Do you remember the lovely Kycee Q who was gracious enough to share her enthralling series Family Secrets? Well, she’s here with something new.
Papa led me down the dusty path, pulling my hand as he went. From the corner of my eyes, I could see with the help of the dim light proffered by the moon, and the fireflies in the bushes that we had just passed Mama Osarodion’s Akara stall, which stood almost at the outskirt of the village.
“Papa, where are we going?” I called out, trying to mask my fear with a worried look. Besides the fact that I was now seeing strange images obviously conjured by the trees in the bushes, we had just entered the path leading to the village stream- a path Mama had warned was disastrous and terrifying in the night. It had been rumored that a certain masquerade visited the stream at such odd hours in the night to take its bath. Therefore, anyone who ventured there at night never lived to tell the tale.
“Papa!” I called again.
“Will you be quiet?!” Papa scolded, stopping abruptly to stare down at my worried face. He was wearing that murderous look of his that always made my skin crawl. It was the look he always had right before he sends my buttocks to the woodshed to be whipped with koboko for one of my mischief or, for other closely related offenses.
“If I hear another word from you…” He threatened, but he didn’t get to finish his sentence, as there was a sudden movement in the bush. I felt fear creep up my spine and almost jumped on Papa, but he had looked away surveying the surrounding with frightened interest, and with little concern for my safety.
“Igbabonelimi, is that you?” Papa asked, and I could hear the trembling in his voice. He looked even as terrified as I was.
“Papa” I whispered, unable to contain my anxiety anymore. I could feel my eyes tingling with tears as I looked at him, hoping he would see the fears in my eyes and change his mind.
“Papa, I want to go home” I whispered again, now crying as silently as I could.
“Hsssh!” Papa hushed me; calling out to whoever he thought was on the path with us.
Suddenly, there was a large rush of leaves and then, we saw it-a big monstrous being with black hairs all over- standing before us on the path. It had a wooden mask with big white eyes and a blood stained tongue that seemed to stretch from one corner of its mouth to the other. On its feet and chest, were beads and cowries of some sorts. I was about screaming when I felt Papa’s hands round my mouth.
“Igbabonelimi! oh thank God you came” Papa answered, holding my mouth tighter as I struggled to break free, and do the one thing my feet were urging me to do. From the corner of my eyes, I could see that the creature made no move to answer. It just stood there, watching us like a hawk.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come much sooner. Forgive me” Papa continued, as he tried to keep me still.
“I had to wait till her mother was fast asleep. Please don’t be angry with me” Papa continued, trembling as he made to throw me between his thighs to keep me caged.
Suddenly, it felt like the grounds were moving as I saw the creature move towards us. My eyes grew wider as I made to bite off the fingers that stood over my mouth, and scream my lungs out till my feet were willing to obey. But it was already there before us.
I lost my bearing, shaken by the close vision of its face that looked like death itself, as it stared down at Papa and I, like cockroaches that it could crush at ease.
“You can have her” Papa suddenly said, releasing me to sway away from its look.
I stood mortified. What?
“Please make sure I get what I was promised” Papa said, moving further away, while I stood petrified and confused. As the creature stood over me, like it was going to bounce on me at any second, I turned around to take a look at Papa with the words “Please don’t leave me” hanging on my throat. I wanted to scream and kick and crawl to where he stood, to explain why he was leaving me with a beast. But I noticed that Papa had stopped moving, and had stood rooted on the spot.
“Ok..” Papa said. “I will watch”. And as if obeying something the creature had said, he shook his head sadly, and rose up his eyes.
And then I felt it, the excruciating pain as it spread from the top of my head to the root of my feet. And then, everything was black.
I felt a thud on my side and then, on my head. I scowled, breaking away from the daydream I had just had, as I turned to my torturer.
“Jesus! Guy wetin dey worry you nau?” I scolded, rubbing the spot Richy my friend and roommate had hit, with a spoon.
“Na God go punish you!” Richy responded, shaking his head. Even though there was a giant glower on his face, I could see the mischief in his eyes.
“So all what I’ve been saying now…you didn’t even hear one thing” he said again, and I pursed my lips, trying to decipher if he was making a statement or asking a question.
I chose the latter.
“Emm, sorry no vex. I was distracted” I answered, picking up his spoon, and throwing it back at him as I resumed my meal, but it was obvious that I’d already lost my appetite. My mind was now on other things; things that involved the babe sitting three seats away from us. Since she entered the restaurant, I had lost concentration.
“Chai! My guy…let me tell you one fact” Richy said with a smirk I knew all too well. One that was always preceded with words laced with sarcasm. “Na woman go kill you!”.
“Eh I know” I responded, laughing as I drank from the Amstel Malta we had ordered earlier. “Leave am like that”.
Richy laughed, shaking his head slightly, and I could already guess what he was thinking – that I really needed deliverance from my promiscuous ways – that my own was too much. Between us, he was the least culpable when it came to women, and he would boast of having just one girlfriend, Omono. But then, I would have to remind him of Ameze who he fucks once in a while.
So I’ve often wondered: How was what he does any different from what I do?
“Differences dey, my guy” he would say when the argument comes up, which was usually frequent.
“How nau? Explain.” I would reply, indulging him.
“I only screw Ameze when Omono is not around. Nothing else. Omono would always be the woman I love” he would say.
And I would nod, not even a little bit convinced, but letting the argument die anyway. After all, every man with his own shit menh.
He slapped me again, this time on my shoulder as he began to narrate one fabricated story like that; about a girl that tried to jazz him back then in secondary school, and how he barely escaped with his life.
My thoughts were still on the girl whose presence in the restaurant was like a dragging force, getting me all worked up and curious all at the same time. I took a glance at her and noticed she had sat at the corner of the restaurant, dressed in a white muffler, white pants and white pullover. Her handbag which was resting on the table was also white; even the phone she held was white as well. Her choice of outfit had been what first caught my attention when she walked in; making me wonder why anyone would choose to wear such a color in the season we were presently.
It had been raining cats and dogs for the past few days but for some miracle, it hadn’t rained today. But then, I recalled that the day was actually a Friday, and Benin folks don’t play with their Fridays. It was rumored that there were powerful native-doctors that could hold or stop the rain from falling, till those celebrating marriages / burials were done with their activities.
“Oya go and talk to her since na ghost you dey find” Richy insisted, reclining on his seat as he took a glance at the girl. “I don’t understand why anybody would dress like that, as if na him and Jesus dey drag position for heaven”.
I laughed, shaking my head at his low taste in fashion, evidenced by the faded stripped shirt, black pants and the green shoes he was wearing. What Ameze and Omono had seen in him was what I haven’t been able to comprehend.
“Oya go o, so that your blood go come down…this one you are already acting like someone that has been jazzed”.
“Jazzed? Me jazzed? You go fear nau” I jeered. “Have you seen where a whole native doctor is jazzed? Impossible nau”, I said laughing. It was quite amusing that once a Bini man cannot explain or comprehend something, it just had to be jazz.
“Abeg make I hear word”, Richy interrupted as I rose to my feet, and pushed aside my meal, laughing at the face he had made at me.
After readjusting my long sleeved shirt and making sure my breath didn’t stink, I took a bounce towards her table and surrounded the place with my presence. But of course, the babe pretended I was invisible.
“Hi” I greeted, but she made no move to answer. Instead, she continued to stare down at her phone, tapping continuously on the flat screen that sat on her palm. I made to check if she had ear phones on, but saw no sign of wires or even a Bluetooth headset anywhere.
I heard my common sense urge me to return to my table while I still had the chance – that this one was likely to be more than I could chew – but I ignored it, certain that there was no way a fine boy like me can be ignored by someone as gorgeous as her. Couldn’t she see we were perfect for each other? This is a force of attraction baby…my thoughts ran as I sat on the seat next to her, and harrumphed.
“My reversed color, answer me nau.” I began, dropping down my face to take a glance at hers under the muffler she had over her head, but she totally ignored me.
“I’ve been watching you from a distance for a while now, and you haven’t even looked away from your phone to take a glance at me. Have I offended you?”
I saw her mouth move, and then her eyes rose to meet mine. And I lost my breath.
Glaring at me were the most bluish eyes I’d ever seen in my life. It held me spell bound and confused for a moment as several thoughts began to run through my mind. The first was, what Bini girl could have such bluish eyes? And then I recalled that these days, girls use contact lens. But there was something about her face. Even though I had expected to find a fine face beneath the muffler she wore, I had half expected it to be this pretty.
It was oval shaped with smoothness and flawlessness that held no makeup. Her lips which held a giant scowl, left me wondering how in God’s name someone as perfect as her could even frown.
“Wow!” I said out loud before I could stop myself.
“What?” she asked, with a sudden look of confusion on her face.
“You are beautiful” I said, still revering in her beauty. But then, she stood up suddenly and began to pack her things.
“Oooh wait. Please don’t go nau” I started to plead, joining her on my feet, as I watched her throw her bag over her shoulder and began to walk brusquely away. Without even thinking, I threw myself in front of her and blocked her way. But to my dismay, the most shocking thing happened. The babe moved closer to me and then, whispered something in my ears.
For a moment I stood confused, but quickly, I moved aside and watched her waddle out of the restaurant.
“Dude, why you let her go nau? You no even collect her number” Richy called, walking up to me. And I turned and glared at him.
“Dude wetin happen?” he asked, reading the shocking expression on my face.
“Shit!” I said, finally finding my voice as I shook my head side to side.
“Omo, that babe na evil spirit o!”
But before I knew it, Richy had roared into laughter.
I moved away from the restaurant and then ran towards the express road, halting down a cab as I did. After giving the driver the description of where I was headed, I took a deep breath to steady my racing heart.
What the hell just happened? I wondered angrily, as I pulled out my phone, and read the text message on my phone. But I could barely pay attention to the words that were staring right at me. My mind just kept going back and forth over what had just happened.
Had Blessing lied to me?
Had Baba Óboité played me for a fool?
But it’s been two year now?
Why has it stopped working? Why now?
I unlocked my phone again and began to type a text message to Blessing:
‘Babe how far? I’m on my way to that Baba’s place’, I typed. “You are not going to believe this: The charm is no longer working’.
“Madam, which side of Aduwawa?” The driver asked me, joining the traffic at the market place.
“Just be going. We never reach” I insisted, not taking my eyes off my phone, as I reread my message for the third time, and decided at the last minute to include three exclamation marks at the last word.
“Okay…but madam, that money wey you talk too small o. See holdup na” the driver said, grumbly in Bini.
I looked up at what he was calling traffic and sighed ruthlessly.
“As if na today you begin dey follow Benin-Auchi road” I replied sarcastically, not in any way interested in exchanging words that afternoon with anyone.
I hit the send button on my phone, and then dialed Baba Óboité’s number. The man had better be home by the time I got there, I grumbled angrily as his line rang for the first time and then the second. Still, there was no answer. At the third ring, his unusually tiny voice came on to the speaker.
“Enórénse,” he called cheerfully into the phone. “Vbèè óye hé?”
“Baba, don mon. Laho, this is not the time for pleasantries” I answered impatiently. “Are you at home?’
“Vbèè óye kin?” he asked in Bini and still, I ignored his question.
“Baba, are you at home or not?”
“I am at home” he answered patiently.
“Good” I answered, and then dropped the call.
I watched impatiently as the driver maneuvered himself away from the traffic, and then joined a street I was getting familiar with.
The last time Blessing and I had been there, I had been pretty sure that there was no way I was ever going to return to it. As a matter of fact, I had hoped I wouldn’t have to. But unfortunately here I was, again.
After pointing to the house, the driver pulled to a halt outside the big black gate. From the outside, no one would have suspected that such an unremarkable building, modernly built with modern roofing sheets, plastered with its unpainted walls, was a juju house. On my first visit, I had thought Blessing was pulling my legs; that perhaps we had come to one of her plenty admirers’ home. But little did I know that she wasn’t lying at all. Inside the building was a secret room, faddishly furnished for the purpose of selling charms and calling on unknown spirits.
I paid the cab man his fare and then took bold steps towards the gate of the house, ignoring the chattering of children playing in front of a shop that was attached to the building. After hitting the gate several times, a lady dressed in bum-shorts and a sleeveless top, hurried towards the gate, and let me in.
I took a glance at her and remembered her from my last visit. She was chubby with a weave-on and makeup that were worn in the most inexperienced way. Even at that, she looked way more sophisticated now, than when she was in red wrapper with her face bathed in white chalk.
“Is he in?” I asked her, stopping to look around the compound once more. There was a well-as was typical of most homes in Benin- connected to a pipe lying above the house. In front of the house was a bench, resting against the wall.
“Yes”, the woman answered grimly, as she led me up the stairway that had been built outside the house. On my way up, I noticed a passage way from the verandah leading to the backdoor of the ground floor section.
“Ha Enórénse!” Baba, who was primly dressed in a traditional attire of shirt and trousers, hugged me, and then led me passed a couple of rooms I hadn’t noticed earlier through a passage way. I noticed that one of the rooms-whose door was wide opened- facing the passage way, was filled with women padding on machines and obviously sewing clothes. The other room was like an office, scantly furnished with just a wooden chair and table. There was a calendar directly above it, displaying different fashion of clothes and shoes. On the table was an electronic sewing machine, with a couple of other sewing equipment.
“Sir, you are a tailor?” I asked Baba, following him towards the back of the house to the room I had seen before.
“Oh yes…I make clothes for a living” He answered, with a smile on his face.
I shook my head. “I don’t understand”.
“Well the last time you were here, you came on a Sunday my dear. My shop is usually closed on Sundays. My employees stay in their homes at such days. Perhaps that is why it looks as if you are seeing all these rooms for the first time” Baba answered, taking his red robe off the wall of the room and donning it.
“So your employees know that you have a room like this here?” I asked, still too stunned to understand.
“Some know…some don’t…some pretend they don’t, but a lot of them including those that claim to be Christians have come to me for help and I’ve helped them. But I know that is not why you are here” Baba said, taking a seat on the wooden stool covered with a red cloth. He picked up a calabash and then began to chant.
I wanted to ask him more questions, but like he said, that was not why I was there.
“So what is the problem, Enórénse?” Baba asked, sending a white chalk over his left eye to create a perfect circle.
“Emm..Baba” I started to say, but then I noticed the chubby woman standing by the door. She had also changed her clothes into the red cloth I had seen her wear before, and was holding the same calabash. She walked into the room and then stood in the exact spot she had stood the last time.
“Is she your wife?” I asked Baba, distracted by the frightened manner at which she could stay so erect…so stiff, like a statue.
Baba laughed. “No, she is my daughter”.
“Oh ok” I answered, looking hard at the woman for the first time to at least find a resemblance between her and the Baba, but I found none. Well, except from the nose.
“She looks like her mother” Baba said as if reading my thoughts. “Her mother died many years ago after she was born. But Enórénse this is not why you are here” Baba hinted again. And I could see from his expression that he was starting to lose his patience.
“Ok. Well Baba, the charm you gave me is no longer working” I announced, my anger returning to the surface.
Baba’s brows furrowed in confusion.
“I don’t understand” he said. “What do you mean it had stopped working?”
“Well, I went to a restaurant this evening to eat when one nonsense human being came to start talking to me. It wasn’t as if he was talking-talking to me…he was more like admiring me”
“Hmmmm” Baba responded.
“Hmmm? Hmmm? that is all you are going to say?” I asked, taken aback by his response.
“Well Enórénse, my charm has never been known to fail” Baba answered sternly.
“Then perhaps you can explain to me why a man would come and be asking me out” I said angrily, dropping my handbag to the floor.
“Have you ever left the house without the charm before?” Baba asked, picking up a pot from the back of the stool he sat, and throwing a pile of sand from a calabash into it.
I paused and then thought hard. There was actually a time I had ran out to get airtime from an Aboki’s kiosk down the street, when I ran out of data plan to do an online transfer. I had not had the time to wear the ugly bracelet. I told Baba this and then, he nodded.
“That must be why you encountered such a situation today even after two years, but not to worry. I will make you another one, but I’m afraid it would cost you more than before” Baba said, smiling to reveal his crocked teeth.
I rolled my eyes.
“Money is not the problem. As long as you can assure me that this would not happen again” I said unzipping my bag to bring out the money I was supposed to loan Blessing. But of course, I could always replace it.
“No problem my daughter” Baba grinned as he stood up, took the money from me and then placed it in the calabash his daughter was holding. He asked me to return the bracelet. I unclasped the ugly thing from my wrist and then handed it over to him. I watched as he dropped it into what looked like hot feces. After chanting for what seemed like an eternity, he commanded me to take the bracelet out of the pot that smelled so awful that I almost puked. I took the bracelet out of it, and then wiped off the stain with a white handkerchief which he insisted I must always place the bracelet on when I take it off.
“Is that all?” I asked him, not pleased that I wasn’t receiving a new one like he had promised. I had hoped he would change it to something much nicer.
“I only reinforced the charm on the bracelet Enórénse” Baba said, as if reading my worried thoughts. “Don’t worry you will get used to it in time.
I said nothing and simply picked up my bag to walk out of the room.
“Now, remember” Baba said, his voice stopping me abruptly by the door. “You must not take it off for more than twenty-four hours Enórénse unless you want the torments to continue. That bracelet is now a part of you. Just the same way you cannot see without your eyes, hear without your ears, smell without your nose, or feel without your skin…it is the same way you cannot be protected without that charm”.
I took on all that he had said and nodded. But deep down within me, I knew precisely what they all meant literally. They meant that if I wasn’t careful, my demons would one day catch up with me.