Fiction

The Witch of Church Street: Fiction by Tony Ogunlowo

 

Image: Multiple Pixabay.com conflated

Image: Multiple Pixabay.com conflated

It’s ironic that a witch should live on Church Street. I mean, the two words ‘witch’ and ‘church’ were complete opposites; one representing good, the other, evil.

Witchcraft has been around ever since the first man learned how to pray to an omnipresent God. Witches and wizards had learned the dark arts allying themselves to Lucifer and other evil malevolent spirits for ages.

Commonly called ‘Black magic’ or ‘Juju’, practitioners have been known to do all sorts to fellow human beings. Mysterious deaths, disruption of life, fiddling with or altering of a person’s destiny can all be attributed to the handiwork of witches. It is no wonder the first white explorers to Africa called it the ‘Dark’ continent. It was not just a reference to the colour of our skins but a reference to the dark, evil arts practiced by the people.

That, however, was a long time ago and the world has since moved on. We’re in the twenty-first century now; the digital age. The age-old practice of inflicting pain and suffering on another by means of witchcraft or juju is, unfortunately, still present.

Mama Dami had lived at Church Street for as long as anyone can remember. Legend has it that her house was built even before the street came into existence. In those long begotten days only a footpath led to her humble dwelling in the midst of a forest bordering a swamp. Years have gone by and other houses have been built along the street. The forest and swamp are long gone, consigned to history and only mentioned when the old gather to talk about the good old days.

She’s in her eighties now, widowed and walks with the aid of a stick. Softly spoken, her faculties haven’t deserted her and she can still hold her own in an intelligent conversation. There was a time when she was plump, beautiful and much younger and she was the object of many a wandering man’s eye, but that was a long time ago and the years have taken their toll.

Her house is always a beehive of activity with people coming and going all the time, so she is never lonely. Her own children have flown the nest a long time ago, but relatives are always popping in, not to talk of friends and friends of friends.

Being a pillar of the community she’s highly respected and people turn to her for all sorts of advice. A regular church goer, she is one of the Elders that keep the place going and as a prayer warrior, she prays for the distressed and afflicted, buying flowers for the altar and sings in the choir.

An all round good woman she was – until last week Thursday when her true personality – or should I say alter ego, emerged.

It was just after sunset when she emerged from her home in Church Street struggling with an oversize suitcase. It was dark and the street lights weren’t working properly and not too many people were about.

For a woman her age, she should have got somebody to help her with the heavy suitcase that she was struggling to drag on its castors along the uneven road. Undeterred she carried on.

She was nearly past the Akinwole house when the youths playing in the courtyard saw her struggling and offered to help. It was the custom. If you saw an elderly person carrying something you offered to help.

So the youths offered to help her. At first she politely refused any assistance on the grounds she was capable but they insisted on helping her.

A mild kind of struggle ensured. She insisted on carrying her suitcase and they, in their kind gesture, wouldn’t let go.

As the pushing and pulling continued the unthinkable happened. The minuscule lock on the case snapped and the contents spilled on to the road.

It was a gruesome sight.

Among the few scattered clothes on the floor was the body of a child, a corpse, contorted in death, its tongue sticking out and eyes still wide open, staring into nothingness.

The three youths jumped back in horror, screaming their heads off as Mama Dami tried to make a hasty getaway.

Still shocked at the gruesome discovery, the youths instinctively tripped up the fleeing woman and she fell to the ground crying.

Their screams attracted the attention of the neighbours who all came running out of their homes to see what the ruckus was all about.

The corpse of the toddler before them told them all they needed to know. It was the Akindele baby boy who had gone missing about an hour ago and his parents were still frantically searching for him.

Kidnapping is rampant in Nigeria and whilst adults are kidnapped and held for ransom, children are not so fortunate. They are often killed and their body parts are used as ingredients for black magic rituals.

The crowd present demanded answers. Mama Dami was no longer the woman they looked up to and respected but an evil woman who deserved to die; such was the feelings of the gathered crowd.

They formed a circle around her and she sat in the middle crying, trying to explain to all present what she was doing with a dead child. Those gathered didn’t believe a word she said and that was when the punishment began. Without warning a well aimed kick from somebody sent her reeling and some of her teeth flying. A brick was thrown at her, striking her on the temple and others dashed forward with whatever they could lay their hands on to beat her mercilessly. A lynch mob in Nigeria presented with enough evidence is quick to play judge, jury and executioner and on such occasions law enforcement officers, such as the police, hardly get involved.

It was getting ugly with the woman being assaulted and interrogated at the same time. A bit like the Spanish Inquisition, but with multiple torturers and multiple interrogators…

Through bruised and bloodied eyes, Mama Dami could see someone produce a tyre and knew her fate was sealed. It would eventually be thrown over her head and she would be doused in petrol and set alight. ‘Jungle Justice’ is very brutal!

But before she could be set alight an old man stepped forward and raised his voice above those baying for blood. He quelled everybody instantly and they all stood back.

It was Baba Oluwole, one of the Elders who lived along Church Street. Respected and revered, his presence halted the actions of the mob. They all quieten down as nobody dare do anything in his presence.

He moved forward towards the whimpering woman on the ground. She was battered and half-naked as the mob had ripped off most of her clothes. The bereaved parents of baby Akindele had retrieved his body and crying and screaming could be heard coming from their household.

Baba Oluwole knelt by her… ‘Why, Mama Dami, why?’ he asked.

She was defeated and she knew there was no way out of this. ‘I’m a witch’, she spluttered through her bloody and swollen lips, ‘and I must eat’. She raised her hand to him as if to ask for assistance but he moved swiftly back.

Much to Baba Oluwole’s annoyance, a fresh volley of projectiles rained down upon her.

‘Stop it!’ he yelled. ‘Let her speak!’

She tried to stand up but couldn’t. Her injuries were so severe she had lost the use of her legs.

The crowd had grown in size by now and was chanting: ‘Confess witch! Confess witch! Confess witch!’

When a witch is cornered she confesses all her crimes, so they say. They can not die and go to the afterlife without confessing. They become stuck and their souls linger between worlds in limbo if they don’t.

She began; ‘It’s the Devil’s work. I didn’t want to be a witch but my husband forced me. He said it would bring us fame and fortune…’

Many in the crowd noted that before her husband died he had come into wealth and fame very quickly in the last ten years of his life. He had become the local government chairman, accepted a chieftaincy title and increased his fleet of cars. She, on the other hand, had accepted a chieftaincy and become well-known for her charity work.

‘What about the people you kill?’ shouted somebody from the crowd. It wasn’t a question about how many she’s killed but more of what she does with them.

She shook her head as if in denial before answering, ‘I eat them. I use the body parts to make medicine and I eat. I also eat their souls so I can keep my membership in the council of witches.’

‘What about your own children?’ asked one of the neighbours. Her children had flown the nest a long time ago and very rarely came to see her prompting speculation there was a family rift.

‘I have three children but I don’t like the first two, only the last born. He is my favourite and I look after him, whereas the other two I destroyed their lives because they would not join me in the council of witches. I cause them not to have success in life and I make them very sick so I can take their body parts. I drive away their partners and friends so they will be lonely and suffer’.

There were gasps from the crowd. Others looked skywards and prayed and the rest couldn’t believe what they were hearing. This was the kind sweet old lady that they had come to know over the years and respect. And at the end of the day she was just another evil witch like you hear about everywhere!

Baba Oluwole had heard enough. His ears couldn’t take anymore. He was the son of a Baptist minister and a minister himself. You hear about these things on the grapevine and dismiss it as fallacy, but when you see it on your own doorstep and the culprit is someone you’ve known for almost thirty years, it takes on a different meaning.

He made the sign of the cross and turned around, walking silently back through the crowd shaking, his head in utter disbelief and disgust.

‘Baba Oluwole please don’t leave me’, Mama Dami cried after him, but he was already gone.

With Baba Oluwole gone there was no one to hold the mob back. Someone had called the police in an attempt to save her from the inevitable. They had turned up very quickly, looked around briefly, asked a few questions and driven off. It’s an unwritten rule that the police don’t get involved in matters involving the supernatural and if a ritual kidnapping was involved they would be more than happy for the mob to deal with the culprit.

And so the mob descended upon her. Like a pack of demented savages they hit her, stoned her, stabbed her, kicked her and pummelled her with whatever they could lay their hands on.

As her body was writhing on the ground, giving up the ghost, they threw a tyre around her neck, doused her in petrol and set her alight. They then moved on to her house, ransacked it and set it ablaze. It would be an abomination for the building to be left standing. Everything she owned had to be destroyed so her sins wouldn’t soil the community.

When the mortuary van finally turned up an hour later, all that remained of Mama Dami was a smouldering, charred corpse.

————–

Image: Multiple Pixabay.com conflated

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