June 23. We arrived in Ekuete Djeri today. I rode alone with my mom’s driver, Rafir. Just as well, I was feeling kind of irritable. I don’t enjoy being forced to come here like this. It was an extremely exhausting three-hour ride into the hinterland. It makes you wonder how the British explorers worked up the moral audacity to travel so deep into these parts…
It’s really spooky driving down; it’s all very dark and green. Sometimes for miles the road narrows into a red dust path and the sky is invisible just because the tangled vines from the treetops form a dense roof. Unnerving. I started to feel feverish again. I’m relapsing, this journey makes me feel vulnerable…
Oh yes, I saw the weirdest thing on the way, just two miles before we neared the village and the road was all broad and tarred and everything seemed bright and sunny again— the strangest thing ever: on both sides of the road, what at first I thought to be scarecrows. But I thought to myself what sense is there in planting a whole field of scarecrows? Ridiculous. So I asked Rafir what these were, and he said they were sort of advertisements for witch-hunters. I didn’t understand so he explained that in the villages, if a woman was suspected of being a witch, the witch hunter was called in to put her to test. If she failed it or she was found guilty, the witch was killed and all her belongings burned. Except for a few items of clothing and jewelry which the witch hunter retained and made this scarecrow like effigy out of and planted in his field to advertise his prowess as a medicine man and witch hunter.
But what kind of trial did they put them through, and how where they killed? Was there no one to stop them? But Rafir said he really didn’t know much about these things because he was raised in the townships and not in the village. He slowed down the car a bit so I could get a better view:
The effigies were slender crucifix like stakes draped in garish women’s shawls, used satin or nylon underwear, bright scarlet brassieres, drab frothy laced panties. Feathered and wide brimmed Sunday hats, wire and styrofoam wig stands for heads. Sometimes they wore gaudy brass trinkets and earrings and afro wigs. Some had smiles and eyes painted on their faces with bright fading lipsticks and kohl liners. Sometimes grins were improvised out of rubber slippers or patent leather shoes. Harsh glaring eyeballs from cheap gilt costume jewelry. This went on for nearly two miles— dead women on parade. A vague terror seized me, I was glad when Rafir revved up the car and sped past. I will wake up at night screaming and not know why.
There’s a party going on downstairs. I think I should join them, even if I feel a bit feverish. I don’t want to be alone; I’m kind of jumpy. I was freaked out by my own reflection in the mirror this evening. I’m kind of irritable. I can’t find my earrings.
June 24. Today the native law and custom ceremonies begin. Uncle Felix and his new bride, Ndidi go first. No one likes it, but there’s nothing Aunt Vivian can do about it; seeing as Felix is footing the bill for Victoria and Vincent’s wedding. So everyone will at best shut up. Felix will is rich, he will do whatever he pleases, besides he’s the head of the family.
Well I’m not showing, I refuse to mask my distaste. It’s not just that this Ndidi chick is at least a third his age, (Felix was sixty-nine in November.) I heard something about her really bugged me. Well this was from Rafir, and he doesn’t lie. He said the other drivers resented her because just a month ago she was the wife of the gateman—the one who hung himself in May. Everyone suspects foul play. What kind of foul play? I asked, but Rafir wouldn’t tell me. He said it wasn’t from his mouth I would hear the king’s mother was dead. When people start speaking in pointless proverbs I don’t bother…
It bugs me because it’s the same way people allude to Ekua and her twin brother, Ekhan. Ekua was uncle Felix’s oldest child, my mother’s first cousin. Her brother vanished somewhat when they were infants, under mysterious circumstances. Somewhere along the line, I’m not sure exactly when, she blamed her father for it and later became extremely vocal about it. She was under the impression that her twin’s disappearing act had to do with the occult practices of her father.
Apparently a sharp, brilliant woman, with a Cambridge law degree, U.N assignments at The Hague —then in the middle of an upwardly mobile career, she quit. She was pregnant, but refused to marry the child’s father— who happened to be the son of the President, and a political ally of her father’s. Some said she did it just to spite both families: Chima to date is the only grandson of the president, and she refused to make him legitimate.
She moved back here, to Diamankor, with her son to begin her attack on her father and the rest of thegovernment. Incriminating evidence was dredged up from strange quarters, and all hell let loose, when she sued the government of Diamankor on behalf of the people. The charges ran from corrupt international double-dealing, to occult liaisons in high places that involved human sacrifice. The hardest blow to the family was when she accused her father of murdering his own son.
When I came to Diamankor five years ago, Ekua was already estranged from the family. The details of her existence were shadowy, what I knew of her I heard from the whisperings of the drivers or the kitchen staff. There were hardly any photographs of her in the family albums. Vacant spaces on the mantelpiece…
Once, years ago, waiting out in the courtyard of the government secretariat where my mother worked, a tall disheveled woman in a faded army fatigues appeared in the palm tree shadows. Something in her face, at once familiar, scared me. She seized my hand and said,
It was as though she had put a gun to my head. Before I knew it I in a car, driving downtown towards the Agora. I thought to myself, this is how people disappear in this country—a simple command, and all your impulses freeze…
In a few minutes we were in a small disordered apartment dwelling with strange smells. Heaps of flowers strewn all over the place: ixoras, roses, harmattan lilies, azaleas…. Dry, drying, fossiled and even freshly picked.
My captor motioned for me to sit. Then with a glass tumbler in one hand and bottle of Jack Daniels in another, she set about a diatribe:
The injustices of the system, the betrayal of the people by corrupt politicians like her father— how the slave-trade had somehow converted itself from colonialism to the new improved Coca-Cola company which only served to rape the land and it’s people of their God given rights. Did I think for one moment that a tiny island such as Diamankor was important enough to house a German Naval attaché? Did I think Coca-Cola was here for only the spring water and possibly the ambiance? What about the thousands of people who disappeared everyday? Was that normal, did I not sense that something was wrong? I would, I wanted to reply, if I drank that much whiskey… But I was still a scared.
The rant became even more incoherently, and then it hit me—this was my cousin Ekua! And the father referred to was none other than my Uncle Felix. That’s why she seemed so familiar. Things were looking up—I wasn’t going to disappear after all! The crazy lady breathing the fire of Jack Daniels, dissent and other politics, was family…
“You’re Ekua, my cousin,” I announced.
She looked at me like I was retarded. Putting down her drink, she got closer:
“How old are you?”
“Twelve, I guess…”
“How far back can you remember?”
“I—I don’t know,”
“Think! What is your earliest memory—”,
She was shaking me.
“Do you know what my earliest memory is?”,
I didn’t, and wasn’t that interested — but who says that to Crazy-Woman-Breathing-Whiskey-Gas-In-Your-Face…
“I’m two years old and naked, painted with some kind of chalk or white paint and it’s night and we’re on the beach, my twin brother and I; there’re all these men around us playing ring-around-the rosies… but that’s not the point! Do you realize what a phallus oriented society we live in? Has it occurred to you that’s the only reason I’m alive today? Think about it!”
She let go and I landed on the floor. I sat there for a moment wondering what next?—but she seemed to have lost her motivation. Now she was at the refrigerator, clearing out fruit—guavas, grapefruit, tangerines, mangoes, oranges… A lot of fruit. A lot of it rotting and overripe. It seemed she was no longer interested in me, I made a tiptoe dash for the door…
“Where’re you going?”
I figured that since she didn’t say, “where do you think you’re going,” this was not meant to be a threat,
“Home?” I ventured gingerly,
“Wait. I have something for you.”
“Not you, Felix—“
“You mean your father?”
Chuckle. Ah, now it was all coming together. An attempt at reconciliation.
“I have a message for my son, tell Chima that his mother loves him very, very, very, much — tell him I’m coming to save him,”
She wasn’t convinced,
“No. I don’t think you understand. Those fascists stole my baby from me,” her voice lowered to a harsh rasp, “—and you know it’s only because he’s a boy. It’s the almighty phallus at work again isn’t it, can you see what I’m talking about?”
At the time I couldn’t tell what one had to do with the other, but I nodded in agreement.
“Good. Then you will deliver a letter to my father?”
Anything to get out of there—I said yes, yes I would deliver a letter to Felix and anyone else she had in mind: like her ex-boyfriend, her mother, high school buddies perhaps?
“No, just Felix will be fine for now.”
She went into another room and came back with a bulky old tatty envelope. It looked like it had waited a long, long time for me to come pick it up…
Suddenly I found myself out on the street, lost and in a daze. I didn’t think it was a good idea to go back and ask for directions. An hour later I was picked up by the police for wandering about conspicuously in a suspicious area (welcome toDiamankor.)
My mother came to pick me up at the station. She was quite upset about my meandering. Frantic. Hysterical: did I have any idea how dangerous it was to wander around this town? Did I know how many crazy people were out there? (No kidding.) Did ritual murder not mean anything to me? And so on. I played dumb and told her nothing. Naturally I sympathized with her tears and fears, but only one question nagged my mind:
“Mom, what’s a phallus?”
In her exasperation she smacked me. I never saw Ekua again. In retrospect I realize she was in the last stages of deterioration. Since her son had been seized from her, she was drinking her way against a losing battle. A month after our encounter, Ekua’s car was found in a roadside ditch. Her body was never discovered.
And Felix’s letter never got to Felix. In the midst of my mother’s frenzy and reprimands from surreptitious police officers (who were oh-so-concerned,)—I forgot the envelope at the station. Or shall we say, they (the police) conveniently let it slide past my notice. There was an explosion in that particular station the same evening. The papers said it was caused by a letter bomb.
Concerning this odious wedding ceremony of Felix’s— well, Felix I’m okay with. He is the only one in the family who is truly fond of me. One of the drivers said it was because I remind him so much of Ekua before she went crazy and broke his heart. As to whether he really killed his son and had a hand in his daughter’s disappearance—well hell, it’s not that I don’t care. Just that too much is too strange and too cryptic in this country. There’s no point moralizing.
June 25. Did I say I didn’t care? I take that back. How else do I account for this one-woman crusade I mindlessly take up? Somehow Ekua, after all these years, sublimated her burdens upon me…
Everyone was taken aback at my audacity yesterday evening— I mean they would all love to slag Ndidi off (well maybe just the women, I’m sure the men folk would have other ideas…) —Social Upstart that she is, but no one has the cojones to cross Felix. Not that in a sober state of mind, I would either, (I am a strong believer in subterfuge and subtlety— far more entertaining.) But last night, as I lay in a fever-induced delirium, I suddenly had the distinct notion Ndidi had been in my room and taken my silver hoop earrings. They had been the second pair to disappear. So in the middle of the wedding festivities I went down and caused a small scene. I emptied a whole keg of palm wine on her before anyone realized what was happening. Then I accused her in front of all the guests— kissers of dear Felix’s behind, who behind that behind snickered about his latest Sugar -Daddyism. Everyone was appropriately shocked and I was hustled away before I caused further embarrassment—but not before I let them know how I felt about the wedding and the collective brown-nosing.
Pure delirium on my part. I was getting worked up, screaming, laughing, clawing… All through this Ndidi did not react. She realized of course she was on enemy territory: I had just enacted a manifestation of the larger collective female dislike for her. Of course my grievances with her I’d have to distinguish from the others. Her face remained dark, calm and cryptic. She really bugs me.
I just had a dream, no, nightmare. I dreamed that Ekua came into the room and was trying to wake me up, but she couldn’t; Ndidi enters the room and begins to seduce her. I want to yell in my dream Ekua wake me up! But she won’t because she is succumbing to Ndidi’s embrace. And then without warning Ndidi turns into this mammoth boa constrictor and begins to strangle her. Ekua is saying something to me but I can’t hear because of all the hissing, but I think she was saying something like turn up the heat…
June 26. Victoria and Vincent’s turn today. That is— to wed in the presence of the dead ancestors and all that. I won’t be showing up. This morning there was a dress rehearsal for the Church wedding. They got seamstresses to last minute double check the fittings. I couldn’t find my headpiece for the bridesmaids’ get up. It’s a perfectly horrid thing made of gossamer, lilac satin roses, pearlesque stuff and yards and yards of silk veilish whatever. I was so relieved when I couldn’t find it. I’m not sure what I had done to be made to wear such a ghastly thing. It got me into trouble though. Aunt Vivian screamed and screamed; I wanted to ruin her daughter’s wedding; I always wanted to upset people, I was selfish and jealous of Victoria and Marie—because they both had prospects of good marriages whereas I had none. No respectable family would allow their son to marry me—the daughter of a—of a—
I completed the sentence for her, for this is the general attitude of many Diamankans towards the Black American. At this point she had said too much and left the room. My mother looked at me with eyes burning with shame and anger, they said:
Why do you always have to ruin everything?
She left the room too, unable to face me. Everyone else followed suit, leaving me alone with Victoria. When the junior seamstress scurried out, Victoria locked the door behind her.
“So, what’s up with you?”
Victoria, in her silk brocade and damask wedding gown, encrusted with pearls—unearthly beautiful,
“You tell me Victoria,”
Trembling, I’m not much of a match for this woman.
“Hello? Do I detect an attitude here?”
“Is Kunle coming for the wedding?”
Victoria’s eyes, dark almond slivers, narrow me down in a process of deduction,
“What do you know about Kunle?”
I say nothing, Victoria laughs,
“What are you, Vincent’s vanguard, hmm? Do you have a crush on my Vincent?”
I say nothing, still. The almond sliver eyes peer deep into my widening ones, scanning—
“Have you been snooping on me? Why?”
“No it’s not me is it? I’m really of no interest to you am I now? How do you know Kunle?”
Still no answer, without warning she has twists my arm, pinning me to the wall.
“What have you been up to, where do you know him from—”
The arm is about to snap, and now she yanks my head back,
“You’d better talk! How do you know Kunle?
“He’s a friend of Vincent’s”
“Oh really, tell me something I don’t know. Why are you concerned with him?”
She lets go; I recoil against the wall. She regards me with a look I don’t quite recognize.
“You’re involved in something dangerous, you’re in a lot of trouble and you don’t even know it—”
She turns to adjust her veil in the mirror ,
“—And you do?”
In the mirror, Victoria merely shakes her head,
“You’ll end up exactly like Ekua, I can just see it coming…”
“Yeah? And how did Ekua end up?”
Again the cynical laughter, she picks up her train to leave, I tug at it—
“I asked you a question: how did Ekua end up?”
She turns to face me,
“So you’re trying to wreck my wedding because you think I’m sleeping with your revolutionary boyfriend…”
“How did Ekua end up?”
“I can see what he likes about you, spoilt little rich girl pretending to live on the edge…”
“How did Ekua end up?”
“Will you stop pulling at my train, you’ll rip it like that!”
And I did.
I pulled hard with both hands until I heard the gleaming, satiny riiiiipp of it.
Ah, the glistening sounds of satin…
Victoria stood frozen in her rage, she mouthed evil curse words, but no sounds came out though… Then she lounged for me in a flurry of brocade and satin, knocking me over the dresser. Down came trays of Macquillage, Sebastian and Shisheido over us as she pinned me to the floor. I knee jerked, found my self on top and administered a few sharp slaps. Her bronze enamel talons claw me from ear to chin.
And I bleed profusely.
Pounding on the door. Victoria and I just stare at each other—bewildered, near tears. Blood streaming down my face, gathering momentum in blots on the bridesmaids gown. Astonishment. Pounding the door, trying to break it down— they think there’s been a death in the family.
“Oh God! Oh baby, I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to—”
Victoria rushes me into her arms. And she just called me baby. What a frigging schizophrenic! Hugging me—this woman who can’t stand me…
I don’t shrink from her embrace; I burrow my bloody face into her bosom and ruin her wedding dress. It had cost them twelve thousand British pounds.
So that’s why I don’t want to do the native law and custom ceremony this evening. The church ceremony will take place tomorrow as planned. This family has that sort of money; they can order a brand new albeit unplanned for bridal train with an extra bridesmaid to go in less than twenty-four hours. No thanks to me of course. I don’t care I never wanted to be part of Victoria’s stupid wedding in the first place. Whatever happened to that confounded headpiece anyway? I wanted take a walk in the cornfields this evening, I started out but it was really chilly. I came back for my denim jacket.
Drat! I couldn’t find it. I can’t find anything.
Something strange happened/ or didn’t happen this night. I’m not sure. I fell asleep and then woke up about three. Ndidi was in bed with me, naked. So was I. Before I could even protest she starts kissing me all over, I say no, but she says keep your voice down—if they catch us together we’ll be burnt as witches… And I was helpless and frustrated because my body was responding in ways I had never anticipated. I couldn’t tell if the heat was because of her—or if it was the fever I’ve been coming down with. Suddenly I remembered Ekua, she was saying turn up the heat. There were matches in my jeans pockets, right besides me… I reached for them and struck a light. Ndidi sprung away from me immediately —like an animal afraid of fire. She took up her robe and left. In the space of a second, the atmosphere in the room completely altered. I wasn’t sure if something had actually happened or I was just having a corporeal sex fantasy…
June 27. The wedding was pushed further into the afternoon. That way the new bridesmaid and everyone else would have more time to fit into their new get ups. There was this slight problem though, they marched into my room demanding the lilac satin pumps allocated to me as part of my bridesmaid shtick. The stand-in needs them because the wrong shade was delivered. I point them (Aunt Vivian, Marie and all their other cronies—my mother hasn’t sprouted the balls to face me yet, silly, silly) in the direction of the closet. They open it and only one shoe sits on the rack. Where is the other one? Aunt Viv wants to know, I dunno; I reply and go back to my binoculars (for I am bird watching), check in the closet. But it’s not there, so what, I say, so what if substitute bridesmaid has to wear the wrong shade of lilac? Tough. They all stomp out but not before Aunt Viv calls me the spawn of Satan. Figures, I say, we’re all related aren’t we?
Guess who’s giving Victoria away! Ha ha ha, this is such a joke. Uncle Felix has taken a bad turn—probably terminal illness, so he’s indisposed. So now Kayode is acting as “Father of The Bride”. Kayode, that prince of philanderers and erstwhile husband to my mother, lecherous stepfather of yours truly. Poor Vincent, this is truly unkind—he is in the midst of shameless mercenaries. Kayode and Victoria have been having an on and off affair ever since I’ve known them—and that’s been five years. In the past I used to bother myself with trying to furnish proof of this to show my mother. I’d snoop around, taking surveillance photos of none- to discreet rendezvous’, xeroxing round trip tickets to San Tropez—and the like. Aunt Viv got wise to me and threatened me. Not like that stopped me, what was really scary was that I discovered that my mother really didn’t want to know. Made me wonder what kind of sisters she and aunt Viv were…
Oh yeah, once we get back there’s to be a family meeting held to discuss my fate. Yay!!! If only they would disown me and put me on a plane back to Chicago and beg me never to come back…
I saw little Chima outside this morning, dressed up like a little monkey because he’s the ring bearer or something. I wanted to swoop him up and rescue him from those vultures. I should have screamed—Chima! Have nothing to do with these people, they are evil, they killed your mother! Yes, everyone of them in thought and deed…
Of course he’d have thought his crazy coz is at it again.
June 28. Ha ha ha, guess what I did yesterday night when all good people were in bed or digging it at Victoria and Vincent’s ostentatious all night wedding reception bash. I had gone to bed early in the evening; I didn’t even bother to appear at the festivities or anything. Besides I was feeling really feverish again. I woke up about midnight— in a sort of trance. It was noisier than ever outside; the party must have been at the height of its power. I could hear every single thing happening—then again it was all an aural blur. It was freezing cold out, but I was burning a bright, bright fever as I sprang from my bed and walked directly through the harvested cornfields. It was all pewter, patinaed with the large silver disc of moon above, I swear at times I thought I was dreaming but I was barefoot and I could feel dew drenched sheaves beneath my bare feet and all the cricketsong it was all broken tall silverstalks and my body ran on hot dry coals. And I walked and I walked and I swear I wasn’t dreaming and I walked past the broken gleaming cornfields till I came to the field full of dead women’s’ scarecrows and there were thousands and thousands of these women grinning and screaming at me Avenge us! Avenge us! And someone was screaming louder than all the others help me help me, and it was me and I reached into my pockets and got out my matches and struck them and the blaze began, brighter and bigger and brighter we were all on fire and I walked to the road and they all followed me. And I was walking back to the village and these women followed me pushing past the cornfields and blazing witchbright, and soon they overtook me and they were running faster and faster and burning bigger, bigger brighter women of fire, fiery female inferno and hell hath no fury…
And I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I got back home and the whole wedding party had become a joint fireman effort. I went to bed anyway, and this morning I got up and the fire was still raging. They actually called in the National Guard and there were military helicopters buzzing about with fire hoses. I think they were looking for me but didn’t think to look in the main house. My mother, aunts and other female relatives enacted this melodrama when they finally found me this evening.
Ndidi is missing too. They can’t find her dead or alive. And they’re whispering about her everyone seems to agree she had something to do with the fire. Who am I to contradict this? Needless to say the wedding party was a disaster.
I’m so exhausted.
June 30. I think I’m dying. Somehow. They say the fever has become cerebral—it has taken over my brain. I’d disbelieve them, but I can feel the life igniting and fizzing out of me. There is no way they can get me any adequately professional help from outside—all communication links went down with the fire. The women in my family are taking turns to nurse me. Or attempting to. I scream, kick, rave: I want to be left alone. If I’m dying I’d rather be doing what I’m doing now—writing in my journal. My mother is paralyzed with guilt, every time I look at her there is terror in her eyes, they say please don’t leave me alone with these people. I don’t blame her; it makes for dire company, Aunt Viv, her daughters, and the other female crony-relatives. A nasty breed of females, with stake-frying abilities when it’s convenient. All of a sudden there’s a certain trust between us, maybe even love. It hasn’t felt like this since my father died, and we were faced with a common victory. It’s taking all of my strength to write this:
The exertion will surely kill me.
If I die writing this, I want you to keep these journals in trust for Chima, please…
please don’t burn this…
July 4. I’m alive. Amen. It was a really nice feeling to be alive today. Even if I felt like a ghost. I was too weak to get out of bed. I had my mother prop me up in bed so I could watch out the window with my binoculars. It was all black and grazed and scorched for miles. Peaceful, but it wore me out. I fell asleep again.
I woke up in the middle of the night. It must have been about three a.m., someone was in my room. I heard the door slam. I didn’t even want to think who it might be. There was another noise, the creaking of the kitchen door that leads outside. I follow. Out of the kitchen, immediately without transition into the scorched, grazed earth of the cornfields. Ndidi is there, waiting for me, laughing, mocking…
I chase her and chase her until she dissipates into thick darkness. There is no moon tonight. The field is dark and empty. Except for a wooden crucifix. A scarecrow effigy; it wears my denim jacket, my pearl studs for eyes and silver hoops for ears, you wear a single satin lilac pump as a skewed up smile and my bridesmaid veil flutters about your mid-torso as a skirt…. my laughter fills the hysterical void of the night and the earth trembles lightly.
You can still hear me for miles and miles into the darkness.
©1997, 2013 onome ekeh