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Phantom of the Python

By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo   (Nigeria)


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First of all, I should tell you who I am before I tell you what happened to me the other day. I am an Ogbanje, a spirit child. I come. I go. I come again. And I go again, on and on and on.


It was late afternoon when I heard a loud smashing noise. My fifteen-month old heart almost jumped out of my body. I woke up and began to cry. It sounded as if someone dropped a clay pot full of water on our living room floor and the broken pieces blindly knocked their heads on every piece of furniture in our living room. Who could have lifted up that big pot of water from which our drinking water came, I wondered? Who else but my Papa?

Mama was rattled. She dropped the eye pencil in her hand beside the standing mirror and rushed to pick me up. She lifted me off my wooden bed and held me tight to her chest. Her left eyelids already painted were shining. The right eyelids looked dull and unattractive. Her lips were red like blood and I could smell the dusting powder she had rubbed around her neck. Her heart was beating fast, just like mine.

“Nne m, ndo – sorry, my daughter,” Mama said, as she gently rocked me back to calmness.

Mama seemed to know what made the noise. She turned towards the door leading to our living room and waited. The old piece of Mama’s wrapper, which served as our curtain, moved. At first, I saw a rough and wrinkled hand holding a broken coconut. Then, the rest of the body stumbled in. It was Papa. He had not smashed the clay pot after all. He only broke a coconut on our cement floor.

Mama opened her mouth but nothing came out. She glanced at him and decided to ignore him. She took me to my bed and carefully placed me back on a worn-out mattress. It was the same mattress that Ebuka and Ebube had slept on when they were born.

“What was it you wanted to say? Just say it!” Papa screamed.

Mama ignored him. She picked up the eye pencil and began to apply the shining particles to her right eyelids.

“Mama Ebuka” Papa continued to taunt, “say what is on your mind.”

Papa was wearing his stay-at-home brown shorts. It was washed recently. I could see the lines dirt made when Papa squeezed during washing. The well water also left their signature mark on the shorts. Papa wore a white undershirt that was torn near his belly button and underneath both armpits. It used to be white, I should say. Now it is yellow.

I watched as Papa walked to the table beside the bed and picked up a knife. Mama saw him through the mirror. Goose pimples covered her skin. Mama’s pretty face was pale with fright. Her hand froze in the air as she wondered what Papa would do next. From my bed, I wondered the same.

Since I was born, something had been eating Papa up. That was what Mama said yesterday when she talked to Uncle Joel. Papa who used to be cheerful and mellow had become angry and mean. He was mean to our goats, sheep, fowl, and to his own mother. His voice had become high even when he broke kola, as if he was in an eternal fight with the spirits.

Mama and I were relieved when Papa heaved the knife toward the coconut in his left hand. He dug the tip of the knife between the shell and the nuts and slightly bent the knife. A small piece of the nut broke out and dropped on the floor. Papa bent down and picked it up. He flung it into his mouth and began to chew violently. As he opened his mouth with each chew, the white nuts stuck in between his yellow teeth. It looked like the nuts were drawing my attention to the color his teeth used to be.

Mama had gotten over her fear. She finished painting her face and began to comb her hair. They were long but appeared lifeless. Mama wore her hair long. It would have been pretty had she applied some oil to make it shine.

I saw Papa look at Mama with a mean eye even as he continued to extract the nuts. He again dug his knife in and bent it with greater pressure. A piece of nut flew out and landed by the headboard of my bed.

“Take it easy before you blind my baby with your coconut. Anyone who sees you now will think you have not been fed for weeks,” said Mama.

Papa did not respond. His silence troubled me and it troubled Mama, too. He was not the kind of man who would not respond when spoken to. I looked at Papa and I saw him cringe in pain. His right hand was holding on to his left. He dropped the coconut on the table and beside it the knife.

“Have you cut yourself?” Mama asked.

Papa did not answer. Mama walked towards him.

“Let me see”. Mama said as she stretched her hands toward Papa’s hand. Papa pushed her hand away.

“Keep your hands off me,” Papa bellowed. “Keep decorating yourself. That’s all you’re good at. Beautician! Soon, you must tell me those whom you are beautifying yourself for.”

Mama walked back to the mirror and grabbed a bottle of Vaseline.

“Here, let me rub a little Vaseline on it.”

Papa ignored her. He raised his hand towards his face and licked the wound.

“N’nyoo. Disgusting. You are licking blood again?” said Mama.

“It’s my blood and it goes back into my system.”

“Go ahead. Go ahead and pour sand on it. I suppose the sand is also your sand. I have not seen a man of your age who behaves like a kid. I have not. Tufiakwa!”

I saw Papa approach the table. He grabbed the knife again and Mama recoiled.

“We have to circumcise this girl,” Papa said, wagging the knife near Mama’s neck. The movement of his hand frightened me. Hot creamy stool ran out of my body into a heavy cotton napkin that served as my diaper. I farted. It was not loud because the safety pines used to hold the napkin were very strong they gripped my butt so tight. I could perceive the unpleasant smell of my own stool. By the time the smell crept to Mama and Papa, I hope it would repulse them and disrupt their bickering.

Mama turned around and looked at Papa with deep resentment. The knife was now on Mama’s face.

“How many times will I tell you we are not going to circumcise this baby? It is an old way of life. Modern people do not do such things anymore. Now, that act is called genital mutilation.”

“Oyibo! Take it easy, my European,” Papa sneered. “That is all you learnt during the six years that I spent training you at the University, eh?”

“Don’t even start with me on that,” Mama warned.

“Don’t you see how the modern world has become as a result? Women are everywhere itching. They won’t sit their butts at home. They will be flying from one man to another, having babies here and there. That’s the world you want so much? Isn’t it?”

Mama ignored him. She tied her hair up in a Winnie Mandela style and used a silver clip to keep it in place.

“Mama Ebuka,” Papa continued. “You’ve nothing to say? You’ve suddenly become dumb?”

“Leave me alone, oh jari. I can’t forever swing to the chorus and call it a dance.”

“Okay. Odi nma. Very soon, you – lamb-will break your leg if you continue to dance to your current tune.”

Mama ignored him. She walked to the bedroom window. She pulled a lever and the window louvers opened up.

“Alice!” she called out.

From outside, Alice answered, “Yes, auntie!”

“Are you still soaking cassava in water?”

“Yes, Auntie!”

“Ehe, how many bags of cassava are there that it is taking you a year to finish?”

“Auntie, I had to first remove a python that was sleeping by the side of the pot?”

“Python again? Why didn’t you call grandma to come and take it away?”

“Grandma went to the Square.”

“Did you wash your hands afterwards?”

“Auntie, I used a long bamboo stick to take the python away.”

“Did I say you used your hand like grandma?”

“No auntie”

“In case your ears are deaf, I asked you, did you wash your hands afterwards?”

“No auntie.”

‘Anu ofia di ka gi – animal like you. Will you wash your hands and come and carry baby? Foolish girl.”

“Yes, auntie.”

“Make sure you change her diaper. In the pot on the stove, you will find akamu that I made this morning. Warm some and give to her. Make sure it is cool before you give her.”

Mama did not wait for Alice to repeat her standard “yes, auntie” answer before she turned the lever up and the louvers closed. As she left the window area, she muttered, “sometimes I do question if your head is complete.”

As Mama turned around she saw Papa sitting on the edge of the bed and picking his teeth with the tip of the knife. Mama sighed.

“Look at you,” Papa started. “Look at you asking if Alice’s head is correct. Is yours correct, ngbo? Is your head correct when you leave your fifteen-month old hungry daughter in a full diaper to go to the market? Go tell it to the goats! What are you buying? What are you selling? I said it, you haven’t told me what you’re selling. But you will. One day you will. Behind every sleazy leg are always the sleazy eyes.”

“Shame on you that you sit here picking your teeth with a sharp knife while your babysitter is taking out the python. And when they call for heads of household, you carry your shameless self out.”

“I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you at all. When a man loses the source of his glory, vagabonds make fun of him. If not because of that, I would have gone out there and gotten myself another wife. This time, I will make sure that I get a responsible woman, not some wayward bonehead.”

As Papa spoke, Mama sized him up. At the end she sighed and proceeded to the door. Right in front of the curtain, she looked back and uttered, “It is the men who were able to marry one wife and marry her well that talk about marrying a second wife. It is not jokers like you.”

As Papa stood up from the bed, Mama swiftly walked out.

Alice removed my dirty cotton diaper and soaked it in water. She then put me in a big metal pan that served as my bathtub and poured water into it. The water was lukewarm and I enjoyed the feel of it on my skin. With a soft sponge and Joy soap, she began to bathe me. Papa sat in a chair and watched. Alice was not singing for me as she used to do. Papa had told her to be quiet because she was interrupting the Congo music playing on his transistor radio. Alice resorted to humming.

Alice gave me akamu. There was too much sugar in it. The Lactogen tin was empty so Alice turned the tin upside down, she shook it and a dust of Lactogen sprinkled on the akamu. I saw Alice look at Papa’s direction as she did that and Papa looked away. Alice did not say anything.

Cleaned and fed, Alice placed me inside a walker Uncle Joel had brought to our house the other day. It was not a new one. It was slightly used by one of his twins, the one that died on his tenth birthday. I enjoyed sitting there and observing things. Alice rushed inside the room and brought the jar of Vaseline. She dipped her middle finger inside and cupped a little. She placed it on her left palm and used her right palm to spread it around. Then she rubbed it on my face and body. It was a caring and comforting ritual I enjoyed daily. The layers of Vaseline softened my skin especially the spots where the hard cement floor tore my skin as I learned to run.

“Apply that Vaseline with modesty.” Papa screamed from his chair. “Nobody said you should coat her skin with it. It is bought with money. Not that I expect you to know.”

Alice shook as she heard Papa’s voice. She knew all the while that Papa was watching every of her move but she did not know Vaseline had become an issue too. Alice apologized.

“Hurry up. Stop touching that baby as if she would bite you. After all, she is not like a python’s egg. If you have finished taking care of her, get a broom and sweep these coconut shells away from the floor.” Papa instructed Alice.

Alice gave her usual “yes, uncle” answer. She hastened her pace like someone stung by the little black ant. She quickly lifted the big pan in which she gave me a bath and headed for the corridor. It was too heavy for her fourteen-year-old hands. She tried to balance the pan but the water inside swung from one side to the other. Alice raised her knee to support the pan but it was too late. A splash of water escaped from the top of the pan and landed on a square mat at the middle of the living room.

Papa was furious. He jumped off his feet to avoid any splash of water from getting to him. Alice set down the pan and picked up a dirty rag behind the old sofa. She went to the spot and began to mop up the water.

“Coconut head! In the olden days, girls your age are married with kids. But here you are, unable to pour out a tub of water.” Papa mocked. Alice did not answer.

“Just carry your lazy self to Nwajinka’s house and buy utaba for me,” continued Papa.

Alice ignored him and continued to clean the floor. Her silence seemed to irritate Papa more.

“Did you hear me?” he asked Alice.

“Yes, Uncle.” Alice said in a low and apologetic tone.


“But Uncle,” Alice began in the most apologetic tone, “Auntie said you should not take utaba again.”

On hearing that, Papa walked briskly toward an old picture of his father hanging on the living room wall. As he headed there, Alice knew what would follow and began to apologize.

From behind the picture, Papa grabbed one cane. He menacingly approached Alice who was now on her knees pleading. He swung the cane several time on Alice. As they landed on her head, hands and back Alice screamed.

“I am sorry, Uncle. I am so sorry.”

“Who runs this house? Papa quizzed as he flogged. “Who runs this house? Me or your unruly aunt?”

The cane broke into pieces and Papa went back behind the picture and picked another. This time he picked the one called mgbajala. This one was thinner, less brittle and had branches. Alice feared this cane the most for it would leave a sore that would last for days. As Papa whipped, Alice screamed.

“Uncle, I am sorry. I am very sorry. I won’t do that again. I will go and buy you utaba. I will go today. I will go everyday. I will run. I will do anything you say. I was not disobeying you. I was just avoiding auntie’s trouble. Please, please…”

Papa was not moved. He continued to flog angrily. “Tomorrow, when I ask you to do something, will you question me again? Will you?” Alice’s chorus of “No Uncle” did not make Papa reduce the frequency or speed of his whipping. By now, Alice was on the floor twisting and rolling. Her hands were flying in the air struggling to block each stroke of cane before it landed on her body. Like a kid in a shower suddenly sprinkled with cold water, Alice’s fingers scratched her body in-between each stroke. Papa’s response was to murmur to himself, “Don’t make me give you shower with mgbajala.” A thing I thought he was already doing.

Papa only stopped when the living room door suddenly swung open. Grandma walked in and staggered towards Papa. She reached him and snatched the mgbajala from him.

“Do you want to kill this baby? Do you know how far I was when I began to hear her cry? What did she do? Did she kill somebody?” Grandma queried.

Grandma turned to Alice, gave her a hand as she stood up and placed her hand on her back and began to console her. Nobody noticed the tears that were in my eyes. Alice strengthened her torn nylon dress, picked up the big pan of water and sobbed as she walked out of the living room.

“Shame on you!” Grandma said to Papa. “Your mates are in Aba, Onitsha and Lagos struggling with the world and you are here abusing your babysitter. I have never seen!”

Papa ignored grandma. He sat on his favorite chair and pulled out his utaba bottle. He unscrewed the cover and gently jerked the bottle on his knees. He wiped off his left palm on his undershirt and slammed the top of the bottle at the center of his palm. He removed the bottle and was disappointed by what he saw. The tobacco particles that landed on his palm were mere dust. He went to the table nearby, picked up a piece of used chewing stick and dug it into the bottle, hoping to scoop out some of utaba. He jerked the bottle again and poured the content on his palm. A nosefull of utaba landed and a smile lit up his face.

Grandma who had been watching all along walked up to him and whispered.

“Go and ask your mother-in-law for forgiveness. Let her come back and finish her omugwo.”

“In this house?” Papa responded, wiping off his nose and pausing to allow a determined sneeze to ease through, “It would never happen.”

“When death wants to kill a little dog, it won’t let it perceive the smell of feces.”

“Mama, go and rest your arthritic legs. Let me bear the misfortune that befell me. I want nobody’s advice. Let nobody advise me. I am the head of my household.”

“Isn’t this how the housefly followed the corpse into the grave? I have spoken out for the gods. Idemili python is my witness.” Grandma said as she made her way out. At the door, a sound of smashed glass made grandma turn around. It was the picture of grandpa that fell while Papa was putting his mgbajala back behind it.

Grandma shook her head and walked out.

“Uncle, now give me money let me go and buy you utaba.”

“I want you to go to Nwajinka’s place and not Ngbankwo’s.”

“But Uncle, Nwajinka’s house is far?”

“ So?”

“Sorry, Uncle.”

Alice stretched her hands for Papa to give her money for the purchase. I could see the anxiety in her eyes. Even her feet were fidgeting. She waited patently as Papa dug his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a worn out leather wallet. Inside the wallet were receipts, pool papers, and newspaper cuts. He shuffled through them in search of Naira notes. Alice stood there, her body sore from the caning she received.

“Take this N5 Naira. Tell Nwajinka that I will pay her the rest on Afor market day.”

“But Uncle, last time I went, she said I should tell you, no more credits. In fact, she posted a sign on her gate which says, For Credit, Come Tomorrow.”

“Just tell her I will pay all the outstanding debts on Afor day – immediately I sell the goat, I will come to her shop and settle my debt.”

“But, Uncle…”

“What again?” interrupted Papa, furiously.

Alice swallowed what she wanted to say. Her face looked heavy as she made her way towards the door. Then, she paused.

“Uncle, do you want me to strap the baby on my back and go? Remember it is far and the baby might begin to cry.”

“Don’t worry about the baby. I will take care of her.”

Papa cleared his throat and spat on the floor beside the spot Alice stood.

“Make sure you are back before the sun dries this lump of saliva,” Papa warned.

“Yes, Uncle,” Alice said as she swiftly ran out.

The wooden door made a sorrowful noise as it closed behind Alice. Papa walked to the window beside the door. He shifted a dirty curtain made of Mama’s old wrapper. He pulled the lever and the louvers opened. He peeped through. He watched Alice go down the road until she went out of view. He then closed the louvers again and walked back into the living room. I kept looking at Papa but he did not look in my direction. He went to the table beside the TV stand and increased the volume of his radio. Congo music continued to blast, rocking the air around into a festive bliss. But Papa was in anything but festive mood. He picked up his utaba bottle and raised it up in the air. He could see nothing but lines made by the chewing stick the last time he used it to scrape the bottle. He angrily dropped it on the table. He grabbed an old bottle of White Horse gin. He unscrewed the bottle and poured the gin inside the cover. In one gulp, he swallowed it all. He poured another and gulped. With the bottle of gin in his hand, he began to walk towards me.

I stood calmly in the walker and watched him. I had seen Papa in this mood many a time. What usually followed would be a fight with Mama. But Mama was not home and I wondered who he would take his fury out on this time.

Papa stood beside me. He raised the bottle of gin up and pushed the top into his mouth. Two mouthful of gin rushed their way into his throat. I saw two bubbles of air make their way up the bottle as he swallowed. And angry sneeze came to Papa. He tried to stifle it but failed. In a violent sneeze, particles of gin gushed out of his mouth and nose. “You have to tell me who your father is,” Papa said, as he wiped out splashes of gin on his face with his forehand. I guess he was talking to me because there was nobody else in the room.

“Whose blood is flowing in your veins, you little brat?”

He staggered. His eyes looked red. His strong frame appeared shaky.

Papa took another sip off the bottle and continued to throw out questions.

“Begin to tell me the men your mother slept with before I lose my temper. Begin to count them, now!” Papa’s voice rang high. I could feel the pain in his voice. I wished I could help him. I wished I could tell him that because I looked light skin at birth did not mean I did not come from him and Mama.

Papa went into a prolonged monologue.

You and your mother think you can fool me.
You cannot fool me.
I was born by my father
I am the son of my father.
I know my baby when I see one.
You are not my baby
I want to know who your father is.
I want answers now.
I am not going to raise another man’s baby.
My father didn’t do anything like that.
Idemili python won’t let that happen
I say, begin to speak up now.

I watched as his intensity increased. Hot salty droplets of sweat were coming down his face. Like a seasonal stream making its first voyage across dry land, they created deep thirsty channels. His pace quickened. And a dark cloud appeared to have gathered on his forehead. More and more, I wished I could help him.

In a hasty move, like someone possessed by spirits of the evil forest, Papa dropped the bottle of gin on the floor beside me. Pieces of sharp glasses scattered across our living room floor. Strong odor of dry gin filled the air. Without blinking an eye, Papa rushed into the room and came out with the knife he was using to eat coconut. He staggered back towards me. He lifted me up with one hand and he placed the knife by my neck. I did not cry.

Who’s your father?
What are you doing in my house?
Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
When are you going back home?
Where is your home?
What’re you doing in my house?
Answer me!

I could see that something had taken over Papa. I began to shed tears. His grip on me was beginning to hurt. As he brandished the knife on my face he continued to ask questions. I was sorry for him. So sorry!

What if I circumcise you now?
Won’t that save a man from my kind of agony?
After all, whatever a snake gave birth to never fails to be long.
Tell me, what do you think?
Shouldn’t I free you from your ultimate fate of infidelity?
Running around men
Being the butt of the village joke
Ruining the name of your husband
Giving him high blood pressure?
Shouldn’t I save you from yourself?

I looked at Papa’s eyes, there were tears gathering. He placed the knife between my legs. With his tense teeth, he tried to undo the safety pins holding my diaper in place. His whole body was in a kind of frenzy – shaking and twitching. He managed to loosen one end of my diaper. He proceeded to the other end with the same force. By now, a part of my thigh was exposed. Papa placed the knife near my thigh. He struggled to remove the other safety pin but could not. Once again, he used his teeth. He fiddled with it until it popped.

The pin came off its sheath and lodged into Papa’s gum. Papa screamed in pain. He staggered and stepped on broken glass on the floor. He released his grip of me and I fell on the ground. I began to cry. With blood gushing out of Papa’s mouth and legs cut by broken glass, Papa grabbed me from the floor. He covered my mouth with his big hands.

You evil child
You’ve brought nothing but pain to me
But today it shall end
I will tell you that it’s my father who bore me
I will send you back to where you come from

Papa dropped the knife on the floor. With his two hands, he grabbed me by the neck and squeezed so hard. My eyes popped. I gasped for air. My body stretched beyond its length. Hot blood rushing through my body stopped by my neck where Papa held tight. He twisted my neck round. I heard my neck bones crack. I couldn’t scream. Suddenly, my body stopped putting up a fight. My eyes rolled for the last time. Then all became calm.

Papa released his grip. He saw my lifeless body slump. With two hands, he raised me up. He let my body hit the ground, head first. As I lay there, amidst broken glasses, smelling gin, and fresh blood from Papa’s feet, he began to wail.

My baby
My baby
My baby has fallen off my hands
My fellow villagers come
Come and help me
My Mama come
Come and help me
Help save my precious baby….

Finished with his funeral rituals, I saw the Reverend Father trying to console Mama, but Mama was inconsolable. She was murmuring something but my grandmother, who sat beside her, would not let the words come out of her mouth. I saw Alice, Ebuka and Ebube sitting beside my graveyard. The trio formed a circle round my grave. Alice was saying inaudible things to me. Papa was sitting under a mango tree looking down. He appeared like a man counting the grain of sand beneath his feet.

Villagers continued to come and go. It was getting dark, yet more and more people were coming. Papa and his clansmen received condolences from the villagers. Villagers would sit around and speak in low tones. Papa hardly looked up. Mama didn’t stop wailing. And Alice, coiled like an Idemili python, sat by my graveyard, crying.

It was the seventh day after my burial. Papa woke up very early, even before the cock crowed. He had packed his bag the night before. Early this morning, as palm wine tappers were waking up, Papa tied his bag to the back of his bicycle. He went to our backyard, fetched a bucket of water from an aluminum tank that collected rainfall from our zinc roof and had his bath. It was a quick bath. He rushed as if he was afraid of the sun changing its course and beaming its rays on him. From the time he put the bucket down to the time I heard the last splash of water, I was still counting the ceiling tiles of our living room. Papa sneaked back into our living room, put on his usual green shirt and a black pairs of trousers that had rumpled around the buttock’s areas and down the edges. The pair of trousers had endured years of hand wash without ironing.

Looking at the way Papa dressed, one would think he was going to church. In actual fact, he was. Only that it wasn’t our Anglican church where I was baptized that Papa was heading to. He was going to the Prayer House of Madam Awuda. He will be there for seven days, fasting and praying. The inner caucus of his clan came to that conclusion the day after my burial.

At first, Papa resisted any attempt to suggest that he should go and see the woman. He insisted that what happened was just an accident. But each night, Papa continued to have nightmares. He was restless. He spent many nights outside the veranda just looking at the sky. When he managed to sleep, he would sleep in the living room. Since the incident, Mama would not share the bedroom with him and Papa did not put up a fight.

A room, which I used to share with Alice, was adjacent to the living room. All night, I kept my ears open and listened to his hush voice as it filtered to me through the open door knob that separated our room from the living room. Alice was a light sleeper and unless Papa slept, Alice would not sleep. In Papa’s sleep, he screamed. In each episode, he called on his tormentors to leave the Idemili python alone.

Papa was troubled by something I could neither see nor feel. Every night, I moved around, listening to the noise he made. I could feel his anguish. The sound of him gnashing his teeth often resembled that of the he-goat regurgitating its meal. Twice, I was tempted to touch him and calm his nerves. But I restrained myself. One particular night, I saw him wailing and rolling himself on the floor. It looked like he was wrestling with the spirits.

After dressing up, he carried his Bible, climbed his bicycle and began the ride to a neighboring town where Madam Awuda’s Prayer House was. Mama did not say goodbye to him. Neither did Ebuka, Ebube or Alice.

It was a foggy morning. The mist kept the shrubs heavy and gloomy. Papa kept cleaning his teeth with a chewing stick, spitting wood particles along the ravine road that led to Alor. He tried to hum an old song his Age grade used to sing during funerals but his soul was too weak to carry the tune.

Visibility on the winding road was poor. Papa had to keep his eyes wide open. Ten meters away from our village square, Papa saw an object approaching. As he rode, the object began to take shape. It was a man. He had in his hand a black plastic bag. On sighting the bag, Papa began to murmur to himself.

These are the Abakiliki people who kill Idemili python
These are the people who desecrate our land
These are the people who bring the wrath of the gods on us
These are the people who invited these curses we suffer
Our Idemili python
Messenger of our gods
Guardian of our Altars
Conveyor of our prayer
Undertaker of our famished season
I will find your tormentors
For in you, I will find myself

As the distance between Papa and the man shrank, the man became more visible. Papa was right. The man was truly an Abakiliki man. He lived in the house of Ogbuagu. Ogbuagu, Papa’s age-mate and a businessman based in Lagos, had hired the Abakiliki man to live in and take care of his property. Since Papa came back from Lagos, a failed businessman, he had developed a dislike for everything the like of Ogbuagu stood for. He blamed them for the regression of the village and the enthronement of foreign values.

Papa swung his bicycle at the Abakiliki man. It was so sudden the man had no time to jump off the road. The bicycle hit him in the groin. The man fell on the ground and so did Papa. Moaning and screeching, Papa quickly got up and snatched the plastic back from the man’s hand. Quickly, Papa tore the bag open. Scattered on the ground were a handful of snails and some wraps of agidi. He looked disappointed that he did not see freshly cut pieces of python, which villagers rumored that Abakiliki people share early each morning.

“I am so sorry. I did not see you.” Papa said, as he picked himself up and began to raise his bicycle.

The man did not say a word. He gathered himself up and looked at the content of his bag scattered on the floor. He picked the snails and put them one by one into the pocket of his trouser. He walked to the farm nearby, grabbed cocoyam leave and used it to wrap his agidi. Papa opened his bag, transferred the content of a plastic bag and offered it to the man.

“Thank you, no,” the man said, as he walked away. Papa climbed his bicycle and continued his journey to Madam Awuda’s Prayer House. He was visibly disoriented. His ride was zigzag, like the path of a python. I could not see him survive this long misty road with upcoming cars. More than any other time in my life, I wanted to help Papa out. I wanted to follow him and make sure he got to his destination.

But I couldn’t. The saliva the gods spat on the sky was beginning to dry up. I had to run to the place that Papa sent me.

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