He drove slowly, till he got to yet another junction.
Three men were leaning on a bent palm tree. ‘Which road leads to Odada village?’ he inquired. One of the men directed him. He zoomed off. The mechanic had told him that at Odada village he would see a large market. Everyone in the market would know Mazi Edene’s compound.
The compound was very large, but fenced with bamboos tied together with forest ropes. Bush mangoes were scattered about, and at the entrance was a plantain plantation. Children roamed about and teenage girls were pouring water into a large drum filled with rice ready for parboiling.
He rested his motorcycle and walked to the front of a large bungalow roofed with rusted corrugated zinc sheets. He greeted a man who was scraping out the burnt parts of a roasted yam.
‘You are welcome, Sir.’
‘Thank you. I am made to believe that this is Mazi Edene’s compound?’
‘Yes. I am Mazi Edene.’
Mazi Edene stood and brought out a wooden arm-chair, dusted and offered it to his visitor.
‘Thanks… I can see that you are a rice farmer.’
‘Yes. Welcome, once again. How may I help you?’
‘I am John. I journeyed from Abakaliki town. I am here to see you, Sir.’ John looked around the large compound. He looked at his host – Mazi Edene was in his late fifties and his head was bald. He was extremely tall and pot-bellied. His eyes were bulged and reddish. His arms were as muscular as those of wrestlers. John looked down and sullen, for he had come with a heavy laden. He did not know how to start.
‘You know one Mr. Isaac? He is a mechanic in the town?’
‘Yes… he is my brother’s son… any problem with him?’
‘No. Not at all. He directed me to you.’ John brought his chair closer. ‘I am sorry to bother you, Sir, in this time of day. But I come with a heavy heart. I am here because for eight years I have been married; my wife has had no baby at her breasts. I repair my car in Isaac’s workshop. We have known each other for quite a long time now. He is aware of my predicament and he directed me to come see you… Sir, he told me that you will take me to a certain place, where they will make babies cry in my house.’
Mazi Edene remained silent for a while. He dipped his left hand into his pocket and brought out a small container ‘Hmn… what a pity. Eight years you say?’
‘Yes, Sir. That is not all. They want to kill my wife. She graduates from one illness to the other. All the money I make as a driver for a Commissioner in the city has all gone into her treatments. And into paying one pastor after another, reverends, evangelists, and diviners. All to no avail.’
Mazi Edene was silent again. From the small container in his right hand, he poured some snuff into his cupped left hand and offered the container to his visitor. John accepted and poured some into his hand and gave the container back to his host, who kept it by his side. They took pinches of the snuff into their nostrils, in silence.
‘You said Isaac directed you to come and see me?’
Mazi Edene sneezed and coughed. ‘And that I will take you to someplace?’
‘And that you come all the way from Abakaliki town?’
‘That is right, Sir. Please help me. They want to kill my wife for me.’
Mazi Edene shifted on his seat. Clapped his hands together and wiped them on his dirty wrapper. ‘Never to worry. I will take you to someplace because Isaac directed you. Isaac is a good boy. How is he?’
‘Fine, Sir. He is a good boy and a good mechanic too for his age. That is where I repair my oga’s cars. I am a driver.’
‘It will cost you a lot of money and time. A lot of money.’
‘If they will make my wife to conceive, I do not mind. What are we alive for if not to have children that will take care of us at our old age. I have spent a lot. Nothing I spend now will deter me from trying. Besides, I also want to put a stop to my wife’s illness. They have denied her children and also want her dead.’
A dusty wind came and snatched off from the ground all the leaves.
‘I will lead you to someplace. How much do you have with you, here?’
‘I have five – thousand Naira.’
Mazi Edene laughed aloud. His brown teeth showing. He blew his nose and wiped it with the back of his palm. John blew his nose too and cleaned his nostrils with a flowered handkerchief.
‘You are not ready, my friend. Go and raise money. Come back and we shall go.’
‘Like how much should I raise?’ John was seated at the edge of the chair.
‘I don’t know. But raise a lot of money. Then come with five tubers of yam. A keg of palm wine. A crate of beer. A cock. And seven kola nuts.’
‘Alright. I will find the items. I will come next week. Sir, how much will I pay you?’
‘Thanks. Please, the snuff again.’
Mazi Edene offered it to him gladly.
‘You are a man, John. Everything is complete. Let us go, but you will fuel my motorcycle, for where we go is a bit far.’
‘No problems at all. Let us go then.’ They zoomed off. Mazi Edene’s five wives were watching. They couldn’t stop staring at the short man and his pot belly. John’s hair was bushy but neat and his face the size of a large orange. It was yet another trip to Udele deity. A lot of people visit Mazi Edene to lead them to the shrine for charms, either to make money or to have children, to grow their business, for promotion in their jobs or for their farm yield to increase during harvests. Mazi Edene had never said no to any of the offers to lead in the journey, but he had never journeyed to Udele shrine for any favour of his own.
It was a 50 minute ride to their destination. When they arrived, they parked their motorcycles under an udara tree. John untied the items and Mazi Edene asked him to keep them by their motorcycles. They could see some people leaving the small compound. It had a long building, finished with asbestos roofing, but parts of the walls were cracked. There were motorcycles parked in different corners and fruits were planted by the two sides of the compound. They walked to the side of the compound were an elderly man sat on a recliner.
‘Good afternoon, my lord!’ Mazi Edene greeted, bowing low. The elderly man stretched his right hand and shook Mazi Edene’s.
‘You look good today. How is the family?’ he asked.
‘They were all well when we left.’
He looked at John.
‘Good afternoon,’ John greeted.
‘Good afternoon.’ He stretched out his hand again and John took it. He pointed at some plastic chairs nearby, John and Mazi Edene took two chairs and sat down.
John looked around. There was no charm hanging around the compound, unlike every other place he had visited – there were always charms hanging on trees like ornamentals.
‘I do not know your friend,’ said the elderly man.
‘Yes. You do not know him. His name is John. He is here to see you my lord.’ John nodded. He was staring at the elderly man. The man had a long beard that had sprouts of gray. His fingers were longer than the feet of a cock. His neck was long and made him resemble a gazelle. He must have been handsome when he was young. He wore an old trouser that was dirty and his shirt was torn on the breast exposing a singlet that looked like it had known no washing for a long time. John wondered if he was in the right place.
‘Now, my young man. Tell me why you have come to pay me homage.’
Homage? John cleared his throat and brought his chair closer. He narrated the incident of childlessness and capped it with the story about his wife’s constant illness.
‘Very well. What do you want the Udele deity to do for you, my son?’
‘Please. I need your help. I need a child.’
The old man to whom they called, Lord, smiled and said: ‘It will cost you a lot. Bring me a crate of beer. Three kola nuts and twenty-thousand Naira.’ Mazi Edene and John left for a private conversation.
When they returned, they brought him a crate of beer and the kola nuts. They offered him the sum of five-thousand naira and he rejected it.
‘Give me fifteen-thousand Naira,’ he said.
Mazi Edene pleaded: ‘Please. Accept what we offer, for we will still meet you priests in the Udele forest.’
The elderly man took one bottle of beer, uncorked it with his teeth and drank from the bottle. He offered a bottle each to his visitors, and insisted they accept it. After they had gulped the drinks in silence, he said: ‘I will collect Thirteen-thousand-five-hundred Naira.’ Mazi Edene looked at John. John nodded sceptically.
‘Can we offer you Ten-thousand Naira and bring the remainder later?’ John asked.
‘Yes, you can, but you must bring it. You must. Now you owe me.’ They counted the money and gave it to him. He put it in his pocket without counting it and waved them to continue. They entered a thick forest through a narrow path by the backyard. They walked a little distance and saw a large clearing. It had a hall roofed with thatch. There were huts decorated with charms. There were over eight shrines in the clearing.
Four men of Mazi Edene’s age were seated on reclining chairs resting their bones. They were the men that Mazi Edene had referred to as the elderly man’s children. There were also about four children under ten years old who were roasting a chicken.
‘You are welcome,’ one of the men said.
‘Mr. John, you are here because… your wife to whom you have been married for years have presented you with no child.’
‘Yes… Sir.’ John wondered how they knew why he had come. They were not present when he discussed his problems in the compound. He became more nervous.
‘You wife is currently undergoing treatment in a hospital in Abakaliki town.’
He knelt down. ‘Yes… I want a child, please. I have visited a lot of places for years now and nothing has happened. I also want my wife to get cured—’
‘We will do all that. But it will cost you a lot of money.’
‘I have given money to the elderly one.’ John looked at Mazi Edene.
‘Give us a keg of palm wine. Four kola nuts. A cock and ten-thousand Naira.’ After the negotiations, he gave them three thousand, to pay a remainder of four thousand later. Mazi Edene went to their motorcycle and brought a cork, a keg of palm wine, and the kola nuts.
They took John and Mazi Edene to a shrine in a large room. Three of the diviners sat on small stools. John and Mazi Edene sat on a torn mat.
‘People from far and near come here to get their problems solved. If you want spiritual powers, we will offer it to you, political powers, wealth, fame. Anything you can think of. You are in the right place.’
‘May God be praised,’ John said.
‘Good. You are a Christian?’
‘You will sing your church song here,’ one of the diviners said, pointing at the shrine. ‘Come closer to the shrine and sing the song.’
John was taken aback. Mazi Edene nodded. He went closer and began to sing:
There is something that makes me come into your presence
There is something that makes me come into your presence
My helper oh
Jesus oh, my helper!
There is something that makes me come into your presence
‘Enough!’ one of the diviners said. ‘Now, you have seen that all gods are the same. Yours and ours have no difference. Wait.’ He went outside and came back with two leaves. He offered one to John.
‘Watch me.’ He cupped his left hand. Placed the leaf on the cupped hand and used his right palm to hit on the leaf. It broke in two with a pom sound.
‘You will do as I have done. If the leaf break in the middle. It shows that your prayers will be answered. If not, there is little or nothing we can do.’
John placed the leaf on his cupped left hand and hit it with his right and pom, it broke.
‘Very good.’ The diviner spoke to the oracle in a language that John couldn’t understand. ‘Now, Udele deity will want to know what you request of him.’
‘Talk in your language and he will understand.’
John cleared his throat and began. His face contracted and his eyes shown with fear and anxiety.
‘The great deity, Udele. I come to you today with a heavy heart. I am laden with a heavy load and I come for you to unlade me.’ He cleared his throat again and moved closer to the shrine. ‘I have been married for seven years. My enemies have sworn to ensure that I die with no heir to my properties. The worst is that… my wife, whom I love so much, is on the verge of dying. I need assistance. Please, heal my wife. Give me a child. Even if my wife will conceive just for once. I don’t care if I lose the child. Just make her to conceive so that people will know that I am a man and that my wife is not barren.’ John looked around at all of them, ‘Do this for me and I will forever remain a loyal servant. I will honour you with a ram. I thank thee.’
There was silence. The men stared at themselves. Mazi Edene was very calm and sober for John had made a grave mistake.
‘We will give you two charms.’
The diviners gave him two little stones wrapped in a piece of red cloth. ‘When you get to your house. Keep one under your mattress, make love to your wife and she will conceive, instantly. The second one, your wife will wear it round her waist for seven days, all the evil against her that makes her ill will vanish. Any evil against her henceforth will backfire.’
… to be continued.