by Umari Ayim
– Read Episode 1 of the compelling story HERE.
Another Ritual, Meeting Chika And The Mistress Suggestion
The room is quiet as I move my hand over the open hand of Chief Michael Abidemi and feel a chill settle down on my spine. I withdraw the hand in immediately and sigh in frustration. They were warned!
“Have you done any ritual recently?”
I know he has but I want to make this as uncomfortable as possible. His wife Mary sits beside him, giving me a nervous smile and looking like she can’t wait to be done with our little ceremony.
“Err,” Richard’s father says, his look confirming what I know. “A herbalist friend in Ife mixed a portion for me.” The gold Rolex on his hand combines with the light from the candles in the room to emphasize the discomfort on his face.
“And after that?”
I watch as my father in law adjusts the folds of his white robe around his folded legs. They are both sitting cross legged and facing me. Husband and wife. Richard is absent today. This is not his problem.
“I stood by a junction.”
“That is not all….sir.”
Richard’s father swallows and shares an uncomfortable look with his wife before telling me stiffly, “I stood without clothes.”
I get tired of the back and forth and tell Richard’s father what he is trying to hide from me.
“You were asked to call certain spirits in the middle at that junction…” I stop to lower my head at him and wait for a rebuttal, but he nods. Of course.
“And this junction is a T-junction, right?”
“Well, you invited dark forces back into your life with that ritual,” I stop to shake my head slowly. “You were told not to do anything to undermine the cleansing from the last ritual.”
“I know. I know.”
You know nothing, I think, frowning inwardly and wishing I can abandon the tall light skinned man fidgeting before me to his fate.
You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.
I bite down the urge to ask tell Shadda that I am not interested in constantly chasing dark forces from the lives of the Abidemis.
“This spirit you called was to help you fight a business partner?”
“He threatened to use juju on me,” my father in law says with a scowl.
“Well, the only spirits attached to you now are the ones you called.”
Richard’s father looks at me in disbelief. “So…so he did not carry out his threat?”
At my nod, the man throws back his head and laughs as if I just told him a hearty joke. I am thrown off balance by his action and I know his wife is surprised as well. I can hear her thoughts.
He thinks this is a joke? I should leave him…these days…stupid.
I wait till the laughter ends and when it does; my father in law goes on to say,
“So he had no guts?”
“I will appreciate it if you stopped doing these things. Whatever you call from the other realm is returned back to you a dozen fold…” I pause and tell Michael Abidemi what Shadda told me several years ago. “It is the law of heaven.”
My father in law gives a cursory nod. “So this thing has been giving me nightmares, can you make it stop?”
I know I can. This is nothing like the curse, but it is still draining. I look at my father in law for a long time, keeping my blinks as far apart as possible so that he squirms from the intensity of my gaze. I enjoy his discomfort until Shadda tells me,
I sigh and shake my head. “I can make it stop but this cannot go on forever,” I say deliberately and slowly as I can. “One day you will call something powerful that will demand more than I can give.”
“It won’t happen again,” my father in law says, looking apologetic.
I push my way into his mind and hear,
…the old man…stand at night…charges too much anyway
“That is better,” I say with a small nod and then I realize that I am replying his thoughts. Luckily, my father in law does not know this. He probably thinks I am responding to the last thing he said. I am relieved. Only Shadda knows about my mind reading abilities. I intend to keep it that way.
I perform the ritual as quickly as I can. A silent summoning of the light till I feel the tips of my fingers burn. I place my palms over my father in law’s own and command the spirits to leave. They take a while and are deeply resentful of my interference. I double over twice from the stab of cold icy fingers as they test me but I keep my focus on the light until I manage to overwhelm them. Finally with a loud wail, the spirits loose their hold on Richard’s father and leave the room, the light purple linen curtains on the window fluttering in their wake.
The ritual is completed with the blessing of water and the washing of the hands and faces of Richard’s parents. They drink what is left of the water and leave me in the room.
Bone weary now that most of my energy is depleted, I blow out the candles on the candle sticks mounted on the four corners of the wall. I lock the window and draw the curtains shut. I make sure to arrange the silver bowls with fine hand carvings at the small altar at the opposite end of the room where an incense censer holding frankincense burns.
When I finally leave the room, I walk past the room where Richard holds court with his business acquaintances and sometimes his parents. I know they are all in there now, discussing in hushed tones like they always do. I don’t care. I just want to sleep.
I wake up to a slow humming and stretch away the last remnant of sleep. I am still groggy when I turn to Shadda.
“Careful now,” She says, moving the baby away before I roll into it. “You need to hone your maternal instincts.”
I look up at Shadda’s disapproving gaze and sigh. “You are better at these things, you can be the nanny.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I am a spirit.”
I yawn and curl to a fetal position. “And I am a tired human, a very tired one.”
“Lazy mortals,” Shadda says with a mock scowl and lowers to drop the baby beside me. I look at him for a while as he lays on his back, kicking at the air with sleepsuit clad feet. Shadda tickles his feet and the most beautiful sound I have ever heard fills the room. I get warm just hearing it but I am still wary. He is too much of Richard for me to love him.
“You should hear him when I bathe him,” Shadda says, making faces at the delighted infant beside me, “such an adorable child.”
I lean closer to the baby. “His eyes are so…different.”
“He is a special one.”
“What does that mean?”
Shadda straightens and sits on the edge of the bed. I move some inches to give her more room and she shifts into the space with a smile for me before remembering my question.
“Well, he is a result of what you and Richard have in your souls.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Richard is a child of light too.”
“He has the gifts?”
Shadda shakes her head. “Every mortal has the gift Tamisho. Some just don’t know how to use it.”
“But you said he is a child of light,” I remind Shadda, getting more confused by the moment. “Explain what that means.”
Shadda moves the thick braids she is wearing today away from her face and appears to think. “Well, there are hierarchies in every realm. Some souls come are closer to the light than others.”
“If Richard is a child of light like me, how does he not manifest the gifts?”
“He does not know how to listen,” Shadda says with that fond smile she sports when she speaks of Richard. I feel a small prick of jealousy.
“I notice you like to speak to him a lot.”
“And that makes you jealous,” Shadda says, giving me a wink.
I am unsettled by the fact that Shadda can read my mind just as well as I can read the mind of others.
“What do you expect?” Shadda says, chuckling softly and cooing at the baby. “I am your guide. I can read your mind,” she stops and looks upward and then down at me again. “Should I say, d’uh?”
“Stop reading my mind,” I tell Shadda with a laugh. “It is so unnerving.” I notice the baby rubbing his face against my chest and I push down the thin strap of my top and lower my left breast to his open mouth. As soon as he latches on, I turn to Shadda who is smiling at me with approval. “And hearing you say, d’uh is so funny.”
“You should hear me rap.”
I open my mouth to reply Shadda when the door opens and Richard pokes his head into the bedroom.
The smile leaves my face and I give Richard a cool, “hello.”
“I am driving out to hang out with some friends,” Richard tells me, hands in the pockets of the black denim pants he has matched with a red polo T-shirt.
Richard nods and turns to leave the room, and then remembers something. I don’t know what he is thinking because Shadda is holding her hands over his head and smiling at me. I sigh and roll my eyes at her. This is her favourite game. Cutting me off from his thoughts every time she gets the chance to.
“I am thinking it will be nice for you get out sometimes.”
“I am fine here.”
Shadda puts her hands on her hips and glares at me, “stop being rude.”
I roll my eyes at her again.
“That is not a friendly thing to do,” Richard tells me, his voice growing colder.
“That was not for you,” I tell Richard in a curt tone, pulling my breast away from the baby’s mouth. I watch as the baby gives me a wide smile, pauses to burb, blink at me and smile again. I feel that warm glow again but I quickly extinguish it.
The loud slamming of the door as Richard leaves makes the baby wince and look up at me with frightened eyes. I sigh and lift him up to my shoulder for his back pats.
Shadda walks back to the bed, transforming her wardrobe with a few steps. A black dress with a flowing skirt has appeared In the place of the red pleated dress she was wearing. She stops beside the bed and shakes her finger at me.
“He is trying to reach out to you, stop pushing him away.”
“I don’t want him to reach out to me,” I say and begin to rock back and forth on the bed.
Shadda pauses and inclines her head, watching me thoughtfully. “You are getting better with the baby.”
I stop my rocking and look away from the smile in her eyes. “Okay, time to return him to his crib.”
Shadda bends over and swiftly relieves me of the baby before marching through the wall and leaving a burst of light behind.
I stand up from the bed and look around the room, but I am not really seeing the wide four poster bed with the patterned duvet cover lying over white sheets, the soft teal rug, the white oak wardrobe with sliding doors, the single portrait with abstract painting beside the small flat screen television on the wall opposite the bed or the green damask curtains hanging in heavy panel on black brass rods above the window. I am mulling over Richard’s suggestion. Maybe he is right. Maybe I need to get out of the house.
The sky is getting darker by the second and the street is practically empty. Only a few cars speed past with drivers that shoot me curious stares. The estate is one of the many secluded estates littering Ajah and its environs. The houses are magnificent edifices with high fences and heavy iron gates. The streets are like a maze but I am not afraid of getting lost. I leave my street and turn into another street. Apart from a white Land Rover pulling into a compound, there is no one in sight. I pull the edges of my white cardigan sweater closer to my body as the breeze gets colder.
I am walking past the third house and admiring the murals on the fence of a compound with a sign that says Liongate private school when a lone jogger approaches me from the other direction. The sound of her trainers hitting the asphalt is clear to me from here, and so are her thoughts.
Slap, slap, slap,slap
This street is so quiet…who is that walking towards me…ah, a woman.
I smile to myself as the woman draws closer.
Slap, slap, slap, slap
I should really stop and turn back. These flabs are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I can’t help the laughter that escapes my lips, but I keep my head down, enjoying the woman’s mind.
I am sure he won’t even notice anyway.
I stop smiling at the note of sadness in her thoughts and raise my head up just as she jogs past me. Our eyes meet and I hold her own.
Looks new….need some friends…no…this is Lagos not Enugu…Chika keep jogging.
And she does but I can hear her struggle.
Maybe I should have said hello to her….should I turn back?
I stop and turn back. The woman has slowed to a walk and is chugging down water from the plastic bottle in her hand. I must have moved quietly because she almost chokes when she sees me beside her.
“Sorry, sorry,” I tell her as she splutters and looks at me in confusion. When the coughing stops, she caps the bottle and gives me a rueful smile.
“Sorry about that. I don’t react well when I am surprised.”
I smile and nod at her. “It happens.”
The woman who I know is Chika is one of those women with round endearing faces where layers of fat hide high cheekbones and a firm jaw line but she is still pretty with oriental eyes and downward turned lips.
“I am Chika.”
I almost say ‘I know’ but stop on time to say, “Pleased to meet you Chika. I am Tamisho.”
Chika tries to pronounce my name and we end up laughing at the variations she comes up with. In the end she decides that Tami is the safest bet. As much as I hate being called short of my name, Chika is likable enough to get a pass. I am surprised to learn that she lives on my street and we walk back, chatting like old friends. Chika’s house is the red brick styled house with the flame shaped red and yellow lilies lining the perimeter of the fence I stopped to admire when I began my walk. She tells me I must visit some time because she always has lots of spare time on her hands. We pick a date to meet and wave each other goodbye. The promise of a new friendship beckons. I look forward to meeting Chika again.
Richard’s breath fans my neck as he groans into the pillow beside my head. I can feel his hand at my waist as he moves above me. I bite down on my lower lip to keep from crying out. I open my eyes as his hand moves up my body and settles on my right breast. His eyes are dark and clouded with desire. His movements become slow as he watches me in contemplation. Then slowly his head comes down and I watch spellbound as he tries to do something we have never done before. I gasp when his lips brush against mine in a light kiss, but I turn away quickly before he deepens the kiss. I don’t want to give any more than he can take.
It is over minutes later and I am alone in my bed again. When the moment of self loathing passes, I decide to take a shower. After ten minutes of enduring an almost scalding shower, I stand before the bathroom mirror and wipe the mist from it. My reflection comes alive the moment I free her.
“That was nice.”
“Sex with Richard.”
I make a face at her as she touches her left breast with a wistful smile.
“Don’t call it that.”
“It sounds pretty vulgar.”
“You are such a prude sometimes,” my reflection says with a laugh. “Okay, the thing with Richard was nice.”
I pick my toothbrush from the sink counter top and squeeze toothpaste on its bristles. “Good for you because I hated it.”
“You are so inhibited,” my reflection says scornfully, raising her hands above her and leaning backwards in a stretch. I watch her with a raised eyebrow as she begins to do side bends.
“Maybe because that is the way it is meant to be.”
“You are wrong,” my reflection says, leaning to look at me so that I can see the small brown mole under her left eye. “It is not the way it is meant to be,” my reflection pauses and says, “social control.”
“Sociocoontrool?” I ask with a mouth full of toothpaste.
“Yes,” my reflection says with a nod. “The way the society controls individual behaviour.”
I bend to rinse my mouth with tap water. “I have never been part of the society.” I tell her when my mouth is free of water. “So your point is moot.”
My reflection disagrees with a head shake. “You can’t escape society. You interact with it until it shapes your thinking. Your notion of right and wrong is informed by what it tells you.”
I think about the words of my reflection for a while and decide to agree. “True.”
“So about Richard….”
I eye my reflection wearily as I rub my body cream all over my body.
“What about him?”
“Do you like him now?”
Her eyes full of mischief, my reflection places her elbows on the counter top of her own sink and whispers at the other end of the mirror, “Liar. Liar. Liar.”
Finished with rubbing the cream on my body, I straighten and lean to the mirror till I am nose to nose with my reflection.
“I am going to prove to you that I don’t like Richard.”
So with a blink I return my reflection back to mimicking me and leave the bathroom. In the bedroom, I throw my red satin night dress and march to Richard’s room.
“Hi,” he says, leaning on the door jamb when he opens his door. His chest is bare but he is wearing a pair of black shorts and the tip of the silver pen that peeps above his head suggests that he was working before my knock.
I push my chin up and look as unfriendly as possible. “I want to tell you that I can’t stand performing my wifely duties anymore.”
Richard sighs, leans away from the door and crosses his arms against his chest. “Okay?”
“So I want you to take a mistress.”
At his silence, I continue stubbornly,
“A girlfriend or whatever.”
“Fine,” Richard says, stepping back with a nod. “Good night then.”
When I settle back in bed a few minutes later, I try to understand my lack of satisfaction after our encounter. As I drift away in sleep, I hear Shadda’s voice somewhere in the room.
You foolish mortals. You foolish, foolish mortals.
– To be continued…
Umari Ayim is the author of ‘Twilight at Terracotta Indigo’ and ‘Inside my Head’ both winners of the 2011 ANA NDDC Flora Nwapa prize and 2012 Poetry prize respectively.
Umari blogs at www.umariayim.com and tweets from @umariayim
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.