“I think she is an Ogbanje. Take her to Bobo, before it is too late.”It was the second time I heard the name ‘ogbanje,’ mentioned. I wondered what they meant?
‘Good-for-nothing-child!’ She would always say, and pushed me till I am out in the open. I never knew what went wrong, till the pot turned black. It was as though I was there, and at the same time, I was somewhere else. I could not explain myself. I could be playing in school, with my friends, and it would happen. The teacher would ask questions, and when am about to answer, it would happen. At times, when am ready to sleep, it would happen. They always came, wanting to play, but I never said ‘no.’
We all played under the mango tree: Some of us busily ran around the tree; the boys tried to reach for ripe mangoes; the wind blew our skirts a little too indecent, above our thighs, and we would hurriedly pull them down and suspiciously searched around for who had had a peek. No one wanted the bells to ring, calling us back to class work. I bent to pick a fruit that fell when something pricked my arm from behind. It felt too painful that I held my arm, before I took a look. My arm bled till I got home and washed up. That was the day everything began.
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The first day, I was busy cooking in the kitchen. Mama had gone to the farm like always; she left me to cook the food. I put the rice on fire. I was about to clean up the area, when I heard something move at the back of the house. I left everything and went and checked, but nobody was there.
I was sure I heard something. When I took out the plates to wash, something moved behind me, I quickly looked back, and it was as though a shadow had gone to the back of the house, towards the guava tree, which my father planted before he died. It had grown so much to bear fruits. I left what I had in front of me and ran towards the shadow. My mother once told me that snakes always come out to the open, once the sun was up.
I got close to the narrow passageway, which led to the back of the house, and to my surprise, a little girl my age, swung on one of the branches of the guava tree; her dog jumped around. They had this glint on them, which I had never seen before. I moved out of the shadows and stood while they happily played. It was as though they invited me over without saying a word. Something drew me, and I left where I stood, and came to stand right under the tree.
The dog came over and licked my hands. When the girl saw me, she smiled and let herself down from the branch. She came close to me, held my hands, and we swung around the tree like the wind. We laughed and shouted at the top of our voice. More girls, who looked like her, came and joined us. We all played like we used to in school, till my mother’s voice screamed my name:
“Omalicha! You have killed me!”
I froze, out of shock! The rice! It was as that point that the smell from the burnt rice made hairs in my nostrils, cringe. Within a twinkle of an eye, my new found friends and their dog disappeared behind the bushes at the back of our house, while I went to answer my mother’s wrath.
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When I got to the kitchen, my mother had her head-tie in her hands. The cover of the pot lay on the bare floor while what looked like a thick mass of burnt sand replaced the white rice I left, so many hours ago. I didn’t know what happened: how I lost track of time. I looked at my mother; I didn’t know what to say or what to do. I didn’t even know what to expect. She looked at me and I saw fire in her eyes. I took some steps back, but she was too determined to show how my actions had hurt her. My mother shouted:
That was the first day I heard such a word; I didn’t know what it meant. She descended on me, and fed me with severe beating.
My friends never stopped to visit whenever mother went out: they followed me to school, played with my friends, came and slept in my room. At one point, they talked to me, and we laughed till I never knew when mama sneaked up on us. She would beat me till I cried myself to sleep.
One night, my friends invited me to a party. They came at night and took me. When we got deep into the forest, something moved and we all tried to run, but a strong arm grabbed me from behind. I looked up, and out of surprise, my eyes came face to face with Cheta’s father, the hunter, he held his torch light to my face. His face didn’t look good, but I doubt if he saw my friends. He took me straight to my mother.
My mother opened the door, and was shocked when she saw us. Cheta’s father told her all that happened, and said:
“I think she is an Ogbanje. Take her to Bobo, before it is too late.”
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It was the second time I heard the name ‘ogbanje,’ mentioned to my hearing. I wondered what they meant. My mother just nodded, she made space for me to enter the house, and I went straight to my room.
The room was quiet, but one could feel how distant my mother was with her thoughts. Bobo had just mentioned the requirement in order to exhume my ‘iyi uwa,’ It was a long list, and as he mentioned it, I noticed that a dark shadow covered my mother’s face. I knew we had too little to eat, much more the one for sacrifice?
I knew mama just sold the last piece of land my father left in order to pay for my common entrance examination. She wouldn’t have sold the only land that we had and still afford a sacrifice. Bobo took a long look at my mother, and asked:
“What do you say? You have been very quiet?”
My mother managed to bring her head up, took my hand in hers, got up, and said:
“Let me go and think about it.”
And as the midday sun cast receding shadows to our steps, I knew mama would never call me Ogbanje or talk about my iyi uwa. I knew my friends were welcomed to play, till she saved the money for the sacrifice.
Written by Oluoma Udemezue.