This tells of a family’s struggle to find a cure to their beloved daughter’s sudden unexplainable illness. It brings to the forefront, the conflict between the traditional African belief system and superstitions as it relates to Western ideologies.
An Owl howled ceaselessly behind our hut the night before Isioma disappeared making my little sister Olaedo pee on our sleeping mat. Papa swore slightly, vowing to cut down the ‘ube’ tree on which it was perched the next morning even though it was planted to indicate the boundary line demarcating our compound from Mazi Okengwu’s land.
“It is a very bad omen! May our fathers’ not allow the lizard to grow hairs,” Papa said in Igbo snapping his thumb and index fingers together for emphasis.
Instead of rushing out to pick the ripe ‘ube’ fruits which had fallen during the night like I used to do first thing early in the morning, I chose to watch Mama roast the small yam seedlings which did not make it into the farming season for breakfast. Olaedo did not let the secrets of the night hold her back however, for she ran straight to the ube tree and picked up all the succulent fruits lying on the ground. She skipped on one leg then the other whistling as she ran into our mother’s thatched kitchen hut holding out the ‘ube’ fruits for me to see.
She taunted sticking out her tongue. I ignored her as she proceeded to roast the fruits beside the yams Mama was roasting. The aroma of roasted ‘ube’ filled the hut as Olaedo used a stick to retrieve them from the hot embers of coal. The roasted ube fruits covered with ashes, their broken skins oozing little streams of oil drew saliva to my mouth. Olaedo picked one up, cleaned off the ashes and popped it into her mouth in one quick flash, closing her eyes and murmuring as she savoured the taste. I could not stand it any more so I stood up to fetch a knife with which to scrape of the soot from the roasted yams.
I turned to see why Olaedo was screaming my name and was quick to realise my mistake.
“Isi gi wa wa wa, isi gi wa ka mkpuru ube!”
Olaedo chanted, throwing the seed of the ube fruit which she had just devoured against the wall, shattering it into little pieces in the process.
“I just shattered your foolish brain,” she said laughing hysterically.
I could not believe I had fallen for the age old prank of which I was the acclaimed master. I shrugged to show I wasn’t bothered; it wasn’t my brain anyway I reasoned and went in search of the knife. That was when I realized that I had not seen Isioma since after dinner yesterday evening.
“Mama did you send Isioma to the stream?” I shouted after my mother who was scattering grains of corn for the hen and her new chicks.
“No I did not. How could I have sent her to the stream in her condition when there is a freshly dug well at Mazi Okengwu’s compound? She retired early last night, she might still be sleeping,” Mama retorted.
Ever since Isioma my tomboy elder sister came back from school six months ago with a bloody head still fuming from her fight with the school bully Ikemefuna who didn’t know the difference between ‘A’ and ‘B’, the shaking had begun. You would be playing ‘uga’ with her and she would suddenly fall down and start twisting and shaking like an earthworm that had salt poured over it. The first time it happened, I annoyingly kicked her on the ground telling her to stand up. Isioma was naturally cunning; just because I had correctly guessed her next leg movement in ‘uga’ she was feigning sickness. I knew it was no joke when she started foaming from the mouth. I ran into the house and called for Mama.
Papa took her to all the renowned herbalists and native doctors in our village and beyond but Isioma continued to shake. She would fall and shake while taking her bath in our bathroom that Papa built with dry raffia palm fronds. She would fall and shake while cooking soup in our mother’s hut. The two stubs on her left foot where her last two toes were meant to be were what the fire left to perpetually remind Mama how long she must have laid beside the fire before she discovered her shaking on the dusty red sand in her kitchen. Henceforth, Mama never sent her on any errands that would take her away from her sight.
“Akpaka said I should bring her on the next Eke market day which is two days from today. He said that she is being pushed by ‘Agwu’ the demonic spirit. Please get the items he requested for the cleansing ready,” Papa said to Mama a few weeks later after the fire incident.
That was the night the owl refused to leave our ‘ube’ tree and howled all through the night.
Isioma did not come home the following day nor did we find her anywhere. The next day the village town crier went around the whole village announcing her disappearance and the reward of a fowl and five tubers of yam promised by Papa to who ever would find her. No one did.
It was a week later when Ebuka, Mazi Okengwu’s last son was trying to shoot down ripe ‘ube’ fruits with his brand new catapult that Isioma surfaced.
The stone that left his taut catapult hit its target and sent the ripe fruit straight into the well beside it with a dull splash. Ebuka and his playmate giggled thrilled by the rush of having hit their target even though the fruit was beyond reach now.
“Ebuka! Ebuka! See o!”
Chibueze his best friend called out to him pointing at the gross green mass that was floating on top of the well. Both boys ran off screaming. Papa and Mazi Okengwu who had come to condole him on Isioma’s disappearance with a fresh keg of sweet palm wine were the first to rush to the well by the ‘ube’ tree. Mama followed closely behind. She never made it past the ‘ube’ tree next to the well before she fainted.
Papa later told us that Isioma’s corpse was so bloated that Akpobi the heavily built man who normally helped the market women carry their heavy yam baskets to the market with his wheel barrow was asked to render his services for Isioma’s rotten body. Olaedo and I never got to see her because Mama who got only a glimpse barely speaks even till now. Papa and his kinsmen buried her slimy decayed body in the forest at the outskirts of the village like the ‘Ezemmuo’ instructed for it was a taboo to be pushed to your death by ‘Agwu’ the demonic spirit.
Papa cut down the ‘ube’ tree. He said it haboured the evil harbinger that brought the news that the lizard had grown hairs.