They said she had no concern for my wellbeing. They said she was content to traverse the realms of the spirit and the physical, with no affiliation to any. This beautiful child of mine; pale and small, sickly yet beautiful, was destined to hurt me over and over again, pitching me against the spirits and driving me towards the edge of insanity.
She will go again
My mind constantly reminded me that a child who had gone thrice would go again. I wondered where exactly she went each time she left me weeping and depressed. Did her spirit stop to wave goodbye as it left the scene of yet another heartbreak, or did it float by without so much as a glance at my crying figure? Did it celebrate with the other spirits as I wept, or did it thoughtfully consider the impact of its callous act?
“Maami, mo fe je eko.”
I shuffled closer to her. Even in the dimly lit room where she lay, I could see the striking resemblance between us; her thick dark hair braided in simple cornrows, her dark skin the colour of rich soil. I reached past the mat on which she lay and retrieved the wrap of eko she had been unable to eat.
“Pele omo mi.” I said, comforting her as I fed her slowly. She swallowed a bit before regurgitating the contents of her barely filled stomach onto my laps.
As expected, she could not eat her meal. Her request was a front based on my concern. She had seen the worry on my face, probably heard the tears I shed and prayers I offered to the gods to save her. She had seen these and made a move to allay my worries. Was this truly the child that had no concern for my wellbeing?
There was no doubt she was one. She had come four times and left three times before the age of six. It was always the same, children—a child with an attraction to the Iroko tree. As a baby, she would cry incessantly until we walked past the Iroko tree that guarded the junction that led to the market square. In each life, she had gotten lost at least twice, only to be found at the base of that tree, soundly asleep as though she was at home.
In a way, she was home. It was that beside that tree that I felt the cold shiver run down my spine while I was pregnant with my first child. I had braved the heat and marched under the afternoon sun in search of agbalumo; a reckless move considering that all I had to do was ask and someone would have brought it for me. We all knew that the Abiku spirits loved to roam about on hot sunny afternoons, just before dawn, and gloomy nights, looking for whom to afflict. We all knew that as spirits, they loved to reside inside of Iroko trees. As I felt the shiver, I said a quiet prayer and thought nothing more of it. How foolish of me to think nothing could happen.
* * *
They say that the tears of a mother are incredibly valuable to an Abiku and so I refused to cry at the funeral. I stood there, beside the corpse of my beautiful child for the fourth time, and willed myself to be strong. As my heart broke in a million pieces, I grieved in silence but prayed that she would return and, if Olodumare willed it, abandon the gathering of the malevolent Abiku spirits, and choose to remain with me. But as I saw the pity etched on the face of my junior wives, backing their own children and offering words of comfort to me, I knew there was no hope for me. The cycle was too vicious to be broken by a simple prayer, the spirit too strong to abandon its mischief based on my hope.
There was nothing more to do.
And so that night, whilst everyone slept, I unwrapped the white seed from the leaves that bound it and swallowed it. If my child refused to stay with me in the physical, then I would follow her to the spirit world.
I withstood the pain until it was unbearable; screaming and grinding my teeth as the fire raged in my belly. A momentary insanity descended upon me and I saw the realms open. Strange creatures filed past me, oblivious to my existence.
And then I saw her, in a corner of the room, staring at me with a malicious grin on her face, holding in one hand the various items we had offered as sacrifices to appease the spirit. I reached out to her through the pain, and for one split second, reality was permeable. The concerned voices that asked me what was wrong faded as the physical peeled away.
Darkness followed soon after.