‘…for every child in Nigeria who has either been tortured, abandoned, maimed or killed on the spurious allegation of witchcraft …who has been rejected by the same adults who ordinarily should offer protection and care…
…with hope and prayers that one day the much needed relief that children everywhere deserves will come to them and that justice will finally get to be served on those heartless adult at whose hands these kids continue to suffer….’
Ocheche Ayeni sat cross-legged on Uncle Alonge’s wooden chair. She sat as if she was practically glued to the flattened foam on the wooden chair set in the entrance of the old man’s kiosk. Her favourite rag doll clutched under her left armpit, she sat there waiting. Patiently. It would have been better if it was just the inner foam of the dirty lice infested settee that was pouring out, yet that was not the case as the bulging spring also made sitting on the chair uncomfortable for her. Despite her discomfort however, she knew she had no choice. It was the spot she was instructed to sit and wait for Oyin Konde who had rushed across to the other side of the street facing Uncle Alonge’s kiosk to get more thread. That Uncle Alonge, the jolly old man from the next village with a face like a mass of rotten beef and a large tummy that giggles anytime he laughed.
The late afternoon sun shone through the leaves of the giant Ogehghe tree with bark like the skin of an aged crocodile which stood like a scary king near the kiosk, casting its flickering light on it. Though the day was winding down, the mild heat from the sun kept pouring down like bullets from a machine gun. Like a suiting balm however, the evening breeze was also present to caress Ocheche’s ebony skin; successfully removing her mind from the mild evening heat. The sight of the motion of the large golden ball that was the evening sun and the sweet evening breeze served to entrance the little girl as she sat with her face turned upward, as if hypnotized by the elements. In her mind, more out of reflect or by default, she wanted to make the most of the few minutes it will take Oyin Konde to go and get the thread she needed to complete the braiding of her hair.
Her mother had hurried home earlier with the excuse that she needed to go and attend to house chores and had left her with her market neighbour and closest friend, Aunty Funke. Aunty Funke, that dark lady with a set of canine teeth that bears a striking resemblance to that of a vampire. The little Ocheche was always wary of her anytime their paths crossed. She was so dark that her complexion blended perfectly with the night. It was her funny look and complexion that made Ocheche all the charier of her. To add that there was this weird scar that ran from her forehead through her cheek to her jaw, running down her chest and finally disappearing into her bra.
‘When Aunty Funke closes shop, she’ll bring you home’, those were her mother’s parting words as she lifted the basket of unfinished oranges on her head. She’d sell them the following day she murmured under her breath as she hurried off. Business had been anything but fair to her she complained before taking her leave. And her husband’s short temperedness did not help matters. She must hurry home to prepare dinner before the short, tick set man with limbs like that of an ape returned from his usual gravel lifting job at the quarry. How did Aunty Funke come by her strange set of teeth and the scar? These were the two questions in Ocheche’s mind as she watched her mother’s receding figure disappeared into the horizon. Oyin Konde the hair stylist braiding her hair was not yet done as at the time her mother decided she had had enough of the poor sales for the day. It was this, Aunty Funke’s promise to bring her home, her father’s temper and the poor sales of the day that was to blame for her mother leaving her in the care of her best friend, the weird witch-looking Aunty Funke Ocheche regretted. Ocheche sat still, watching the sky.
The few people left in the street that had conveniently been transformed into some time of market place went about their business like some little ants crawling around tiny shred of bread in the sparsely populated area. The steady hum of conversation between Uncle Alonge and Aunty Funke continued to flow from inside the kiosk. Despite her enchantment with the elements, the words of the conversing adults steadily continued to filter into her ears as if they were sitting in front of her and making the conversation. Even though Oyin Konde soon returned brandishing the thread and ordered her to return to the wooden stool she had been sitting on prior to when she went for the thread, her mind, attention and interest did not leave the conversation of the two figures inside the kiosk as she obeyed the woman and walked lazily to the wooden stool.
“Funkis, na wa o, this Foursquare pastor will never let us be o. Can you imagine! He has the guts to place his church’s loud speaker directly in front of my shop ehn? We are not members of his church. Can’t he just get that into his head and therefore position his loud speakers so that they can face the members of his church inside rather than us who are outside and are going about our normal businesses? Does putting the speakers outside his church directly in front of our shops a guarantee he will go to heaven or get more worshipers?”
Aunty Funke did not respond. She was no stranger to Uncle Alonge’s mortal hatred for Pentecostal churches. As a Catholic himself, he had never for once considered Pentecostals as Christians. As a matter of fact, he always referred to them as Protestants. Rebels. To him, they were rebels to the authority of the pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth and the Holy See and so merited his derision and hatred.
Inside the kiosk, he was doing something that Ocheche could not immediately figure out. Aunty Funke on her part was sucking from a mango seed. Where she was sitting, in-between Oyin Konde’s thighs, Ocheche watched quietly from the corner of her eyes, as the hair Stylist continued to pull gently at her hair, as Aunty Funke pounded the mango on the bare floor until the fruit became a pulp and the seed inside began to wobble. Having pounded the seed vigorously on the bare floor for a few minutes, she lifted it to her mouth and bit her teeth into the pointed edge of the mango to create a tiny hole from which she began to suck the juice from the seed. From what Ocheche could tell she appeared to be enjoying the fruit, as she sucked, licked her lips so loud Ocheche could hear the yelping sound of the munching from where she was sitting. Both Aunty Funke and Uncle Alonge sat silently for a few minutes, each busy with what they were doing. Uncle Alonge scratched his balding head impatiently, dipped his index finger into his large nostril and scratched till he pulled some junks from it. He peered into the rubbish on his finger as if he was surprised what came out of his own nose before wiping his finger on his dirty trouser. Then he spoke up again.
“I’m so happy the way business went for me today o, I don’t know why mummy Ocheche is complaining.”
“Every day is not Christmas and every day cannot be good for everybody” Aunty Funke said with a non-challance that suggested she was more interested in the consumption of her mango seed than Uncle Alonge’s conversation. Yet, the old man was not discouraged.
“Are you people still going to Akuku this night?’ he asked. SILENCE.
“It getting late and it will be very dark before you people reach o. Why don’t you spend the night here in Igarra as usual instead of making a journey at this hour of the night? At least it won’t be the first time or what do you think?”
“We’ll be fine da. As soon as Oyin Konde finishes with Ocheche’s hair, we will get going. I have already parked my things” replied Aunty Funke before shouting her edginess to the woman braiding Ocheche’s hair, urging her to hurry up with what she was doing. She then mumbled a few other words about how crossed she was with the hair stylist for not showing up earlier than she came. Calm your nerves woman, if you had not convinced mom, she would not have left me in your care, why the heckle? Ocheche thought.
“Iti Ogosilo is home tonight and we are expecting a visitor, I won’t let you ruin the transaction we have tonight o so hurry up woman”. She added, her face turned towards the direction of Uncle Alonge, she was now wearing a mischievous grin. Even though she was obviously talking to the hair stylist with her voice raised in anger, she was facing Uncle Alonge. Normally, at this hour, she would have decided to stay the night. This had happened many times before. Ocheche wondered why she decided they must leave soon after she convinced her mother to leave her in her care. When her mother said Aunty Funke would bring her home, Ocheche knew what she had in mind been that the weird woman would take her home the following morning.
Iti Ogosilo. A name that evokes fear in little Ocheche anytime she heard it mentioned. If Aunty Funke was weird, then there was no word to describe Iti Ogosilo; a small man with tiny hairy hands and legs. Ocheche used to wonder how he felt inside his cloths which were always oversize anytime she saw him. Few minutes after Aunty Funke’s tirades Oyin Konde finished plating Ocheche’s hair. She had ignored Aunty Funke outbursts and kept doing her work on Ocheche’s hair all the while the weird woman was shouting. After plaiting the little girl’s hair, she did not as much as notify her she was done, how much more tell her she was leaving but simply parked her things and left quietly. By the time she left, it was already night and the time to start the night market.
But before she left, while she was still at it plaiting Ocheche’s hair, Aunty Funke made a statement that Ocheche missed because she had temporarily removed her concentration from the duo in the kiosk in order shove off a disturbing flea. The laughter that followed Aunty Funke’s statement broke Ocheche’s musings about the evening and the two adults. Immediately Oyin Konde parked her things and left, the little girl stood up, pulled her dress over the protruding underskirt, and then stepped inside the kiosk. She wanted to know what the two were up to or what was so funny in what the witch-like looking Aunty Funke had said that warrant such hearty laughter between the two. The last she could recall, the weird woman had not exposed her weird set of teeth in a smile how much more laughed all day. She also intended to inform Aunty Funke that the hair stylist had finished plaiting her hair and had packed up her thing and that she had left.
“Is she through with you?” the weird looking woman asked soon after Ocheche stepped into the kiosk. She nodded in the affirmative.
“Oya wear your sweater, its dark already. The weather is getting cold. Oya make we come begin go, important matter dey for we house this night” she said to the little girl. Ocheche walked slowly to where the wooden chair by the spot where a local lamp rests on top a tall wooden stool was and retrieve her sweater. Uncle Alonge excused himself, went out the back door of the kiosk to the backyard. The sound of falling objects followed his departure from the kiosk before he soon returned bearing in his thickset hand a Chakabula-local lantern.
“Well, since you insist on risking your life this night, I am sure you’ll need this Funkis. It’s a new thread I put in it today and there is plenty of kerosene to last you even for a two hours trek.” He said sarcastically handing the small lamp to Aunty Funke. Aunty Funke collected it from him with gratitude as if it was money.
“Thank you Ada,” she said. “I’ll bring it back tomorrow when coming to the market. But I don’t have kerosene to replace o” she added. Uncle Alonge ignored her. He tried to pat little Ocheche on the head, but the little girl withdrew her head before the massive veins infested hand that looked like the lines on a map reached it. Ignoring the little girl, he bade the duo good night and opened the net door of his kiosk to let them out. Ocheche doesn’t like the old man; more so, his hands were too rough, so much like sand-paper that carpenters used in polishing the surfaces of roughen woods. As they left the kiosk into the darkness of the night, Ocheche’s heart began to beat faster than normal.
If given the chance, Ocheche would rather they passed the night as usual in uncle Alonge’s kiosk till the following morning. This was because it was already dark and the journey from Igarra to Ewan would last close to an hour on foot not to mention that from Ewan to Akuku would last a few more minutes. Why was Aunty Funke so eager to go home this night? Her home was in Ewan, the town renown in Akoko-Edo for their expertise in making red oil from palm seed. When they reached Ewan, Aunty Funke is expected to take her first to her mother in Akuku before returning to Ewan. But, like she was sure of, Aunty Funke would most probably want her to pass the night with her and her tiny little scary old husband Iti Ogosilo so that her mother could come by and pick her up the following morning. Both families usually kept some reserve of their clothing and household items in each other’s homes should situations where members of any of the two families needed to pass the night at each other’s home ever occurred. This would not be the first time this sort of situation would be arising and as such, this sort of arrangement was worth the while. Despite this, it would be the very first Ocheche would be passing the night in the house without the bizarre couple’s kids. Even though the kids themselves are very creepy kids, Ocheche would have preferred their company to that of their parents. Another reason Ocheche would have wanted to pass the night in Igarra was the route Aunty Funke unilaterally decided they would be taking. The footpath through Oyami River from Igarra to Akuku was a really scary one. Yet Aunty Funke insisted on them taking the route.
Ocheche was the only child of her family. A quiet, eccentric and somewhat strange girl herself, she spoke few words. Her parents were always quarrelling. The father was hot tempered as the mother was lousy and careless. Usually, the causes of their almost every day fight could range from a mere piece of cloth on the sofa to a meal that had too much salt or none at all in it. Yet, Ocheche knew that the real culprit for their fights was poverty. Poverty was a disease that no one should wish for she always said to herself even at her young age. This was why she was determined to go to school, become somebody and rid her family of poverty. Her teacher had told her that it was only through sound education that the shackles of lack can be broken. And she believed her teacher. She rarely made friends because she wanted to have more time for her studies. Even at that, the ones she tried to make at school could not put up with her eccentricity and brilliance. She knew she has some sort of strangeness to her that she could not explain. A thing she was scared of disclosing to her parent for fear of them tagging her witch. Therefore, her only comfort became her books and the pretty rag doll that her mother had made for her when she was in a good mood one weekend. In her good moods, which were always very rare, her mother could be very creative. Tucking the doll under her left arm and holding her sweater with her other hand, she stood waiting patiently for Aunty Funke to be ready.
“Oya lets go. Small girl wey sabi book. How I wish Remi is this brilliant, yet the mumu will stay gossiping with her friends all day rather than read her books.” Aunty Funke, indicating her readiness for the journey said of her last child, another tiny creature like her father, to the little Ocheche.
Ocheche did not know what to make of the statement yet it served as a mild distraction from the darkening thoughts of what the journey they were about to embark on held for them. She didn’t know how to convince the ever bossy Aunty Funke to have a change of mind and allow them pass the night in Igarra till the following morning rather than follow the treacherous route to their home.
Aunty Funke secured herself with her own large handmade wool sweater. She lifted the keg of unfinished red oil and placed it securely on her head; using a rag she had folded into a thick circled bunch which she now placed on her head to make the keg stay still on her head without her having to use her hands to support it. She picked up the Chakabula which had already been lit with her left hand. Taking Ocheche’s right hand, the pair proceeded on the long trek back home through the Oyami River footpath. Heavy rains during the last week had left the dirty road virtually impassable for anyone on foot. Mud and potholes riddled the tiny footpath. Even though they had an option of going through the major road, Aunty Funke refused. Tall shrubs forming walls on both side of the footpath were constantly dripping water on the duo as they trekked underneath them. The croaking of night insects, the bats flying overhead and the hooting of some weird night creatures from a distance made fear to rise from the pit of Ocheche’s stomach and remained settled in her throat. As if to add salt to injury, Aunty Funke began to tell Ocheche some very scary stories of how there was a time were headless people and legless dogs lived and transacted business in Igarra main market. This further added to the fear that had already built a home in the young girl’s heart making her almost mad. If she was scared, it wasn’t fear for herself but for Aunty Funke and her weird husband. She knew there was more to Aunty Funke insistence that her mother left her in her care. More to her eagerness to go home this night. More to her unilateral decision that they took the footpath, the scary stories and the decision that she passed the night in their house. Whatever her intentions, Ocheche knew who she was. She knew what lay inside her, what her maternal grandmother told her about it and how to use it and what she was capable of doing.
The duo crossed Oyami Bridge. The trek on top the wooden bridge that is supported with two large wooden beams almost made Ocheche loose her mind as fear crept into the very fabric of her soul. She never liked heights how much more heights that were supported with some sort of a thread overhead pitch dark depts. The wobbling bridge as they were walking on it made it seem as if the bridge would cave in and send them tumbling into the dark waters below. From the bats that were flying overhead, Ocheche noticed a particular one that was following them as if it was a spy bird sent to give them direction or report on their journey. Suddenly, heavy winds began to whistle as if it was going to rain. The rustling sounds of the tall shrubs as they danced to the rhythm of the wind caused Ocheche to jump and hold tightly to Aunty Funke, but one glance from Aunty Funke calmed her in a manner that not reassurance that she was safe but only fear could have caused her to feel. Aunty Funke then said to her,
“What is the matter? Why are you scared? Those bats are doing their own thing just the way we are doing ours so let them be. We will be home before you know it ok?” in a scary tone, one that Ocheche had never heard her speak in before then, yet she was sure Aunty Funke was about to unleash something in her. Something so terrible she was scared to unleash. Something she had always prayed she never had the need to unleash in her life.
Immediately after Aunty Funke said this, an owl’s mournful cry floated out of the darkness as if in support of what she said. This caused Ocheche to tighten her grip on Aunty Funke’s hand in a desperate quest for what seem like protection. By now pitch darkness had enveloped the landscape so that all that could be seen was the flickering glow of the Chakabula and the shadow of the figures behind it; the two of them. It was a moonless night, and the faint glow of a few stars had faded in between the occasionally moving clouds. Ocheche tripped over the chunks of mud scattered between the muddy ponds and this made Aunty Funke realized that the little girl was tired. They have been trekking for over twenty minutes now and as such she decided it would be unfair not to have a good rest after coming this far in their journey.
“It’s ok, let us rest awhile dear. After like a ten minutes rest, we will continue on our journey. See, we will be home before you know it.” Aunty Funke said even though Ocheche protested. Why rest in this isolated place she thought. Aunty Funke set the lantern and her load down and the weary travellers attempted to get comfortable sitting on a large log of wood that obviously had bowed to the rhythm of the wind in what seem like a mild earthquake had happened in the area prior to their journey which had fell it.
“Aunty, it’s so scary here in the dark. But, pastor said God always watches over his children and always protects them in times of danger?” she said. Aunty Funke’s face concocted into a mocking grin and then she said to the young girl,
“What stupid pastor? Abeggi rest and let start going.” Ocheche was not surprised to hear those words; more so, she didn’t say those words because she necessarily believed her pastor herself but rather because she wanted to put Aunty Funke off. All the same she couldn’t help but feel disgust as Aunty Funke’s face all the more became uglier as she made the remark. She knew how to deal with the likes of the weird woman if she dared her she decided. She needed to act along till she knew what the weird woman was up to before she unleashed the power within her. So she sat still. While still contemplating Aunty Funke’s response, Ocheche was distracted by a sound. The sound that assured her the night would go in a direction she had desperately hoped it would not. A direction that would mean disaster for Aunty Funke whatever her plans were. The sound came from the direction they had travelled from, and the girl’s eyes peered into the ink like darkness. It was very faint, but unlike the other noises she had grown used to along the way. The slow methodical sound was like that of someone walking, and it was coming in their direction. As if the creature approaching was brisk-walking or jogging in a slow motion as it were…..
“Aunty, do you hear that?”
“Hear what? What is it?”
“It’s like someone is coming our direction”. Ocheche said in a shaky and scared voice to Aunty Funke.
“Hear what? There is no one here it is just the two of us” She assured. Ocheche moved closer to her and said,
“It’s somebody else coming! I am very sure, can’t you hear it?”
“Look, there is no one or anything here. You’re just imagining things. We’ve rested enough. Let’s get on home. Oya oya, on your feet, let’s get going.” Aunty Funke picked up the Chakabula took Ocheche’s hand, and the two resumed their journey. After a while, the sound that had unnerved the little girl began again. This time the steps were more distinct, and definitely closer. The nearby ringing of heavy footfalls echoing in the dark and splattering water confirmed to Ocheche that, not only were they being followed, the follower whoever he or she was, whether human or beast, was now running after them.
“Hear it again!” she screamed this time.
“Hush child.” Aunty Funke said as if she heard the sound but suddenly, as if to buttress the fact that no one was following them, she swung the Chakabula around to face the direction Ocheche told her the sound was coming from. She then smiled a weird little smile and said,
“See? There’s nothing there. No one is following us” Even though she was sure of what she was hearing, even though she didn’t believe Aunty Funke, Ocheche all the same secured the grip on Aunty Funke’s hand and clutched her rag doll tightly too. The rag dull was like a kid sister to her. The owl continued its call in the distance, and the night breeze continued to rustle the leaves in the trees still. The bats continued to follow as the night frogs and crickets continued to croak like a parked full stadium. Then Ocheche began to mumble some inaudible chants to herself. The exact words her grandmother had told her to recite when the need arose.
“The air sure smells like rain,” said Aunty Funke. “I think is it going to rain but not to worry dear, we will be home soon. Look there that is the last bend before we get to our junction, our home. You will stay the night. We are expecting a visitor and you will enjoy your stay with us this night before your mother comes for you tomorrow.” Ocheche did not know what to make of those words, yet in the darkness behind them, the steps rang louder. It was the sound of footfalls, like heavy footfalls like that of a giant. What sort of visitor could they be expecting at this hour of night? She thought to herself. Whatever the visitor, this was her opportunity to prove who she really was to everyone she thought.
“Aunty, listen it’s getting closer!” Aunty Funke swung the Chakabula around again and said, “Child, there’s nothing out there”. By now, Ocheche was practically running to catch up with Aunty Funke’s pace. Aunty Funke began to whistle. Her whistling that bares stark resemblance to a dirge at a funeral grew louder, as their home suddenly appeared in the rear. It was a scary little house that looked like a hut. A mud house actually. Though Ocheche had seen the house many times, never before has she seen it up this close at night, and never before has the small cabin like house evoked so much fear in her. Up ahead the warm glow of light from the house glimmered down the side and through the trees. A dog barking in the distance brought her scary whistling to an abrupt end to a welcome relief to Ocheche.
“Fear fear girl, you see, I told you we will be home before you know it.”
“Then let’s run because it is still following us. Can’t you hear? It’s closer and I’m scared. Let’s run!”
“All right dear, but see, I’m telling you there’s nothing there. It is just the two of and nothing more”
Aunty Funke said as she made another sweep around with the Chakabula.
“Here comes daddy!” she cried out soon after they reached the bend as a lone tiny figure with a weird creature appeared suddenly from the darkness; the tiny Iti Ogosilo and his famished looking dog. The dog raced up the footpath leading to where they were and started to wangle its tail this way and that in a weird sign of greeting that didn’t surprise Ocheche.
“Ose ami, my wife, is that you?” Iti Ogosilo called. Ocheche’s heart filled with joy as she heard voices rang out of the darkness. Joy that sprang from the fact that they were not alone and not of safety as it were. But as she did this, she already knew how the night will go……
Finally they were at least in some semblance of a home. They were soon inside the small house. The couple showed Ocheche to her room. The guest room. The room had the kind of smell of some place that had not been inhabited for a while. About two hours later, when the couple thought Ocheche had slept off, they began to discuss. Ocheche was not sleeping. What she was reciting inaudibly had sent sleep on holidays from her eyes. She stayed up for hours. It was only when she decided she had recited everything and was about to pull the little cowry her grandmother had given her that she heard Aunty Funke answering Iti Ogosilo’s question. The words rang in her ears like a watchman’s whistle. They were as shocking as they were scary. Yet she was not disturbed. Now she held on tightly to her cowry.
“Yes Ovami, I heard the steps. He is coming tonight and that was why I convinced the mother to let me bring her home tonight. I didn’t want to frighten the child. I kept assuring her that we were alone, kept swinging the Chakabula around to convince her and kept whistling to assure her there was nothing to be afraid of”
“Oh ok. So, Ofia is coming tonight ehn?”
“Yes he is coming. Ocheche would be very good to use”
“Yes, she will but what will we tell her mother when she comes for her tomorrow?”
“Forget about the mother, I will handle her”
“It’s ok then. So how does Ofia look now?”
“Na wa o Ovami, he was following us all the way from after we cross the bridge o. It was the little girl that first noticed his footfalls. I don’t know how come she was able to notice. This is a bit strange and quiet unusual that she noticed him o because the other girls we have used never noticed Ofia’s steps. And just before we reached here, I turned the Chakabula around one last time when we reached our junction and that was when I saw him. I saw him live, he has no head again o! I don’t know what happened to his head”
“Na wa o. You mean Ocheche heard him following you people? Are you sure we can use this girl this one that she heard Ofia’s footsteps? Are you sure this is a normal girl to use? Hmmm, I have always been wary of that little girl o, I have always thought she is a strange being, that she noticed Ofia calls to question her usability o. Don’t you think we should abandon this project this night….Anyway sha, till he comes sha”
“Yes, till he comes”
Ocheche smiled to herself. That knowing smile. By now she was sitting up on the bed and pressing hard inside her palm the cowry. All she needed to do as soon as the door to the room flung open was for her to throw the cowry in the air and the couple and the visitor will receive the shock of their lives…