the cheek and her wrinkled skin tickled him. She, too, trembled. “We’ll have baked yams when you come home.”
She let him go and strolled away.
He took a deep breath. Then stepped into the hut.
He did not sit down. “Honored guests.”
The yelling continued.
They ignored him. He felt his future slipping away like stormwater flowing downhill.
Anger boiled his blood. This time, he didn’t push it away; and it wouldn’t explode like with Ife. A lump in his throat, it surged through him, down his arms, and came out through his hands as flames flaring upwards. Pain stabbed his charred fingers like a wasp’s sting.
They stopped yelling.
He made a fist and the fire stopped. Thin smoke and ash wafted through the hut’s hot air. Dizzy from fear, he pushed the words out anyway. “My job is to get us to talk together. We will talk.”
The assistants gawked, but both Mains closed the distance.
The humongous blacksmith looked him up and down. “This is no place for boys. Never confront a man unless you are prepared to have to fight him.”
The woodcutter nodded, pointing his scarred finger like a blade. “Are you? Prepared to fight, so that we will talk?”
Olufemi raised a shaking finger. Fire flared from it. His eyes narrowed. Between panting breaths, “Yes.”
The blacksmith nodded his head and patted Olufemi’s back. “Good. You are finally prepared to confront. So we may talk. Afterward, you may join the blacksmith guild and fire our forges.”
The woodcutter grinned. “Smart one like him will learn to cut wood with us.”
Everyone laughed at their jokes, except Olufemi, who smiled as he embraced his newly controlled anger. As they all sat down to talk, he put out his fire but kept his flawless hands warm.
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