“Ehizogie was a very powerful witch doctor and in those days, men of his kind were fond of marrying spirit beings and people with strange powers”, my father said.
I knew it was story time once I heard those words. I quickly snuggled up to him. His breath reeked of tobacco and his baritone echoed in the hollow crevices of my childish mind. It was a moon lit night and I could hear the chirps and whirrs of crickets. They were so loud, one would think it was their market day.
I shut them out of my mind, staring at papa’s heavily bearded face. The tender rays of the moon smooched his forehead and it shone. He appeared like one of the gods in his folktales. He took some of his brown powder on his finger tip and sniffed it all in. He closed his eyes afterwards and with the furrows on his brow, I knew what was coming so I pulled away from his side. He sneezed heavily, spraying spittle in the air. His face puckered and he sneezed a second time.
“The witch doctors married witches and mostly strange creatures forcefully after subduing them. They could increase their powers by such marital bonds. The witches were cajoled, sometimes forced to share the secrets of their powers with them and their power and influence would increase immensely. Ehizogie was one such man. He had five wives and many children. Two of his wives were witches.
One day, Ehizogie left at midnight for the forest to hunt for bush meat. He went deep into the forest brushing his hairy body full of hundreds of incisions against the shrubs. He could hear them speak. He greeted them in few words of incantation as he passed by.
“Papa, what were they saying to him? I had never heard anything of speaking plants at the time”.
“Oh, just greetings my son as you would greet a friend. Remember I told you how herbalists go to plants for help to cure diseases. If you want to hear one speak, I can show you how.”
I’ll love you to show me how papa, I croaked.
He let out a throaty laughter and gave me a pat on my back.
“I will show you how when you grow up.”
My mother came out to join us. She was done with the day’s chores. She sat by papa’s side. She loved to tell stories too, but my father was the master story teller.
Ehizogie moved into the depth of the forest of many voices. He found his favourite spot and took off the bow strapped to his body. He armed it with one of his poisoned arrows and observed the movements in the forest with his eagle sharp senses. It was pitch black all around him. The wild boughs of the Iroko tree had shut out the rays of the moon mysteriously. Ehizogie could barely see his nose, but he had the power over the night. Suddenly, an antelope captured his sight. It dazzled in the dark. As it moved about in the forest, it illuminated its path. The witch doctor was awestruck. He had never seen anything like it before in his many years of hunting expeditions. He held out his bow and arrow prepared for the kill. There was no way he was not going to capture the celestial beauty. The antelope noticed it was in harm’s way and threw glances nervously.
Ehizogie was poised for the shot. His breath was almost noiseless. The forest suddenly became still. He closed his right eye and aimed at the animal. Drops of sweat trickled down the side of his head. As he was about to release the arrow, the antelope screamed his name and he froze in surprise.
“I know you can hear me Ehizogie, put you arms down. You are a wicked man. How can you try to kill a beautiful creature like me?”
The witch doctor muttered some incantations. Creatures of the night are not to be trusted, he thought. He pulled the arrow again, this time determined to kill it. He released the arrow and it whizzed and tore through the veil of the night. The antelope moved in quick paces, but it was not fast enough for Ehizogie’s poisoned arrow. With lightning speed, it pierced through it hind limb and the animal cried out in pain. The witch doctor walked cautiously towards it saying more incantations and swinging his amulets above his head. The glow of the antelope slowly faded away. By the time he got to the animal’s side, it was pitch black all around. He quickly got out his bush lamp and behold, right before him was a beautiful, fair woman. She was wincing in pains. The witch doctor was shocked beyond words. He continued with his incantations and hovered around her.
“Please don’t kill me”, the woman pleaded. Her voice rumbled like the sound of many waters. Ehizogie looked at her with both pity and caution.
“Help me please. Help me”, she sat up. She was very pretty and the witch doctor fell in love with her instantly.
“I will help you”, he said, but you must promise to marry me.
“Whatever you say, but please do not kill me”, she said breathing heavily.
The witch doctor watched her heal herself and ordered her to go home with him. She agreed, but made him promise to keep her true identity, secret.
“That is nothing, but you will be my wife and share your healing power with me.” He said excitedly.
She agreed and went home with him. By morning, the witch doctor’s wives were surprised to see their new guest. She was pleasant to look upon. She was fair and had long, dark and curly hair. They quizzed their husband, but he ignored the barrage of questions. He introduced her as Ivie, his new wife and asked them to teach her their way of life. The women were not impressed. They were cold towards her, but she was not bothered. She had an agreement with her new husband and that was all that mattered to her. The witch doctor was deeply in love with her. He bought many gifts for her and took her along with him to all the special occasions he attended. She was the cynosure of all eyes. His wives became very bitter and jealous.
Some months later, they found a way to make their husband drunk. Ivie, the antelope woman had been sent to fetch firewood from the farm. The drunk witch doctor began to rant and divulged the secret. Ivie was in the bush picking tinder wood when she heard him reveal the secret with her powers. She cried out loudly. She felt betrayed. She scattered the tinder wood she had gathered with fury and ran into the forest of many voices. She transformed swiftly into the glowing antelope and hopped away into forever land. By the time the witch doctor woke up from his sleep, sober; his most beautiful and charming wife was gone. He felt sorry and went in search for her in the deepest part of the forest, but she was gone forever.
Papa stuffed his nostrils again with his tobacco and I quickly pulled away from him. So came the sneeze storm that marked the end of stories for the night. I felt sleepy and put my head on his thigh. By the time I woke up, it was dawn and I was on my bed contemplating school work for the day. I still remember those nights with nostalgia. I miss life in the village.