Strong, dusty, yellow winds broke into the famous cold and creaky cathedral of the Mambila Baptist Convention in a remote town called Nguroje where I was born. The windows blew in and creaked badly in protest of the winds as they flushed in, disrupting Andy in the middle of his eulogy. He paused and raised his head, his right eye glistening with tears he tried so hard to hide. He turned to the windows briefly as if pleading for silence and then lowered his head into the book in front of him before the threatening tear dropped. But it was too late. A tiny thud which I am sure he heard as I did, loud as a gunshot, hit the page and words, unspoken mingled with the Braille dots and Andy’s fingers caressed it as he read out loud.
He paused briefly and lifted his head once more and fixed that blind eye on me. I backed away and the air easily lifted me and I found myself hanging close to a rickety fan near the ceiling. Andy’s vacant gaze followed me up as if he was still looking at me. I read his pain, his agony, his anger, his guilt… I saw it all in dark smoke mixed with grey all around him. I could smell them like sharp, pungent spices tearing into my immortal perception. I wanted so bad to be around him just to hold and comfort him. I wanted so bad to return to the realm of the living, to life and the tangible, to those good old days when my mother chased me around with Cameroun pepper in her hand, threatening to shove it where the sun didn’t shine…
Andy, I remember laughing stubbornly and circling outside the two bedroom flat my father had built shortly before he left. In those days, my sister was sick and the chores rested on me but I didn’t care. I spent most of my time at the stream with boys who considered me one of them and taught me naughty things. Andy you were one of them, Chief Ndukong’s only surviving son, heir to the throne. I, on the other hand was believed to be possessed by the Makah spirit and would be the one to purify the land from witchcraft. We were both children of destiny but fate had us bound by tragedy.
It all started after your circumcision rites when you turned sixteen. I watched you dance with your peer group and something stirred in me that didn’t stop until it got satisfied after your initiation into manhood, the following year. You brought me into your late mother’s room during the first rain and made love to me for the first time. I was welcomed into womanhood and with you I felt complete. I didn’t know it was love then; I was just a village girl but I knew everything about me changed. All at once I was aware of my thoughts, my body, my desires. I did all to please you and you loved me back fiercely. After a year, you felt it was time to make me your bride… That was when all hell broke loose.
Prophecy had decreed that we were star-crossed lovers and our union would bring destruction. If we as much as touched each other, the priest said, we both would die ugly deaths and bring about the destruction of the whole town. You and I rejected the prophecy and stole away one night, joining some travellers to Jalingo. There, a good Samaritan allowed us sleep in the church he was pastoring for a while. Later on, we got jobs in a bread factory. We were happy and it didn’t matter that we shared space with other homelessers as you called them, we were at home with each other. We became Christians and gave up the religion of our fathers and with time, things began to look up…
Nduksowoyi, the Dodo was in charge of my burial. My grave was dug outside with a tunnel to Andy’s home since he was my official husband. The Dodo announced that I had died of poisoning (as if my sister didn’t tell him) and that because I had killed myself, my soul will be seeking to return to die properly. To avoid that, all my belongings were burnt. I would need them in the next life; my time here was over. However, Andy kept my wedding ring and the sexy red lingerie and earrings he bought me on my birthday. His message to me was clear. He wanted me back.
I stood in the cold, dry room of his uncle, the present chief, as he blamed him for his woes.
“Mashinge,” he began, “that is the name your father’s father gave you because you are a god. A very wicked god who will deal with bad people. So how did you end up following a lesser god?”
I saw Andy’s jaw shift in stubbornness and knew this meeting was going to end badly.
“My name is Andrew.”
“Shut your mouth!” barked his uncle, “have you no respect for our gods?”
Andy gripped his cane and pulled himself up.
“Look at you,” the man continued, “you are not a man! You are blind and ugly… I knew that witch would destroy you! Look what she did to you!”
Containing his emotions, Andy walked out. I followed him down the stream. I held his hand but he felt the wind; I called his name, screaming at the top of my soul but he heard the night owls. Exhausted, we both sat by the river bank and cried all through the night…
Plateau State was the nearest thing to the Mambila. Five years after we left home, we were in Jos. Andy, you and I opened a tiny but promising restaurant. Because the spirits of our mothers constantly guided us, we were favored. Our business blossomed due to a secret spice my mother had always used in her cooking back in the day. It was what I used to draw customers like flies to the restaurant. Business soured to the top and rumors flew that we were using diabolical means to season our food. Remember the article in the weekend paper about us? A Touch of Spice, it read. No, Villagers With A Touch Of Spice was the heading. Soon after that, we set up shop in the busy street of Ahmadu Bello Way, drawing the rich to our tables. With time we rented a flat and bought a car and it seemed even the gods had smiled on us.
How wrong we were.
“Men are the same,” my mother once told me. She spoke out of experience after my father, her husband for nine years married another woman and moved to Lagos, abandoning her. “When their eyes begin to stray, there is nothing you can do about it,” she had added with a convinced nod.
Andy, unfortunately, you fell into that statistic of straying men. You seduced and started sleeping with someone’s wife. Our landlady. How do you sleep with a married woman who is ten years older than you? You were young, handsome and had eyes that drew women to you and coming to think of it now, I was not surprised that the landlady was also caught in your web as I was. But nothing lasts forever. When she became overbearing and you couldn’t give into her desires any longer, she threatened to expose you. We moved away from that house to a place near the restaurant but she wouldn’t stop haunting you. One evening as we were headed for church just right outside the restaurant, two boys walked to the car, knocked at your window and when you pulled down, shot you in the head.
You lost your left eye and went blind months later in the right eye. You lost your smelling and taste. You lost your life. You lost yourself. You screamed at me at every opportunity and called me names. You said I was cursed. You said being with me was a mistake, marrying me was a tragedy. You said you hated me.
I lost my cooking skills and the restaurant closed up and though I got a job working as a secretary, I couldn’t make enough for us. I became depressed and would spend hours locked in the bathroom, blaming myself for our misfortune, not knowing then you were responsible. Sometimes, the old Andy would resurface and you would want me around you and we would be together and love each other. It was at those times I convinced you to learn Braille. However, when the rosiness disappeared, we went back to the pits of depression and gradually, the chasm between us widened.
At work, my boss was pressurizing me into sleeping with him. He said he would help our situation. Should I have said no? should I have held on to the gods or spirits of ancestors that were not visible, as against raw, hard cash I saw before me each day? What was a twenty-two year old girl to do? I had to give in to my desperation and I became his mistress. You and I started living better and life ascended slowly. My boss lavished me with money and attention and even took me to Principe and Sao Tome once. Of course you were oblivious because you lived in this bubble of anger and resentment towards yourself and me and slowly the feeling became mutual. You began to irritate me as much as I did you. We talked of divorce.
One lonely night, I packed up and left without notice. By morning, I was in Lagos; by noon, I was in Ghana under a new identity. Andy you were my past. Old things were away and done with and I looked forward to the new but how can you sow and not reap? Four months into living in Accra I was diagnosed with HIV. My boss had infected me.
Time went so fast for me. It didn’t matter that my disease was at infant stage, I was dying. My guilt and regret ate at me from the inside and with time, the outside became a mirror of my suffering.
“Rat poison! Rat poison!” shouted the old man that was crossing by my house one sunset. He had gone quite a distance before I called him back. He returned and sold the rat poison to me. I took my dinner early and pushing aside the drugs I had only recently began taking, I began this letter…
Despite all you did, I will always love you, Andrew…
We will meet again in the afterlife. I love you, my Villager with a Touch of Spice.
I watched as Andy’s contorted face struggled as the above words were read to him back in our bedroom in Jos. It was a letter Stella the stranger who had showed up at his doorstep just two months after my death had brought with her. She said she was Rahila’s neighbor in Ghana and had promised to take care of him upon her death. Being a cook herself, she also promised to rebuild his business from scratch. Andy didn’t have words to say. He just went along with Stella. After all, she was the last person that saw Rahila.
He let her take the guestroom and before long, they became best of friends. Before long, talks about reopening the restaurant crossed his lips. Before long, Andy was back to himself. He was happy. I was happy. Stella’s body was happy.
Yes, from the moment I left my accursed body, I was desiring to return to be with Andy, so I searched long and hard until I found the appropriate person to possess. Stella was like me, she had traveled all the way from war torn Congo to Nigeria to find a better life but her boyfriend had been physically abusive and had left her brain damaged after a terrible fight. With no family to pay hospital bills, she was left uncared for in a government hospital. My mom once told me it was possible to fight the weak spirits off of their bodies. I never believed it but I hovered around Stella and fought her spirit for ten days and finally, I gained access. It felt good to breathe, to eat, to laugh and to fall in love again. The gods had given me a second chance.
“Thank you, Stella” Andy said as I laid his birthday meal on the table. “I’m sorry, I can’t smell else I would have told you it smells great,” he apologized and I tapped his hand slightly. “And I can’t taste either.”
“I know. Just enjoy as you always do. Happy birthday,” I smiled. I was wearing the red lingerie he had got me on my birthday and the earrings. I wanted to take us to the next level but before anything happened, I needed to know if I still knew the way to his heart through his stomach. My special spice was the only thing he could taste after his accident.
He took a forkful of rice and the moment he chewed and swallowed, a puzzled smile hit his face. He said nothing and I waited in anticipation. He finished his meal but when he opened his mouth to speak, a brutal convulsion spread over his body, rocking him violently. He fell to the floor and struggled as blood began to gush out of every opening in his body. I screamed and cried and rushed out to call the neighbors but it seemed help was not coming on time. Andy was dying before me exactly as I died in my room in Accra. While my neighbor tried to start his car which refused to start, I felt a certain familiar coldness in the room. A malevolent spirit had entered. Stella was around and she had come for her body. She wasn’t going to fight me the normal way; she wanted me out by my own will. Poisoning Andy, she said would make me do the right thing.
He held my hand, pulled my ear to his lips and whispered, “I tasted you in that food, Rahila. I…tasted you and tasted…death.”
He died in my arms. The car started. Stella had won.
Before the sun rose, I left her body with haste and began my immortal search to seek the love of my life.
Back in Nguroje, they buried Andy beside me and dug two tunnels to our abandoned home.
Those tunnels run parallel to each other till date. There is a legend in those parts about star-crossed lovers forever lost, seeking each other for all eternity.
THE LEGEND OF THE PARALLELS
Written by Sally Kenneth Dadzie
NAME: Sally Kenneth Dadzie
BIO: Sally has written several short stories and plays. She resides with her husband and daughter in Lagos