The anu tree, popularly known as the tree of life was like an obsession for my kindred. It grew in every compound and space we could spare. It was the towering branches of this kind tree that broke Mama’s free fall. Her cloth, which was woven from animal hide got stuck to a branch, and there she dangled like a fairy from one of Papa’s midnight tales.
I managed a laugh which was short-lived as before me now, stood a raging beast. I was too frightened to move. The crowd had shifted further away, leaving me and Mama to the mercy of Patanimora’s demon.
“Wura! Kabiya!” I heard Papa call out from the distance. From my peripheral vision, I could see several men holding him down, pleading with him to go no further.
“Run Wura! Run!”
The monster loomed, breathing fire from its horn. Its metamorphosis had begun in earnest, and now, it resembled nothing of its host. It took two heavy steps which shook the earth and approached me, claws outstretched.
Amid its ferocious roar, came the distinct clack-clack of the Preacher’s shoes. Never had I been so glad to see Father Tom. He smiled at me and patted my head. He wasn’t frightened; neither did he appear fazed by the approaching beast.
“Mama!” I pointed frantically to the tree.
He looked up and I could see pain and sadness crawl into his features.
“Are you not Kobe’s son?” he asked. His voice was so soft, all I heard was ‘Kobe’ and ‘son’, but that was enough.
“What is your name?”
I looked at the approaching beast, my eyes bulging in terror. Father Tom followed my gaze and smiled sadly.
“What is your name?” he asked again, muttering something that sounded like ‘the end of days’ under his breath.
“Wura,” I said, drawing closer to him.
“Get behind me, Wura.”
He stood tall, his white dress shining in the sunlight. Then he raised his holy book into the air and addressed the beast.
“You blood-sucking demon from hell, I command you to go back from whence you came.”
The demon shrieked in laughter.
“I know you not, son of man . . . and not even you and your antics can stop me. Please go away and let me feast upon blood and flesh. I have not come for you.”
The demon roared hitting its chest with its claws. Its every breath was a stream of fiery sparks.
“In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy ghost, I command you to leave this body!” Father Tom made a sign of the cross in the air. He shook his holy book at the beast but nothing he did had any effects whatsoever.
The demon ignored the Priest and reached for Mama, plucking her from the tree with one swoop of its mighty arms.
“No!” Papa and I screamed at the same time.
Father Tom lost his smile. The green vein on his forehead throbbed as he handed me his holy book. It was heavy and almost fell to the ground as I received it, my heart racing.
Father Tom folded the sleeves of his cloak. Dipping his hands into a pocket on the side of his dress, he retrieved a small, yellow weather-beaten note book. He thumbed the pages and stopped somewhere at the middle. The speed at which his fingers moved was the only telltale sign that gave away his agitated demeanour.
I heard Papa’s voice, but what he said, I could not tell. I was cold. I had goose bumps crawling all over my skin as I watched the demon drag Mama by the feet through the stony path that led back into Dimoku’s hut.
Mama clawed at the earth, her fingers bleeding as she desperately tried to grab a stone, an upended root, anything to keep her still. Her eyes held mine, the frightened look gave me chills. From her lips came a guttural moan.
Hastily, Father Tom began reading from his book. The words he spoke were the strangest I had heard. His tongue seemed to roll over each letter like he had to get the pronunciations right. His voice grew louder and at the same time the sky darkened. Then came the wind, whirling like a tornado. It rushed into my ears and I feared I would go deaf. Dead leaves floated in the air, bits of sand and stones, the lanes through which they taxied, stinging our eyes till they were sore.
The demon halted. It let go of Mama as if she had suddenly become too hot. She crawled on her belly, tears in her eyes, getting as far away as she could from the monster. Then she stood up and ran till she was safely behind the preacher. I ran into her arms and cried while she sobbed. Papa came forward and wrapped his arms around us. Then he moved us back into the crowd. My kindred had already began dispersing. The wind was so violent, even I wasn’t free from getting blown away by its gale.
Papa carried me in his arms. Heads down and shoulders hunched, Papa and Mama ran home to safety, from where we watched the preacher battle the demon in a fight that had become bizarre.
Soon the demon was engulfed in blue and yellow flames. Its throes as it flailed were deafening and scary. Kasi was beside me in an instant. She had cried her eyes out. She shook like a leaf. I carried her in my arms and rocked her till she became calm.
Papa cradled his wife. He whispered into her ears, telling her everything would be fine.
“Wura, get me the calabash beneath the bed.” Ordered Papa.
I drew out the slimy black medicine jar and handed it to him. He dipped his hands into the concoction and began massaging Mama’s sores. She groaned, and bit down on her lower lip till she drew blood.
“You will be fine,” Papa cooed.
Mama nodded but the look in her eyes said different.
“She is weak,” I told Papa.
Gently, he lay her on the bed, running his coarse hands over her strong black curls.
The gale subsided leaving behind ghastly silence. We saw Father Tom approaching. He trudged down the slope, his head bowed, his chin nearly touching his chest. His white cloak was stained black with soot and grime. We strained our necks to behold the victory. But what we saw was anything but a victory.
Dimoku wept over the charred remains of his wife.
I felt an itch in my ear and I started. Was I going to be sick too? I looked fearfully about me. I stretched out my arms and surveyed my skin. Had I caught the plague?
I turned to show him my skin but he was gone.
I stepped out and saw him running out to meet the priest.
I followed closely behind.
“Father Tom, what is going on?” he asked.
The priest stood, he observed Papa for a long time and continued on his way.
“Father! Father!” Papa called after him.
“Stagnation . . . damnation . . .” the priest muttered.
“Father but I do not understand. What have we done wrong to deserve the wrath of the gods?”
“Stagnation . . . damnation.” And he just continued on his way till he disappeared behind a withering copse.
That evening, the village was eerily quiet. No one knew who was next on Patanimora’s hit list, or was it Amakaleva’s? Everyone waited with bated breath.
The tension of the day now gone began to take its toll. I fell asleep where I sat watching the night skies, snoring loudly like I had no cares.
I had barely closed my eyes than Papa’s wails roused me from my nascent slumber.
“Get the exorcist!” he yelled.
Though I had never heard the word and did not know who the exorcist was, one look at Mama’s features told me all I needed to know.
Papa cradled the monstrous shape in his arms, calling on the gods of his forefathers to come to his aid.
“You can fight this Kabiya. You can fight this—Go get the exorcist!” Papa’s face was a mask of everything unearthly.
Kisa’s screams echoed in my head as I dashed out of the house and headed for the Preacher’s hut. But I didn’t have to go far. From the distance I saw flames, bright and sinister, dancing into the air. Then I heard him roar like a caged animal.
The Preachers hut was on fire.
His distorted form appeared from the flames. A hand clutched his holy book. The other tore at it, trying to cast it into the flames. He wailed, calling on his god to come down.
Quickly, I retracted my steps and headed home.
The village was in an uproar.
My head resonated with high-pitched, ear-splitting screams. Thick black smoke spewed from several homes including mine.
I met Papa kneeling in front of the hut, his head bowed, his shoulders hunched.
“The exorcist . . . the exorc—” the words died in my lips as I beheld my Papa’s face.
Dread, cold and vicious seized my heart.
Papa’s eyes were a pool of black ink. The tears that crawled down his cheeks were thick, slimy and dark. He bared his teeth. I shrank back. The fangs were over four inches long and they were stained with blood. He raised his hands to his lips and licked the blood from his claws. Then he laughed, a biting snarl that grated on my nerves.
Not so far away from him I saw Kasi. Her body was headless. Her limbs had been viciously torn and her carcass flung aside in a careless manner.
My eyes darkened at the sight of her. Then I felt the tears tumbling down. I shook with an unfamiliar rage whilst I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. I jumped back at the sight of my tears—black just like Papa’s. I screamed. The mangled cry startled me. I struck the earth and cursed the gods with vehemence.
I looked around me. My village was on fire. Papa had become an unrecognisable creature. Mama’s howls I could hear from faraway, likewise the howls of hundreds of my kinsmen and women.
With the scent of blood flooding my senses, I bowed my head and shed more black tears.