Everyone in the whole of Uromi knew Olisa. Not just as the Igbo super merchant who owned three departmental stores on Mission Road and Oyomon and New Agbor Road respectively, but also as a super wizard, one who dared circumnavigate the air in broad daylight. His wizardry was evident, people said, in his explosive success. How could he, an Igbo, succeed on the same land indigenes were struggling to erect kiosks?
But Osato’s scrawny build and avuncular disposition were there to contend. He was slight, the way smallish teachers who wore their belts on their stomachs and trod on the balls of their feet were. And he laughed a lot and made the kind of saucy jokes that pulled people. Despite this surface innocence, rumours questioned why no robber had ever broken into any of his stores, why no teacher had ever flogged any of his sons, why no man had ever leered at his only daughter, Nkiru.
And there came my daring brother, Osato, who happened to be the first. He met Nkiru at his friend Chopper’s birthday groove a month after he returned from Lagos. And she caught his eyes. I like to imagine it had to do with the exoticity to her nose rings and the full, almost bushy eyebrows. But I can’t really say, can I? The only thing I know is that falling in love with Nkiru further intricated the webs that bound Osato tighter to his destruction.
You know, I could choose to start this story from that breathless moment Mum pointed at the mirror. There was Osato in it, smoking in his room. A chunk of breath leapt out of me, and I had to dig my toenail into the mud floor to still. I wanted to tell Mum again that this could be detrimental. But the confrontation with her back at home bobbed back to my head.
“What else do you want me to do? Sit back and watch him carry out his threats? He’s not joking! He will go back to Olisa if I don’t do anything!”
“I know, Mum. But I don’t trust all these diabolical means—”
“And who says they’re diabolical, English teacher? The man has done it for other mothers too and it worked. It’s just to steer him away from igbo and gin and bad gangs and Olisa and get him to focus.”
I sat on the bed. I tried to imagine what he’d look like with these traits stripped off him. I couldn’t.
“Are you coming or not?” Mum was already at the gate. “If you don’t have something better, then shut up.”
I stood up and trudged behind her. I sat beside her on the bus to Agbor. Amid women chattering in lyrical Igbo, amid the tingling smell of fermented cassava, Osadebe’s Osondi Owendi rattled from the radio. Now, we were sitting in the man’s mud cottage. Glistening terracotta roaches reared their heads out cracks in dark corners, like shy children. The room was firmly enfettered with the reek of dry tobacco or something like that. I was stifling sneezes. The man danced round the mirror, so that the cowrie chains at his feet jiggled, so that his rotund belly wobbled like troubled waters, and Osato appeared at his seventh call. “I want you to think again, woman,” he said. “If you want it done, point to the mirror and say, ‘So be it!'”
“You said it won’t harm him in any way, right?”
“You can take your money and go if you don’t trust the testimonies, woman.”
Mum looked at me, swallowed hard, pursed her lips, poked out her right forefinger towards the mirror, towards a smoking Osato kilometres away in Uromi.
I don’t believe Olisa is a wizard. Okay, look at it this way: You’re a wizard. A very strong one at that, who defiles the grand rule of wizardry and flies at midday. You spot your only daughter with a haggardly dressed young man. You edge closer. The young man is threatening to get guys to rape your only daughter if she doesn’t type out her number on his phone. Instead of transforming into a bee to sting the man’s left eye, being the super wizard that you are, you call the police. His mother and sister bathe themselves in the sand in your compound, pleading. You only make a joke about not knowing that rascal has beautiful relatives like this, and you help his mother to her feet. “No wahala at all,” you say. “Nsogbu adiro. You should just warn him to steer clear of my daughter. I don’t joke with that girl at all, my nwa lawyer, obi m.”
That was exactly how it went with Osato and Olisa. Osato called his friends Blacko and Chopper and Sound and they congregated behind the water tank, puffing smoke and threats. “We go fix that Olisa guy.” “Because Uromi people givam space, e dey form baron, abi?” “Olisa bold send me go kporkpor caban; me, Ogbiyagha I of Black Heart. If that guy no fall before Friday ehn, then I go piss for Zonal Head water!”
Mum went out that evening and brought news. There was a powerful man in Agbor who dragged backsliding people back to track. She’d met a woman at Ivue whose son was at the verge of embarking on this Europe-by-road journey; it was this Agbor strong man that lowered him to his senses. Another woman shared the story of her son bent on marrying a girl who was ‘giving it’ to her uncle before the uncle confessed and died. The boy swore, slapping the earth, that nothing in the world would unclasp him from the girl. It was the strong Agbor man who did it, so that when he saw the girl henceforth, it felt like he was sniffing faeces. I had a lot of questions on my mind, but I didn’t ask them, because I knew Mum didn’t have the answers. It was an emergency: Osato and his gang would start executing their threats any time soon. So we traveled to Agbor the next day and watched the man conjure Osato on a blotched mirror.
The results of the Agbor journey were immediate. Osato stayed at home all day, watched TV, asked me to tell Blacko he wasn’t around, even apologised to me. Osato cried watching Bollywood films. “Aren’t the songs so so touching?” he said. I sensed something dislodging, but Mum said it was okay: who made the rule that men shouldn’t cry anyway? Then Osato began to recoil altogether, to swagger to his room and clutch his pillow, to sob.
On the tenth day, he’d developed a bunch of new habits: mumbling to himself, chewing his lower lip, scraping his fingers with mirror splinters until blood dotted his cuticles. As typical of Uromi, rumours spread far and wide: Osato had run mad. Mum went back to Agbor and returned in a sheath of silence and locked herself in her room and whimpered. She sobbed in Osato’s room later in the day, when he said he wanted to know his real father. Then she got up and left. I think she was muttering: “You are really mad. You are really mad.”
We allowed Blacko and Sound and Chopper into his room on the fourteenth day, when all Osato would do was sit against the wall staring blinklessly while saliva drooled down the sides of his mouth, or rarely, jostle up pointing at shadows and mirror reflections. Osato couldn’t recognise any of them, not even Chopper, who handed him a photograph of them floating with balloons in a pool. Then Osato spotted the gash on Blacko’s arm. “Chairmo,” he said.
Sound’s eyes widened. He made to put a hand over Osato’s mouth. Chopper signalled him that I was on the threshold. He giggled and withdrew his hand.
Osato pointed at the arm. “I know you. You killed Chairmo, didn’t you? You used the red dagger. See your arm. Bleeding—”
“Dude, you don dey craze really,” Blacko said and got up.
“Chairmo said he’s coming back for you. I know you. You can’t hide.”
Mum asked them to leave when the whole thing was turning into mockery, when Sound was showing Osato pictures and asking him to guess right and win two hundred naira glo card. And, like I guessed, trying to get him segue from the talk about Chairmo.
The doctor we went to see suggested a psychiatric home and Mum picked up her bag and left the room. “Thank you, doc,” I said, rising. “I’ll talk to her.” I asked the bike I mounted to run after Mum from the specialist hospital all the way to Arue, where they said a miracle-working pastor lived. The pastor took off his glasses and cleaned and cleaned them as Mum talked.
“It is devil handwork,” he said finally. “But after fourteen days revival, we go beat the devil back go his demonic kingdom.”
“Ah, pastor.” Mum genuflected. “Please help me. If you do this for me, I’ll give you a fuller church.”
“Madam, listen. After fourteen days and your son don’t well, I will comot for the altar and surrender my pastoral licence.”
On the thirteenth morning, Mum knocked on Osato’s door interminably. I joined her after calling his phone four times. We both realised synchronously that the door wasn’t even locked, or was it that Mum didn’t want to notice it wasn’t locked while standing there alone? Well, I pushed the door open. Osato lay spread-eagled on the floor, foaming at the mouth. And he lay straight, so that there wasn’t a single ruffle on his shirt.
I’ll tell this story again if I live long. I’ll wait till I’m stronger, till I graduate from the university, till I get married and bear a son confirmed to be Osato’s reincarnation. I’ll name my boy Osato too, whether my husband is Bini or Urhobo or Hausa. Then I’ll wait for twenty years more, when he’d have sprouted a line of unbroken beard around his mouth just like Osato.
Then I’ll take him back here, to Uromi, to this house, to this room where he drank Paraquat in his former life. I’ll have him flip through Osato’s album, point out his best friends Blacko and Chopper and Sound. I’ll slip “You Only Live Once, YOLO!” into the DVD compartment and search his face for any scrunch of memory.
And I’ll try not to cry, because he’s here again, in flesh and blood, and he’d never be weakened enough to kill himself again. I’ll start telling him this same story, and I’ll start from the evening after they barbered his iyagha, when Mum found condoms in Dad’s jacket, and Dad said, “Pot is calling kettle black. You think I don’t know your kids don’t look like me or what?”
Photo by Bianca Berg on Unsplash (modified)