The Wood Carver’s Daughter


The Forbidden Forest

SidiolaChapter One

Sidiola was never late from the farm. At that moment, she was not even at the farm, but in the forest. The abandoned area of the forest, heading dangerously closer to the forbidden zone though she did not know it. A mysterious rustling of leaves ignited a tingling sensation on the back of her neck. It was not so much the rustling that picked at her senses, but the eerie feeling of being watched.

She turned back for a second and scanned the silent forest behind her before forging ahead through a tangle of fresh green leaves, thorny thistles and dark brown branches. She was aware of her own breathing. It came in large, harsh sounds that pulled in huge gulps of chunky air and forced them down her throat. But she was more aware of the fear that tied a perfect knot in the pit of her stomach, daring her to untie it.

It could have been the trees watching, but she was certain the shadows she saw in the terrifying blackness behind her had eyes. The trees did seem larger and closer together, and they seemed to reach out to her with branches that resembled hands growing thick green hair. Sidiola hurried on glimpsing the darkening forest in the distance. It wasn’t a full moon night and the curfew bell had rung a long time ago. She scrambled up an earthy dune into a small clearing  as her hands parted boaboa leaves to expose the cloudless deep blue sky above. Her round eyes shone upwards and her father’s warning came back to her vividly.

‘Leave the farm on time and stay in till I return’.

Her father had spoken those words on several occasions. Words that now plagued her. She hadn’t meant to disobey him, it had just happened.

Sidiola stared around confused and lost. Knowing it and yet not admitting it to herself. Her father was miles away in the village beyond theirs, peddling his prized goatskin and antelope horns. He would severely scold her for spending a night in the forest, but it was a thing she would worry about when she got home. Provided she could survive the forbidden forest and prevent it from swallowing her whole like it had others. Sidiola often thought about the others. She wondered if they had screamed when the darkness consumed them, or if they had just walked too far out into the forbidden area where the spirits dwelt. She was in the forbidden area, and it was all Lai’s fault. The stupid boy had hidden her farm hoe and run off laughing, leaving her to search for it alone. She briefly imagined herself scrubbing his back with a thick piece of raw cocoyam and watching him squeal, as he twirled and danced and struggled to scratch his itching back.

Sidiola forced her mind back to the place where she now stood and to the worry that crowded her mind. It was hard to think with the loud thumping cascading through her body. She had to find her way back to the middle path that led to the village clearing, but it was too dark to see ahead. Her instincts pointed her towards a sloppy path barely visible in the shadowy thickness of the forest as the darkness descended all around her. She stumbled and scrambled up quickly as the hammering in her chest escalated the rush of blood through her ears. The path was slippery but she was determined to find her way home.

Suddenly, a low pounding sound flittered towards her and Sidiola immediately knew she could not spend a minute longer in the forest. She could hear drums. As she took the next step forwards, she slid feet first into a bracken covered hole and a half scream escaped from her lips. Whimpering with fright, she fought the tousled mass of dried leaves and twigs that had come down with her and struggled to get up. Sidiola brushed herself quickly and froze. The peculiar sounds emerging from the direction from which she had been running increased and waffled slowly into the dark pit where she stood. She whipped round in the hole and leaned forwards, her fingers finding the edge of the pit. She grabbed it and kicked her legs up its steep side, allowing herself to lift up some inches from the ground.

Her eyes, peering nervously out, saw nothing at first in the pitch gloom surrounding her. Then they widened in horror as a curious blue light tunneled towards her and slowly broadened till it overtook the pathway and then engulfed the forest above her in a brilliant glow of midnight blue. Terror stilled the sounds from her mouth. It’s cold clammy hands clamped themselves on her throat as she struggled to breathe. The ground quivered gently with the movements from the feet of the visitors as they landed one after the other. Sidiola felt the vibrations all the way into the pit where she was, hanging precariously from its rough edge. She slid back into the pit scrapping a knee in the process, and ducked back into a squat, trembling from head to toe. She could still hear the beat from the drums, their dark and ominous thumps resonating with her frightened heartbeat. They were coming her way.

Sidiola shut her eyes, and waited.


Sidiola was jolted awake by the frantic sounds of her name. Several voices were calling for her but they all sounded far away. The sun that streamed into the pit where she lay, alerted her to the fact that she had spent the night in the forbidden forest and that she had survived. As she rubbed tired eyes, she yawned and tried to stretch herself. The awkward position in which she had fallen asleep had knotted her knees and elbows. As she got to her feet, she realized that she was still stuck in the large ditch and wondered briefly how she was going to get out.


There was a sound of the movement of people in the forest above her. She guessed it was the early morning hunters and palm wine tappers.


One of them in particular, stood out. Her father’s voice. The strong and resonant voice of a valiant hunter. She turned around and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Father, I’m here!”


Soon feet were running in the direction of the ditch and she knew she had to shout louder, in order for them to discover exactly where she was hidden. “FATHER…”

“Here, she is over here!”

Excited voices filled the area above her and soon enough someone peered into the ditch.

“I’ve found her.”

Hands hurriedly reached into the hole as Sidiola waved and they grabbed her and pulled her up.

“Sidiola…” Her father pushed through the crowd of men and grabbed his daughter. He drove one knee down into the damp red earth covered with broken twigs and wet dead leaves. “I’ve been looking all over for you.” He said pulling her to himself. His arms swaddled her slender shoulders, squeezing tightly as cold showers of relief washed away the guilt that had overtaken his mind throughout the frantic moments of searching for her.

She wrapped thin arms around him and pushed her face into the nape of his neck. “I’m so sorry father. I fell into the ditch and I couldn’t get out.” Her eyes glancing briefly at the earthy gap she had just been pulled out of. “I was so scared.”

“It’s okay. I am just happy I’ve found you.” He pulled back and cupped her face with a tender look. “Now let’s go home. I’m sure you’re hungry.”

The walk home was mostly quiet for the relieved father and daughter. The other hunters chattered amongst themselves and recounted stories of their most recent hunting adventures. Sidiola’s father held her hand firmly. He had never been more troubled in the eight years that she had been alive. He glanced at her frequently to ensure she was alright.

They reached the village clearing and the hunters bid farewell to each other, scattering into the different directions that led to their homes.

Sidiola’s house was on the narrow edge of the village, straight ahead from the clearing. Behind it was the path that led to the local stream where the villagers often gathered to wash their clothes or get water for use in the home, and in front of it the path that turned right to the village square.

Ewe was not a big village, and though its inhabitants were very many, they interacted with one another like one family. Everyone was important and everyone was often accounted for by everyone else. And so that morning, Sidiola’s safe return was an elated topic of discussion because the thick forests of Ewe had held countless people in recent times, and kept them from coming home. Her father had been searching for her from the night before. He had been to the forest and back on his own twice before returning that morning with the crew of hunters.

A frail looking, elderly woman looked up from her washing as Sidiola and her father approached. “Olalekan.” She called out. “You found her?”

“Yes mother.”

“Thank heavens!”

“Thank you for your concern ma.” Sidiola’s father smiled and looked down at her.

“I’ll be along shortly.” The woman promised.

As Sidiola’s father led the way home through the path that led to their backyard of their home, she put a hand out and sifted it through the tall grasses on her side of the pathway,  gripping her father’s hand tightly. Once inside their compound, she ran into the backyard shed to bathe. She was covered in sand and leaves and a strong smell of animal urine. Her father lit a small fire and heated some roasted plantain and goat meat pepper soup. He often cooked whenever he was at home but he knew he needed help with his only daughter. The events of the night before had taught him that much now.  Iya Wura was a neighborhood widow who lived by herself, her daughters having married. She helped out with watching out for Sidiola occasionally, but that was already proving to be inadequate.

“Good morning…”

He looked up to see her approach and stood to acknowledge her presence. She unlatched their small wooden back gate from behind it and limped into the compound.

“Is she alright?”

“Yes she is. Thank you ma. She is having a bath.”

“I will see her in the shed. We ought to examine her for injuries you know. ” She continued in her unsteady gait towards their home while he walked between their mud home and the compound wall towards her.

“Where did you find her?” She asked, limping towards the shed.

He turned left to face her. “In a ditch, in the forbidden forest. An antelope trap of some sort loosely covered by twigs.”

The old woman turned around slowly. “The curfew was early yesterday. How did she make it through the night?”

Sidiola’s father shook his head. “I don’t know.” His eyes bore remaining traces of guilt. “She was hidden in the ditch. But then, I really don’t know.”

“Have you asked her any questions?”

He walked forwards slowly rubbing a hand on the back of his neck as he shook his head. “I haven’t. In truth IyaWura, I’m just glad she’s home. Let’s be thankful for that.”

“Yes, lets. We will not see such again. Neither will we reward our enemies with such.”

“Amin.” He responded quietly.


Iya Wura nodded, turned around and continued to the shed. She found Sidiola and examined her thoroughly from head to foot. The old woman noted the young girl was growing quickly.

“Sidiola.” She asked lifting her chin.

“Yes, mama.”

“What happened in the forest?”

Sidiola stared straight back with unblinking clear eyes. “Nothing mama.”

“Are you sure?”

The young girl nodded.

Iya Wura looked doubtful. “You didn’t see anything strange?”

Sidiola shook her head.

The elderly woman stared worriedly at her for a moment.  “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Alright.” She finally said with a sigh. “Get dressed and come and have something to eat. The forest is not a place for a young child. Please, don’t ever go in there alone again.”

“Yes mama.”

“Now run along.”

Sidiola wrapped the piece of cloth around herself and ran into her father’s mud home.

Iya Wura found Sidiola’s father turning the plantain on a hearth under the raffia covered shack in front of their home. He was squatted with one knee pointing to the ground and the other pointing straight up, his chin resting on its almost flat top.

“You should find a woman quickly. That girl needs a mother.”

He coughed slightly. “I know.”

“There are many young women in the village. Why don’t you pick one? Sidiola will begin to ask questions soon and you can’t answer every one of them.”

He was quiet for a while, hiding a rather embarrassed smile. “I hear you mama.”

“I went to the market earlier on. Yams, vegetables and snails are now in your home.”

“Thank you.” He stood and shook away the ashes from his hands. “What would I do without you?” He asked tilting his head to one side and staring tenderly at the woman who was more like a mother to him than a neighbour.

She stopped briefly and stared at him. “I don’t know Olalekan.” She replied. “Just think about what I said. I am going to my house.”

“I will. Thank you.” He smiled as he escorted her to the little gate that kept animals away from their home. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye my son.”

He sighed as he watched her limp away. He knew she was right. Sidiola had already asked various questions about her mother. He knew more were to come but he just had not found the right woman yet.


He heard her voice and turned round. “Come here.” He beckoned. “Let’s eat.”

Her father dished the pepper soup into two calabashes while Sidiola got the drinking water from the large gourd in a corner. Then they sat on raffia mats and spread fresh green leaves on the floor space between them.

“I’m going to go out for a while this morning, and I want you to stay at home and lock the doors.”

“Yes father.”

He looked at her. “I’m sure you will obey me this time.”

“Yes father.” The usually talkative eight year old was unusually quiet.

He wondered what was wrong.  He decided to ask. “Did you see anything in the forest last night?”

Sidiola looked at him and said nothing.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head and continued eating.

Her father watched her for a while troubled. “I’m sure you were scared.”

She nodded and slowly chewed her plantain lowering her eyes to the spread of green leaves and the calabashes in between them.

“Well, you are at home now and you’re safe.” He didn’t want to press further.

Sidiola’s father, Olalekan, stepped into the warm mid morning sun and shut the door to their mud home. He was tall, broad shouldered, dark skinned, not overtly muscular but strong looking. His eyes were dark and serious. His nose slightly flattened at its bridge. His face was almost square shaped, hair closely cropped and flowing down sideburns to a lightly bearded and angular jaw that exuded a sense of pride and determination. Olalekan was known as one of the best hunters in Ewe, and he was also known for his reserved nature. Though he had a hairless chest, his back was slightly lined with tiny hairs down the furrow between his shoulders that were only visible when scrutinized closely.

He stood staring at his daughter for a while. Her short hair bound in six mounds, her face much like her mother’s. She was wrapped in an old cloth that had belonged to Aramide, his first wife, and he had split it in two to enable it go round her small thin body. He could see that she had grown considerably taller because the wrapper was inching above her thighs.

“Will you be alright?” He asked, the concern showing in his dark eyes.

She returned the stare and then slowly nodded. He felt guilty all over again, leaving her alone again so soon after the events of the day before. Sidiola didn’t look scared but she had been nodding and shaking her head to most of his questions that morning. That spoke volumes to him. Her eyes were slightly slanting in the triangular shape of her head and they looked cold and somewhat sad.

“I won’t be long.” He said patting the top of her head with a smile and turning to sling his satchel, a goatskin bag, across his shoulder. “Remember, we have more goat meat soup; and there is roasted yam, in case you are hungry before I come back.” He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t try to light a fire by yourself. And most importantly, don’t let anyone in.”

Sidiola nodded. Slowly.

He pushed his cap down firmly on his head and hurried down the two mud steps outside their home. He walked straight out into their front yard towards the little wooden gate in the middle of their front wall, then he paused, stared straight ahead briefly and then looked back at her. She still stood by the entrance watching him. He waved and turned determined not to look back. He had to hunt that morning or they would have no meat for the week.

Sidiola sighed as her father walked away without a second look back. He probably wouldn’t be back till the evening. She opened the wooden door to their mud home, entered in and shut it resolutely, trembling. The events of the night before came flooding back into her memories. As she turned to go to her room, she found herself staring into the blank eyes of the stuffed head of an animal, that hung on the wall in their receiving room. This ornament her father proudly displayed, had belonged to a lion that he and his fellow huntsmen had killed a year ago. One that had charged into their village and mauled three people to death. Sidiola had never been afraid of the stuffed head, but that morning, its blank eyes seemed to glint with malevolence.

She took in a deep, scared breath and calmly walked the three steps to her own room. She shut the door quickly. It was good to be in a place where she felt safe. She wandered round the box on which lay a bunch of mats made of raffia that served as her bed and reached for the wooden shutters that covered her window. She pushed them open as wide as she could and stuck her head out of the window. The fresh air was good and the sun was high in the sky. She could tell it was going to be a sunny day, and that, was cheering.

Their home was a neat little mud house, strong and steady with a tough looking thatch roof. It kept the rain out during the rainy season and kept cool at night. Sidiola’s father had built it himself with some help from his friend Abegunde, a fellow hunter like himself. It had three small rooms inside with a shed at the back for storage and bathing. The first room was hers with the bed of raffia mats, a wooden table, a chair and a small wooden box for her clothes. The second was a large receiving room furnished with mats, two carved items, two long benches and the garish severed lion head. The last room belonged to her father. It had belonged to her mother too when she had been alive but Sidiola rarely ever went in there.

The window in her room opened to the side of their compound that bothered another compound with a slightly rundown mud house inside it. Sidiola was surprised to see a large boiling pot on fire in the front yard of the compound. No one had lived next door for as long as she could remember and she wondered who it was that had started the fire and put the pot on. She leaned out of her window to get a better view, but she could only see a part of the front of that compound from her window.

She could make out the outline of a slender young woman stirring the pot with a long slender stick. She watched for a while and then gave up. The only way she could know for sure what was happening in the other compound was to go back outside. Her father had warned her to keep the door locked.

Sidiola stayed indoors for most of the day quietly playing with a stuffed rabbit her father had made for her from the old dried skin of a live one he had killed. Then she tried her hand at weaving a cane basket. Kikelomo’s mother had been teaching her to weave for some time now. She slept for a while and woke up hungry.  Getting something to eat would mean stepping outside, which would mean walking through the dark middle room, past the lion head.

That was something she did not want to do, but the gnawing pangs in her stomach meant she had to face the daunting task.

Sidiola opened the door to the receiving room cautiously and peered across at the lion head. Then she ran without opening her eyes. She hurriedly unbolted the front door, ran outside and shut it back. Her breathing was fast and deep as she placed her back against the sturdy wooden door. She turned and caught a better glimpse of the compound next door. There was a very old man asleep on a reclining chair under the shade of the house but the young woman she had seen earlier was hanging some clothes on a line along the edge of the dividing mud wall between their compounds. Sidiola stared for a while trying to see her face. The lady peeped gently from behind the large sheet she was hanging and stared right back at her. Sidiola turned away quickly, but not before she caught her smile. She could feel her eyes on her.

The little girl turned back to see that the woman had picked up the empty basket having spread all the clothes and was walking back towards the house. She moved as if in a trance towards the food shack, keeping her eyes on the woman’s disappearing back. She knew she would find some roasted yam and goat meat pepper soup. Sidiola decided to eat outside and watch the compound next door. She wanted to know who it was that had moved in.

She sat on the small porch under the roof outside their hut and watched with interest as the young woman came back outside. She could tell she had long hair which had all been woven backwards and which now curled in locks down her neck. Her oblong face was accentuated by slightly bulging almond shaped eyes with long lashes, under a nicely arched brow, a straight nose and a wide generous mouth that tilted upwards at the edges.  She was the most beautiful woman that Sidiola had seen in a very long time. She chewed her yam slowly and watched as the young woman got down on her hands and knees and began to grind balls of pepper with a rolling stone.

As soon as Sidiola finished her meal, she decided it was safe to approach the wall. The eight year old girl brushed her hands against her short wrapper and walked to the dividing wall. She watched the grinding for a while sneezing twice from the fumes of the pepper.

“Good morning.” She finally threw at the young woman before lowering her chin unto her small arms which were folded carefully on top of one another, on the mud wall.

The woman looked up and her mouth curved into a mysterious smile as she continued grinding. “Good morning.” She replied.

“What is your name?” Sidiola asked again.

“Why don’t you tell me yours first and then, I’ll tell you my own.”

Sidiola blinked. “My father said I shouldn’t talk to strangers.”

The woman glanced up, her smile unwavering as her hands went back and forth with the grinding stone. “Your father is right.”

The little girl followed with her eyes back and forth. The hands were quick, the movements short and precise.

“Did you just move in here?” She asked finally dragging her eyes away from the grinding stone.

“Yes we did just move.”

“Is that your father?” Sidiola pointed a left finger in the direction of the snoring old man.

The young woman sat back on her knees, looked back at the sleeping man and turned back to Sidiola. Her face exhibited a smile that warmed Sidiola deep inside and put her at ease. “Yes.” She threw more balls of peppers unto the grinding stone.

“Where were you living before?”

The woman continued her work with quick, deft hands once again. It seemed like her face always had an inkling of a smile. Sidiola watched with fascination as the stone rolled back and forth with amazing accuracy as she took her time in responding. “The village beyond the river.”

Sidiola instinctively turned towards their gate in the direction of the path the villagers usually took to the stream. “There’s a village beyond the river?”

“There are lots of villages scattered all over. Ewe is not the only one in this region.”

“Hmnnn…” The little girl turned back and stared at her long lean arms and even light brown skin. She had never seen anyone so beautiful in her life. She shook her head still leaning on the wall, and placed her chin on her forearms. “You are very beautiful. Did you know?”

“I know.”She lifted long lashes, briefly flashing her visitor a smile, and then resumed the grinding. “Thank you.” From what Sidiola could see, she was almost done.

“I can smell coconuts but I don’t see any here.”

“Do you like coconuts?” She asked glancing briefly at Sidiola.

“No.” Sidiola shook her head. “I cough a lot when I eat them so my father doesn’t let me. By the way, why are we not coughing from the pepper fumes?”

She grinned. “I threw in some leaves.”

“The green bits?”

She took her time to reply without looking up as she continued to grind. “The green bits.”

“Are you married?”


“Are you going to marry somebody?”

“Someday,  I hope.”

Sidiola thought for a while and then cocked her head. “Can you marry my father?”

She chuckled as she worked. “You ask a lot of questions for an eight year old.”

Sidiola frowned. “How did you know I was eight?”

The woman laughed out loud and sat back on her knees. Sidiola thought it was a pretty sound and an equally  pretty posture. Her eyes shone bright and seemed to sparkle. Her cheeks were hallowed at the ends of the smile. “You look like an eight year old.”

“I want to know everything. That’s why I ask a lot of questions. Someday, I’m going to know a whole lot of things.”

She nodded and smiled up at the little girl. “You should do that.”

“Nobody has lived here for a long time after the blacksmith left with his children. Now I don’t have any one to play with.” Sidiola continued. “Where did you come from?”

“From far away.  I told you, from beyond the river.” The woman rounded up her work and began packing up. “Will you wait for me? I’m done grinding. I need to go inside for a while but I will be back.”

“Alright.” Sidiola said and took her chin off her arms as she watched the woman pack up the grinding stone and pepper. Her eyes wandered over to the sleeping old man who had his mouth open, snoring gently but loudly. She wondered how a noise like that could come from some one’s throat. Then she wondered if her fist would fit into his mouth if she tried to put her hand in it and block the horrible noise. She wondered a lot of other things about him but held her tongue.

The young woman came back some moments later with a covered calabash. She walked up to Sidiola who still stood leaning against the mud wall and then she opened it. “Here, have one.”

The girl hesitated. Her father had warned resolutely about taking food from people she did not know too well.

“Go on. Try one.” Her smile was inviting. The bean cakes looked round and perfect. Sidiola could not resist.

The aroma softly waffled towards her and Sidiola’s mouth watered slightly. She closed her eyes and reached for one. It was still warm. She bit into it and savored the rich, peppery deliciousness that melted into her mouth. Sidiola couldn’t remember tasting a bean cake that good. She opened her eyes and chewed. “I like it.” Her face broke into a smile and she gazed up at the young woman with obvious adoration. “Thank you.”

She smiled back and covered the calabash. “I’m glad you do.”

A thought occurred to the eight year old as she ate. She froze and her face took up a perturbed look. “I’m not going to die am I? Or turn into a bird or start seeing people in my dreams at night…”

The woman gave Sidiola a sly smile. “I’m not a witch if that’s what you are trying to imply.” Sidiola could hear the laughter in her voice.

“In that case can I have another one?” She popped the rest of it into her mouth and chewed quickly.

She laughed out loud and opened the calabash offering Sidiola another piece. “Take as many as you like.”

Sidiola reached a hand into the calabash.


She turned round guiltily and saw her father standing outside their little gate with a hand on the latch. He could see into their compound and right through to the dividing wall where she stood, close to the woman next door, a hand in the calabash and mouth stained with oil from the first bean cake. He looked very angry.

Sidiola turned to look at the woman and put the bean cake back. “I’m sorry… I have to go inside now.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her forearm.

“I understand.” She withdrew the calabash and looked up apologetically at the man who stood staring at them with obvious displeasure. He didn’t smile for a second. Neither did he utter a word.

  1. […] The Wood Carver’s Daughter […]

  2. Uzoma says:

    Ha! You’ve the voice of a natural storyteller. The words flow effortlessly like they all know where they should be in your presence, LOL. In the beginning I felt this fear for Sidiola as she was stuck in the forbidden forest. Thankfully nothing happened to her. You showed this in a mind-gripping manner–every detail paid attention to. Then as the story progressed, Olalekan, her father is introduced and the bond and love between father and daughter is gradually unveiled.

    Please keep me updated about this when you’re done. I must have this book.

    • dfunpen says:

      “Ha! You’ve the voice of a natural storyteller. The words flow effortlessly like they all know where they should be in your presence, LOL.”

      These are the best words anyone has ever spoken to me ever. Thank you for the wonderful encouragement. I do appreciate.

  3. Eve Human says:

    This is a beautiful story. I’m very interested in, how it will continue. What will happen to Sidiola, her father and the young lady from next door. I especially like your description of the village. Is this how people are still living in the rural areas of your country?

    • dfunpen says:

      Hello Eve,

      I’m so glad you like it. Yes I’m afraid the very rural areas in Nigeria still enjoy the simple life. But the villages are emptying because people want to move to the big cities, earn more money and get into the fast paced world of technology. I am working on completing the novel. I should be done by the end of the year.
      Do spread d word.

  4. Eve Human says:

    I will spread the word. But if you have a little bit of time, could you look at my story also?
    It is different from yours, but it is also in parts about a village and about families. And since we are both Christians (Catholics?) and women, we do have some things in common, though we live in different cultures.

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