The first wad of spit landed on her left foot. Eru hissed and quickly washed it off with the remnants of the soapy water. She took a deep breath and tried to recall Remi’s instructions. Sucking in her stomach, she puffed out her chest like a peacock, swirled her tongue round the innards of her mouth and then hurled its contents out like a nuclear missile.
It promptly landed on Agbeke’s window.
The dull thump of the thickly mucused spit woke Agbeke up. She was an old woman and a very light sleeper. She opened her eyes and tried to make sense of what had woken her up.
Outside, Eru continued her spitting practice unaware of what she had done. She snorted once again, puffed out her chest like before, but this time, she set a mental target- the wall opposite her. She released the third wad of spittum with force, and this time, surprisingly it landed on target!
“Ehen!”, she affirmed.
She was getting it. She was just preparing to hit another target when she heard a voice call out her name.
She froze. Her eyes darted from side to side; left, right, left again. And then, she realized where the voice was coming from- Agbeke’s room. Panic rose within her. She had no idea the old woman was home. Somehow, for no reason she could readily place a finger on, she had never been comfortable around her. The old woman had never maltreated her, on the contrary, she had been kind, even, motherly towards her. But Eru couldnt help it. What she felt for Agbeke was something akin to repulsion- an unnatural fear and repulsion. So, she always took great pains to avoid her or at the very least, minimize contact with the old woman.
Eru hesitated in answering the call. Scratching her head, she thought quickly. She decided to sneak into the house and come back for the dishes later. She had just taken the first step towards the house, when, as if on cue, the voice called again.
Eru sighed. It was obvious the old woman was watching her. She shrugged and answered,”Im coming, Maami”.
Agbeke grunted in response. She had heard the child spit repeatedly and was merely curious as to what could be wrong with her. Agbeke was an elderly woman but she was not stupid.
She knew that Eru had little affection for her, in fact that she barely tolerated her, but she did not blame the child.
With all the rumors the other tenants and their children circulated about her, she would have been surprised if the child behaved otherwise.
It was only normal that a childless woman who had no known family or relatives would be prime target for vicious rumors and jokes. She knew they gossiped about her. She heard them as she made her way to the bathroom every day. She noticed the sudden silence that greeted her as she passed by them seated together in cliques. She observed the guilty aversion of their eyes whenever she caught them in a stare. She understood well what it all meant.
They avoided her – in the daytime, that is. Because at nighttime, they all patronised her. Yes, under the cover of darkness they snuck to buy what she, Agbeke was selling.
What was she selling, you ask? Age old wisdom, coupled with a wide knowledge of roots.
Yes, whatever your problem was, Agbeke had the knowledge. From infertility to love potions to aphrodisiacs, Agbeke knew them all. In addition, she dealt in dark medicine. Infact, that was her specialty. She was so good it was even rumored that she had offered her children, as well as her womb in exchange for all the knowledge she had.
But who am I to judge the matter? All i can say is, in every rumor, there exists an element of truth.
Anyway, Agbeke pretended she did not hear the rumors the women spread about her because she knew their secrets. Each and every one of them had come for ‘consultations’ with her at one time or the other. Infact, she knew more about them than they even knew about themselves.
Eru’s case was not much different. Indeed, Agbeke knew more about Eru than the little child could ever dream about herself.
As a matter of fact, it was to Agbeke that Babajide, Eru’s father, had come crying seven years ago when Eru was first conceived. It was Agbeke that had handled that delicate situation, and calmed volatile tempers when all hell had threatened to swallow Babajide whole.
But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Suffice it to say that Agbeke was keenly interested in the child.Eru dragged her slippered feet along the cement floor as she approached Agbeke’s room. She knew the old woman did not like it but she did’nt care. It was her punitive way of registering displeasure at being summoned against her will. She pushed the door open and entered.
Agbeke smiled at the child before her, her eyes travelling from the child’s crop of untamed hair, and soft pouting lips, past her slightly distended stomach down to her straight legs. Agbeke smiled again. Inspite of the old, torn clothes and general state of unkemptness; there was no denying it, the child was indeed beautiful. She had taken her father’s looks but that fair complexioned skin must have certainly come from her mum. Agbeke sat up closer, the better to see the child. She surveyed the child again, enjoying what she saw and then her eyes widened and froze on Eru’s chest.
Could it be….
Yes, she was developing breasts! Little curves of flesh were budding and soft nipples pressed against the faded gown she wore.
Agbeke did a double take.
When had this happened? Why did she not notice it earlier? Little Eru was growing up quickly, she mused.
Then, another thought floated past her head. Bolting upright, she grabbed Eru’s palms and stared at them.
With the same swiftness, she snatched Eru’s jaw and peered into her small, round eyes.
But the child was spitting a few minutes ago, Agbeke thought. One could never be sure with this children of nowadays. Agbeke grabbed the now slightly puzzled child and shook her by the shoulders, demanding,
“Are you pregnant? Tell me!”
Now, it was Eru’s turn to do a double take.
What was this wretched old hag screaming about? She took a step back and tried to break free but the woman’s grip was too powerful. Panicking, Eru began to struggle. Swiftly, Agbeke stood up from the bed. Holding Eru with her left hand, she groped under the bed and brought out a shiny, black stone.
Eru stopped struggling and stood still. She watched in mute fascination as Agbeke raised the stone above her head and mouthed silent words.
For thirty seconds, it seemed like time stood still.
Then, Agbeke removed the child’s gown. Eru was too mesmerized to even object or protest. Naked, she stood before the old woman. Then, Agbeke calmly placed the stone on Eru’s stomach and waited.