Today, I can feel Oba’s lecherous eyes on my buttocks as I work the grinding stone, pureeing beans for Iyalode’s allele. I exaggerate my moves, jiggle my bottom and thighs a little more. I can see Oba’s trouser rise through his reflection in the silver tray I used to pick the beans and it makes me smile.
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Snow White is my name. Or at least that’s what the oyibo settlers have chosen to call me. They marvel at my yellow hair and call it sandy blonde and call my red eyes vermilion. They gawk at my milky white skin and their eyes play suwe with the red spots that dapple my skin, plentiful like ticks on a calf. They like me because, as they say, I remind them of home.
The wives of Oba Baroka have other names for me; afin to my hearing and aje under their breaths. The Oba knows that they call me a witch and he hears about the hostility I entertain from his other wives who are all jealous of the ripe girl bought from her parents for the sole purpose of breeding children who look like the white men that are slowly stealing the loyalty of his people with their mirrors, spices and gun powder.
He knows but he says nothing because he too thinks there is truly something unsettling about me, his albino flower. I like to cock my head to the side and look up at his other women when they pass by as I grind elubo, my eyes catching the light and becoming translucent. I like to sit in doorways and thresholds; places they believe are usually inhabited by malevolent abiku an eshu and daydream, my ears deaf to the world. I hardly ever speak to anyone, I prefer to gesture lazily; Baroka’s wives are cattle and I cannot waste my spit on them.
Yes, Oba Baroka knows he has brought home a peculiar creature but he’s not worried because his first wife, our Iyalode, is a renowned priestess of Olokun. She first declared me harmless and welcomed me to Baroka’s harem. I even slept in her room for the first month. But she has not remained welcoming.
Today, I can feel Oba’s lecherous eyes on my buttocks as I work the grinding stone, pureeing beans for Iyalode’s allele. I exaggerate my moves, jiggle my bottom and thighs a little more. I can see Oba’s trouser rise through his reflection in the silver tray I used to pick the beans and it makes me smile. I have been in this palace for almost a year now, waiting for my sixteenth moon so that I can finally, finally taste of that massive igi Bakoka is rumoured to be carrying between his flabby thighs. While he was yet a prince, he gained fame as a hunter and it is said that he was as skilled at hunting young maidens as he was at hunting game. I spend many nights pleasuring myself to fantasies of him demolishing my insides so thoroughly, I would need a crutch to get through the next day. Iyalode usually hears my moans but she says nothing. I do a lot of things to irritate Iyalode but she bears them quietly. I would have left her alone but the stupid woman struck the first blow when she lied that Olokun had forbidden our husband from deflowering with me for a year. I think she is afraid that once Oba tastes me, he will no longer want her. She is right to be afraid. I have waited quietly for a year, and I needn’t wait anymore. Tomorrow is a new moon.
I’m just about to spit into Iyalode’s beans puree when I hear her wail from outside the compound. The other wives jump out of their rooms and head for the source of the noise but I continue grinding as though I have heard nothing. I don’t want to pay her any more mind than is absolutely necessary. Iyalode’s screams grow louder and I can make out a single word – sacrilege. She runs into the compound and straight to me, the other wives following behind her like flies on a corpse. Her wails increase when she spots our Oba. She throws herself at his feet and begins to roll around.
“My lord, your life has been threatened. This is an abomination, sacrilege!” She turns and points at me, a malicious glint in her eyes. “Your wives were right, the afin is a witch. I have looked into the reflecting waters in the calabash of Olokun and seen the truth of her! The seven spirits who possess her want your head and she will be able to give it to them once she consummates your union.”
I rise to my feet and straighten my back, shocked. This accusation is a new low for Iyalode. Oba’s eyes betray his surprise. Iyalode rises to her feet and other wives pile behind her, whispering and stealing glances at me.
“Is this true?” Oba asks, his voice trembling with rage.
I stay silent, looking him straight in the eye before I finally whisper a “no”.
“Then eat this,” she says, thrusting a strange fruit toward me. It is round and red and shiny, “Eat the apple of Olokun, it is harmless to humans but its juice burns the throats of witches. Eat it now!”
I take the fruit and slowly take a bite. Its juice is both sweet and sour but its flesh is too hard. I choke on it.
“Witch!” Iyalode cries and flies at me, her clawed hands outstretched. She slaps me flush across my face. I stifle a scream and drop the fruit. She follows up with a barrage of blows, driving me to the ground. The other wives join her, their greedy fingers tearing at my clothes and stripping them away. Every kick and slap feels like a death blow. I can no longer stifle my screams. There is blood pouring into my eyes and I cannot see. Their faces become a blur on top of me and I close my eyes tightly and hope for death, screaming at Baroka to stop them. Finally I hear him speak.
“Bring her to me.”
One wife pulls at my hair, dragging me across the sandy floor to the Oba’s feet while the other wives mock me, sneaking in kicks at my side. Beyond the pain and the shame, I am beginning to feel anger build up inside me and something else underneath it, something long buried, dark and slippery, slowly awakening inside me. No one else seems to notice the sky is darkening.
Oba Baroka raises me by my neck and I feel the world swim as my breathing breaks into shallow gasps. The thing inside me uncoils slowly, pressing against my chest, constricting my breathing even more.
“How dare you? Come into my home and pretend to love me. Dine on my food and drink my palm wine while you torment my wives and plot against me?” Baroka growls at me. I feel my skin shudder and my flesh flush at the sound of his voice. The thing inside me uncoils a little more.
“Afin, I am talking to you! Answer me!”
I feel words pour out of me like vomit. The sound I hear terrifies me. It’s a chorus of gravelly voices, not my own and they rasp like a snake shedding skin.
“Did you ask who owned her before you came and took her away?” The voices taunt.
The veins on Baroka’s neck grow taut as his fingers tighten around my neck. Spots dance in my vision, playing suwe against the sky which has darkened to evening time. The voice comes out of me again, even though I have no air with which to form any words.
“You are testing our patience, Baroka, bastard son of Sadiku. Do you think killing her will mean anything to us? It will merely anger us and our wrath is a fearsome thing.”
Baroka throws me to the ground which such force that my nose breaks, freeing a fountain of blood. He throws all his weight into a kick that sends me skidding across the compound. My back feels raw like a bloodied skinned calf. Iyalode begins to make incantations.
She has noticed the darkening sky.
She screams for Oba Baroka to leave me alone but he is too angry and scared.
He comes for me again, oblivious to my swollen eyes and bleeding nose and flayed skin and the red welts on my breasts and buttocks. He punches and punches and I pray for the release of unconsciousness but the thing inside me presses against my chest and keeps me awake.
Suddenly it unfurls and I scream in pain, a powerful tearing sensation twisting my body, as if something is trying to claw its way out me through my belly. I feel my limbs contort and my mouth twists in a rictus of an inhuman screech, foam coagulating at the side as I begin to convulse on the floor, all feeling subsumed by the blinding pain that has enveloped my abdomen.
My throat begins to itch as I feel the thing dig its thousand legs into my esophagus, as if deciding my mouth is a better orifice to expel itself.
My eyes roll in their sockets, my body feeling like it is turning itself inside out. With a slow creak, my head turns back at a humanly impossible angle nearly. With a sickening snap, I feel my neck break.
I do not lose consciousness.
I cannot lose consciousness.
The thing finds purchase on my tongue and I retch, the taste identical to rotting meat festered with worms. I roll my grotesque body to the side and what feels like a drum of black oily vomit pours out of me, spilling onto the ground and spreading towards Oba Baroka whose old huntsman instincts make him scamper just out of its range, his round eyes even rounder with terror as he watches my transformation. I feel my lips stretch to a smile as more bile pours, staining my chin black.
Unexpectedly the vomiting stops and the exertion of it forces me to fall on my face with a thud.
My head turns another angle and the sky and hard earth have switched places.
I do not lose consciousness.
I cannot lose consciousness.
The sky goes from evening to night in a matter of seconds and the puddle on the floor begins pulse like flesh. Baroka’s wives, who have been rooted in terror at what is happening to me, sense the impending danger and run, gathering behind me, shuddering and cowering like innocents even though bloodied toes and knuckles betray them.
They watch Iyalode fearfully as she continues her incantation near me, hoping for a miracle.
Hatred, thick, viscous, black hatred saturates me and I wish them dead, every single one of them.
ALL OF THEM!
A deep chuckle crawls out of my throat and as if sensing my innermost desire, the pulsing puddle begins to grow, slowly separating till they number seven. The blobs begin to twist and swirl, stretching out to form limbs and hair and eyes.
They are too short to be human, stunted and round like tree stumps with rounded bellies and short legs and hands that look more ape-like than human; their appearance like the evil egbere folklore. Their eyes, large as saucers glow sickly yellow and where their mouths should be is a wide black chasm going from ear to ear.
“We warned you.”
Their voices hiss.
They disappear from my line of view, running on stumpy legs that smash the earth at an inhuman speed.
The first of the dwarf-like egbere reaches Iyalode and scrabbles onto her, wrapping his legs around her chest. Its mouth widens like awonriwon and tiny serrated teeth glint in the darkness before it buries it into her neck and tears away. Warm red blood spurts onto its face and chest, drenching black skin red as it throws his head back and swallows. A cackle comes out of it so loud and dark that I wish I could cover my ears. The other wives begin to scream as the other dwarf-creatures attack Iyalode, tearing chunks of flesh out of her legs and arms. One claws at Iyalode’s stomach and breaks the skin, reaching into the bowels and pulling out her intestine, stuffing it greedily into its orifice. Iyalode’s final words are screams to her goddess who has obviously forsaken her. They pile on top of her, pushing her to the ground and covering her. When they crawl off her five minutes later, there’s nothing left but bones. The screams begin again.
They circle the rest of Oba Baroka’s harem, giggling hysterically as he swings his talismans for protection against them. One darts in when his back is turned and drags out one of his wives and the rest surround her. They do not bother to eat her like they did with Iyalode, settling instead for breaking her bones to get at the juicy yellow marrow inside. The resounding crack of bones and the greedy slurping sounds rent the air. The smell of urine is pungent as some of the wives begin to lose control of their bowels. The next two wives, they quickly strip apart, cackles of glee as their blood and excrement is used to smear the floor. The next two wives, they force on their knees and make them plead for mercy before digging into their eye sockets with sharpened nails. Their screams grate at my ears, making my skin crawl. They put the women out of their misery by turning their heads so viciously their necks tear off their shoulders. Blood spurts into the air and the egbere dance in the artificial rain.
Baroka begins to weep, his screams of horror getting worse with each wife that is taken.
Soon it is just him left.
They surround him, hysterical laughter punctuated with screams. I squint to get a glimpse of what is happening but their hands and feet blur around Oba Baroka.
They finally release him and back away, admiring their handiwork.
All the blood building in my stomach expels itself out of me in a wet heave.
Oba Baroka has been broken.
Blood pools where his eyes should be, and his mouth is a mangy mess of torn skin. His lungs hang out of the side of his mouth, still slowly rising and falling.
One arm droops at his side and one leg is bent all the way to his buttocks. Somehow he is still alive and he tries to crawl away, leaving a fresh skid trail of blood behind him.
My eyes rove, looking for the egbere but I cannot find them. Then I see the blob slowly flowing back to me.
I try to roll away but pain lances at my chest and I let out a dry painful rasp. The blob begins to pour over me, starting with my toes, bright spots of pain blooming where they touch against my skin. My head feels like it has been cut open with a machete and my brain has been pulled out in tiny strips. The darkness advances, covering my chest and arm and my broken and bleeding neck. It covers my mouth and my nose and I begin to choke. It pauses there, enjoying my body’s attempts to thrash inside of its immobilizing gelatinous form and then it suddenly covers what is left of my head in a swoop. A blinding fear overwhelms me and I try to scream one last time before darkness finally takes me.
Its work done, the being inside me returns to its shell to hibernate, sated.
I open my eyes, pink iris glimmering in the gathering dusk.
I smile as I stand up, twisting my neck with my hands till it is at its right angle. A small smile plays at the corner of my lips as I inspect the carnage, curious flies already perching on the feast of bones, blood and feces.
The most envied harem in the land, reduced to carrion.
I toss my head back and laugh, in derision.
Who is the fairest now? Who is the most precious of all the beautiful wives?
The one called afin.
Edwin Okolo writes to explore concepts that he seeks to understand but cannot directly experience because of gender and genetics. He used to run the experimental fiction column The Alchemist’s Corner and created the YA series Seams at TheNakedConvos and serves as a fiction editor at TheNakedConvos and StoriesNG. He has written for Thelonelycrowd, Sable Lit Mag, Omenana and The Kalahari Review and was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Fiction Prize. He is obsessed with children, cats and Paternak, exactly in that order.