Published on December 14th, 2012 | by The Alchemist18
The murmurs dropped and ceased altogether as the man at the head of gathering finally spoke. Their voices were replaced with the music of the forest that they stood next to. Crickets and toads cried louder, as if they too, had sensed the dramatic importance of this moment.
“A child who is carried on the back cannot know how far the journey is.”
The recipient of these words sat still in front of the elder. Her curved back exposed as her wrapper rode low to accommodate her hunching. She ran her fingers through the sand; making words and drawings nobody but her could decipher.
“We have decided to put you down from our backs.”
A lone wail from the back of the gathering rose and drowned out the forest animals. It was loud and piercing and sounded like a part of her was being let out. It lifted and shrouded all those present so that most people cast their faces down and looked away; almost ashamed to be witnesses to a mother’s pain.
“Be quiet, Abeni.” He waited till it was quiet again; then continued: “It is only the mother that can carry the child who bites. But we won’t let this happen again. Instead, you will go. We will not curse you; it is a terrible thing when a man curses his child. But you will leave us.”
The crowd parted to make way for the mother bustling to the front; her wailing resuming.
It was only when her mother reached the front that Arike lifted her head. Her startling bright eyes appearing even brighter because of the heavy kohl surrounding them. Feet shuffled and people looked away as the mother and child stared at each other. One deathly still, the other dissolving to the ground in tears, hands outstretched.
Omode e gun’gi ogede,
A yo baara, ase wi…
“Don’t you wish we had a tree?”
“No. Not really. Naija la wa; we don’t need trees to make Christmas Christmas. Just bring on the food!”
“I wish we had a tree.”
“What should we cook this time ar…”
“Are we getting it or not?”
“Not if you’re talking to me like that!”
“Whatever. I’ll go find a branch to hang above my door or something.”
She made her home away from home. Resigned to a life of exile, she became one with the elements and cried each day for the mother’s love she’d been wrenched from.
Adebisi watched her daughter enter the kitchen in a hurry then slap the door behind her. She frowned.
“Evening.” Was all she got from her daughter as Yinka dumped her umbrella carelessly and began to exit the kitchen.
Adebisi snapped. “Come back here!”
Yinka hesitated then turned slowly to face her mother; eyebrows quirked. “Yes?”
“Yes?! When did you become so rude? What has gotten into you lately?”
Yinka stared off into space to the left of her mother.
“Someone’s been following me.”
Adebisi dropped the wooden spoon. “What?”
“I said someone’s been following me.” Yinka repeated impatiently; her foot beginning to tap a scattered tune on the tiles.
“Who? Why? Are you sure? Following ke?”
“I really dunno, mum.” She took a deep breath and settled on a stool; putting aside her attitude for the moment. “I think it’s one of those cele people. At first, I thought the person just lived on school’s street but I saw the same person outside Amaka’s house and when David and I went out last week.”
“Ha! Why are you just saying this? Cele? Wearing white?”
“Yeah, I assume she’s cele. Who else wears white all the time? Those long garment types.”
“Have any of your friends noticed her too?”
A silence crept into the kitchen.
“Look, I’m not making this up. You know what? Forget it..”
The slam of a room door was the only reply Adebisi got.
Mo mo a kan ni re o;
Ori dara abo.”
The elder sighed. “Your daughter can’t come back, Abeni.”
“I have accepted, Wise One.”
“Then what is this about?”
“Please, can we.. can you set her free?”
“Free. A-ti-kekere j’ologun..”
Yinka turned again on her bed that could accommodate three of her; the generator house was somewhere below her window and it was either she slept in heat or noise. She groaned and lifted her pillow to cover her head. When the fat pillow couldn’t keep out the generator’s growling, she sat up to hunt for her iPod, hoping she could drown it out with music instead.
It was after her feet touched the soft rug that she saw it. The flutter in the corner of her room; the white flutter. Yinka’s exterior went still even as her internal organs began to skip and hammer in frenzied rhythm.
The smell came to Yinka before the voice. She smelled like grass after rain; that heavy smell of nature. Yinka refused to look; thinking perhaps if she ignored this madness, it would disappear. But then the voice drifted to her; it was airy and light and teased her ears like a slight wind.
“You destroyed my home,” the apparition in white said.
Yinka said nothing. Her breath escaped her in short bursts.
“I had no home; I found a home then you destroyed it. You did not seek the protection of the oil of palms. You destroyed my home.”
Yinka turned her head slightly and choked back a scream when she found a girl standing at the foot of her bed. She recoiled at the sight of her eyes; they were so bright; preternaturally so. They looked like there was some artificial lighting inside her head.
“Dunno.. what.. what you’re talking about.”
“How can you not? Ojo t’a ba be ‘takun.. L’ewe re n ro.”
Yinkas’s forehead folded into furrows; now utterly confused. “What home?”
“They sent me away from home. I settled in the welcoming tree… Then you destroyed our harmony. You put blade to us. Do you not know we had become one?”
Yinka was silenced once again. She was scared now. She had never believed in the spiritual but how else did this stranger see her hack off the branches from that tree? Branches that had since been condemned to the bin after a short service of adorning her room with the red ribbons she had tied around them.
The girl with the bright eyes moved even closer and finally sprung Yinka into movement. She moved to cower behind her bed, the farthest distance from her.
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know.. I just wanted something Christmassy for the house…”
“So, you came to ruin the elements, our harmony for your selfish pleasure?”
Yinka crumpled to the ground as the sound of sobbing filled the room. Overwhelmed by the experience being unfolded, she curled into a ball and willed to open her eyes to the fading memory of a dream. But her eyes met the unblinking eyes when she eventually parted them.
“I’m sorry. I am! Didn’t know..” She hesitated. “What are you? Who are you?”
“Once the daughter of a goddess. But the sin of curiosity had me exiled- too much dallying in human affairs. Unhealthy curiousity, they called it. I was condemned to live a life of solitude, fending for myself in the wild; deprived of my mother’s love. I have only recently been allowed communication.” She let out a small breath and a thin fog held before dissolving out.
Yinka’s mouth hung slightly open, her eyes bulging at the absurdity of the story being told.
“And now, you must help me.”
“You have destroyed the home I had grown to be one with. You must replace it.”
“How? I can’t replace the branches.”
Adebisi stood at the kitchen sink; staring at the scene playing out behind her kitchen. Wondering about the change in her daughter was all she planned to do; she believed asking would only jinx it and ruin the ambience. The ambience of health and serenity that had saturated the house since Yinka planted that garden. She watched Yinka laugh out loud as she weeded and Adebisi smiled at how personable her daughter had become, even with the inanimate plants.
When you walk out of your house today, say hello to that tree that’s puffing out its dark chest for you to notice; blow a kiss to the petals that bloom bright for you. Embrace the preposterous. Water a plant; it could be your grandmother’s spirit!
My gift to the next writer is a yard of purple and gold aso-oke, with the letters XXCD stitched at the bottom right corner; yeah, cos I’m cryptic like that.
Merry Christmas, y’all!