Like Large Bodies of Light
They always waited at the hollow in the almond tree. Two men. Half clad in multi-coloured wrappers tied around their waists. Their skins were highly burnished.
On my way to errands, they shadowed me. When they caught up with me, they snatched the to-buy list and scanned through it. Sometimes, they read out the contents with raspy voices: egwusi, uda, okpei. Their ribcages stuck out like rungs on a ladder. When I tried to glimpse their faces, I felt like a whirr of something was coming to cross me out.
At the market stalls, they helped me to bargain. “No, Oche, say two hundred naira.”
“Will you sell for two hundred naira?” I’d ask a vendor. “No, Oche, let’s go to the next stall.”
“Yes, Oche, let’s buy.”
They kept their small tied up bundles in the open chest of the almond tree and swung on the branches. My mother watched me with worried eyes, and often said to my father, “Oche talks to himself often. He talks to the walls and the plates and the water tank. Do you notice?”
My father perched at the corners of our compound and peeked through the cracks in our doors and windows. But he was human, so things slipped past him.
In my dreams, the two men filtered in through the walls and lay beside me. Then they tugged at my body, seeking to be let in. At dawn, my skin stung. They gradually nudged me aside, did my laundry, followed me everywhere, and wanted to go on my errands alone.
“Oche, we will wash your clothes while you do the dishes,” they proposed, readily dipping their wrinkled hands into pails of water. I felt a sense of things slipping away, and my chest tightened often like a pocket.
One night, my parents screamed; I whizzed back from the many distances of dreams. I woke up to their glare, eyes rolling wide in the sockets. My mother trembled and begged me in a small voice to get up and come to her. My father’s hand clutched a cutlass, arm raised high, ready to strike.
“They are gone,” my mother whispered when I stood up.
“What?” I asked, shrugging off the fuzziness of sleep. Her hands examined my body, suspicious that something had been altered.
“Nothing. They didn’t bite him.”
She looked at my father, and he turned away, his brow pleated with a soft sheen of sweat.
The men were absent from the tree at cockcrow. Their bundles were missing too. How could I summon them when they never told me their names?
My parents and I marched to the healer, Nwanyieze, at noon. My pulse throbbed in my throat all the way.
Nwanyieze was small of stature. Her eyes were fiery, setting the world alight.
“You saw two pythons latched on Oche’s body this morning,” Nwanyieze said as soon as we sat down.
“Yes,” my mother said, folded her arms and leaned towards Nwanyieze with a frown. My father’s face brimmed with dread.
“Who are they?” he asked, “and what do we do?” “They are incarnates from your lineage. Two of their human hosts met their sudden death. Now they are reluctant to return to the spirit world. They want to share your son’s body.”
“God forbid,” my mother said.
Nwanyieze said, “It is an easy rite,” and coursed around me repeatedly. “What did they look like?” she asked.
I knew their faces now. They could pass for large bodies of light, or darkness. But I replied, “I don’t remember.”
“Lies,” she berated me and resumed her dance. She gave me some leaf juice that burned my chest on its way down. My father handed her the fee and thanked her.
“He will never see them again. I have bound them in the underworld.” she said and swung her hands around her head twice, then snapped her fingers.
On the way back, my parents followed behind me, cursing the pythons and praising the lord for protecting my holy temple. But I had my eyes forward on the orange-striped sky. Bright light briefly filled the horizon and melted into mist. Figures of the two men rose. They queued in front of me and led the way home.
Frances Ogamba’s short stories appear on Jalada Africa, in the 2019 New Weather for MEDIA anthology, and in the first issue of Rewrite Reads. Her nonfiction piece, “The Valley of Memories,” won the 2019 Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Non Fiction. She is an alumna of the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop taught by Chimamanda Adichie.