The antidote.

Below the cluster of the banana trees, under the velvety beauty of the half moon..my Grandfather immersed me in the murky depths of the Crystal pond. The pond was his crystal ball; where he beheld the future…saw visions. When a custodian of the gods died, before his corpse was committed to mother earth, his tongue, two thumbs and heart was retrieved from his remains. The heart-his experience, the extremities-his works and his tongue-his oratory talents. Which seer could function effectively and efficiently without any of these?

My Grandfather came from a long line of seers and wizards. He was given up to the gods early in age. His exact age at that time not known. Record keeping wasn’t the best back then. He was a promised child of his parents, a proverbial Samuel. His mother had him late, her only child. He never married, custom forbade the custodian of the gods to cater to a mortal woman but he had one son. A son he raised with single-mindedness. My father. My father was sent off to learn a trade when he became a teenager in  neighboring town. He excelled and was very successful. How could he not be? He had drunk from the crystal pond. The pond that gave others light surely will go before the only offshoot of its caregiver illuminating his path and flooding him with favor.

As a child I would visit Onilekeara, my grandfather frequently with my father. I would sit and play across the yard while they spoke in varying undertones. He was a sight to behold, my grandfather. He wore six long braids, from his temple to his nape. Each braid adorned with white cowries, the braids were long and stopped before the swell of his buttocks. He always wore a snow-white loin cloth indoors but out of his abode, his beautiful ibante covered his upper torso and a while long wrapper his lower body.He was a tall man with muscular arms and an immobile face. You could never know what he was thinking, his eyes a deep pool of brown pebbles, his skin like polished mahogany. That he loved my father and I was obvious though. We were his only family. My father he called Ife. Love. And I, Ifemeji. The love of two.

My father feared for my safety. He worried being a girl-child I would be subject to less-of-a-life. I was young with keen ears and the wisdom not to share with my mother whatever I heard during those many visits. Later in life when my choice of spouse was determined by my father but my heart chose another, I was accused of adultery. My husband was several years older and successful. My father chose him wanting to secure my future. My in-laws didn’t like me…I was too powerful a force in the household and they wanted to get rid of me. I maintained my innocence even though I knew I was guilty. His family insisted I insisted I drink a mysterious brew from their village necromancer. The brew would unleash instant death on the guilty after the victim foams in the mouth and undergoes a seizure. My husband’s protests were drowned out by his mother, an old shrew…my hatred for her was mutual.

On  that fateful dawn, on my knees before the village square with my husband and his family in tow….all foaming in the mouth with hatred like a bunch of vampires before their prey. I took the gourd which contained the brew with steady hands and raised it to my lips. I drank my fill and jumped to my feet. I smashed the empty gourd on the stony ground, stamped on the broken pieces further with my slender feet. My husband lounged forward prostrate before my feet, his arms around my ankles…..crying…poor man. His mother swooned in a dead faint, she never recovered.

From the corner of my eyes, I saw the flash of white of his ibante…and under my tongue a cowrie-the antidote.

For the love of God.

My friend Elisha is going to be fifty. The big 5-0! We met twenty seven years earlier at NYSC camp. It was a sunny afternoon. I was sitting on the ground after the routine early morning exercise, practicing my toasting skills on a very beautiful light skinned girl from Anambra. Funny, how after so many years I can still remember the state she hailed from but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name. He reminded me of the wrestler Mighty Igor. Something about the build of his torso..the set of his shoulders. I was a mad wrestling fan back in the eighties. He was from the east…spoke the same language as the chick…and she preferred him to me. I didn’t mind. Before camp was over, he had moved on to other waters. He was a great orator. I enjoyed listening to his stories, his experiences. I came from the south-south and though had schooled in Lagos orientation was quite similar. He was raised by staunch Catholics, so was I. That was part of the attraction,I guess. Our parents religious leanings made our upbringing so familiar.

As life drew us in different directions, our bond waned and we lost touch. We met again a couple of years ago in the banking hall of Guarantee Trust Bank; where I had gone to open a domiciliary account. Elisha was the customers service manager and had sighted me on the queue. We stayed in touch since then. He was ‘happily’ married to Malinda.I was and still remained a bachelor. We would meet one or twice a month. Dates that always coincided with his meetings at work, so Malinda would not burn a gasket. He still was a great talker. We would discuss politics, his relationship with his wife and then religion. I would listen to his woes on his marriage to an insufferably insecure woman. I couldn’t understand why he stayed with her. I am not a religious person. I mean, to be honest, I said my prayers every morning but I wasn’t one of those people who ‘marked register’ in church every Sundays like Elisha, my parents and my brother-Albert. My younger brother had chosen the Pentecostal route. All his sentences were peppered with..GO said this…and GO said that...like he couldn’t think independent of whatever the general overseer of his church said. It wouldn’t irritate me half as much if he quoted from the bible…but no..it was always a quote from his g.o.

Anyway, back to Elisha and his ‘cross’ Malinda. She was the last fish his hook ever sunk into while wading the youthful waters during our NYSC days. I never got over why he married her. He told me then she got pregnant..and her religion forbade abortion. I told him then, her religion forbade what led to the pregnancy, too. All of a sudden, she became holier than thou after the shagging brought forth it’s reward. I never pass judgements anyways….Lord knows I would have dodged that bullet. Back then, I always thought their relationship would eventually fizzle out…so many do when you are younger, grasping for straws in the darkness of immaturity. So, imagine my surprise when we reconnected and he told me he had married her. And not just married but had four children with her.

She was a difficult woman at best, belligerent at worse. A very insecure girlfriend who counted condoms and smelt under wears. She would start a fight with any woman…young or old who lingered after exchanging pleasantries with Elisha. In marriage, her insecurities grew leaps and bounds. My friend had withdrawn from family and friends alike more out of the embarrassment of constantly having to apologize for her bizarre behavior. Despite the difficulties he faced being married to her, my friend was determined to make his marriage work. He said since she found the Lord in church…she was more ‘manageable’.

At least, until a ‘sister’ in church decided to spend too much time with Elisha trying to discuss the process of opening a second checking account for business purposes alone. Malinda had been waiting in the car for him…and had come looking when he still had not come out of the church. On sighting the sisi who had ‘blocked’ her husband…all hell literally broke loose. She dragged the lady to the ground and proceeded to kick and punch whilst cursing her out loud. Elijah said it took, two security men, two deacons, himself included to pull his wife off the poor woman. And it only happened because Malinda paused for a second to re-tie her wrapper which had become undone…exposing her ample buttocks to the full glare of gawking church members and on lookers who had been attracted by all the raucous.The woman had to be hospitalized. Elisha was marked as the brother with the crazy, possessed wife. Elisha said that was the pivotal point in his marriage. I’m thinking..talk about being long suffering. He decided to take her for deliverance. I remember he looked at me like I had suddenly spawn a tail and an extra head when I suggested, maybe, just maybe what she needed was a therapist.

So, today I am visiting his church. There’s a special thanksgiving program for his 50th birthday. I want to see up close and personal what kind of message they preach. What kind of  water do they drink. Elisha has been with his ‘cross’ for almost twenty seven years. He has grown in patience and resilience…but it takes a special anointing which I want to partake of…no joke…to stay hinged to that kind of fire.

At least, until a ‘sister’ in church decided to spend too much time with Elisha trying to discuss the process of opening a second checking account for business purposes alone.

To eat and dream.

I lay in the trunk of my Father’s small ‘danfo’ bus. It was bought many years ago, long before I was born. A priced possession of my father. The only source of income for our family of three. My parents had me early. Though my mother tried for many years to have another child, she eventually gave up.My father was unlike many men in our town. He never cared for another child.He resisted the pressure to take on another wife. I always heard him tell my mother: “This one is worth more than a thousand!”

I had feigned an illness to get out of school that morning. My mother knew I was lying. I had no fever and had consumed my breakfast of ogi and akara with gusto. ‘You are spoiling him’ my mother protested while my father prepared to take me to the motor park with him. My father shrugged his broad shoulders and carried me on his back towards the vehicle. From the corner of my eyes I saw the beginning of a smile tug at my mother’s lips. The sun had risen with a vengeance and my body quickly drenched in sweat. For a brief moment, I almost regretted getting out of school. Just then, I caught a whiff of Mama Wosi’s ata dindin. Mama Wosi was the sole local caterer of the motor park where my father ferried his customers back and forth. I loved her food. Her culinary expertise was known far and wide our little town of Ekunkan. I could tell from my vantage position and without opening eyes eyes she had just added iru to her famous sauce. My stomach started to rumble.

Suddenly the weather changed and dark clouds gathered overhead. I felt the familiar gust of wind heralding rain. The cool breeze calmed my initial clammy skin and I quickly closed my eyes in pretense as I saw father approach. He shrugged off his old lace agbada and covered my body, partially obscuring my vision. I felt him touch my temple and the gentle brush of the palm of his hand on my head. Public display of affection was frowned upon generally in our clime. It spoiled children…. many believed. Love your children but don’t show them much fondness. Hard love. Something that was completely foreign in my relationship with my father.

On sensing my father’s departure I opened my eyes to peep through the holes of the agbada that partially covered my head but the full length of my body. My father sat a few feet away sharing stories with Mama Wosi. She always sat before two big black ajase pots frying dundun, dodo and her famous ata dindin. Her wares, though simple were a delicacy. She tied her ankara wrapper over a brightly colored blouse. Her hair always well hidden by a loosely tied scarf. Her pearly white dentition exposed as she listened to my father…her faithful customer. She was never without her smile, even early in the mornings while she prepared her pots and pans for the day…while she brushed her teeth and tongue with her pako. I always wondered what her hair looked like under her scarf. Was it jet black and full like my mother’s. My mother’s hair was thick and hung like a curtain down her shoulders whenever it wasn’t woven.My father loved to run his hands through her hair when no one was watching. He loved it when she braided it in shuku and always clapped his hands in delight whenever she returned from her onidiri.

I could tell Mama Wosi liked my father…very few people didn’t. When she listened to other customers..she didn’t smile as wide and she always sent food to me. My mother noticed, too, but she was a very emotionally secure woman and apart from teasing Father about Mama Wosi once or twice, she never batted an eye lid to the constant stream of food.

I watched the exchange between them and while the tantalizing smell of her sauce pervaded the air around me, I fell into a fitful sleep.

I watched from a half cracked doorway as Olomitutu -my paternal granduncle, the local seer brought out his divination mat from his ‘power house’. Olomitutu was widely regarded as the voice of the gods, though many in our little town had gone the way of western religion, a large percentage of the older generation were still partial to him. He was a kind man with several wives and many children. Many of his children were older than Father but he still had a couple of children I went to school with. He was a small, dark man whose head was always clean shaven. He always wore a long loose white cassock. His eyebrows were snow white and he spoke in a big, gruff voice that didn’t seem to belong to his body. He carried a cane; it was short and black with a brass knob on top.

Olomitutu muttered under his breath a prayer: Aranmalo bring me good tidings today. My stomach is empty. My wives and children are hungry. Make a way for us today.

A woman appeared in the horizon with a limp child straddled to her back. The baby’s head flopped from side to side, like a rag doll being tossed by the wind. It’s eyes were closed and its mouth was wide open…like it was about to shout. The mother was screaming…. very agitated; the father- a burly man was struggling to catch up with his wife…his face contorted in tears.A small crowd followed closely behind….all headed towards Olomitutu.

Baba e’gbami! The mother continued to scream, stomping her feet…raising dust. The baby was now in his father’s arms..who stuttered and sputtered his words drowned in his wife’s wails. Olomitutu ran into his power house and returned almost immediately with a small gourd  which carried a murky liquid. He held the baby’s head with his left hand and poured some of the liquid down the child’s throat. Barely a second later, the baby gurgled a cry and then sneezed. There was instant jubilation from the massive crowd that had swelled from the pandemonium . The mother wiped her tears and broke into a dance while the father straddled his baby across his shoulders. A ram was slaughtered before my grand uncle. The parents were well-to-do. Olomitutu’s prayers had been answered.

Alabi! My father shook me awake. The agbada had fallen aside. It was getting dark. My eyes caught the yellow bowl Mama Wosi always served my meals in cradled in his right hand. My dundun and ata dindin was ready. My stomach rumbled loud enough for my Father to hear. He threw his head back and laughed. I squinted, stretched and swallowed saliva.”Come and eat boy”.My father smiled. We must all eat and dream, I thought as I took my first bite.