A short read by
©Akanbi Albert Afeso
Abuja, FCT, Nigeria
“…it’s another Yuletide, that time of year that wise
men have decided the rest of us must call
Christmas…even though, deep down the depth of their
hearts, they know it is older than Bethlehem and
Babylon…older than Memphis and mankind….”~Afeso
For me, last year’s Christmas was great fun, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s another Christmas. As I made my usual yearly journey home, nothing gave me the slightest premonition this would be the creepiest Christmas for me yet. The date was 24th and I was having a conversation with my mother.
“Mom, please,” I begged.
“That’s enough Ocheche, people just make things up. You know the way people are in Ososo, there is nothing to be afraid of, and Iyin Ogbanako is just a lonely old woman” my mom said like an adult who had said the same thing to naive child many times before. I notice the traces of pity and some non-challance in mom’s voice as she said those words about the tiny old woman who lived in the next street from ours.
Iyin Ogbanako lived alone in a tiny little mud hut that was in the street adjacent to ours. At 80, she still went to the farm, cooked her food herself, did her laundry, ran a small kiosk with creepy wares beside her house and lived all by herself in the small house. Rarely ever seen in public, she was so wrinkled and doubled forward by age that it appeared time was slowly schooling the rest of us about our own mortality in the old woman features.
Mom was going to buy a goat, she intended to slaughter for the festivities from her. She had gone to the usual poultry in Igarra where we usually bought chicken but came back empty handed. Everyone in the area thought Iyin Ogbanako’s home was a haunted abode not to talk of her he-Goat, a creature that had been around for as long as I could remember. Almost every indigene of the whole town avoided the old woman, her small kiosk and live stocks.
During one my frequent visits home for Christmas, I had heard from my friends that, if one bought something, anything from the old woman, one would be haunted somehow afterwards. Mom apparently wouldn’t believe this and she wouldn’t accept that argument from me or anyone else. For her, as a school teacher, it’s was all about the mindset. Psychology. She always maintained that if any of the stories about the old woman were true then they were most likely coincidence.
So, after much argument and pleading, all of which fell on deaf ears, I escorted mom to Iyin Ogbanako’s home. I was so scared when we reached her house that I was careful not to touch anything there.
“Aaah! A customer? In my house? Evesho Odafe orere ogbo ooo. Welcome, miss.” the old woman sang her gratitude to God for a customer come to patronize her and her praises of mom in her characteristic shaky voice from a dark corner in the small, yet poorly lit hut. The sight of this eerie old woman confirmed my fears and all I had heard about her. She looked to me like a bloodcurdling little bat.
“Iyon, I heard that you have a big goat here.” my mum said politely, maintaining a patronizing smile.
“Aaah yes.” said the old woman.
“I like to buy it for the festivities because almost all the Chicken where I used to buy at the poultry in Igarra is already sold out.” my mum said. The old woman grinned, her red eyes shining like that of a cat in a dark room. She pointed to the corner of the house where a dwarf tree stood. A very black goat that in my mind looked like her stood tethered to the withered tree. It looked harmless though, but I was still scared of it. I stayed closed to my mum. The old woman looked at me from the corner of her eyes and,
“My daughter, are you afraid?” she asked with a mischievous grin. I didn’t respond. My mum sighed at me.
“Oh pleaseeeee, she is afraid of everything just like I am sure she is afraid of her very self” and then,
“But I wish to buy that goat and there is nothing you or anyone else can do to convince me otherwise,” she said to me in a whisper like a little child who was about to take delivery of a prized trophy. And so we bought the goat.
The next day being Christmas, before rooster crow, I was still half asleep when I heard some strange guys doing some stuff in the kitchen. Apparently mom had employed the services of some professional butcher. I became all the more uncomfortable. I had found little sleep the night before because the goat’s bleating kept on ringing throughout the night in my head. This would be the worst Christmas ever I thought. Why mom was still insistent on going on with this goat thing was something I could not understand. I picked up my phone and called my best friend Akiroso. After many trials, the lines connected.
“Hello?”, came the electronic voice.
“Hey Akiroso! Listen, can I spend Christmas with you guys? My mum bought a Christmas goat from Iyin Ogbanako. I don’t want to have anything to do with the goat, please let me come over to your house! As we speak, they are about butchering the goat” I said.
First Akiroso screamed upon hearing the old woman’s name and then quickly regaining herself, she replied:
“I am sorry, but I am in Benin City right now. Too late,” she said sadly.
“But I hope you’ll be fine, put your mind at rest sister, nothing to fear, it’s just a goat.”
“What about Taiye? Where is she spending Christmas? And Funmi, have you heard anything from her? Then Ogbomiji, any news where she is spending Christmas?” I asked.
“Well, it’s like Taiye is in Lagos. I don’t know about the others”
Disappointing, we then caught up on a few lost times. Then the line was dead. I was starting to panic. I tried to call the rest of my friends, Anita and Afe. But they wouldn’t answer their call. All the other numbers I tried, in their usual madness, MTN then decided not to connect my calls. So I had no choice but to spend Christmas in my home I asked myself. In my country house with a goat that bleats like a human being that was about to be slaughtered by Boko Haram, what could a teenage girl like me do? I am going to die of fear I thought. I will rather celebrate Christmas with my enemy than in my country home where I would eat of this goat I decided. Mom kept carrying on like all was well.
“Ocheche, what are you still doing in the room? Will you come down here and help us in the kitchen!” my mom’s yelling invaded my room, interrupting my thoughts.
Finally it was Christmas proper. Mom made a very sumptuous meal of pounded yam with egusi soup to match with large chunks of meat from the goat. There were a number of visitors in the house and we were all having dinner together, our young relative who also doubles as our house help was in mom’s room with the various Christmas presents that had been brought for mom. Though really scared, with the digestive juice in my stomach shouting hunger, since mom had rejected the large breakable plates of Christmas rice that neighbours had brought earlier, I ate the goat meat fast, holding my breath with my eyes tightly closed.
I was really hungry and the food was tempting. So I had no choice. The day went well. Christmas had been fun afterall. That night, I made a lot of excuses to go to bed early. But, mom and my uncle that came visiting with us won’t let me be. My older cousin who was also around was on the phone talking with her boyfriend in the balcony. Few minutes into the evening,
“Oh yes! That reminds me, the presents from the teachers, let’s open them,” my mom said.
“Uhm, can I go up to my room now? I can open mine tomorrow,” I said.
“No, you stay here,” said my mom with a note of finality. I was sad yet decided to stay. As I made my way reluctantly to where mom and uncle were, we heard a scream. It was the house help’s voice. What happened? We all ran to the room. We got into the room just in time to see him choking on the floor and foaming in the mouth.
“NO!” my mom screamed. Then she began trying to save him. My uncle rushed to her side to help her. I just stood there. Lost. Dumb founded. Jesus! The goat, I was thinking.
“OCHECHE HELP! Don’t just stand there staring” mom yelled. Still I did nothing.
Then I began to shake all over.
The house help began to jerk violently. The phone. We must call the doctor I thought. Yet I was transfixed to one spot like a statue. The other visitors and my cousin by now had rushed into the room and they all began to scream too. Then a violent hamattern gust blew the cotton on the window.
And in that fleeting moment I saw her. Iyin Ogbanako. She was passing by the house, going to only-God-knows-where. She stopped abruptly, turned her face and then smiled at me and continued on her journey. Fear took over me.
“Ocheche…” she called after pausing a second time. I wanted to die. I just wanted to disappear. Then I summoned the courage.
“Mom” I called. Did you see that? Did you see Iyin Ogbanako?”
“See who? Will you come here and help us?” my mom bellowed at me.
Then another hamattern breeze, the cotton flew higher this time and I saw the goat. It was standing by Iyin Ogbanako and they were both laughing. They were holding the mischievous smile as if for a photographer.
“Mommmmmmm!” I yelled, “Can’t you or anyone else see her!” No one saw her. In fact, everyone thought I was mad. The last I remembered was some faint whispers of how they would take the house help to the hospital and then I drifted off and fainted.
I woke up in a hospital room. The small room in the hospital was not well lit. The bed was tiny so that it could only contain just one patient without room to be well relaxed. Yet my mom and cousin were hurdled in the bed beside the one I was lying on, sleeping. In fact, they were snoring. The ceiling fan was screeching slowly like it was on a slow motion. I sighed. I was safe I thought. Then I heard footsteps in the corridor and as if the door was opening.
“Who is there?” I called out. At first no response only the approaching footfalls like the person coming was counting steps. Then room door opened and Iyin Ogbanako in tow of the goat, a leash around the goat’s neck in her hand, walked into the hospital room. Shocked, I screamed.
“Why are you screaming Ocheche, didn’t you enjoy the goat meat? ” she asked and let out a scary laugh. Mom and cousin were still snoring.
I began to scream. I creamed, screamed and screamed till I…