Tribe: Efik found in Cross River and Calabar.
You move to the rhythm, back and forth. Hidden securely behind the brown and black calico of the masque, the color of leopards; you feel the thrill. You know the law by heart, Papa always recited it like an anthem;
“Any woman who wears the Ekpe masque, the penalty is death.”
Several times Papa took Asuquo and Edikan on secret trips to the forest, teaching them the Nsibidi signs; you recall tears you shed at being left out because you were a girl and you revel in the knowledge that stealing the masque and posing as the famous Ekpe masquerade will prove to Papa that you’re as good as your brothers.
The music stops. The festival continues.
It’s difficult to breathe or see through the masque, you hurry from the arena to take it off.
“Stop right there.”
“Unmask him. Something’s not right.”
Papa’s voice. Can you still escape? You can’t get caught.
Hands jostle you, stripping you of the masque.
“Barasuene!” a gasp.
You lower your eyes.
“Taboo! A woman fooled us all! She defiled the masque!” One of the men draped in the customary ukara cloth speaks.
Dread twists your heart.
“Barasuene…why?” Papa’s voice quivers.
“I just wanted…”
“The penalty is death, you know it Edidem,” Bassey interjects.
“Don’t kill me!” you protest, awaiting Papa’s rescue.
And suddenly there is a burning vibration in your eyes that forces you to your knees.
“Barasuene?” Papa is beside you.
Your eyes burn.
“What is it, child?”
You open your eyes and…nothing.
“Papa, where are you? ”
“Here. Can’t you see?”
You blink. The darkness remains, thick as a fog. You begin to sob as realization dawns on you. A prank gone wrong.You have bitten off more than you could chew.