Tag Archives: Magical realism

When Rain Fell On the Night of the Red Moon

By Gbolahan Badmus

We were standing in an empty space, but a force pinned us from floating and sinking, fixing us stable in midair. A white light surrounded us. What I saw was not what I had believed I would find in the place of the newly dead. I had always assumed it would have a foul stench, people with tattered clothes who were hobbling with outspread arms, their mouths dripping blood and speaking sluggishly. So when Padjonsin had instructed me to wear a black gown and high heels, I had thought he was crazy but here they were: the smell of nothing, black suits, black gowns, and black shoes. I could say I blended in, but there was that blank expression they all wore that I could hardly mimic. A quick facial sweep would immediately reveal I wasn’t one of them. But I wasn’t to worry about that. Focus on your goal, Padjonsin had said.

They all stared ahead, waiting. No side talk. No catching up on old times. The silence was brittle, anything would have shattered it. A pin drop would have been thunder. Padjonsin had told me not to be surprised by this. Even people who lived all their years together would be unable to recognise each other after life. Their memories were no longer theirs; it had been taken for examination. After 90 days, their results would be ready, determining their final fate: Rest or Torment.

Who did I know that had died in the past 90 days – apart from Kemi? Maybe seeing a familiar face would give me hope that I would find her, but I quickly killed that thought. All I wanted was to save her, and by my timepiece—handmade by Padjonsin in sync with the life of the red moon—I had 15 minutes left. Fifteen minutes before the rain stopped falling and the redness of the moon faded. Fifteen minutes to leave here with her or else I would become one of them.

#

Lightning flashed, adding a brief blinding brightness to the warm glow of the red moon. Rain kept falling, like pellets shot from the sky, chasing everything with legs indoors. Aluminium rooftops became drums. Potholes pooled with rainwater. Drainages threw up forgotten refuse. The streets were slippery traps, streaming with nylon wrappers, plastic bottles, and cans. Deafening thunder ripped the air.

Inside one of the aluminium roof-toped houses, Alade rolled on his bed, his rumbling thoughts preventing him from settling into sleep. The glow of the moon sifted through his window pane, dousing the darkness in a shade of red. That was when he saw the figure standing by his doorframe. He squinted at the figure; all the while rubbing the left side of his chest like it would slow down the beating of his heart. Could it be her? he thought. Her name hung in his throat. He pushed it out. “Ke-Kemi. Is that you?”

Then the lightning flashed, and his room—green carpet, peach walls—lit up for a brief moment. The figure was slim with a shaved head, in contrast with Kemi’s pudgy frame and plaited hair.

Alade took deep breaths, disappointment calming his nerves. “Yomi, what are you doing there?” He said, suddenly feeling guilty at his disappointment in seeing the expected.

“Daddy, it is the rain. I am afraid. Can I sleep in your room?”

“Come here son.” He adjusted himself on the bed, creating space.

Yomi peeled his frame from the door, shuffled into bed and pulled the blanket to his shoulders. “Where is Mummy?”

“She will join us before the rain stops.”

“Where did she go to?”

“She went out.”

Before Yomi could speak further, thunder blasted from above like an explosion from the sky. Father and son froze, slowly thawing to the music of rainfall drumming and splattering.

“Daddy, please tell me a story.”

Alade fell silent for a while, searching his thoughts, and then he spoke. “Once upon a time, a woman loved her children…”

#

When Rain Fell on the Night of the Red Moon Final

I was the only one moving, looking at faces to pick out Kemi. It was difficult to describe the state of the people here. There was something alive about their dead faces, like if you tap them they would look back and ask you, “what?” It was like being stuck in both worlds, neither here nor there.

Since Kemi had been dead for almost 90 days, I had to keep moving forward. Padjosin had said they arranged themselves according to their time of death, the older ones at the front, and the more recent ones at the back. A new being popped in every few minutes, never filling this empty space. The last one I had seen had suddenly appeared, dripping wet. Fresh scratches were on his skin and he had been missing a head. Then his head emerged from his neck, a flawless brown skin replaced the scratches, and his drenched shirt transformed to a black suit. After that, his expression became blank, and he stared ahead like the others.

I imagined how Kemi would have been on arrival. Did she discover the ease of standing that had evaded her all her life? What about the ease of communicating with words, instead of groans and cries? Did she discover why she got here early or the blankness took over before she could process her memory? Shivers crept down my spine.

I pushed through the cluster of staring beings. I was tempted to shout her name; maybe she would turn and recognise me. But who was I kidding? Without memories, how would she even know what her name was? How I wished there was a faster way to pick her out, but there wasn’t, I had to rely on facial recognition. She was twelve, big eyes, full lips, and about five feet tall. I’d have to take my eyes off the tall ones and target the short ones.

I stood between two women, who happened to be tall and muscular, probably bodyguards or soldiers in their lifetimes. I stood on my toes, braced my hands on their shoulders for support, and lifted myself up so that I had a better view of those at the front. Although, it was still difficult to catch those at the uttermost front, I could see an assembly of heads: grey, black, brown, red— none of them with plaited hair. And that was when I saw her—between a taller man and a child—hair in a puffy afro, with a black gown clinging to her chubby frame. My heart flipped with joy.

I jumped down and began running, stopping myself from screaming her name. Kemi! Kemi! I kept shouting in my mind. Wild with excitement, I pushed through beings, only for them to take their previous position after I passed. I got behind her, and turned her to face me and whispered her name. But the face that met mine had tiny eyes, like she was falling asleep, and thin lips that looked like straight lines.

“No, no, no,” I whispered, trying to catch my breath. The strain of running slammed me and everything around me started spinning. I felt dizzy, like I would throw up or faint, or both. My timepiece said five minutes more. I remembered Padjonsin’s words: Once you have five minutes left, save yourself. But this was no time to succumb. I didn’t get this far to give up. I could still save her, I could still save her. Tears began gathering in my eyes.

#

Before Alade got halfway through the story, he heard his son’s snoring, like a soft brass solo to the melody of rain in the background. Apart from these sounds, his house was quiet. Usually, this was the time he and his wife would eat of the fruits of their privacy, partly freed from the constant monitoring Kemi demanded. It would be just the both of them planning for tomorrows and rediscovering their sensuality, until few months ago when Kemi died.

After her death, his wife hardly got out of bed. He spoke to her but she would only stare at him with indifference, like he was a brick wall. It was the same way she treated all those who came to mourn with her. It was like her sense of recognition had vanished. During those days, she would only speak in inaudible mumblings, then she’d utter a shrill cry for Kemi and begin a frantic search all over the house, looking under the couches, in cupboards, under pillows, inside wardrobes. All he could do was force feed her and ensure she did not step out of the house. He thought with time she would become her old self.

But she never did.

One day during one of her frenzied searches, he took a chance to bring her back.

“Darling, can’t you see?” He hesitated, considering the weight of his next statement, and then he said it.

She turned to look at him. Her hair had locked into rebellious dreads. Bags had settled underneath her eyes, and trails of dried tears traced her cheeks. “What did you just say?”

“Can’t you see you’re free?” he asked. At her silence, he pushed further: “You are free from all the carrying, cleaning, and monitoring. Now we can focus on Yomi.”

He didn’t know what she would do or say, but he hadn’t expected her to get up quietly and leave the house. “Don’t follow me,” was all she said.

Yomi had appeared from the bedroom then and took his hand, leaning into him. Alade had put his hand around Yomi shoulders as they watched her shut the door.

After she had left, he began regretting all he had said. Maybe he had been harsh. Maybe he sounded like he didn’t love his child. Yes, it was true that he was relieved of the shame he felt when she would shit herself, even in the presence of visitors. How those visitors would view them with pity, like they were asking what offence he had committed to be afflicted with such a burden. But he had loved his daughter.

He missed the way she smiled when she was full, how she laughed at the sound of her own farts, and then would begin crying once she caught wind of the smell. He even missed her constant calls for attention that made him feel like a father even though her cries would demand attention when sleep was at its sweetest, leading to scuffles between him and his wife about who should attend to her next.

He had loved his daughter but he could not let his wife continue to hurt herself in mourning, starving their surviving child of the care he deserved.

After two days, his wife came back. He wrapped her in an embrace, apologised for his words and promised to always be by her side. She also apologised for leaving. He didn’t ask where she had been, he feared it would push her back to insanity. But he had always suspected there was a catch to her sudden change, because after she came back, she would whistle happy songs and would always have a smile ready, like a woman who had not just lost a child. She proved him right a week later.

“Remember when we were children and our parents told us not to do bad things or else Padjonsin will carry us away?” She asked one morning.

Alade smiled and nodded. “Which child wasn’t afraid of him? Back then, I would see him walking, mumbling to himself, and I would hide behind my mother.”

“That man has been around for a long time,” she agreed. “Anyway, he told me I can bring Kemi back, not only that, he said I can bring her back whole.” Then she told him everything, rushing out the words like if she paused, her courage would flee.

His first response was to reprove her for having anything to do with Padjonsin, but the thought of bringing back Kemi, free from the pity and disgust she evoked from onlookers made him smile, then the smile faded immediately. What if it failed and his wife relapsed into madness or, worse still, he lost his wife in the process? So he carefully pushed her away from that thought.

But she had seen his smile, and it was this she used as an entry point, moving and prodding, until he finally succumbed.

Yomi’s snores suddenly became louder, lifting him out of his thoughts. Had the snores become louder or was the rain receding? He peeped through the window. The red moon was slowly draining of its colour, merging back to silver. Quietly, he slipped out of his room and stepped out of the house.

#

I threw away all concern and began shouting her name. The only response I got was silence. But still, I ran past these statues of flesh, blindly pushing forward.

My husband would never understand this need to save our daughter, saying I should let her go. He would never understand that the umbilical cord linking a mother to her child doesn’t get cut off at birth; it still remained, even after death. That was why Kemi, dressed in glowing white, had appeared to me after her death. When she disappeared, I would search for her everywhere. Now I was here, still searching. But coming here to bring back Kemi was beyond the umbilical link, it was much more than that.

After discovering Kemi’s shortcomings, I had to close down my market stall to give her the full care she needed. There were selected foods she had to eat, a particular way we had to position her after eating, the periodic adjustment of her body while she slept, and many others. My husband assisted at night, while I bore the daytime duties alone. Even naming our next child Oluwayomi: “The Lord has saved me,” did not save us from the hardship of catering for Kemi.

The care drained my youth, or rather what was left of it, faster than time could. The sides of my hair sprouted grey. Wrinkles marked my face. My cheek bones popped out. My steps slowed to the dragging of feet, worsened by back pain that visited as frequently as the rising sun. It was during this period that my husband started going on business trips. If it wasn’t trips, then work would suddenly become so hectic that he had to stay the night in the office. I was bearing the hardship all alone. Any time Kemi laughed, it seemed like mockery; any time she cried, I blocked my ears. Sometimes, I cursed myself for pushing someone like that out of me. When she became too troublesome, I calmed her with sleeping pills. Then one day I fell sick and needed rest, and so she wouldn’t disturb me, I made her sleep – perhaps for too long.

The guilt and grief almost killed me, till I met Padjonsin. It was after I left the house, wanting to be as far from it as possible. Walking down a narrow path, he loomed over me, blocking sunlight; his gaze like a knife piercing my skin. I wanted to run, but fear held me to the ground as tears dripped to my feet. He lifted my chin and asked what was wrong, his voice like a slow massage calming my nerves. I told him of Kemi’s death. He asked of the date of death. I told him. He said there was a way out, that I should follow him. My head kept telling me to run away, but my legs refused and found their way to his home.

He told me that when rain fell on a night of a red moon, it opened a rift between the place of the newly dead and the world of the living. And it was then that a living being could go in to bring back the dead. He said the next occurrence would be in two weeks time, but to prepare me for the journey, I would first need the blood of the one who fathered the child. When I got home, I convinced my husband to give in. What I didn’t tell him was if I failed to bring back Kemi, all the years I have lived on earth would belong to Padjonsin.

With this in mind, I turned their heads forcefully not caring if their necks snapped, but no match. Two more minutes. Maybe I should save myself and get out? No, let me give myself a minute more—

#

Alade was out on the deserted street. He stumbled, fell, and rose, screaming his wife’s name. Confusion directed him to different paths until he finally succumbed to helplessness, kneeling down in the middle of the street. The rain water soaked his trousers, cold on his knees, and calves. He hardly felt the droplets on his skin. He looked up; the moon was mostly silver with only a faint red crescent.

Then he fell flat to the ground, his tears merging with the wetness of rain.

#

She suddenly remembered her husband, the joy they had felt at the birth of Kemi, one of theirs in this world, a proof they would live beyond their death. Kemi, her name meant “care for me,” and they tried to. She pitied Yomi, who had always been eclipsed by Kemi, his wholeness an excuse used to ignore him. She hoped her husband would do a better job alone than they had together. She held on to these memories and thoughts till they became too heavy and painful, like a migraine. Then the migraine faded, and all she felt was relief.

 

 

Gb Badmus
Gbolahan Badmus currently lives in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. His works have been published in Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Africanwriters.com, The Guardian Newspaper, and elsewhere online. He contributed poems to the anthology titled, ‘Sandstorms in June’, and he was also a participant in the 2015 Writivism Creative Writing Workshop. He hopes to work on a collection of short stories soon.

 

 

 

The Encounter

By Nnamdi Anyadu

If you play at Hoplus’ trench, the chance you’d find yourself breaking a sacred rule on some occasion is high. Higher than if you play at Arjin or Kowi, for instance. The girls here are wild and mother warns me every time to be wary of their company, though she knows she cannot stop me from coming here – Hoplus is the closest play-area for teenagers around our home – so she constantly reminds me of why the rules are in place. For safety and balance. I nod every time, saying I understand, but it does not stop her from repeating herself the next day.

I know the Sacred Seven like the end of my own caudal fin. Never shed a tear. Never perform dishonesty. Never travel to any of the other tribes without the chief’s blessing. Never swim to shore or contact a surfacer. Never wield your gift for destruction. Never take the life of a fellow sea creature. Beware the halls of Tada; never venture there.

Mother does not know, but my closest friends – Kaumi, Jauni and Pkeni – and I have broken one, or is it two of the Sacred Seven? Thanks to Pkeni’s temper. It was she who got angry after she’d lost a race to Jauni and picked up a rock and smashed the head of a crab with it. We watched the poor crab twitch till it stopped moving. Perhaps we considered the crab’s life of little importance because it is crustacean; if it had been a fish and had bled blood, I’m sure we would have acted differently. So we performed dishonesty and did not report the incident to an elder. Instead we focused on cheering Pkeni up and told her that she was faster than all of us and that it was only because she had had a heavy breakfast that she had been slowed down this time.

* * *

Right now, Kaumi is speaking of adventure as we twirl about Hoplus. She is the oldest of the four of us, the leader of our little clique, if you will. Most times, she decides what games we play.

She is saying her cousin, Sorai, has given her information about something we should all go see. She is claiming that far away at the beach, a shoal of young surfacers are having a jubilation. I do not see how this is our business. I do not see why we should all go see it.

‘Are you afraid?’ Jauni asks me when they all realise I am not showing any signs of enthusiasm at this unnecessary escapade.

‘I’m not. But it’s dangerous. And we will be breaking a Sacred,’ I say.

‘Since when do we care about the rules?’ Pkeni says, frowning.

Only she can say this. The rules mean nothing to her. Or maybe they do, but her constant anger never lets her think straight.

Everything within me is telling me to stand my ground, but you see I was not here at the trench yesterday; I was busy with Mother. Kaumi, Jauni and Pkeni teased a shark. They say it chased them for about half a mile. I missed all of that action.

‘Okay, but we won’t stay long. We’ll come back soon, yes?’ I say.

‘Of course we will.’ Kaumi says.

‘Sure,’ Jauni says.

Pkeni does not say anything. She just smiles and licks her lower lip. I know in her heart she is thinking me a coward.

* * *

As we swim toward the beach, I notice the current of the water lessen and I feel myself move faster.

‘Stop. We’re here,’ Kaumi says.

We bob our heads against expiring waves to survey the beach and behold, there they are: a school of young surfacers, drinking from red things resembling shells. Behind them are tall trees and funny-looking structures. They are moving their bodies in an awkward fashion and hollering like demented souls. This all seems so disorganised, and their music is loud and nonsensical.

The encounter

‘We should leave,’ I say to Kaumi.

‘Leave? We just got here,’ Jauni says.

I see the glint of excitement in her eyes. She is clearly fascinated by these odd beings.

‘We’ve seen them,’ I argue. ‘Now, let’s go before someone notices our absence back home.’

‘Sssh,’ Pkeni says.

Only she can shush a person when they are making sense.

‘Don’t tell me to be quiet,’ I say and Pkeni quickly places a finger over my mouth, pointing to my left.

A few yards away from us, a surfacer-man and a surfacer-woman are entering into the water. Surfacers look so weird. They don’t have gills on their necks. They don’t have scales over their bodies. How do they even stay warm? They have arms in the lower parts of their bodies and they move with it. Four arms? What is a person doing with four arms? Ugh.

The surfacer-man and surfacer-woman are swimming toward us now. They seem to be performing some kind of play. The male has his forearms all over the female. And the female seems to be enjoying it for she is smiling a soft smile.

She is the first to see us.

‘Jesus! Jesus!! Jesus!!! Aaahhhh!!!!’ The surfacer-woman screams.

Jesus must be the name of all the other surfacers, because as she screams this, the jubilant company on the beach begins to run in our direction.

‘Wetin?’

‘What’s that?’ I hear them say as they approach.

‘Mammy-water,’ the surfacer-man says, pulling the screaming female out of the water.

A surfacer throws a handful of sand at our heads. Another throws a stone. This is our cue. We turn around and make for home. Some pursue, diving into the water. Others throw things at us. Something hits my left shoulder. Another hits my waist. I dive into the water. I swim for dear life. Into the deep, I go. When I am certain I am away from their reach, I turn. Pkeni is before me, Jauni beside me. I do not see Kaumi.

‘Where is Kaumi?’ I ask.

Jauni looks this way and that. Pkeni stares at me. I swim upward, break the surface and look at the beach. The surfacers have Kaumi. They are beating her with clubs. She is trying to break free but the surfacers are way too many. One stamps his feet into her face. Others imitate him. I scream.

Jauni is beside me now. She is shaking uncontrollably. In the distance Kaumi looks lifeless. She isn’t struggling anymore. More surfacers are appearing on the beach and pointing towards the ocean. I cannot even tell when it started, but I am crying and wailing now.

nnamdi

Nnamdi Anyadu writes short fiction and poetry. His works has appeared on the Nwokike Literary Journal, Brittlepaper and several blogs. He is currently working on a novel.

 

 

Sweet Like Pawpaw

By Rafeeat Aliyu

“There are demons living amongst us,” The Prophetess informed her audience, her voice was low but filled with so much strength that it carried through the room even without a microphone. “These demons are walking in our midst. They wear human skins to deceive the foolish, but those of us who are blessed can see through their falsehood.”

The assembly seated on white plastic chairs before her shuddered as one. All who came here knew of the Prophetess’ campaign to make Nigeria free of all demons. She was a survivor of many supernatural battles and they itched to hear her stories. The Prophetess knew how to hold a crowd even in a place of worship that was nothing more than a rented canopy, open on all four sides.

“My recent encounter…” the Prophetess’s voice caught as she recalled the events of the previous week. She swayed as she shared her combat with the people. She was a master orator and as she wove the tale, those who followed her every word could picture it clearly. They saw her spotting a woman who for all appearances was a mother of three, and were with her as she followed this woman through the crowded open-air market. The audience saw The Prophetess engage in a spiritual battle with the woman, they witnessed every psychic blow and counterblow until finally the Prophetess emerged victorious while the demons burst through the woman’s human disguise revealing her true form.

The Prophetess had only really started sensing the evil that existed in the world around her after most of her immediate family had died and the blame had been pinned on her. She had emerged victorious in that first battle and learned to more effectively track down that evil, to eliminate it and create a safer world. The Prophetess never knew their true forms. She only sensed them and could track them down. At first she would catch them by surprise but more and more they seemed to be on the lookout for her. Of course they rarely expected that the person who was responsible for sending them back to the darkness they had crawled from was a heavyset woman in her early forties who walked with a limp.

“It was a mere puddle of water that had been spiritually fortified through rituals and other evil acts of human sacrifice,” the Prophetess explained to her congregation. Actually, she had almost drowned in that diabolical lake.

Afterwards, she led them in a prayer that would cleanse their souls and act as a shield around them when they returned to their homes. As the audience petered out into the night, the Prophetess made her way out of the canopy. A few people came up to her wanting more details of her spiritual adventures, others offered her gifts of cash stuffed in bulging envelopes, but the Prophetess always declined them. She had no interest in worldly things and only accepted their spoken gratitude.

The Prophetess took an okada back home to her two-storey house. It was a relic of decades past which she had inherited from her grandmother. Everything about her home was faded, the roof was rusted and the walls were dull and brown, having long ago lost their colour.. The Prophetess earned a bit of money renting out some of the rooms, but kept the rooms upstairs free for those who came to her in need of shelter.

After unlocking the door and retreating to her room, the Prophetess sat on her sturdy bed. Midnight was fast approaching and she was ready to sleep. She was also ready for another spiritual battle; it had been over a week since her last one. Reaching under the bed, she grasped a plastic bottle and brought it to the light. Studying the bottle and the murky brown liquid it contained, the Prophetess surmised that there was enough holy water for her to track and destroy just one more demon. After that, she would have to visit to the woman she hated to get more; it was not something the Prophetess particularly looked forward to.

Closing her eyes and holding her breath, she took two long swallows of the water. As the liquid went down her throat she shut her eyes against its bitterness. Then the Prophetess lay on the bed and waited for the special brew to do its work. The answers always came to her in dreams, and this time what she saw as she slept was as bizarre as they came.

The Prophetess saw a skimpily-dressed young girl who ought to be facing her school books. Instead, the girl held a microphone and lip-synched to a song blaring loudly in the background. The Prophetess knew that the song was this girl’s property. She owned each rhythm in her stance and pride gleamed in her soulless eyes. A throng of people swayed before her, hanging on her every move. They screamed in approval as she turned and bent over, shaking her buttocks in an obscene manner.

The Prophetess’s eyes popped open to a dark room. She clicked her fingers over her head to ward off evil then rolled off the bed and fell on her knees where she launched into a lengthy prayer. Already her feet and palms itched, a compass in her pointing north. It couldn’t be too far because the Prophetess knew she could reach the place where the girl was within a few hours. As the day broke, she poured the last of her holy water into a smaller plastic bottle that was easier to transport and prepared to head to the scene of her next spiritual battle. By tonight there would be one less demon consuming the souls of Nigerians.

#

Oyin dashed through the thick darkness of the woodland. Even as she jumped over shrubs, Oyin knew there was no escape. They should have given her more time.

Still, the least she could do was make it difficult for whoever was now after her. As she came to a stop, crouching below a tree that was very similar to the one that had borne her, Oyin fervently wished she had been blessed with the power to teleport. She could be in another city or state, country even, far away from this current mess. Instead she sought respite in her element, surrounded by thick foliage.

Whoever tracked her had followed her into the bush and was now close enough for Oyin to sense. This person was like her in a way, yet very different. Spirits confined in human skin, those like Oyin, had a certain smell – often saccharine – only noticed by others like them. This scent was all over her hunter but it overlaid another odour. Oyin chewed her lip trying to figure out who it was. It struck Oyin that the disparity might be because whoever they had sent after her was wholly human just as Aunty Taiye appeared in the clearing.

Oyin groaned as the petite woman crossed her arms under her breasts, left foot tapping, and eyed her gravely. It was pitch dark in the forest but Oyin had never needed light or eyes to see, and it seemed neither did Aunty Taiye. Oyin wondered if anyone could remain totally human after cavorting with her kind for as long as Aunty Taiye had.

“I am not going back.” Oyin announced resolutely.

She had imagined someone lower on the food chain would come after her, not number one-and-a-half. The scent of Leader Bitch-Witch, the person who was actively trying to ruin her life, was all over Aunty Taiye.

“My Zanottis are ruined thanks to you.” Aunty Taiye said looking down at her mud-splattered shoes. Oyin counted that victory in her favour.

“You can buy new ones when you return to Abuja,” Oyin said. Then added, “Without me.”

Aunty Taiye frowned pinching her features close.

“You know what? I don’t understand why we have to beg you to stay alive.”

Oyin rose to her feet, she did not like that Aunty Taiye was looking down at her when she was the taller one.

“You are human so I do not expect you to understand.” Oyin smoothed the sides of her skinny jeans.

At this Aunty Taiye kissed her teeth in a long drawn out hiss. “The land and water divide? Seriously? Is that the reason you don’t want to stay with Lila in Abuja?”

Oyin’s face grew heated instantly. “You really don’t understand, do you?”

“Explain it to me then,” Aunty Taiye’s tone was mocking. “I am listening.”

“From the start of time we land spirits have never gotten along with the water spirits. Do you know how many of my sisters lost homes because of the wily nature of one water spirit?” with each word Oyin’s voice rose. “And to top it off, even before we took human skins, those from the water have been pompous. Whether it is due to their popularity among humans, I don’t know. It is always Mammy Wata this, mermaids that…”

At that point Aunty Taiye interrupted, “No one is talking about the nymphs and tree spirits, right? So this is a popularity contest?”

Oyin pursed her lips and refused to dignify that question with a response.

“I just wonder why the other land spirits in Abuja aren’t objecting to Lila’s offer.”

“I am not like the rest of them,” Oyin spat. “They are boring and do not have anything going on in their lives. Aunty Lila cost me a feature with Burna Boy.”

It still pained Oyin; she had been charming her way through the music industry when Lila and her cohorts had invited her to come to live in Abuja. It was an offer for protection in the face of increased attacks on their kind, spirits in human disguise, but had cost Oyin a lot, especially after Lila frightened off her manager.  That was the final straw for Oyin, it was all nice being kept safe from shadowy villains, but she had a life to live too. Oh, but Aunty Taiye knew how to launch her ammunition.

“Didn’t you hear about the mysterious lake that appeared overnight in Enugu, and dried up the next day? Do you want to be reduced to nothing but seeds?” Aunty Taiye asked.

Oyin’s anger evaporated. Ever since leaving the protection Abuja offered, Oyin had been following news sites with a fervour that was nothing less than religious. She understood that there was danger, that was why she opted to lay low here instead of returning to Lagos, and she needed to be informed. The sort of news stories that mattered to her and her kind could not be found within the pages of The Guardian. Instead, they were in gossip papers tucked between headlines like: Woman gives birth to tuft of hair and How I was kept in a bottle by my wife – Husband tells all.

Oyin had seen the story: Mystery lake appears in community – locals claim waters are blessed. The article had quoted an elder in the village who held that decades ago a huge body of water existed in the exact same spot where the lake reappeared. The elder explained that the original lake had dried up a few years ago. Even though she had never been to that part of the country, or known the lake intimately, Oyin recognised that the lake had been like her: A spirit that had found refuge in disguising itself as human. Now, due to The Search, the lake had reverted to its original state and was ultimately destroyed. Oyin felt nauseous at the memory.

Aunty Taiye’s tone softened, but only slightly. “Whoever is hunting your kind is merciless, and Lila only wants to make sure you are not eliminated.”

She moved closer and made to place both hands on Oyin’s quivering shoulders, but then she let her hands drop. “There is safety in numbers.”

It was just as well that Aunty Taiye had not touched her because Oyin would have shrugged her hands off. Before she had allowed herself to be breathed into this human form, some emotions had been completely foreign to Oyin. One of them was fear. Now, her heart tap-danced in her chest and her stomach felt as hard as diamond. Sometimes she hated how much emotions affected her physically. Her attempts at calming breaths did nothing to stop the shaking in her hands. Oyin thought she had evaded oblivion when she had been successfully transferred to this human body. Now she had to worry about the mysterious group intent on riding the world of her kind one by one. At least an elder had remembered the lake; no one would care about the pawpaw tree she had been.

sweet like paw paw

“I can’t be away from my fans,” she mumbled, she clenched her hands at her sides and turned away from the woman in front of her.

Aunty Taiye scoffed, “You have fans here?”

That stung Oyin deeply. It was true that few people in this quite commune a few kilometres north of Lagos knew her personality as Miz Honey. They had probably never heard her hit single, even though it was still being played at parties and in clubs in Lagos and Abuja. Still, Oyin needed to eat and the thought of her honeypot gave some strength.

Every one of their kind needed to feed on their allotted poison and, as Oyin feed on veneration, the larger the crowd the better. They were what she called her honeypot.  When she initially arrived here, she was nervous that someone would be sent from Abuja to look for her. As days passed and she built her honeypot, she grew comfortable.

The reverence from fans who loved her music always drove Oyin to euphoria, but in the absence of that she settled on the few who gathered around her in this place. It was a different flavour, but food was food, Aunty Taiye had no right to judge.

“I would rather be here than stuck in Abuja where no one cares about me.”

“You sound like a spoiled child.” Aunty Taiye snapped.

Oyin wanted to remind Aunty Taiye that she had spent many more years on this earth as a tree-nymph than she had. The only thing young about Oyin were the years of inexperience that came with trying to be human. All she really wanted was the freedom to explore this new reality but what Aunty Taiye offered was strict regulation.

“It is interesting that you say no one cares about you,” Aunty Taiye said. “You do realise that with your celeb status you are the key to your kind being accepted by humans? Even Lila believes it.”

“If she thinks it’s a great idea to reveal our existence to NigeriaShe must be very smart indeed,” Oyin said sarcastically.

“I don’t think you understand, Oyin,” Aunty Taiye said. “People already know you exist and they have labelled all of you as evil. Why else do you think your kind are being attacked?”

#

 

As most of her honeypot were corpers teaching in the only government secondary school in the area, Oyin headed to the school. It was past midday when Oyin got to the school’s administrative block and found the schoolyard was empty. She called out to her honeypot, sending a message to the Whatsapp conversation group she had created for them shortly after she arrived here. Choosing to wait for them outside, Oyin sought shade under a flowering tree near the football field. She played games on her mobile phone to while away time. It was not exactly exciting but Oyin was glad to be out of the house.

She did not have to wait long. Soon her honeypots flocked towards her, settling themselves around her. Someone brought benches so they sat enjoying the shade of the tree and the soft breeze that blew through the field. They complained to her about the long day they’d had at school and the ridiculous bureaucracy of the system. Oyin pretended to listen while she gulped up their attention. It was not long before she grew dizzy with satisfaction. She made them sing along with her and was so taken with the scene that she did not see the old woman dressed in a faded ankara iro and buba until she spoke.

“Leave this place,” she said in Yoruba. Then she repeated herself in Pidgin English, “Make una comot.”

The old woman wore a brown veil wrapped around her shoulders and a small black purse poked out from under her left armpit. She had a  set of tribal marks deeply engraved on each cheek.

“I said leave this place,” she ordered impatiently. “Can you not see you’re seduced by a demon?”

Even though some of them turned to look at the woman, regarding her as if she was sick in the head, no one in Oyin’s honeypot moved an inch. The situation was almost comical to Oyin.

She waved a dismissive hand in the direction of the old woman. “As you were saying Chinedu…”

The old woman stepped closer to Oyin. The movement brought a whiff of something foul to Oyin’s nostrils. Everything about the old woman was off, even when she had been a tree spirit Oyin had never felt such aversion towards her. Humans either loved her or were indifferent to her, and with indifference all Oyin had to do was show them her spirit and they eventually turned to adoration. Even Aunty Taiye, who always adopted a brusque manner towards her, did not hold such negative feelings for her. This woman hated her strongly and to Oyin, who was used to adoration, it felt it like something rotten in her mouth.

“Don’t let her come any closer,” she called out to the most physically fit of her honeypots. “Hassan, stop her.”

The words had barely left her mouth before Hassan leapt to his feet. He grabbed the old woman’s arm firmly.

“Mama what is your own now?” he demanded.

“You don’t understand,” The old woman said looking up at Hassan. “This girl isn’t what she seems…”

“Hassan, take her out of here,” Oyin commanded, her heartbeat increasing by the second. “Drag her on the ground if you have to.”

Hassan made to pull the woman away, but she resisted. Oyin watched in amazement as the old woman easily pushed Hassan off her. For the second time in her long life, Oyin felt fear. She needed to remain calm, to keep her hold on her honeypot, yet she started yelling at them.

“Why are you people sitting down? Is this old woman stronger than you? Get her out of my sight!”

The others rose and gathered round the old woman. Eleven young people formed a wall between Oyin and the stranger but the old woman was fighting back, pushing and shoving as her honeypot closed in. The struggle was useless as they eventually lifted her up, carrying her away as if she was a crowd-surfing rockstar.

But as far as powerful speech went, the Prophetess had a few in her arsenal as well. She stopped resisting and let the crowd carry her while under her breath she recited a verse and with it a commanding word.

Oju asa kii ribi. Oju awodi kii roran…”

As if waking from a dream, the crowd stopped moving. They lowered the Prophetess till she was on her feet.

“I see you are awake now.” The Prophetess smiled at their stunned faces. “Go home my children, leave this place.”

Oyin squealed at the incredulous scene playing out before her. The crowd she had had firm control over was running away in several directions, leaving her alone. Had her hold on them been so weak? Were all the things Leader Bitch-Witch said about her inexperience true? Who exactly was this old woman who was now moving towards her with such determination? Shakily, Oyin rose to her feet and scurried backwards until she hit the tree behind her. Oyin trembled but made no move to run away like her honeypot had, in fact her feet remained rooted to the dusty earth. As the Prophetess placed an unyielding hand on Oyin’s shoulder, it dawned on her that she had been caught.

Oyin fell to her knees with a painful thud. She had been so careless. The Prophetess murmured something under her breath, so low that Oyin could not pick out any distinct words. With one hand holding Oyin down, the Prophetess somehow manoeuvred her other hand into her purse and brought out a small bottle. When the Prophetess flipped open the cap, a strong acidic smell permeated the air. Oyin’s essence immediately recognised it as dangerous and she recoiled shrieking, yet her human shell was paralysed.

As though her core had separated from her body, Oyin saw the Prophetess tip the contents of the bottle down, directing it to a spot on her forehead. She squeezed her eyes shut and when the impact took too long to reach, Oyin reluctantly opened one eye. The first thing she noticed were a pair of hands hovering above her face, cupped to save her from the burning liquid. Then the light scent of Jimmy Choo perfume wafted to Oyin’s nostrils. Oyin had never been so relieved to see Aunty Taiye.

 

#

 

The Prophetess was confused. A second demoness had appeared out of the blue and this one seemed to be immune to her holy water. Manipulating a crowd of mentally chained humans was one thing but facing down two demons was another. It was a law in the spirit world that when one encountered a higher power, one had to submit.

The Prophetess flung the bottle at the two hellish creatures and ran as fast as her age and frame could carry her. She had reached the main road when it struck her that she was not being chased. She paused by a sign warning residents against dumping waste in the area and struggled to catch her breath. The Prophetess was angry and scared at the same time. That the holy water had not worked on them meant that the demons were evolving. Demonic spirits were independent and moved alone, the thought of them forming alliances raised bile to the Prophetess’ throat. The game had changed entirely.

As her breath stabilised, she felt tormented. The thing that pinched at the Prophetess the most was that she would have no new story to tell next week.

#

A few acidic drops had landed on Oyin’s face, despite Aunty Taiye’s shield. The liquid ate through her skin and Oyin screamed as she felt part of her human shell eroding. It was like she was being cracked open. With one cupped hand holding the foul liquid, Aunty Taiye fetched the bottle the Prophetess had discarded. Carefully, Aunty Taiye transferred the liquid in her cupped palm into the bottle. What remained was insignificant, but it would be enough to examine.

Meanwhile Oyin was writhing in pain.

Aunty Taiye disappeared and when she reappeared she held a plastic bag of pure water in her hand. She ripped open the bag with her teeth and rinsed her hands with the water. She then rinsed the plastic bottle, holding it with the tips of her manicured nails. Next, she pointed the plastic bag at Oyin and squirted the water that remained in it directly on Oyin’s face. Oyin flinched at the contact, and closed her eyes. The coolness was a relief that she accepted grudgingly. The relief was fleeting; it was quickly followed by the horror of knowing that she was now forever indebted to Aunty Taiye. Oyin felt something crawl upwards and lodge in her throat. She heaved and choked till she vomited a stream of pawpaw seeds. The pain receded after that.

“Now that you’ve stopped screaming your head off,” Aunty Taiye tossed the empty bag away. She observed Oyin from the corners of her eyes, extended by the dark wings of her eyeliner, and managed to look offended. “Are you ready to come to Abuja?”

Oyin remained seated on the ground. She stared at her hands, which were stained orange, studying the stringy bits of pawpaw fruit under her nails. She was scared to imagine the kind of damage that had been done to her face. Yet, Oyin’s borrowed heart would not still its painful throbbing. This was fear, and as much as she longed to be around adoring humans whom she could control, Oyin had to be reasonable. She gave Aunty Taiye a curt nod.

Rafeeat Aliyu
Office worker by day, writer by day and night. Rafeeat is a huge history need who enjoys cooking from recipes, horror movies and the feeling of waking up in a foreign country.

The Journey

by Adanze Asante  

Running through the thorny blonde grass, the lone hyena stops to scan the plains of the Serengeti for food and water. After travelling for more than three sunsets, she’s hungry and searching for carrion, but it’s scarce this dry season. A starling alights upon her path as she relishes the strong breeze rippling through her fur, she spots a droughty pond filled with muddy water. Her stomach wrenches tight as she drinks, for the water only incites her hunger pangs.

Through a curtain of heat, a pack of female hyenas lope toward her. Orange dust billows from their paws as they approach. Her fur stands on end, her ears twitch, and at that moment she forgets her hunger. She realizes that she should have stayed on course, but her desire for sustenance had urged her to take a different route.

Knowing it’s odd for a bitch to be alone without her clan, the lone hyena remains steady and still, daring not to move as the leader of the pack pads toward her. This is the first time in her sojourn she has been threatened by her kind. If she shows fear, they’ll attack.

She observes that the matriarch’s head is much larger than normal and that she towers over the other six. Yet when Large Head approaches her, she notices that she’s her equal. Grinding her teeth, she allows the matriarch to move around her in one slow circle and sniff her sex.

Her claws dig into the dirt as she watches Large Head return to her clan, sneezing, grunting, and spitting. Shaking her head, she communicates that something’s wrong with this lone hyena. The clan groans in confusion then a frenzy of rage engulfs them; some stand on their hind legs, cackling.

The seven hyenas begin to gather around her, baring their sharp-razor teeth. The lone hyena remains steady watching them. Breathing slowly and deliberately, she calculates her next move. She never takes her eyes off of Large Head. She’s really too weak with hunger to fight, but she must. Death is the only option, for she is not the only one who’s hungry.

She leaps to rip open Large Head’s throat, but two of Large Head’s underlings foil her attack and pounce on her back. Rebounding quickly, she bares and snaps her teeth, forcing Large Head’s lackeys to retreat.

She launches to rip apart the weakest of the pack, but Large Head barrels into her, throwing her to the ground. They roll and scuffle, each growling at the other, then break apart – the lone hyena quickly scrabbling back up on all fours.

Large Head lunges to bite her neck, but she swiftly squirms out of the way. Then pivoting, the lone hyena clamps her jaws on the alpha bitch’s haunches. The blood tastes bitter yet sweet. Large Head briefly cries out in agony but quickly recovers; it would be death for the matriarch to show weakness to her clan. Her followers whoop and cackle in protest. Turning, the matriarch meets her gaze and they stare at each other for one long moment.

Suddenly the ground rumbles under their paws. Off to the east, a herd of gazelles is stampeding. The lone hyena releases her hold on the old matriarch and the two combatants look to the potential meat and salivate. Abandoning their duel, Large Head breaks into a run, aiming for the slowest and weakest at the back of the herd. The rest of her clan follows her, fanning out to a large hunting V.

The lone hyena watches her in bemusement. She understands that killing an odd hyena is no longer appealing to the clan; gazelles are much juicier. She wonders if she should join them. She could help them rip apart their chosen prey. During their feeding, she could choose a choice body part, thereby asserting her leadership. She notices Large Head has left a trail of blood behind. The clan will eventually kill her as she now appears weak. If she were the one to kill Large Head, she would then lead the rest of the pack.

She hears her own quick shallow breaths, her heart beating in her chest. The warbling of birds, the twittering of insects, even the guttural sounds of vultures circling overhead, clash like cymbals in her ears. A starling alights nearby and suddenly a barrage of sounds and images flood her mind: She is surrounded by smoke, the sound of drumming rings through her ears, cool waves splash against her body, and then a coarse voice whispers: “Go to the One with the message.

She turns away from the pack, as the voice continues to hiss in her ears. It beckons across the vast plains, urging her to leave the clan of roaming beasts behind. She obeys.

As the sun climbs to its zenith, she catches a whiff of blood, causing her stomach to grumble louder. She looks up and sees vultures circling not far off. Frothing at the mouth, she trots toward the carrion birds and finds a half-eaten antelope – a lion pride’s leftovers. She lunges at the birds, scattering them. She manages to snatch a hind leg with her teeth and rip it from the carcass. They swoop in to peck her back, an attempt to guard their meal, but with the meat dangling from her mouth, she sprints away.

Under an acacia tree, she devours the antelope’s backside in several bites, hacking through its skin to the flesh with her knife-like teeth. She relishes how carrion always tastes better when they are seasoned with a lion’s saliva. Its smell tantalizes her so much that she even eats the bones.

She wallows in the dirt to ease the sting of her scratches from the earlier battle with the hyena clan. A starling alights on a branch of the tree above her. Then as the sky turns orange and magenta with dusk, her eyelids grow heavy, lulling her into sleep.

A slim bare-chested man is waving her in through the open door of his hut. His smiling eyes sparkle as he says: “Come to me!”

She is about to walk in when…

Something awakens her. It is a male hyena, marking his territory. Lying on her belly, she pants, observing him. Unlike females, males always roam alone as they are only good for mating and are useless otherwise. He circles her with caution, for she is twice his size and could crush him easily. Yet when he climbs on her back, she allows him. She is much too drowsy to rouse. Many males have approached her for mating before and she has always rebuffed them, but this time it feels good. It feels right.

He awkwardly pokes his penis above her erect clitoris, which is as big and long as his member. Their sexes rub against each other as he tries to enter her shaft, but he keeps slipping off her sleek fur. Her sex moistens from his continuous tries. She stands up to make it easier for him to climb and poke again. When the tip of his penis finally enters, she whoops and chortles with delight. Yes, this time it’s delicious and welcoming.

Image: cryptidz.wikia.com/
Image: cryptidz.wikia.com/

A starling lands on her head and she tries to shake it off, when she hears: “Go to the One with the message.”  Suddenly she remembers: She is no hyena. She is human. She is Duriya Osa! There is no way she can mate with this animal.

She throws him off her and then swipes at his face with her claws. The male hyena cowers under her strikes until she retreats, then tries to mount her again. This time she springs to bite him, snapping her jaws, but the male instantly moves out of the way. Rising on her hind legs, she yowls. He finally surrenders to her threats and lopes off to a nearby tree to lick his genitals and quench the fire of his excitement.

Under an indigo sky, Duriya begins to run. She runs until she is several miles away from the stud and the night lit with starlight. She finally stops beneath an umbrella tree to rest. This is when she hears the sound of an mbira. Her ears prick, listening to the faint notes, its tinkling sound dancing before her.

The sweet melody vibrates through her body, and with each tink-tink-tink-tink, she shudders as if from an internal storm. She leans against the tree shaking uncontrollably. Sharp pain shoots through her body like bolts of lightning and she jerks her head from side to side in rickety movements. With horror, she sees her paws begin to grow into human hands. Her black spotted fur starts to fade into coffee-brown skin and tight curls of human hair. She can feel her jagged fangs pushing back to human teeth. She has to get to the One before she fully transforms or she will not survive this journey.

But her body is changing beyond her control. She halts as her two front legs shrink to human arms. Her ears shrivel from her wide animal ones and her sharp-night vision fades into human sight. Her sense of smell dulls; her strength wanes. She howls in agony, but her breath is cut short as her spine straightens and her tail melts back into it. Her hind legs lengthen into human ones; she is now crawling on her hands and knees. She was to be there by the fifth night, she remembers, and time is running out. She has to get there. She just has to…

Crawling and changing, changing and crawling, she makes her way towards the sound of the mbira, which grows louder with each step. Then a pungent scent of violets stings her nose. She inhales… Ahh… that smell… She cackles and whoops, recognizing it. The One must be near.

At the tree that marks the entrance to his compound, she stretches her body upright and shakes off what’s left of her reddish-brown fur. She shuffles sluggishly to her lover’s threshold where she collapses, supine. She opens one eye and catches him watching her.

“Ahh … that’s my girl,” she hears him say.

#

Owodunni lifts the young woman, his legs buckling from a weight that is still that of a 200-pound hyena, and carries her into his home. A starling flies through the open door and alights on one of the root jars by the entrance as he places Duriya on a straw mat in the centre of the room. The air around them is as heavy as wet mist.

Burning fragrant herbs, Owodunni prays to the deities who helped create Duriya. He gives thanks and offers Ogo, the Dogon deity responsible for the powerful huntress, a boar’s head. He hangs his machete on a hook in the centre of the shrine. As the fresh blood drips from it into a sacred pot, he smokes Duriya’s body from head to toe with a bunch of burning twigs. He notices the deep scratches on her stomach and winces. When he’d cast the spell three years ago he had not thought to arm Duriya; he didn’t think she would confront any danger.

He tucks the shrine’s brown, gold, and ivory cloth around Duriya’s shoulders as she snores. He is careful not to rouse her, for she is still in the twilight of human and animal. It could be hours before her full transition and if he is not careful, she could tear him to pieces. As if to confirm his suspicions, she yawns, revealing sharp fangs. He keeps a safe distance between them and carries a fighting knife in the waist of his trousers: just in case.

He pours libations to Ogo again. He gives praises to his ancestors and to the forces that feed his powers.

#

Duriya’s body writhes in violent convulsions and she wakes up in tears. She struggles to look around. The room is decorated with lion and boar skins and furnished only by a chair with three legs, some wooden shelves against a wall, and an elaborate shrine. A wooden staff decorated with horizontal bands of light mahogany leans on the wall by the door, a starling is perched atop it, watching her intently.

The shelves are filled with glass jars of brilliantly-coloured powders, bottles of ogogoro, feathers, a doll’s head, the swollen carcass of a puffer fish, and three skulls – one of a dog and two human.

She studies the altar, gazing at the skulls and bones on it. The walls on either side of it are draped with gold and silver material. At its centre, there is a platter full of rice, yam, oranges, bananas, pineapples and beans – offerings for the deities and ancestors. This altar has been her home away from home for the past three years. It is where she seeks comfort from a husband she pretends to love.

Groaning, Duriya crawls until she is next to her lover, directly under the shrine. Her muscles pulsating from overexertion, she curls into a foetal position.

“When will be a good day for me to kill my husband?” She asks absently.

Owodunni glances over his shoulder at her, still not quite comfortable with her human form.

“Killing my brother takes patience, my dear,” he says, forcing a light tone.

He stands to fetch a jar of ointment from one of his shelves. Scooping some of the ointment with the fingertips of his right hand, he returns to her. “Turn over. This should take the scarring away.”

While Owodunni smears the ointment on her belly, Duriya thinks of how, in public, she has been humiliated by her husband’s beatings and threats. How, in private, she has had to concede to his desires for threesomes and foursomes. She thinks of how often she has sat in her hut alone at night dreading his return. Her only reprieve has been within Owodunni’s arms.

“I almost didn’t make it.”

“What do you mean?” Owodunni asks.

“They almost killed me.”

“Who almost killed you?”

“A big-headed hyena.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Owodunni says. He reaches to stroke her shoulder but she flinches away.

“You don’t understand,” she says.

Owodunni remains silent and listens for he does not want to agitate the beast.

“I nearly forgot myself out there.”

“Did you hear me calling you?”

Without answering, Duriya looks up at the starling perched on the head of the mahogany staff. Then she nods.

“Well then, you have nothing to worry about,” he says.  “You should eat something,” Owodunni says. He moves over to a round-bellied pot she hasn’t noticed before and stirs the soup inside it. “This will help you transition.”

“You know I can’t eat cooked meat right away.”

“I know, but I want a full woman right now.”

“What’s the matter?” She asks with a smirk. “Are you afraid I might take a bite out of you?”

“You are still part animal.”

“Is that so?” She cackles, crawling to him on her hands and knees. “Do I not look fully human?”

“Yes, but your mind and heart are still transitioning.”

He spoons the meat, yams and vegetables into a wooden bowl.

“Here, taste this.” He thrusts the bowl at her.

She shuts her eyes tight and smells the meal before her. Reaching into the bowl, she grabs a piece of meat and bites it. She lets it stay in her mouth for a moment before she tries to chew it.

“Ugh!” In disgust, she spits the morsel into the palm of her hand and wipes her mouth with her forearm. “This is awful! How could anyone eat cooked meat? It ruins its essence!”

“Taste it again,” he persists. “You will soon remember.”

“Remember what?”

“Remember your true self.”

She remembers how much she enjoyed the taste of fresh warm blood while in her animal state, how sweet carrion bones tasted. Too bad she only transitions when her husband ventures out on blood sports once a month, she thinks. Placing the piece of meat into a cloth, she lays the bowl aside.

“What if I don’t want to remember any more? What if I want to let myself go and mate with a male hyena?”

“Now that would be a problem,” Owodunni said, furrowing his brows. “Besides I would have to kill the hyena.”

Duriya laughs. Then she turns serious and asks, “So, you’re not going to cast a death spell on my husband?”

“No, not yet.”

“Does this mean that your medicine is failing?”

“No, it just means that I have to find another road.”

“Another road?” she asks, shaking her head. “Sometimes you talk in riddles.”

“I have to work around my brother’s protection.”

“Your brother’s talisman?”

“Yes, they were given to both of us at birth. I had to abandon mine when I embraced Dogon medicine.”

“Dogon medicine will serve you better than Yoruba.”

“But it means the Yoruba deities no longer protect me. If I cast such a spell against my brother, I would become his enemy and those deities would turn against me. All of my plans to take over his kingdom would end before they even began.”

“This is much too difficult,” Duriya says. “Why can I not kill him? It would be so easy as a hyena. Besides, I might enjoy eating the king’s meat and bones.”

“You are forbidden to kill humans; it’s against the rules of the spell,” Owodunni says, squatting in front of her. “Otherwise you will remain a hyena forever and you will lose all memory of who you are. Do you want that to happen?”

“I’m getting tired of travelling this way,” Duriya says, sighing. “I might not come back to you the next time.”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “You are protected under my spell.”

“I don’t feel protected when I’m out there.”

“You can hold your own,” he says.

She looks at her lover, this middle-aged man of medium height, and marvels at his mahogany complexion and chiselled body. She might have been staring at her husband, except for the gray streak in the middle of his hair and the way his body seems to dance with the wind. That is why she prefers him.

“So, if we can’t destroy your brother then what’s the other road?”

“The other road is called patience.”

“Patience?” she asks, smirking. “I’m not sure if you’ll last, old man.”

“Ahh … you’re starting to talk like yourself,” his light brown eyes twinkle in the candlelight. He caresses her thigh. “How’s the soup?”

She dips her right index finger into the wooden bowl. It smells of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers. Licking it, Duriya finds she is beginning to like the flavours. “It’s not so bad.”

“I’ve been waiting for you for too long,” Owodunni says. “Don’t make me wait another second.”

Owodunni wraps his arms around her and she clasps her thighs around his waist. They make love until dawn.

Afterwards, while Owodunni is fast asleep, Duriya finds a strand of hyena hair at the edge of the mat. It’s from the male hyena. Closing her eyes, she savours the memory of the wind hitting her fur out there on the plains. Clutching the hair, she thinks: just in case.

# END #

Adanze Asante (aka Doreen C. Bowens) embarked on her writing career when she lived in Harlem, trying to launch a community garden. The garden never grew, but her trilogy did. She is a recent Clarion West graduate and just finished A Mother’s Milk, Part I of The Spirit Warrior’s trilogy. Ms. Asante earned her M.A. in journalism from U.C. Berkeley and her writings have appeared in the following publications: The Network Journal, The New York Daily News, The Oakland Tribune, New York Newsday, The Oregonian, Corpus Christi Caller Times, and African Voices Magazine.
Adanze Asante (aka Doreen C. Bowens) embarked on her writing career when she lived in Harlem, trying to launch a community garden. The garden never grew, but her trilogy did. She is a recent Clarion West graduate and just finished A Mother’s Milk, Part I of The Spirit Warrior’s trilogy. Ms. Asante earned her M.A. in journalism from U.C. Berkeley and her writings have appeared in the following publications: The Network Journal, The New York Daily News, The Oakland Tribune, New York Newsday, The Oregonian, Corpus Christi Caller Times, and African Voices Magazine.

Ara and Monamona

By Mayowa Koleosho

The all-powerful father, Olorun, was to be honored by the gods. The great creator had just finished his most impressive creation yet and the world had finally come into existence. Following this, Olorun had decided it was time to go and join his fellow elder gods and leave the running of the world to his subordinates. To mark the occasion a massive feast was planned in Ode Agba, the magical city of the gods, and every deity and supernatural being within and outside time would come to pay homage to the great god. It was customary that everyone attending would bring some type of gift. If pleased with the present, Olorun would, in turn, bless the gifter with some ability.

Now amongst the gods were two brothers, Ara and Monamona; you never saw one without the other. However, they made for quite an unlikely pair. Monamona, the younger, was slight of frame and pale of skin. He was cunning and quick footed, always dashing from one endeavor to another. He was also easily bored and often used his cleverness to pester his elder brother. Ara, on the other hand, was a behemoth and no one rivaled him in strength. When he spoke, he could be heard for miles around and he could cause tremors in the ground if he willed it. Yet, he could not match his younger brother in wit, nor could he keep up with his antics. It infuriated him, but he loved his brother dearly.

As Olorun’s farewell celebrations drew closer, gods and deities tried to outdo each other with their gifts. However, Monamona left all the gift planning ideas to his brother; he could not be bothered. Three days before the event, Monamona realized his elder brother had been missing for a while. It was unlike Ara to leave without telling anyone, and he searched high and low but couldn’t find him anywhere.

By the time the large god showed up, Monamona was beyond impatient. He badgered and pestered his brother but couldn’t get him to open up about where he had gone. Even more frustrating was the satisfied look on Ara’s face. Monamona was sure his brother was hiding something from him and he longed to know what it could be.

The night before the great event, Monamona invited his brother for a great meal. Ara, who knew how cunning his brother was, remained on guard just in case his brother was up to his usual tricks. The meal was amazing, more sumptuous than he had expected and Ara ate his fill. Afterwards, Ara was so full that he grew sleepy, and before he could utter his thanks to his brother, he keeled over fast asleep.

Smiling mischievously, Monamona disguised himself as the great god Olorun and entered into his brother’s dreams. In the dream world, He found Ara languishing under a great Iroko tree, enjoying the tranquility of the setting around him.

Seeing Olorun, Ara hurriedly got up and invited the king of the gods to sit with him under the shade. Monamona accepted his offer and sat with his brother; together they stared into the landscape of Ara’s dream world.

Monamona was pleasantly surprised at how vivid his brother’s imagination was. It was a lush, green world dominated by scale. Air whales and four winged dragons flew side by side whilst the white seascape in the distance would occasionally be interrupted by magnificent sea beings that even Monamona knew nothing of. Yet the grandness of everything felt harmonious. He could see himself spending a lot of time here; so much to see and do.

“What brings you to my humble abode your greatness?” Ara asked and Monamona had to remind himself visiting this landscape would only be possible when his brother was asleep. He was here for a reason and he needed to stay on course.

“Nothing in particular,” Monamona said, imitating Olorun’s voice. “As the time draws close, I often catch myself wondering if I am doing the right thing.”

“You doubt yourself, o great father?”

“Even beings like me, who have lived for millennia, second-guess our decisions from time to time. We are not above mistake.”

“I do that a lot as well. Especially when I am with my brother.”

“Why is that?”

Ara paused, as if noticing something for the first time. Sitting upright, he whirled a stone out of nothing and tossed it so far, one could make out the splash on the horizon.

“My brother is much smarter than me. He is swift whereas I am cumbersome. I am the oaf; he is the fleet-footed gazelle. Even when I tell myself not to fall for his tricks, he still manages to outsmart me. I love him dearly, but everytime I am around him, I am always second-guessing myself.”

Monamona was stunned by his brother’s words. He had never viewed their relationship that way. He thought of some way to reassure Ara.

“You do not have to feel that way about yourself. Amongst us, there is none more courageous. Your character is never in doubt, even your brother would attest to how important you are to the proper functioning of this realm. I can leave knowing there are those like you, who will make sure that we continue to excel.”

Ara beamed from ear to ear at the words. “Thank you your highness … Thank you.”

“Before I leave you to your dream, I couldn’t help but notice you’ve been missing a few times recently. Is there anything I should know about that?”

Ara turned towards his king and bowed his head. “I had been searching for something truly worthy of a going away present to give you and I have finally found something. I had to venture over the golden wall, but in the end it was all worth it. I think you will be quite pleased.”

So that was it, thought Monamona. Ara had ventured over the boundary between their realm and the unknown. He was saddened that his brother had left him out of something so pivotal.

“Thank you for risking so much for me,” said Monamona. I look forward to seeing what you found. Does your brother know about your forays?”

Ara, turned his gaze away.

“No he does not.”

“Why?”

“For once, I wanted to do something for myself, to be able to present this gift to you without the aid of my brother. I know what the other gods say: ‘he is the brain and I am the heft,’ they think me too stupid to think for myself. I fought many beasts for this gift, but I also had to outsmart others. When I give it to you in front of everyone, including my brother, they will realize I am no idiot.”

Monamona was once again at a loss for words. He and many others had indeed taunted his brother, but he had done it out of love. Existence was meant to be merry not valiant. Perhaps he had gone overboard with it.

Politely, he bade Ara farewell, promising to see him at the celebration.

As soon as he got back to the real world, he shrugged off Olorun’s guise. He knew where his brother had been and now he was curious to discover what he had found. He would search his brother’s house and find whatever he had discovered, just to see what it was. His brother need not know. He had very little time, though. He was the quickest of the gods, but all of his speed might not be able to find his brother’s gift before he woke up; he was going to have to move fast.

Monamona was gone at the speed of a thought. He arrived at Ara’s house and snuck in. His brother was a collector and had all sorts of interesting objects and gadgets scattered all over his home. Monamona searched through everything, yet could not find the gift. His time was running out and it looked like his brother had gotten the upper hand.

That was when from the corner of his eye he saw a painting of a lush glade. He remembered when they were younger; Ara would run off to a glade similar to it to hide from him. Could it be he had done the same with his finding?

As he moved closer, he realized the painting was alive. Birds flew about in the background whilst a gentle breeze blew through the grass which subtly changed color every few moments.

It had to be here. Where else could Ara have put something so precious? Stretching his hand forward, Monamona realized he could move into the world on the other side.

Once in the painting, he could see the allure of this place for his brother. Serene and peaceful, it was quite similar to the dreamscape he had just returned from. Perhaps once this was done, he could convince his brother to bring him back here and they could experiment with creating some new life forms for the living painting.

He sped all over the landscape looking for anything that would clue him to what he was looking for. He found it accidentally when he tripped on a branch and went sprawling into nearby shrubbery. Except it wasn’t a piece of vegetation, but rather a mirage that revealed a path that led to a hidden cave.

Walking carefully up the path, Monamona noticed there was an odd glow coming from the recesses of the cave. As he approached it, he felt its power and pull reaching out to all his senses. When he finally saw it, he couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Image: genius.com
Image: genius.com

It was the most beautiful orb he had ever seen. Full of swirling energies beyond his wildest imagination. It was a kindling world, still in the conceptual stage and waiting for someone to mold it into a planet. This was indeed the greatest of gifts and he regretted that Ara had not taken him on the adventure to find it. He knew he couldn’t leave it here; it was simply too precious. He had to learn more about it, and then he would give it back to his brother. With that, he picked up the orb and silently left the canvas world.

Shortly afterwards, Ara awoke and returned to his home, unsuspecting of what had just transpired. For the rest of the day his thoughts were all over the place coming up with ideas of what he would do after he got his favor from the god king.

He went to sleep in great spirits. If anyone had walked by his house that night, they probably would have heard loud laughter emanating from within it. That was how merry he was, even his dreams couldn’t contain his joy.

*****

The next day, Ara woke up in an even better mood. He strode out of his house in time to catch Orun, the god of light, pulling back the drapes of night across the sky to let the sun shine over the land.

Ara, in his loudest voice, saluted him, “Good morning! How are you today?”

“I am well,” Orun answered genially. “You seemed to be in such great spirits yesterday evening. Your voice was probably heard in all the seven planes”

Ara burst out laughing. “Should I not be? It is a lovely day after all.”

“Yes, quite a lovely day indeed. Will I be seeing you at the event later on?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

“Very well, I look forward to seeing you, then. I must rush as I have to light up quite a few places before heading back. Rumor has it you have been doing some sneaking around yourself. I am excited as to what you might have in store for us.”

“Trust me, it is going to be glorious,” said Ara, as he bade the sun god farewell, watching him speed along as he lit up the rest of the realm with his blazing chariot.

Ara then proceeded to go and see the weaver for his ceremonial garb. It was a shimmering garment that changed colors every few moments, never repeating the same pattern. Normally, Ara was not one for fancy adornments, but today he wanted his splendor to match the joyous occasion.

At about mid-day, a beautiful sound rippled through Ode Agba. It sounded like voices singing together or various instruments working in unison. It was the signal that the ceremony was about to start.

Watching from his abode, Ara saw emissaries from every kingdom in creation converging in the arena in the middle of Ode Agba, where the celebrations would be taking place. He saw winged creatures as large as cities, beasts unlike any he had ever seen, and beings of such magnificence that it hurt to look at them, walk past his house. He saw creations long forgotten coming back one last time to pay their respects to the great god. Ara took it all in, thinking to himself that he must not disappoint.

But when he went into the painting to retrieve the orb, it was missing. He searched the whole canvas, combing the landscape to no avail. Slowly it began to dawn on him: someone had been there. He stormed out of the painting, unsure of what had transpired and who could have taken it. He thought back to the earlier conversation he had with Orun, and was convinced whoever had stolen his orb was probably going to present it to the high father. He ran out of the house, making his way to the gathering of deities to see if he could apprehend the culprit before it was too late.

With every stride, he could feel the ground beneath him quaking with his anger. Soon the spires of the arena came into view and he could hear the chatter of the various supernatural beings in attendance.

Every step forward sharpened the details of what lay ahead. He saw Ina, the fire god, engaged in an incredible display with Oshun, the water goddess. Their fire and water arsenals intermingled with each other in a beautiful game of pursuit which left the audience mesmerized. Little winged creatures buzzed around the arena carrying all manner of beverages and delicacies. Even deities who rarely got along were on their best behavior as they did not want to upset Olorun on his grand day. Ara wished he could join in the festivities, but he would not permit himself any type of reprieve until justice was served.

That was when he saw his brother stepping up to the dais where the great king sat. Monamona placed something in the hands of the king and bowed. Every eye in the place turned towards the spectacle, a murmur of wonder surging through the crowd.

Ara’s eyes widened in disbelief as he realized what had been given. Olorun held up the orb – his orb – and smiled, looking up proudly at Monamona.

“This is an incredible gift, one I did not expect but am greatly pleased to have received.”

“I am humbled that it is to your liking, my king,” said Monamona.

“I know it must have been difficult to obtain, and because of that I will gift you like no other. Come forward and receive my blessing.”

A flash of light emanated from the king, surging through Monamona and enveloping the arena. It only took the briefest of moments but it was so dazzling it blinded all present.

Ara gasped, watching the whole thing transpire. He rushed forward, shouting at the top of his lungs. He tumbled onto the dais, but he was too late. He looked from the king to his brother, who was now sheathed in a living skin of golden light that stretched and crackled, shining brighter than any creation.

“What is the meaning of this, Ara?” The old king bellowed.

“He … He stole my gift to you!” Ara shouted. “That blessing is meant to be mine.”

The old king turned from Ara and looked at Monamona, who averted his gaze.

“Is it true what Ara says?”

Sheepishly, Monamona nodded, which only infuriated his brother more.

“But why? What would make you do such a thing?”

Monamona, still bathed in dazzling light, could feel the power coursing through his veins changing him at the most minute of levels, elevating him to heights he never thought possible. He had always been fast, yet he had never felt this way before; this was more than he could ever imagine. It was almost as if he had undergone a rebirth. He looked from the great king to his enraged brother and past them to the crowd gathered. They all seemed so slow compared to him.

“I did it for this,” he said, pointing to the sheath of light covering him.

“At first I was angry at my brother for keeping his quest from me, but the truth is, he wouldn’t have stood a chance had I gone along. I would have found the orb and gotten the glory, but it doesn’t matter. In the end it’s still …”

Before he could finish his sentence, Ara lunged for him.

“GIVE ME BACK WHAT WAS MINE!” He roared, but it was as if he had tried to grasp the very air. Monamona evaded him easily and was at the back of the arena before anyone could fully perceive what had happened. Only his laughter alerted them to where he was.

“My apologies my dear brother, but I won’t be able to do that. I have never felt better and I cannot wait to test out my new powers. I truly am sorry, but maybe next time things will go your way.” And in a flash of dazzling light, Monamona was gone.

Ara stormed about the arena, bellowing at the top of his voice in frustration and shaking the structure to its core. It wasn’t until the old god walked up to him and touched his shoulder that he quieted down still trembling with rage.

“Ara, I am very sorry for what has transpired and I wish I could make this up to you.”

“O great king, simply take what you gave him and give it to me.”

The king regretfully shook his head. “What is done cannot be undone. I gave him the very best of my gifts believing he dealt with me in good faith.”

Olorun paused and closed his eyes as if deep in thought. Ara waited, staring at his great king expectantly. When the old king opened his eyes he seemed to have come to a decision.

“Kneel, Ara,” he said.

Ara did as he was told.

“I have given away much today. But none more precious than what I gave your brother. There was a time when I would have personally chased him down and stripped him of all he holds dear, but alas I am old and shortly I will go join the elders. Because of that, I have come up with a solution. It might not be ideal, but it is the best I can think of right now.”

The king placed his hands on Ara’s head. A white light sprung from the tip of his fingers and into the younger god’s body. With a spasm, Ara jerked forward, the power surging through him.

“Ara, I have given you what’s left of my powers. Catch Monamona and you will be able to reclaim what is yours.”

Head bowed, Ara thanked the king profusely, and then set off after his brother. His newly acquired powers announced his movement through the skies with a great din.

Monamona, who had thought himself free of his brother, was halfway between the heavens and earth, when he heard the great noise coming from Ode Agba. He turned around to see his brother coming, and though Ara was still leagues away, Monamona began to run. He was terrified of the fate that awaited him if his brother ever caught up to him.

This is why, to this very day, we always see the lightning flash across the sky before we hear the sound of thunder. Ara is still chasing Monamona, and when he does catch him, he’ll finally claim what is his.

Mayowa Koleosho. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria but currently reside in Chicago, Illinois where I am procuring a degree in digital media and story telling. I tend to fancy myself as an expressionist, using both visual and literary means to express my thoughts. I have self published a few books whilst also dabbling into the short fiction realm. My ultimate goal is to perfect using different mediums to convey impactful messages. Some of my self-published books include Gridiron follies, Fling: A short story collection, Kid from lagos: a poetry collection and Hoop dreams.
Mayowa Koleosho was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria but currently reside in Chicago, Illinois where he is studying towards a degree in digital media and storytelling.
He tends to fancy himself as an expressionist, using both visual and literary means to express his thoughts. He has self-published a few books. His ultimate goal is to perfect using different mediums to convey impactful messages.
Some of his self-published books include Gridiron follies, Fling: A short story collection, Kid from lagos, a poetry collection, and Hoop dreams.

Shadows, Mirrors and Flames

By Sanya Noel

My father was executed after a failed coup attempt. He was not the leader, but he was executed all the same. That was the most interesting thing about my father, the execution. He was interesting while alive, yes, but his execution must have been the most interesting thing about him. I didn’t attend his execution. He had forbidden me saying:

-God will punish you if you show up at my execution.

I don’t know why he brought God in that. He rarely talked about God in his life. He never took us to church like most people did with their children. And it was not as if I ever enjoyed church services. I had been there a couple of times with my friends. I had not liked it, but I was with my friends.

He had told me not to be at his execution some months before the coup attempt. I doubt that he knew there were plans for one. But somehow he always thought, or he rather knew, that he would end up getting executed for something.

I don’t know who my mother is. I have never met her. Hannah probably met her once or maybe even twice. Hannah is my bigger sister – was my bigger sister. She would’ve known our mother. I should have asked her before she left. And left is probably not the right word. I would’ve said gone but maybe ran would fit better. I just woke up one morning and her bed was empty. She had just disappeared like that, but I know she wanted to go. I think she might have ran when she was some distance from home, though of course she tiptoed while leaving the house. It is sensible to run when you’re leaving some place you don’t want to stay, but it makes sense to tiptoe first so that you aren’t heard as you leave. When Hannah ran from home, father was still alive.

Father cuts off people’s fingers for a living.

She had left a note saying that by my bed.

That’s all she left. I don’t know what she thought was wrong with cutting off people’s fingers for a living. My sister was a weird girl. She couldn’t stand many things. She couldn’t stand squashing a locust, or even cutting off its hind legs to prevent it from jumping away. She always said we were hurting them. I don’t think that such a simple thing can hurt a locust. Not like a person or a rabbit or a rat. Rats make a lot of noise when hurt. People too. Locusts don’t make a sound. They are not hurt. Not really.

My sister couldn’t even stand wind. She was so weak-spirited I always wondered how she managed to survive like that. One day, while we were walking in the sun, I decided to step on the head of her shadow. It was just a game and I didn’t mean to hurt her. She was not looking when I did it, but she clutched her head in so much pain, her mouth open as if she wanted to scream but was not decided about it. I kept my foot in place, looking at her as she held her head, struggling and unable to move. She let out such a heart-wrenching cry when I let go that I couldn’t stand it without covering my ears. Her face was bleeding from a cut on her cheek. There had been a piece of metal protruding from my shoe sole. It had cut into her shadow.

That was a few years ago when Hannah was still around, when she was still my sister. We still lived in the barracks and father had not been executed yet. The coup attempt had not even been staged yet. She stopped being my sister when she ran away. Father told me anyone who runs away stops being my sister, just like mother stopped being my mother.

I sometimes think Hannah saw more than just fingers. She saw more than she ever talked about with me. Maybe that time I had caught her talking in her sleep had been her way of saying things. That had happened a few days before the note and the running away.

-No, please, father. Don’t cut off my head… I won’t tell anyone… yes… yes… Just do it again but don’t cut off my head… Just leave my head, please…

I didn’t ask her to tell me what it was father had been doing to her. She wouldn’t have told me anyway. Hannah and I rarely talked. We just passed whatever it was that was needed, like salt or the sugar bowl while at the table and that would be it. Or she would ask:

-Jane, is father back from the barracks?

Then I would shake my head, or nod, usually too engaged with my locusts, which I would have tied together abreast, or pierced through the thorax with a wire to  make them my oxen. They would drag a plough behind them, and I would whip them with a piece of wire every now and again, shouting their names:

-Dicholi, kenda! Lando, ndahuhuya!

Usually, the game would end up in a disaster. I would whip the locusts too hard, and one or both of them would just stop moving. Then I would go out and trap another pair to complete ploughing my farm.

The wives of my father’s fellow soldiers used to say I had my mother’s nose. They also said I had her ears. I don’t know anything about my mom’s nose or ears, and father never showed us a picture of her. Now that I remember it, my father never had a picture of us as a family taken. Not him and Hannah and I. It is different from all the others. Everybody has a family picture.

Andota and Sarah’s families had many. They used to take pictures every year during Christmas. The photo man would come around, and they would all change into their Christmas clothes and he would tell them to say “cheese!” They would all say “cheese!” and Andota, who was the smallest, would go on saying “cheeeeeeese!” long after the flash from the camera had gone off. And when the photo came after development, we would all laugh at Andota because all the photos had him grinning but with his eyes closed. Then we would all later on call him “Andota the Cheese” just to make him cry. He would start crying and tell us that he would tell his father to come and shoot us like he had done to so and so in the North. He always mentioned shiftas. If you wronged Andota he would call you a shifta and say he was going to tell his father that you were a shifta so that he would come for you. The names of people would keep changing every time we made him cry though his threats would remain constant: shiftas.

Shadows, Mirrors and Flames

I sometimes look into mirrors trying to find my mother. I am interested in knowing about her nose. If I am to find her, the starting place will be to look into a mirror. I mostly concentrate on the nose and the ears. Of the two, the nose is the easier one to look at. It does not have any hidden details, and you can look at it for long without mirrors playing any dirty tricks on you. Staring at ears, on the other hand, is a taxing experience since there are two of them, and you have to decide which one you should start with. In the case of need for a quick decision, the ears have some hidden parts too. You have to turn your head to have a good look at them. And then the mirror usually decides which ear it will bring closest to you, which is not the one you necessarily want. And if you turn too much, your eyes move too far away to be able to look at the mirror. You can’t see when your eyes are too far away. Sometimes, however, I move to just beyond where I can see, and then listen closely. The mirror and I know each other well. So, in the spirit of this understanding, it starts describing my mother’s ears. From previous narrations, my mother had big ears. The mirror says they looked like mine, but a little bigger.

Sometimes, when I am not attentively looking at the mirror, my mother’s face shows up. It used to be timid when it started, but nowadays, it has grown familiar to me. It shows up without trying to hide and without the initial shyness. It is just a blank face with the nose and ears alone. There is no mouth. There are no eyes either. These are the times I like, when my mother’s face shows up in the mirrors. I concentrate on my mother’s nose for a long time, and when I have eventually mastered it, when I am sure I know what my mother looked like, I just cough a little and the mirror gets the message and quickly replaces my mother’s face with my own, with a full face with a mouth and eyes in place, with the broad forehead that looks at me with a little wrinkle of worry spread across it. I also cough when someone is coming along and I don’t want them to catch me staring at my mother’s face. Sometimes, I just clear my throat. Both of them work, coughing or clearing my throat.

There is only one mirror that understands me completely. It is the mirror that holds my secrets without any thoughts about them. The mirror in Aunt Leah’s bathroom. Other mirrors get to do well too, but no other mirror describes my mother’s ears as well as Aunt Leah’s bathroom mirror. The one in the living room once lied to me. I was looking at my mother’s face, and it brought the eyes and the mouth all in place. That is a total impossibility. My mother’s face doesn’t have a mouth and eyes. That mirror lied, and I have never used it since. Not when looking at my mother’s face, at least. But I love the mirror in Aunt Leah’s bathroom. If ever I should move out of here, as Aunt Leah keeps suggesting, I will ask her to give me that mirror. I will say pleeeease, and be ready to break into tears should she refuse me. Aunt Leah hates it when I start to cry. She hates tears and when I cry so much, she too breaks into tears then we hug each other and sob together. That’s how I win most arguments. She can’t stand my tears.

But I am not a bad girl. Aunt Leah doesn’t think so, even though I have killed three of her chickens. She thinks I need some help, but I don’t think there’s any help I require. She thinks I keep killing the chickens because I’m just a delinquent. Not that I do other bad things, but she thinks I am obsessed with chickens.

The first chicken I killed came at me when I was cutting vegetables. I had just moved into Aunt Leah’s place after my father’s execution. A new family had moved into our house at the barracks, and the soldiers had told me that I needed to find a new place since daughters of traitors could not be allowed to live on the premises. Aunt Leah had come for me after I had gotten kicked out, and I had been lucky to identify her since she had eyes and cheeks just like my father’s. And here I was now, preparing vegetables and humming to a tune. Then this chicken comes along and starts walking all over the vegetables I’ve just washed. And as it moves, I don’t like it and the double work it is going to make me do. Then I look onto the knife I am using to cut the veggies and there is my mother’s face. She is just like I’ve seen her before, without a mouth and no eyes either. But this time round, she has her hands. She is pointing towards the chicken. Aunt Leah is in the kitchen and since she shouldn’t see my mother, I go on humming as my mother goes on pointing at the chicken. Then it dawns on me. She is trying to tell me something. So I get hold of the chicken and hold it by the neck to prevent it from squawking. I raise my brows in question and my mother nods at me. When I get hold of the knife, my mother goes on nodding. So I cut the chicken’s head in a single movement. And since I know that Aunt Leah will be mad, I start crying out loudly as I keep hacking at the chicken’s head. Aunt Leah comes out of the kitchen and sees the chicken bleeding from the head and jumping about as I bawl uncontrollably. My mother’s face looks hazy through my tears. Aunt Leah comes and hugs me and tells me it is okay.

-Accidents do happen, but just be careful next time, okay?

I nod as I slow down my crying; then I go on cutting veggies as Aunt Leah prepares the chicken. I don’t know why my mother wanted me to kill that chicken. But the chicken is dead, and Aunt Leah is preparing it and I think that is a good thing. At least we are not going to eat these vegetables as the only stew tonight.

There were other two instances with chickens. One that I ran over with a wheelbarrow after seeing my mother’s face in the water that was at the bottom of the barrow and the other after I saw her face in the glass of water I was drinking. I got so startled that I threw the glass away and it hit a cockerel. That last instance got Aunt Leah so angry; she promised that next time something like that happened she was going to take me back to the barracks.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the barracks. The children would make fun of me, and I wouldn’t have friends to play with. If Hannah had been around, I would easily have gone back. You see, Hannah knew her way around people. She knew how to command them without talking to them. She had ways of getting them to do what she wanted. But she ran away from us, claiming that father cuts off people’s fingers for a living, which I never understood really. I once asked Aunt Leah about the cutting off of people’s fingers. She said she didn’t know that, but soldiers do many things. I shouldn’t go around asking about what my father did with people’s fingers, she warned.

-The dead have ears too. Don’t go about saying things about the dead, alright?

That had been before I caught her talking to her husband about my father. They were speaking in Lunyolo. I don’t know that language very well, but I understand just enough to make out what you’re talking about; I had had Banyolo friends back in the barracks. So when I heard her say my father used to “fall” on women; I knew exactly what she meant. It had been a thing they did to shifta women and boys in the North. And he probably had done it to Hannah and me. It was why my mother had left in the first place, his wanting to always fall on her instead of a normal life. She said he had been caught doing it, and not just once.

-But then he promised to shoot her if she ever came for the daughters, and she had run away and never showed up again.

But I don’t let that occupy my mind. Not when I have to figure out where I am to go should Aunt Leah decide that it is time I moved out. She took me to school the other day, and I was surprised to see all those new faces staring at me. I don’t know how it reached them, but they started calling me the traitor’s daughter. Nobody plays with me except my mother with whom I am usually with, even at school. Not all the time though, because mirrors and the metallic cases of geometrical sets are not always around. Sometimes, when I’m in class, I open up my geometrical set and look into the shiny inner part of the lid. Then my mother shows up, and I have to look around just to ensure that nobody else is looking at my mother’s face. I zone out of class, and the teacher sounds like a distant voice or a sound you hear when you’re asleep and you keep thinking it is part of a dream.

But lately, I’ve been seeing my father’s face in the shadows too. I was not very sure the first time I saw it. It just came and vanished all of a sudden, and I was left there wondering if that had been my father or if I had just imagined things. But the following day, I heard his voice. I was sure it had been his voice because of his hissing command.

-Give me your fingers, now!

I was so scared that I wanted to run away. But knowing my father, I didn’t dare to run away. He would catch me in no time. He would probably come with his gun and his knife and he would probably use the knife on my head like he had wanted to do to Hannah. Then the voice stopped and his image disappeared when two girls came running towards me laughing and screaming.

-Traitor’s Daughter! Traitor’s Daughter! They shouted as they giggled and made faces at me.

The girls in that school are all stupid. They don’t even know what I am capable of doing should my mother decide to tell me something. They think I am lonely and afraid of them. They don’t know anything about me and maybe that’s why Aunt Leah keeps introducing me to them. Last weekend, she took me to one of the girls’ homes.

-To see Mama Atieno, she said.

As we got there I saw Atieno scowling at me and it made me wish I had a mirror with me to know what my mother would have me do. But it went all well, save for the scowling and the making of faces. It went well until it was in the evening and the light was fading. Mama Atieno, buried in telling stories with Aunt Leah, told Atieno to light the lamps – which she did, alright – and that is when it all started.

I had not noticed the mirror in the room by the dining table. It had round white cushioning with the words, Welcome Aboard written on it. I was seated at a table opposite the dining table, which meant that I had the mirror in my direct line of sight. My mother just showed out of nowhere. I wasn’t so sure at first, but I checked again and there she was. That is when I knew that this time around it wasn’t going to be so cool. My mother had never shown her face in public.

My mother appeared, just like usual, except that instead of missing her eyes and mouth, she had blood running out of her eye sockets and her gums were all bloody and several teeth were missing. I raised my brows in question. I wanted to talk to my mother, but I was afraid that Aunt Leah and Mama Atieno would have to be let in on my secret if I started to.

Then I heard my father’s familiar hiss. The same one I had heard at school. It happened when Atieno walked in with the taadora lamp and cast a shadow into corners and underneath the table.

-Give me your fingerssssss! My father said.

Aunt Leah turned her head and looked around.

-Did you hear someone talk? She asked.

-What, besides me and you? Mama Atieno answered.

-Yes, something close to a whisper.

When they turned to me I shook my head. Mama Atieno had clearly not heard it and Atieno was too busy scowling at me to have paid any attention to any hissing sound.

This was a strange one: My mother bleeding and my father showing up, and their coming out in public and Aunt Leah hearing my father’s hiss. I had to get out of here quick. I had to talk to my mother and find out what the problem was. I hoped she would be able to talk even with her bleeding eyes and her toothless mouth.

-Could you please show me where the toilet is? I asked Mama Atieno.  I wanted to find a place with a mirror, or at least a reflection. Aunt Leah looked at me as if to say something, but thought better of it.

-Atieno, show Jane where the bathroom is now, will you?

I was just about to change my mind. I wanted to be alone with my mother and not with some scowling child who wanted to take out her stresses on me, but Atieno held my hand – gently, as if she cared – and directed me. She lit a candle and handed it to me as I got into the toilet then left me to go in. Luckily, there was a big mirror on the wall. I closed the door quickly behind me and held the candle in front of the glass. My mother’s face came slowly, building to form, block by block. She was still bleeding from her eye sockets and her gums but before I could even look properly, there was the hissing sound again. It was from a shadow below the sink. I held my breath and kicked into the shadow to shut it up. I was not afraid of my father. He was not going to make me cower while seeing my beloved mother. But then the flame from the small candle expanded and the candle became heavy in my hand. There was Hannah’s face in the flame.

I had not heard from Hannah since the day she left so I just stood there, holding my breath, and wondering what I was supposed to say. Then my father’s shadow hissed from below the sink and I stamped my feet at it again. But that didn’t prevent my mother’s face and hair from changing into that of a shifta woman. I stood and watched my mother’s hair lengthen as her face became slender. Then she split into two shifta women and both of them were bleeding from their gums and eyes. My sister had also changed into a shifta woman in the flames and she too was splitting into several women who were bleeding from between their thighs. I was shaking by the time my hair started changing from hard and short to long and soft. I was becoming shifta too and stamping at my father’s shadow.

-Stooooop iiittttttttt! My father kept hissing, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

My mothers moved out of the mirror carrying dead babies in their hands and my sisters moved from their flames bearing fire and holding onto their bleeding groins, and the bathroom was suddenly a large house and there I was stomping on him to keep him on the ground.

Then my father appeared in physical form on the other side of the wall, bleeding from the cheek where my shoe was pinning his shadow to the ground. There still was a metal protruding from underneath my shoe sole. It had cut into his shadow. He was holding his head in pain and grimacing, and my mothers were all looking at me with expectation from their bleeding eye sockets. I understood my mothers’ looks even without their eyes. My sisters were still coming out of the flame one by one, too and closing in on my father’s physical form. I knew what was going to happen if I let my foot off my father’s shadow. My mothers and sisters were not going to handle him. But then there was a knock on the toilet door. It was Atieno.

-Your auntie says you need to leave, she said.

I did not answer her back. My father’s shadow had me fully engaged and I could not afford to take my attention off him. I felt him pushing at me from underneath my foot and trying to move towards my mothers. But my sisters were there, blocking his way and his attempts. Then there was a louder knock on the door. It was Mama Atieno this time.

-Jane, will you get done now?

Then she pushed at the door and distracted me making me take my foot off my father’s shadow. He got the respite he had been looking for and lunged at my mothers. My sisters attacked him with their fires, aiming for his head and setting his hair and clothes aflame, but my father kept on coming towards them, lashing at one after the other and making them disappear into the flames from the candle in my hand one by one. I had to do something here to save my mothers. If my father finished my sisters, he was going to get to my mothers and then I would be the last one. But every time I tried stepping onto his shadow, he kept moving out of my reach.

Then he was done with my sisters. Only Hannah was left at last but she was just a shifta woman in the candle flame. I was the only help my mother had now. My father moved to the closest one of my mothers to him, held her by the throat, and shoved her into the mirror. I stood there, stifling a cry as I watched one of my mothers disappear, back to an intangible form. Then he went onto the next one and then onto the next one until it was just me and him remaining in the bathroom, with my sister looking at us from the flame and my mother from the mirror. But then, he smiled and said:

-You fight like a girl, Jane. You need to do better than that.

The knock on the door was now persistent and Mama Atieno was getting louder. My father nodded at me, and since there was no way out of this, I went ahead to open it.

Mama Atieno moved in. It was clear that she was too annoyed to notice my father, who nodded at me and moved his hands towards his throat. I got his message. I grabbed Mama Atieno by the throat and was surprised at how light she was for a woman of her size. Then I shoved her into the mirror and watched as she disappeared with a look of shock on her face. I saw her turn into a shifta woman and then become my mother. My father just smiled, obviously satisfied. We then stood there, none of us talking, as my father went on smiling with that satisfied look on his face.

The sudden silence must have caught Atieno’s curiosity. She came towards the door, peering and craning her neck. My father must have been invisible to her too. When she got within reach, I grabbed at her neck, but she slithered away, more out of surprise than out of defensive instinct, and screamed as she did. I made a move at her again and this time round, my grip was vice-like. I watched her face, looking for that scowl she had been giving me. There was nothing. Just a scared girl’s face that I shoved into the mirror too.

Then I left my father in the toilet as my mothers looked at me with questioning eyes from the mirror. My sister was silent as I dropped the still burning candle to the carpeted floor. I found Aunt Leah standing in the corridor, her mouth agape and her knees shaking, as she watched the smoke rise from behind me. She must have heard Atieno’s scream and noticed the sudden silence.

-What have you done, Jane? She asked, her voice crackling.

-Let’s go home, Auntie. I answered in a tone that said it all.

We walked out of the Mama Atieno’s home leaving the silence behind us, with my mothers in their mirrors and my father in their bathroom. I left my sisters about to multiply to one thousand Hannahs and my aunt following me in silence and her hands shaking. She must have been scared, but the flames danced high up into the air and lit our path as we headed home in silence. My sisters lit our way home.

Sanya Noel
Sanya Noel is a Kenyan writer living in Nairobi. He works as a mechatronic engineer during the day and morphs into a writer at night. His works have previously been published in the Lawino magazine and the Storymoja blog. He writes poems, short stories and essays and loves eating apples in matatus on his way home.

A Winter in Lagos

By Saratu Abiola

The sky closed its eyes on Lagos at two in the afternoon, and in the cloudiness the wind howled fervently from Ikeja Market to Somolu, from Mafoluku to Isolo, from Bourdillon to Ibeju. Street hawkers ran to wherever it is they run to when it rains – rickety barbershop shacks, deserted buildings, under bare roofing sheets that covered roadside canteens. Reckless drivers tore their way down pothole-ridden streets, competing with the motorcycle taxis to get to their offices, their shops, their homes. Anywhere, as long as it was not on the street. Business-owners and bankers watched the darkening day behind glass windows, sipping from hot cups of tea and hoping the sky would clear up before they had to go home. Hairdressers looked through the windows of their salons and sighed, knowing not to expect too many customers if the weather kept up. Market women reluctantly cleared tables of items displayed outside their stalls. Owners of small roadside boutiques took their mannequins inside.

But there was no rain. Not a single drop.

When the sky turned dark in the afternoon for the fifth day running, people knew not to fear a downpour. They carried on with their business, casting wary glances at the sky as though it were a fearsome overlord. The weather was noticeably colder, much colder than normal.

Two weeks in, the weather became just one more thing that there was no point in bemoaning, like corrupt policemen and street thugs. While huddled into bars after work or visiting friends on weekends, people masked their discomfort in jokes. They knew Nigeria would become more like London one day, they laughed, but certainly not like this! Maybe the strangeness of the weather was God’s way of granting Nigeria passage into the higher echelons of world economic superpowers. One just needed to dress warmer until God worked the weather out. Nothing more.

*

After almost a month, the weather was taking its toll. The market was all business, more so than ever. Customers who usually stayed to chat were now quicker about getting their goods and heading to their cars. Impatient men in markets were desperate to put their hands back into their pockets after handing over bags of suya or giving customers change. Those who could afford to sent their maids or drivers to go shopping for them. People got used to chattering teeth on the other end of brief phone conversations.

Beggars crammed their way into the spicy, sticky warmth of the large indoor markets, fearing the unexpected cold and the numbness in their ears, fingers and toes that awaited them in the streets. They were shooed from one stall to another, then out of the market completely to huddle in uncompleted buildings whose hard, cold cement walls offered barely any warmth. The police, always so eager to clear the streets of diseased old men and children, saw the cold air do the work for them and thus leaned against their dark blue cars and trucks, smoking, laughing, or taking shelter like everyone else.

Those who had never been outside Nigeria found members of their families from whom to borrow a sweater, a scarf, gloves, a thick jacket. Nobody wanted to buy a heavy jacket, if they could help it. This was Nigeria, after all. Those who wanted to buy winter jackets could not find one just yet, in any case. People in Tejuosho and other major markets were still watching, still disbelieving, unsure if this was a passing chill. They didn’t want to risk buying tons of winter jackets from Kilburn High Street or Finsbury Park only for the weather to warm again when the goods finally shipped. Thermal underwear, though, they could risk, since it was fairly cheap. So they put out their long-sleeved shirts, denim jackets and socks, and smiled gap-toothed smiles at customers and extolled the virtues of layering.

By the third month, daytime temperatures had slipped to an average of twelve degrees. Offices with internal thermostats let the temperatures stay in the late 30s, something they’d never had any reason to do. In the evenings, when many returned home from work, most gave up on their air conditioning. God’s AC, people called it as they opened their windows a crack to let the cool air in. God’s AC.

*

When it was clear that the cool weather was going to stay for a long while yet, the crime rates at used clothing shops in markets soared. People would steal shoes, then a shirt, then another shirt, then a pair of trousers for those who only had shorts. Every day, a new thief would be chased through the obstacle course of makeshift stalls of fruit and fresh meat and plastic containers and open gutters with warm clothing cradled in his arms. The lucky ones were merely beaten, their stolen goods retrieved from them. Unluckier ones were killed. Police were not as available as they should have been to stop these killings, of course. Nobody wanted to be out in the cold if they could help it.

Newspapers urged the Lagos State government to act, and they did, getting police officers to do more patrols and see to it that the thieves were apprehended and taken to jail, not bound with tires and doused in kerosene and burned in the middle of the street. The officers returned to the streets; one here, two in a corner there, most huddled in their cars, wearing thick jackets.

By the fourth month, average daytime temperatures had slipped to eight. On a night with a low of two degrees, it rained. The sky above stayed blue-grey and indifferent. The wind howled violently against walls and cars, leaving windows, front doors and metal gates icy-cold to the touch. When the rain poured, it did so harshly, almost horizontally, before turning into hail. No one dared go outside.

Many small supermarkets closed. The cost of transport climbed. Already exorbitant taxi prices climbed even further, and the already cramped danfos and long government-issued buses could not keep up with demand. Bus conductors and passengers fought over daily fare charges until crowds formed in bus stops and the police had to intervene. Street hawkers jostled for space underneath bridges, causing even more fights among traders. They began to band together along ethnic lines: all Igbos, all Yorubas, all Hausas, forming their own clusters of makeshift stalls, each lit by kerosene lamps. Markets, already facing thinning crowds, saw their customers drop to a steady trickle of people. But market women soldiered on, braving the cold to catch even just a few of their customers. Wanting to avoid the rising cost of transport, many lobbied the government to let them sleep in the markets, but even that proved dangerous. Newspapers reported a spate of robberies of market women along the road in Somolu and Yaba and on Lagos Island. After a meeting among iyaloja, market women resolved to start their days around one in the afternoon to fend off the worst of the cold in the mornings, and leave at six in the evening, just before the temperature dropped and the icy wind howled in their faces like an impatient driver.

*

 The rate of attendance at night vigils in churches and mosques, asking the Lord to bring out the sun, increased. Iyaloja from markets all over Lagos and iyalode from various local governments led the movement, meeting with religious leaders and holding weekly meetings in major mosques and churches to pray. The Lagos chapter of the National Labor Congress joined them, and held conferences in each Nigerian geopolitical zone in solidarity. Newspapers called it the Call Out the Sun Movement. TV cameras captured the scene – traders and labour officials sitting in crowded halls on Lagos mainland, fanning themselves with their hands but grateful for the warmth; dignitaries on the high table with bottles of water and packets of fruit juice; politicians taking the floor to applaud the workers and the “mothers of the nation” for their steadfastness and faith in God. When the news cameras stopped rolling, they passed around bundles of crisp N1,000 notes to the gathered crowd as a token of their appreciation of their strength. “Grease to their elbows,” they called it. By the third of such meetings, some traders and labour officials had broken from the larger prayer group and attracted their own media attention from the political leaders in their senatorial districts. These groups cleverly inflated the amount of money to rival political leaders to make them compete for the groups’ political loyalty. Each political party thought they had succeeded. Everyone left happy.

At four degrees and six months later, Rev. Ezekiel Majekodunmi took to the radio stations and his television program to proclaim that God had spoken to him in his dream about Lagos’s weather. Majekodunmi was a soft-spoken but charismatic pastor of average height with salt-and-pepper hair and a penchant for wearing old-fashioned tweed jackets with elbow patches. He was the General Overseer of a 600-member church called The Love Nation Ministries with two branches in Ikorodu and Ilupeju. The country was being tested, he said, and urged as many people as could hear his voice to pray and fast for two weeks, lest God bring forth a heavy downpour that would swamp the city and kill all the people in it. But, according to him, all was not lost. His voice was sombre in his weekly radio address when he asked all Bible-believing Christians to join him in what he called “a most necessary fasting period every day until the day of this massive downpour.” For the good of their very lives, he said, expressing the belief that the Lord would hear their cries.

Not everybody believed any of this, of course. Some pastors took to their podiums before the most ardent members of their congregations to address Rev. Majekodunmi’s radio message. Pastor Ebun Iyinoluwa in his televised sermon the following Sunday titled “Arrogance and Leadership,” declared arrogance in leadership a breach of trust, and spoke of some pastors who “ran errands that the Most High God did not send them on.” Pastor David Asemota in his own televised sermon that same Sunday titled “Leading the Flock Aright,” reminded all present that “many are called but few are chosen,” and warned all “false prophets” not to “joke with the matter of the Lord’s anointing.” In a television interview on the popular Christianity Today, U.S.-born Nigerian pastor Rev. Wale Sowemimo spoke pointedly about how Christians — but truly all Nigerians — should be wary of “snake-oil salesmen who would try to make hay out of our collective despair.”

Others were more direct in their criticisms. Rev. Olaniyi George, in an interview with The Sun, admonished Pastor Majekodunmi by calling him, “a small-time pastor trying too hard to be relevant with his devilish premonitions.” In an introductory segment on his radio show, Rev. Majekodunmi retorted by warning him to “watch his tongue concerning visions revealed unto others.” He noted that “John the Baptist was not given the same work as Jeremiah,” concluding that “You cannot do what I was called on earth to do, nor reveal what the Lord has given me to reveal.”

Rev. George was the kind of pastor who it seemed nobody but his congregation liked. He was known for his outbursts on Nigeria’s corrupt politicians and what he had once called, in a well-attended Christian convention, “the unfortunate Nigerian impulse to spend, spend, spend on flashy cars and big houses.” None of this constrained him from accepting gifts of cars and vacations from said politicians, nor repelled him from the owners of flashy cars who made up a sizeable number of his 2,344 registered church members. Controversial though he was, his strong and passionate followership meant that fellow pastors felt compelled to invite him to their prayer conventions, even if only to give him the shortest amount of time on the podium.

Art by David Motutu
Art by David Motutu

The Christian Association of Nigeria’s leadership tried to quell the rift, but could not. Several white-garment church pastors and their congregations had already aligned with Rev. Majekodunmi. Even within the congregations of churches that did not buy into the End of Lagos idea many talked about it so much that junior pastors and chief overseers found themselves trying desperately to maintain equanimity. Those Christians who already believed Rev. Majekodunmi began preparing themselves to leave the city. Some Muslims began holding nightly vigils, even though they had no directive from their chief imams. On the matter of Lagos’s impending doom, the Mosque was conspicuously silent.

*

 Fewer people used the expressway the cooler the weather got. The weather had now gotten cold enough for the ground to be slippery with ice. After a night with temperatures at five degrees, a woman’s body was found on the highway. It was twisted at an awkward angle, her once-yellow and red wrapper loose and parted, showing a slip, barely concealing her thick, dark thighs. Her hair was a wild, bloody mess. The slippers she wore were splayed some five feet from her outstretched arms, her mouth gaping. It is unclear how her body had gone unnoticed; doctors say she had been dead for three days.

Lagosians saw photos of the woman’s body on the front page of every major newspaper that dreary morning. Street hawkers, the first to have seen the body, talked to each other about the ice on her body, their eyes wide with morbid fascination. She had been in a hit-and-run accident, the doctors told news reporters. She had probably been unconscious for a long time and would not have felt her legs before she died. Hypothermia had as much a hand in her death perhaps as much as her getting hit by a car.

On the nightly news, doctors talked about the effect that exposure to cold weather could have on the skin and the need to dress warmly. The Lagos State Government sent out public service announcements urging drivers to drive slowly at the recommended speed of 20 mph, pedestrians to use pedestrian bridges and be wary of puddles of ice when walking on the roads.

Days got progressively colder. People would wake up to ice in their driveways, on their windowpanes, on their windshield wipers, filling potholes, forming on garbage heaps, freezing the wood on street sellers’ shacks. People slipped and fell constantly, cursing the icy ground beneath their feet. Some street hawkers braved the cold to sell phone credit and bootleg DVDs, but even they relented when they saw how loathe people were to linger on the streets; they stood outside gates of offices and gated estates instead.

Used to recklessly whipping past, Lagos drivers now had to worry about poor visibility, ice filled pot-holes and car heaters that ate up weak car batteries. Lagosians did not know their car cooling systems needed a water-coolant mix, or that their batteries might need changing, or that their cheap tires were beginning to show their worth. More cars began to break down, leaving their owners who would never fill up their tanks to save money, stuck shivering in their cars in the middle of the highway. The Lagos State Government set up mechanic shelters on major highways alongside the highway ambulances and put their contact numbers on billboards. Smart mechanics figured out the cold’s impact on tire pressure and the need to flush out and service radiators regularly, but that was it. Most people’s cars still struggled to start every morning.

A young customs officer and businessman Bayo Adigun started to import portable block heaters that one could plug in one’s home and then put in the car to warm up the engine quicker. It worked, but only for those who would afford it.

The International Association of World Meteorologists sent out a missive saying that they were expecting the first snowstorm in Lagos’s history on the 23rd of the month. Journalists and observers from around the world filled all the flights entering Lagos. They covered stories on the dismal effect of the weather on the banking sector, transportation, the informal economy. The Lagos State Government flew in weather scientists and climate change experts from around the world in a hurriedly slapped-together conference to weigh expert opinions against the city’s reality. All that was clear was that there was nothing Lagos could do but wait.

With news of the snowstorm, the image of the dead woman in people’s minds and Rev. Majekodunmi’s predictions, Lagos saw a mass exodus. People who could afford to flew out to Abuja or Port Harcourt, Accra or Dakar, London or Dubai. Ticket prices out of the city soared by an average of 25 percent.  With ice on the roads leading out of the city, those who imported car parts assisted in the exodus by equipping their own cars with ice protectors and then charging up to N20,000 per seat in their heated buses.

But most people could not afford to go anywhere. Lagos was full of people from somewhere else. It was a place where you belonged to simply because you were not from there, could not ever be from there. Lagos was not home and because of that, Lagos felt more like home than anywhere else. So, even in the event of impending disaster, with no one forcing them to go, most Lagosians stayed.

 *

On the 23rd, the day of the storm, daytime temperatures hit freezing point. The Lagos State Government sent a public service announcement on all major radio stations and on television encouraging all Lagos citizens to stay calm, admonishing all to stay indoors i for fear of frostbite and hypothermia and promising that government services would be up and running within days of the snowstorm.

The cold owned the city that day, blowing down empty roads, freezing to stillness the blue-green slime in the open gutters, chilling the air beneath bridges and past the Marina, stripping the trees by the university in Akoka. The Atlantic Ocean below the Carter and Third Mainland Bridges turned icy and shone in the gloom of the day.

The storm was to hit at 4:30 in the afternoon. White garment church members, almost effervescent in their silky robes, gathered barefoot beneath wooden shacks on street corners and rang their golden bells for prayer. Non-denominational churches, like Rev. Majekodunmi’s congregation, also formed groups in their neighbourhoods from Ikotun to Ikorodu, from Ipaja to Apapa, from Okokomaiko to Ketu. Some few thousand gathered on the icy-cold streets to raise their voices in praise-songs and prayer while the wind picked up speed and the snow began to fall.

The snow fell lightly, at first, barely spotting the roads before it picked up in intensity, falling in sheets over cars and buildings and open dustbins and over abandoned wooden shacks. The harder the snow fell, the more the wind sent the snow’s downward fall in all directions until all one could see outside was a white haze.

Rev. Majekodunmi himself led a group of thirty churchgoers in Ilupeju prayers under a wooden shack. They stayed outside through the snowfall, reaching ungloved hands into the cold air, praying against destruction and for strength. They stayed below the wooden shacks that held no warmth and barely any comfort while the weather dropped deep into the negative digits. The wind bit like an animal into their skin and made a mockery of their layered clothing. The icy wind numbed their raised arms and froze their feet in their shoes. Many among the praying crowd lost their nerve and their numbers thinned. But the pastor made no move to leave. He let them go, oblivious as they turned to look at him; his back turned towards them was as accusatory as the harshest words could have been. An hour into the storm, when the snow turned to hail and the hail to icy rain, only 65 remained outside across different Lagos neighbourhoods. They shivered frighteningly with their hands turning blue and numb.

After an hour and a half outside, even the most adamant of the prayer group members relented. Even indoors, wrapped in blankets with feet immersed in hot water and noses rubbed with Heatol and Robb and plied with cups of hot tea, they continued to shiver for hours afterwards. Their feet, ears and noses continued to tingle. The longer they stayed indoors, the more their arms and legs burned. Blisters formed all over their skin. They did not know that these were the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. All they knew was that something was wrong but that the hospital was out of the question, at least until the storm passed.

Rev. Majekodunmi prayed so fervently that he did not realise that his group of thirty had dissipated and that he was all alone. When he opened his eyes, he saw no one around him, but a figure stood at a distance, mere feet or further he could not tell – it was hard to gauge distance with all that snow and the weather so obscured his vision. This figure wore dark clothing and seemed to be staring straight at him. Barely feeling the numbness in his toes or the cold hitting his skin like pain, he tried to call out to the figure, but the wind swallowed his words. He screamed again, but the figure walked away slowly, gracefully, as though his feet were barely touching the floor, Rev. Majekodunmi found that he could barely keep up. He tried running, but slipped and fell against a car parked outside a house painted brown with a green roof. The hail was slowly turning into a harsh, thunderous, icy rain. The figure was gone. Rev. Majekodunmi screamed. His heart beat faster than he had ever felt it before. He did not know when the members of his church, worried after going back to the shack and not seeing him, set out in raincoats and flashlights to look for him in the rain. When they found him, half his body was buried beneath a car. He was muttering to himself with lips turned a dark shade of blue. His skin was paler than normal. His skin felt icy, like a frozen fish.

The storm lasted ten hours. When it was over, people took tentative steps wearing sneakers and leather shoes out to their balconies or their front gates to survey the street, careful not to slip on the ice. A wintry mix of snow and hail and icy water filled gutters and potholes, and blocks of ice froze the already-clogged drainage system. People were afraid to venture beyond their residential areas, afraid to see what the storm had wrought on major roads. Despite the announcement from the government, nobody believed the workers would clear them in time. It was entirely possible that many of them would stay virtually unusable for days, if not weeks, to come. Phones were down. Electricity was down. Nobody knew when to expect them to return, but Lagos stood.

Lagos still stood.

Saratu Abiola is a writer based in Abuja.
Saratu Abiola is a writer based in Abuja.

Interview: The World According to Ibrahim Ganiyu

Tell us a little bit about your background.

My name is Ibrahim Adeola Abidemi Ganiyu, (AKA Sir GAI). I’m a creative person by birth, graphic designer by education, illustrator by choice, animator by design and an all round artist by everything else. I was born in Ojota, Lagos on November 28. I am the second child in a family of three boys and two girls.

I’m a graduate of graphic design from the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, and presently run a creative products and services company called Imperial Creations Studios Limited (ICStudios). I am also a partner at Playfactor Games Limited and have worked with and consulted for companies in product design and development, video production, advertising and TV content development.

My core strength is my creative mind channelled through my illustrations, animations and, most importantly, through my comics. I also lecture at Orange Academy and Graig Phillips College of Technology, both in Lagos.

I am an entrepreneur and creativity coach. I believe in creativity as a channel for human growth, development and societal advancement. I believe in creativity without limits.

I am married and have three boys, two of them are twins. I enjoy drawing, creating, developing ideas, reading, watching a good movie, playing video games, travelling and cooking.

What comics or characters inspired you to be an artist and illustrator when you were growing up and why?

Hmm … I would say the first major comic character who influenced me was Superman, though I had come across Spiderman earlier. Superman just embodied the ideals of heroism to my young mind. I was greatly influenced by the art as much as the stories then. I got a lot of artistic influence from the works of artists like Bart Sears, John Byrne, Brian Bolland, John Romita Senior and later Junior, Jim Lee and others.

My greatest artistic (and creative) influence and drive came from Leonardo Da Vinci. When I came across the name in early secondary school, I was struck by his passion/thirst for knowledge and his continuous creativity. Even when he had no way of immediately actualising his ideas he would still draw them. The man’s thoughts, zeal for knowledge, exploration, diverse skill-set and style have remained constant sources of inspiration. Da Vinci remains my number one mentor.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a comic book artist in Nigeria?

The most challenging part of doing comics in Nigeria is hard to pin point to a single thing. It’s a composition of things: Creative excellence on the part of contractors (often arising from limited knowledge of the comic book business), the unavailability of good hands in story writing, art and graphics, and of course distribution remains a headache. Print production is still a game of chance. In all, these challenges are being confronted and I can see a break happening. We are creative people after all; we’ll find a way to change the situation!

You’re involved in a lot of other projects outside your regular job. Can you tell us which ones you’re currently most excited about?

I am quite excited about our new games development partnership and the projects we are working on. We have a fighting game set in a bus garage tagged GARAGE KOMBAT. We also have one loosely based on Chief Duro Ladipo’s work tagged FOREST OF A THOUSAND DEMONS in the works.

On other fronts, I am enjoying my integration into the Nigerian literary circle as I am seeing great opportunities for comic book production and partnerships. Our contact marketing arm EMPERATA is looking more into that. Also, our flagship comic book title DARK EDGE is coming up with some exciting stuff! We are looking at a short movie early next year as well as a stage adaptation of the DARK EDGE story. Our work on the INDOMITABLES Indomie Noodles advertising campaign also has me giggling with excitement. The brand is growing and a lot of stuff will be coming out from them soon!

We just also set up SYRUP COMICS, an entry-level, creator-owned comic book imprint that’s getting lots of young guys to create and draw some amazing new stories, characters and concepts. In fact there’s so much I am excited about!

What strategies do you use to carve out time for sketching?

Drawing is my therapy. I use drawing as my stress relief and I always find an excuse to do it. My sketches are only therapeutic when I’m not doing client’s work.

Sometime in 1997 I drew an Igbo lady dancing in a trance pose and this morphed into the first sword carrying woman I drew in 2001, and by 2003 I had started my collection of Angel drawings who were women representing various emotions: rage, love; ecstasy, love, etc. and usually carrying some bad weapons! (The whole Angels idea is now developing into a comic book and a novel graphic book – not a graphics novel).

I try to squeeze in at least 48 hours of free sketching time per week – snuck in between meetings, during lunch, on the BRT heading to a meeting, at home at night after the kids have gone to bed, as a time-out when work gets too tense and even in the bathroom! The trick is to know that the sketches are your life blood and for me I think best when I am drawing.

What are the most exciting comic books on the Nigerian market right now?

Well for me, comic books excite me based on content, concept and public reaction. Without mentioning own my stuff like JUNE XII and DARK EDGE (I just mentioned them didn’t I?), It’ll have to be GUARDIAN PRIME, UHURU, STRIKE GUARD and ERU.

What was the most discouraging time in your career and how did you overcome it?

Hmm … I guess the first one came when we had to close our second office at Onipan in 2003 due to Zenith Bank acquiring the building when we had not gotten enough strength to start out. It looked like a reset back then and that was the good thing about it. It was an opportunity to reset the business, check the model and reassess the structure of our operations so that when we finally rented an office in 2006, I knew what we had to do differently. And we did it.

The second was in 2009 when the company, ICStudios, practically folded up due to the global financial crisis. The company was in debt to the tune of N3 million and my staff all had to move on. Only my admin manager, Taiwo Lawal, stayed on and together we worked to get things back on track. It taught me about making hard decisions and it was during that period that I realised that if you’ve never ever have to question what you are doing then you may be in the wrong business. Also I knew that was the time to test if we had a solid business model or not. Thankfully we did and the waves passed. Determination, willingness to learn and grow and a large dose of creativity got us out of that crazy period and it’s kept us out of it since.

ganiyu