“Hmmm, what you ask for is easy. Too easy”, the old woman drawled as she cackled mirthlessly and spat out the kolanut she had been chewing. The huge gobs of saliva seemed to evaporate before they hit the red clay soil outside the mud hut where we sat. She stared at my stunned face for some seconds before spitting some more.
She cackled again. A high pitched claw-on- the- blackboard kind of laugh.
“You’re amazed by the saliva? That’s just a tip of the iceberg. I’ll make you like my saliva, not slimy and sticky”, she smiled, “I’ll make you like magic to your foes”.
I wondered how this old woman living in a hut knew words like that. Efosa had said was educated but I thought it was just one of her numerous stories.
Efosa is my childhood friend. We’ve been neighbors since I could write my alphabets. She had given me the birds and bees lecture, fed me when I was ill, and let’s not forget; she’d broken my leg when we were 5.
We’d gone to the same secondary school, university and had gotten jobs four years ago at KPMG. Graduate trainee -Audit department was what out had ID cards read. We’d blown our first salary on shopping and Brazilian weaves. I smiled as I thought of the SAP that stayed with us through the next month. That experience taught me how to save and invest my hard earned money. Efosa, on the other hand, didn’t seem to know what saving was. She was lazy at work and got the guys to do her work. Batting her eyelids and flirting always worked magic with the guys. I had been promoted thrice since we started and Efosa, never. She had become sarcastic and did all sorts of stuff to annoy me.
“Don’t mind Aize, she’s a rat faced idiot”, I once heard her say to Eket. She had denied it was me she had been talking about. “Abegi jorr, there are like five Aizes in this office. Hian!!”, she yelled as she stalked off. She was pretty annoying these days.
“When you’re done thinking, let me know.” I almost fell off the wooden stool as I stared incredulously at the old lady. “Unilag”, she mumbled, “That’s where I schooled.”.
The hairs on my body stood on end. How had she known what I was thinking?
She laughed heartily, her pretty brown eyes sparkling in the sun.
“Our time is far spent”, she whispered. “Bring your hands, let me finish”. She picked up a black feather, dipped it in a minute earthenware pot which hung around her neck and wrote on my palm. The “ink” was dark red. Thick. Red. Like blood.
I turned my face away as she scrawled on and muttered into my palm. Minute caricatures and letters as I later saw when I looked at my palm. I could make out a vulture from the drawings; the rest… strange art.
Maami said the process was painless. She had explained the intricacies when I came to her mud hut 2 months ago. Aize would sleep and wake up, the same as everyday. The only difference? She would wake up different, with my spirit.
I had first heard of this “process” from Ehimare, our village gossip during one of my visits to our village, Osawe. Spirit exchange also know as “Irogbe” was a rare form of juju that people had performed hundreds of years ago. It involved the transfer of one persons spirit to another body. It was done voluntarily or involuntarily.
“I heard Osato’s mum uses it on her dad so she’ll control the poor man”, Ehimare had chirped on our way to the market.
“And the man hasn’t told anyone abi? He likes living in mama osato’s fat body?. Abeg commot before you put me for trouble. Na lie full your mouth.”, I had yelled as I walked towards my grandma’s stall.
I had asked granny about it.
“Osanobua!. where did you hear such nonsense?”, she screeched as she covered my mouth with old leathery palms. “Don’t let me hear you talk of such things to anyone.”. She was unsettled that day and I wondered what the fuss was about.
She had called me days later. “Its easy to be called a witch. Don’t ask anyone about this. I’ll explain”. And explain she did. My eyes widened as she told me about it and other powerful juju that was now banned in Osawe.
I had pondered on it for some days and forgotten about it. I wasn’t exchanging any soul with anyone. I loved myself and didn’t want to be any other person. But that was 5 years ago. Shit happens.
Aize breezed through school and work like she was playing hopscotch. I’ve had to use people to do everything for me. My brain doesn’t seem to work as well as hers. WHY?.
She rubs her success in my face.
“Efosa why didn’t you do this? Its easy, let me show you”.
Did I ask to be shown?!. I’d grown to hate her intensely. People always liked her. Always compared us. She was modelesque and beautiful, while I was the chubby one. She was the boss and I was under her at work. Her boyfriend worshiped the ground she walked on; mine pushed me to the ground. She disgusted me.
Maami said it couldn’t be done without the person’s presence. I had told Aize it was a rite to protect her and make her successful. She had refused at first but after I used some igbore to make her fall ill repeatedly, she’d accepted to come with me. She thought some one in the office wanted her dead. It wasn’t far from the truth. Not far at all….
She would wake up confused, ranting that she wasn’t the same person. Hopefully, she would be mistaken for a mad person and carted to the looney bin. My spirit would live in her body….her fresh curvy body. I would be the boss.
I looked at my watch. Four o’clock. The air was thick. It seemed like there were other people around. Invisible people.
I rubbed the goose bumps that had appeared as I sat in the air conditioned car waiting for Aize to emerge. Huge trees blocked off my view of the hut, so I couldn’t see what was happening from where I parked. She looked dazed when she finally emerged. In a trance-like state, she walked towards the car. I came out to support her. She slumped into the passenger sit, “take me home”, she ordered.
Was that blood on her palms?
The evening breeze cooled my face as we drove past third mainland bridge. Far away from the old woman’s hut, my racing pulse steadied itself. I turned and stared at Efosa.
She caught my gaze and smiled. I smiled back before turning away to look towards the water.
She would never know what happened. Would never realize. The old lady had recognized what I was before she was done with the final rites.
She had made to drop her quill when she froze. Some one invisible seemed to be talking to her and she had slowly turned in my direction with a mortified look on her face.
“Iye(mother)”, she had shrieked as she knelt at my feet. I grinned at her. I had known it would come to her sooner or later.
“Why did you come here with her?”. The fearful look on her face was priceless. “You could kill her if you wanted. You knew she wanted to hurt you but you came. You control kingdoms underwater yet you let a mere human toy with you?”.
“It’s complicated”, I sighed. “I knew her before I became queen”. I thought If she didn’t try to hurt me I could let her be. It’s unfortunate it had to come to this”.
“Please don’t hurt me”, she groveled as she dropped to her knees again. I stood up and started to leave the darkened hut. With my back turned to the gnarled woman I said, “She wants soul exchange? I’ll give her that”. I turned to look at the old woman who peered at me from her subservient crouch on the floor. “Take care”, I said as I smiled coldly and watched her writhe in agony before she finally crumpled on the floor.
It was nice knowing her. Pity she would never see the world the same way after today. The old woman’s spirit would replace hers. I had trapped it before it left her body. She would be my sidekick. Efosa could stay alive in the dead body which would soon be buried. If no one found her, the body would remain on the floor outside the hut till it decayed. Dead…but alive.
As we neared the end of the bridge, I noticed the sunlight glistening over the lagoon. It was beautiful and peaceful. Just like the old woman’s face in death. I missed my home.