The first time the doctor saw cats in his yard, he had just returned from dinner with a patient, a former patient whom he cured of infertility by removing some fibroids in her womb, causing her to conceive less than a year after. To appreciate the doctor, this patient made nsala soup and brought it to his office. Then, one thing led to another, and he removed her clothes, kick-starting a long relationship, the kind so sweet that stopping was difficult yet was a bumpy ride on a long, dangerous road.
The second time was the following night. He and his lover returned, this time from the hospital where she had waited around the parking lot for him to finish a scan on a pregnant woman. The cats were waiting.
The first time, the lovers paid no attention to the cats though it worried the doctor. He had lived in the apartment for four years and counting and had never seen cats. But as he drove into the compound, his headlamp caught the cats; four of them, scampering about, their shiny eyes seeming to glare fiendishly. When he came out to see the woman off afterwards, he noticed the cats again, now close to his veranda. He jolted.
His woman asked, “I didn’t know you keep cats?”
The doctor shook his head. “Not mine,” he said. “I am surprised to find them here.”
On the second night, the cats were there by the extreme of the compound just like the day before. And something told the doctor that all was not well. He expected the cats to be afraid, but they hovered about, making loud cries that caused him to feel unease. He unlocked his door hurriedly and took his lover inside. But everything had changed. His lover had buttoned up, and instead of clinging to him as she always did as soon as they were in the sitting room, she sat on the sofa, tapping her left foot rhythmically on the tiled floor.
When the doctor came back into the sitting room, having scrubbed his arms and face, he noticed the woman was still sitting down, tapping her foot. He shrugged. But something about the cats scaling his fence and coming into his compound bothered him. He sat beside the woman on the sofa. It was a hot night, and there was no electricity. He needed to bathe but wondered if the woman was hot and would go to the bathroom with him.
He turned on a lamp, illuminating the room a little. It was a spacious sitting room, big enough to contain numerous cushions. There was a large wall television and a bookshelf by the left side. A huge glass centre table sat alone on a rug with Arabic inscriptions. Plastic lilies grew in a fake glass by a stool in a corner, and the woman knew that in the lilies were condoms.
While the doctor and the woman drove home, she had undone her buttons, exposing a cleavage so smooth and daring the doctor could not wait to get home. And while they chatted, about work, about her husband who relocated to New Jersey to live with his brother instead of living with a woman who had cheated, and about the best form of contraceptive she could adopt since the one she was on was getting her fat, the doctor’s thoughts strayed far, yearning for his bed.
“Why do the cats unnerve you?” the doctor asked. He drew her face to his, attempting to kiss her, but she turned away.
“Where do the cats come from?”
“I don’t know. I swear I have never seen them before yesterday.”
“Yesterday was my first time of seeing them as well.”
“You see. But there are bushes around. They may be wild cats.”
The woman took a deep breath and sat up. “Look, I don’t know why, but they scare me.”
The doctor wanted to tell her the cats bothered him too, but he said instead, “You shouldn’t be scared. They can’t come into the house, you see.”
Just then one of them, a female cat, cried loudly, like a human. It jostled the woman so much she stood.
“Make them leave!” she shouted at the doctor.
“Just make them leave.” She was breathing hard.
He smiled to himself, for each time she was angry or looked just the way she looked then, she reminded him of his mother. He wanted to take her face into his hands and calm her by kissing her neck gently, but she was clearly too upset for that. So, he went outside and found a stick. He hit the stick on the floor and made shi-shi-shi sounds to scare the cats. They scampered away. He waited for some time and heard nothing. By the time he was back inside, the cats were out again, chasing themselves about. So, he concentrated on calming his lover. That night, for the first time in three years, they were together in the same room, on the same bed, but did not touch each other. Early in the morning, the woman stole out of the house, as usual.
And things began to go wrong.
The doctor woke around five o’clock, the next morning, after dreaming that he fell from an uncompleted five storey building and broke his two legs. It was his cries that woke him up. In the dream, there was a tall column extending from the ground floor of the storey building to the last one and at the topmost floor, there was a beam running round the structure. The doctor was surprised to find himself clinging to the column like a monkey. His lover was there, encouraging him to cross over to the beam and walk down to the entrance of the building. It was while attempting to cross that he slipped and fell.
Agitated, he walked about the apartment, from one room to another, pondering. At daybreak, he dressed up for work but not before calling his lover’s cell phone several times. He went to work without bathing or brushing his mouth. Worst, he forgot he owned a car and walked over three kilometres to the hospital.
The next day, he woke up at around same time and stepped outside, wandering around the compound. Then, he remembered he had rabbits in a cage by the side of the house and hurried to attend to them. He had forgotten to feed them since the day before. When he got to where the rabbits were, eight of them, he found some of the doors open and a few of them loitering about. They approached him, thinking he came to feed them, but he took them into the cage and went back inside to get their food, making a mental note to get some grasses on his way from work. But he did not feed the rabbits for when he got back inside, he forgot. He dressed up again. This time, he wore a suit and tie and tied a wrappa around his waist, covering his trousers. He took his backpack, which had his stethoscope and all other assortments of his trade and left, walking to work.
On his way to the hospital, people paused to gawk at him; and vehicles slowed for their occupants to stare and wonder why a man would dress up in a suit and tie, then tie a wrappa round his waist to cover his trousers.
The doctor was asked to take three days off. His colleague collected the wrappa from him and put it inside the backpack, wondering what was wrong. When he got back home, he undressed, lay on a cushion, and fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, he managed to remember he had the day off, so he slept some more until afternoon.
The doctor unlocked the windows to air the apartment for his entire body was covered in sweat. He was hungry but could not prepare anything. He went out and wandered about the compound. Then, he remembered the rabbits. He hurried to their cage and found that four had died. One was lying lifeless in its own blood in the cage; another was underneath the cage, its entrails visible while the other two were dragged few metres away, their bulky eyes gawking at him absentmindedly. He sat down on the ground and stared at the lifeless body of his favourite bunny in the cage. He had loved that one so much and used to allow it into his apartment to loiter and nibble on leftovers. He wondered what killed them.
When he called his lover, she picked immediately and said, “Sorry I ignored your calls.”
Then, he began to cry. The woman asked if he was at work, and he said he was at home. She dropped the call. When she hurried over, she took him up, wiped his tears, and chided him for crying over rabbits.
“It must be the cats, right?”
He said nothing.
“Why are you ignoring me?”
He went into the house and fell asleep on the couch.
The woman could not find a shovel, but there was a machete in the kitchen and with it, she dug a hole. She buried the dead rabbits in the shallow grave. Then, she went back into the house and found him still asleep. Quickly, she prepared jollof rice in the kitchen. When she was done, she dished out some for him, placed it on the centre table, and left.
When the doctor woke up, he saw the bowl of rice, opened it, and wondered who kept it there. He went to the kitchen and saw a small pot on the cooker and some rice inside, but he could not remember preparing rice. So, he threw all the food away, ignoring the hunger in his stomach.
In the evening, he came out to the front of his gate in his boxer shorts. He stood watching the people returning from work and those going out for a walk or to beer parlours. Most of them knew him and some had in the past come asking for advice on this and that health issue; so, they called out in greeting, but he ignored them. There were two orange trees in front of his compound, which he purchased when he visited the IITA in Ibadan. He used to prune them regularly and made sure he mulched them to help protect their base and store moisture. Now, he could not remember planting those oranges. He had seen a machete by his door while he was stepping out. It was the machete his lover used to dig the grave. He went back in, took the machete, and cut down the trees. One or two passers-by stood to gawk at him, surprised at what he was doing. They wondered why he was cutting down the oranges. When he was done, he sat down by the gate, staring at nothing, the machete by his side.
Something was tugging at his mind. It had to do with the branches he cut. When he was a child, he used to visit the village with his parents. There was a small junction at the centre of his village with a tree in it. The road branched into two around the tree such that if one approached the junction, he would have to decide whether to take the right or the left path but still ended up connecting the main road, about ten metres ahead. But one did not take any of the paths out of choice, for every month at the appearance of a new moon, one of the paths was cordoned off with thorny branches, leaving only one path free for people to use. Then, the next month, the branches were taken to the other path, allowing people access to the path that was blocked the month before. The practice had intrigued and bothered him until he asked his uncle who said,
“Are you aware that there are spirits and ghosts living among us?” He had thought about it and said he was not aware. “There are spirits and ghosts living among us. Some of these spirits are those of our ancestors, while others we may not know. But just as there are many humans – men, women, and children – in this village, so are spirits. As we go about our businesses, they go about theirs. They fetch water, cook their food, and go to visit one another. Some of them visit their relatives who are living. They may be here, but you do not have the gift of sight to see them.”
The young boy had sat down, goose bumps covering his entire body.
“The path you talk about is called Ntoswe. It is one path in this village where we have a crossroad between the living and the dead. Listen, if some day you have a dream and find yourself on that path. If you find someone at the other side of it calling and bidding you to come and you cross, you’d never wake up, my boy. The path covered with branches is reserved for the dead, while we the living use the free one.”
“Uncle, what if I ignore the thorns and walk through the blocked path?”
His uncle’s face furrowed in anger. After a while, he responded gravely, “I am not sure what would happen to you. I cannot say. But no one, no one, aside mad people have ever tried it.” After a brief pause, he added, “I am sure you are not mad.”
The doctor stood. He took the cuttings from the trees and painstakingly blocked his gate, then side stepped them and locked himself in.
The day Ugonne’s husband discovered she was having an affair he had just returned from the construction site where the United Nations was building improved water channels across the city. The channels were precast instalments and the job was moving with speed, so they closed quite early most days. When he returned and found his wife, for the third day away from home, he was determined to find out what was going on. Two times before, he had returned around four or five o’clock in the evening to find that she was not in the house.
That night, while Ugonne was making dinner, the husband took her phone and checked her text messages as quickly as possible and found nothing, to his great relief. Then, he checked her WhatsApp and found not just implicating texts but photos that caused him migraine for a week.
That night, he beat his wife so mercilessly that it took the intervention of young men from other flats to rescue her. The landlord invited the police who came and – after extensive talk with the man – announced to everyone that it was wrong to interfere in a matter between a man and his wife. After this announcement, the landlord’s wife called them fools and got herself arrested, handcuffed, and shoved into the back of the police Hilux truck for verbally assaulting officers of the law, to the consternation of everyone around. So, the young men locked the gate, preventing the police vehicle from leaving the compound.
That night, as the police and the people argued, screaming at the top of their voices and causing crowds to gather, Ugonne scampered about, taunting her husband to do his worst while the man, ashamed now that the secret was now in every ear in the street, begged the police to release the landlady.
Then, a back-up police truck came, shooting in the air as soon as they got to the gate and causing people to dive into gutters and bushes. The police arrested nine people including the landlady and Ugonne’s husband. They spent more than a day at the police station, writing statements over statements and repeating answers to questions they had been asked before. By the time Ugonne’s husband and the others were released, his phone had been filled with messages from colleagues and friends, telling him to beat the wife again and kill her or send her packing, with one suggesting that the best way to curb the excesses of a recalcitrant, cheating wife was to grind pepper with water, and pour the mixture into her vagina.
After he was released, Ugonne’s husband spent three weeks away in a friend’s house and the next time he returned, one evening when everyone had retired for the night, it was to take his belongings. That night, Ugonne was feeding their one-year-old baby in the sitting room when her husband opened the door and came in. He stood by the door, gawking at her and saying nothing. Then, when he stepped into the house, she dropped the baby on the sofa and knelt down. “I was so worried. Please forgive me,” she pleaded.
But the husband never uttered a word, even when Ugonne followed him into his room, clinging to his trousers and wailing so loudly that other tenants would have come to inquire what was wrong if not that they had learnt their lessons from the incident of the weeks before. The man said nothing as Ugonne flung herself on him, calling on the gods to kill her, asking her husband to beat her again instead of leaving the house.
“How can you leave the house for me?” she cried. “This is your home! You cannot leave your home for me! What will I do without you?” But the man said nothing. He took what he could and walked out.
Nothing gave one much headache like suspecting that they’d caused another some predicament. This suspicion tugged at Ugonne’s heart, every minute of the day. It was a probe so strong it made her heart to ache. Most nights she cried for she was sure something was wrong with the doctor. It had been five days since she discovered the branches and sticks at the gate and every day since, she visited the compound, sometimes twice or thrice a day to find the cuttings still there. She had no doubt the doctor was inside. Why had he blocked his gate? What was wrong with him?
On the morning of the sixth day, Ugonne took an early bus to Enugu, praying she could still locate the compound he took her to, some months earlier.
It was a large compound in Trans Ekulu, with a huge gate and a sculpture of eagles in flight by the two pillars of the gate. The sculptures were what helped her locate the residence and when she pushed open the gate and entered; she found numerous trees, so much that the building was almost obscured.
The day the doctor took her shopping in Enugu and decided to drop some provisions for his parents, she had sat in the car outside the gate for the over forty minutes it took him to finish and come out. All the while, the car steamed, and the air-conditioner chilled the interior. That day, her heart had beaten so much, so much she feared she might have a heart failure. And when he finally emerged, he had laughed at seeing her face and said his mother would have noticed they were lovers if she had followed him in.
“And what if she noticed?” Ugonne had inquired.
“Oh, what excuse would I have given?”
“I don’t understand?”
“She would have asked lots of questions, demanding when we would be going to meet with your parents.”
The doctor had looked at her like she was insane and put the car in reverse. As he pulled out, he said, “And what?” his tone harsh, demanding.
Ugonne had sulked for the over forty minutes’ drive to Abakaliki, and when the doctor dropped her off at her street – for he never dropped her off at her apartment – she had said, “I need to know what I am doing with you?”
“You are married.”
Then, Ugonne stepped out, held the door, looked at him closely, and said, “You deh mad, abi?” She banged the door so hard the windows rattled.
Ugonne could see so many trees in bloom. The Pride of Barbados had flowers that had dropped on the ground, covering the entire floor with its reddish petals, making the place appear mystical. The oranges had flowers that gave out alluring scents. Then, she noticed a man sitting on an easy chair by the threshold of the mansion and peering at his phone, which was held so close to his face. The man was heavily built. He was wearing a wrappa, knotted in a ball to the side, and his upper body was bare. In his arm, he wore a locally made chieftaincy bead. A transistor radio sat on the terrazzo-covered floor by his right side, and the network news was being broadcasted. He lifted his head in time to see her. She hurried and genuflected slightly.
He studied her and said, “Nnoo.”
Ugonne did not to think twice to see the resemblance – the height, the broad nose like a pedestrian bridge, and the bushy hair with some strands extending almost to the face from the forehead. He was the doctor’s father.
“How may I help you, young woman?” his voice was sonorous.
She took a deep breath, forcing herself not to remember. She forced herself to forget the doctor’s voice in her ears as he moaned whenever they made love, especially if she was on top of him, rocking and kissing his nipples at same time.
“I am Ugonne. I came … I came from Abakaliki.”
The man sat straight, nodding.
“It’s about Ikenna.”
Just then a woman came out of the house carrying a tray of two cups of tea. She stood abruptly by the door as soon as she heard it’s about Ikenna.
Ugonne saw her and genuflected. The man motioned for her to sit and she did, as the older woman came and placed the tray on a small plastic stool. Then, she stood by her husband’s side for Ugonne was sitting on the chair that was supposed to be hers.
The older woman asked, “What about Ikenna?”
Ugonne could sense the tension in her voice, in the way she dragged the word about. She dropped her handbag by her side and said, “I think he is sick.”
“Sick?” the man asked.
“You think? If he is sick, he is sick. What do you mean you think, eh?”
Ugonne looked away to stop the tears that were forming in her eyes. The older woman, suspecting the young woman and her son might have been more than friends and seeing that she was holding back tears, came to her, lifted her face, and asked, “What now? Are you crying? Mba nu. Don’t cry.”
Then, she saw it. The same mark on her own body, just below the left side of her chin. It was as if Ikenna’s mother experienced an electric shock. She pulled her hand immediately and staggered back. Ugonne noticed. She was startled but because she was overwhelmed, words failed her to ask why the woman behaved so.
The doctor’s father stood, held his wife by the arm, and steadied her. “Are you alright? O gini?” The woman was breathing heavily, and her husband made her sit on the chair he vacated. “What happened? What happened to you?”
“Who are you?” Ikenna’s mother asked.
“She has just told us that Ikenna is sick and you are concerned with finding out who she is?”
But Ikenna’s mother was on her feet. She approached Ugonne, who was confused, her eyes darting from the couple like a thief caught pants down. The woman lifted Ugonne’s face again, looked at her, this way and that, and asked again.
“Who … are … you?”
“I am Ugonne, Ma.”
“Where are you from?”
A rabbit ran across. It was a white and black marked rabbit. Then, another followed. Ugonne remembered the dead rabbits she buried. She remembered feeling some premonition, while she dug the grave and while she covered the dead animals with loose earth.
“Please … where are you from?”
“Who is your mother?”
“My mother? She … she lives in Ibadan.”
“Who is she?”
“Come o, why all these questions?” Ikenna’s father asked. He was standing, gawking at his wife, hands akimbo. He drew his wife away and looked at her like she was insane. “What is it, woman?”
“See.” She lifted Ugonne’s head and turned it, and the man saw the mark on her chin.
He paused and seeming to remember, stepped back. After what seemed like eternity but might not have been more than few seconds, he said, “Stand up, please.”
Slowly, Ugonne turned like a robot.
The man nodded at his wife. She seemed at a loss. He said, “Her back.”
Hurriedly the woman lifted Ugonne’s top. The young woman tried to protest, but Ikenna’s mother said just one word, “Please.”
It was a word said with a grave voice conveying authority. It made Ugonne resign herself. She breathed down, and the woman unzipped her gown and unbuckled her brassier hooks, forcing Ugonne’s hands to cup her breasts immediately. The elderly couple exhaled.
At turning, Ugonne saw that the woman’s eyes were misty.
“What? What is going on?”
Before the older woman could say anything, Ikenna’s father said. “Come. Come into the house.”
He stepped aside and allowed his wife to walk in first, and Ugonne, who seemed reluctant to follow. The tea was abandoned for flies to feast on.
The sitting room was so large it could be used as a football pitch and though the cushions were of Victorian style and seemed old, the room had modern facility. Numerous paintings and masks hung on the wall. Ugonne would have loved to admire them if not that she was now confused, so confused her heart throbbed. She sat on one of the cushions and realised her handbag was outside.
“Do you care for anything?” Ikenna’s father asked.
Ugonne realised her mouth was dry and that to talk she would have to ply her tongue off the base of her mouth. She was finding it difficult breathing. The woman was sobbing as her eyes darted about. Ugonne wondered what was going on.
“Tell me, what do you say is wrong with Ikenna?”
Ugonne took a deep breath, rubbed at her throat to dislodge something logged in there, and said, “I … I believe something has happened … he is sick.”
“But we have not … been contacted by the hospital?”
“He is not at the hospital … Ikenna is in his house.”
She proceeded to narrate the story to them, ending with how he had blocked the entrance to his house with tree cuttings. By the time he was done, Ikenna’s mother was tapping her left foot rhythmically on the floor the way Ugonne herself did when she was upset or agitated. The tapping of the woman’s feet caught her eyes. Then, she looked at the woman closely – her pointed nose, her bulky and questioning crystal white eyes, and her long neck with rings around it. Then she noticed the mark on the woman’s chin. Ikenna’s mother looked somewhat like how she imagined she would look in two decades. The woman was her older self. It was then she sat up. The shenanigans outside were to register.
The sonorous voice of Ikenna’s father jostled her, “You tell me Ikenna has locked himself inside his house for a week now?”
“Yes … Sir.”
The man nodded.
“Who are your parents?”
“They are in Ibadan. Why?”
“Where are they from?”
She hesitated. “My mother is from Enugu here. My father is from Abakaliki.”
“Where in Abakaliki?”
“Where did they meet?”
“In Abakaliki? Why?”
The man sat up. “I want to know if they were living there before relocating to Ibadan.”
“Yes. Yes. Why?” Ugonne’s heart was beating steadily.
“Are they your biological parents?”
“Yes.” Ugonne began to tap her left foot on the floor.
“You never had doubts to believe they are not?”
“Yes. But why all these questions? Sir, see, I … I think we need to leave for Abakaliki. Doctor Ikenna needs help.”
The man pursed his lips. His wife was tapping her foot steadily, her head on her hands.
“When were you born?”
“Your year of birth?”
“Nineteen … eighty … eight.”
“November, Sir.” The couple looked at themselves.
The older woman let out a loud scream, so loud that two other people ran out. They were boys who had a little resemblance to Ikenna, but she knew they were his brothers for he always talked about them.
After Ikenna’s mother had been calmed, her blood pressure medication administered, and Ikenna’s father had calmed enough to stop pacing the sitting room, he came and sat on the arm of the chair where Ugonne was seated and said gravely, “Listen to me … my dear.” He exhaled slowly. “On the twenty-second of November nineteen eighty-eight, there was an accident. That accident changed our lives forever. You know Ikenna well?”
“Yeah … yes.”
“You are aware I presume … that he has burn scars on his chest.” The older woman lifted her face, awaiting her response and when Ugonne nodded, the woman slipped from the chair to the tiled floor. Her hands on her head. The old man exhaled again. “Those scars were from the accident. We were on our way from here to Abakaliki. Ikenna was five years old. You … you were three months old.”
Ugonne lifted her head. She said, “Me? That cannot be.”
“In November nineteen eighty-eight?”
“That cannot be, Sir.”
“We were in the vehicle with our daughter who was three months old, but when we woke in the hospital, we could not find our daughter. Years later, that was in nineteen ninety-three …” he looked at his wife who hesitated then nodded, “We saw the man who rescued us. He asked of the little girl … our girl who was in the vehicle when the accident happened and who was rescued alongside us. We told him she was lost in the accident . . . that she wasn’t rescued but to our surprise, this man disagreed. He said four persons were rescued and taken by another couple back to the hospital in Enugu.”
The two boys who had been standing behind their mother came and sat down on the sofa, confusion written on their faces. “The man was sure our girl was alive. Even when I told my wife to ignore him, he held my hand, looked me in the face, and told me assuredly that he found the baby, crying in the bush. He said nothing had happened to her, and that while young men helped carry us and Ikenna to the road, he had clung to the wailing baby who sucked at his thumb. He was the one who flagged down the couple, and we were loaded in their vehicle. He said one of the young men had ridden in the vehicle, while the woman in the vehicle carried the baby. He had sounded so sure.”
Then Ikenna’s mother spoke up, “Since nineteen-ninety-three, my mind has not been at rest.”
“Did your parents live in Enugu at some point?”
“They might have been travelling when the incident happened.” One of the boys said.
Ikenna’s father stood and left the sitting room. When he returned, he was carrying a plastic bottle of water. He drank directly from it, his Adam Apple bobbing up, down, up, down, and the water making gurgling sound as it travelled down his throat to his stomach. He sat beside his wife.
“Young woman,” he called. “How convenient is it that your birth date coincides with the date of this accident and that . . . you bear the same marks as our daughter? The same mark on my wife’s body.” Ikenna’s mother approached her and showed her the marks.
“I … I … don’t know.”
“Your parents have other kids?”
“Yes. A boy. Five years younger than I am.” Then she added, “He … he is…” then, she kept quiet. What Ugonne did not say was that the boy was adopted when his parents could not give birth to another baby, five years after her.
“How old are your parents now?” the same boy who talked asked.
“Older than the both of you. My father is in his late seventies.”
Ikenna’s father took a deep breath and sat back, saying nothing. The boy who had talked said, “I asked because I am wondering that if they are elderly, it means when this incident happened, they had been married for some time and had no babies, which would necessitate stealing someone’s child—”
“God punish you!” Ugonne screamed. She stood up, startling herself. “I say God punish you!” She was pointing at Ikenna’s brother. It was as if she had been in a trance and had just been released. One of the rabbits ran into the sitting room, then ducked beneath a sofa. “I came here to bring you news of your brother and . . . and you accuse my parents of . . . stealing me from yours. Unbelievable!”
“Please.” Ikenna’s mother stood. Ugonne ignored her and turned to leave but found she could not walk. Something drew her to the woman. The resemblance – why hadn’t Ikenna noticed it? Or was that why he was drawn to her? Did he see his mother in her and was compelled to love her? She stood, breathing in and out to calm herself. Feeling the urge to tap her feet on the ground. Then a hand touched her shoulder, it was warm, it was comforting. She was forced to turn, and she faced the woman. “Please don’t go yet. We are … not holding you against your wish … we only want to rule out our suspicions.”
“I … I don’t know what to say.”
“Please sit down. Just for a few minutes.” The woman went in. Ugonne noticed that it was beginning to drizzle, the rain hitting the large windows, obscuring the view outside. Two more rabbits walked in and joined the first one under the sofa. Ikenna’s mother returned with a small album. She came to Ugonne and sat on the arm of her seat. She showed her something. It was a photo of a small baby. Ugonne recalled the photos of herself in the family house in Ibadan with striking resemblance to the ones before her. “Do you have anything to say?” the woman asked.
Ugonne took the album and hurriedly flipped through. Then, tears escaped her eyes. As she sobbed, she covered her face with her blouse, exposing her abdomen where Doctor Ikenna did the surgery that removed the fibroids.
Ugonne stood, “I need some air. I can’t breathe.”
No one said a word. She walked out. The family stood at once and went to the window, watching as she rested on the column in the porch where she’d met the old man peering at his phone. After a while, they watched her pick her handbag, take out her phone, and make a call. They could not hear, but they watched her talking excitedly, flapping her hand, walking about for over twenty minutes. Then, the phone fell, and she slumped to the floor, howling.
Ikenna’s mother made to hurry outside, but her husband held her hand and said, “Its better she is left alone.”
The man walked back and sat down, pursing his lips again, nodding his head like a lizard. The two boys flanked their mother, saying nothing.
Then, the woman cried, “She is leaving! She is leaving!”
Ikenna’s father stood and came to the window. “Leave her.”
“Leaver her!” his voice was authoritative. The woman stopped. “It’s better. She will return. If not today, another day. No matter how far the sheep might stray, it knows its owner.” The man coughed, “She is confused … afraid. Who wouldn’t be? Better you don’t push her.”
“What if something happens to her? She is not in her right frame of mind, eh.”
“Relax. She is not a child. She … is a survivor.” The man walked out. The rabbits came out now, all three of them and walked about the centre of the sitting room, sniffing the floor. When the man bounced back into the sitting room, in a hurry, they scampered away. The man seemed out of breath. He said, “She said Ikenna is sick?”
He sat on the cushion and reclined.
“He . . . Ikenna . . . he slept with her.”
His wife’s eyes widened. The boys too.
“He slept with her—”
“With his sister?” the woman said.
“He didn’t know,” one of the boys said.
“That should be the least of your worries, woman. You should worry about the consequence. The cosmological implication is that he would go mad.”
It was then it dawned on Ikenna’s mother.
“I have told you this before.”
“I thought you said if one slept with their mother—” one of the boys asked.
“Your mother, your sister, it’s the same. It is a desecration of the land.”
The woman’s heart fell into her stomach, and she said in a voice akin to the meows of a dying cat, “But he did not know … my son did not know—”
“Whether he knew or not is of no consequence. What is happening to him now, I am sure is not really insanity, but his head is not correct. Some bolts in his head had been loosened by forces beyond our knowledge and comprehension. That is why he is behaving the way the lady explained.”
“We need to get going. We need to leave for Abakaliki, immediately. Get the car.” He motioned to one of the boys, the quiet one who had talked less. The old man took his phone, dialled a number, and began to talk excitedly, quickly explaining the situation.
Then, he said, “Okay. Okay.” He hung up.
He had been talking to his brother, the uncle who explained the practice of coexisting with spirits to Ikenna when he was a boy.
Ikenna’s mother was standing now, wiping her face. “What did he say?”
“He said that even if the eyes see ghosts, they do not go blind or fall off. There is nothing the ears hear that they have not heard before. There is nothing the eyes see that they have not seen. There is a solution.”
“And what is it, please?” Ikenna’s mother was standing, hands crossed on her chest, eyes wide open and gushing out tears.
“A simple sacrifice would be performed. . .” he paused, “then—”
Gravely, the man announced, “Well, both of them … Ikenna and Ipheoma – I mean, Ugonne, that’s her name now,” he rubbed at his forehead “…will walk round the market. They will walk round the village market announcing to the hearing of the public what they have done. Only then will Ikenna become well. Only then.”