Madness found its way into my eyes the day the prophet came. He was boisterous, attired in a white garment whose hands were longer than his. Unlike the rest Mma, my mother, had brought to the house to perform the “cleansing ritual” on me, this one had a bald head that suggested malnourishment, not wisdom. When he spoke—he did it with a loud voice accompanied by the ding of his bell—a surge of ballistic mouth odour hugged the air. He was barefooted, and his legs hopped as he chanted nonsensical words.
My problem really began the day I was first delivered from the Ogbanje spirit—the spirit that had consistently made me die and return again as Mma’s child, that had also made me know things that were to happen, and that had made me inflict pain on Ojiugo’s children—my half-siblings—just because the sound of their wailing voices fascinated me—by, the then greatest dibia in Obilimkpa, my community. He had made me fast for three days, taking only that white, foul-smelling substance that Mma had constantly heated for me to drink, before the the main cleansing/appeasement ritual which took place at the river which linked my village to Ishiala community.
I was nine years old then (the longest I had stayed as an Ogbanje child) but had been headstrong, maybe because I was scared of going back to wherever I came from—I didn’t want to miss eating Mma’s delicious “okpa” or fondling her big breasts when we sat outside in the evening to receive fresh air, or tease Nwuyeoge, my only sister, about her big front teeth, or play “tinko” with Nmesoma and Oluebube after we returned home from school and had finished doing our house chores. Or maybe because I was receiving threats in my dreams from unknown and scary people who warned me not to allow myself be delivered, else I would be killed mysteriously. However I tried to resist—by running away from the house to my grandparents’ (the spirit led me there, to everyone’s surprise but I was bundled back to my parents the next day), or refusing to drink the concotion, and when I did, I would throw up or spit it out (only to be given a thorough beating by Mma, who was assisted by my father), or setting a trap for my father on his way back to his house (it had caught a bush rat instead because he had followed the other path that day).
Things had seemed normal after the ritual; I could play like a normal child and didn’t get death threats anymore. But I felt incomplete. I had actually began to miss having powers and being termed an “Ogbanje”. I wouldn’t have known how “boring” being normal meant if I hadn’t been born as an abnormal child. A few months after a friend died in his sleep—he was choked to death in his dreams – I began to see those people again. This time, they did not appear scary, neither did I get death threats from them. Rather they would take me to a riverine area ( I thought it looked like “Oguta lake” but I had paid less attention to where I was taken to) and we would clap, dance and sing, laughing at nothing funny. It was fun to me.
This continued throughout that year, and I think Mma noticed as she would stare at me suspiciously whenever I was dressing up to sleep, and didn’t allow me make meals for the family again. Soon, she made me a regular in church—I never missed Cathechism, Bloc Rosary and other activities —and made sure I participated in the “confirmation” classes with Oluebube that year.
Things got frightening the day my father died, two days after I had cursed him for mercilessly beating me — he had caught me while returning from his cocoa farm with Chinedu who was massaging my buttocks while giving me a “parting hug”. The whole house was quiet, and sympathisers did not fail to look at me with contempt and fear. I didn’t cry. I just sat down, looking at people come in and go out, nobody allowing me to help out in organising my father’s burial. Mma didn’t speak to me for days, and Ojiugo, my step-mother, took her children and herself back to her parents’ house, leaving Mma and I to “kill ourselves if we wanted to”.
Not long after, Chinedu died—his neck got snapped after he fell from the palm tree he was tapping wine from. Eze and Obinwa were killed on their way to Lagos to stay with their rich uncle. Chikodi, the first crush and the one I had lost my virginity to, drowned before Christmas. All the boys I had established any romantic or sexual relationship with were dying mysteriously and all fingers were pointing to my direction. I cried for Chikodi and even attended the burial, ignoring the “tufiakwa” I got from his mother and other attendees. I didn’t see myself at the water for three weeks. I consoled myself, as it seemed like even my spirit friends had deserted me. Mma didn’t talk to me. She only spat in my face when Nmesoma came to give us the news. Nmesoma got married early the next year and left me alone in the village, with no one to marry me, as I was now a burden, even to my mother.
Okwudili was my saviour. He was Mma’s younger brother who had gone abroad and returned after striking gold. He helped me apply for a scholarship abroad which had been sponsored by the then Governor of the state. I was awarded the scholarship, fortunately, and sent away—exiled, more like —to America to further my education. My mother bade me goodbye, trying hard to fight the tears. It was the first time in a long while that I felt anything remotely resembling love radiate from her. I cried with her and we hugged before parting ways, me leaving with my uncle to America to stay with his family over there.
That was years ago. Four years before I was deported back to the country, and I somehow crawled my way back to the village I was exiled from. Four years after Okwudili’s plane crashed on his way back home after coming to my graduation ceremony.
We stood in different positions, Mma and I, once again facing that particular plantain tree which had a red cord tied onto one of its branches, where my placenta was buried, at the back of our semi-regular bungalow—the brownish-painted house which had its surroundings graced with an apple tree that stood proudly in the front of the compound, the only one in the whole village— waiting for Agaba (for that was his name) to perform the cleansing ritual on me. Next to me stood Mma’s wooden stool and on it lay Agaba’s bell, holy water, and his overly used Bible. Since he came, his mouth had been moving and emitting sounds I could do without. His constant “hmm” was beginning to irritate me already. He dramatically stopped chanting, walked towards me, smiling arrogantly, displaying his pale yellowish teeth that spoke volumes of untold tales of his adventure with kola nut and he picked the holy water, sprinkling some of it round the plantain tree, then on Mma, and finally on me. I retreated in disgust.
“Holy, holy”, he dramatically began to chant, picking up his bell from where it stood, its ding accompanying the chants, hopping on his feet, circling me—exclaiming the names of the angels, his breath stinging my nose. From the corners of my eyes, I saw Mma silently muttering “Amen” to Agaba’s words, hoping in her heart that this cleansing ritual would be the last. This was the fifth healer she had welcomed to this tree in just one month because of me. Agaba had, however, assured her that he was different, that the Ogbanje spirit would leave me alone once he did the cleansing ritual. “That spirit,” Mma had said, made me mad.
He came closer, bent over and let the bell on his right hand find a resting place on the stool beside me, then he reached for me, placing his coarse left palm on my face, allowing it to make its bed on my forehead. I became drenched in the hostile malodour of his garment. I retreated again. He mockingly smiled, capturing me with his hands, clutched my head in a vicegrip, and with the loudest sound he made that day, he declared, “you stubborn Ogbanje, come out!”
I had seen enough of his brazen smile, of his unforgettable halithosis, of his flaying garment guarded by a vapid stink, and so madness took over me. I reached for the bell on the wooden stool, raised it high, and within seconds, before I let it rest forcefully on his forehead, I saw his eyes widen and in them, I tasted fear.
Crimson-like liquid gushed through the opening created by the bell. Agaba collapsed to the ground. Mma shouted before silence took her hostage. I smiled as I watched Agaba’s body wriggle in the sand —like a salted earthworm. I turned and went back to the house, probably to go into the kitchen and make something to eat after being starved for several days to prepare me for this cleansing.
About The Author:
Ugochi Okafor recently obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. She loves pop music, horror movies, and Real Madrid football club. A K-drama enthusiast, Ugochi’s works have appeared in The Kalahari Review, Brittlepaper and africanwriter.com . She enjoys travelling.