Àjùmọ̀bí kò kan ti àánú, ẹni orí rán síni ló ńṣe ni lóore.
Kindness won’t necessarily come from one’s siblings but those divinely sent to one.
I knew it was that damn shed, something was strange about it and I should have gotten it earlier but I was just focused on—
It didn’t matter anyways. All that mattered was that someone had taken Mummy and Nani and they were going to wish they hadn’t.
I swore on it.
I must’ve looked crazy, this teenage girl on the road in the late evening, running like a mad person but I didn’t care. Who knew how much time I had left?
I got to the school in record time, passing the gate and hastily waving to the security guard as I passed through. It was about six in the evening and everyone should have been gone by then.
I hurried to the shed, the broken, misshapen thing, my feet kicking away at a ball that was in my way. I got closer to the shed and I felt a strange presence, it was… it was hard to describe.
There was a strange energy that I was somehow feeling from the shed, it felt chaotic and erratic and it hit me like a wave, my feet almost buckling under the sudden change.
I reached into the bag that hung over my shoulder, taking hold of one of the thin engraved daggers. I held it in a way that was so intentional and purposeful that I paused and looked at my hands. Were they mine?
I had also just run from my house to the school in under five minutes and I didn’t even need to catch my breath.
The headaches had also stopped for a while now, when I thought about it. Around the same time the whole madness started. It was weird but I didn’t have time to think about weird. My mothers were in danger.
I looked at the shed and knew instinctively that mummy and Nani were in there, and if they were in there, then so was I.
I tightened my grip on the dagger and forged ahead, my breathing shallow.
The shed had two entrances, one on the left and the other on the right. I moved left, following some strange inner feeling. There was a rusted old handle that I was sure I could pull to open the large door but as I was about to, I stopped and took a step closer. I could hear voices.
“Just tell me what I need to know, Nanisca.” A male voice said, playfully.
Nanisca, that was Nani’s full name and I had only heard mummy say it on some warm evenings when her and Nani were almost inseparable. To hear it come out of some stranger’s mouth was disgusting, perverse.
But that voice, the rich undertones, the smooth cadences and how he pronounced his words. I could tell that voice from a crowd with ease.
It wasn’t anyone else. But what would he want with my parents?
“Okay, Nanisca,” he was saying, and his voice was moving around, like he was talking and walking around the room. “If you don’t tell me, I think I’ll just kill your little playmate and if you don’t want that to happen, just tell me—”
I burst into the room then, using all my strength to pull the door. The lights in the room were bright but my hands remained by my sides with the one holding the dagger in front of me.
“how did the Dahomey warriors really die off?” Mr Anisan finished, his eyes fixed on me with a mix of shock, anger and…joy, somehow.
“And here,” he said, prancing towards me. Prancing, that was the only word I could use to describe the way he moved, it was so grateful, yet so dangerous. Inside the shed was dust and cobwebs, a lot of them. They filled in every corner and were even on the ground. Mummy and Nani were in the middle of the room with their bodies tied completely by some white silky substance with only their heads free.
Mummy’s mouth had been gagged by the same substance but her eyes pleaded me to leave, to run. But I couldn’t leave them. Nani looked at me, her wild hair all over the place with eyes as black as obsidian. I realised then, that she was angry but was trying hard to control herself.
“Here, is the special daughter,” he said, coming closer, touching one of my locks.
I drew my head out of his grasp, leering at him. He smiled and walked back towards Nani as if I wasn’t important.
“Who are you?” I asked as he turned his back to me.
He laughed, it was a twisted sounding thing that made the hair on my hands stand. “I have been known as many things over the centuries, but,” he turned to me, his eyes suddenly glowing a dark crimson, all six of them, “you can call me Anansi, my dear, the great spider god.”
Nani spat on the ground. “You’re just a leech, a being who feeds on stories and artefacts.”
He turned back to her, “Aren’t we all? But don’t forget, Nanisca, my old power is returning, I can even be in two places at once now. Oh, if I told you what I did earlier this evening with the other boy—”
“You acted as my teacher,” I said, “why?”
He waved his right hand nonchalantly, “I wanted to be sure. I sensed two…special children but upon closer inspection, neither of you were that important to me after all. You’re both too weak. I built this shed as my headquarters of some sort to stay in while I got my strength back. Resurrecting is hard work, little girl.”
“Look at me.” I said, anger pouring into my voice. He was heading for Nani and I wanted to keep his attention on me. Anything to protect my mothers. Mummy was furiously shaking her head, telling me without words to run but I wouldn’t. This was my family and I wouldn’t allow anyone take them from me.
I should have been scared, I know I should have but strangely enough, I had never felt more alive. The danger was like fire to the gunpowder in my veins. My senses were going haywire.
He turned around with a smile on his face, his face back to normal. He wore simple black clothes from head to toe but his eyes glowed a deep orange that in the lighting of the room looked ominous.
“If you’re a god from centuries ago, how are you alive now?” I asked.
He smiled and put his hands in his pockets. “Can’t you hear it, dearie? Can’t you feel it? Something changed in the past few years, a surge of supernatural power unlocked doors that hadn’t opened in millennia. Waking old gods like me, up.”
I looked at Nani and she silently nodded at me, urging me to go on and pointing with her eyes at my bag that held the weapons.
Keep him talking.
“And you came here, to Lagos?” I asked. “Why?”
“I’m not the first deity to use this as my playground, oh, many of us have come. Sango, Ala and even the old fool, N’yame have all been here. I decided to pay a visit.”
“You’re lying.” I said, narrowing my eyes at him.
“Your ‘mother’ was right, dear. I feed on stories, on history, on the past and since I woke up, there has been one thing bothering me, one story that has remained elusive for so long.”
“What story?” I asked.
He smiled, casting a look at my mothers. “They wouldn’t have told you, would they? Do you know who Nani really is? Or rather, what?”
He came closer now and I could almost discern faint scars on his cheek. “Haven’t you ever noticed her disappearances, her odd nature? And the weapons, Mọ́remi, the weapons. Why would she need weapons?”
He touched my hand and led me to Nani’s front, where we both bent down and he touched her chin. “She’s not Nigerian, or even fully human anyway. She’s the last of a race of warriors who once dominated the whole of West Africa, the famous Dahomey Warriors, they were called.
An all-female army, built and bred to kill and destroy everything in their wake. They were angry and ruthless beyond compare. The whites came and tried to name them the Dahomey Amazons, whitewashing them as they did everything, but I prefer their first name, Dahomey Warriors. Nani here is the last one, the very last survivor. And I want to know, how did the Dahomey warriors die off? I need to know the story.”
Nani didn’t say a word as he talked, she just stared at me, looking at my face and body as if checking if I was alright. I felt her hand quickly slip into mine and then leave. I thought it was strange since Nani was never one to display affection. Imagining her as a warrior wasn’t hard, she always had that look, like she had just come from war. I wasn’t hurt that neither her nor my mummy told me, I knew they were only trying to protect me. Still, it was hard, but I had to push any resentment aside.
I stood up and took a step back from Anansi as he slowly came to his feet. “If you find the story of what happened, you become more powerful, yeah?”
He showed his teeth as he smiled. “Yes.”
“And you’ll hurt people.”
“You’re all nothing in the grand scheme of things.” He said. He pointed at my parents. “In a few years they’ll be dead and in more, so will you. You are all specks of dust, killing you will be a mercy.”
“And just so you know,” he said, a black dagger materialising in his hand as he walked towards my mother, quiet rage filling his eyes. This wasn’t the anger that shouted in a petty fit or broke things. This was a more dangerous one, that filled the room, and was more than capable of levelling cities.
He held the dagger to my mother’s throat, so tight that I could see it was close to drawing blood. “I am still a god!” He shouted. “Now, tell me the story.” Black veins had surfaced on his face and four more of his eyes had reappeared. He looked like what he was in that moment. Not a god, or a deity, but a monster.
A cold, unfeeling monster.
Nani moved first, throwing a dagger into his chest, shaking the cobwebs that held her down previously. I grasped for the dagger in my hand and then when my hand met empty air, I realised that Nani had taken it from my hand while we were close. That’s what I felt.
I wondered what else she took when as I reached into the bag to get another dagger, I realised it weighed less. I smiled, it weighed way a lot less. Nani threw daggers at Anansi’s chest, her aim never missing as she stood, her eyes blazing with a fury I had never seen. She kept advancing watching Anansi back off my mummy, struggling to defend himself against the attacks. As each blade sunk into his flesh, there was a sizzling sound, the smell of burnt flesh filling the air. The daggers were enchanted, I thought. Then I wondered briefly how I knew that.
Nani rushed and cut the webs tying her swiftly, handing Mummy one of the engraved daggers as she brought her in to a quick kiss. They both stood up as I rushed to them, Anansi still on the ground, hissing and groaning in pain as he removed each dagger.
Mummy hugged me tightly as I came to them, my head cradled in her chest, tears started to form but I held them in.
Nani gave me a hug too and pressed her forehead to mine. “Momo, you’ve been so brave but now, you have to go. Please, this isn’t safe.”
I held the dagger tighter in my hand. “I know, but I can do this, I can help.”
Nani gave a curt nod as she reached into my bag and got a compressible bow and arrow, aiming it straight for Anansi.
“Anansi, I’ve faced a lot of gods and creatures in my life. And with my experience, they always have a lot to say, so, old friend, any last words before I send you back to where you came from?”
Anansi was bleeding on the ground, his hands trying in vain to stop the wound from gushing out. “Mọ́remi, there is a lot they haven’t told you. A whole life’s worth of stories they’ve deprived of you and—” he coughed out blood, dark red and thick on the ground, “And I think there’s one in particular you should know.”
Nani drew the arrow further back and I don’t know what came over me but I put my hand on her arm, “Wait, please.”
“You see, Nani had a child once, a daughter, a beautiful baby girl, did she ever tell you? But she just couldn’t bear to raise the child, Nani isn’t the type, nor could she kill her. And so, she gave the child to her lover. Gave the daughter a Yoruba name, so she would fit in. The daughter would be raised by the two but she would never know the truth of the woman who truly gave birth to her.”
I looked at Nani as her aim didn’t waver at Anansi. “Mọ́remi, please, understand.” She said, her eyes fixed on Anansi. And he started to chuckle, laughing as he bled out on the ground.
All I could do was stare at Nani’s face, her eyes, her nose, the gentle curves on her lips.
And how much they looked like mine.
“And—” Anansi was about to say before Nani shot an arrow into his throat. He looked at me and smiled, despite the wound, and disintegrated into numerous small spiders.
Nani brought the bow down, her head lowered. Mummy came to me and held me tight, like she always did. I don’t know, I had always thought that mummy was my biological mother, that’s what they had told me.
I walked to Nani with mummy and gave her the tightest embrace I could. And I spoke into her chest as if trying to communicate directly into her heart. “You’re both my mothers, you always have, and you always will. Forever.”
I held my fingers in hers, and mummy joined us too. And there we were, three women made of magic, crying their eyes out in a shed conjured by magic.
After Nani had checked every corner of the shed and made sure that there was nothing of importance except a strange looking spider necklace, she packed up the weapons and put them in the bag, saying it was time we left.
“So, will the shed just disappear?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Mummy said, “it was tied to Anansi’s life force and since he’s still alive—”
“The shed stays,” Nani said as we came out of the shed. It was late evening now.
“Will he come back, Anansi, I mean?” I asked Nani.
She played with a dandelion that had flown near her. “I don’t know, my dear, maybe he’ll go and find somewhere else to fuel his hunger for stories.”
“But what really happened,” I said, “to the rest of the Dahomey Warriors? How did they disappear?”
We had just walked out of the gate and the guard gave us a curious look.
Nani turned to the side as she held Mummy’s hand and gave me a sly smile and a wink.
“Whoever said they did, Momo?”