By Ify Okoli (Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
The leaves on the trees rustled as I walked past them. It was too dark to see what made them move, but I felt the cool night breeze wrap itself around me then float ahead. The lamp I held in front of me created an eerie yellowish halo that hovered around the narrow bush path which wound its way, twisting like a long headless snake through the forest. For a moment, I thought I heard footsteps coming behind me. I stopped and turned. I saw no one. Fear settled like a heavy cargo in the pit of my stomach and caused my heart to beat erratically – the sounds like the feverish climax of an atilogu dance. Yet I pressed on. There was no turning back now.
The path gave way suddenly into a large open clearing with a desolate looking hut standing forlorn in the middle. She was sitting so still on the floor, her legs folded beneath her, in front of the run down hut. There was a terrible smell in the air like decaying animal and rotten fruits.
Her gaze was fixed somewhere in the distance, at a point far beyond the wild swaying of the tall, lean grasses and the solid shadows of trees whose branches cast long finger-like shadows on the ground whenever the moon came out of its hiding place. As she stared, I felt a prickly sensation at the back of my neck. My body felt so sensitive that I could feel mosquitoes dancing around my neck. It was the look that made me shiver with fear; the look that made me almost believe the villagers when they said that her guilt had made her run mad; the look she had on her face when she talked of her dead husband and child as though they were still alive and she still lived with them.
“Afoma,” I called.
She swung her gaze to me lazily as if I was an annoying intruder in her perfect world. In a way I was, but I also knew that if I did not come, she would starve to death.
“Why do you keep coming? You shouldn’t. It is an abomination, alu!!! If the villagers find out, you will pay for your foolishness.” She sounded angry.
“I come because I want to,” I replied. It was true. I defied the verdict of the villagers. No one in the village was supposed to speak with her, buy or sell to her. She had been labelled a witch after the inferno that had claimed the lives of her husband and son and had been excommunicated from the village. The envious villagers accused her of witchcraft because she was gifted in using herbal medicine to cure the different ailments of people far and wide. They had claimed that the long dark mark on her forehead almost touching her nose was an identity of her water spirit people. On the night of the strange inferno, she had been away at a far away village trying to cure the only child of a widowed woman. She had returned to see the charred bodies of the only family she had and even before she came out of her shock, the village women had surrounded her and chased her out of the village with brooms and sticks. She had not even been around to watch them being buried.
“Go, go, go,” she shouted, her voice harsh. Her eyes shone with a life of their own and I took a few steps backward because I was afraid of her now. I was not sure how sane she was after the incident.
“I will not,” I replied stubbornly. She had once saved my life when I was so sick and at the point of death. I had not thought that I would live to see the next day but she had gently brought me back to life with some bitter tasting herbs. For that alone, I was indefinitely grateful. She had once been a beautiful woman, the pride of her husband and the envious object of the village women. Her gift of healing had been an additional blessing as if the gods had wanted to make a mockery of their other creations by saddling only one woman with so many virtuous attributes. Looking at her now, I fought to hold back tears. Her eyes look dilated and sometimes rolled back as if she was possessed of an evil spirit. The corners of her mouth were turned down and there was a continuous twitch in her left eye that belied her usual calm composure.
Gingerly, I stepped towards her and dropped the plate of food on the ground beside her legs. The empty plates I had brought days before were still dirty but empty, scattered by the entrance of her hut. When I got up, she was looking ahead again. In the darkness, her eyes glowed brightly. They looked like the eyes of a cat in the darkness. I shivered but the weather was not cold.
“You know,” she suddenly said quietly, “they are coming here soon.”
“Who are they?”
She looked at me like I was crazy and snapped, “Dim. My husband and my child. They go through here on their way home from the eke market.”
“Send my greetings to them,” I said just to oblige her.
I became sad, deeply sad to think that such a tragedy had happened to such a young and lovely woman and had affected her life so badly that at times, she did not even recognize me.
She quietly said, “Very soon, I shall go home with them. They have no one to cook their meals.”
Distracted, I hardly listened to her. I picked up the dirty plates lying about.
“Sleep well,” I said as I left. As I entered the bushes again, ominously the moon shone brightly as though it had suddenly remembered what it was there for. The strangeness of its brightness and the sudden gust of wind that slapped my bare arms made me shiver, not with cold but something deeper and more intense.
I became afraid.
I turned around sharply just in time to see her stand up abruptly like one whose buttocks were on fire. I watched her throw her arms open and close them in a hug around nothing at all. Yes, I saw nothing within the circle of her arms yet something inside me sensed that we were no more just two people in the clearing. She began to mutter in low tones. Then, just when I thought that was the height of her madness, she threw her head back and laughed. Her laughter was so shrill and piercing that I covered my ears and shut my eyes tightly. She kept on laughing and my mind willed her to stop. As if she heard the screaming of my mind, she stopped. I jumped back in fear when I opened my eyes and she was standing quite close to me. I had not even heard her move at all. There was something dark and foreboding about the way her eyes shone so brightly as she stared into my eyes. I stood transfixed, unable to move a muscle, knowing that I had just witnessed something I shouldn’t have – something only the gods should have seen. Was she a spirit or just plain mad? The moon was directly behind her so I could not see her face clearly. Yet I felt the heat and burning intensity of her eyes. Suddenly she grinned and I thought that there was something twisted about the way her teeth flashed in the darkness. I began to shake.
“I shall return,” she said softly, calmly.
That seemed to bring me out of my trance. I turned and fled the forest. I thought I heard laughter in the distance but I was not sure.
The next morning, even before the sun had secured a place for itself, two things happened that changed my life forever. First, my sister, Ekemma gave birth to a baby girl. The beautiful baby had a long thin dark mark running down her forehead almost to her nose. Secondly, Adigwe, the hunter, came with the bitter news that Afoma had been found lying dead in the village square. She was found naked showing the world that she had had nothing to hide even in death. The hunter told us that her eyes had been wide open staring up at the sky. I needed no more pointers as I sat weakly on the ground. Afoma had kept to her promise.
She had returned.
The baby was named Onwa days later and everyone thought it was a beautiful name. I thought it was coincidental for I kept remembering the night Afoma had died – how full the moon had been, mocking the tragedy of the morning after. I watched Onwa grow. She was indeed a beauty. Her flawless skin was fair and reminded me of the back of a ripe juicy mango. Against her fairness, the long dark mark on her forehead stood out starkly. She was a quiet child and an only child. I also got married and had children too. My sister was close to me so our children got close. Onwa, particularly became so close to me that it would have been difficult convincing a stranger that she was not my daughter. There was a bond that drew us closer, a bond I could hardly explain. It began when she started having nightmares. Her mother brought her to me and I asked her gently what she saw in her dreams. She refused to talk about them but one night as she slept in my home, she had a terrible dream. She screamed from her dream and I woke her up. Her little body was drenched in sweat and she was shivering so badly that I held her against my breasts. She was so thin.
“I saw her again,” she said suddenly.
“She said her name was my name – Onwa. She said that I had been sent because she did not finish her life.”
That night, I remember feeling goose pimples break out all over my arms. My heart had started to pound in my ears as I realized that the young girl had indeed received word from Afoma. There was no doubt about it.
It was in Onwa’s thirteenth year that I started noticing strange things. The villagers had told me about it earlier but I had been blind to see it. One night, I caught her talking to someone under the Ube tree in front of the house. I approached her quietly.
She jumped and turned around. Her eyes shone guiltily and she bowed her head like a child that had been caught with his hand in a pot of soup.
“Who were you talking to?”
“No one, aunty.”
“What do you mean no one? I heard you talking to someone very clearly.”
“I wasn’t talking with anybody,” she insisted.
“Go inside. Your mother has been calling you.”
She ran past me and I had the distinct feeling that there had been someone there but I saw no one after looking around.
That night, I had a dream. She was in my dream walking by the bank of the river with a woman whose bank was turned to me but I felt that I recognized her by the way she walked. Suddenly, I was transported back to the clearing where I had met Afoma before her death. This time, Onwa was there in front of the hut, her back to the full moon just like that night. Her face was twisted in anger. She pointed her finger towards my direction but I had a feeling that she was pointing to someone behind me. I turned and saw Mgboli, one of the market women whose stall was close to my own. As if in a trance, Mgboli was moving towards Onwa slowly. I remembered that Mgboli had been the leader of the women who had chased Afoma out of the village that night. I suddenly knew what Onwa was doing and I screamed for Mgboli not to go in that direction but she moved on as if she did not hear me. I screamed and screamed until my voice got hoarse. She was still walking when I woke up from my dream.
It was already morning. I heard a cock crow in the distance. Beside me, my husband was lying on his side, his back to me, snoring heavily. My children were at the other side of the room sleeping. I got up and slowly opened the door so as not to wake them. The morning was still young. I felt the soft, cold tiny drops of dew cover me like a feather. I walked like I knew where I was going. It was not until I got there that I realized where my legs had carried me. I was in the village square. There was no one around. The huge kolanut tree that stood in the middle was my only companion. I sat down under it, folded my legs under me and waited. I waited, for what I did not know, but I knew inside me that I had to be there. Occasionally, a hunter or a palm wine tapper would pass me and I would greet quietly. I waited so long that soon, the hands of sleep played with my head. I had not slept long when I heard something. My eyes snapped open and I swung my gaze to the left and the right like a trapped animal seeking a way of escape. I sprang to my feet and moved in the direction of where I thought the sounds were coming from. It did not take me long to catch up with the noise. There was a mob of villagers, mostly women, shouting in frenzy, holding up brooms and sticks. I stopped abruptly. The scene was too familiar. I had witnessed the same scene thirteen years ago. I realized they were heading in the direction of my sister’s house and felt something heavy drop to my chest. A lump I found difficult to swallow formed in my throat. With my heart in my mouth, I ran in the opposite direction. The road I was taking led to the same place and was longer but I was a woman possessed. Something inside me knew that history was about to repeat itself again and I knew that I could never let that happen no matter how wrong anybody was. I ran like I had never in my life done before through the bush until I burst out on the other side. I could hear the voices of the women, so close. I burst into their compound and stopped, looking about wildly. There was a young boy sweeping with a long dried bunch of palm branches but he stopped when I charged in and straightened. He stared at me with his mouth hanging open.
“Nne, good morning,” he stammered taking in my unusually dishevelled appearance. I brushed past him without replying and went into the house.
“What is it? Nkechi, what is the matter that you would not even wish me a good morning before asking for my daughter?” Ekemma asked coming out one of the rooms. She saw me then stopped, her eyes scanning me quickly from top to bottom.
“Nkechi, what happened? Did somebody die?”
“Onwa,” I gasped as I looked around wildly. I was panting heavily and my chest felt like it was going to explode at any minute.
“Nkechi calm down first and tell me….”
“There is no time to talk. The village women are coming for our daughter. They know.”
I stared into her eyes and replied, “That she has come to finish off what Afoma could not.”
“Are you mad?”
Onwa came out and as soon as she saw me, she turned and dashed off but my voice stopped her.
“Stop!” I shouted halting in her tracks. “What have you done?” I asked slowly. She turned and I could see the tears in her eyes as she stared at me. Suddenly, I wanted to take her and run away from everything. I don’t know how they had done it but somehow, they had woven me into this web of jealousy and vengeance that I would rather have preferred to know nothing about. I did not blame Onwa. It was Afoma I blamed. She should have let things be. Now, this young child that had not tasted the fullness of life was going to suffer for something she knew nothing about. Then again, I asked myself, into whose eyes was I staring into? Afoma’s or Onwa’s?
“We must leave now,” I told her.
“Leave where? Nkechi, tell me what is going on?” her mother asked. Worry and fear made her look older than she was. “what did Onwa do? Tell me, sister.”
“I shall tell you when we return or perhaps the village women shall explain things when they get here. They should be outside the compound by now.”
My words seemed to drill fear into Onwa for she dashed towards me, her large eyes pleading into mine. There was no doubt that she had done it. Why did she do it?
“We have to leave the village at once. Show me through the back,” I said to Ekemma who was too confused to do anything. It was Onwa who took my hand and dragged me into the bushes at the back of the house. We heard the women burst into the house. Their voices were quite clear. I held Onwa’s hand tightly and motioned to her to wait. I had to hear what they had to say.
“Ekemma, bring your daughter out. She must die! As blood came out of Mgboli’s mouth this morning at her death bed, your daughter’s name was mentioned. She is a witch and she must die!” I heard clearly. I did not wait to hear any more but turned and ran. As we ran, I felt thin branches slap against my face, thorns drew blood from my flesh and the grasses scratched my bare legs yet we continued. Half way through the journey, I forced my brain to start functioning for it seemed that I had been brain dead since the dream I had had in the morning. What was I doing? Where was I going? What about my family? How could I just abandon my husband and children and run off with a mere child who I only felt I had known in the body of another? Where were we going?
“Stop,” I gasped. I felt weak all over. Exhausted, I collapsed on the ground. We had been in the bushes for what seemed like ages and the sun was high now. Sweat rolled down the sides of my head into the corners of my mouth and I tasted the sharp saltiness of my sweat.
“Sit,” I ordered. The young girl sat and I could see that she also was exhausted. She kept panting beside me. I remembered a night years ago when I had held her still thin body against mine. How could that sweet innocent child take the life of an elderly woman? How?
“Tell me what happened,” I said.
She was silent at first, her chin jutting out stubbornly in defiance but I got angry. Here I was sacrificing my life for what I knew nothing about and she ignored me. With anger coursing through my veins, I gave her a slap that left red imprints of my fingers on her yellow face. She stared at me stunned, unable to utter a word for a few seconds then she burst into tears. Her cries were not loud but there was something about the hollowness in her voice that got to my heart strings. I reluctantly pulled her closer to me.
“What happened?” I asked more quietly.
“I don’t know,” she replied amidst tears. “It’s that woman. She comes to me in my dreams and tells me what to do. She tells me that we are the same only she is the one living in my body and that I must avenge those that killed her family and took her spirit away from her body. I only did what she sent me to do.” She was crying harder now, her body shuddering convulsively. I did not understand her story. It made me more confused than ever.
“How did you kill Mgboli?” I asked.
“I don’t know. All I know is that the woman called me from my bed and we went to a place I have never seen before, then I don’t know what happened but I remember seeing you come in but she said I should pay no heed to you. I don’t remember the rest.”
Somehow, I felt she was telling me the truth but I did not know what to do next. There was no way we were going back home. For now, home seemed too distant. Suddenly, I remembered something and asked her, “Who are her killers? Who will she go for next?”
She shook her head in the negative. She was not going to tell me anything. She was still sobbing when I got up and lifted her. The journey had to continue.
We got to my mother’s village when it was already dark. Glow worms blinked their bright yellow light in the darkness. The croaking of frogs greeted our ears and the high pitched chirping of some insects that I could not identify. As we collapsed in front of my mother’s hut, my stomach growled in hunger.
“Who is it that comes to my doorstep after the sun has gone home,” Mama called out from inside.
“Mama, it is me, Nkechi, your daughter and your granddaughter, Onwa.”
She came out walking slowly because of the pain in her hips. Her husband had died some years ago so she lived with a small boy from another village who helped her cook. Mama’s leathery brown face was lined with wrinkles and her small eyes were yellowed with age and weariness. She could hardly see in front of her despite the lamp she held out in front of her.
“Mama, the seeds of your fertile womb greet you.”
“Nkechi?” she called out. She reached out her hands and I held them so she could know where we were. “Did anything bad happen? Why are you walking among the bats and owls? Where is your husband?”
“Mama,” I replied wearily. “I will tell you why we are here. First, we need some food to eat.”
After eating, none of us could sleep after narrating my story apart from Onwa who lay down on the bare floor, her body curled up. Mama sat so still on the ground, her legs stretched out in front of her, her back leaning against the wall. Her eyes were half closed and for a moment I thought she had died for the story I told her was enough to take the breath away from anybody.
“Mama,” I called out.
“Hmm. My daughter,” she said finally. She sighed heavily. “We must see the medicine man this night. The spirit of this woman will not let Onwa rest until she is dead. If she really is the incarnate of this dead woman then her spirit must be appeased for Onwa to live long after accomplishing her mission.”
Having said this, she struggled to her feet and I ran to help her up. My hands were under her armpit and I could feel her bones jutting out against her skin. She carried the lamp while I struggled to carry Onwa on my back. The young girl was heavy on my small frame but I pressed my lips together, determined to finish what had been started. The journey took quite long and by the time we got to the shrine, I was breathing hard. Unceremoniously, I dropped Onwa on the ground and she woke up, squinting up at me then looking around.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“Shhh,” I replied. Mama went into the small cave alone while we waited. In the dark it was almost impossible to see any thing. There were shadows everywhere and strange sounds. Once, I heard someone muttering near me. I jumped and stared round wildly but there was nobody. Onwa’s eyes glowed with fear and the thin dark mark on her forehead stood out in the dark. Occasionally, her eyes closed in sleep and she would almost fall to the side then quickly spring up and look around her perhaps expecting that they were taking her away.
What seemed like hours later, Mama came out still holding onto her lamp. I noticed that her walk was slower than before and I realized that she must be tired. I wanted to get her to bed. I should not have disturbed her.
“All is ready. Nkechi, bring the sleeping child in. The battle must be fought tonight for she has been destined not to live past the rising of the sun.”
The gravity of her words made me shiver and I tapped Onwa awake gently. She came awake with a start and turned questioning eyes to me. I told her what Mama had said and watched as her eyes widened in fear. She suddenly fell on her knees and wrapped her arms around my legs.
“Aunty please, don’t let me go in there. She will kill me,” she begged. I almost gave in to her pleas but I knew that doing nothing about it was definitely worse than getting into the fight.
“Onwa, you must do it and you have to be strong if you want to see your mother again. Death awaits you there,” I said pointing back the way we had come. The night was so dark that even I was terrified. “Now, get up!” I ordered. Reluctantly, she stood up slowly. The wrapper tied around her childish body came loose and I caught it deftly and retied it, knotting it securely behind her.
“We must hurry,” Mama said watching us. Her voice was shaky and I thought she was about to burst into tears but her eyes were dry. As we entered, she suddenly put her hand on Onwa’s shoulder.
“You are the daughter of the full moon. Remember that,” Mama whispered to Onwa who nodded solemnly.
At first, all we saw were short palm branches that held the fire that illuminated the small opening somewhat. Then I saw the old man standing in front of the Iroko tree that was said to be the door to the spirit world. He was stooped at the waist and his skin looked so dry that the glow from the torches cast no illumination on his dark brown skin. He was completely bald and his face bore white and black marks that had been painted on with native chalk. Though he had more wrinkles than anyone I had ever seen in my life, his bloodshot eyes were sharp, moving to and fro quickly like the eyes of a rat in the dark.
“My daughter, come forward,” he said. He surprised me yet again with his deep guttural voice which held just a hint of huskiness. Onwa cautiously stepped closer to me. By her slow, reluctant movements one could tell that she was afraid.
“Kneel,” he commanded and she obeyed instantly. He looked at me for a moment then beckoned to me. I lifted my eyes in surprise and looked back at Mama. I was not a part of this, I thought wildly. I stepped close to him enough to perceive the strong wine on his breath. He motioned to me to kneel too and I joined Onwa on the floor. She looked relieved but I was now pensive not knowing what to expect.
“You both must dance the dance of the spirits and you,” he said pointing at Onwa, “must be ready to face your destiny.” His voice was not loud but low, yet it struck fear in my breast and I started shaking. He turned around and got a pot nearby which he gave to me and told me to drink from and pass it to Onwa. I obeyed him instantly. As Onwa dropped the pot on the floor, he started chanting loudly, dancing around us in frenzy. Suddenly, I felt woozy and thought of how the old man had so much energy to dance the way he was doing. I felt myself falling and thought I called to Mama but I was too weak and my voice might have come out in a whisper for no one came to my aid. Everything around me began to spin slowly at first then faster and faster until I thought I was going to fall.
“Mama!” my mind screamed until finally the spinning stopped. My heart was beating heavily and I heard the pounding in my ears like the sound of a stampede. Suddenly, I heard my name being called. I spun around quickly and I was back – back to the night the madness began.
I was staring at the hut, standing at the same spot I had been with the moon so full, so white and shiny in the sky looking like one of the tiny white pebbles I used to pick as a child by the riverside. The bushes around me were overgrown. It took me moment to realise that I had been transported back in time and the thought of it made me groan. I was looking into the eyes of madness only this time it came in the form of my niece, Onwa who stood in front of the hut facing me, her face twisted in anger, her finger pointing at me.
“How dare you! How dare you intercept the whirlwind on its course! Now, step aside and let me finish this. You have done so much already. You can not do more after all, you are only a mere mortal,” she screamed. The voice was deep, definitely not the voice of a child. It belonged to Afoma and without a doubt I knew that I was talking with the dead woman in the body of my young niece, Onwa.
“What is it you want? You have had your life. Leave her so she can live hers,” I pleaded. Like that night, her eyes shone with a strange brightness that could not have been due to the light. The moon splashed around us in sharp poetic shades of blue and black. The dark mark on her forehead glittered evilly as if it had been rubbed with palm kernel oil reminding me of how alike the two would have been had they been in the world at the same time.
“My life was snatched away from me by two people, Mgboli and her husband. They murdered my family and left their spirits wandering without a home. Do you know how that feels? We have no place to rest our heads. We have known no peace. No home to call ours. The land of the spirits has rejected us. The land of the living has rejected us. I had to come back to finish what they had started. They must join us and be like the living dead and after that your niece will join her fathers for she cannot remain. My destiny will be fulfilled through her. She cannot remain.” She threw her head back and laughed in that hollow way she had laughed that night and I covered my ears and my eyes.
I remembered the charred bodies of her husband and child. It had been difficult to recognize them. I remembered Afoma’s lifeless body, shamelessly naked, her eyes staring up at the sky as though staring at the injustice life had meted on her and I felt tears running slowly down my cheeks.
She stopped abruptly and I opened my eyes and gasped at what I saw. Coming in the opposite direction was Mgboli’s husband, Dike, moving slowly towards her as she beckoned him on. He was walking comatosely, his unseeing eyes looking through us as if we were invisible.
“Noooo,” I screamed. He may have done all the terrible things but I did not want him to die. So much death and I felt I was standing by the side unable to do any thing. I tried to move my legs to run and stop him but my legs felt heavy as if thick long ropes were tied around them. Even my hands felt heavy and I could not lift them. The brilliance of the full moon mocked my handicap. The drama before me continued like I was not even there. One minute he was walking towards her, the next minute, he had disappeared into the hut and without anyone telling me I knew that he was gone. He had joined the living dead. I felt weak and my legs gave way under me as I collapsed on the ground. I was surprised to feel the cold wetness of tears sliding down my smooth cheeks. This was not happening, I thought. I should have been able to stop it. I should have. I was sent to stop this, was I not?
“I told you,” she mocked, “you cannot change the handwriting of spirits.”
“No, you lie!” I shouted and sprang to my feet with the agility of a cat. “You might have the power to take the life of a guilty one but my niece is innocent and she will not die.”
Somehow, I just knew what to do. Taking her by surprise I ran to her and grabbed her arm tightly locking it in my armpit. I dragged her as I ran through the bush. She pushed and scratched me and I felt my skin open in a dozen different places. The long grasses tore at my shoulders while crawling shrubs tangled my legs yet I ran on. She shrieked and at a point her left hand tore at my hair painfully. I had the strange feeling that as I ran, the moon was pursuing me and the ground was rising up to meet me but it was all in my imagination. There was only one destination for me and that was my sister’s place where at that time, Onwa was pushing out of my sister’s body into the world. She suddenly realized where we were headed and her fight intensified. She attacked me with her other free hand and dug her teeth into my skin. But, I too, was a woman possessed. I had a mission and I intended to fulfil it.
We heard my sister’s cries of agony as she laboured to bring forth her child. I was not surprised that we went through the walls. My sister was writhing on the ground, beads of sweat chasing each other down her face and neck and in between her exposed breasts. Holding her legs apart was the midwife who kept shouting words of encouragement to her. I knew why I had been sent here.
With much force, I pushed Onwa towards my sister’s belly and shrank back when a piercing wail rent the air. I was not sure if it had come from my sister or from Afoma as Onwa disappeared into my sister’s womb. A split second later, the wet baby slipped out from in between my sister’s legs and the midwife caught her deftly. As her first cries sliced the air, I noticed with satisfaction that the dark scar that had been on Onwa’s forehead was no longer there.
The whole excitement of the night must have got to me because my head began to ache. I heard my name coming from somewhere afar. I staggered as I felt weightless. The voice was coercing me softly.
I woke up.
My mother’s face stared at me, concern drawing her brows close together. It took me a minute to realize that I was not in the forest and the whole place looked strangely familiar yet unfamiliar.
“Where am I?” I asked.
She frowned more and placed something wet on my head. She looked much younger than she was last night, or was it morning? There were only few wrinkles on her light brown face that still held a little of her youthfulness.
“You are at home, on your bed. You were sick, remember? You must have had a bad dream and your fever has kept us awake all night.”
I sprang upright and winced as the pounding behind my eyes intensified.
“What of Afoma? Where is Onwa?”
“Who are those people? Lie down, my daughter. You had a bad dream. Your sister Ekemma is coming with something for you to eat.”
As if on cue the curtain at the entrance opened and my sister came in carrying a plate of bitter leaf soup whose smell filled the air, making my stomach churn. What made me gasp was how young Ekemma looked. She could not have been a day over sixteen and her fair skin still glistened with youth and health. Her stomach was still as flat as that of a young girl who had not yet tasted motherhood. Her hair was braided and packed on her head in preparation for the maiden dance that would hold very soon or had they done it?
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked and everything came flooding back to me.
Of course! I was still young, barely fourteen, two years younger than my sister and I had complained of a headache and stomach pains days ago, it seemed.
Everything had been a dream.
There was no Afoma, no Onwa, no full moon, no spirits or ghosts, no medicine man…
Mgboli was my aunty whom I despised because she always came to visit when we were about to eat and always found it amusing to dip her fingers into my own plate of soup and lift a piece of fish.
“Nothing,” I replied and sat back against my mother. Reluctantly, I smiled.