She was not there, yet she was. There were five creatures in a circle. All of them looked the same. They wore black robes and masks, and they seemed to have several limbs each. A fire burned under them; they were actually burning in a fire, yet they did not scream. Perhaps they felt comfortable in the fire. She figured that they were spirits. Maybe they were the evil spirits called Anjonus.
They were murmuring inaudible words. She did not understand the language they were speaking. They were gesticulating, twisting themselves like flexible bàtá dancers. She tried to figure out if they were men or women or both, but they seemed to be gender-fluid.
All of a sudden, everything became silent. For some reason, she was not scared. Then they began to speak, one after the other:
“THIS ONE WILL DIE BEFORE HE IS EIGHT, THIS ONE WILL MAKE HIS MOTHER CRY”
“THIS ONE WILL DIE BEFORE SHE BECOMES A WOMAN”
“THIS ONE WILL DEFY THE GODS AND PAY WITH HER LIFE”
“THIS ONE WILL BE BORN SEVEN TIMES”
Iya Akanbi could not take it anymore. She woke up in a pool of sweat, panting heavily.
She woke up before she could hear the last verdict, and as soon as she opened her eyes she forgot everything that was said. She rubbed her protruded stomach fearfully as she muttered silent prayers. She thanked the gods for allowing her to wake up before she could hear the last curse. Now, she thought, nothing would happen to her foetus. She could not afford to let anything happen to it, what if it was a boy?
Then she remembered that the evil spirit in her dreams cursed four times. She had four children. Her heart began to palpitate and her body shook. Her only son was cursed.
She immediately turned to him and touched his chest. He was still alive and breathing. She breathed a sigh of relief. He was still sleeping, snoring silently beside her as he clutched the sheets of the bed they both shared. She touched his chest one more time and listened to his heartbeat for a while.
Her cute boy. He was so handsome. She would praise him, “the son of your father!” But she despised and resented her husband. It all began when he left home for Jos, at first he said it was for work. He stayed away for so long, sometimes only coming home once in a year. And then it graduated to once in eighteen months, and gossip spread fast, and soon, it got to the knowing of Iya Akanbi that her husband had married a woman in the North Central.
I still have cause to thank the gods, she thought. At least her husband had given her this beautiful boy that was hers.
At first it seemed as if Iya Akanbi was under a spell. For the first three years in her husband’s house, she was childless. And when God would answer her prayers and give her the fruit of the womb, it just had to be a female child she gave birth to. She was thankful but it was not enough. So she and her husband tried again, and again, and again, until they had three girls scurrying about in their home, each only older than the next by only twelve months.
Mopelola was devastated. The shame was too much. It even got to a point that her ugly, jealous, shapeless neighbours—the women in her neighbourhood who were only jealous of her because her husband did not marry another wife unlike theirs who had at least three younger wives each—began to call her by her name, Mopelola, instead of Iya Modupe, her first daughter’s name, as was the custom in Yorubaland.
She and her husband—unlike other men, Adisa actually sought her opinion and consent in things, but that was until he changed—, decided to wait for a while before she conceived another child. Although they both did not say it, they were tired of having only girl children. They hoped the time they were leaving would induce a male child the next time they copulated with the intention to make a child.
When they had decided to have another child, five years after Subomi, the third daughter had been born, Mopelola became pregnant again. It was ironic; for three whole years Mopelola could not conceive and now her body only needed “one hit” for her to carry a child. It seemed like her fertility only just became unlocked eleven years ago.
The couple were too paranoid to go to the hospital to check the sex of their baby. They decided to wait while they prayed fervently for the supreme God to make them happy by granting them a boy child this time around.
Their prayers were answered.
Akanbi was born. He was a handsome boy—his dark, shiny, ebony skin was the first thing everybody noticed and complimented in him. He was a special boy indeed. He was also loved and cherished by all. Immediately after he was born, his mother instructed everybody to stop calling her Iya Modupe and began to answer to Iya Akanbi, as if her first child did not exist.
Three years later, Iya and Baba Akanbi decided to try again and see if their winning streak was still valid. This time again, they decided to do everything the way they did it during Akanbi’s pregnancy. They did not go to the hospital to know the sex of their child; perhaps, they thought, this was the secret to giving birth to a son.
The next year, Baba Akanbi left home for Jos. He had been “working” there for three years now. Iya Akanbi had given up.
When she remembered the nightmare she had just had, she bit her lip and looked at her son, fearfully. She rubbed his face with her palm, causing him to stir. Nothing can happen to my son, she thought. She began to pray to the gods for protection over him.
For the rest of that night, Iya Akanbi could not sleep. She kept waking up every twenty minutes and checking her son, to see if he was still breathing and alive indeed.
On hearing the first cockcrow, Iya Akanbi jumped up from the worn out bed only her and her beloved son shared and took her phone from her purse.
“Mama! E kaaro,” she said to the other person on the line. Iyanifa was the one and only Ifa Priestess that Iya Akanbi knew. She was introduced to her through her friend, but had long since then stopped being friends.
She told the Priestess that she was coming to see her when the sun was out, later in the morning, and the Priestess obliged. She then woke her daughters up to do the household chores and start cooking breakfast, while Akanbi slept soundly in a pool of his own urine. But Iya Akanbi didn’t mind, he was her son and he was a baby, he would grow up in his own time and stop bedwetting.
Later in the morning, Iya Akanbi went to see the Priestess. She narrated her night mare to the Priestess and the Priestess consulted her Ifa and told her that indeed, there was danger looming over her children.
Iya Akanbi sighed, “Ah, Iyanifa. What have I done? I did not say somebody should not be great. I did not—”
“Listen here, woman,” the Priestess cut her off before she could continue her rambling. “Your children are in great danger. Your first daughter, hmmm. If care is not taken, your first daughter may question the powers of the Orishas and lose her life.”
Iya Akanbi whimpered.
“Your second daughter is not any better oh, Iya Akanbi.”
“Your third daughter…”
“Iyanifa, what about my only son?” Iya Akanbi interrupted.
The Priestess exhaled deeply. “Your son…your son…you may lose your son, if care is not taken.”
Iya Akanbi let out a loud gasp.
Iya Akanbi began to panic and begged Iyanifa to beg her gods for a solution. After a few more consultations, the Priestess revealed that it was difficult, but something could be done. She told Iya Akanbi the items required for a big sacrifice, which included two hens, a cock, a jet black billy goat, seven kegs of palm oil, seven yards of white cloth, and five thousand Naira. It was to ward off evil, Iyanifa said. Iya Akanbi did not have a lot of money but she would borrow if she had to.
Seven days later, the sacrifice was made. Iyanifa also bathed for Akanbi at the town’s river. She assured Iya Akanbi that now, her son would live long, and no harm would befall him. She also said that nothing would happen to her daughters or her foetus, too.
Iya Akanbi was very grateful and happy. She couldn’t afford to lose her one and only son. Of course she cared about her daughters, but her son, her son…he was the only one that kept her company while her husband fornicated about on the other side of the country.
* * *
A fortnight later, her children’s father’s sister visited them one sunny afternoon.
Mojisola was light skinned, tall, overly educated, and unmarried. Iya Akanbi never liked her. She was always too outspoken, too loud, too defying. She always had something to say, even in the presence of men. Perhaps that was why they didn’t want to marry her, Iya Akanbi thought.
Why was she here?
Iya Akanbi couldn’t let her contempt for her sister-in-law show, no matter how much she wanted to. In-laws were always to be respected. So she plastered a fake smile on her face and greeted her warmly.
“Where are my kids?” Mojisola smiled. Which kids? Who dash you? Iya Akanbi thought in her mind, then chastised herself when she remembered her nightmare from last week. She didn’t need to be so petty when she was still begging the gods to spare her children.
Iya Akanbi smiled, “Let me go and call them for you.”
She went inside the room to call Modupe, Morountodun, and her last daughter, Subomi. She followed them out to meet her sister-in-law.
Mojisola seemed genuinely happy to see them. She gave them sausage rolls, which she bought for them, and Iya Akanbi thanked her.
Mojisola smiled at Iya Akanbi again, and Iya Akanbi couldn’t tell if it was genuine or not. “Iya Modupe, is Akanbi sleeping?”
Iya Akanbi hid a frown. It was only this white witch that refused to call her Iya Akanbi. She was so annoying.
Akanbi wasn’t sleeping, in fact he was just sitting inside. Iya Akanbi did not bring him out on purpose. She remembered her dream and became paranoid. Who knew if this woman had bad intentions for her children? Heaven only helped those who helped themselves, after all…
Iya Akanbi chuckled, “No he’s not. He…was in the toilet. Let me go and bring him.”
She went inside to get her son.
“See,” she whispered to him, “Don’t let her touch your forehead with money. And don’t eat that gala yet, tell her you have a running stomach. You must show me that gala before you eat it. Okay?”
“Okay Mummy…” Akanbi replied, confused as to what was going on.
Mojisola squealed when she saw her nephew. “Akanbi! How are you?”
“I’m fine Auntie,” Akanbi smiled sweetly.
“Good boy!” She said. Maybe she was imagining it, but Iya Akanbi thought Mojisola was being overly enthusiastic, something she wasn’t before Akanbi came out.
Mojisola gathered Akanbi in her arms. She gave him a sausage roll and urged Akanbi to eat it.
Iya Akanbi had a straight face on, but she silently hoped her son remembered what she told him earlier.
Akanbi tore open the sausage roll wrapper and his mother almost screamed. She stood up immediately and walked in the direction of the kitchen. She stood there and peeped at Mojisola and Akanbi.
But Akanbi did not eat the roll. He simply looked at it skeptically and then held it with his left hand.
Iya Akanbi released a breath she didn’t know she holding. She thanked God. Such a good boy, she thought.
“What’s wrong? You’re not eating your gala?” Mojisola asked.
“Um…my stomach is paining me, Auntie,” Akanbi replied.
“Oh. Sorry,” Mojisola said concernedly and rubbed his head. Iya Akanbi sneered at her.
“So,” Mojisola began, “How old are you now, Akanbi?”
“I am eight!” Akanbi replied excitedly.
“Really?” Mojisola’s facial expression was one of pleasant surprise. Iya Akanbi bit her lip. Maybe she really didn’t mean harm on her son…
She walked back to the living room and sat with them. Her daughters, tired of not being included in the conversation, had returned back into the room.
“No oh,” Iya Akanbi corrected, “He’s going to be eight in a month.”
“Really?” Mojisola faced Akanbi. “Tell me then, what do you want for your birthday present?”
“A gun,” Akanbi replied simply.
A slight chill ran up Iya Akanbi’s spine. Stop being so paranoid, she scolded herself.
“Hmm okay. I’ll get you a toy gun then.”
Akanbi nodded excitedly.
One hour later, Mojisola left their house and Iya Akanbi was happy. Immediately Mojisola went out the door, she jumped up and collected the sausage roll from her son and threw it away. Akanbi started to cry.
“Don’t cry Akanbi, I’ll buy you another one when I go out.”
Akanbi was still crying. He wanted a sausage roll now, so Iya Akanbi went out and bought one for him.
* * *
Akanbi’s birthday was fast approaching and preparations were in order. Akanbi had demanded a big feast and his mother had accepted to do whatever he wanted for him. He was her only son, after all.
He is still here, Iya Akanbi always comforted herself. And he would always be here. Nothing would happen to her son. Not while she was still alive. She was ready to go any length to protect her only son.
Days later, Iya Akanbi took Akanbi to the tailor’s shop to try his birthday outfits on and see if they fit. The tailor’s shop was a bit far from their house. The clothes did fit, in fact they looked like second skin. Iya Akanbi wanted to have the tailor make some clothes for her too, but she didn’t have enough money after the sacrifice she performed.
They were walking back home in the afternoon. The sun was shining very brightly and both mother and son felt very hot. On top of that, there was traffic on the main road.
Her son stopped. “Mummy, I want water. Water. Wa…” He was trying to free his hand from hers.
She left his hand. He pointed at the well a few feet away from where they were.
“We’re almost home. When we get home, you’ll drink water.”
“No Mummy…I want water,” he insisted.
People were looking at them. Iya Akanbi didn’t want to be caught lacking.
“Okay, I’ll get you water,” she said. The only shop that looked like it sold water was across the main road. She didn’t want to take him across the road, it was too busy. She looked around and saw a bench in front of a locked shop.
“Wait here oh, Akanbi. I’ll go and buy water.” When she made sure he was sitting down, Iya Akanbi crossed the road with difficulty and went to buy water for her son.
After buying the water, she wanted to cross the road again. She stared at it, it was too busy. She noticed a small crowd assembling on the other side. Sweat was trickling down her neck. She crossed back and went to meet her son.
A lot of people were talking at once. She wanted to go and take her Akanbi away from this place because it could be dangerous, but her curiosity piped when she heard the words, “That small child!”
Her heart was beating fast and her hands were shaking but she willed herself to calm down. She looked around and saw that people were gathering around the well. She touched one young man’s shoulder and asked, “Please. What is happening?”
“Ah, Mummy. It’s one small—”
“Iya Akanbi. Iya Akanbi, ah!” A woman exclaimed and ran in the other direction.
“—boy that jumped into the well. He just jumped! Nobody pushed him! He just jumped by himself!” the young man completed.
Iya Akanbi opened her mouth and closed it, but no words would come out. Calmly, she walked towards the bench.
“Where is Akanbi?”
“The boy was sitting there! Is he your…your son…?”
“Ah!” Iya Akanbi exclaimed. Her nightmare began to come to her, and for the first time ever, she remembered. This one will die before he is eight. This one will die before he is eight. This one…this one…this one…
“It is finished,” Iya Akanbi whispered, before she collapsed to the ground and her world went black.