The soft earth bulged, shuddered and rose until it broke out in cracks, breaking into clumps of damp soil. Through its cracks seeped a fetid stench that coloured even the night’s air with sallow wisps. What seemed like hands pushed through the seeping sore on the ground, pulling along a malformed dark mass that was the rest of its body. From the folds of that featureless mass, dripping with dampness, a face unveiled itself. Bulbous eyes, barely slits, squinted through thick lids that shut themselves against the night’s brightness, for even the darkness of the night was a bright light deep down in the realm from which it had emerged.
This nsojida had no name, for from where it came, even amongst the lowliest, it was lower and as such undeserving of a name. For having a name in Wajida, where all nsojida dwelt, implied recognition and only the strong bore names. Deep within the bowels of Wajida, it had stumbled into a darker shadow, one darker than the usual blackness that engulfed that realm. This darker blackness had swallowed the unsuspecting nsojida and spat it out somewhere in the bowels of Mba from where it had clawed its way out and unto the surface.
It pulled itself out of the hole, hunched over like one too aged to stand upright. Long, hard limbs extended from a body shrouded in an insubstantial mass that seemed like floating black water, like a spider shrouded in thick black smoke. Upon all of this, upon the long, many-jointed limbs hidden within its insubstantial form, upon it all its face, like the ancient ikuku masks, forbidding but yet forlorn.
Its form curdled, bulged and sank as it surveyed the night, dripping its essence in fat black drops upon the soil. The air seemed too fresh and the sounds too quiet. It hissed and sneered. This is what the nsojida were denied, this is what men enjoyed. Its anger and envy rippled through its dark mass and it hissed louder in resentment. At that moment, a cry pierced through the night, the cry of a child that had barely seen half a season. Nothing else it had come across so far enraged it as much as the child’s cry. It chose a name for itself then and there. Yayabe, the stealer of life. It would find this child and steal it, yes, that was a fitting way to celebrate its arrival and new name. Yayabe shook itself like a large bird ruffling its feathers and tentatively held out one arm to knead the air. The child’s cry came again and it felt the direction from where it came and pushed itself towards it. It was slow; moving upon Mba was unfamiliar to the nsojida, so it crawled slow and patiently towards the child’s cry.
Yayabe’s journey was slow but in time it arrived at a hut whose window was lit by light from it’s single hearth. For a moment, the nsojida squatted in the shadows, blinded by the light that was even greater than that of the night. It waited as it’s unused eyes grew accustomed to this new light and as it waited, it’s hatred, anger and envy grew within it. Did they have any idea what it was like to be Odajida’s child? To be trapped in a darkness so complete that even your very essence was a part of it? To be tormented all your life by those greater than you and made to do their bidding, and in Yayabe’s case, to be so low that you were unworthy even of a name. Well, tonight things were going to change. Yayabe hissed as it swore it’s oath. Biding its time, it waited in the shadows of the bushes and trees, watching through that single window as the child’s mother laid it to sleep, watching as the hearth was put out and the rest of the household retired.
Yayabe pushed out of its hiding place and surged towards the window. Now its movement was more fluid, flowing like thick oil on a wet surface. Through the open window, it slid in, its fetid stench mingling with the night’s cool breeze. For a moment, it scanned the household, listening, feeling, waiting. When it was sure no one was about, it sniffed the air and made its way towards the infant’s cot. There was no cleaner smell than that of a newborn filled with innocence.
The nsojida breathed in that smell with its whole being as it cast its slit gaze upon the child curled up in oblivious sleep. So peaceful and unaware of the evil above it, the child gurgled in its sleep. Looking upon the child, Yayabe’s anger rippled through its body. How can one be so peaceful? In Wajida, peace was non-existent. It reached out with its dark limbs and pulled the child deep into its folds and went out the way it had come, trailing its acrid stench behind it. Yayabe felt an emotion unlike any it had ever felt before. Was it joy or satisfaction? It couldn’t place it, but one thing was certain, it liked this new feeling. As Yayabe retraced its path, it realised it was heading back to the hole it had come from and that thought stopped it in its tracks. Going back there would mean going back into it and back to Wajida. No, there was no way it was returning to Odajida’s domain. Even if it returned with the child, a greater nsojida would claim it as its catch. No, it had to find a new dwelling, a place fit for a newly coronated nsojida to establish its new domain.
Yayabe lifted its head, its body stretching like the congealed sap of an uge tree. It held its hands up again and felt the air, feeling for a suitable area in which to seek dwelling. It sniffed the air blowing windward and hissed. Through its slit eyes, it saw the form of distant hills. Some hills had caves and if these didn’t, it would make one. Yayabe shifted its bulk and began heading in that direction, all the while, the child slept blissfully within its folds. The hills were closer than it had thought and in little time, it stood before the surface of its roughest side. The nsojida had found no opening on the other side of the hills and had decided on making this side of it the entrance to its dwelling, right next to the trunk of a large tree and where there was enough grass and bush to prevent wanderers from stumbling upon it.
It placed a hand on the surface of the hill and called upon its suru. It’s body shook and shuddered as the unnatural energy coursed through its form and filled the inside of the hill before it with space. If there was one thing this nsojida had been good for back in Wajida, it was in filling a place with void. The nsojida‘s suru flowed like a dirty stream, carving out the inside of the hill to its user’s desire. When it was done, the face of the hill crumbled like grains of sand and Yayabe slid into its new dwelling, pleased with itself. It reached in and withdrew the child from within itself and placed it upon the floor of the newly formed cave, hissing with glee at its accomplishment.
Yayabe stared at the sleeping form before it and it soon began to realise that it had no idea of what to do with the child. It wasn’t an n’ja that ate the children they stole or an nsowi that consumed the iku of its victims before taking its place in their body. Yayabe had never amounted to anything to be granted any special attributes. Just as its anger and frustration began to manifest, the child’s eyes opened. For a moment, they stared at the each other, Yayabe hissing and the child gurgling, and then at the sight of a face it failed to recognise, the child opened its mouth and cried. Yayabe’s whole body rippled and shuddered with the piercing sound of the child’s cry as it resonated within the walls of the cave and it let out a loud hiss of its own. Yayabe stood frozen and confused, looking around and wondering what to do. As the child’s shriek grew louder, Yayabe’s agitation grew until it could bear it no more and it fled the cave.
That was not a child! That was a little nsojida, Yayabe thought as it paced the mouth of the cave. How could it silence that terrifying sound? It could kill it, but Yayabe could see no pleasure it would gain by killing the child. What could it do? There was no way it was going to return its first prize back to suckling at the bosoms of its mother. Just then an idea occurred to the nsojida. Suckle! Yayabe remembered seeing the mother bringing the child up to her bosom and watching the child suckle greedily before relaxing into the sleep from which it had snatched it. Quickly, Yayabe shot back into the bushes seeking out a tree he had passed by while seeking out the crying child. It remembered the spiky fruits it bore and how they had disgorged tufts of juicy white flesh as it slashed at them. They were ripe and full of white juice, very much like the milk the child’s mother had fed it. Yayabe hissed with pleasure and delight at its brilliant idea.
The nsojida returned with a hand full of those spiky fruits and rushed to where it had laid the child. With one of its taloned fingers it punctured the fruit and let the juice drip into the child’s crying mouth. The child stuttered in its cry as the sweet nectar dripped into its mouth and then its little hands grabbed at the nsojida‘s hand in search of the source. It held on to Yayabe’s hand, pulling it closer until it was sucking noisily from the hole in the fruit. Yayabe hissed but stopped itself, fearing it might provoke the child into another fit of crying. It watched the child feed in silence, holding on to its finger and now sucking gently and steadily on the fruit. Soon it had its fill, yawned, gave a half-hearted attempt at crying, stuck its thumb in its mouth and fell asleep. Yayabe hollowed out a portion of the cave’s wall into a bowl and laid the child into its crook, padded with the cloth it had snatched along with the child from its cot.
For a long moment, the nsojida stared at the sleeping child wondering what exactly it planned on doing with it. It decided the night was still young; it would wander the lands around until it decided on what to do. Hopefully, before Iya ascended to the sky. It had heared rumours down in Wajida that Iya’s rays could destroy lowly nsojida such as itself. So Yayabe set about to prowling the night, hissing and thinking of what it could possibly do with the little child. It could eat it and see if it granted it more powers as it did the n’ja, or he could feel the child’s inside with void and force itself inside it, not exactly what the nsowi did but it might work. Yayabe let out a frustrated hiss. Here it was on the surface of Mba and where it should be tormenting and torturing the lives of men, it found itself tormented with uncertainty. Maybe it could take the child with it back to Wajida, surely such young and innocent blood would be worth some recognition. Yes, that seemed like the best plan so far. That was exactly what it would do. For the second time that night, the nsojida hissed with glee and gathered itself before quickly heading back for the cave.
As Yayabe moved through the bushes and grass, it’s head filled with thoughts of its imminent grandeur, it began to get a strange feeling. A feeling it was very well familiar with, so familiar was it with this growing feeling that even its form began to prickle and shudder. The nsojida stopped and sniffed the air, something was there but it couldn’t quite tell what it was. Agitation erupted in rippling bumps over its body as it scanned around the bushes, desperately searching for the sudden cause of its uneasiness.
*Be still, nso.* A voice boomed from the shadows causing Yayabe to almost shed its form in terror.