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Mrs Phillips cast sidelong glances at her grand daughter and great grand daughter as they each sit lost in thought and bouncing softly as the car's wheels encountered potholes. They are on their way to Lokoja to bury her daughter Yejide. It had taken nothing short of the threat of her dying to get Titi to come back home to Nigeria to honor her late mother. In her eighty years of existence, Mrs Phillips has learnt that every of life's choices carries a price tag, and that people will always pay for their choices in their life time. As she dozes off, she reminisces about some of her life's choices and the prices she'd had to pay. She remembers how for years after marriage she had been without a child. How her in-laws had made her life miserable. She remembers crying to bed every night in despair. She remembers getting on her husbands' nerves as he insisted that it was him she was married to and he married her because he loved her and not just to bear kids. She remembers following her friend Keji to Iya Efun. Iya Efun assured her that everything would be fine and prescribed a sacrifice to the river goddess. She remembers the sacrifice; one guinea fowl, one mirror, and a bowl of honey. Then there was the strange dream afterwards. She'd been at the pool and some lady had tried to pull her under. They'd struggled a while but somehow it'd ended on a friendly note. Her "friend" told her she would have a child but she had to promise to share her. She had flippantly agreed but forgot the dream as soon as she'd woken up. It wasn't until ten years later when her daughter Yejide had gotten missing on a trip to the beach that she'd remembered. It was a picnic, the parents were sitting in the shade keeping an eye on the kids who were picking shells. When it was time to leave, all the children were accounted for but Yejide. For the next three days, Mrs Phillips was inconsolable as they searched high and low without any sign of Yejide. On the third day, groggy from sedation, she'd heard screams and had rushed out to see a beaming Yejide fly into her arms. After several hours of grilling all they could get from Yejide was that a nice,beautiful lady had seen her lost and had taken her in. This was met with mixed feelings as they all wondered why said "nice" lady hadn't tried to contact them since Yejide's picture had been on TV from the very next day. When they probed further, Yejide became extremely agitated. They returned to the beach and combed the shore looking for "nice" lady's house to no avail. They returned home and resolved to forget the incident just glad that Yejide was back home. A day after the shore search,Yejide came out to meet Mrs Phillips in the garden, the story that she told her chilled Mrs Phillips' to the bone. The story was for her ears alone and no one else was ever to hear it as Yeye had instructed. According to her, she'd been playing with a turtle when the nice beautiful lady had called her into the water. She'd asked her to call her Yeye and told her that she was also friends with her mother. She had been taken on a tour of the sea and it had been so much fun. Yeye had given her a white peacock but had promised to take care of it for her until she was old enough. She told her mum that she hadn't been there more than thirty minutes and was surprised that they said she'd been gone three days. Mrs Phillips was sweating profusely by the time Yejide was done. she remembered her dream right after the sacrifice, right before she took in.
"What have I done"?
She thought fearfully.
Strangely enough when she approached her again a few days later to retell her story, it seemed like Yejide's memory of the event had been wiped clean. She couldn't remember anything.
Twenty years ago, Yejide had again answered Yeye's call. Unlike her first disappearance, Mrs Phillips knew her child was alive. While everyone worried themselves sick, she waited. She waited for three months then one day a letter came; It was from Yejide. Despite her express wish to be left alone, Mr Phillips made them make the trip to Lokoja to "bring back his child". That it was futile was evident as soon as they set eyes on her in the shrine amidst her peacocks. Mr Phillips returned home broken hearted. Titi, Yejide's daughter never forgave her for abandoning her.
Elaine can't sit still from excitement. They are in Lokoja for her grandmothers funeral but they have been sitting in the car for almost an hour. The twelve year old is getting restless. Suddenly she finds herself out of the car and sitting in front of the bamboo shack, she'd been staring at from the car window a moment ago. Her grand mother is sitting on a stool across from her and smiling at her. She recognizes her from her pictures. They are surrounded by peacocks. Cradled in her grand mothers arms, is an albino peacock which she stretches out to Elaine. Elaine accepts the peacock but thrusts it back into her grand mothers arms quickly. It is as cold as ice. Yejide looks disappointed as she shakes her head questioningly at Elaine. Elaine shakes her head in confirmation and immediately wakes up.
Yejide died on the morning of her fifty first birthday. Devotees had come to meet her sitting among her peacocks, in her customary white and blue cotton iro and buba. Her head was leaned on a bamboo pole as though only dozing. She was stone cold dead, with a serene smile on her face. All efforts to get her to the cemetery had failed. No car would start with her body in it but the same car would, when she was taken out. Eventually devotees attempted to carry her in a donkey drawn hearse. As soon as her body was placed in the hearse, the donkey slumped and died. It became obvious that she did not want to be moved. They tried to put her body in the water but it seemed like the water didn't want it either. Eventually Baba Dupe the fisherman was contacted from his hospital bed in the UK. He told them to get in touch with her daughter, that she would know what to do. Initially Titi had refused to return but Mrs Phillip knew the buttons to press, the most efficient being Gerald, Titi's white husband.
Titi is right upset about sitting at the side of the road in a strange town for close to two hours while her mother's corpse refused to be moved. She had no clue as to Baba Dupes' claims about knowing what to do but here she was. Suddenly Elaine jumps out of the car and races towards her grand mothers bamboo shrine. Titi screams in horror and chases after her but she is no match for the twelve year old's speed. She stops short and watches with the crowd of devotees as Elaine fearlessly picks up an albino peacock from the group of peacocks and sets it in the water. The crowd watch in shock as the peacock swims a little way off like a duck then dips its head into the water and is submerged. As Elaine returns to her mother, the car with Yejide's body starts and the funeral procession drive straight to the cemetery.
Saturday, 29 December 2012
Thursday, 27 December 2012
Yejide looks at herself in the mirror; her eyes are blood shot slits in a puffy bed. Her mascara, eye shadow, blush and lipstick are all smeared into a grotesque clowns face. Even her teeth have lipstick stains. A dry sob racks her slender form. She doubles over again and clutches her hurting stomach. She’d had coco pops at seven thirty this morning but food was the last thing on her mind at the moment. Her chest and throat hurt. She has been crying for four straight hours but nothing has changed. She is still in her wedding gown. There is still no sign of Onome. She looks in the mirror drained to her toes of emotions. Her family had come to knock and plead with her to come out intermittently but she couldn’t face anyone. All she wants is to be alone.
She knows what she must do and it has to be done by her alone.
She braces herself and takes off her wedding gown, splashes cold water on her face and calls her mother who is only too eager to go to her daughter. Perhaps if she’d taken another look in the mirror, she would have given herself a few more minutes before facing her mum. Mrs. Phillips’ hurried footsteps falter as she enters the room. She half listens as Yejide tells her she is going off to spend the night at a hotel as she cannot handle the crowd of relatives and inevitable sympathetic advice and commiseration that was sure to ensue should she step out of the room and she no longer feels like being indoors. Mrs. Phillips is petrified; something about Yejide is totally off. It is in her eyes, in the way her words tumble over themselves out of her mouth.
“Kiss Titi for me. Tell her I love her”.
Yejide doesn’t wait for a response from her mother; she picks up a packed overnight bag and breezes out of the house to curious stares and whispers. She doesn’t blame them. She’s just been stood up at the altar for the third time. Mrs. Phillips leans on the wall and cries for her daughter; tears of fear, of impotent pain and of regret.
With single mindedness, Yejide drives straight to Isheri in Berger, there is a small river there. She had been there to buy fish with her friend Remi, whose husband would eat cotton wool if it had sea food in it. She gets strange looks as she parks and jumps out of her car but she doesn’t care. They said she was possessed by a water spirit. Well she was headed for the water and they would explain to her today what exactly it is they want from her.
Yejide has an MBA in economics but sells clothes from the boot of her car. At Thirty one, she still has no idea of what she wants to do with her life. She’d tried several things but never made a success of anything. She relies largely on her parents for financial help. They never complained but Yejide wished she didn’t have to. With her exceptional looks men were never far away from her but none had ever seen it through to marriage, not even the father of her daughter. She is fed up and must get answers today.
For three hours before dusk, fisher men and traders stare at her in open curiosity as she sits on a jutting rock by the shore, but no one makes any moves to approach her. As it gets darker, people become fewer and fewer until it seems she is all alone. Still she waits. Suddenly a wave seems to pass over her and she realizes that she is all alone in the middle of nowhere by a strange river. Her heart lurches in fear. She looks at the time and it is ten pm.
“Oh Lord, I really am possessed”.
She thinks as she scrambles off the rock. Her legs and bum are numb and barely cooperating but she cannot concentrate on that right now. She just wants to get to her car, if it hasn’t been stolen or vandalized.
As she turns to leave, she sees him. Yejide isn’t sure if her perception is distorted because of her state of mind, but he seems taller than he looks in her dreams. He isn’t any less handsome or well built. As usual his eyes hold her captive. Yejide shuts her eyes tight and opens them again. She must be hallucinating; she’s had nothing to eat the whole day and what a day it has been. As she reopens her eyes, he is standing right before her. Yejide is sure her heart has stopped beating. A local saying flashes through her mind a second before she is yanked from off her feet.
“Yanga dey sleep, trouble go wake am”.
Yejide gasps in shock fear and wonder as she is lifted off her feet. They seem to be flying for a nano second before they land right in the middle of the river. Then Yejide begins to struggle even though she realizes there is no point. The arm around her waist is unyielding. Holding her breath, she continues to struggle as they zoom deeper and deeper into the bottom of the dark and murky water. Her ears are filled with a loud sound of rushing water. Then it stops suddenly and is replaced with the almost imperceptible sound of a small breeze.
“Is this death?”
Yejide thinks just before a sudden bright light has her gasping in awe….they are in what appears to be a city, the very substance of which seems to be of some aquamarine stone. She becomes light headed from sensory overload. Suddenly she can taste the purity of the water on her skin and hear with her eyes the tinkling sounds of the oceans orchestra. Her ears feel the peace and harmony of the underwater city as she realizes that she is breathing in air and not water.
They are on what appears to be a street with houses hewn out of coral reefs which seem to be alive. The colors are inexplicable as she has never seen such before and their radiance makes her eyes water. Her captor floats gently beside her, observing her as she takes in her surroundings in wonder. His long muscular legs have changed to a silvery fish tail but hers sans her shoes, are intact. The sand beneath her feet look like finely ground up glass, playfully reflecting the colors of the spectrum as the sun from above cuts through the water and bounces off on them.
The doors of a huge coral reef home are flung open and he waves her in. Yejide knows that if she steps into his abode, she would be his forever, so she digs her feet into the beautiful sand and shakes her head vigorously. Whatever it is that this being wants from her, he is not going to get her consent or cooperation.
His voice is gurglly and deep. Yejide is past fear; how much worse could it get? She shakes her head stubbornly. Mr Thing seems to be losing his patience. He flips his hand across the front of the house and the façade peels off like a banana skin leaving the interior of the house exposed like a doll house. Yejides' fear returns in full force. It is obviously a home but it is also a shrine to her. A huge 7” by 7” painting of her covers the wall on one end and in little Plexiglas shelves reminiscent of those found at a museum are personal items of hers that had suddenly gone missing over the years; a foot of shoe, an earring, a blouse, a bracelet etc.
His voice has taken on a pleading quality.
“This is not my home.”
As soon as the words leave her mouth, the water warms up and for the first time since the whole incident began, the prevailing feeling of malevolence, disappears. She senses victory as she takes in his sudden sad countenance which is tinged with reverence and fear? He is looking over her shoulders to the source of the warmth. Yejide turns and encounters an in coming wave of previously absent marine fauna swirling around in excitement.
She bursts into tears of relief as she beholds her, full, beautiful and motherly. Yemoja opens welcoming arms and the water around her bubbles even bluer as the sea takes up a haunting anthem that swallows up every iota of doubt in Yejides mind. Yejide goes into her arms sobbing in relief.
She whispers to Yejide as she presses her against her soft belly and into a rising vortex.
Baba Dupe the fisherman rushes out of the water and watches the strange waves as they leap higher and higher. He knows instinctively that his life is about to change. Then as suddenly as they began, the waves stop. At the edge of the river is a young woman who seems to have been birthed by the river.
It’s been twenty years since Yejide was found by Baba Dupe the fisherman at the water side in far away Lokoja in Kogi state. It’s been twenty years since she answered the call and to this day, she can be found ministering to all who seek her help. She lives alone with her peacocks in Yemoja's shrine, a bamboo hut and can be heard whispering to the spirits. How she feeds no one knows but she lives and glows with an ever present smile.
It is said that Baba Dupe built her shrine, where thousands trudge daily to seek for one blessing or another.
It is said that in the early days a few fool hardy men attempted to molest her, they were found drowned 'on dry land'.
It is said that she is responsible for the success of Baba Dupe's sardine packaging company and his sudden wealth.
Posted by RIO at Thursday, December 27, 2012