© 2014 by Nuzo Onoh. Originally published in the collection The Reluctant Dead. Published by Canaan-Star Publishing. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Khalid’s decision to divorce his wife, Hadiza, had not been an easy one. But then, nothing in his life had been easy. Growing up fatherless, uneducated and destitute had not been easy. His decision to abandon the Christian religion he’d been raised with and which was the main religion of his Igbo tribe for Islam had not been easy either. It had taken him a long time to get people to address him by his new Islamic name, Khalid. The same was true of his wife, Hadiza, whose original name had been Ngozi, (meaning ‘God’s blessing’) a decent and worthy Igbo name. In fact, some relatives still persisted in calling him Daniel, his original Christian name, out of sheer bloody-mindedness and spite.
But Khalid was not nick-named ‘Okwute’” (rock) just for his stocky build. He was as hard as stone where his needs were concerned and being rich was one of his greatest needs. Becoming a Muslim had been a financial investment rather than a spiritual enlightenment. It opened the gateway to a wealthy Muslim fraternity in the North, leading to his eventual initiation into the highly lucrative fuel distribution cartel. Khalid was now a man of respect despite his illiteracy. These days, he called the tune in his clan despite his uncle’s role as official clan leader.
It was therefore of little concern to him that his uncle and the extended family disapproved of his decision to divorce Hadiza, his wife of nine years, in order to marry his mistress, Latoya, an African-American divorcee he’d met on one of his frequent trips to the United States. Khalid had watched his wife go from a beautiful young bride to an obese mother of three. While she was a good mother and wife, anticipating and catering to his every need, Khalid no longer desired Hadiza as a woman. He knew his inability to make love to her was a source of great unhappiness to her though she tried to mask it with that gentle smile she reserved especially for him.
Hadiza was aware of his infidelities; he never hid them from her. But as a good wife, she accepted them, subservient to his needs as she believed was her duty under the teachings of the Koran. He made sure he kept her and their three sons in comfort, which was more than most other husbands did. Her forbearance however, began to make him feel guilty and the guilt soon bred a resentment that culminated in his decision to take a second wife.
His intended bride, Latoya, was a liberated woman of the West; sophisticated, witty, sensual and most importantly, educated. She was like no other woman he’d ever known. She respected nothing and nobody. Her very indifference was like an aphrodisiac to him. She lived hard, worked little and played hard. Although she was only two years his senior, she had been divorced twice. He would be her third and hopefully, last husband. He was still in shock that such a woman would consent to be his wife, an American no less!
Everything was going according to plan except for one hitch – Latoya wanted Hadiza out of his life for good. Khalid had agreed to a registry marriage as demanded by Latoya, despite his preference for a Muslim ceremony. He had even promised to send Hadiza and her children away, even as Abraham cast away the faithful concubine Hagar and her son into the desert. He went further to promise Latoya a separate and more luxurious home for both of them, provided she agreed to let Hadiza retain her title of first wife.
But Latoya had no intentions of being anybody’s second wife. She belonged to a Western civilization that recognised one wife and one hundred percent monogamy. There was no space in her life for a spare wife, first or otherwise. Hadiza had to be divorced or there would be no marriage – all or nothing, period.
For months, Khalid wrestled with his conscience, trying to come up with a solution to his dilemma. He felt bad about what he intended doing to Hadiza and did not relish the prospect of adding a humiliating divorce to her list of indignities. Knowing his wife, he knew she would go quietly when the chips were down, without much fuss, like the good Muslim wife she was. That was part of the problem with their marriage, Hadiza’s total lack of spunk and adventure. Perhaps, if she had devoted less time on the kids and more time on him, then Latoya wouldn’t have been an issue in their lives. In the end, Hadiza had really been the architect of her own doom. He refused to be held to ransom by pity.
Khalid called Hadiza into his bedroom just as she was about to retire for the night and told her he would be divorcing her. She stared at him numbly, her eyes pain-filled, unable to take in the enormity of his words. Then she fell to her knees before him, clasping his resisting hands, her movements feverish, desperate.
“Khalid, husband of my heart, father of my sons, what have I done to deserve this wrong?” Tears poured unheeded down the smooth planes of her plump face. “Have I not given you sons and secured your lineage? Have I not been a chaste and obedient wife to you? Have you forgotten your promise to me when you begged me to marry you, that you would cherish me for eternity? Why do you bring this shame on me now? Don’t you love me anymore?”
Khalid looked away, unable to hold her gaze or stem the flood of emotions her words raised in him. Once…a long time ago…Hadiza had been the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He had felt honoured and blessed to be her husband. Regret stirred briefly in his heart but then, he looked into the fat, tear-streaked face of his wife and Latoya’s sultry image superimposed itself in his mind’s eye. His vision became clouded. He ceased to see the good woman beyond the outer folds of flesh. With a violent shove, he pushed Hadiza away from him and strode to the door. He paused, looking at the crumbled form on the plush flooring of his bedroom, his eyes cold, his face remote. Then, in line with the Sunni divorce procedure, he uttered the talaq three times in succession, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.”
And it was done. Khalid was a free man. He had not even given Hadiza the three months grace prescribed by Islam between each pronunciation of the talaq. He simply severed her from his life as if she was no more than overripe fruit from a second-rate market stall.
His relatives thought he had lost his mind. Who in their right mind would divorce such a good woman who had sacrificed so much for his sake? They were even more horrified that he planned to marry a foreigner, a woman not even from the shores of Nigeria, who was both his superior in age and divorce tally. His uncle Ezekiel, against his better judgement, eventually accepted custody of Khalid’s three sons. Latoya did not want them in her matrimonial home and letting Hadiza keep them was out of the question. It would be an abomination to reject the sons of the clan and Khalid had promised to provide generously for his children’s upkeep. Hadiza was sent back to her people, two villages away, and Khalid severed all contact with her.
As promised, he set up the luxury home Latoya demanded and in no time, she was throwing lavish parties for her fellow expatriates, drinking, smoking and dancing till daybreak every weekend. Khalid felt an outsider at these parties, which he came to resent and dread as one dreads greedy in-laws. Worse, Latoya showed no signs of embracing Islam as she’d promised she would once he divorced his wife. Her publicly amoral lifestyle was beginning to affect his standing amongst his Muslim business associates.
Things were no better at the home front either, where his sons presented sullen and resentful faces to him whenever he visited them. He couldn’t blame them for their attitude but there was little he could do to remedy the situation save to divorce Latoya, which was something he would never do. She was a fever in his blood, an addiction, too intoxicating to let go. He was providing his kids and his uncle with more luxuries than they’d ever dreamed possible. What else did they want from him… his blood?
In a small airless room, overflowing with clothes and boxes, Hadiza lay on a single metal bed, staring up at the sluggish rotations of the overhead ceiling fan. Her henna-patterned hand lay languidly on her brow. Her eyes were wide, overly bright with a feverish glint coating her pupils. Her body was so still that she appeared unconscious, save for the intermittent blinks of her long-lashed lids and the rapid rising of her chest underneath her flower-print night dress.
Though the short needle on the square wall-clock pointed to three o’clock in the afternoon, Hadiza had yet to stir from her bed. Its rumpled sheets and discarded pillows were a testament to the sleepless nights and restless days she’d endured since her ignominious expulsion from her marital home eleven months ago.
Why? Why? What had she done to deserve this shameful fate, stuck in a spare room in her father’s house, a charity-case with little respect, when once she’d been the favoured daughter, wife of a wealthy husband who lavished her family with luxuries of every kind?
Hadn’t she sacrificed everything for her marriage, just to make Khalid happy and keep her marriage and family together? She would have turned a blind eye to his affair with the American harlot as she had done with all his other indiscretions. She knew they meant nothing to him, just a man relieving himself of his semen overload as Khalid had explained to her the first time it happened when she was pregnant with their first son. She was the one he loved, the one he had married, the only one he would cherish for eternity.
So why had he broken his promise, turning her into an object of pity for all? How was it possible that he could forget her so completely as if she’d never existed? She, who had borne him three fine sons, loved him with every breath in her lungs, given nine years of her life in selfless servitude to him. He didn’t have to divorce her. Most men married three, four, even six wives. She would have stayed on as his first wife without a fuss.
With a sudden jerk, Hadiza leapt from her bed and began pacing around the tiny room, her movements terse, manic, like a caged hyena. She kept wringing her hands with the frenzy of Macbeth’s wife, like one washing out bloodied hands, her breathing short and harsh in the tight confines of the room.
Why wouldn’t Khalid answer her questions? “Don’t you love me anymore?” she’d asked him. Surely, that was an easy enough question to answer. A simple “Yes” or “no” was all it would take. It wouldn’t have killed him to tell her if he felt anything for her…no matter how small…after all their years together. Or had it all been a farce?
Had their entire time together been one big lie? How could a man go from loving a woman so desperately one minute to rejecting her so completely without just cause in a blink of an eye? How could Khalid, who had wooed her so ardently, humiliate her so cruelly? How could they ban her from seeing her own sons, telling her to stay away so as not to upset them? Who would cuddle little Kene when he had a nightmare? How could Khalid reject their children for that whore?
Is this what life is all about, to give everything and end up with nothing? What’s the use, then? Why bother with all this pain? Who cares? Is there even a God? What kind of God would allow this kind of injustice on a faithful devotee? Or was Jesus punishing her for turning her back on Him for Allah, even though she’d abandoned that religion as soon as she left Khalid’s house? So, if there was no forgiveness of sin then what’s the use of life? What’s the use… what’s the use?
In death, Hadiza achieved what she couldn’t in life – a visit from her ex-husband. Khalid defied Latoya’s objections and attended Hadiza’s funeral with their sons and clan members.
He sensed the hostility of her family, who blamed him for her suicide. He stared at the wasted corpse in the open coffin, unable to reconcile it with the obese wife he had discarded almost a year gone. He could see the pain she had been through in the abundance of grey hair on her head, lush curls previously revealed only for his pleasure while she was his wife.
Hadiza looked so pitiful in death that he felt his throat constrict, unable to suppress the sudden wetness in his eyes.
He hadn’t known what she was going through. No one had said anything. He would have done something had he known. It was all the whore’s fault. She had blinded him with her witchery and turned him into an outcast amongst his people while doing nothing to make him less of an outcast amongst her own people. He needed to belong to his people once again, regain his roots and dignity which his good wife, Hadiza, had given him. He had stupidly cast away the one good thing in his life and now it was too late to make amends.
Khalid let the tears flow unashamedly. His open grief struck a chord with the mourners and their hostility turned to mild sympathy. The men beat their chests in commiseration and the women clasped his hands. His sons, seeing their father’s tears, finally let him into their hearts again and that night, Khalid took his children back to the house he shared with Latoya for the very first time.
But Latoya would not have them. She would not play mother to another woman’s children, dead or alive. She didn’t tell the fool to kill herself so why should she be burdened with her responsibilities? It was either the children or her.
This time, Khalid chose his children. He took them away from Latoya’s luxury home and moved back into the dust-coated house he’d once shared with their late mother, Hadiza. Latoya’s callousness to his children on the day they buried their mother finally freed him from her carnal hold. He would divorce her and devote his life to being a good father to his sons, make up for all the months of neglect and irresponsibility, Insha’Allah.
The house had been cleaned up by the maids from his uncle Ezekiel’s house but it was a rushed job. There was still a heavy coating of dust on the furniture and an atmosphere of abandonment pervaded the plush rooms with their ornate chairs and imported chandeliers. The house felt strange, yet familiar and the children wandered from room to room, touching things, talking in hushed tones unnatural for their age… remembering, mourning.
The walls were still adorned with pictures, family pictures of himself, Hadiza and the children, photos from a time they were still a happy family, their smiles wide and clear, without a hint of the tragedy that was to befall them.
Khalid felt a hard knot in his chest, a lump that crawled to his throat, painful, uncomfortable. He gently turned the pictures of Hadiza to the wall as was customary when a person died. It was something he should have done from the first day he received the news of her death. But the house wasn’t in use then and he didn’t know there were still any photos of her in the house. He prayed it wasn’t too late, that her confused spirit hadn’t found its way into her pictures and became earth-bound as the customs said could happen. From somewhere down the long corridor, he heard the house-servants putting the children to bed, their voices muted, distant. Stretching out on the soft rug in his otherwise bare bedroom, Khalid felt a heavy weariness descend on him. It had been a long and harrowing day. He desperately needed the warm, soft touch of a woman. But not that whore, Latoya. Never again.
The sudden ringing of his mobile phone jarred the mournful silence of the house. He picked it up and answered. It was Latoya, her voice cold, hard. She wanted him back at their house that night otherwise it was goodbye forever. Khalid swore an obscene oath. That was fine by him, he told her. He’d had enough of their farcical marriage and her ridiculous friends anyway. He hung up on her and returned to his rug. He was done being a lapdog to that American whore.
His mobile rang a second time, almost an hour later, five minutes to midnight. He knew it was Latoya even before looking at the caller-id. He’ll be damned if he took her call again. She can deal with his lawyers from now on. The phone went on ringing and he started getting really annoyed. Bitch didn’t care if she kept his children awake on the night they buried their mother. It was always about her… everything was always about Latoya. Well, he would soon tell her where to get off.
He answered the call with an angry, “fuck off!”
But Latoya was hysterical, her voice incoherent. She was screaming so loud he could barely make out what she was saying.
“Khalid, she’s here! Oh my God…Khaliiid! Help! Stay away from me… Oh Jesus! Khaliiid…”
He heard a clattering sound and knew Latoya’s mobile had dropped to the marble floor of her bedroom. He could still hear the sounds coming from her room; running feet… screams in the background. Then he heard a voice that caused his blood to freeze, almost forcing the hot piss down his kaftan – Hadiza’s voice, clear and strong, as if she were in the same room with him.
“Infidel whore! Unclean daughter of a pig!” Khalid heard the terrible curse spill through the line. He felt a shiver run through his body again, peppering his skin with goosebumps. He pressed the mobile tighter against his ear, his hand sweaty and hot. It was Hadiza’s voice. He was certain… yet… it was Hadiza’s voice as he’d never heard it before; harsh, hard, with a terrible resonance that sent his heart racing so fast he struggled to breath.
“You turned my husband against me, you cowardly thief of the night. Whore of Babylon! May your soul rot in eternal hell! A thousand nights of pain shall be your lot. The sharp knives of torture shall pierce your wicked heart forever. My fate shall be yours as my husband has become yours. Pig! Whore!”
Latoya’s blood-curdling screams drowned out the piercing sound of Hadiza’s venom. Then absolute silence. Nothing…
“Latoya!” Khalid shouted into the mobile, even as a part of his mind still functioning told him she couldn’t hear him, would never hear him again; that in all likelihood, she was dead. He gripped the mobile tightly, listening…hearing nothing but the loud thudding of his heart. His body trembled like leaves caught in a midday thunderstorm. His mind was in dark turmoil. It’s not possible… It’s not Hadiza… she’s dead… buried… it can’t be Hadiza… No way… Latoya is okay. Just fine. It’s a trick…her way to get me back to the house by any means… I won’t fall for her tricks… not this time. I won’t… Yet… that voice… Hadiza’s voice…
Like one stung by a scorpion, Khalid rushed to the teak cabinet, grabbing his car keys and wallet as he pushed his feet into his leather sandals. He took the stairs two at a time, his hasty flight awakening the household staff who peeped out of their bedrooms, their eyes wide with fright and curiosity.
As if pursued by demons, he drove through the deserted streets of Enugu. Bands of sweat poured down the sides of his face in the chilled air-conditioned interior of the Mercedes S-Class. His thoughts jumped inside his head like restless ants, thoughts of what-ifs and terrifying images of what he might encounter at Latoya’s apartment. What if she was already dead and the police found him there? Would they think he’d killed her? Should he call the police… and tell them what exactly? That he thinks he heard the voice of his dead wife over the phone? That he thinks his dead wife has killed his present and soon-to-be ex-wife? Ha! He’d be lucky to be kept out of the psychiatric hospital with such twaddle.
As he drove up to the shut gates of Latoya’s lavish residence in the exclusive area of Independence Layout, Khalid kept his palm on the horn till the panicked guard dashed out of the small security house to let him in. He noticed that all the lights in the house were on, as well as the external security floodlights. The compound was illuminated like a carnival fairground. Under their glare, he noticed a strange car parked among the fleet of luxury Mercedes Benz cars he’d purchased for Latoya with the notion that like a Rolex, a Merc is forever. He barely gave the car a second thought as he rushed through the doors, past the startled faces of the house servants and up the wide staircase that led to the private quarters of his wife.
He heard hushed voices behind him and turned to see the frightened faces of the house servants.
“What is going on here?” he demanded. “Is your Madam alright?”
For a brief second, the servants looked at each other before returning their gaze to him. He read something in their eyes, something shifty and fearful, yet malicious. The head servant, Ifeoma, a fat indolent woman in her early thirties, finally spoke up.
“Oga, master, we don’t know what is happening in Madam’s room,” Ifeoma said, her voice a combination of obsequiousness and fear. Khalid had never liked the woman but knew that for whatever reason, Latoya placed an unhealthy amount of trust in her. “We hear screams from they room but Madam not open they door when we knock. But everything go quiet again so we think Madam gone sleep.”
Khalid gave a curt nod and sent them off to their quarters. Squaring his shoulders, he turned the knob of the thick panelled oak door. The door opened, swinging inwards with a quiet whirr to reveal the white brilliance of the opulent room. Khalid stepped inside….
On the King-size four poster bed in his wife’s room lay a nude, elderly Caucasian man, dead. His lifeless eyes stared in frozen terror at an invisible horror now beyond the boundaries of his existence. His expensive shoes and clothes littered the cool tiled flooring of the vast bedroom and his mobile phone, wallet and keys were scattered on the bedside table with his open packet of Benson & Hedges. Khalid couldn’t see any sign of blood on the man or any murder weapon. But there was no doubt in his mind that the man was dead.
Khalid felt his senses reel as he paused to take in the scene. Chineke! God in heaven! What on earth was going on? Latoya! Where was Latoya! His eyes scanned the all-white décor of the room and found Latoya crouched against the mirrored doors of the vast wardrobes running the length of the right side wall. Khalid felt his heart lurch at the sight of his wife, horror crawling up his spine with thin frozen fingers.
Unlike her dead lover, Latoya was partially clothed in an expensive but blood-splattered negligee. And she was alive, if one could truly describe the pathetic creature on the floor as living. Her eyes were wide… wild… like a caged hyena in a zoo. And her face… Chineke! Her face…
Khalid stared in stunned disbelief, shock and terror numbing his mind. Latoya’s face was covered with deep bloody gorges, scratches that could only have been inflicted with talons or claws. The injuries resembled the carefully designed artwork of a maniac, both in their precision and execution, ensuring that no part of Latoya’s face went unmarked. But for her body and the fact that he knew he was in her bedroom, Khalid would have been unable to recognise the horror he beheld. Who would have hated Latoya so much to do this to her, disfigure her so viciously? He felt a shudder run through his body as he quickly pushed away the thought and slowly made his way towards his wife.
As he drew closer, he heard her low whimpers, sounds that sounded like a puppy trapped by a wild Tomcat. He saw something on the floor that made his breath catch, trapping the air in his lungs and sending his heart racing once again. Allah! Would the horror never end? By Latoya’s bare feet were bloody clumps of rich black hair, Latoya’s once luxurious curls, pulled with malevolent force from her scalp. Khalid could see the blood already beginning to mat on her near-bald scalp and fresh blood trickled down her forehead, beside her ears, merging with the bloody mess of her savaged face. What kind of monster could have done this evil, Khalid wondered, stooping low beside his wife.
Latoya looked through him, her eyes bereft of recognition. All he could see in her gaze was terror, pure unadulterated terror beyond anything he could describe. He shook her, cajoled her, spoke to her. But she would not speak…could not speak. He stood up to get her clothes from the wardrobe and make her decent before he drove her to the hospital and put a call though to the police.
It was then that the smell hit him, assailing his nostrils with its familiar but now terrifying scent. It was the smell of incense, the familiar fragrance of his dead wife Hadiza, now pervading the bedroom of his living wife. Latoya’s Must de Cartier perfume, the usual scent of her room, was overwhelmed by the suffocating smell of Hadiza’s incense.
Khalid froze, his limbs turned to baby pap, soft, weak. His head was swimming, sending waves of terror coursing through his body. Oh God! Allah, help me! He cast his eyes wildly around the room, feeling the tremors quake his limbs and the shivers chill his spine. The smell was everywhere, getting stronger, suffocating, sending him rushing towards the door of Latoya’s bedroom, heedless of the dead man and comatose woman in the room. All he knew was that he had to get out of that room fast. He had to get out of that house without delay.
At the staircase, he encountered Ifeoma, the head house servant. He forced himself to stop, control his erratic breathing and address her. Except she was already speaking before he could say a word, her voice urgent, pleading.
“Oga, I swear, we never see that white man before. I for call you, tell you say madam get boyfriend if I know. Please sir, no sack us. We no know anything, I swear.”
Khalid stared at the woman boggle-eyed. What the hell was she on about? Then he remembered. The dead white man on the bed – Latoya’s lover – definitely well known to the slimy bitch in front of him. He didn’t for one second believe that she and the rest of the servants were ignorant of his wife’s indiscretions. He’d had his suspicions but never any concrete proof till tonight. Dead proof.
“Phone the police immediately and tell them to come to the house. Go and dress your madam before the police arrive. Tell the police to come to my house if they need to speak to me. I will deal with you all later.”
“Oga, we don’t know address of your house,” Ifeoma said.
Of course she wouldn’t know. Up till tonight, he had lived in this house, shared it with Latoya, albeit in different bedrooms. He told her to give his phone number instead to the police. Without a backward glance, he drove out of the compound with the same speed he had arrived, but for entirely different reasons.
Four days later, he was arrested by the police for the murder of his wife’s lover and her attempted murder. His arrest was a culmination of several factors, chief amongst them, the fuss raised by the American embassy about their two citizens and the damning testimony of the house servant, Ifeoma, who swore that Khalid had killed his wife’s lover before rushing out of the house.
As Latoya was still in a state of shock and unable to give a statement, the police eventually yielded to the pressure from the American Embassy and arrested Khalid. He had managed to keep himself away from jail pending trial by bribing the police commissioner. But that didn’t stop the local media from having a field day at his expense. After all, it wasn’t every day that an illiterate Igbo, Muslim millionaire killed the white lover of his American wife and left her disfigured for life, on the same day he buried his ex-wife.
He tried to see Latoya, to speak with her and find out what exactly happened in her bedroom that night. He was as curious as the rest of the public despite having his own suspicions. But the police wouldn’t let him anywhere near her; there would be no interfering with the prime witness. They had the American Embassy to consider and therefore, despite Khalid’s generous bribes, couldn’t accommodate him. They were really sorry and hoped he wouldn’t take it personally.
He took it personally; very personally. But there was nothing he could do except read his leather-bound Koran and pray that Allah would come to his aid.
A week after the attack, the results of the autopsy on the American man showed he’d died of a massive coronary thrombosis that was as sudden as it was deadly. The man had a history of heart attacks and Khalid was removed as a suspect in his death. His good fortune seemed to hold when Latoya finally recovered enough to give a statement, an implausible account of temporary insanity after witnessing the sudden death of her lover. She claimed her injuries were self-inflicted. The police did not believe Latoya’s story in its entirety but she was insistent on Khalid’s innocence. Her statement exonerated Khalid and turned him into the darling of the media. He went from being the illiterate murderous villain to the innocent cuckolded husband of an American whore and the victim of bullying at the hands of the American Embassy. Who were these foreigners anyway to interfere with the Nigerian justice system, even if they were the superpower of the world?
Messages of support flooded in from all over the country and once again, Khalid became a man of respect.
In the end, he didn’t need to divorce Latoya. She divorced him, leaving the country with the speed of antelopes escaping a wild bush fire. She neither called him nor answered his calls and she made no financial demands on him. It was as if she wanted nothing to do with him – ever again; as if she had been scared witless by something she was determined to forget.
Her silence left a lot of unanswered questions for Khalid, answers that could have stopped his disquieting nightmares and cured his incessant need to look over his shoulders, especially whenever he smelt the terrifying fragrance of burning incense.
The nightmares had started the night he discovered Latoya’s mutilated face and fled the house in terror. At first, he thought it was his subconscious thoughts surfacing in his dreams, vivid and distorted dreams of his late ex-wife, Hadiza. He would wake up from the dreams shaking, his heart pounding, his ears still ringing with her voice, soft, insidious… chilling. He could never recollect the details of the nightmares, just flashing images, unpleasant and repulsive, like the slimy touch of something rotten and unwholesome. But he heard her voice; he remembered her voice. And it was a voice that sent the cold fingers of terror down his spine, causing him to dread night-time as much as he dreaded his bed.
Finally, he contacted a revered Imam, who in turn referred him to the powerful marabout, Sidi Brahim. Sidi Brahim was renowned in the Muslim communities for his powerful amulets which conferred invisibility to their wearers, making them invincible to their enemies. Armed robbers sought his help to cloak them from police detection while top politicians paid him a fortune to ensure their success at the polls. When Khalid explained his troubles to the holy man, he had demanded a cow the size of an elephant. Khalid had spent a near fortune buying such a mammoth cow and when Sidi Brahim saw the cow, he gave a wide smile of approval and assured Khalid that his troubles were about to end.
That night, the marabout followed Khalid back to his house, together with three of his acolytes. The men spent several hours digging a hole the depth of two graves. Sidi Brahim instructed that the live cow be placed into the giant grave. Then the men proceeded to Hadiza’s village several miles away. They made their way to Hadiza’s deserted graveside and began their frenzied digging once again. The acolytes were exhausted by this time. But they had seen the wads of naira notes Khalid had laid out for each of them. They would dig till they collapsed as long as they collected their prize.
When Hadiza’s coffin was finally opened, Khalid refused to look into the muddied and crumbling wooden box. But his imagination saw more than his open gaze would have seen and his nose smelt the cloying stench of maggot-infested flesh, the smell of death and decay. He stumbled away from the grave, leaving the marabout to his gruesome task. Still, his mind would not rest, building images of such horror that he thought he would go insane with fear.
As he waited for the men in his car, he kept glancing behind, jumping at every sound, his heart thudding as hard as his aching head. The owl’s hoot, the bat’s screech, the cricket’s chirps and the occasional barking from a bored dog all had him almost pissing on himself. He nearly collapsed with relief when Sidi Brahim finally re-appeared, carrying a small bag in his hand. When Khalid asked him what the bag contained, the holy man frowned and instructed Khalid to drive back to his house in silence.
It was almost dawn when they arrived back to Khalid’s compound. The marabout retraced his steps to the grave containing the cow. The cow was in a state of extreme agitation, shoving itself against the narrow walls of the grave, mooing pitifully into the dark skies above. Khalid worried that it might wake his children up.
The marabout and his acolytes were soon deep in prayers and chants, circling the grave several times during the course of their invocations. Khalid was made to kneel down at the edge of the hole, while the Marabout poured some liquid over his head. It felt warm and sticky and when he wiped the trickle by his ear, Khalid’s hand was stained a bright red. He could not tell whether it was chicken blood or human blood he felt.
As the marabout exposed the contents of his bag, Khalid felt his heart stop. On the ground was a human hand, severed from the wrist. The skin was death-black and peeling, a wedding band still attached to the third finger – Hadiza’s hand! Khalid felt the bile rise to his throat, his head swimming so fast he feared he would tumble into the deep hole that housed the mammoth cow. By Hadiza’s severed hand were other personal bits of her – her grey hair, withered flesh from her cheeks, a singular tooth, white as chalk and bits of her wrapper, browned by corpse fluid.
Sidi Brahim proceeded to make a deep cut in Khalid’s thumb, squeezing the thick blood over the pieces of his dead wife, all the while shouting incantations. At his command, the acolytes chucked the bloodied items into the grave atop the live cow. The animal became even more distressed, throwing itself about, its eyes wild, terror-infused.
“Bury the cow now,” the marabout instructed, his voice cold, his face remote. Yet again, the acolytes began their nefarious chore, chucking large chunks of earth into the grave, their movements frantic, even manic, as if they couldn’t wait to be done with the job.
“Hurry! Hurry, before she escapes!” the marabout shouted at them, his voice urgent and loud. “Come, help them,” he said to Khalid, joining his assistants. Khalid wasn’t sure who the “she” referred to, his late wife or the sacrificial cow. He didn’t want to know.
Soon, he was pouring with sweat, his heart racing with the unfamiliar physical exertion. Sidi Brahim’s white kaftan was also stained a dirty brown, same as his helpers’. The cow’s terrified moans were so loud now that they feared detection. The damp earth kept heaving with the cow’s desperate struggles. Khalid felt himself shudder as he listened to the cow’s mooing fade into the night, buried alive with the pieces of Hadiza. He never would’ve believed a cow could sound so human had he not heard the sounds himself. He knew he would never forget that terrible cry for as long as he lived.
In no time, the grave was completely filled up with earth and payment made to the marabout and his acolytes. Khalid drove them back the thirty-mile distance to their village, returning later that morning with Sidi Brahim’s guaranteed assurance that his nightmares were now a thing of the past. Hadiza’s spirit had been bound and buried inside the live cow and she would never haunt his dreams again.
And that night, for the first time since his ex-wife died, Khalid slept the sweet, dreamless sleep of a new-born baby.
Khalid married his third wife exactly two years to the date Hadiza died. In that period, he had reaped the joyful fruits of Sidi Brahim’s work. His sleep was undisturbed, deep and dreamless. The unsettling smell of incense that had dogged his every step had vanished from both his cars and his house. It had been a long time since he had looked over his shoulders in dread, always expecting to see a presence that was never there, yet, constantly felt. His declining health gradually improved and his business flourished once again.
The only aspect of his life that gave him cause for concern was his sons’ progress, both at home and at school. The children’s results were so abysmal that he’d resorted to bribing the teachers to ensure their grades were improved. In the end, he decided a get himself a wife, a young bride that would dedicate her time rearing his sons and warming his bed.
Khalid’s new wife was a young girl from his village, Oluchi, who at just nineteen years was perfect for his needs.
The wine-carrying ceremony completed, Khalid was finally free to bring his new bride back to his house. Later that night, after his final salat, Khalid groomed himself meticulously for the consummation of his marriage. He doused himself in Paco Rabane aftershave and donned his flowing white kaftan over his body. He hurried to his bedroom, humming a soft tune under his breath. He knew his new bride was already in his chambers, oiled and scented, awaiting his arrival. He paused briefly outside his bedroom to adjust his kaftan and still his racing heart, turbo-charged by passion and anticipation. Slowly, he turned the knob and pushed open the door.
Khalid gagged, stumbling backwards, his heart pounding so hard he could barely breathe. He stared around him wildly, his eyes wide with terror. From the open doorway of his bedroom, the suffocating smell of Hadiza’s incense drifted into the corridor, slowly infusing the wide hall with its cloying sweetness.
For several minutes, Khalid hovered in the corridor, his back pressed to the wall, willing his heart to slow its pace. There had to be a rational reason for the smell, a simple explanation which had nothing whatsoever to do with Hadiza. Sidi Brahim had guaranteed her exorcism and he could testify to the success of that occult procedure.
In the end, Khalid concluded that his new wife was a lover of the same incense that his late wife had loved. It was all a mere coincidence, albeit an unpleasant one. That particular incense must be a popular scent amongst women, he decided. But Oluchi would have to do without it. That was one aroma he was determined to do without in his house.
Taking a deep breath, Khalid made his way back into the room, wiping his sweaty palms on his kaftan. From across the room, he saw the covered contour of his new bride on the bed. She had pulled the sheet right over her head, making herself completely invisible to his eyes. He smiled at her modesty, nonetheless pleased by it. As he made his way to the bed, he pulled off his sandals and kaftan. Placing his mobile phone and Rolex Oyster watch on the side cabinet, he stretched out on the bed alongside his new bride.
Again, he forced himself not to choke. The pungent smell of incense was even more overpowering than ever. It was as if his new bride had bathed herself in the damned thing.
“Oluchi,” he said, trying to stifle the annoyance in his voice. After all, the poor girl didn’t know that he had an aversion to the blasted scent. “I want you to get rid of the scent you use after today, okay? I don’t like it one bit and would prefer that you use something different, okay?”
Khalid waited for her response but she said nothing; neither nodded her head in assent nor turned to face him. It was as if he hadn’t spoken, as if she hadn’t heard him. Chineke! Surely, the silly girl hadn’t fallen asleep on her own wedding night! He’ll have to teach her a lesson in wifely duties if she had. He shook her, pulling the silk cover off her head, seeing the sleek perm of her hair before turning her around to face him.
His blood froze into hard ice.
Waves of terror bathed his body in chills, causing his skin to break out in bumps. He opened his mouth to scream but the sound stuck behind his throat, choking him, causing his eyes to roll back in their sockets. He wanted to run, to jump from the bed and flee. He saw himself flying, leaping to safety from the open window of his bedroom. But his limbs were glued to the bed as he stared into the glittering cold eyes of his dead wife, Hadiza.
“Husband of my heart, father of my sons, don’t you love me anymore?” The ghoul asked, its voice soft, insidious… chilling. Just as she had asked him over and over in his nightmares before Sidi Brahim bound her soul to the buried live cow. Except that he’d never remembered his dreams, never recalled her words – till now. Our Lord, impose not on us afflictions which we have not the strength to bear…grant us protection! Have mercy on me…have mercy on me! Oh almighty Allah! The Beneficent…the Merciful! Master of the day… and night! Have mercy on us and grant us your protection… grant us your protection…
Khalid heard the words ring silently inside his head, over and over, as he squeezed his lids, shutting out the horror, hoping for Allah’s miraculous deliverance. He felt the cold clamminess of her touch as she pulled his head down… slowly to her cold, cold lips.
And the spell broke. Khalid reeled back in revulsion, falling out of the bed, knocking his head against the hard wood of the bedside cabinet. He was moaning, whimpering like a day-old puppy as his manhood became undone in an undignified puddle of hot piss. He heard the rustling of silk as the spectre rose from the bed, seeming to float towards him in a terrifying soundless motion. Abstractly, his mind registered the beautiful silk of her negligee, a bridal lingerie, expensive, sensual and light. He saw that the body beneath it was lithe, supple and shapely. But he knew that the truth lay in the eyes, the petrifying gaze of his ex-wife, Hadiza, bloodless, icy and dead…Oh dear God…very dead.
Khalid tried to back away, his movements clumsy, frantic. But she was everywhere, behind him, in front of him, at his left and at his right. There was no escape and Allah was not hearing his desperate supplications. He crouched low, shielding his head beneath his arms. His body trembled like dancing leaves caught in a wild storm. Cold sweat poured in rivulets down his exposed body. He knew his day of reckoning had finally arrived. Hadiza would get her vengeance on him for his betrayal and the mutilation of her corpse by Sidi Brahim.
Suddenly, he heard a scream, a cry of such agony that his head snapped up from its refuge beneath his arms. Khalid saw yet more horror that nearly made his wits desert him for good. His new bride, Oluchi, was standing before him, goring her face with her pink-polished nails. Over and over she scratched, digging her nails into her skin, reaching deeper and harder till her silk bridal negligee was covered in her scarlet blood. And all the while she screamed, squealed like a pig being butchered with a blunt knife. But she seemed incapable of stopping the self-mutilation, her eyes wild, tears pouring from them, pleading for him to save her from herself.
Khalid jumped up and grabbed her bloodied hands, pinning them to her side, keeping them away from her face. Instantly, they went limp in his hands, all fight gone from them. Her body shook as if hammered by a quake, her movements spasmic and violent. He folded Oluchi in his arms, holding her tight, trying to quell her tremors. He whispered hushed words of comfort into her sleek permed curls, his voice as unsteady as her body. For a while, it seemed as if his efforts were in vain as she continued to wail and tremble, her voice choked with pain.
Then, she stopped crying. Her sobs cut off like a song paused in mid-play. Khalid felt a sudden chill seeping through the silk of her lingerie, sending the shivers to his bare skin. He remembered his state of undress, compounded by his piss-dampened underwear. He let go of his new bride. He needed to make himself decent before discussing what just took place with Oluchi.
But she held unto him with almost superhuman strength, her arms like metal bands around his waist. The poor girl was afraid, terrified out of her wits and who would blame her, he thought. She would have many questions and he had no explanations that would make any sense to anyone. More importantly, she would need medical attention for her facial injuries and he dreaded the rumour mill when it emerged that yet another wife had been disfigured in his house.
Khalid tried again to extricate himself from her hold but she held on tight. His teeth were beginning to chatter from the chill and his body grew numb with each passing second.
“Husband of my heart, father of my children, don’t you love me anymore?” Her voice was soft… chilling, muffled against his bare chest. Slowly, she raised her head, seeking his gaze. Her dead eyes pierced through the last boundaries of his sanity.
This time, Khalid did not fight the terror. It engulfed him and imprisoned his mind as completely as his body was being crushed in the grip of his dead wife’s arms. He was losing consciousness, his breath dying out and his limbs becoming insubstantial, unable to hold up his heavy frame. The tightness in his chest felt as if a ten-ton truck was crushing him beneath its wheels. He tried to raise his hands to his chest, to release the relentless invisible grip on it. But his arms were like lead, heavy and useless.
The chill seeped right through to his bones, turning his body into a hulking lump of ice. Pin-dots of dazzling light darted around him, blinding him, coating his pupils with sightlessness. Akalaaka! No man can escape his Karma. Sooner or later, we all have to pay. Hadiza, I’m sorry… so sorry…
And Khalid gave in to the crushing chill, as the darkness of hades engulfed him in final, eternal oblivion.
Nuzo Onoh has been described as “The Queen of African Horror” and her books have introduced African Horror to the international stage. Nuzo’s works have been described as “deeply disturbing”, “spine-chilling”, “gripping” and “haunting.” Nuzo hopes that soon, African Horror will be as recognized and enjoyed as other regional horror subgenres, such as Japanese, Korean and Scandinavian horror. A British writer of African descent, Nuzo was born in Enugu, the Eastern part of Nigeria, formerly known as The Republic of Biafra. She lived through the civil war between Nigeria and Biafra as a child refugee, an experience that left a strong impact on her and has influenced some of her writing She attended Queen’s School, Enugu before proceeding to England and St Andrew’s Tutorial College, Cambridge, from where she obtained her A levels. Nuzo holds both a Law degree and a Master’s degree in Writing from The University of Warwick, England. Nuzo is the author of The Reluctant Dead, Unhallowed Graves and The Sleepless. Nuzo has made 28th June her annual publishing date so her fans know when to look out for another African Horror chiller from her writing desk. Nuzo has two daughters, Candice and Jija, plus her cat, Tinkerbell, who she describes as totally bonkers. She lives in Coventry, from where she runs her own publishing company, Canaan-Star Publishing, which publishes authors from around the globe. A keen musician, Nuzo plays both the Piano and the box guitar and enjoys recording demos of her songs. She’s also a strong believer in The Law of Attraction and the philosophy of mind over matter. Visit www.nuzoonoh.com