June 9, 2010.
He walked through the pathway like a grasscutter as he made his way through the bushes. His face like that of a man who had just wrestled with a lion, as he grunted his misery. He wore the once beautiful and priceless hat which he inherited from his father and now had become torn and tattered – it happened to be the only gift he could inherit from his father before the gods took his life away. He was that proverbial prodigal son, he spent little time with his father and he felt great regret for this. Deep in thought, he picked up a muddy pebble from the sandy ground and threw at a palm-kernel tree, after a time, having had not much success, he gave up and walked on. He had ended up his life this way – as a nonentity and worthless fellow who went hungry always. But the god of luck seemed to smile upon him for he caught sight of an apple tree in that instant. “such is the wonderful works of the gods,” he thought to himself, “they work wonders.” He chewed and bit with such fervor that he failed to notice a passing shadow. For a moment he felt something but decided to shrug it off. “It’s just the wind” he muttered.
And that was only a part of his ill reward in this poor village. A village filled with fear and misery. They lived their lives under a certain fear; Fear of the gods and fear of the unknown. But what’s more – they lived in misery and poverty but hoped that one day, their prayers be answered. The name of this village is Umali! They called it the land of milk and honey. According to the elders of the land, it was the land where creation started from, It was the mystery land nobody knew about or would prefer not to talk about, It was the paradise which their forefathers tread.
But it seemed ironic. Almost seemed like a false claim. Umali was more of a land of sour, the inhabitants lacked a great deal and had one of deadliest of people, Justice waited in the hands of the unknown and this wasn’t something they feigned upon. The problem was that, like a little child who can’t tell right from wrong, they had trespassed. They overused their privileges and had to suffer for them. But here comes both the thrilling horror and mystery, the secrets of the gods lies in the hands of the inhabitants themselves. The puzzle can only be solved by them and yes! By them, alone for the gods lives amongst them and not as a god but as a common villager.
But here was this commoner. This drifter walking past a corner of the street and pondering upon what might be his portion in this unfair world.
Revenge had always been the anthem of the gods in the land and the drifter only wished this whole thing stopped. He had once vowed that if anyone should know the secret of the evil befalling the land of Umali, he would get such a person killed. That claim didn’t mean much at the moment – he hardly even could provide a single meal for himself.
His name was Ebuka, no one knew his surname, and no one cared for he was just another nonentity anyway. They referred to him as that vagabond for he engaged in the major village crimes, even the law got weary of him and left him alone.
Ebuka walked towards a place called a shrine. A shrine as it is called in some parts of Africa could mean a place where varieties of alcoholic drinks and marijuana are being consumed on a grand scale and without worries of the law’s intervention. But as the careless man passed by, he didn’t notice the caretaker of the shrine; a tall, strongly built Igbo man of around forty, bald, with a face that was good-natured on the whole, but that showed signs of strong determination and no weakness. His name was Odumegwu, and he was a man worthy to be feared in the city.
Chief Odumegwu stood with his hands on his chin, watching the careless man pityingly, “Nwoke a na-ara ara (this mad man),” he said, shook his head and turned back – He then turned suddenly back again. There was something about this man that caught his attention;
“Hey, Ebuka” cried Odumegwu wavering his hands as he immediately recognized the moving figure.
Ebuka stopped dead in his track and turned back with sudden recognition. “Wow Odumegwu,” he cried excitedly as the two men hugged, “I can tell from the look on your face that you haven’t changed a bit, but I promise you that age would begin to tell on you very soon,” said Ebuka and they both laughed. “How about your child,” he asked, “I’m sure a big man like you will have one or two kids running around the village square by now.”
“Nna,” said Odumegwu sadly, “I haven’t a child yet o. I pray the gods to answer our prayers for a child. How about you friend, what have you been up to?”
The man called Ebuka, answered him with the same dialect as supposed as an Igbo man, “I have been up to nothing my friend, Nothing! I am still that same drifter you knew years ago.”
Duality without identicalness is very possible. It has always been and was especially the case with Odumegwu’s. while Odumegwu was a hyper-active extrovert, his wife was the complete opposite – but there was another difference; Mr.Odumegwu’s wife named Chiamaka wasn’t a nice woman by disposition or manner but her husband was good-natured but tough. She was always diligently minding her business and toiling with her rosary. Mrs. Chiamaka Odumegwu a.k.a “lorlor” as she was popularly known, was a big woman of thirty, very observant, and seldom seen smiling. she glanced briefly at her husband as he came in but quickly turned back to her business. Under the facade of pretending to be busy all the time, she was a very observant woman. As if the disaster of Umali may lie upon the passersby, not a soul passed by the street close to the shrine without her awareness.
Mr. Odumegwu and his wife were the caretakers of the shrine, and it had become a cafe for merriment with varieties of intoxicating drinks, palm-wine, drugs, and hemp being sold. It was bound to be popular- it was the quickest place for men to sought relief, when hit by life’s hard blow, when consumed by the whips of misery or when they quarreled with their wives – what greater escape or exit could they have found. Some of the people who frequented this place too included young men – wayward, errant, or unruly young men who would come to smoke the marijuana popularly known as egbo.
That same day, as usual, Mr. Odumegwu was having a good time with his friends when he caught sight of two men and a young woman talking beside a parked car in a corner. And he instantly recognized them. They looked like royalty with nice looks and good expensive clothing. He knew that they awaited him; he had summoned them to come. He hesitated a moment then took excuse from his friends to go meet his visitors.
“Good afternoon,” greeted the elder of the two men holding out his hands for a handshake which Odumegwu respectfully accepted with a bow, “we have come a long way particularly for that matter which you told us about.”
Odumegwu nodded politely and held out his hand as if to say, please give me a second “- then turned back and rushed towards the shrine.
“Do you see those people over there?,” he began to tell his wife and his group of friends, “That is Mr. Lucas the Millionaire’s friend, with the millionaire’s daughter and her husband. ” the men laughed so horribly that it insulted Odumegwu and he couldn’t tell precisely what was funny about what he said. He tried as much as possible not to be bothered about it but decided to ask the reason for their laughter.
“if you ask us, who do we ask?” One of the drunkards answered in amazement and the rest of them burst into another paroxysm of laughter.
Deciding to ignore their jokes, he went to meet the strangers again. He was getting very impatient and couldn’t wait for the man he had sent for, beforehand, to come to handle the business of the day.
But before Odumegwu moved, the other man approached. He wore a designer jacket with a pair of boots – (designers too), and just like the young woman beside him, they smelled like nice petals of roses. Odumegwu was unable to hide the fact that he was impressed, they made him feel inferior. The younger man advanced towards Mr. Odumegwu and asked permission to speak to him, the conversation was brief, almost at the first words chief, Odumegwu showed deep attention and nodded continuously then signaled for both of them to follow him.
Mrs. Odumegwu noticed all this but would say nothing about it, It was none of her business, the only business she should be dedicated to is managing the shrine and of course, that was what she paid utmost attention to.
Odumegwu knew the visitors to be associated with Felix Madwu the multi-millionaire. Felix Madwu was a close friend to the Late King Eze Ochigbo of Umali land, and most people couldn’t understand what made them as close. Felix married Bola the daughter of a Yoruba wealthy man after giving birth to Juliana Madwu out of wedlock. Soon, Bola Madwu died of cancer leaving the responsibility of child care to Felix.
Felix Madwu was a loved person; he was a philanthropist and a businessman – such it was in his lineage. They were known to have the business blood and they did this not only locally but almost internationally. From cowries, antiques, agricultural produce to petroleum, the Madwu’s were the behemoths of business and they beat all competitions. Of course, there were the haters and the snakes who would do anything to bring him downfall – the bad belles who would even consult the juju (black magic) to either cast a spell of bad luck upon him or even kill him. But they succeeded anyway and this was Felix Madwu’s lot in the evil land. The girl Juliana was his only daughter- and just like a wealthy man is supposed to, he never failed to give his daughter the best, and at the same time never failed in flaunting his wealth. This only boiled the black blood; the scorpions, and snakes in the green grass who only managed to take the human form. The vultures who were witches and sorcerers through such medium of witchcraft was successful in punishing the businessman whom they considered to be proud and pompous. But to reverse the story years back, when the girl Juliana was so little, the busy businessman traveled all around the world and couldn’t look after her all by himself so he entrusted Mr. Lucas – his closest friend to look after young Julie. Mr.Lucas who for the sake of friendship became his assistant without any interviews or application. But Mr. Lucas on his part was a busy man too, and most of the time, he was out of the country for London or some African countries. Little did Mr. Felix know that entrusting his assistant to look after his daughter would be a futile business, little did he know that his assistant would be on the road most of the time just like he was.
But Mr. Lucas too as he needed assistance over such responsibility asked an educated London-based Yoruba trader who hadn’t been to her home country in the past twenty-five years to look after the girl; her name was Mrs. Olivia Alakija. Mrs. Olivia, a tall solidly built woman of about five feet seven was more of a Londoner than an African. She was thirty-five and having spent more than half of her lifetime in London, she had forgotten her mother’s tongue (how to speak African). But despite her preoccupation, she was a good woman. She loved Juliana, and caring for her like her daughter was easy – and more because young Julie reminded her of her daughter who died in a car crash about ten years ago. She had been like a mother to the little Juliana and the bond between them naturally became strong. Mrs. Alakija loved Juliana so much that she would willingly give her life for her- and it was like she says, “Little Julie is such a pretty kitty doll.” duh! She taught Juliana so many things like cooking, talking to boys, and her view of good ethical values at least, even if she had to visit the nightclub once in a while and drink binge with her peers.
Juliana grew up so fast and came down to west Africa. A lot had gone on in Umali and had eaten through her bottom pie. However hard both Mr. Lucas and Mrs. Alakija and her husband tried to comfort her, it didn’t erase the pain. particularly the fact that they wouldn’t know the cause of Mr. Felix Madwu’s death- caused her the most pain. All she could hear was the old cock and bull story that her father was spiritually attacked; despite that she naturally would find this funny under normal circumstances, she didn’t find it funny this time. She never heard of a spiritual attack but she had read a great deal about black magic from books, and she would laugh at what she considers the stupidity of the writer until her belly hurts. Now the table was turned and it was personal. Her father died in a remote city in West Africa. The young woman wanted to know the cause of her father’s death so badly that she decided to travel back to the village of Umali after a long while, and as she and her husband did, arrangements were made for this reason – The reason she was with Mr. Lucas and her husband who anxiously requested for the permission to talk to Odumegwu.
But Oduemgwu claimed that the Multimillionaire businessman died in a small room. A room fit to be called a hut, for it was empty and not so pleasing to the eye – a room not nice for someone of his caliber. Mr. Felix wasn’t the typical asylum broken-free fella who ran almost stark naked in the public square that such a room was meant for, but the cool-headed and respectable man who once lived in a mansion.
Odumegwu himself wasn’t a nice man to deal with and he was very unpredictable. One time he could be cool-headed and another time, completely irrational if need be, however, he could never be such to his visitors. He accepted them and was loyal to them.
“Take it easy,” said Odumegwu as he watched the young woman climb up the staircase like an old woman who could fall off at any moment. “the stairs are high.” The stairs were made of clay and it had a funny look.
“Why do we have to be here in the first place?” asked Mr. Lucas feeling disgusted at the place.
“To see the flying witches act,” answered Odumegwu with an attempt at humor, but as he found out none of them was interested in his jokes he continued rather seriously, “This is where his spirit would be evoked.”
“And how would they do that?’ asked Mr. Lucas in disbelieve.
“That’s for the witch doctor to determine.”
“Witchdoctor?!!” the three chorused unbelievably.
As they came closer towards the top of the stairs, Odumegwu took a key out of his pocket.
Mr. Lucas looked at him suspiciously. “Why do you keep the door locked?” he asked.
“Because this room has such a spiritual significance,” Odumegwu answered simply and sadly.
Mr. Lucas stared at him coldly as if he was a clown from the mumbo-jumbo space ship, but it was of no use as Odumegwu wasn’t even looking and cared less of what the others thought.
The two men talked for several minutes in a hushed tone that hardly reached Juliana’s ears and as they were about to open the door, she trembled. Her face showed such deep anxiety and terror that her husband had to encourage her.
“Just stay calm my dear, there’s absolutely nothing to fear. All will be over in a minute once the witch doctor performs his rite. You just try as much as possible to stay calm and pray that nothing happens, that is the only thing we need now.”
But Julie was the more confused. A lot went through her mind that she couldn’t quite explain and was even more scared to ask. Firstly, why do they need a witch… whatever to invoke her father’s spirit…… oh God, did she just thought about that? Her father’s spirit? this was like something she would only watch in horror movies.
Odumegwu knocked on the door in a funny way that almost created the impression that someone was inside. He then put the key in the lock and turned slowly. The door opened; he looked about the room as if scared that something may pounce upon him, then took a step in. Sure that it was quite safe, he looked back and signaled for them to come in.
“I’m scared,” said the young lady trembling.
“Don’t be my dear.” her husband Encouraged.
“You don’t get it, do you?” said she, “This place is creaky.”
He drew her trembling arm, kissed it, lifted her a little, and turned towards the room.
They got into the small room with terror written all over them. The wall had an obscure muddy paint and the room itself had a funny smell but they couldn’t see any spirit. the room was empty and the sound of their footsteps echoed in the room. The room was indeed creaky, and the terror of the moment couldn’t be hidden from their faces.
Good day,(ehihie oma),” greeted Chief Odumegwu, looking around the room as if talking to a group of an army. This made the rest stared at him like zombies. They were unsure of Odumegwu, they half presumed that he may be playing on their intelligence.. perhaps this could all be a prank. They only became slightly convinced until they began to hear a hissing sound.
Juliana was standing like the statue of liberty and her fist clenched by her side with a mixture of bewilderment and shock written on her face. She felt exactly as it would be if she had met with the devil. “Verily verily,” she thought, “This must be the work of witchcraft.” this time it was real life, other than the one she had read in books…….. but she was yet to see more……….
The witch doctor came in just in time with a live cock in his right hand and a timbrel on the left. Juliana almost laughed at him for even an insane jerk dressed better. The witch doctor was dressed in a red cloak that was bigger than him. Many cowries and a stick with red threads all over it- it was called juju (to mean charm.) just then, the old proverbial saying ran through her mind; “You can only cure madness with madness.” only this time did she know the true meaning as both the insane and the herbalists had a similar appearance. She chuckled.
The witch doctor took off his cloak, laid it gently on the floor, bit off the head of the cock, and laid the rest of the body on the cloak as it bled profusely and flapped its wings violently, then he began to recite incantations. As he did, the hissing sound became more intense and it seemed like legions of snakes were hissing overhead. In less than a minute, snakes began to flood in from all sides but neither hurt nor touched any one of them. The snakes crawled with such alacrity that it scared the three visitors standing behind. The witch doctor bent forward nevertheless and began reciting the incantations repeatedly with greater speed as he evoked the spirit of Mr. Felix, then minutes later, the snakes formed a cloud of smoke, clouded the room and the strangest thing happened; Here was Mr. Felix in his professional suit and tie, and it was no different as it would have been, only that it was the apparition and had hollow eyes. This particular event brought tension in the room that the three almost ran out of the entrance.
“What happened to you and how did you get here?” the witch doctor began to ask the apparition.
The apparition stared at everyone in the room with a remote slowness before he began to tell the story, and as he did, everyone paid attention