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Idemmili: The first tale

It had rained for seven days. The clouds let loose heavy torrents that drowned the sound of laughter and washed dead animals along bush paths. When the unrelenting downpour finally reduced to a drizzle, the villagers crawled out of their huts and squinted at the daylight.

Mazi Obileke spat out his chewed stick, ‘Idemmili has finished throwing her tantrum.’

It was a slow day. The villagers sharpened their tools and tried to move firewood out of the drizzle. Women went over to their neighbours to borrow salt and forage for news. The men sat in their wrappers, drinking old palmwine.

The kegs were almost empty when Ofoma, the town crier showed up.

‘Ofoma nwoke m,’ Mazi Obileke called out, ‘I hope this is a social call.’

‘Unfortunately, it is not.’ He coughed, ‘I have shouted myself hoarse, but I must make my rounds before the sun is in the middle of the sky.’

‘Why is that? What news is that urgent?’

‘Even I do not know, but Nwaanyi Nweke has demanded that we gather at Idemmili’s shrine before then.’

Mazi Obileke laughed, ‘She should ask Idemmilli to first let us see the sun, then we will know to come when it has reached the peak of the sky.’

‘Maziiii, even a child on its belly can tell the time on a cloudy day. I am sure the goddess knows that.’

‘Indeed, indeed. I best get my sons and head to the shrine. We don’t have much time left.’

The villagers gathered around the shrine. The air rippled with murmurs and subdued conversation.

‘Why are we here?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe the goddess wants to make a demand.’

Ahn-ahn. She has locked us in for seven days. What more does she want? Should we all drown ourselves?’

‘Shhh! Mechie onu. The gods have ears.’

Nwaanyi Nweke stepped out of the shrine, backwards, seven steps. Then she swivelled to face the crowd, her beads jangling over her sagged breasts.

‘People of Nnobi! Give me your ears, for this may be your last opportunity to heed my warning.’

The villagers hushed.

‘It has been one moon since you held the meeting where you banned the young men from visiting Idemmili’s river. Yes, we all know that about this period, every year, a young man enters Idemmili’s waters and never rises again. Yes, we mourn. Every year, a mother must lose her child. I commiserate. But it is necessary. I remember telling you, the people of Nnobi, that a family is privileged who Idemmili swallows their son, for their yams sprout and their daughters bloom. The goddess has been generous to us, but Nwaanyi Nweke was called twisted and vile for asking that Idemmili be allowed to claim her yearly sacrifice. We do not question Ikenga who lets your sons die in battle, or Ani who smashes the bodies of your fathers as they climb the palm tree, or rips the life out of your mothers in childbirth. We do not question Owummiri who turn your sisters to ogbanjes and takes them away. We don’t question Amadioha, Ekwensu, Alu. But Idemmili claims hers and the villagers boycott her rivers.’

She spinned to face the shrine, seven steps forward, the she spun again. her face contorted with rage, she pointed her staff at the crowd.

A bu m Idemmili, Idemmuo, head of heads, pillar of the oceans in the sky, custodian of the bowl of the living and the dead, I hold the knife, I hold the yam, and I will serve you what you deserve. Mothers of Nnobi, weep no more. Tonight your sons will rise and walk among you. Sons of Nnobi, the ball is in your hands. Idemmili has spoken.’

Nwaanyi Nweke’s shoulders stooped, she leaned on her staff for support and entered her hut.

The first wail was heard at dusk.

Neighbours gathered at Mazi Agusike’s house. His wife sat on the floor, her torn wrapper barely covering her. She rolled her legs in the mud.

‘I saw him.’ She clutched her heart, ‘I saw my Ebube. My son. Nwa eji m eme onu. Idemmili took him, now she has sent him back.’

O zugo. It’s alright.’ Her husband put a hand on her shoulders.

‘It is not alright. My son is back but he is not my son anymore. Biko pray to the gods. Idemmili has cursed us.’

The neighbours offered their sympathies and returned to their homes.

‘I feel sad for Mama Ebube.’ Ahunne said as she and Obileke returned home.

‘Yes. She really has not been the same after losing her son to the river. Perhaps Agusike should marry another woman to take care of him.’

‘It is not necessary.’ Ahunne snapped.

It was dark when pandemonium broke. The dead sons of Nnobi filed into village, back to their father’s houses. Naked bodies, vacant eyes. They left trails of water and mouthed words that no one could hear. They trailed after their mothers as everyone ran in search of safety.

‘My heart has broken again.’ A mother wept as her husband pulled her from the house.

Gathered at the village square, everyone chattered wildly.

‘Let us go back to Idemmili’s shrine! Nwaanyi Nweke can make this stop.’

‘She is only a messenger. She has delivered her message.’

‘What do we do? How do we fight what is already dead.’

‘They’re not here to fight. Let us hand them their mothers so that they can go.’

‘Hand over my wife? Are you mad?’

‘Please give me to my son, I want to die.’

Tufiakwa! You will not die.’

Even the dogs were agitated, barking louder and louder.

‘They are coming! They are coming for us! Something must be done.’

‘Idemmili wants our sons. Whom shall we give her?’

‘Take Okeke’s third son. He is useless.’

‘Your head is useless! You hear?’

‘Let all the men go to the river so that she will choose.’

‘Who will protect the women?’

More screaming. The walking dead had traced their mothers to the village square. Mama Ebube ran to her son. ‘Ebube nwa m.’

As she touched him, she fell to the floor convulsing, then went still.

The crowd scattered in every direction. Men picked up their daughters and ran. Dogs were trampled. Obileke ran with his family. At a distance, his son Udo pulled back.

‘Papa, Mama, forgive me.’

‘What are you doing?’

‘Our family needs divine blessing more than I’m needed.’

Ahunne crumpled to the floor, ‘My son, don’t do this.’

‘Papa, I am the least of your sons and you know it.’ He stared Obileke in the eyes.

Obileke nodded, ‘End this madness.’ He picked his wife and the family kept running.

It was still at the bank of Idemmili’s river- except for the occasional undead rising out of the water. Udo had passed a number of them on his way, but they didn’t even see him. They were off to find their mothers.

‘Idemmili! I am not a priest and I do not know the right things to say. I’m probably not the strongest or the most worthy in the land, but I am here now, and that makes me the bravest. Please accept me as a sacrifice. Let there be peace in the village. Let my family prosper. Let my mother find solace-‘

The water rose and engulfed him.

_____

‘I’m surprised. It’s always the little guys that have the most to say.’

Udo’s lids were heavy. He struggled to open his eyes. ‘Huh?’

‘You’re definitely not the one I would have chosen, but you made a point with the braveness. Plus men are not in the habit of offering themselves to me.’

Udo opened his eyes. He was in a huge room. Gold dust sparkled on the clay walls. Cowrie-lined windows displayed sea creatures swimming back and forth. Stars twinkled through the ceiling. The bed on which Udo lay was soft as morning dew on grass. Idemmili stood over him.

Idemmili, she was gorgeous. Her skin was the colour of clear honey, her teeth sparkled like fresh palmwine, her eyes twinkled with mischief. She was naked, except for the beads that adorned her. Cowries in her curly black hair, corals around her neck, between the supple mounds of her breasts, circling her small waist, they draped over her full hips and encircled her ankles. She had gold markings on her skin, intricate designs from her shoulders to her feet.

Udo gulped.

‘Don’t worry. You’re quite safe. I can’t kill what is already dead.’

‘I’m- I’m dead?’

‘Not entirely.’ She grinned.

Udo knelt before her, ‘Idemmili, please spare my family, spare the village.’

‘I heard you the first time.’ She waved a hand.

‘Okay ma.’

‘Your people are fine. I just gave them cool stories to tell their grandchildren.’

‘What of Mama Ebube?’

‘Casualty. Her fault, not mine.’ She inspected her nails.

‘So ma, what happens now?’

‘Enough of that ‘Ma’ business. Do I look old?’

She looked about nineteen. ‘No ma. Sorry- you’re beautiful.’

Idemmili sat beside Udo and put an arm around his shoulder. She smelled like roasted palm fruit on a harmattan morning. Udo inhaled.

‘Why did you offer yourself to me?’

‘I- I wanted, it was the right thing to do.’

‘You humans surprise me. An entire village and the only one who offered…’ she shook her head,

‘I’m slightly amused, slightly insulted, but most of all I’m curious. When did you know?’

Udo shrugged, ‘I don’t know. I’ve just always felt that way. Papa knows too but he’ll never admit it to himself or to anyone. Mama, she doesn’t know, but she’s probably the only person that will still love me anyway.’

‘Interesting.’ She stood.

‘I’m also surprised ma.’

‘Why?’

‘You’re not a mermaid.’

‘No I’m not. But I get wet more times than they do.’ She laughed.

‘Why humans… Ma?’

Idemmili rolled her eyes. ‘I have known the gods forever, literarily. They bore me. And the males are scared of a woman with a python bigger than theirs.’

‘Python?’

‘Eke.’ A snake crawled to Idemmili and wrapped itself around her.

‘He’s my messenger, my pet.’

‘I know.’

‘Of course. Everybody knows Eke, Mr. Popular.’ She stroked his head.

‘Also, there is something about the human spirit, when it is stripped from that pathetic mortal body. They become like no god I’ve seen before, but they don’t know it. Their inexperience outside mortality makes them easy to handle. When you have had a human spirit, there is no going back.’ She bit her lip.

‘Why do you need a new one every year?’

‘I told you, I get bored.’ She picked the python and danced around the room with it. Soft music wafted around with her.

‘Udo, I’m bored now.’ She dropped the snake and it slithered over to Udo, raised its head as if poised to strike.

He was uneasy, ‘You can’t kill what is already dead, ma.’

‘No, but you aren’t dead.’

‘I’m not?’

‘Your act of courage has earned you your life and the safety of your people, but I am insulted that you even thought to offer yourself to me. What did you expect?’ She faced Udo. Her eyes sparked.

‘I don’t know.’

‘You didn’t even rise when you opened your eyes and saw me. Limp as an ugu stalk.’ She spat. ‘No one has ever resisted me. For you, it wasn’t even a struggle. I practically saw a man when I gazed into the mirror of your desires.’

‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish I could make you happy, make my father proud. It would be an abomination for me to even seek happiness for myself, the village would kill me.’ Tears ran down Udo’s face. Idemmili wiped them with her thumb.

‘Don’t cry, Udo. Tonight you showed more courage than anyone in Nnobi. Your father is already proud of you. As for making me happy…pft. I’m a goddess. I always get what I want, one way or another. Nnobi ought to know this.’

Udo sniffed and nodded.

She cocked her head at him, ‘Let it not be said that you shed tears in Idemmili’s chambers and they hit the ground in vain. Go back to parents as they would rather have you be.’

Eke struck.

The villagers gathered at the stream, searching and praying.

‘It is of no use. The goddess has claimed him.’

Ahunne placed mud from the river bank on her head, ‘Idemmili bring back my child, bikozienu.’

The river rose and ejected a human, naked but for the python coiled around its body. Eke unfurled itself and slithered away.

‘Udo!’ Ahunne rushed to the body. It was female. She undid her wrapper and covered the girl.

‘Who is that? Whose daughter is that?’ Others closed in to gaze at the girl.

The girl coughed, opened her eyes. She lit up when she saw Ahunne, ‘Mama! I’m back?’

‘Yes you are, my child. Thank the goddess.’

To read stories of other gods by other writers, check out @mythologyAfrika on twitter.

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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Exorcism

IMG-20120618-00657

I need to be exorcised of these demons, they push me beyond my limitations, breaking boundaries dredged up from ancestors long gone. I need to shut these voices, telling me I am different. What do they know? This intelligence, of what use is it to me? I don’t need it in the kitchen, where my hands have been trained to cook onugbu soup as rich as my mother’s. How can this frail waist and skinny arms birth and cuddle a child? Of what use is my head if it cannot bow in submission.

I need to be exorcised, to fall back in line, before society notices that I am different. This madness I call imagination, I need it doused. Of what use is my hand, holding a pen while the broom lies neglected. These legs, I need them to stop. Pursuing career, outrunning suitors.

I need, need to be exorcised till I am just another African woman.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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As Told by an Onlooker

2012-08-05 13.13.30

Today, I stood by the road in New Haven, Enugu, hoping to get a cab. A blue Honda CRV sped past me and careened into the island dividing the lanes. The car didn’t tumble or anything, so no one cared.

Then we heard groaning. Someone writhed on the ground about a meter from the car. Her wrapper had fallen off (I assume the victim was a woman). The young woman driving alighted, saw the victim and did a Nollywood wail, jumping up and down, stretching her hands from her head to the sky and back.

Five seconds after she started wailing, she and the victim were crowded by onlookers. Even drivers stopped to get a better view of what was happening. I stood across the road, wondering whether to go over there or not. The victim was obviously in pain, writhing on the floor, naked bum in the air. A crowd of about fifty people surrounded them, shouting. The woman continued to wail.

Shopkeepers behind me yelled, ‘Take that dying person to the hospital! Hospital ooo!’

The dying person kept dying. The crowd had grown so much I could barely see the victim. Five minutes had gone by. The argument gave way to more wailing. Women in the crowd put their hands on their heads and wept. I was a bit confused. Is it customary to gather and watch someone die before taking them to a hospital?

The victim hadn’t died yet, but wasn’t moving around as much. I said a prayer for her. No one had put her in a car yet. What were they waiting for? Maybe I should have gone there and done it myself.

Finally, the victim was lifted by some young men and put in the backseat of the Honda. Some of them got in with her. It was very cramped as the driver had two passengers of her own. Three seconds after the car drove off, the police arrived, asked a few questions and ran after the car on foot.

I hailed a taxi and left.

Moral of the story:

  1. In the face of crisis, don’t just say a prayer and then wait for someone else do the right thing.
  2. We NEED emergency healthcare services, ambulances, paramedics. A layman moving an injured person may aggravate the injury (and subsequently have a hand in the person’s death). No one wants to have a hand in the death of a stranger. So people would be reluctant to try to help. With the number of road accidents we have in Nigeria, one would wonder why the hospitals private and public, don’t have ambulances in waiting, with phone numbers printed boldly on them.

Photo Credit: Chizitere Ojiaka

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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She Sees Me

It’s ironic that she sees me everyday, yet she doesn’t know I exist, has never heard my voice. Talking to her would be pointless because we do not speak the same language. But she talks to me.

Sometimes she blows me a kiss and says ‘You’re beautiful.’ I mouth the words back at her.

Once, she came to me, tears streaking down her face. She said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I didn’t ask what was going on, I just cried with her. Afterwards, I watched her redo her make-up.

Sometimes she dances for me, sometimes she sings. She doesn’t have a pretty voice, but I’ll never tell her that.

Today, she read me a speech. I didn’t understand it, but her eyes begged me to believe what she said. When she was done, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Wish me luck.’ I mouthed the words back at her. She smiled.

She sat at her study table and scribbled in a book, unaware that I still stood and watched her. She will never know that I exist.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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That New Year New Me BS

new year

Many people will begin this year living by resolutions that they’ll probably drop halfway (if they even make it halfway), but that’s okay.
You may not succeed if you try, but you will not succeed if you don’t try.So go ahead, start the year with with a brand new attitude!
Happy New Year 😀

“…undefeated, because we have gone on trying”

-T.S. Eliot

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Your Killer Legs

You’re riding in your boyfriend’s car, legs crossed on the dashboard. You sit that way because you’re a hottie and you know it. How else will he get to notice your manicured toenails, painted pink. Or that you waxed your legs and they’re smoother than his ride will ever be.

Maybe he notices, notices how your legs run gracefully from your shorts. Maybe his eyes are traveling up to the rise of flesh above the V of your blouse. Maybe he’s enthralled by the way you delicately finger the statement necklace resting in the valley of your chest. Maybe that’s why the car speeds off the road and hits the tree.

Who knows?

But it’s a good car, with a working SRS airbag installed beneath the dashboard upon which your legs are resting. The airbag bursts open, eager to save you. The force snaps your legs. Broken bones rip through flesh and stab you in the chest.

You die.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Love Someone and Go to Hell

Precious Little Rascals

Children are adorable. Until they turn around and you see those devilish, red tails poking through their clothes.

At home with my family were a bunch of little cousins, come to spend the holidays. After a week of running after the kids, trying to keep them out of trouble, I lay on the couch, enjoying a moment’s peace.

When I heard 4yr old girl and 5yr old boy approaching, I did what any reasonable adult would do, I played dead.

‘See! Aunty is sleeping. Let us go and whisper in her ear.’4yr old girl put her mouth to my ear, ‘I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you… fsdjhwrqjdooieijfs.’

5yr old boy was next. He whispered ‘I love you’ in my ear, then kissed my cheek.

‘WHAT?’ 4yr old girl shrieked, ‘You said you love her?’

‘Yes.’

‘You will go to hell.’

‘Why will I go to hell?’

‘Don’t you know that when you say you love somebody, you will go to hellfire?’

‘It’s a lie.’

‘It’s true!’

‘Lie!’

‘True!’

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized