‘THEY SAY EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON’
It was ten minutes after midnight when I heard the loud wail.
The piercing scream that tore the peace of the night to fragments.
It was not a far away wail like the ones I had heard from Effiong’s house, only two days ago.
This cry felt like it came from my belly, from my mouth, in my house.
I scrammed off the raffia mat that was my bed and raced to the room my parents shared.
Truth be told it wasn’t so much their bedroom as it was our living room, dining room, study room and any other function we needed it for.
In the dark I perused my way and stumbled on a head.
My mother had her wrapper around her waist and flared her arms in the air.
“Who will care for us now?”
“Who will protect us?” she embraced herself and wept.
She looked up hearing my voice but in the dark, she couldn’t see me.
“Your father is no more” she said her voice quivering.
I’d rehearsed this moment in my mind for weeks. Ever since the men in our village began to drop like flies, I began to imagine, what my reaction would be if mine did.
My mother stopped her wailing and stared at me like I was a three headed horse.
“Eddy, did you hear me?”
“I said your father is dead!” she sniffed.
I opened my mouth to say the things I’d rehearsed but instantly shut them when I realized how different our situations was.
My eyes grew large in their sockets.
“Papa!” it fell out like a whisper.
My mother nodded in agreement, pleased that I had finally realized how dire our situation was.
“I heard him sigh, o.” Tears streamed down her cheek.
“And so, I asked him what he was thinking about.” More tears.
“Take it easy, mama.” I pacified, searching for the light.
“He said they had won. I didn’t know what he meant.”
“Eddy, I didn’t know what he meant.” She shook her head and began to wail again.
I could hear our neighbours, run up the stairs and knew that they’d be knocking on our door in minutes.
My father had promised that he’d sell his land to the ‘oyinbo’ and use the money to send me to boarding school in Lagos.
His brothers disagreed.
‘It’s a waste to spend such money on a female child; on education of all things.’ They’d said.
Instead they had proposed that I go work in some rich man’s house in Lagos, as his maid.
Again, my father had disagreed.
Everything was perfect until the ‘oyinbo’ accidentally told my father what the land was to be used for.
His brothers gleamed like vultures, my father said no.
The lawyer said all three brothers had to agree and sign the document for the sale to be complete.
I stared at the cold lifeless body of the man who was once my father.
They didn’t need him anymore.
A wail was forming in my throat.
They had come.
My neighbours and some people I didn’t know.
Professional mourners, throwing themselves on the floor, weeping and wailing, and most of
them didn’t even know him.
“My sister, sorry o” they held my mother up, stylishly pulling her away from the body.
The men wrapped him in the mat and carried him off.
I wanted to ask them not to take that mat, to use mine instead.
The mat was fairly new, unlike mine which was threadbare and worn.
I watched as though from someone else’s eyes as my mother told and retold the story of how she knew he’d died.
Tears quietly made their way, against my permission, like tiny soldiers of sorrow, marching straight form my eyes and unto my cheeks.
“Take heart my dear.” Ekaete, my neighbour patted my shoulder.
“God knows why this is happening.” She said, but in her eyes I saw her pray such evil would not befall her husband.
Next, as if on cue was Effiong and her football team of children.
Her eyes still dark and heavy from tears. She still wore black and tied her hair.
Everyone moved out of her way like she was a mourning dignitary in our midst.
My mother looked up at her like a baby for its bottle.
“Effiong.” She whispered.
“Ekanem, it’s alright.”
My mother shook the words out of her ears.
“These things.” She paused.
“They happen for a reason.”
I stared at the woman uttering the words, knowing that she herself didn’t believe that.
The sun was slowly rising, streaming soft light into our living room.
My mother’s face, grief stricken, seemed to have aged over night.
I watched the sun stretch slowly to full view, wishing I was in another time and place.
In the horizon, a cloud of dust rose in the direction of our house.
The only car I’d seen on our road was the ‘oyinbo’s’ but he was long gone.
We all stopped mourning and stretched our necks to see where the car was going.
I wasn’t as surprised to see the car stop in front of my house as I was to see my uncle step out.
Uncle Bassey, tall, bearded and brawny didn’t need introduction in our town. He had bullied his way from his first steps, crushing anyone who stood in his way.
A murmur built up in the room, and I knew what the question was.
‘Whose car is that?’
The murmurs continued as he made his way up the stairs and into the living room.
“Amesiere, Good morning.” He beamed
“Where is my beloved brother?” he bellowed.
My mother let out a piercing sob.
“Ey!” Effiong placed her hands over her chest in pain for my mother.
“What’s going on here?” Bassey asked, confused.
I watched, dryly, as my uncle shoved people out of his way.
It was like a movie with a bad lead actor.
“Ekanem, why are all these people in my brother’s house?”
“Iniabasi” she sobbed.
“Our husband, your brother is no more.” Effiong added, embracing my mother as she would a child.
“Lies!” Uncle Bassey stepped back as thought it was death and not my mother that sat before him.
“It’s true, Bassey.”
Dark rings had formed under my mother’s eyes.
“It happened this morning.” She said through tears.
“Where’s the body then?”
My mother’s stared at the ground in horror.
“The men carried it away.” Effiong replied.
“Iniabasi, is now ‘it’?” My mother trembled in grief.
“Take it easy, Ekanem.” The grievers murmured.
“Uwad mfen asug adi! Another car is coming!” someone yelped, breaking the awkward silence.
Again we all stretched to see who it was, all except my mother and me.
It was then that I noticed that, my Uncle Bassey had changed.
He was no longer wearing his faded beads, tired clothes or worn out shoes; Uncle Bassey had on some crocodile skin shoes to begin with, coral beads and I could still see the sticker of the fabric he wore.
My mother also noticed and shook her head.
“Amesiere!” Uncle Akpan called from the door.
My mother and I had been so caught up in Uncle Bassey that we forgot about the ‘other car’.
Uncle Apkan was what we called ‘ufah’, stingy.
My father told me that when they were younger Uncle Akpan had been given sweets to share to the children, and because he wanted to hoard it to himself, he climbed a tree and hid them there. Unfortunately, he slipped on his way down and broke his leg.
An injury that could have been fixed easily, but in those days, all they had access to, were native doctors, hence Uncle Akpan’s leg never quite healed.
“Akpan, Amesiere!” Uncle Bassey walked up to him.
The two of them whispered to themselves, occasionally stopping to stare at my mother.
“Nsido? What happened?” Uncle Akpan asked as he wobbled to my mother.
My mother told the story again, to the soft lamentations of the grievers.
Uncle Apkan laughed out heartily.
His loud cackles ringing about the house like the taunts of a hyena.
“Amanam eti eti!”
“Hm, Ekanem! Well done!” he sneered.
“You and your witches have done your worst!”
My mother trembled and sobbed bitterly.
“See, she’s not even denying it!”
“They have feasted on him and drank his blood. Now, she sheds tears as a human being.”
“Yet, here you are. In a brand new car, and shiny clothes accusing another of witchcraft!” thoughts tumbled out of my lips.
Everyone had been so wrapped up in my mother’s grief, that they had forgotten she had a child.
The shock on their faces was palpable.
I wished I’d never spoken and by the time Uncle Bassey grabbed my arm, I wished I’d never been born.
Uncle Bassey had no qualms dragging me through the crowd, to our make shift kitchen and thrashing me.
I tried to numb myself to the pain, but receiving back to back slaps to my cheeks loosened muscles I didn’t even know I had.
“You killed him, I know you did!”
“You and Uncle Akpan killed him because he wouldn’t sell his land!” I screamed in pain.
Not fathoming any worse pain that my burning cheeks.
His face paled at my outburst, but worse was that the guests in the living room were beginning to murmur.
“You? Daughter of a witch! You dare accuse me?” he searched with his eyes for something to strike me with.
Fearing for my life, I raced to the door but he was faster.
The clank of the pot on my head sent waves of pain through my entire body.
“Abasi!” I screamed.
Effiong appeared beside me and waded off another blow from my uncle.
“This is not the time.” She said sternly.
“Edidiong, the day you open your little mouth to speak to me again, you’ll join your father where he is!” he tossed the pot aside and stormed out.
I rubbed the spot where I’d been struck and wept.
In the living room, my uncles announced that they would manage the burial and all that concerned my now, late father.
One by one, the grievers left, leaving only Effiong.
“Ekanem, I’m so sorry.” She knelt beside my mother and held her hands.
“I thought I had it bad, but my sister, you are in a very dangerous position.”
I sat on the mat and listened to the sounds of noon.
Everything was normal outside our door, lives continued, while mine had stopped dead in its tracks.
My mother seemed to aged with each passing hour, the excitement of life slowly seeping out of her.
I couldn’t tell if it was the love she had for my father that caused her to mourn so bitterly, or if it was knowing, that he was murdered by his own brothers.
“Effiong, thank you so much.”
“I need to pick out a cloth for him to be buried in.” She rose gracefully.
“Don’t. Your brothers will.”
Effiong regretted the statement as soon as she said it, but it was the truth.
“Ekanem, there are some things you need to know. Things I wish I’d known when mine passed away.”
“That my husband’s brothers murdered him because of some stupid land?” she spat out in anger.
“Or that Bassey will force me to become his wife, because ‘it’s what my late husband would have wanted’?”
“Ekanem, calm down.” Effiong paced the little space in the room.
My mother grabbed her wrapper and let out a heart wrenching scream.
“Why is this happening to me?”
“My God, why is this happening?”
“Mama, everything will be okay.” I tried to sound as encouraging as I could.
My mother let out a cold and chilling laugh.
“You don’t know, do you?”
“Ekanem, calm down!” Effiong replied darkly.
A shiver crept upon me.
“Ekanem, you have to be strong for your daughter! You’re all she has left.”
“As I was saying, you have to search you house, right now, for anything your husband left behind.”
“Money, properties, anything, you need to find them, before they come back.”
“Aunty Effiong, I don’t think my father has anything of significance, and even if he did, I’m sure they have taken it already!”
“Kup inua, shut up!” Effiong replied sharply.
“Shut that little mouth of yours. Is the beating from this morning already gone from your mind?” she nervously looked around as though one of my uncles was going to appear.
“It’s the truth Aunty; no beating will make me quiet.”
“Mama, did you see the cars and the clothes?”
“Do you think that the miserable N100, that father has hidden in his socks is their problem? Or it’s this ‘house’?”
“Uncle Bassey and Uncle Akpan have taken all they need from father, what we should be asking is what they would do with us because that’s what they do not need!”
Both women stared wide-eyed at me.
“The girl is right, Effiong.”
“Iniabasi had nothing to covet, his prized possession they have taken. I have no fight in me, I just want to bury my husband and continue life, without them.”
“If that’s what you say, then so be it.” Effiong gathered her wrapper.
“I have to return to my house and see to my children. I’ll return and check up on you.”
“Se songo, Effiong.”
“Don’t thank me; it’s the right thing to do.”
She whispered into my mother’s ear and left.
“What did she say?” I asked noting my mother’s visible discomfort.
My mother didn’t reply but stared at the door as if expecting someone.
“Mama, what did she say?” I asked again.
“She said that the ‘sisters’ are meeting tonight and I should come.”
“The sisters? As in the Market women or widows?”
Gentle tears slid down her cheeks and I wished I hadn’t used the word.
“No, not the widows, witches.”
My eyes opened up like little saucers.
“Witches?” I stammered.
“I suspected she joined them, right after her husband died, but that she would invite me, is bizarre.” She replied.
I stared out the door, expecting something eerie to happen.
“You should see your face!” my mother chuckled.
“What happens now?”
“We just have to wait and see; in the meantime, bring your mat here, so we can sleep.”
“Mama, aren’t you hungry?”
“No, my tongue feels like sanding paper, I cant even bear the thought of chewing anything right now. Are you?”
“I feel the same.” I replied as I dragged my mat into the living room.
“Oh Abasi! If I had known I would have told them to wrap him in yours!”
We lay on the mat, physically present but mentally wrestling our fate.
Uncertainty and fear wrapped their spindly fingers around me, keeping me awake, most of the night.
My life was about to change that I was certain of, better or worse, only time would reveal.