PRESENT DAY (NOVEMBER 11TH 1952)
It was in mid-September when Nne started to act strange. She would fix her eyes to nothingness and will stay that way for a long time without blinking an eye. I worried tirelessly about her. Apart from being my sister, she was the only thing close to a mother I know, it was at my birth that our Nneku died. I had been in her womb for ten months; the older men and women of the village had said that the end of it would be my death or hers, one way or another one between mother and child must die because she was carrying a curse in her. Our Papa fled to only the gods know where when our Nneku died and our care fell to our Nnene.
When I was five years old, I remember asking Nne how I was born and why Papa had left us. She was very reluctant to tell me but I was very stubborn and curious, I would cry inconsolably everyday yet she would ignore me to the point where I begin to doubt my very own existence. It was on “the igbakwa day” that our Nnene called me to her hut. She was very old and ugly looking, I was scared of her to the bones. Growing up as a child, I wouldn’t let her touch me or come close to me. She was never angry at me for all my ignorance, she kept trying to get closer to me but I always cried whenever she touches me or holds me.
IGBAKWA DAY (20 YEARS AGO 1932)
“Nnene wants to speak to you in her hut,” Nne said to me as I watched the rain dropping off on a basin on the earth. There was something about the tapping sound it made that made me ignore her.
“I said your grandmother wants to talk to you now in her hut…” she repeated and I turned to look at her, “…it’s about your our Nneku,” she concluded and walked away.
I wasn’t sure if I should answer her call but I was very curious, I wanted to know why Papa fled, I had many questions to ask, Nne had answered some very few questions and I know Nnene would answer all my questions. I wanted to know why I was called a curse even before I was born.
“My son, I knew you’d come. Come, sit,” she said and smiled at me. I didn’t know what to do or say. She fixed her eyes at me for a while before she broke into tears. I wondered if I should go over to her, tap her shoulders and clean her eyes the way Nne does to me whenever I suddenly break into tears for no reason. I held my peace and remained on my little chair.
“I’m sorry…” she began as she wiped her tears with her wrapper cloth tied around her body from her waist down, her upper body was not clothed, her breasts were saggy and relaxed gently on her belly.
“You look so much like your mother, my last and favourite child…” she was still talking when I interrupted her with a barrage of questions.
“Nnene what happened to Nneku? Did I kill her? Am I cursed? Where’s Papa? Why are we outcasts from the village?”
“My beautiful child,” She said looking away. “you know what today is?”
“Yes,” I answered “Igbakwa day, boys become men and girls women. It’s a village festival.” I concluded.
“You see I had four daughters,” Nnene began again,”Ekenma, Orienma, Afonma and Nkwonma. Your mother was the finest amongst all my daughters and I see that beauty in you my child. I loved all my girls but I loved Nkwonma the most, she was my everything and I gave her everything. She was very close to me and we both had a very special kind of relationship. The other girls grew jealous and yes I know that I was wrong to love them less but I can’t explain it. They all grew up and suitors came knocking on our door, not just for Nkwonma but for all of my girls but on seeing her, suitors for the other girls would change their mind and suddenly want her…” she stopped and coughed really hard and this time I stood up to get her a cup of water.
“It didn’t bother you that this was happening?” I asked.
“Oh my child, of course it did but there was nothing I could do to stop it. My other girls were furious that they went to Ikedi the Alusi, the god of revenge and justice. They stated their demise to him and he assured them of justice.” She stopped, looking confused as though she couldn’t believe that her other daughters were capable of such cruelty. I asked her if they paid a price to the Alusi.
“Of course, they all died the same way but I don’t know the price they paid. Ikenga eventually cursed your mother to have only one child and that child is your Nne, a child that will grow to hate her in every way. After Nne’s birth your Nneku and your Papa tried severally to have another child, she’d become pregnant but on the fourth month, the child would just disappear from her womb. That was when I told her what her sisters had done. She was furious and full of regret. She asked if anything could be done to change it. That was when I told her about ALA the Alusi of fertility and prosperity.” My head swoll at the mention of “ALA” something about the name brightened my face, she caught my expression and looked away, I couldn’t explain how I felt at that moment but I let her continue.
“ALA is a tricky alusi, she gives and take and speaks in parables that no mere mortal can fathom, I warned her about his schemes and even discouraged her when I realized how disastrous ALA can be. No she didn’t listen, Nkwonma wanted a child desperately, Nne was two years old and a heavy burden to her, she’d cry all day and without food, only I could console Nne at that time. I tried speaking to your Papa to talk the nonsense out of your Nneku” she was still speaking when an old man wearing ragged like clothes with several bells bound to the linen and with a staff on his hand came knocking on her hut. He was Ezenmuo The Chief Priest Of The gods. It was time for “the igbakwa” all the older women and men are being summoned to welcome the young boys and girls into adulthood.
She left at once with the Ezenmuo as I ran to Nne. Nne was the mother I never had, her love for me knows no bounds. “Did you love her?” I ask and turned to look up to her face, she looked away as she put me down from her laps.
“Our Nneku was a selfish woman who thought only of herself, she knows no love whatsoever, but I’m here Ikenna, I will love you in every way I can” she said to me not looking at my face.
The moon was already up in the higher heavens when Nnene came back from the village square, Nne served her her meal, we were all outside starring at the blackness of the night, the kerosene lamp wasn’t so bright; Nnene gulped a cup of water first before beginning to eat.
“Nneku please continue with what you were telling me earlier” I said, not sure if that was the right time.
“Oh my beautiful child…” She said and continued. “Your Papa did talk to her, but she convinced him that it was a good idea. Blinded by her beauty, he agreed. To meet with ALA the alusi of fertility and prosperity requires a walk to the Ideagu river. Whoever seeks her must walk to the river chanting her name, on getting there she’d be waiting by the bank of the river” she stopped to drink another cup of water. “Did she go alone” I asked
“No my son, never visit the gods alone. I went with her to ALA, she did the chanting, I just followed, still warning her about the danger she was walking into “we can’t turn back now, can we?” She’d say each time I did. ALA was covered in gold and has a long curly hair like yours my son, she was standing on the bank of the river when we got there. “Woman you’re cursed by IKENGA…” she screamed on seeing us “… But it’s not your fault, it’s your mother’s. Oh what love has done” she flew to your Nneku and moved her fingers around her hair. “But I can help you get a child, a boy” she whispered. I don’t remember most of it my son…” Nnene said turning to look at Nne.
I begged her to go on but she wouldn’t. I asked Nne to beg her but she wouldn’t, no one wanted to talk so I started to cry. “My son, your mother died before you were conceived…” Nnene finally started, I wondered how that was possible but I let her go on. “When Ikenga passes a verdict on someone, there’s no remedy to it, the only way ALA could help your Nneku was as a ghost, I don’t know how she did it. My daughter agreed to her terms and that night when we returned from the river she died, her body was placed right there,” she pointed at a bed outside the veranda. “The villagers had gathered and everyone mourning when she coughed. The rest of it is a story, she was pregnant, I knew she was not the daughter I used to know, she couldn’t eat, talk or move freely and somehow the village got to hear,” she was crying now but Nne went over to console her. “So after you were born, her ghost finally died and left us, no word from her mouth for the ten months she carried you. That’s why you’re called the cursed child and that’s why your Papa ran away.” she concluded.
Our Nnene is already dead and buried, Nne is all I’ve got now but there’s something strange about her. She’ll stare blankly and fixedly at nothing and it was scaring me, the other day I saw her talking to herself and smiling, it was when she heard my voice that she snapped out of it, she’d cut herself on purpose and would walk to the Ezoba forest alone, I’ve found her there twice. The forest is believed to be the home of Ikenga the alusi of vengeance and justice.
Me on my own have been having dreams, I see a woman, dressed in gold and curly hair each time I sleep, she’s calling out to me, I told Nne once and she said it was a regular kind of dream or nightmare. She said I was thinking too much about Nneku and Nnene.
My sister got worse towards the end of September. The other night I woke up to realise that I was bound to the bed where we both slept, Nne was holding a knife and looking hypnotized. “Nne what are you doing” I yelled. She said nothing but stared blankly at me, like she didn’t know it was me. “Nne it’s me, Ikenna. It’s me, your Nwanne. Nne.”
She muttered “curse, curse, curse the curse.”
I was still speaking and in great terror when she fell to the ground, I remained bound to the bed till the next day when she woke up at about midday.
“Ikenna, I think Ikenga wants me to kill you…” Nne said to me. “…each time I see you… I get that strong urge to hurt you, but I don’t want to…” her voice broke and she was crying now “…I don’t want to hurt you Ike, I don’t want to” I didn’t know what was going on with her or why she felt the urge to kill me. She promised to be better afterwards. Nne became even more strange, doing things she doesn’t do before, she’d do her kitchen work and still cut the firewood for cooking. I didn’t enjoy seeing her doing that and each time I go over to collect the axe, she’d tell me not to worry. I ended up not worrying and let her carry on.
We were still outcasts in the village, no one would freely sell to us or help us at anything, even at the annual sharing of items generally contributed by the villagers. It was our Nneku that brought us to this status in the community.
PRESENT DAY (NOVEMBER 11TH 1952)
I was just returning from fetching some firewood when I noticed the strangest thing, all of Nneku’s belongings were scattered to the ground, her olas and all her ori, her clothes and her beads, all of the item that belonged to her, the water pots were also broken into several pieces, the water from them flowed carelessly to make a mess. “Nne!” I screamed, calling out her name as I paced about the empty compound, she obviously was nowhere around. Then I decided to walk to the Ezoba forest to look for her.
I searched the forest for about half an hour before I found her sitting on the branch of a tree. At this point, She wasn’t the Nne I know.
‘I see you came,’ she started speaking, but that wasn’t her voice “…cursed child,” she said as she jumped down from the branch of the tree. I called her by her name and she just disappeared, all I heard was a wild hysterical laugh. That wasn’t the Nne i know, something else was living in my sister, I suspected that it was Ikenga the alusi of revenge and justice. I didn’t know what to do, so I took to my heels.
“You can run but you cannot hide from me,” I heard her speaking but couldn’t see her. I ran about the forest for a while before I realized I have been running in circles, going over the same place again and again. I stopped to catch my breath, I felt a breath at the back of my ear, I felt a presence, someone, something was standing behind me, I was bending down as my hands were on my knees to support my back, i looked back through the space between my legs, that was when I saw two floating legs behind me, I turned to look at it but there was nothing. Then I heard her laugh again.
‘Ala has deceived you, you can’t play god anymore…’ her voice was speaking, I looked around the thick forest to catch a face, my Nne’s face, but there was no one, just the voice.
“You will die and you must die today,” she said as she finally appeared in front of me, she waved her hands and I flew in its direction. I landed on a tree, my back was stuck to the stem like I was glued to it, I couldn’t move “…your mother was a greedy and proud woman,” she came closer as she spoke “… I am Ikenga the just and fair god, I served her with mercy and work and a chance to learn to love her only daughter, a chance to learn to love, but she went behind my back to ALA.”
I moved numbly but couldn’t feel my legs. “Where’s ALA now? She killed her, made her a ghost and brought up an abomination to our land, the other gods are not happy and I must end this mistake now,” she lifted her hand and I followed, my body was floating on air, I felt light, she was going to kill me.
“Nne don’t kill me!” That was all I could say, she stopped and laughed, but I continued “I’m your Nwanne, the only one you have left, Nneku and papa is gone, Nnene too. It’s just you and I. We’re all that’s left. Remember how you said you loved me and will never stop loving me. Nne fight Ikenga, fight for your Nwanne” her hands dropped and I fell very hard to the ground and blacked out.
I woke up to see Nne nursing my wound, I wanted to resist but she tapped my back and said that it’d be fine and I’ll heal soon. “Relax, Ikenga is gone,” she said. I asked her how it had happened and she began “After you blacked out, it was a struggle for me and whatever it was that was living in me, I know I wanted it out of me but it was too strong, I called your name to help me, I called papa too, I called Nnene too, I called Nneku and she appeared, I saw her again. She said to Ikenga “stay away from my children” and that was how it ended. I fell to the ground and was myself again” she said as tears rolled down her eyes. “I’m sorry I tried to kill you” she said again.
That day, we fought the gods of our lands and we won, mere outcasts of the community.
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