A STRANGE NIGHT
***1891 (The Night of the First Rain)***
Nsidung Edet Hogan Bassey let the rain cool his rage. She cringed at the thunder, lightning casting her outline against the cave walls. His grip on the hatchet tightened, but they both knew he wasn’t going to use it. He wasn’t climbing the rocks after her. The rain fell with a vengeance, muting the sound of his threats. She hovered above the peak, uncertain and terrified, watching his great bulk stomp back into the forests. Finally, she began to breathe again.
Her feet were blistered from cuts, her inside laps sore, and the gaping wound up her left thigh hurt like death, but she dragged herself into the cave of the white man’s God, the cave of the seer. “I am here,” her voice was thread bare. Would they hear?
The silence surrounded her with darkness, and within seconds, she succumbed to a dead faint. Her last conscious thought was a prayer to the gods of the rainstorm.
Daylight would find her faster on dry earth. The king’s soldiers will have no obstacles. All would’ve been in vain. In her dreams, she saw the white robes of the headless priestesses of Far Away. They sat round her in a circle and entered a debate.
“We should leave her here to face their laws. She is after all, a witch!”
“She has refused to confess. We cannot offer her sanctuary and you know it. If Her Majesty queen Victoria knew what we were up to, she’d have a royal fit!”
“But she defied the Nsidung. She protected Justice Hall. She saved his life. This is great courage. Surely her heart can’t be that black?”
“Well, she can’t stay here.”
“She is with child, Mary; have a heart!”
“If we help her, it will have to be now. Tonight. We can put her on the first merchant’s wagon trailer we see at the crossroads. I hear lumber is selling in Benin.”
She stirred, and the headless robed priestesses floated away from her. She wanted to beg them to come back, to agree on a plan, to save her. She wanted to tell them not to be shy because she couldn’t hear or see them; after all, this was a dream.
Her lips moved frantically. A cool hand touched her fevered forehead. The poison bean was spreading its venom. She needed help.
Help me. Please. Great seer...
But the headless white robes of the priestesses of Far Away did not return, and soon, she began to dream within the dream. The sound of hooves thundered above the rain, shaking the soaked earth in tremors. Hooves. Horses. Arrows flying through the air. Soldiers were coming.
***2001 (Canaan City)***
There are so many men.
You work very hard, your hands are coarse, your shoulders ache, and still, there are so many men. Why are there so many men?
“What’s your name, honey?” He balances comfortably on the bar stool beside you. You take a good look at him. He takes a good look at your curves.
You have a husky, sultry voice, “I’m Honey to you.”
“That sounds real good. Can I buy you a drink?” He seems sober, which is the way you like them. You shake your head, and gather your things together. He looks so young. Maybe he wasn’t old enough to be arrogant, entitled and self absorbed yet. Maybe, he could still walk away and save himself. Five hundred Naira tip for the bartender lies undisturbed beneath your empty glass of Spirytus Stawski. Your yellow purse opens its gold plated mouth and gobbles up your blood red lipstick, brown mirror case and electric silver phone.
“Hey;” he pouts, “I just got here baby. Where are you going?”
Anger burns in a slow rise within your heart as your eyes narrow to slits. Your voice lowers dangerously, more silk in the huskiness, “I’m late for a party...” but when his eyebrows lift arrogantly, you know that he didn’t get the hint. His bold scrutiny covers the contours of your cleavage, “Can I...tag along?” The shift in you is almost imperceptible. In fact, these days, the timelines are terribly blurred, and you hardly tell when one blank phase ends for another to begin. Is it when your practiced smile slightly lifts a little higher to the right, subtle and knowing?
“It’s after Tinnapa, on the outskirts...that a bit too far from Canaan City for you?”
“Baby; I’m ready for some fun, if you are,” he steps even closer, “-the name’s Roy Cobham.” Roy Cobham. It sounded like a name you would remember. You walk briskly to the front doors as he slides off his stool after you, “-but---I don’t have a ride.” You step out the glass doors and he moves to block your way, his hands lightly touching your hips, “You haven’t told me your name.”
He is too close. You can almost smell his heat, “Look,” your voice is cold and impatient, “-my boyfriend annoyed me tonight, okay? and I really want to go to this party. They’ve got good crystal. If you’re game, step up.” Crystal is a magic word. You see from the glint in his eyes that he knows what it is. He follows you like a love sick puppy into your car.
It was a long drive, especially as you were in no particular hurry to find the perfect spot.
Roy grew restless after the first ten minutes of chattering like a parrot. You really doubt if he’s over eighteen. “Hey,” his eyes scan the back seat, “Is that a spade?” hey, it was a very dirty spade, with different types of DNA splattered over, rubbed off and into the metal grains. You haven’t washed it in three months. In a twisted sense, it reminded you of a promiscuous woman’s sexual organs. Yes, they were both weapons of mass destruction. The intriguing similarities as you ponder over them make you blink at the windscreen, at the freshness of the blue-black night. You use a soft, husky tone, “Are you good in bed, Roy?”
He grins. In between a highly exaggerated account of his sexual exploits, you supply him with a few sips of your Balkan 176 Vodka from the glove compartment. He darts one or two furtive glances at the spade, noticing the growing distance between every billboard you pass along the highway, once in a while muttering, “This place is far, huh?”
At last, you take a sharp turn to your left, only driving a short distance when, in the middle of dark road and darker forest, you grind the car to a screeching halt. His seat belt checks his bounce, and for the first time, a frown appears on his sweaty, baby face. He opens his mouth, and then shuts it at the sight of you removing your tube top.
You are not wearing a bra. “It’s a topless party, Roy.”
He breathes, “Oh, man!” His eyes bulge, his smile is ecstatic. But then you reach back with your hand to grab the spade, and something else. A black workman polyester raincoat...
“Get out of the car, Sweet heart. We’re here.”
Roy Cobham slams the passenger door shut, and the sound echoes. His annoyance begins to show, “There’s nothing and nobody here! Is this a joke?”
You chuckle, donning the workman’s raincoat with ease, walking round to open the boot of the car, “But there are ghosts, Roy,” you bring out a hatchet and a gun, “-lots of friendly ghosts.”
He sees the hatchet first, “Oh, shit...” You give him time to run back to the highway, waiting for a monster truck, a Caterpillar 794 C that totally ignored his screams and waving hands to zoom past, before you shoot him in the leg, because you need him awake and sober for the experience. You drag him howling off the road and all the way deep into the forest.
PROVERBS 4: 19
“The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble..”
King James Version (KJV)
Canaan City, 2001
***THE TUESDAY DEVIL***
Sennoh Ephraim could not, by any stretch of imagination, be called a femme fatal. A weird juxtaposition of girl and woman, her soft skin contradicted her thick, large frame; an unfashionable body which her best friend swears is as comfortable as a pillow. Round and rosy cheeks are somewhat out of place on her shockingly beautiful face, from where she sat in front of an enormous glass window facing a most glittering view. The city of Canaan looked alive and golden, against the backdrop of a reddish September night sky. The hills rolled over themselves, exciting twinkles of light shining from buildings arching the city. She sniffed at the bustling population. How dare they, how dare the whole world! Carrying on as if life was so easy, so enjoyable, so fulfilling...her fair skin glowed with a sleek sheen of perspiration.
The deep russet brown of the lace gown she wore was the same shade of her wide, angry eyes. She flashed these eyes around her till they stilled on her flip phone, her thick, long dread locks swaying with each turn of her head. Dialing a number, she crossed her smooth, shapely legs. Yellow ‘paw-paw’ legs, that’s what Nurudeen had called them, at least until she discovered chocolate chips was more his thing. Cradling the phone to her ear, she listened to it ring.
A stern image, a raspy voice from the past, arose amidst the curling wafts of smoke.
Senne! One thing about life you need to get drummed into that no good brain of yours’ is that you either can or you can’t. Oh, and Cigarettes never helped anybody, girl!
Aunty Nkoyo, bless her soul, hardly went a day without a pack of Virginia Slims in her purse. Sennoh understood why the capricious woman never heeded her own advice. It was the nicotine, the hot rush of addiction.
Her call got through. “Apple Pie, What’s up girl?”
Perhaps it was Jessie’s mission in life, to remind her of her excess weight by giving her only food related pet names. When she had money to spend she was a hot potato, dressed sexily a red tomato, disgruntled and angry alias an Alligator pepper, every other day plain ol’ brown sugar and very rarely a banana cake. “Jess, where are you?”
“Doughnut; I’m stuck in traffic! It’s hotter than Hades here, a real hell hole! The line is like ten miles long and hardly moving at all. I need a divine extraction. Remember old Canaan before ‘Hiram’ the man? I mean that serene little bush the political size of my left thumb? Now there are cable cars and a bloody show ranch and while I’m thanking all the red necks with their pockets full of cash, tourism can be such a drag. Suddenly we have traffic jams! Where did all these aliens come from?” Images of impatient drivers pressing on blaring car horns came to Sennoh’s mind. Helplessness washed over her in waves of defeat. Her big brown eyes filled.
Jess was effervescent. She had the unique ability to run off at the mouth and still make perfect, humorous sense. But Sennoh’s mind could not escape that gaping hole, that dark, cold room of pain she was trapped in. It was a big room, with the past, present and future all crammed into its icy compartments. At the tender age of five, after escorting her beloved mother to the hospital for treatment of daddy dearest’s brutal bashing, Sennoh vowed never ever to marry. Well, that was before the doctors informed her that she’d be going home alone. Mummy dearest died by somehow managing to slip into a concussion the moment she’d lain on the examination table. And so twenty-three years later, here she was: single and forlorn.
Wishes were dangerous things. She remembered walking all the way home that day, afraid that daddy dearest would substitute her for his new punching bag. She sang it like a litany till she got through the back door; “fall down the steps and die!” fall down the steps...a bone. The nosy neighbors’ explained later that a bone from the tillapia fish mummy had cooked got hooked in his throat and that was how he choked over to the other side. She never saw his dead body. The ‘brothers’ from the village took everything away by the next day.
Everything except her, that is.
Jessie sing sang, “Blooming bloody Earth to Sennoh Ephraim...?”
Wincing, “Watch your language, Jess!” Sennoh imagined her rolling her eyes,
“Who cares-? What’s on your mind pumpkin?”
Her chest constricting with an almost intolerable pain, Sennoh blinked back the tears itching to cascade. What hurt more, knowing that Jessie was the only one who cared or the realization that her best friend was too far away to save her from herself? It was happening all over again, that mystery in the muddiest part of her brain, that strange awareness; that paranormal pushy presence which turned her into a panic driven idiot, with its mind numbing and amazingly persuasive logic, propelling her to seek instant relief.
“Do you remember my Aunty Nkoyo?”
Was Jessy smiling right now? “Ivory Tower...! The one who killed herself? Every day of my life! I still can’t believe she got married five times, what a shocker! I loved that die-hard brat Senne sweet corn. Hers were the strangest set of rules I ever heard of. I suppose that was her way of moving on in life, and death. Good lord; is that a pun?”
Its always there, this pull of death. Sennoh was all that was left of the house of Ephraim. Her grandfather, her mother, her aunt, and now...
“Corn, you’re still there right?”
“I don’t know? Twenty-one failed relationships in less than ten years... I don’t want to whine, I should smile at grief but, I’ve been doing that and I’m tired. I mean twenty-one? What am I, besides fat, a totally bad idea?”
“You’ve really lost weight, bubble gum, and frankly I don’t think you can lose any more, the fat is in your genes. Fat does not have very much to do with finding real love-just look at all the single, skinny sticks out there, myself included! Honey Comb, whose counting? Men are like buses, and human nature is not static. To quote Ivory Tower, there are so many places to go and so many...”
Sennoh knew Aunty Nkoyo’s Feel Good Logic by heart. Twenty-one buses and twenty-one places seemed pathetically small when compared to the size of the world, and the world had fascinated Nkoyo Ephraim, its possibilities endless, alluring! “Jess,” she noted dryly, “I think I understand why she killed herself now.”
But Jessie was still stuck with number twenty-one. In fact, it hit her with a bang, “I get it now. That dirty pig! So he’s Mr. twenty one, is he? You watermelon, what the ′Trump’ happened!?”
To be quite fair, ‘Nurudeen’ happened. The fact that he was neither Christian nor Muslim should have alerted her to the un-even yoke theory, but oh no! She just had to say yes. He was a handsome devil lying through his teeth and what did your girl do? She primped her ears.
“Oh fruit cake, was it that bad? Where is the lout?”
Who knows? A few hours ago he was doing something very intimate with Mrs. Ibrahim on his kitchen table, “You know Mrs. Ibrahim, don’t you, Jess? My project director at the paper_”
“-that old hag; that rickety bone jarring second hand engine; that witless toothless money grabbing guttersnipe; that_”
“Yes, Jess, that slinky ‘size eight!’ one and the same.” She breathed a sigh, “To cut to the chase, my loving fiancé literally threw me out after I’d walked in on their brilliant performance.” Her voice quavered, “I’m still hearing their vulgar opera in my head. I can’t believe it ended like this; it should’ve been like it is in the movies, you know?”
Jessica cussed at the other end of the line, as Sennoh continued her soulful remonstrance, “-he begs for forgiveness while struggling to get his trousers back on and the evil she scrambles out the back door in fear of a good girl fight,” That’s how it should’ve ended! Sennoh’s fist tightened over the phone in an effort to exert self control. She hadn’t shed a tear since the age of five, and she wasn’t about to start now. “The movies...! Oh, Jess! Girls shouldn’t watch movies. They are so different from reality.”
“I know how much you loved him, Senne. I’m sorry_”
Yes, Jessie was a living witness to the many ways she’d tried to be perfect for Nurudeen. She’d surgically locked her jaws, starved, and pretended, plotted, played hard to get, abstained from sex, cooked his meals, washed his clothes, elicited all the right responses, even extracted an engagement ring. But did she really love him, or did she just want so badly to be loved?
The confusion wasn’t helping matters.
“I’m sorry, Senne,” Jessie consoled her, “but you’ll get through this, okay? Hey, are you still there, or is your call credit exhausted?” Sennoh made a woe begotten sound which could’ve been a groan or a lamentation. You’ll get through this, okay? Get through what, her 23rd heartbreak? But was her heart broken again, was there actually something left to break?
Her great job was just a job. She’d rather have been a pauper with nine children, and a dirty mechanic for a husband, as long as he loved her. As a little girl she’d always dreamed of a great love as innocent as Robin, as unreal as Donal, and as noble as the Marquis, in Frances Burnett”s The Head of the House of Coombe. But now, thoughts about what little love she’d had growing up made her chest squeeze tighter... Thoughts about God’s love didn’t help much either. It was like waiting for mummy dearest to wake up from the examination table, after three hours, explaining to the nurses that mummy would never leave her like that...she’s going to wake up, she’s my mummy, I’ll be patient and wait...
He was so far away, this Great Almighty who demanded patience and faith, and never seemed to arrive when she wanted him to. It was as if she was missing a big fat sign somewhere along life’s dark grey asphalt. “Senne, say something. You are scaring me.”
Her voice cracked on a sob, “He flung me out like I was a rat, Jess. I fell across the steps, hit my head, and...I saw stars. I thought I was going out with a concussion, like my mum did, but you know, I can’t recollect how I walked down the street, and got a taxi to the hospital. I recall...being there and the receptionist asking me for money. My head was bleeding, she said, so she skipped the form filling when I told her I had an ATM.”
“Just sit right where you are and don’t do a thing till I get there, okay?”
“Guess what, my ATM must’ve fallen out of my purse when I fell across the steps, but the ring is gone too. There was a lot of screaming. I really don’t know what I did with the damn diamond.”
Jessie’s sigh was remorseful. Sennoh could almost see her friend scratching at her hair and shrieking, you bean pudding, you lost a whole diamond ring! Idiottt...!
“Jess, I can’t live anymore.” This time the silence stretched.
Jessie was aghast, “You’re drinking, and you’ve had enough. You’re not thinking clearly, so put the bottle away and lie down and sleep. Before you wake up I’ll be there.”
Three untouched bottles of Bacardi stood proudly on a terra cotta stool beside her, but they looked like temporary solutions. What she needed was something permanent. How odd that today should be Tuesday, since her mother had died on a Tuesday, and Aunty Nkoyo hung herself with a corded rope from the office ceiling fan, on a Tuesday. And what about Grand daddy McIvar, the Irish immigrant, who’d, stabbed himself three times with a kitchen knife in his own kitchen, after bringing the new born, Nkoyo, home from the maternity ward?
Brain damage, post natal disorder, road fever... “Senne, are you there?”
“I just wanted_” your call credit is exhausted, and your call, terminated. Please load an all in one card. Beep-beep-beep.
“Sennoh...!” Oh Jess. She just wanted to say goodbye.
Justice Benedict Hall.
***1891 (Thirty days to the Night of the First Rain)***
Diary of Justice Hall, pg. 215
Some men would recall the way a woman’s hair shone as she spun in their arms around the ball room. I vividly picture the hard glint in her ice green eyes as she batted them at me coquettishly, her thin pink lips moving like a well oiled machine in the work houses of London. I realize I ought to have at least tried to find pleasure in the mundane polish of her artful make up; the gentle swell of her lace terraced cleavage, the rose scented sway of her practiced movements. Graceful as a dove, with feet feather light, the duchess of Brunswick captivated the ton, and hardly sparked my interest. No, my iron clad heart had to be captured by a barefoot voluptuous Nigress in the wilds of the West African coast. What more would you have me say? I should have stayed the course that day. The heart is malleable muscle, which at a young age, discipline can train, but alas, my youth I spent in battle on the high seas. I was a man well drowned in his own conceit; impervious to romantic notions, unskilled in the treacheries of weak emotion, untried. Indeed; perhaps I should have stayed the course that day. Lesser men have faced a lifetime of challenges greater than the wilting company of a damsel elite such as she. What more would you have me say? There was something in the wind; something in the breeze ruffling the trees as we skirted past the sandy beaches. Fate called, and I answered...
In 1891, Admiral (Lord) Justice Benedict Hall III was in the Royal Navy’s Senior Service of the British Empire, commanding the battle cruisers stone frigate ‘the HMS Gladiator,’ under the charge of First Sea Lord and Lord High Admiral, His Majesty King George, with home base operations from Davenport and in fact, just returning from the straits of Gibraltar (lying between southernmost of Spain and northernmost of Africa;) when he received congratulatory tidings from her Majesty Queen Victoria in her usual manner via the beak of her favourite homing bird, Bryce, one unforgettable windy afternoon.
Her Majesty was quite pleased with his victory over the pirate brigand, Esteban of Armada Espanola. They’d clashed in a violent skirmish on the high seas, while he’d been reconnoitering enemy territory and the Armada on the way home from a successful treasure hunt. Indeed, it was not a fight worthy of a Frigate, but for the fact that he had acquired as part of the spoils, nearly seven thousand tons of Aztec gold, it should not have made any ripples at parliament back home. Her majesty, in the spirit of profound gratitude and intense pride in his service to the crown, had gifted him, as she said in the letter, the hand of her favourite niece in marriage, and, the ceremony was to take place immediately he set foot on British soil.
It was not that the duchess of Brunswick was ugly, far from it.
Even as he tore the royal missive to shreds and watched the fragments drift away with the waves, glimpses of red seal peeking out in between rolls of the dark green waters, images of her delicate porcelain skin, large green eyes and platinum blonde hair came to his mind, unbidden. She was a young social butterfly; the current talk of high society; and many an eligible noble man vied for her hand. To marry into her wealth would in fact put him in direct line of the throne, third to the house of Windsor. But Justice did not love her, and he could not marry a woman he did not love. Of course, it was quite the norm for her majesty to think that he could.
In her magnanimity, she probably thought she was doing him a favour. At the tempting age of forty, he was beginning to be called ‘vintage wine’ in certain distinguished circles. Arranged marriages was the way of the world; from the time of the biblical Isaac and Rebecca, and no doubt, till the end of the world, wars would be averted, lineages protected, kingdoms expanded and political alliances will still be made through arranged marriages. But he couldn’t do it.
He was fond of the queen, he had lived to serve the crown, and never in all his life had he been disobedient in anything, not to his parents, not to his king, not even to himself. He had fought in wars against Spain, just as his father before him had fought against the French, and his father’s father before him, each of them commanding the British stone frigates, battle cruisers, as naturally and as skillfully as if they had been born to do so. He was ever aware that his name was more or less a legend, and his lineage was in fact, bordering on extinction, if he did not procreate soon. Perhaps the queen was mindful of this too.
Therefore when he turned about and gave the order to change course from Europe to the Bight of Biafra, his men, though in surprise, hastily complied. What perhaps confused them even further were his orders to his second in command to take control of the other twelve ships and stay the course for the United Kingdom. And so it was that windy afternoon that the head of that intimidating, triangular entourage turned aside from its grand company, and, solo, made its way towards West Africa.
As a man, he had always avoided the London society balls and tea parties, the powdered ladies of the queen’s court, and the gaming rooms of gentlemen’s clubs, because he was a rather solitary fellow. He loved getting lost in a good book, and sword fighting was second nature to him. If not on a ship, in the thick of warfare, or back in his castle at Birmingham in the west midlands, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. But it was no secret that wars were getting harder to come by. It was also evident that retirement loomed ahead of him and perhaps it would be expected of him to take up a seat at parliament.
Justice didn’t want to do that.
He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life resting on his oars, surrounded by stiff wigs and even stiffer traditions, discussing the long reach of the common wealth. He wanted to travel to exotic, dangerous places and have endless adventures. He wanted to see and understand all of God’s creation, including other races, and most especially, what his countrymen considered the inferior races. The Blacks...the Cushites...Negro slaves...
From the time of his seventeenth birthday, when he had witnessed a cruel killing of his personal valet’s sister, a childlike house maid whose only crimes had been to be born pretty and eventually attempt escape from being raped by her master (his father,) Justice had hidden and nurtured a forbidden love for the black race. He wanted to know why they were so unfortunate in their destiny. He wanted to see the home sweet home they often sang about while working on the cotton plantations; he wanted to help them, as much as he could, away from the disapproving and hateful eyes of his own race. It had occurred to him while reading the letter from the queen, that there was in fact, no time like the present. Bryce was only one of thirty homing birds trained to trace the locations of any British battle cruiser. They were excellent in their missions, and well used to the seas.
But they were not used to Africa.
He entered his cabin and began writing into his diary the day’s events. He expected to reach the port at Canaan by nightfall. He in fact, had an acquaintance living among the natives there, doing missionary work. Miss Mary Slessor would be astonished to see him! The razor sharp, angular features of the duchess of Brunswick came to his mind unbidden again. She had always sought him out at parties, grasping at his arm with rail thin fingers; fingers that had long, pointed red nails; smiling at him, her small pink mouth ever in motion, complaining about her recalcitrant seamstress, or the vulgar fashions in Paris, or the awfully wet London weather, or whatever got into her elaborately decorated head. Justice Hall was in fact, running away.
A slight knock on his cabin door let him know that Akanimo, his valet and best friend, was about to enter. Akanimo came in with a wide grin on his roundish face. He was one of the few slaves who had been allowed to keep his birth name, mostly because, he, Justice, was his master. Rather short, and absolutely black as night, the stout fellow folded his hands at the elbows and spoke, “Massa-Jus! Is it a true thing, that we be going to my home land?”
Not too far away, deep inside the forest that was beyond the river basin, Chief Earl Eyam Attah fingered his grizzly white beard as he watched his wife, Unyime, recite scripture as part of her supplication to the white man’s God. The white man’s God was brought to them in the image of a white man, with long feminine hair, all sorts of accoutrements; a rosary of assorted beads, some misshapen wooden crosses, holy oils and even holier waters, a dead mother with almost greater powers... Of course he believed in God...the African God, whom nobody could see, who was everywhere and in everything, the Most High. It’s just that, he also believed in other gods, too. Helpful, very strong beings that were easier to access, and quick to respond.
There was a saying amongst his people: Ebemiso idim ekit enyim idim...The first person to reach the stream in the morning is the one who sees the beauty of the stream.
Chief Attah admired his wife, Unyime, as she bowed down before the big blue sky, her head touching the Rocky mountain ground, her arms outstretched, her slender fingers clutching at the grass, her plump, round behind innocently presented to him. He had married her because of it, and because it was prophesied she would rekindle the ancient way of the fore fathers; the way of life. So when the white mother of Okoyong first arrived with her Bible, well, he never thought to question it, or the friendship that suddenly blossomed between the two women. Now he wished he had.
He silently moved away from his praying wife, meandering along dangerous paths of the mountains steep incline, to arrive at an infamous cave decorated with hanging skulls. The pungent smell of Palm wine assaulted his nostrils even as Solomon Effiong of Etoi welcomed him inside with a crazed laugh, “No patience for the Son of The Owner?”
The Chief was careful with his reply, not fooled into ease by the bushy, laid back visage of the drunken wizard. Who did not know of Solomon Effiong of Etoi? He drank the blood of virgins when it was still warm. He twisted the necks of goats with one look from his smokey gray eyes. He sat at table with fallen angels, bartering, mediating, and eating his fill of spiritual politics. He was as unpredictable as the rain in the month of March.
“Why can’t patience be industrious? My enemy does not sleep, you know.”
“So you want to help God, The Owner,” more crazed laughter, “And, who is your enemy?”
“Nsidung Edet Hogan Bassey.”
The juju high priest stood up from his cane chair and towered over the rotund high chief, his angular face in a hideous grimace, “I know what you seek, Chief Attah! I know why you have come here.” The Chief lifted his chin at him,
“And am I wrong to protect my heritage? He has challenged my right to wield the tripod! And even worse, he has sought to distract my political ambition by declaring my favourite daughter, his chosen bride! His audacity is the scorpion I mean to crush underfoot!”
Solomon’s face stretched tight, “Lower your voice Chief; the dead may be blind but they are not deaf, don’t you know, there are many spirits here?”
“I’m sorry, Solomon, I mean no disrespect---”
“No, you mean only conquest,” he jabbed a crooked finger at the Chief’s chest, “-and yet, that is not why you are here,” head tilting to the right, the juju high priest sniffed suspiciously at the neck of his visitor, “-every human has two kinds of fate: the first is the fate of the fall; the original design, the draft blueprint, the instructions on your user manual stating your purpose, your mission. It is not sure, but it unfolds regardless unless-” he held a finger up, “-unless not chosen, everyday,” he paused, backing away from him only slightly, his eyes gleaming with a strange fiery light, “The second fate,” he continued, watching the Chief squirm, “-is a destiny uncharted by any experience, hidden, as it were, in the collective success of the Son of The Owner; it is predestined and yet it’s virgin navigation has only seen the masterful lead of The Pre-eminence. It is sure, if, and only if, it is chosen, everyday,” he flicked his wrist, “Men like me, we ply our trade on what it is you have chosen. You see that choice, then, is the doppleganger of fate. But to be able to wield it’s power you must walk with it, everywhere you go, everyday you live. Go now, and decide exactly what to ask my masters. Is it to protect your daughter? Is it to gain the crown of the Tripod? When you know the answer, return with your boon.”
The tall, lanky man swaggered back to his cane chair in the darkness of his mysterious lair. The temptation to tarry was there, if only to see whether those rumours were true, did the juju high priest really burst into flames when communing with the damned? But Chief Attah did not tarry. Solomon Effiong of Etoi was a man between two worlds, and the chief was not planning to join him there. Unyime was still praying when he stealthily climbed back up to the summit. Like a huge black cat, he curled himself behind her on the ground, settling into a comfortable position and enjoying the marvelous view. He would have to buy her a new wrapper soon. It was thirty days to the Night of First Rain after all. A Chief’s wife has a duty to shine like the jewels of the night sky during all festivities.