As he had promised a fortnight ago, my friend came with a friend whom he described as a colleague and without wasting time we moved into my bedroom, and while he looked around the spacious room, I examined the contraption he had dropped on my bed.
It is called a bioelectrographic camera, an equipment designed according to the Kirilian philosophy which factored on the discharge of emissions by materials as they vibrate. The camera uses the Gas Discharge Visualization method, an advanced technique of the Kirilian philosophy and is used for checking all kinds of biophysical imbalances and diagnose in real time.
My friend had brought this magnificent Russian invention because of its unique ability to capture ethereal substances. It has been proven that the GDV camera can capture images of the supernatural; even a soul leaving the body of a dead man cannot escape its prying lenses. This time though it has been configured to do something completely different from its initial objective; my friend had adapted it to function as a close circuit camera, primed to take pictures only when it senses a presence. Only this time, it is in the supernatural sense.
They worked like the professionals that they are, drilling holes, taping wires and linking all to an independent power source. Normally when friends work in concert, jokes and laughter is common, but this time the atmosphere is so tensed that one could cut it with a knife. Only basic questions were asked and responses given, otherwise it was as silent as the grave of a poor man and very fitting for what could be described as the night of nights.
It took about an hour to install, and another ten minutes to ascertain if it is functional and after this they bade me good luck and left, leaving me alone to wait in the approaching dusk for the rendezvous that had prompted my appeal, no, cry for help.
I live in the north side of Baltimore, a city of splendid beauty in the United States. It is however not known for its nightlife and the residents retire to their homes early. But I was sore afraid to close my eyes for fear; the scientific contraption in my room offering little solace for what I knew would be a macabre encounter with a ghostly creature. As a safeguard, I put on a coarse shirt, starched stiff to act as a benign irritant to prevent sleep as long as possible, but sleep is not what you control; it comes and goes as it pleases.
The person appeared as she had done these several months, face veiled, visage angry and hands adorned with talons instead of fingernails that made straight for my throat. With the strength only a dying man could muster, I fought this invading presence bent on terminating my life. The battle was both spiritual and physical, fought hard and long, draining the strength from me but I did not give in, knowing that would be fatal. Finally just when I thought death was inevitable, the presence released its stranglehold on my throat and departed, fleeing from the room like darkness at the approach of light when the clock at my bedside chimed the fourth hour.
The next morning, I took time to examine my bruises, yes this was what people often describe as a living nightmare, and I was sore all over my body. There were scratches and furrows on my neck, arms and chest and they hurt terribly. On my face, close to my right ear was the circular imprint of a bite meant to chop off my ear, but the chiming of the clock had forestalled that. With great difficulty I took my bath, grimacing as the scalding water ran over the tender parts of my body and when I am done and dressed, removed the camera from its concealed position and called my friend as the day finally broke on a cold winter morning.
Winter had come early that year and the snow fall was particularly heavy that morning in December, but I managed to get a cab to my friend’s office on the other side of town. Throughout the drive I remained silent; my mind preoccupied with the horror of the previous night, and it was only when the driver announced we have arrived at my destination that I broke off from my cogitations.
My friend waved me in, knowing it must be serious business that had caused me to brave the horrid conditions to be at his workplace before lunchtime. I was asked to wait awhile for his boss to break for lunch before I brought out the camera. The Russian inventor had done his work well and the camera did not disappoint unlike some inventions whose hype does not match their performance.
After some minor adjustments to get the correct angle and lightning effect, my friend and I, as well as a few of his colleagues he must have intimated on my predicament shut the door and stared at the wall which we had used as an improvised screen. The slide showed scenes of my previous night’s duel with the nocturnal creature. Close shots of the grisly contest were displayed on the wall in ghoulish ambiance but we could just make out the features of the intruder. For me, though the night enemy had its face mostly away from the camera, there is something strangely familiar about it. There is one point in which we were all agreed though; the invader was a woman.
I did not wait to see all the images but asked my friend to print the most telling of the pictures. There is time for everything under the sun. I had been accommodating and limpid, treating travails that had recently assailed my life with kid gloves but this time would be different even if it means doing the unthinkable. With face set like a flint, I collected the photos from Okubo and set out into the driving snow, oblivious to its effect. I have a plan and there was need to put it in motion.
The best way out of a difficulty is through it, and though I am not much of footballer, I have always liked the maxim: the best way to defend is to attack. I have a pretty good idea where my problem was emanating from and I intend tackling it from the roots. Packing was a brief affair, as multiple misfortunes had reduced whatever I had to crumbs. Friends raised funds and bought me a return ticket, the remainder I kept as expense money, knowing the native traditions of my country people.
Nigeria, for me, shall always be home even though I had not visited for ten years. I had come to the United States on a university scholarship from my state government. This had lasted four years and at the end, I had gone ahead to do my masters and doctorates on virology. Exceeding my expectations, I was hired by a large pharmaceutical firm as a consultant and that was what enhanced my rapid rise on the social ladder, allowing me access to ivy leagues and meeting prominent people. Money was forthcoming and though I send a considerable amount home to compensate for my inability to visit, I still live a comfortable life.
All these perks had come to a crushing halt as misfortune after misfortune had gradually, but effectively taken all I had. My partners had for no reason cancelled my consultancy and despite resolute efforts to get my finances back on track, the search for a job, over a period of two years remained futile and I had to depend on the goodwill of friends to survive. Surviving in a foreign land on only the goodwill of friends is no mean feat, as they would soon tire of looking out for you, but hardships as a result of poverty is as common as they come and it would be ridiculous to bore you with the details.
The most notable feature of this period was that in the last three years, I had lost my three siblings, a brother and two sisters, one after the other on a yearly basis. Their demise had happened in strange circumstances and I, the firstborn, didn’t want to follow in the same path and that was why I had made such elaborate preparations geared towards capturing the image of an ethereal being.
My flight landed in the Murtala Mohammed International airport, Lagos amidst a heavy fog because of the harmattan that had enveloped the city. The journey was uneventful apart from a minor scare when one of the plane’s engines stalled for a few seconds, and the adjoining one to Port Harcourt was even less so. From the airport, I took a cab that dropped me at the Bonny waterfront, and I boarded a speed boat that would take me to Bonny from whence I will continue to Finima, my hometown.
I had stated earlier that my flight was not eventful. This was largely due to the fact that my thoughts were completely preoccupied with the dilemma in my life and the best way to tackle it. There were also butterflies in my stomach since I wasn’t sure of the kind of reception I would get having not visited home for a decade, and my people take exceptions to that.
The boat ride to Bonny Island was most memorable. Never have I seen such titanic wakes on the Bonny River. In fact, the boat driver had to take shelter in the creeks to allow the waves to subside before we could make the final crossing. I knew I was headed for a tough time. Finima was not far from Bonny and after we arrived at the shores of the coastal town, I made the journey on a commercial motorbike which was faster. The storm had lasted a while and I was desperate to reach town before dusk.
I still remember my late father’s compound and I made straight for it. It was empty except for two old women and a man who I recognised as my mother’s younger brother. He told me my mom had gone to a neighbouring village to do some business to return the next day, and it was he that showed me to a room where I could rest my head for the night. Strangely, there were no kids in the compound, and I felt a moment of despair for the money I had spent buying gifts for people. After unpacking my things, I made the narrow bed as comfortable as I could, and without a second thought to the tardiness of the room, fell asleep with my clothes on.
With the fury of a dispossessed demon, the familiar figure hurled itself at me with teeth going straight for my jugular. This time it landed on its intended target but before its fangs could do any damage, strength filled me from an unknown source enabling me to push its face aside. We grappled and fought with the intensity of eternity, the figure uttering ghoulish sounds of exasperation as its attacks failed to get the desired result. It was now that I distinctly made out the features of my attacker. A woman, as I had long suspected was behind my travails. It was she that had been behind all my recent troubles. The nightmare finally ceased at the first crow of the cock and I was left bruised and sweating from the ordeal, and could not wait for the day to break.
There was a slight drizzle the next morning but I waited in my room until I heard sounds of movement outside. Earlier, someone had looked in but I had pretended to be fast asleep while I forged a plan of action. When I heard voices, I came out of my room and greeted them in my native dialect. The three men and four women must have heard of my return and had come early to partake of the gifts I must have brought. After all, this is December and I had not been home for a long time. In answer to my question, my uncle pointed to a hut. I distributed what package I had among them and made for the hut that serves as kitchen for the family.
My mother seems delighted to see me and she dropped the machete she was cutting fish with and made to embrace me, but I pushed her away roughly with one hand and accused her of trying to kill me as she had done to my siblings. At first she protested vehemently, accusing me of gross disrespect; one sure of incurring the wrath of God. How could she, a grieving woman in Finima threaten the life of her firstborn and only son in far away USA? Have I been talking to these idle gossips who had nothing better to do than spoil the good name of an honest woman doing her best to live out a lonely life, she queried angrily.
Her diatribe went on for some time but when I brought out the photographs that the GDV camera had captured with her image brazenly etched, she became strangely suppliant, beseeching me not to act foolishly or tell anyone of her nocturnal mischief. At her acceptance of guilt, something snapped within me. In a moment of time, visions of the troubles of the last three years passed before my eyes. These were viciously tempered by memories of the unnatural and untimely demise of my younger ones whom she confessed to have done away with in exchange for her life. That was even more gruesome than I thought. Indeed there is no telling the ways of a witch. Despite evidence to the contrary, I had still been piqued by a lingering uncertainty, but her confession had cleared any doubt that I harboured.
Inflamed with her revelations, I had snatched the machete from the floor and despite her remonstrations and screams, sent her head flying into the fire she had prepared to dry the fish. Her eyes still open, stared defiantly and accusingly at me, but I turned my attention to her headless body still groping its way towards my direction. After some seconds it stood still, blood gushing from the neck like a malfunctioned fountain before it fell disgustingly at my feet.
I had stood still, expecting to be apprehended but the compound was extraordinarily quiet. Cautiously I stepped out of the murder scene, my clothes splattered with blood and still clutching the murder weapon and photographs. People, mostly relatives had filled the compound and were staring at me with a strange glint in their eyes. I threw down the machete on the floor and extended my hands for arrest, befitting someone who had just committed matricide but they all shook their heads. I was told my mother was a confirmed witch; her acts are known throughout the Ibani speaking clans of Grand Bonny but there was little anyone could do about it. But since natural justice had prevailed on her remaining son to avenge the death of her victims, justice is duly served.
Leaving Finima was a hasty affair. I had planned to take a look at the new trains of the natural gas project but that would wait for another day. Friends in Baltimore had hinted my actions were ridiculously severe, but then they had never been subjected to the cruelty of a sorcerer. A witch must die; even if she is my mother.
Alawari Ataisi Brown
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