The night was unusually dark and the moon was nowhere in sight as the woman opened the door of the mud hut and stepped into the darkness. Except for the chirping of the night birds and insects, there was no other sound to disturb the silence of the night. Her bare feet made no noise as she made her way to the back of the hut and quickly untied her adire wrapper. The wrapper which was reaching just below her knees started from her chest region accentuated her full figure. The wrapper was tied in a knot at the side to hold it firmly in place but it came loose in one tug as she bent down to relieve herself at the back of the hut. She draped the wrapper around herself to cover her nakedness even though she knew it was impossible for anyone to be about at this time of the night.
The people of Alaguntan had a dread for stepping out at night and she had only been forced to come out when she felt as if her bladder was bursting from holding back her urine. She had forgotten to bring in the chamber pot the day before hence her need to relieve herself outside. She quickly retied her wrapper when she was done and entered the hut. The hut had two rooms, one room served as the living room while the other served as a bedroom. The two rooms were separated by a bamboo door. The bedroom was dimly lit by a wick lantern and her eyes were already accustomed to the darkness. For a moment, her eyes rested on the sleeping figure of her son where he lay on his mat on the ground, just adjacent the bed she shared with her husband, Olatunde. She made for the bed where Tunde was snoring as if in competition with the chirpings of the night birds and insects but instinctively something told her to check on the sleeping boy. She went over to where he lay and touched his forehead with the back of her palm to check his temperature. Her heart stopped beating in her chest for a moment. His body was ice cold and her hand quickly moved to his chest. He wasn’t breathing. Her shrill cry rent the air, overshadowing any sound her husband, the birds or insects had been making.
“Ropo! Ropo!! Ropo!!! Please don’t do this to me. Please not again.” The fear and trepidation in Adeola’s voice was unmistakeable as she shook the lifeless body in an attempt to wake the dead child. Tunde woke up with a start, Adeola’s voice was loud enough to raise an army of dead men.
“What is it?” He didn’t wait for a reply, his eyes took in the scene and he jumped down from the bed. He took the child from her arms and any remnant of sleep that could have still been fogging his brain vanished. The boy’s cold body was an indication he had been dead for some hours.
“Ropo, why have you chosen to torment me? Has your mother and I not suffered enough?” Tunde’s eyes clouded with tears but he restrained himself from crying. It would be unmanly for him to break down completely in the presence of his wife. Her sobs were enough for the both of them.
“Who have I offended that has refused to forgive me? Who? Haven’t I done all that they asked me to do?” Adeola screamed hysterically. Her grief was palpable. It was the fourth time she was losing a child in ten years. None of the children had ever lived past fifteen months. The native doctor had said she was plagued by the curse of the abiku. That was the only explanation for the constant death of her children.
Things had been good for her and Tunde in the first year of their marriage. She had conceived less than a month after their marriage.
“Did you do all that Baba Ifaojemite told you to do when you gave birth to the child?” Tunde asked. His voice was controlled and the quietness would have fooled anyone of the turmoil he was feeling inside.
Adeola nodded her head in affirmation. “I did oh. I did. My enemies have gotten me again. The fourth child! Why can’t they just kill me? Spirit of my father, are you sleeping in heaven? Haven’t I suffered enough?” With every word, her voice rose in pitch.
“That is enough woman. You would wake the entire village with your wailing. There is nothing we can do than to accept the will of Eledumare. We would consult Baba Ifaojemite tomorrow and have him tell us what the oracle demands of us. I know we will have a child of our own. Stop crying and go to bed, the gods of the land will prevail over the evildoers.”
“Go to bed?” there was incredulity in Adeola’s voice, “how can I go to bed? My only son has just died. The fourth child in ten years and you ask me to go to bed. What will the world say? What will your family say? How can I sleep when the fruit of my womb has ceased to breathe? How can I sleep when I am cursed among women? I am nothing but a joke among women. Look at Aduke who got married just two years ago, she has a son already with another on the way. Asabi who is not even my age mate has three children. What do I have to show for the ten years I have spent in your house? Nothing! Yet you ask me to go to bed. Have the gods cursed me like the snake that crawls on the mountain and lays eggs which is doomed to crack? Will I leave this word tagged a childless woman?”
“I understand your pain and share in your sorrow. Don’t forget that the dead children were also my children too. There is nothing we can do than to make supplications to the gods once again. We would also plead with the evil ones to forgive us our sins and the sins of our lineage. We would go to Baba Ifaojemite when day breaks.”
“Why can’t we go now? Let us go now. Can a man sleep when his house is on fire? I have been burnt too many times to sleep.”
“Adeola, we shall go tomorrow. You can weep all night but it won’t bring back the boy. When day breaks, we would go to Baba Ifaojemite.” Tunde said in a firm tone.
Adeola eyed her husband with contempt. She knew he was right, there was nothing to be done but being reasonable was the farthest thing from her mind. “Fine, you can go back to sleep but I am going to Baba Ifaojemite this minute. You didn’t bear the pains and pangs of labour so how can you understand my sorrow? I have lost not one, not two but four children. We are talking about children not chickens here! I am not strong yet I am forced to bury my babies. I am tired…” she broke off in sobs.
“Adeola…” Tunde began but she picked up again.
“My husband, the crown of my head, are you not tired of being childless? I know I am tired of this grief, this unending sorrow, when will I be called a mother? Is it not a child that would bury us in our old age?” Tunde felt as if a knife was being plunged into his heart with every word. He looked down at the corpse he was holding and gently laid it back on the mat. He covered it with one of his wife’s wrappers.
Adeola watched his actions, her sobs had reduced to a silent weeping. The tiredness she had spoken of just a few minutes ago was apparent in her demeanour. Sorrow lines marred her face but despite the sadness in the depth of her eyes, she was a beauty to look it. It was this same beauty that had first drawn Tunde to her ten years back. Tunde crouched beside her on the floor where she was weeping and gently drew her up. He embraced her and together, husband and wife grieved for their loss.
There was no wink of sleep for Adisa and Tunde that night as they sat huddled together, awaiting the arrival of dawn. At the very first crow of a cock, Adeola started up like a person coming out of a trance.
“It is time, let us go to Baba Ifaojemite’s house now,” she said. One look at her determined face was enough to tell Tunde there was no reasoning with her that it was still too early. He stood up and dusted his sokoto before going over to the body of the dead boy. He looked at his dead son for a few seconds as if willing the boy to move but the body remained perfectly still. He tore his eyes away from the body and his eyes met Adeola’s across the room. She was weeping silently again and he quickly looked away so that she would not see the tears that had welled up in his eyes.
“Lead the way, Baba Ifaojemite would prepare the necessary sacrifices needed for the burial. Hopefully, his divination can let us know what we have done wrong this time around.” He wasn’t sure whether Adisa heard him because when he turned to where she had been standing, she was gone.
Baba Ifaojemite was not yet awake just as he had predicted and it took the urgency of their situation to get one of the apprentices to agree to rouse the old man. Baba Ifaojemite had been up half the night according to one of them and needed his rest but when Tunde explained why they had come, one of them agreed to rouse him for them.
Loud incantations preceded the entrance of Baba Fakunle into the room where he received visitors. The room was bare save for the white cloth that was spread throughout the length of the room. It was a mystery to all who entered this room how the white wrapper had not a single spot of dirt on it despite the different legs that threaded on it with dirty legs. Baba Ifaojemite at first glance appeared to be in his mid-seventies but a closer look showed he was closer to eighty. He had a full head of thick white hair and his face was wrinkled like old leather. In the middle of the consultation room was a large earthenware pot and tied around the midsection of the pot was a red cloth which divided the pot into two equal halves.
“The boy has departed again hasn’t he?” For a man barely above four feet, Baba Ifaojemite’s voice was deep. Neither his face nor voice showed any sign of exhaustion from lack of sleep that his apprentices had mentioned earlier.
“Yes Baba, Ropo is no more. Baba, I am not old enough to use proverbs in your presence but it is the elders that said a child lives in accordance to his name. Ropo has not lived up to his name because he hasn’t replaced our previous losses. Rather, he has only added to our grief.” The tears were pouring out of Adeola’s eyes fast as she spoke.
Baba Ifaojemite barely glanced in her direction. Turning to face Tunde, the old man said in his deep voice, “I will prepare the necessary arrangements to have him buried. What we will do is to brand the child with hot metal so that he either departs from your house or should he choose to come again, we can identify him and do the right things to make him stay. I would be in your house to attend the body when day breaks properly. You can leave.” He didn’t wait for them to react to his words, he turned his back and went back in the direction he had emerged.
The old man came when it was fully daylight as he had said he would. After chanting some incantations and sprinkling ash over the body of the boy, he requested for the metallic part of a knife to be placed in a burning fire and when the metal was red hot, he seared the dead child’s skin with the hot metal. The smell of burning flesh filled the room and when Baba Ifaojemite finally lifted the knife, there was an ugly imprint from where the knife had burned into the skin.
“I would give you some things to use and you will conceive again. This time, we would be ready should the abiku choose to return.”
“Thank you Baba. May you live long for us to always count on you.” Tunde said.
“Ase.” With that, Baba Ifaojemite and the two apprentices that had accompanied him departed the house leaving the grieving couple to attend to the visitors who had started trooping to the house to pay their condolences.
A year rolled by and just as Baba Ifaojemite had predicted, Adeola conceived and gave birth to another child. As the wails of the child filled the hut of the midwives where she had been taken to deliver, Adeola reached out her for her child, indicating she wanted to see her son. Her heart jumped to her chest when she saw the exact same scar that Baba Ifaojemite had inflicted on the body of Ropo. There was no mistaking that it was the same mark, how else could this ugly scar have found its way on her new born? She didn’t need to be told that it was her abiku son that had returned to torment her again. She began to weep softly and handed the baby to one of the midwives. Baba Ifaojemite had instructed that should the mark be seen, the baby was to be brought to him without delay so that he could do the necessary things to prevent the child from dying. It wasn’t until three days after she birthed him that she was allowed to see her son again. Tunde handed her the child with reassuring words.
“Baba said everything would be alright. We have nothing to fear. He said that he has severed the links the child has with the other world. He won’t be able to communicate with his people whom he returns to whenever he dies. This child has come to stay and Baba said he must be called Malomo.”
“Malomo.” Adeola repeated as if tasting the name on her tongue. “I do hope he lives up to his name and never returns to his spirit group. It is a child that buries his parents and I don’t want to know the graveyard of another child. Let me also be called a mother among women.” She held the fingers of the sleeping child and in an emotion laden voice pleaded with him, “Malomo, please remain with me as your name means. Be a child for me and I would be the best mother you can ask of. I am not strong enough to bury another child. Wipe away my reproach and shame among women, have mercy on me as you are all that I have now.”
“Baba Ifaojemite is optimistic this time around, the child will stay.”
“I hope so.” Adeola responded in a resigned tone, her voice clearly indicating she expected the worse.
Adeola didn’t begin to allow herself have any hopes until the child clocked two years of age. None of the other children had ever reached that age before. Her joy knew no bounds when he clocked three and slowly she began to relax as the boy grew older. Malomo was unusually frisky and was always getting into trouble because of his ways the older he got but Adeola never scolded him; he was her world. However, the paradise Adeola had built around Malomo came crashing down shortly after Malomo’s seventeenth birthday. Tunde had travelled the week before and was not expected back for two weeks. On the fateful day when her world crumbled like a pack of cards, she had set out on a journey to the neighbouring village of Alake to get some things she needed. She informed Malomo she would be back at night because she also planned on using the opportunity to catch up with an old friend of hers.
Adeola had gone about a quarter of the distance when she realised she had forgotten to take the money she wanted to use for her purchases and she was forced to turn back. What greeted her eyes when she entered the house left her stunned. Malomo and one of his male friends, Lakunle were naked on the bed she shared with Tunde. The teenagers were lost in the throes of passion that they were unaware of her presence.
“Abomination! My son has killed me. Malomo what is the meaning of this?” Adeola screamed. She rubbed her eyes with her two palms in disbelief. It couldn’t be true, her eyes had to be deceiving her. Two males having sexual intercourse? Abomination! The thoughts ran through her head in a chaotic circle. The two boys sprang apart and began to hurriedly look for their clothes to cover their nakedness.
“You devil, what have you done to my son?” Adeola screamed in rage and launched herself at Lakunle who was the older of the two boys. Lakunle was two years older than Malomo. She had concluded that he was at fault, he must have lured Malomo into the abominable act. She sank her teeth into Lakunle’s bareback and the youngster screamed in agony. She wrestled him to the floor and began to pound him in rage as he tried to defend himself from her flailing blows. The suddenness of her attack had sent the both of them crashing to the ground and she sat atop her victim, hitting blindly. Her blood felt like it was gurgling in her veins.
Suddenly Adeola felt a pair of hands lift her up roughly and free from his assailant, Lakunle fled the house naked. Adeola came face to face with Malomo who stared at her with a defiant glint in his eyes. His chest was thrust out and his chin jutted out as if he dared her to strike him.
“What madness has come over you?” she screamed. “Do you want to beat your own mother? Are you possessed by a spirit? What an abomination! That cursed boy has bewitched you. Ha! So my enemies have not yet stopped tormenting.” Her voice was tearful as she stared at her son.
“No enemy is bewitching me Maami. I like boys and that is just it.”
“Shut up! Keep quiet. What nonsense are you talking?” Adeola grabbed her two breasts and slammed herself on the ground. “They have turned him mad. When they couldn’t kill this one, they decided to turn him mad. Who have I offended that has refused to forgive me? Baba Ifaojemite must hear this. Baba Ifaojemite must hear this oh.” She picked herself up from the ground and rushed out of the house.
Malomo picked up his clothes which had been discarded when he and his lover had started out their love making and began to put them on slowly. He didn’t feel remorseful and his mother’s tears had had no effects on him. He hadn’t planned on getting caught but now that it was out in the open, he was ready to defy them all. Let them say what they wanted, he felt right and knew no witch had put any spell on him as his mother believed. It wasn’t long before he heard his mother’s voice wailing again as she returned. This time, there were more voices accompanying her and before he could make sense of what was going on, some of Baba Ifaojemite’s apprentices entered the house and grabbed him.
“Let go of me. Let go of me. Maami, tell them to let go of me. I am not mad. I am not possessed by demons,” he screamed and fought but his strength was no match for the six guys who bundled him like a sack of potatoes and heaved him on their shoulders. Like pallbearers carrying a casket, they carried him off, leaving him writhing and screaming as they took him away.
Adeola followed at a distance, still tearing at her hair and crying oblivious to the prying eyes of the villagers who looked at the scene with interest. No one dared ask why they were bundling the boy. Baba Ifaojemite was a messenger of the gods and nobody interfered with his work or hindered his apprentices in carrying out their duties. Any one brave enough to do that must either have a death wish or be mentally unstable. It was widely believed that the gods would strike such a person dead within seven days for the atrocity and that no sacrifice could be offered as atonement.
Malomo had his legs and hands unceremoniously bound together when his captors arrived Baba Fakunle’s compound. Baba Fakunle came out of his hut which stood in the middle of the compound. Sixteen years had not changed the old man as he looked the same way he had when Adeola and Tunde had come crying about the death of Ropo.
“This child is evil and has to be offered to the gods. His actions have brought a cloud of evil and doom upon the entire village. The ground is weeping for blood and it would not rest until it has it.”
“Ha Baba, how can you say that? He is my only son! I brought him so that you can save and cure him, not kill him.” Adeola’s voice was shrill with fear and dismay.
“Your only son? This is not a son woman. This is nothing more than a spirit that has taken human form. Do you not recall the mark he came with when he was born? This child is cursed! He could have been somebody’s son had he and his spirit group accepted the sacrifices I made to appease them but they have chosen not to. Don’t forget this child is an abiku and he only devised another means to torment you. His torment however is not meant for only you this time around as his actions have provoked the gods and if his blood is not offered, the whole town would pay for his transgressions.”
“Baba, it wasn’t him. It was Lakunle. It was Lakunle that lured my son into this. My son is not evil. It is Lakunle that has an evil spirit in him. It is Lakunkle’s blood that should be used to appease the gods not my Malomo. Baba, you have to do something. I have no other person to turn to if you take this one. If you take him, you have stripped me of my wrapper in the cold and left me naked in the market.” Adeola’s voice was frantic and during the course of her lament, she had thrown herself at the old man’s feet. The old man looked at her disgustedly.
“Did you not hear me? He could have been somebody’s son but he has chosen not to. Hear for yourself.” Turning to Malomo who was staring at them all defiantly with fire in his eyes and his spirit unbroken, Baba Fakunle asked, “Malomo, what you have done, was it not your spirit group that demanded it of you?” Malomo stared at the Baba Ifaojemite and made no response.
“Speak you evil child!”
“I have done no evil. You are nothing but a charlatan because no gods speak to you. I have no spirit in me and you spill the blood of an innocent if you choose to kill me.”
“Quiet!” Baba Ifaojemite thundered. “You see for yourself woman? He is unrepentant and embraces death willingly. Maybe in another life, you can have a child but in this, you are destined to be childless.” Turning to two of his apprentices, Baba Fakunle gave the order, “behead him and bring his body to me so that I can appease the gods before evil befalls us all.” With that, he turned to leave.
“No, you can’t do it. You can’t do this to me. My only son…” she threw herself at the old man but was quickly restrained by two of the apprentices who carried her away kicking and fighting.
“You are nothing but a murderer old man. Yes, I could have been somebody’s son but you…” Malomo never finished ask Baba Ifaojemite turned and grabbed a cutlass from one of the apprentices standing nearby and in one swift stroke, severed the boy’s head from his body. Blood spurted on the ground and the boy’s body convulsed in spasms of death.
“Alas, the abiku child won again and refused to stay,” one of the apprentices commented to his colleagues as they moved towards the body to start preparations for the necessary sacrifice.
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