1. THE TEST
The Wawindaji village had been abuzz with excitement for the past moon. They were expecting a new arrival of the most special gift a village can have—a child.
The expectant mother, Ijuba Ntaba, which means “mountain dove,” was doted on more than the other pregnant women because she had more challenges than the others. The old women of the village all became her mothers, which led to an unofficial competition of who could spoil Ijuba the most. From cooking to natural medication to advice for the discomfort of Ijuba’s condition, they all rushed to be first in line to deliver. They sent their sons and daughters to help with the chores around the house and to run errands for her.
She had far more clothes than she needed, because every woman of the village felt compelled to give her an article of clothing for both her and the newborn.
The young women loved and envied her at the same time, for she was dark skinned and gorgeous, with a strong but compassionate personality to match. They all came to her for tips in hairdressing, clothing, and mud painting. They were all intrigued by her beauty and craved the tips she offered, as they sought to be as lovely as her.
She gave good advice, and the things that were given to her were given generously, although the givers knew that she was given far more than she needed.
The young men were all in love with her slender but curvaceous figure, smooth skin, captivating eyes, red and succulent lips, and flat perfect nose. She was indeed the angel in their fantasies, but they kept that to themselves, as respect was one of the core values of the society.They climbed over one another to serve her, but she was not proud or haughty, even though she was well aware of the effect she had on men. She never mocked or scorned anyone.
The older men all looked to her as a sister and made sure she was comfortable. They made sure her house had everything in it and was in the best condition, for Ijuba was the wife of their beloved brother.
The little children all wanted to spend time playing with her, but she was unable to play because her baby was coming soon. The children were excited at this news, for they were anxious to play with Ijuba’s baby when it was born.
The old men were fond of her as if she were their daughter and would treat her with the same peculiar interest shown to a favorite child.
She, in turn, treated them as she would her father. She was always kind and helpful to them when they needed assistance. Most of her spare time was spent taking care of those who did not have any children of their own.
Her aura captivated the entire island, and her beauty, strength, and meekness, along with her kindness, were known to all. So, when the clans presented her with gifts, as was customary, most of them tried to outdo one another.
The Fundi Jiwe crafted a series of statues that depicted Ijuba carrying a baby boy, playing with her infant son, hugging him as a teenager, and standing proudly with her son, while he held a long spear in his hand. No one knew what sex the baby would be, but they were convinced it was going to be a boy.
Their craftsmanship was exquisite, for they captured her beauty in the finest detail in shape, proportion, color, texture, and poise. The sculpted boy had features of both the mother and father, features that anyone could point out instantly.
For the baby, the Fundi Kuni made the most exquisite furniture, which featured carvings of birds and animals that appeared alive. Their crowning creation was a crib with headboards that depicted the child as a boy who became a great Wawindaji. Once again, they made him resemble his mother and father in a style that resembled that of the Fundi Jiwe.
The Amo Alagidi made her baby a tub that appeared to be crafted by divine beings. It was quite large yet so light that a child could carry it, and it would not break when dropped, even when filled with water. It was as white as the purest of clouds and glowed with a halo in the sunlight, yet it could not be stained. The craftsmen depicted the boy in the same vein as the other clans did, but they chose to make him into an Ammo alagidi.
The Mpanda gave Ijuba the best of their crops and a plot of land for the child. The Mchungaji gave the baby their best bull Ideri iwo and ten heifers. They would take care of the herd for him so that by the time he became a man, he would have a large herd for himself.
The Wawindaji gave Ijuba blankets made from the wool of the wild mountain Mbuzi goat. The wool could not get wet, even when immersed in water. It was by far the most valued clothing material on the island.
The Waganga and the Sojeode combined their efforts to make the finest jars. The healers gave a broad range of potions, ointments, and powders, while the Sojeode made the best amber jars, engraved with the figure of a handsome young man portrayed as both a Sojeode and a Waganga.
The Imo Olusos valued knowledge above all, so they gave Ijuba a simple book that offered the best advice on child rearing. The material it was constructed from was very durable, but there was nothing fancy about it.
The Igbo Eniyan led the simplest lives of all the clans. These hunter-gatherers never competed, never fought, and always shared. They tried to live in harmony with nature. They never took from the land more than they needed.
They gave Ijuba an unknown plant in an earthen jar with a note that said, “This plant is like a child. Take good care of it, and it will take good care of you.”
For all the attention and affection Ijuba received, life for her was not a bed of roses. She had had her fair share of thorns along the way.
Amid all of this, life seemed to be perfect for Ijuba. She had married into the Wawindaji clan, which accepted her as one of their own. She was three moons pregnant and looked forward to being a mother. Her husband, Jafafa Dawotile—the words for “smart chimp”—was thrilled at the thought of being a father.
Though in many ways he was different from Ijuba, most would agree that he was a good match for his wife. Whereas Ijuba’s personality gave her high visibility among the clans, Jafafa was so quiet that it was easy to overlook him. At the same time, his actions were so calculated that you knew that every move he made would result in success. As such, he was well respected among his fellow clan members.
Physically he was not the most handsome man, but he had an athletic body that was in its prime. Hard work chiseled his body, and he was known for his relentless stamina during a hunt.
The happy couple had waited a few moths before telling anyone about the pregnancy because they wanted to make sure their suspicions were right. Nevertheless, Jafafa had started immediately to work even harder to put in place all the things he wanted for his baby.
Ijuba often asked him to slow down so they could spend more time together, but his response would be, “Just be patient with me for now. When I have finished with all of this, I can devote more time to you and our baby.”
Though she understood and accepted this response most times, sometimes she stood her grounds on this issue. At these times, she would not move until he stopped and sat with her.
“OK, Mama,” he would say, as he pretended to be a repentant child who was willing to accept his scolding for bad deeds done.
As he held out his hands with his head down, Ijuba would “spank” him playfully with her index finger. “Naughty boy,” she would say.
Then that would change to “Silly man; stubborn, playful, and silly man.” She would hug him and kiss the notch in his right earlobe that had been cut on the day they were married.
He would then stroke her notched left earlobe and say, “So, this is what got us into this,” referring to their marriage notch. They would both laugh and spend the rest of the time talking about their future.
In the sixth ojo orun of day ten of fifthmoon, Ijuba went to visit one of her female friends for the usual women talk. When she returned home at dusk, her husband was not there as expected. Instantly, she sensed something was wrong and raised the alarm.
It was Kijivu Kipanga who led the search as they headed to the Mpanders field, where he’d last been seen. He was trying to triple the size of his field, so he could barter for any of the extras that the child would require.
They found him collapsed face down on the ground and thought he was dead. As they shouted his name and rushed over to him, they were relieved to find him alive.
As they rolled him over, they noticed that his face was twisted on the left side. He had also lost all movement of his limbs on that side. He couldn’t speak. In the belief of the Amber Islanders, this was called a spirit lash.
Ijuba had lost her father to this sickness when she was only fifteen cycles, so seeing her husband in this way was doubly painful for her. She stood by him, as any dutiful woman would. However, his condition grew worse, and he died on day twenty-four of fifthmoon.
Ijuba was inconsolable on the day of his burial, which took place the following day. She wore a black woven dress, a black head wrap, and no shoes on her feet. All the women of the Wawindaji clan dressed this way to support her.
“I am cursed!” she cried. “The evil gods have cursed me! They have killed the only man I have ever loved.” Then she let out a piercing scream—“I am cursed!”—and fainted in the hands of Kibuluu Ndege.
The women in black all came to her aid. Some sat in a straight line on the ground to form a human bench on which they laid her. Others used fans made from the tail feathers of the mweusi ndege to calm her down. One wiped her face with a cloth dipped in cold water from a dudu agbe bowl. Some spoke comforting words, and all wept with her.
Suddenly, she sprang up as if in a trance from her “bench of laps” and walked to the body of her husband as it lay next to the grave wrapped in its burial cloth. At his head was his shield; on his right side was his long spear, while his left hand bore his axe of Umthunzi Iqili. They were to be buried with him, according to the customs the Wawindajis.
Everyone watched as Ijuba armed herself with these weapons and faced the sky. “You will not prevail against me, you evil gods. The gods of my ancestors have blessed me, and they will protect me. I carry the child of Jafafa Dawotile, and he shall wield the weapons of his father.” She fainted once more and became engulfed in a sea of women in black.
Confusion then broke out as the men tried to retrieve the weapons so they could proceed with the burial, but the women blocked their path to Ijuba; they held hands to form rings that got larger as they moved away from unconscious Ijuba.
At first, the men were gentle in their attempts because of the grief of the women. But as the level of their frustration grew, they became more aggressive. They attempted to peel away the rings of women who obstructed them.
Sensing that the men were losing control and might hurt the women, Zango the Wawindaji, who had risen to be the head of the Imo Olusos, took control of the situation. “Men of the Wawindaji, I know the custom, but listen to my counsel. We do not know if it was the gods that spoke through Ijuba, and I will advise you not to trifle with the gods,” he said to them.
“You speak wisely,” said Kijivu. “I will give my weapons to my fallen brother Jafafa Dawotile. Let us proceed with the burial.”
Ijuba was still unconscious when they covered Jafafa in his grave. She recovered the following day, but for a very long time, she was a shadow of herself.
Everyone felt her pain and could not understand how something so bad could happen to someone so good. Needless to say, the clans gave her all the support they could, but Ijuba did not seem to be able to recover from this tragedy.
Then the imminent birth of the child brought a change in her spirit, and she appeared to have gotten her spark back.
Everyone noticed this change and was overjoyed to see her becoming herself once again. The men of the village were the happiest of all, for it was their duty to take care of the wife of their fallen brother.
The men of this clan were the proudest of all the clans. The roles of males and females were also the most rigid among them. Men were the providers, while women were the caretakers of the family.
A Wawindaji wife knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her husband would go through the gates of hell for her. In return for this, she was expected to show an almost servile devotion to him. She must remain quiet when the couple was in the presence of company. She must agree with her husband in public, and she must not talk out of turn during a conversation. Most of all, she must never command, confront, or belittle him in public, for these actions would render him a lesser man among men.
As traditions go, the bond of brotherhood among the Wawindajis was so strong that widows were never in need of anything. Any form of improper conduct on the part of a man toward them or any woman could result in a whipping at the tree.
This treatment of women, like most of their other customs, came with the islanders from the old country. As traditions usually went, they varied from clan to clan, but the one thing they all had in common was to follow them without question. The Imo Olusos copied the laws from the old country to create the entire legal system of the islanders.
It may have been that it was easier to follow them than to write an entirely new set of customs from scratch. Or it may simply have been that they took them for granted without any careful thought. Nevertheless the events of this story are part of the process of the development of the culture of the islanders. When it was time for Ijuba’s delivery, everyone was excited for her. They all wanted the child to be a boy so that he could continue his father’s bloodline. The midwife and old women predicted that it was going to be a male child by the round, high shape of Ijuba’s belly.
On day one of eleventhmoon at third ojo orun, all the women of the village gathered at her home for the traditional chitchat and support. The high point of this gathering was the game of tossing the baby hat.
The women formed a ring around Ijuba; she closed her eyes, spun around, and threw the hat in the air behind her. Her first toss landed at the feet of a screaming Jangwa, who could not contain her elation as she ran, screamed, hopped, and jumped in circles. “Thanks to the ancestors!” she shouted. Then she ran up to Ijuba and hugged and kissed her. “Thank you for confirming it,” she said. “Mambwa Chatu and I have been praying for this for so long. I missed my flow for three moons now, but we wanted to be sure. Thank you for confirming it. Thank you, thank you.”
The room was alive with excitement, as the women were all happy for Jangwa Ua. She had been married for five cycles, and it was no secret that she wanted a child. The older women muttered to themselves that they had noticed her fattening a bit, while the others could not see it even now.
The next toss landed next to Eusi Waridi and brought the crowd to life again, as she was neither married nor involved with a man. “Ah-ha. What have you been up to, naughty girl?” tickled Lewa Labalaba “Nothing, I swear!” Eusi pleaded. That just opened the door for the others to poke fun at her.
When they settled, Ijuba tossed the hat, and it landed on Kibuluu’s head. The women screamed with laughter, as Kibuluu was now sixty-five cycles, well beyond the age of childbearing. In the spirit of the moment, she stuffed a pillow under her dress and did her best impersonation of a pregnant old woman. “The ancestors must have blessed me,” she said playfully. “I am carrying the child of a God, as I have not known a man.” she poked mischievously. Everyone had fun mocking her pregnant walk with imaginary walking sticks in hand.
For the next toss, Ijuba threw the hat at Eusi without making it look deliberate. A stone-faced Kibuluu added to the mischief by stating, “Eusi if you lie again, the gods will seal your womb for good.”
Everyone there could see the look of fear on her face. “Well…I…by the tree…but…nothing…” She swallowed as she fumbled.
“Don’t be silly!” shouted Nyasi Ndege “Can’t you see they’re playing you?”
“Well I never would expect Kibuluu to be in something like this,” retorted Eusi.
“And I never expected you to stutter like that…Well…I…by the tree…but…nothing,” mocked Kibuluu in response.
The room thundered with the loudest laughter of the day.
No one laughed louder than Ijuba, but in the middle of her laughter she stopped abruptly and held her tummy. The room went silent. Kibuluu rushed over and helped her to a chair.
“The baby is coming, and it is coming fast,” Ijuba said to them.
“Get her to the birthing room now!” said Oyin Iri.
Despite what Ijuba had said, the child waited for midday to put in its appearance.
“It’s a boy,” said the midwife, Oyin, as she faced the eager crowd with a glum look on her face. The tall, thin woman with cocoa-brown skin and eyes maintained an air of elegance and dignity about her as she stood before them. Beneath this air of confidence, however, they sensed that something was very wrong.
The question kept coming, yet Oyin did not answer.
When they had finally stopped, Oyin looked to the oruns and said, “It’s going to rain tonight. She has a long night ahead.” Then she added, “Pray for her—for them.”
At first, everyone was puzzled by the answer, which just added to what was already a troubling situation. Then Eusi rushed forward and grabbed Oyin, shaking her and begging.
“Tell me it’s not true! The gods could not be so cruel to her. Tell me it’s not true! Tell me it’s not true!” Eusi gasped. Then she buried her head in Oyin’s chest and wept uncontrollably. “Oh God! Why did you not just kill them? Why do you want them to suffer? Oh God…Oh God!” Then her body went limp.
The eyes of the women watching told the midwife she could not hold out much longer.
Oyin said one word to the women: “Backra.”
The silence that followed was broken by a thud as Nyasi Ndege hit the ground. She, too, had fainted.
When the news of the baby came to Zango, the head of the Imo Olusos, it troubled him deeply. He was not only the keeper of knowledge but also the keeper of laws. “I know you are troubled,” his wife said to him as he sat silently at his study table. “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Zango remained silent for a long while before he spoke. “Human beings are complicated creatures. The thing that bears this out the most is our emotional spectrum. On one side, we have the capacity to love until death for no valid reason. On the other hand, we have the ability to hate and hurt for the very same reason.
“The problem we have here stems from the fact that there is no plausible, logical explanation as to why two dark-skinned persons can make a child of such light skin tone. In the old country, the most likely explanation is infidelity with a white man on the mother’s part. Since white men are the slavers, then such an act will mean that the woman would have betrayed not only her husband but her people.
“However, here, we have no white slavers. So that is not possible. In the old country, when there is no white accomplice, the mother is accused of sleeping with the spirits of white men. The mother of a backra was then considered a very powerful witch who must be destroyed along with the product of her witchcraft.
“To validate their beliefs, any form of misfortune from barren women to a bad crop, accidents, sickness, and even death was blamed on the child. Driven by fear, our ancestors came up with a way of getting rid of the problem.
“Rather than doing the unpleasant task of killing a mother and newborn for themselves, they came up with a so-called test that will take care of their problems by placing the fate of the mother and child in the hands of the so-called gods.
“If you look among us, you see that our skin color varies in different shades. I know in my heart that a backra is just an extreme variation of this, yet since I cannot prove this, I am powerless to do anything about it.
“I am Zango, the keeper of laws, and I am now faced with the fact that our laws have now become gods in that they cannot be challenged. The painful truth is that when laws become gods, people suffer needlessly. I was there when we wrote them wholesale on what we practiced in the old country.
“Ijuba’s only hope is for us to act outside of the law, but we must be careful. We will need help with this, and for this, I know only one man who will dare to help us.” With that, he set out for the home of Chui Kucha.
When Zango arrived at Chui’s home, he met Chui at the door waiting for him. “I am Chui Kucha, father of Ekundu Simba. I know what you have come to ask of me and I will help you. They say I could shoot the words out of whisper with my bow. That would be easy compared to this, for superstition is stronger a mountain. Even though it is unfounded, nevertheless the child must live, Ijuba must live, or we are all better off dead. I am Chiu Kucha, Father of Ekunda Simba.”
“Yes,” said Zango. “Come to the ile-ikawe we need to plan carefully.” He took off walking as Chui followed him to the library. After three ojo oruns they went to Ijuba’s house and waited.
As the day dragged on it towards the evening the night seemed to take forever to come for Oyin, Kibuluu, Chui, Zango and Ijuba. The dreaded moment came at the second ale orun of that night when they led Ijuba into the forest.
No one came out to see Ijuba off, for some were afraid of the curse. Most, however, could not face the fact that the cruelty of their beliefs had inflicted on the innocent and helpless.
Except for the glow of the lamps in the windows of the houses, one could swear that no one was in the village that night. The village was as empty as the souls of the people who would feed a child to the beasts of the forest.
Ijuba wore a black woven dress that Oyin had provided. Oyin had also pulled all the locks of Ijuba’s hair up and stuck what looked like an amber-tipped bamboo hairpin into it.
“Use it wisely,” Oyin said to Ijuba as she wrapped the torch into her locks.
Just before they left, Oyin instructed Ijuba to feed the child. As Ijuba drew the child to her breast with her back turned to the two men who would take them, Oyin deftly slipped a tiny vial from her dress, poured its contents into the baby’s mouth, and placed the empty bottle back in her dress.
Ijuba was dry-eyed and silent as she fed her son, Oyin whispering words of comfort to her.
“Let me burp him,” insisted the wrinkled woman when the child had finished feeding. Ijuba’s hands shook heavily as she passed the child to her.
She dropped to her knees and wept loudly. “Please, don’t let them do this to me,” she beseeched the older woman. “I have no family, no husband, and now no friends. My baby is all that I have. You’re a woman, and I appeal to the mother in you. Don’t let them take my baby away from me. How can you let them do this to us? How can an innocent child be a curse?”
“My barren womb weeps for you and your child,” a stern-faced Oyin replied. “For it is us who are cursed, because we have become slaves to laws that were written in response to unfounded fear, not for justice. Most of us believe this to be wrong, but we do not have the will to change it. However, my husband and I are about to risk our lives to save you. Listen to me: if you want to survive, you must stop crying, for weeping won’t help you. You need to live at all cost. You need to live through this night—not just for the sake of your child. You need to live for every young woman who is hiding in her home in fear. Live for us all. May the gods be with you.” As she spoke, Oyin gently rubbed the back of the child on her shoulder while a kneeling Ijuba buried her head in the older woman’s dress and wept silently.
After the baby belched, he quickly slipped into a deep sleep. Oyin rubbed him over with a mixture of oil and ground charcoal from his head to his soles. She then wrapped him in a blanket that was lined with this mixture before she gave him back to his mother. Satisfied that she had now rendered the child soundless and scentless, the old woman said, “The men are becoming restless. It is now time to leave.”
Ijuba’s hands shook when she took back her sleeping child, then she held on to Oyin for a moment and stared at the ground. After a while, the old woman tore Ijuba’s hand away from the sleeve of her dress and stepped away as tears that had been trapped in her eyes all day finally broke free and flowed like the torrents of a river.
As Chui led the way to the forest, Ijuba followed without hesitation. Zango followed behind her. They had walked well into the night before they stopped in a light rain. Without saying anything, Ijuba turned and handed the child to Zango.
Zango took the child, slung it into a sack over his back, and turned to the right. As he moved on, he took his hand axe out and started to cut the brushes in the path that his torch lit along the way.
In the meantime, Ijuba followed silently behind Chui. At ten ale oruns, they came to a large siliki owu tree, where he stopped. Once again Ijuba lost her composure.
“Chui, I know how much you loved Jafafa Dawotile, and I beg you do not leave his child to die in the forest this night. You know of the caves of Zaveza Isiwas; take us there, and I promise I will never come back. They will think that we both have died, and no one will know. Don’t do this for me; do it for Jafafa Dawotile.”
“It is for Jafafa I came here tonight, and I would never leave his wife and child to die in the night forest, and neither would I leave them to live in hardship in the caves of Zaveza Isiwas,” he replied.
“Listen to me, Ijuba, daughter of Gberaga Ogongo and Eupe Chui,” he said.
The words came as a surprise to Ijuba, for he spoke them with the kindness of a father.
“I am Chui Kucha, father of Ekundu Simba. I have no pleasure in this, for I should be the last one to judge you and your child, but the customs of our people are bigger than men like me.” Chui said. He sighed. “We don’t have much time, so pay attention. There are three thousand steps from the village to the parting with Zango, and there are two thousand steps to this tree. You must retrace these steps. When you get to where the path splits into a fork, follow the new trail that Zango just cut until you find a tree like this, one that is three thousand steps from the fork. Your child will be there. Do not run, and do not panic, lest you lose the trail.
“As you walk the trail, above all, you must remember this at all cost. You must never leave the path. If an animal is behind you, walk ahead of it briskly, but do not run. If it is ahead of you, turn back and walk quickly along the trail. As you walk, you will notice branches hanging in your path. Under no circumstances may you touch them. Crawl under them or jump over them, but never touch them.”
Then he turned away from her and said, “I have to take your dress back to them, or they will say you have not been tested.”
Obediently, Ijuba slipped out of her clothes into the cold, wet night and handed her dress to him. His back was turned to her when she did, for he would not look on the nakedness of the wife of Jafafa Dawotile.
“One more thing,” he said as he reached into his pocket and pressed a cylindrical object that was the size of a finger into her palm. She knew it was a “cloud maker” from an ipo sanma. She also knew that he was risking his life, so she took the explosive device and concealed it in her hair.
“Don’t drop it, and do not inhale it,” he said firmly. “Use it wisely. As I leave you, I want you to promise that innocent child one thing. Promise him that you will live through this wretched night for him. Promise him that you will live for all the women on the island. Promise him that you will prove that he is a blessing and not a curse. I am Chui Kucha, father of Ekundu Simba. I know you can do it. Do it for Jafafa Dawotile.”
With that, he took off running, torch in hand. The sound of a dreaded oru idi, a night eagle, pierced the emptiness of the night: screeeeeeeeeeech-screeeeeeeeeeech-caaaaaaw, screeeeeeeeeeech-screeeeeeeeeeech-caaaaaaw, screeeeeeeeeeech-screeeeeeeeeeech-caaaaaaw
2. THE RESCUE
Meanwhile in the village, Kibuluu had decided to spend the night with Oyin to support her, as her husband Zango had left to take Ijuba for the test. As both women watched from a window, a shadow emerged from the forest. “Oh no, just when I thought it couldn’t, this night is getting worse,” said Oyin.
“Kafi Mkono is the last person that should be here,” replied Kibuluu.
“I cannot face him,” said Oyin, drawing the curtain across the window as an overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame came over them both.
“We have done a terrible thing,” replied Kibuluu. “Ijuba is the only blood relative this boy and his sister have.”
“The fire took his family, and now we are taking his aunt, for what? Some stupid, baseless curse. Why did he have to come tonight of all nights? Why could he not have stayed with the Igbo Eniyans? Why did he not stay with his adoptive father, Titun Okunrin, the new lander? Why?” lamented Oyin.
“We are all in pain,” replied a somber Kibuluu. “But we all know that neither time nor space can separate that boy from his aunt. Even after Titun took him to live with the little forest people, the Igbo Eniyans, he always comes back to check on her, and now he is here to see if his little cousin has arrived. What can we tell him? How can we face him?” As the women stood at the window in silence, they heard the back door open as Zango slipped in, for he had not wanted the villagers to see him returning.
Kafi became horrified when he arrived at his aunt’s house to find all the windows closed, all the doors locked, and his aunt nowhere to be found. At the back of his mind, he had an unsettling suspicion of what was wrong.
“Where is my aunt?” he bellowed to her brother-in-law, Mbwa Okan. Mbwa just bowed his head.
The times had not been kind to his aunt, and now she was lost in the forest, trying to find her child and probably fending off wild animals.
The thought of this drove Kafi mad.
“Where is my aunt?” He bellowed and ranted this question over and over through the village until he lost his voice.
It was a miserable, pitch-black, rainy night.
It was as if the sky wept in silence for Ijuba and her newborn child. Kafi noticed the grain store of the Imo Olusos.
It was a fired mud building two men long by two men wide and four men high with a ladder built into one of its walls. It was on a stand that was supported by four legs, which were reinforced by a brace running around their middle.