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My Wife

“When you see the kob antelope on the way to the river—

Leave your arrow in its quiver,

And let the dead depart in peace.”—A Yoruba song.

My wife is tall and slender, and on her bones she wears a shiny brown skin. Her lotion is a brown oily substance that smells of nicotiana. On most nights when I visit, she is always seated at the edge of the big bed in her room applying the lotion on her thighs. With the index of her left hand she would scoop some unto the palm of her right hand. Then she would rub her palms together in the gentle way a pigeon would sit on a blade of grass; in that same way, she would run her hands over her thighs, down to her slender hairless legs: the left first, then the right.

When she finished doing this, she’d cover the lotion, which is always in a small calabash, and place it in one of the drawers of the cabinet next to the bed. Then she’d rise and walk up to me.

She just finished applying the lotion and she is walking up to me now. I am standing somewhere close to the door of the room, my back pressed to the green wall.

“My own,” she calls me. She is now standing before me, the fragrance of her lotion fills my nostrils like fresh air. “What’s wrong?” she asks.

My wife never wants to see me worried. She does everything she can to make me happy, because, she always says, your happiness is my happiness. When I have tests or exams, or both, my wife comes to assist me. Sometimes she shows me all the answers during my visit, before I wake for school the next day. When I need things, like money, she drops them by my bedside before I wake up.

She palms my face and arcs her neck to whisper something in my ears. “Is it Mommy?”

“No,” I say. My wife knows the only thing that makes me act this way is when I have issues with Mommy. But today, I had no issue with Mommy; it was with Sanjo, my elder brother, that I had an issue. I told her this.

“What happened? Do you want to share it?”

I don’t want to share it, because I don’t want to hurt her. She understands my silence.

She takes my hand in hers and we walk out of the house into the night, through bushes of flowers and shrubs. Fireflies color the night with light from their bodies, a few of them rest in her hair. She pauses, drops my hand, and plucks two flowers from a tree. The stems from which the flowers were plucked squeak. She arcs her neck, and a branch, the one with the stems from which the flowers were plucked, lengthens. My wife whispers something to it, and it returns back to its earlier position and tosses its leaves.

My wife puts the plucked flowers in her thick black hair. Then she turns to face me, “How do I look?”

I want to say “Beautiful”, but that’ll be too simple. “I have no words for your beauty, Temi,” I say and look down at my feet.

She rolls her eyes and pouts her under-lip. “You never stop saying that.”

We walk on. She leads, I come behind her. I watch her behind sway this way and that in her tight short skirt made from the fur of a chinchilla; the same is used for her top, a crop-top that covers just her breasts. I watch her neck from behind her, straight and firm like a sculpture’s. And her hair, the purple dark of a forced ripe bread fruit.

As we walk on, she collects petals in a large cocoa leaf. She’ll feed them to me.

“I cannot be sure you eat good food there,” she says.

“Mommy won’t let me eat bad food,” I say.

She smiles. “I trust her.”

We settle next to each other by a riverside. The light from the moon floods the river and we watch fishes and toads play; their croaks and the crooning of nightingales filling our ears. A pack of light-filled-body butterflies are dancing over the river. My wife dips her hand in the water and the fishes gather around her hand. I watch as she caresses their heads with her thumb.

“We should swim,” she says, just after the cocoa leaf becomes empty of petals. She made me eat everything, despite my claim that I was full.

“No. I don’t feel like.”

“Really?” She splashes some water. “You will by force.”

I stand up and run. She comes after me. I keep running. She doesn’t stop coming after me. And we keep running, circling trees, hiding and seeking, tricking, till there isn’t enough air in our lungs to keep us going.

Now my back is pressed to a tree. My wife has her head on my chest. My heart is beating fast and hard; so hard, I fear it’ll split my chest in two. She is breathing just as fast and hard, too, only that there is a kind of rhythm to hers.

“See what you did to me, Temi. See.”

Beads of sweat collect on her forehead. I hold her face in my left hand softly and scrape the sweat off her face with my thumb.

She whispers in my right ear: “I love you.”

“I love you more,” I whisper back in her ear.

She rolls her eyes and pouts her under-lip. “Prove it.”

I push my face close to hers and our lips brush. When we kiss, I taste the earth. As we kiss, she tries to unbuckle my belt. Her left hand is in my pants now; the other dancing over my body. It feels like desire has settled like rainwater at the floor of my belly, and from there, it is rising, rising, rising. I’m flat on the grass now. She comes up on me.

“Hey,” I whisper.

“What?”

“The moon and the stars are watching,” I say.

“Let the angels envy us.”

And here, on dew-wet grass, amongst the shrubs and in the midst of flowers, watched by the moon and the stars, like we have done since the day I turned sixteen—we walk into each other’s bodies.

“Oko mi, how was school today?” Mommy greets me as I settle in the cushion chair in the sitting room. She has a tray on her laps; she is picking weevils and chaffs out of some beans.

“Mommy, I don’t like it when you call me oko mi. I’m not your husband,” I say.

She drops the tray of beans on the stool next to her chair. “Durojaye, you are my son and my husband. One day you will grow up and take care of me. One day, when you finish schooling and you have a nice job, you will buy me fine cloths and cars. You will do so much for me. That is what a mother means when she calls her son her husband,” she says.

“O.K.”

“I hope you’re not angry at anything, oko mi?”

I pick up my school bag and leave for my room.

I don’t like it when Mommy doesn’t listen to me. When she acts like Sanjo. This is not the first time I have told her I don’t like being called anybody’s husband, but she won’t listen. Every time, she calls me “oko mi”, even though her husband, our own father, left us some years ago. He left one morning when my brother was ten and I was seven, and up till today, ten years later, he has not returned. We’ve searched everywhere for him, but the world is big.

I know his disappearance is one of the reasons why Mommy calls us her husband (she calls Sanjo that, too): she sees him in us. While I understand this, I don’t like it. And my wife does not like it, too. She goes mad every time somebody calls me that. Many times, she has asked me to ask Mommy to stop, and I have. Mommy is never going to stop. My wife said she’ll visit her on one of these nights to warn her if she doesn’t stop, which won’t be good.

I change the song I’m listening to—from Brymo’s “Johnbull” to Waje ft Johnny Drille’s “Udue.” I raise the volume and close the book I’m reading. I can’t read now, although I have a test tomorrow. My wife will help me, she always does.

Tonight, the sap-white of my wife’s eyes turns to raven black and the olive green of her irises is currant red. One by one, she picks glass cups and bottles and flings them at the wall. They land in thuds, and shards of glass cover the floor. She keeps picking and throwing.

“I didn’t do it on purpose. Temi, please. You know I’ll never do such a thing on purpose,” I say to her.

She bends down and picks a shard of glass and traces it over her right arm.

“Please don’t do this, Temi. Temi, please.”

She doesn’t hear my voice. If she does, she can’t make meaning of my words. She digs the shard into her skin and drags it through her flesh. She does this over and over, cutting the same spot, cutting and cutting till the cut is long and deep and blood pools out of it as if from the slit neck of a ram. Then she breaks too, and she sits on the floor that’s covered in her blood, sobbing. Her sobs as deep as the cut.

With tears in my eyes, I sit next to her and pull her close.

“See what you did to me, Temi. See? What have I done to deserve this?” she says, as she sobs.

I don’t have words, so I say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s not the first time my wife has thrown glass at the wall and used the shard to scar herself. She does so every time I get too close to any girl in my day-life. The first time it happened was six months ago, during our Street Jamz. I kissed and smooched this girl named Nife, a friend and classmate.

“Come and dance with me,” Nife had said.

I didn’t want to but she kept tugging at my arms, and my friends—Tola and Tife—kept asking me to go. Tife said, “Today, prove to us that you’re not gay.” So I left with her. We were dancing and then Nife pulled me to somewhere that the light from the bulbs in the ropes that sprung over the street couldn’t reach, and there she pressed her back to mine and kept grinding on me. Then I started using my hands, placing them in the right places. Soon we were kissing hard and deep. We didn’t stop until the music died and the DJ began to pack his set. Even then, we continued. I would have followed her to the uncompleted building down the street where I would have slipped into her but Roland, a neighbor, just appeared from nowhere and said, “Your mommy is looking for you.”

When I came to visit my wife that night, she said nothing to me; she only had her back turned to me. She was in the sitting room, close to the tiny bar that was near the dining table where we sometimes eat. I walked up to her, but she walked away before I could reach her. There was an hourglass in her hand, half-filled with wine. She gulped all that was left in the glass and flung it at the wall. Then she walked into the bar and picked more glass cups and flung them at the wall. Splints rained on the floor. She walked to the rain and picked a piece and dug it in her flesh, a little below her wrist.

“Please stop,” I said.

“You don’t care about me, so don’t tell me to stop,” she said.

“I do. I do care. Don’t do this.”

She kept marking her skin with the shard. “No, you don’t.”

For two more nights, she would turn her back at me every time I visit and she would throw glass cups at the frescoed wall of her sitting room and she would cut herself in the same place, the same arm, the right, a little below the wrist. And each time she cut herself, I woke up the next morning with a cut in my arm, in that same place, my right arm, a little way from my wrist.

It was on the third night that she said, “You don’t know what you do to me when you go after those girls.”

I wake up in a bed covered in blood, with a fat and deep cut in my arm. I walk up to Sanjo, bearing my right arm like a hot roast corn.

“What happened to your arm?” he almost screams.

“Did I not tell you I didn’t want to have anything to do with any girl? Did you listen to me?” I tell him.

“What does this have to do with me?” he asks.

I knew he would deny it. I told him yesterday when he asked me to follow him to his friend’s birthday party that I didn’t want to go. He asked me why, and I told him because I didn’t want to have to be forced to do anything with any girl or to have any girl do anything to me. He said, “See you. No such thing will happen.” But we got there and he got me drunk, and there was this Truth and Dare game where a girl was asked to pick a boy at random. She would give the picked boy a lap dance.  I don’t know what informed her choice, but the girl chose me. And because I was tipsy from the canned beers Sanjo made me drink, I didn’t resist as she walked up to me in the blue or red or white light—I don’t remember which exactly—and I didn’t stop her when she began swaying her behind up and down on me. I don’t even know when we got home; it was when I closed my eyes that I realized what I had done.

“I asked you a question: What does the cut in your arm have to do with me?”

“What does it not have to do with you?” I bark in his face. “Did I not tell you I didn’t want to be at that party yesterday because of the girls? Did I not tell you?”

He smiles, then laughs. “Are you O.K., Duro? Are the screws in your head still in their place? Because I don’t understand how the party we attended yesterday gave you a scar. I don’t. When we got home yesterday, you were fine and there was no cut—not a single one.”

“What is the matter?” Mommy asks as she parts the curtain and walks into the sitting room. She sees my hand. “What is this! Who did this to you? Talk to me?”

Everything wears grey and I feel wobbly.

I was just discharged from the hospital today. I’m lying in Mommy’s bed. She sits at the edge of the bed watching me. She touches my face and neck with the back of her right hand.

“Are you hungry?” she asks.

I shake my head up-down.

“What do you want to eat? Should I cook rice and fry plantain? Or you’ll eat macaroni?”

“I’ll drink pap,” I say.

“What can pap do? You should eat something heavy, so that you can recover quickly,” she says.  But in a few minutes she comes in with a tray. In the tray, there is a cup of pap, a fresh tin of Peak milk, and knife. She stabs the Peak milk tin in two places on the top surface and she pours some on the pap.

She sits there watching me as I take each spoon to my mouth. Her face is tired, and in her eyes there is a pleading look. I don’t know what she is pleading for. When I’ve had enough of the pap, I try stretching my arm, the right, to place the cup in the tray, but there is pain in here. The cut has been cleaned and plastered, but I feel an urge to tear the plaster and look at the cut over and over, like it’s an artwork. My wife carries hers that way, bare. For the three days I was in the hospital, we spent a lot of time together, because I slept a lot.

“Durojaye,” Mommy calls me.

“Mommy.”

She holds my hand and looks me in the eyes. “You know I’m your mother, right?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“You know I carried you inside me for nine months and breastfed you for two years and carried you on my back for three?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“You know I will never do anything to hurt you?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“And you know you can tell me anything that’s bothering you?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“Good,” she says, as she picks her phone. She plays me a video that was recorded when I was in the hospital. I was sleeping but I was saying different things. Things like: “Temi, sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you”; “You know the fish is bound to water for time and eternity; there’s nothing that will take me from you, Temi.”—laughter—“Oya, let me help you pack your hair.”

Mommy drops her phone on the bedside wardrobe. “Who is Temi?”

“I don’t know, Mommy. I must have been dreaming and speaking out whatever I was saying in my dream.”

Mommy drops her eyes on me. They are cold like fresh catfishes. She doesn’t pick them up for a long time. When she does, she sighs. “But you know you can tell me anything, if anything is happening?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

I have never told anyone about my wife, though I’ve known her for years. Though she claimed she used to visit me when I was a baby, that when I chuckled most times then, she was the one behind it, the first time I remember seeing her in my sleep was when I was six, she was about ten. During her visits then, she would help me with my Quantitative Reasoning assignments and teach me how to spell words correctly. She also taught me how to count with my fingers.

“It’ll help you to be faster with calculations,” she told me, and it did. I always finished solving the addition and subtraction class-works our teacher, Mrs. Ayan, gave us minutes before anyone else in the class.

In those days, too, we’d climb over guava trees and trouble the tree branches till they gave their fruits, both ripe and unripe, to the ground. We’d eat and eat, and when we were done eating, we’d play Tinko-Tinko or After-Round-One.

The first time she told me she was my wife, I was twelve. That day, I had asked her why she came to me every night and she said, “Because you are my husband.” She told me how we were engaged way before I walked into Mommy’s belly one very hot afternoon. “You were not the one who was in there,” she said, “you chased the real baby out and took its place.”

“But why would I do such a thing?”

“I guess it was because you wanted to have a taste of what it feels like to be human.”

That day, for the first time, she kissed me full on the lips, for about ten minutes. Four years later, when I turned sixteen, we stripped each other. It was after that first sex that she told me, “We had a plan before you left?”

The plan was that on the day I graduate the university, I’ll commit suicide and return to her.

“Duro,” Mommy calls me. She is standing at the door of my room.

“Mommy,” I say, as I unplug the earpieces, I was listening to Maroon 5’s “Memories” before she came in.

She sits on my bed. “Change into some better cloths, we are going somewhere.”

I want to ask her where, but before I do, she says something I don’t really hear, about the new jeans she bought for me. And she is gone. I her slippers slapping the tiled floor as she walks away.

After riding for over forty minutes, Mommy parks the car in front of a church painted sky-blue and white. We walk into the compound and the smell of burning incense greets us. Around the church, two-, three-, and maybe six-year olds, dressed in just pants, some of them in dirty soutanes, run around. At the door into what I now know is a church, a Celestial church—because of the people I have seen, all of them dressed in white soutane—there are two steel crosses, each bearing a crucifix.

The woli is a long, skinny man with very thick and dirty dreadlocks. He sits in a very high and beautiful chair that has heavy arms. He welcomes us and asks if I am the son Mommy told him about. She says yes. I wonder what she told him about me, but there are very few things to tell. She either told him about the video she recorded where I was saying things while I was asleep or about the mysterious cut in my arm, or both. After she came to me that day and asked me who Temi is and I told her I don’t know, Mommy has been going from church to church, from one pastor to another, from this Baba to that one. Last week, she came home with a number of perfumes that have this very sharp smells, and every night, she sprinkles them around the house, praying, sometimes speaking in tongues. She comes to my room, too, every night, stands at the door, and watches me for a long time, trying to see if what happened at the hospital would happen again.

The woli looks me in the eyes. “What is her name?”

I look back at him. “Whose name?”

“The lady who visits your dreams?”

“Nobody visits my dreams,” I say.

He asks me to kneel and he calls some three guys. The three guys surround me. The woli stands in front of me, his hands placed on my head. All of them, the three guys and the woli, begin babbling words that have no roots. The woli is shaking, his body dancing as if there’s fire burning in his pants. He is pushing me, trying to make me fall, so that it’ll appear like there is some spirit inside me and that spirit has been touched by Holy Ghost Fire. I don’t move. He keeps pushing, but I am as fixed as a figurine carved into concrete.

Mommy is on her knees, too, eyes closed, saying “Beeni”, “Amin”, “Amin Jesu”, to every word that tumbles out of the woli’s mouth. With the way she kneels and clasps her hands together, with the look on her face, I can see how worried she is on the inside. Until very recently, she was so lean her buba dresses dropped from her shoulders, her collarbones circling a pit around her neck. Every night then, she wouldn’t sleep, she would spend the night sobbing into her pillow. When I saw her the next morning, there would be teary lines on her face.

Those were the days when Sanjo smoked so much that people named him Dragon; the days when he came home once in two weeks to steal Mommy’s money and go and use it to carry girls. Yet, with all the money he took from home, he still went ahead and duped this person or stole from that store. Every once in two months, Mommy and I would go to a police station to bail him out. Mommy believed it was the people from Daddy’s side, our witch aunts, who were trying to destroy her son, even though she knew Sanjo found weed while searching for Daddy. To break the powers of darkness, Mommy would fast and pray every day of the week. She would go for this revival and that crusade, this Bible Study and that prayer meeting, that Counselling service and that deliverance session.

Now that Sanjo has somehow changed, I have become the hole she is trying to fill, even though I don’t know why she is so bothered about Temi.

The woli takes his hands off my head and screams. “Yeeh.” Again, he screams. “Yeeh. Yeeh. Yeeh.” He is doing a kind of dance, trying to make his hands reach behind his back. He is scratching his head now. He runs his hand over his manhood. He is doing a kind of dance, raising his bare feet as if there is fire on the concrete floor of the church. The three other guys are doing the same dance now. They are also trying to make their hands reach their spines. The woli has changed his tone, he sounds like a cat whose leg is dipped in fire.

The bed is soft; the sheets, made from the plumes of different birds, are softer. As we settle into it, my wife and I, it puffs. But before I blink my eyes, its firm under us again. My wife folds her legs: the left leg under the right thigh and the right leg under the left thigh. I just let my legs be the way they are, stretched out, and I rest my back. Gently, she takes my left hand and plays with my fingers, looking me in the eyes. I look away; something shivers softly inside me when I look her in the eyes. I don’t know if it’s the celestial whiteness of her pupils, like fresh cow milk, or the olive green of her irises, or both.

“Did you enjoy what happened today?” she asks me, still holding my hands.

“What happened?” I ask.

She gives me the look. “Really! So you didn’t know I was the one?”

“The one?”

She laughs. She tells me how she came holding two long, slender canes; how she gave the woli and the three guys the beating of their lives.

It is not the first time she would do such a thing. Once, when a group of boys waylaid me and tried to beat me up, she came and poured sand mixed with scent pepper in their eyes. Another time, she shape-shifted into a rock in front of a mad dog on our street that was after me. The dog ran into the rock that no one could see and its skull broke. When the man who owned the dog and his two sons, Ifeanyi and Jeremy, came to our house and said I had stoned their dog to death, my wife became a dog and barked them away. When these things happen, I also don’t see them, because for now, my wife says, our meeting can only be in my sleep.

But I didn’t expect her to do it to a man of God with thick, dirty dreadlocks, who smelled of the mixture of every perfume Mommy brought home to chase the bad spirits in our house away.

“You know, that man, the woli, is a very stupid man,” she says. “Every night, he sleeps with one or two of the girls whose mothers came to the church for protection.”

“Seriously?”

“One of the girls is barely eleven. One is barely thirteen. The other girls are fourteen, fourteen, sixteen, sixteen,” my wife says. “He sleeps with their mothers, too—on Sundays—he calls it a redeeming work.”

These days Mommy has been making so many calls, and her old friends have been showing their faces, each one lining our doorstep with their fine heels or slippers every day.

Today, it is Mommy Abbey. A slightly plump and very short woman who wears too much make up anyone would think she is looking for a man, though she is a mother of seven (two have died, one in a car accident and the other in a fire outbreak), her firstborn child being Abbey. Mommy Abbey and Mommy attended the same primary school in Ibadan and met again in the University of Ilorin where Mommy got a degree in Banking and Finance and Mommy Abbey got a degree in Mass Communication.

She keeps looking at me, even though she has asked me some questions and I have answered every one of them. How is school? When will you write WAEC? You will write JAMB this year abi? I hope you are reading well? Those were the questions and then it slipped into others: Do you have bad dreams? Do you have a girlfriend? Why don’t you have a girlfriend? Don’t you like girls (Mommy gave her a nudge when she asked this question)?

She and Mommy talk about this person or that person and stuffs. Soon, she tells Mommy she will be on her way now. She drinks up the rest of the Trophy that Mommy bought her. “Duro, be a good boy o. Sogbo?” she says, as she picks up her shiny, silver bag, and ties her cream dry-lace at her waist.

“Yes ma.”

At the door, she whispers something in Mommy’s ears. I wonder what it is.

Mommy has been buying a lot of things. Very beautiful women dresses—sunflower gowns, iro and buba, skirts and tops—and pants of various looks and colors; earrings made of beads and those made of gold; a multitude of waist-chains; handmade bracelets and golden bracelets; and leather slippers and shoes. Yesterday, she bought honey, a litter, palm oil, and coconut. Every time I’ve asked her what these things will be used for, she has told me the same thing: She is sending them to Mommy Abbey. When I asked what for, she said, “Mommy Abbey’s sister is getting married.”

When I asked Sanjo if he knew what was going on, he said nothing. When I asked him again, he said, “You better go get a girlfriend.” That night I could tell he was extra-high, he had taken more than just weed. Later, he confirmed Mommy’s words that Mommy Abbey’s sister was getting married.

Today, Mommy comes home with a big-size Ghana-Must-Go bag and she begins placing each and every item she has been buying over the past two weeks inside it. The dresses go first: she folds each one neatly and places it in the bag. When she is done, she begins picking and dropping the pants. Then the slippers and shoes, both of which she has packed in a nylon. Then she drops the bag containing the honey, palm oil, and coconut in there. As she packs the things in the bag, something falls on the tiled floor and makes the sound of hard wood on ceramic. I don’t see what it is, it’s in a black nylon. Mommy picks it up and puts it in the bag before I get the chance to have a look.

“Sanjo,” she calls my brother. “Put this bag in the boot. I’m taking it to Mommy Abbey.” Mommy soon returns from the bedroom where she went to change into a patterned blue gown. “Duro, go and change; let’s go there together.”

In the car, I’m sitting next to Sanjo, he begged Mommy to let him come along with us, and there is a very loud silence. We left home around past three, now it’s past five, almost six in the evening. Until just about two minutes ago, Sanjo has been telling me different things.

He told me about this girl he just broke-up with, who had a very long throat. “Every time we go out, this girl would eat and eat and eat, without even minding that my friends and their own girlfriends were watching her,” he said. “That was not even the thing, the thing was how, after eating two plates of fried rice and peppered chicken, on our way home she’d say, ‘I’m really hungry o.’ And,” he whispered this, “she was not so good in bed.” I laughed. Then he asked, “When will you eat of the forbidden fruit?” “When I turn twenty-four maybe,” I said. He then rolled his eyes and laughed. “I give you till you go to the uni. UNILAG girls will reprogram your head for you.”

He stopped talking when he opened his WhatsApp.

I reach for my earpieces and fill my body with Nina Simone’s music. In my sleep, when we have issues, my wife sings: “Love me, leave me, let me be lonely.” I don’t know when exactly sleep found my eyes.

“Mommy has been buying so many things and I don’t know what she plans to use them for, although she told me they belong to Mommy Abbey,” I tell my wife. “She says her sister is getting married.”

“What are the things Mommy has been buying?”

“Clothes. Women’s clothes. And pants. Some bracelet. Shoes,” I say. The whiteness of my wife’s eyes has a tinge of grey at the edges. “What happened, Temi?”

She does not say a word.

“Temi?”

“Has she bought any figurine?”

“No. I don’t think she bought any,” I say. I think of the nylon-wrapped wood-like stuff that dropped on the tiled floor that Mommy rushed to pick up.  “Will she buy one?”

“You can’t go back to that world,” she says, a touch of plea in her voice that matches the look in her eyes.

“Why?”

“You just can’t.”

“It’s not time yet, right?”

“Yes, but they are trying to break us apart. They want to take you from me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Believe me, you just can’t go back,” she says.

I stand up. “You said I’ll return by the time I finish uni, right? That’s the plan. Presently, Mommy, my brother, and I—we are all going to Mommy Abbey’s place. I just had a nap, that’s why I’m here now. How do you now expect me to not return to my body? Even if you want it to happen, let it be some other time, when I am at home. I can’t just fall asleep and die.”

The fireflies in my wife’s hair grow cold, as if someone doused the light in their bodies with water, the sap-white of her eyes is turning the purple of an eggplant, fresh razor-sharp incisors sprout in her mouth. Each strand of her hair grows into a root, pine green. Behind her back is a bow, in her hands a quiver. I watch as she defies gravity, as her body lifts into the air and refuses to fall.

The room is covered in white wrappers; calabashes, big and small, all striped, sit at every corner. A small wizened man, who Mommy referred to as Baba, dips some leaves into a calabash he is holding and sprinkles something on my sleeping body. As he does this, he chants incantations.

Mommy is on her knees, holding my legs, her eyes almost teary. She has flung her head-tie to some side of the room. At my feet is the Ghana-Must-Go bag that contains the clothes and jewelries and shoes Mommy claimed belonged to her friend.

Baba keeps chanting incantations and sprinkling something on my body.

“That man is looking for trouble,” my wife says as she goes this way and that above me. “They are looking for trouble.”

I don’t know what she has done but I find it very difficult to get out of my sleep. It feels like something has planted my feet here, like I’m bound by some force.

“You belong to me, Duro,” she says, “not to your mother, or brother, or anybody. And I won’t let anyone take what belongs to me.” She descends. She holds my hand the way she does every other night and tells me, “I love you, Duro. I’ll be miserable without you.”

I want to say the same, but I say, “Just give me some minutes to tell Mommy I love her, and while I’m awake, you can crawl into the room as a snake and bite me. And I can join you here forever.”

She looks at me, says no word, and walks away.

Mommy presses my head to her chest as I open my eyes. “Duro, please stay. Please.”

The Baba quickly throws two beaded chains around my right legs, and marks my eyelids with a dark mixture.

“Mommy, I love you,” I say.

“I love you too, oko mi,” she says. “Just stay. Joo. Ma je n foju sukun omo.”

I feel something coiling around my legs, crawling up my body. Baba sprinkles some water on my body and the thing drops to the earth.

“It is the same day that evil is seen that it goes down to dust,” Baba says. “Today, whatever bonds you have made with Duro is broken. Humans do not attend the same market as spirits. Awu, never. The bush goat may sleep with its mother, but will never lay with a chicken. Adaidan, Duro is not your own, gather your legs and bid your feet to other doorsteps.” He unzips the Ghana-Must-Go. “Here are clothes for you, and jewelries, and shoes. Take them and leave.” He picks out something in a nylon and unwraps it, a figurine shaped like a boy, with a long wood at the center of its body. “In place of Duro, we give you this. Here, have your husband.”

Again, I feel something coil around my legs, slithering up my body.

Baba sprinkles water and the thing drops to the floor like a ripe plum from a tree. “Ah, Adaidan. Were you not told? That death has eluded this one the way erection eludes an impotent man. Death that has taken this long to visit cannot take him now.”

I beckon to sleep but each time I try closing my eyes, it feels as if thorns have grown in my eyelids and something pricks me.

A whirlwind rolls in. Everything is losing stability. Baba is trying to hold up his body with his legs.

From the whirlwind she emerges, my wife. Her eyes are the same as earlier, her hair the same fibrous roots, but now they also look like snakes tied together at their tails, and she has grown hair all over her. Behind her back is a bow, arrows in the quiver, strapped to her waist.

“Duro is my own.” Her voice fills the room and shakes everything up.

“You lie. You lie. What game does a human play with a spirit?”

I don’t know when she pulls the bow or when she fixes the arrow in and shoots but I see a slim-bodied thing flying towards Baba. It misses him by a hair’s breath.

Baba digs his hand behind a gourd and pulls out a gun. “Since the spirit won’t depart in peace, here, have your meal . . . ”

The bangs of two gunfire shots fill the room, and smoke, and then wailing—the wailing of a dying animal, of a woman who just lost a child. The wailing becomes distant as time moves.

When the smoke clears, it’s just me in Mommy’s arms, pressed to her chest, her breathing in my ears, and Baba, blood in his hand—the arrow left a gash on his neck.

Tonight, in my sleep, my wife is an antelope with blood drooping from a side of her belly. I call her but she keeps running from me. I run after her, following the blood, till I get to a riverbank, where I watch her slip into the river.

About the Author

Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí is a writer from Nigeria. Some of his works have appeared/ forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review, Yemassee, Glass, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry, Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology, Down River Road Review, among other places. He is an assistant editor at Counterclock, a prose reader at The Masters Review, and a poetry reader at Palette. He is also curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology.