Amidst rising smoke and beating drums, the priestess staggered to the haunting beat. Her wrists and ankles richly adorned with cowries and brightly coloured beads. Her hair wrapped in a thickly knotted red cloth with another, knotted tightly above her ample bossom as she continued to stagger in drunken stupor. She was supposed to be the mediator between mortals and the gods and at this very moment, she was trying to find the solution to the ‘ailment’ that had befallen the child that lay weakly on the mat in her shrine.
Gold’s eyes watered as she tried to stop herself from choking and suffocating on the smoke and other unidentifiable unpleasant smells that surrounded the small stuffy hut. She inhaled deeply, vulnerably lying still on the tattered raffia mat as she opened her eyes occasionally to catch a glimpse of her mother’s worried face where she sat watching hopefully . The priestess claimed she was an Abiku , a child of two worlds. A child of land and water. A child who visited the world of the mortals through birth and returned home to the land of immortals in death. A child sent by the gods to cause her mother sorrow. All because most of Salome’s children before Gold had died before the age of two, everyone believed this child was no different. She too had returned like the others to cause poor Salome grief again but this time around, they were all bent on making her stay.
It was true that it had taken Salome years to conceive after her marriage but she was a Christian and had always prayed and fasted as instructed by the Pastor when she went for her special prayers where he had asked her to kneel down and placing his hands on her head had prayed aggressively, shouting and commanding the gift of conception over her head. She had left there with a headache and body pains from all the shouting and jumping up and down. At the clinic, the doctors had told her she was fine and that pregnancy would occur at no fixed time , she just had to be patient and relax, anxiety didn’t help. They had given her a cup of coloured tablets to relax her so conception could occur peacefully. But the taunts of other women and complains from her husband and in laws weighed heavily on her mind.
Amidst kind words of comfort from understanding women, she had on one occasion been sarcastically called a man during one of the quarrels in the yard over a neighbour’s child who had strayed into her backyard and mixed sand with the pepper she had spread out on a mat to dry in her back yard to dry. On another occasion , another woman had accused her of eating up her children as soon as they were born ! Pulling her child away she snapped at Salome again, “ Don’t eat mine the way you ate yours!” At the advice of the older women, Salome had also visited many herbalists who had brewed all sorts of nameless herbs and made her drink to make her womb more “welcoming” for a baby as they claimed her womb was too hot for a baby to grow. She believed the herbs didn’t “cool” her womb for the years she took this ‘medication’, she still didn’t conceive. She was sitting helplessly with her clay pot by the stream one morning when a neighbor’s wife told her about The Priestess.
The priestess, according to her neighbor, was the medium between the great sea and the world of mortals, she had taken the shame off the faces of many women like Salome and dried their tears too by invoking the great sea to bless them with children. She had taken the desperate woman all dressed in white with her offerings of a white chicken, kola nuts , eggs and other material to the edge of the great sea and called on ‘Mammy Water’’ the great sea goddess through swift incantations to bless Salome with the fruit of the womb as she bathed her with the sea water. She explained to her that all her children were “Abiku” and had returned. But this one would be given a scar so she could be identified when she returned! After which she had taken the mortal offering and thrown them into the sea and sent Salome home full of hope assuring her that all would be fine.
True to her word or coincidence, Salome conceived and had a beautiful girl. As she was scared this child would leave her just like her other children had, she named her Gold , after a precious metal as she was instructed by the Priestess . This was so the child would understand that she was loved and would be nurtured if she stayed back in the world of mortals ! She called on the Priestess who gave the baby a tribal beauty scar on her two cheeks. According to the Priestess it was an identification scar. If Gold decided to go away and return again, it would be easy to identify her because she was expected to return with these scars as bith marks !
Who was Salome to question the authority of the wise woman? As the line between the supernatural and reality is a very thin one. Questions about the possibility of her conception being a coincidence rather than as a result of the so called offering crossed Salome’s mind. But once again, who was she to question the authority of the priestess? A woman who had the power to make barren women fertile and fertile women barren? A desperate woman would do anything to experience the joy of motherhood and earn her the respect of other women and the love of her husband.
Today, Gold was lying here because she was the only child of Salome who has lived up to the age of ten . Her mother had noticed her body was unusually warm that morning and as usual had panicked to the Priestess who was now choking the poor girl with smoke and stench. She had strung lots of cowries around the child’s neck, wrists, ankles and waist and asked her mother to take her home that she would be fine. The poor woman instead had taken her straight to the pastor who had taken one look at both of them seated on the church bench and picking up his Bible had instructed his “prayer warriors” to take the cowries off the child’s body as it was not a biblical act. According to him it was the practice of heathens and the devil. As they screamed prayers and commands over them, Gold glanced at her mother through weak eyelids and sighed at the thought of a mother’s love and what it entailed. The sacrifices she was willing to make for her child’s well being. The pastor had sprinkled holy water on Gold and given her some more in a jerry can to mix with the child’s bathing water and bath her with it every day and also give her some to drink. The sensation of the cool water running down her over heating body had a cooling effect. She felt a little better
On getting home, their neighbour popularly known as Aunty Nurse took one look at the child and checked her temperature with her thermometer and felt her heartbeat then shook her head and smiled at poor Salome, gently assuring her that Gold would be fine as all she had was just a fever.