by Habib Abayomi
(A story about spirit children who die before adulthood, tormenting their mother and going back to their place of abode.)
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The tree in the morning sang like a wave in the forest. It was as if the trees were speaking in tongues and worshipping God in the morning. The morning sun had appeared from the serendipity of the west, smiling like a rotten egg.
Segilola felt doomed, imprisoned in the shackles of the University of Life as she opened the window when the cock crowed like a prisoner on the run. Hope had vanished into thin air and the morning had opened a can of worms in hunger.
Her pregnancy had ended in stillbirth. The reproach of this misfortune had swallowed her and she was now a widow of circumstance, suffering the laughter of death. The mystery of wizard children had enveloped as they cried in her belly, waiting to be exhumed into the world.
The shadow of wizard children had shattered her dreams and made her deranged in the midst of women. Now she was abused and caricatured as a mother of stillbirth, ridden with the stigma of a barren womb. Hidden away in her closet, she has become as destitute as a worm in the refuse bin.
This morning was different as she was famished and looking tattered, her skin having been tormented by the string of the bed. She had already resigned her faith to mother earth and her ecstatic breasts had become swollen. Already so thin due to her hypersensitivity in sickness, she was now a ghetto, naked before the village as a liability to her wretched husband.
Her husband was a drunkard whose clothing was tattered, his shirt dirty, having gone to search for abandoned animals in the forest. Yet Segilola was still an angel before the suitors who had fought over her for marriage. Now she had she dumped all for the wretched hunter. Her face was radiant with beauty, her eyes flashing with life.
The hut was dark inside, a masquerade, part of her madness and the animosity of a strange woman. Her husband shamelessly hung around her hips whenever she danced to the tune of local songs performed by drunkards. The melody of these sweet songs made her drink whisky to cool her nerves down after another day of waiting for the new moon.
His message to her faithless wife was that she should not weep and that the ravening clouds of the new season would answer the prayer of her ranting while she waited for the signs of the new moon. The terror of the night had enveloped her even as feathers of clouds had made her worship tin gods, a heartbeat to cry of losing stillborn children.
When Segilola told her experience to the herbalist her palm showed the plague of dead children crying in the blood of an orphan mother. This sign made her recoil in horror as she recalled the pain of shadow in her womb with voices of wizard children meeting in the seventh heaven, coming back to torment her, sojourning as if living as a slave in the village. A few people had reckoned her to be a witch disturbing the marriage of the wretched hunter in a grotesque game of war.
But rejoice - there’s a light in the tunnel at the end of cock-crow. They went from one village to another in search of a child who might break the curse of the ancestors. The laughter in the mouths of her former suitors always provoked her for she had become a witch whose beauty adorned sacrifices of the wizard gods whose tradition had died.
Now the missionaries had sold their hearts to the Bible and invaded their land, bringing white men who made them into slaves of a foreign God. And her husband was such a loving father whenever new children were born, smiling enigmatically, hoping they could stay till eternity, until they die to inherit their property.
Her song of sorrow in the morning was always intermingled with the spirit world of mysterious people.
“Each time I cry, I see dead children
Mocking me in sacrifice,
Within the river of spirit children.”
Her mind was to give birth to children who would stay without departing to the spirit world which, she claimed, owned her pregnancy in the midst of an evil village. At one point she dreamt of being with a supernatural mythical society, meeting with heavenly bodies of magical children with brooms in their foreheads.
She couldn’t understand the magical dream but her spirit kept sacrificing to the blind beggars whose prayers of atonement fantasize about children. But one surprising morning, her prayer was heard in the seventh heaven and she gave birth to a child in the image of a girl with a robust chick. This attracted the whole village, which had been waiting for the miracle in an odd way, conversing with the river of sacrificial lambs.
Segilola looked beautiful and she was ritually accepted by the herbalist, who appeased the gods of the village for not putting them to shame. Palm wine was shared among friends and foes who came to rejoice, swallowing bitter kola nut to their mouth. The child’s name was “Baoku” meaning “if we are not dead” to ensure her separation from the world of Abiku.
This brought joy to the whole village whose war had just been won, signifying good things to come apart from the usual tragedies of the market-place. The father was the leader of the hunters, a larger-than-life character comic to the palm wine drunkards of merry-makers whose dances atoned the villagers.
”This child has come to stay “said one joyful hunter who shot sporadically into the air to silence the mouths of detractors who had made the mother into a strange-being. Those were her mysterious days among mockers of dead abiku’s whose strange death would bring tears and sorrows to mothers who gave birth to them.
That girl was born with laughter on her chick and she grew, travelling to many cities, conversing with spirit children in the night as a wonder-kid among her siblings. Her mother was troubled by this mystery being whenever she sewed on the wall at midnight. The girl was chanting incantations and mischievous strange “Ogbanje” in the middle of the night, arousing her mother’s fears of being foretold about the spirit world. But, in the morning, her innocence always withdrew her conversation with the dead coffins, kept in the cupboard of the back room, and she went back to her origin, isolating her from the rebirth with her parents.
Her growing up was normal as she never showed the signs of her charmed circles of Abiku. Yet as a sacred child she asked repeatedly for oil sacrifice to appease the seventh heaven. Her parents were always at her mercy, or she might brag that she could return to the spirit kingdom if not well pampered with gifts.
This barbaric ritual was usually done at night, binding her with fellow ’Ogbanje’ spirit beings and the medicine men of the herbalist as they made scars on the body of the child for her not to go back to her place of abode, refusing to give her circumcision whenever she disappeared from mother earth and came to life as a ritual often done for them to remain in the world with her parents.
Her father always drank to stupor with his fellow friends and would often curse the gods for giving him a mysterious baby whose growing up looked so devilish. Baoku realized this and was often isolated from other village children and this often made visitors gossip at the mark of goddess children who should be worshipped for the river.
The river attracted sacrifices and appeasements every year with big festivals and dances in the village, accompanied by drinking that became a spirit conversation.
Baoku usually attended “Abiku” meetings which take place in the dead of the night when almost everybody was in slumber, especially her parents. She would lie on the bed beside her mother and suddenly be transformed into a grown-up in the meeting, beside her mother, and in the twinkling of an eye return to apparent innocence with child-like sleeping while her hunter was unaware of her mythical behavior.
It was a mental culture of a renaissance of spirits, their place of abode restricted to secluded corners of a town inside a jungle of suburbs where they are thinking of dying and coming back to unsuspecting pregnant mothers who are walking strangely in the night. Her behavior was predictable and her good side was damaging poverty-stricken parents who were irritated by mythical beings who worshipped Baoku as a tin goddess.
Her parents lost wealth in taking care of the over-pampered Ogbanje whose aim is to bereave the parents with her callous character. Baoku was treated as a queen goddess of the river and was even feared by the mythical herbalist who knew her strength and thought twice to worship them whenever there was a fetish of the river goddess.
Baoku’s Father worked at killing animals in the thick forest, carrying heavy loads in the market-place and, though he often came back bent and exhausted from his labors, he still held to his shattered life.
This family lived from hand-to-mouth in dire poverty at the cost of carrying their Ogbanje child. Her hunting father knew that the child Baoku’ was magical and powerful, often recovering from fainting and charms hung around her neck. Baoku’s turmoil always aroused magical beliefs of a vicious cycle, often attracting the remote village in her larger-than life character, abandoning the spirit children in the seventh-heaven in her growing up with strange power flowing among magical realism in her modest setting, blurring and pleasing them in their separate world with fights against human beings.
The spirit child had many visions as a child and would often torment her mother at night with strange thoughts after playing with the strange being at the junctions of their backyard. Her mother had many encounters with spirits in the night shadow and slept violently.
Her father always hid in the midst of drunkards, overlooking the dark years. But the moment of death had come knocking. The spirit children were calling for the pledge made before coming to the womb of her mother, to make her mother do again as these children did each time they die. They would abandon their parents before reaching separation from the real-world between tragedy and sorrow of a setting of psyche, a disappearing act into the seventh heaven.
That morning, the leg of Baoku was shaking strangely and her mother quickly returned her to the herbalist to tell her “This child has started fainting again. What do we do?” She must die again, the herbalist would say in her strange voice, “oooo,” vowing never to lose the child to the abiku’s spiritual world or returning to the ephemeral nature where any attempt to prevent death became abortive.
So, the child died at the hands of the herbalist, making the parents and villagers bereave again, shrouded in mysterious death after many incantations to the river goddess who turned her back to him. Her pledge was to return into another unsuspecting mother and the prayers were that their “children will suffer death at their youth”. But she departed honorably by having cultic powers and being worshipped as a spirit being.
Segilola’s mother’s last wish was that she valued Baoku more than gold and she was likened to the assembly of spirit.
The journey of this death was stage-planned, occasioned by blunt extremism of wizardry. She wondered how her tears couldn’t crack the corpse but had to repose where pain had become a bibliophile of escape for mystery ghost children. She begged the Abiku to stay alive with a controversial death buried as a sacrifice of the goddess.
The day was yet to crackle out of its shell when a terrible voice began to waft through the back yard as the mastermind of the devilish handwriting on the wall showed a dead masquerade, a custom of doom practiced by the village. The villagers did not look unkempt but neither did they have the trappings of a child in need. They were going through the river of sacrificial blood painting with money bags. Their road was rough with a portrayal of doom on their run away syndrome of controversial human insecurity, their minds overflowing with images of an un-ending past as the deceased were distraught with magical realism, part of a runaway hero and a missing custom of oral beliefs.
Baoku had departed as an unfailing oracle of uncanny times, foretelling famine draught because she failed to capture the isolation of roots. They were waiting in an unusual display of beauty sold in the market daylight of her barbaric ghost, hosted in their livelihood as master of the future. It was a wizard of dead beings of wrong gone with the winds of an innocent culture and rivers shrouded, returning to the spirit world where she made a pledge to return as believed in the covenant bondage to the helm, in a controversial ghoulish manner while the hunting enemies became strange in their mythical hunger for ritual foods. Digging up, painting pebbles on the ground, they imagine her flying and overlooking shadows violently, dying with blood.
The toughness in the eyes of Segilola could be brain-stormed by speaking alone to those spying on the Abiku’s generation, several mothers confessing in their meeting as foretold by the fetish seers of cultural manipulation. It was a stigma to have a devilish oath taken into allegiance to the pledge of going back.
“And the child goes back,” the mother wailed in pensive mood as the deceased reeked of spilled milk from strange cracked bones removed from her body in a weeping game. It spoke of the burial of the child, cracking out of the seclusion of mourning. But the memory of her burial would dance to the tune of the singers at the graveyard as predicted by the seers, sinister and waiting to be exploded. The burial singers chanted her elation to the detriment of their custom. Her dark world brought shame to them by being abandoned as a cursed culture of the ghost life of a hunter in illusion.
Segilola had swallowed the bitter pill of evil dreams in her time of chaos from a corrupted village headship and the circumstances surrounding the burial triggered spontaneous curiosity as she was trying to appease her covenant before the suicide theory in the moonlight’s perennial seasons. The season of her anomie brought her lamentation, making havoc among images of buried and strange wizard children finding abode in her womb.
The rumor spread like wild fire, coming back to the trenches, agog of the drunkard whose rain of curses bedeviled terror on parents who were victims of broken homes. The sounds of burial singers at the graveyard showed the cankerworm of a peer’s prediction and the euphoria which brought fame as a father of witches hunting the family’s unity
“No more hiding!” he said, thinking of the justice the gods had done by the devilish incarnate children’s ravening of a madman lamenting his anguish. He woke up on the bad side of the world which was lurking around the corner. The ambition of his hunting mind was his road to the bush, which was rough, but it was the funeral that brought him unfinished wars with the evil trait of ravings from the devilish incarnates.
The euphoria which greeted him was worth a fortune, reduced to veneration. His ambition was thwarted as a destruction of plagiarism as one death with many riddles as the silk which was hung around the wall. His dreams went up in flames as a result of daredevil stunts which left many questions in her mind as the sky revealed the beauty of radiant light with an embodiment of the dark world. Now, he has been left in the cold of forgotten solace from intense battle with the gods of the village, wearing animal behavior triggered by the evil herbalist, defeating him as a stunt of the grave.
The mind blogging death litany revealed a typical magical realism, hunting down their souls with payments of sacrificial separation along with signal warnings given in the parent cycle of problems as they lingered in the thoughts of a visionary tone of wizards hidden in her closet amidst evil practice. “When I come into the other world, I will never choose Abiku!” was the confession in his incantation to the herbalist as the murder slept in their hands, hunting down enemies. The memory of their fantasy led to the passion of the evil goddess, twisting them to accept their faith with an earthly shrine and folk-tales of foolish ignorance from a stormy famine season of ghost-like children which cannot be appeased by legends.
His ties to the real world were in precarious balance between life and death, agonizing the mother. It was a ritual of torment to Segilola’s as she attracted a motley crowd which was head-over-heels in love with her, her suitors who wanted to end the cycle of Abiku in her life as the child cried in the grave of mystery, intermingled with darkness in the night. It aborted their cherished, swept away by barbaric, culture.
She was so beautiful that her husband couldn’t reject her into the hand of another man after paying ‘dowry’ to retain her from people who were falling in love. Her smile was besieging the crowd as a ‘special wife’ come home in the middle of the night, confusing the marriage with charms buried in the ground to communicate with the evil world. She was so frightened that she accepted her faith as her life ended with losing the child to mother earth, weeping for goat and cowries and their oral superstition, stigmatized in a dilemma as a signal of her death, ignored before death came knocking at their closet with an oath that had been rejected by the gods.
The tag of giving birth to ‘Abiku’ had made her lose touch with the world in sudden fear of an extinct culture in the realm of the spirit world and giving up to death, accepting the heavy burden of going back to the seventh heaven as her home, separating into the tattered and dangerous journeys, watching her child die at their hand.
The sacredness that “Abiku” children were held in the dark years was recognized in the strange world. Praying to the ground with the whisky in his hand after a sleepy night, waking in his hand after a sleepy night, waking to the reality of troubled waters in which he found himself, finding ways to scuttle with the gods as his world was torn apart by the battle of his life. Thus he was poverty stricken, owing to the debt he inherited from his forefathers.
Now his clock had stopped dancing to the tune of pulling the tree down from the storm. His tears followed her as a signal of a felony beyond the serenity of a shattered life in the satanic instinct of a leopard who never changes his colors, no matter how threatened.