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AGATA'S POV

Nasty C said ‘we start to question GOD like we can play his part’ and nothing has resonated with me so much in my entire life. When I think of the butterfly effect, and how the flap of a wing can change the course of our life—I remember those lyrics. It suddenly made sense to me why disasters happen. It’s the universe's attempt at creating balance. If my family house did not get destroyed in the fire two weeks ago, then Ayomide –my neighbor’s only child –would not have lived to survive cancer. In my head, the possibility of two major crises occurring was cruel, so one takes the place of both. For every good thing that has ever happened in your life, there is a lurking darkness.  

Logically, this reasoning makes absolutely zero sense, but it was my solace during the hardest moment of my life. 

#

On the day of the fire, a series of events occurred. The first one—the most significant event was the news of Ayomide’s test results. His cancer went into remission. Our neighborhood was euphoric. Prior to that day, the women of Ajabo’s street went into fasting and praying, summoning the Angel’s in charge of sound health from the four corners of the earth, in hope that God would have mercy on his soul and deliver him from any ancestral sin standing in the way of his deliverance. Because Mom was distracted by all the fasting and prayers, she did not notice when I sneaked out every day to spend time with Ayomide in the hospital. He could have been ‘the love of my life’ if I did not catch him making out with the nurse on the day he got discharged.

So, on the day I got Ayomide, I lost him. The fact that I did not join the women to fast for his soul was my only consolation. The second news that pushed me deeper into my abyss of hopelessness was the news of my dad’s job. His company was downsizing and had to lay him off. I got back from the hospital just in time to eavesdrop on him and Mom’s conversation. On the bright side, we had Mom’s kiosk where she sold provision. It would sustain us before Dad gets a new job. 

“Agata! Why are you eavesdropping on our conversion? And where have you been?” Mom asked. She and Dad’s bedroom door was ajar, so I could make out her facial expression. If her expression was blank, unreadable—then she was not angry. If the lines on her forehead looked more pronounced than usual, with a sly grin—it meant she was pissed, but not enough to bring the house with her screams. But this face, I had never seen before.

“Ummm. Ah … ahh went,” I stammered. 

“Ah… ahh, what?” Mom said, mimicking my lame attempt to come up with a befitting lie. 

“I was with Mummy Ayo. I followed her to the hospital. She needed help with getting all of Ayo’s things.” I opted for the half-truth. 

“I do not want you anywhere near that boy. Agata, I am not stupid.” Was all she said, but it made chills run down my spine. “Someone is knocking at the door, go and check who it is.” Mom commanded. 

I kept on repeating her words as I walked down the stairs. It must be true what people say, mothers know everything. 

“Who is there?” I asked.

“It is me.” The person at the other side of the door replied. 

“You who?” I asked in angst. 

“It’s Ayo. I am sorry. It was a mistake.” 

“Not to be rude or anything, but my mom is home and she doesn't trust you.” I replied, sounding calmer than I felt.

“Open the door, Agata. I need to apologize. I disrespected you, and you deserve better.” 

I am not sure what happened afterward. My memory from that evening is still blurry. All I remember is waking up in a hospital. Dad said the circuit breaker sparked and caught fire. We did not notice until it was too late




AGATA'S POV

If your family’s source of income gets shattered by some unforeseen disaster, chances are you’d end up farming alongside your dad in the village. Not your mom, not your little sister Dorothy, just you and your dad because you are the Ada – first daughter – of the family. Dorothy is too young to help out and Mom is waddling away at home in her depression.

 Home means the house Papa –my paternal grandfather –built over fifty years ago. In that time, it has been renovated thrice. The last renovation was over ten years ago. You can imagine the dire state it is in. If you cannot, I will paint you a picture. The ceiling drips water all day long, even when it doesn’t rain. The paint on the wall is either dirt stained or peeling off. The rug!  My god, the bloody rug feels like a playground, covered in sand, dust.

“When last was the floor swept?” I asked Papa last night.

“After the Biafra War” he replied sarcastically in Igbo.

I know he was trying to make a joke, but it made me sad. This was not the life imagined for myself. I am a city girl, born and bred in Abuja. I was supposed to write waec, then JAMB and apply for psychology at UNILAG. A master’s degree at Essex University London, maybe a PhD afterward. 

My first time at Oru-ama was supposed to be through the eyes of a visitor, not a resident. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing was going as planned. It still breaks my heart to think of all we lost. Dad’s job, our house and Mom’s provision store. I get even angrier when I remember how Dad’s ego stood in his way of being helped by Uncle Azubuike—Mom’s younger brother.

I have never lifted a cutlass in my life until this week. I do not think I will ever be as good as Dad in the farm, and I don’t need to. Hopefully, Dad will come up with a way for us to return back to our life in Abuja very soon.














OLU’S POV

I am going to start by saying I have house insurance, and there was no faulty circuit breaker, neither did I lose my job—I quit. I put eszopiclone in our drinking water unbeknownst to my wife and kids. That is why they blacked out, while I successfully removed them from harm’s way. Papa suggested I let them burn in the fire, so they can join the other trapped souls to work on the farm. This way, I would not be losing them because I get to see them at night. It did not sit well with me, so I refused. 

 Returning to the village wasn’t my idea. Papa suggested it after his late brother confessed the secret to his wealth on the night they got drunk on palm wine under the mango tree in the family compound. You see, I have always wondered how Uncle Augustus managed a farm of that many hectares with such few workers in comparison. He was one of the major exporters of cassava and palm oil in the east, a celebrated billionaire (In naira). He single handedly funded projects that transformed his local government into what it is now, and his major source of income was a farm that had less than 100 workers. It sounds impossible—because it is. 

In reality, he has workers, dead workers. These workers run into thousands, and they appear only at night. There is a ritual that summons the familiar spirit of the dead. These spirit movements are limited. The dead souls cannot wander outside the perimeters of the farm. My Uncle used to sleep and wake up to farm produce aplenty. These products will be sacked, bagged, and arranged in his trucks. All his living workers have to do the next day is drive the truck to the intended destination. I am an ambitious man, and the thought of living each day without having to lift a finger appealed to me.

Ngozi –my wife –would have never agreed to throw her life in Abuja to join me. Burning the house and pretending to lose my job was not the only way, but it was part of the ritual to capture the familiar spirits of the dead. Losing something to gain even more. In no time, the farm will take off, and I will make Ngozi smile again.












AGATA'S POV

Nollywood movies of the 90’s enforced a lot of beliefs I have never agreed with. All those films of dead men and women dressed in white clothes moving around in the night to torment the souls of the people who murdered them for their inheritance—I roll my eyes just thinking about it. There is no such thing as ghosts, and if there was, it is definitely science we cannot explain yet. The supernatural phenomenon is a non-existent concept. But here I am digging a hole in the ground for a ritual that is supposed to save Dorothy’s life. What is this madness that has become my life?

#

Were you ever asked to write a composition about the day you can never forget in English class? I was. Until this moment, it was the day Dorothy was born. I fell in love. I spent the entire day watching her sleep. She is still the cutest baby that has ever existed, and I am not being biased. The event of today usurped the day of her birth. 

I was working on the farm after school, plucking out the weeds, and listening to my favorite playlist. Dorothy tapped me on my shoulder from behind. She looked pale and sickly. I did not notice it earlier. 

“Do you feel sick?” I asked her. 

“We need to leave. They are coming for me.” Dorothy said shakingly.

This is where it gets memorable. In all my life, I have never seen fear in a person like I did in her eyes. 

“It is coming for me.” She repeated several times.

I stood up from where I was squatting and tried to console her. She refused to listen to me and started mumbling strange words. After which she had a convulsion. Dad and I rushed her to the nearest hospital. Oru-ama of Ahiazu Mbaise is an underdeveloped city with no power supply, at least they have water. The water is all thanks to Papa’s elder brother—a man named Augustus. Everyone around here is always bragging about all the changes he brought to the village. He built boreholes, renovated schools, built roads and better hospitals. 

Frankly, I do not see it. The school I attend is pretty basic. There are still dusty footpaths. If this is the supposed fantastic hospital he built, Lord knows what the place used to look like before his intervention. It took them all of twenty minutes to attend to Dorothy, twenty minutes! After they got to her turn, they carried out all these tests –I cannot remember the medical jargon for them –which all came out negative.

The medical doctor—a man who has probably spent more time studying in his field than I have lived on earth -- recommended a native doctor for Dorothy. He said and I quote ‘Olu, your daughter is possessed, visit Ogodo, he will tell you what to do.’ The worst part is Dad agreed.

According to Ogodo, the powerful medicine man in all of Oru-ama, Dorothy’s spirit had been captured. The only way to rescue her is by paying penance to the gods. The penance is a ritual. 

At 12:00am, Dad and I are expected to dig a hole, kill two hens and ensure the blood enters the whole. If the blood spills outside of the hole, the sacrifice would have to be repeated the next day. If the blood does not spill out, bury the chicken in the same spot that was dug. The ritual is meant to cleanse Dorothy of her bad spirit. What it did was waste my time and sleep. Dorothy did not get any better.

OLU’S POV

Agata has lived in a bubble all her life. She does not know how the real-world works. I sensed her silent disapproval of the ritual last night, but her upbringing did not let her voice out her disdain.

Dear Reader, I will confess to you again. Dorothy is going to die, a slow but painless death. I insisted on painlessness. The ritual to invoke the spirit of the dead will not work if I do not lose something of value. Apparently, the house does not count because it doesn’t have a soul. Plus, I have insurance. Papa insisted on Ngozi, but I could never. You see, Papa has never liked Ngozi. He wanted me to marry Oluebube. He believed Oluebebe would have kept me grounded—I have never understood what he meant by grounded, and I will not ask him now.

I chose Dorothy because she has lived the shortest. It would be less painful for everyone to bear. She was never meant to live this long. Ngozi almost lost her during pregnancy from something called placenta previa. After birth, she was a sickly baby. We have had twelve years with her. I will forever be grateful for it.

AGATA'S POV

My Igbo is not good. It is not horrible, just not great. At least, I understand more than my friend Beatrice. Beatrice is completely clueless. That is beside the point. The point is most of my dad’s family doesn’t know this. Majority of them are always making snide comments in my presence about my mom. 

Aunty Uche calls her a witch. A witch that has refused to give their brother a son. The way she says it with so much conviction is what amuses me the most. Uncle Obi was more eventful with his tale. I was doing my assignment at the dining table when I overheard him talking about it. The oracle he consulted concerning Mom’s infertility issue revealed to him how Mom was a whore in her past life. She aborted babies’ multiple times, and the souls of the babies are standing in the way of her fruitfulness. To get rid of the curse, she must dance around the Oji wood tree in the village square. Mind you, Mom is not infertile—she simply did not want more kids after Dorothy.

Today’s story is even more interesting. Uncle Uche is talking about a farm owned by a man. The farm was operated by dead men and women. How ridiculous is that?

There was a time in the history of my father’s people when the death rate was at an all time high. Families losing loved ones, kids did not live longer than 15 years old, mortuaries filled, etc. The people of the land consulted the oracle, and it was revealed that Obinze—the richest man in the village as of the time was responsible. He released a death plague into the air –only a powerful wizard can do this –and used their souls as his farm slaves at night. He was hanged in the village square, and the practice was banned. Anyone caught indulging in such practice will suffer the same faith. 

“Did you hear the rumors about Uncle Augustus?” Aunty Uche asked. 

“The one about him using dead farmers? It is not true.” Uncle Obi said, shaking his head aggressively from left to right. “Can never be true, Uncle Augustus was a hard-working man, well respected as well. He has done so much for this village.”

“People used to say he did not have a lot of workers.” Aunty Uche argued from where she sat on the sofa. 

“Leave all these hearsays.” Uncle Obi retorted.

At this point, I nearly laughed out loud. If this story is factual, how is it possible that they do not see the obvious. There was a plague that killed millions of people. It has nothing to do with the spiritual world. It is not even rocket science. I was thinking of the other realistic alternatives to the cause of the death when Mom interrupted my train of thought. 

“Agata, come with me.” She commanded and walked out of the living room. 

Immediately, I followed her. When we got to my room, she shut the door and said;

“We are going for a walk.”

“You and me?” I asked. 

“No, all three of us. If anyone asks, we are going for a walk.” Mom replied. 

“Dorothy is sleeping. She is sick, and has been for a while, don’t you know that? She cannot go for a walk,” I said in irritation. Mom has barely been present for the past two months, and now she wants to go for a walk like nothing happened. “I am not going anywhere with you.”

“Do not argue with me.” She commanded. “Dorothy, my love—we are going for a walk, wake up.” She said soothingly, while gently tapping Dorothy’s back. 

Dorothy stirred awake shortly afterwards. We walked down the flight of stairs. On getting to the living room, Uncle Sunday—Dad’s cousin asked;

“Where are you going?”

“For a walk. Dorothy is sick, moving around will help her,” mom replied. “If my husband asks, tell him we will be back shortly.” 

“This one you are up and about, Ngozi. We thank God-o. Good to see you being your normal self.” Aunty Uche commented.

I could feel her waiting for us to walk out of the door. She’d launch into one of her made up stories about Mom. Mom gave her one of her fake smiles, and kept walking—Dorothy and I followed suit. 

We had walked for almost ten minutes, it did not seem like Mom was stopping anytime soon. 

“Mom, where are we going?” I asked. 

“To Abuja.”

“Without Dad? We do not have a house in Abuja.” I stopped walking. “Mom, are you joking?”

“Agata, do not slow us down, keep walking. We have to be at the MTN office in four minutes time. Uncle Azubuike sent a car to get us.” 

I did not move an inch.

“Keep walking, Agata. I will tell you why if you keep walking.” Mom instructed.

I obliged. The MTN office was not far away at this point. I could see it from where we were.

“Are we leaving Papa’s house because it is haunted?” Dorothy asked. 

“No.” Mom replied. “I called Ayomide. He has been trying to reach us for months. He said you blocked his number, and he got mine from his mother. He has been trying to call me, but my phone has been switched off.”

“Why did he not just call Dad?” I asked.

“I will tell you why. Dorothy my love, go over there and get yourself anything you want.” Mom said, pointing at a kiosk in front of us. “Do not spend the whole 1000-naira o.” Mom added after giving her the money.

Mom explained further when Dorothy was out of earshot.  

“I turned on my phone today. Ayomide left me messages on WhatsApp, SMS, Facebook, IG.  I called and he told me something interesting. On the day of the fire, he came to see you. He knocked; you did not open the door. He pleaded with you, but you did not reply. He decided to try the back door, and saw your dad pouring kerosene around the compound. He got scared and left—he did not think much of it until he heard of the fire.” She looked disappointed and on the verge of tears, but she kept talking anyway. “He tried to tell you about what he saw, but we were already in Imo and unreachable by then.”

“Dad would never do such a thing. How did Ayomide know it was kerosene? It could have been water,” I argued. “I do not believe. It does not make any sense.”

“Kerosene does not smell like water! I also remembered we have insurance. I insisted on it. We have insurance. We have insurance.” She repeated. “I do not know what is going on, but we are leaving right now. Dorothy my love, come over, I can see your Uncle Azubuike.”

The End

Bio: Beauty Anyanwu is a Nigeria creative writer. She is studying Software Engineering at Lincoln College of Management, Science and Technology. She lives with her parents and five siblings in Abuja, Nigeria. When she's not writing, you can find her either reading a book or watching a movie to inspire her writing. 
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