I am going to spend a good percentage of my life in Lagos, the western part of Nigeria. But I share an intense love for Imo, in the east of Nigeria. More importantly, it hosts my friendship with Adanna that withstood the test of time. I don’t exactly remember our first meeting, and my farthest memory of her is quite vague. She took a nasty beating in my stead. If anything, I remember this incident vividly because it marked the beginning of my love for Adanna. It was the agbalumo season. The guys and I went on our usual escapade to chief Uzondu’s farm. His farm had the biggest, ripest and sweetest agbalumo. Adanna always fought with me whenever I referred to her as ‘one of my guys.’ From a very young age, she had always preferred to be addressed as the only young lady in the group, and not as one of the guys. It is quite unclear how we got to the farm as it was far from our house. I bet as boys within the age range of seven to ten, we went there on foot and ill clad.
Adanna, the only girl in the group agreed to watch the road as I, the most inquisitive of us, chose to climb the tree. Her duty was the hardest as it involved convincing people with no plausible reason to not take the path that led to the farm. Her coast was usually clear, her job done to perfection. But on that day, luck decided to leave our side. My uncle did not fall for Adanna’s attempt at discouragement. He took the path. Her SOS call was a loud scream. We heard it, and in my attempt to jump from the tree to get to our hideout, I hurt my knees. I looked for my friends and realised they had all deserted. The great pain seemed to pierce straight into my knee cap, and I cried out. My loud cry attracted the attention of uncle Emeka, as well as Adanna as they both came to my aid. They rushed me to Mother. As the second of three wives and the mother of Father’s opara, she was duly respected both by her husband and the other wives. Because of my almost severe condition and Mother’s unending sobs, I was not beaten. My uncle narrated the situation to Father, and the latter took the matter to Adanna’s parents. Weeks later, I found out Adanna had been severely flogged at home and starved breakfast for running around with me.
Some days ago, about six years after the agbalumo fiasco, the day after our graduation from junior secondary school, Mother called me to her room and spoke to me.
“Obim, I have to tell you something.” My first reaction was anxiety, and it slowly converted to fear when she lifted a part of her wrapper and cleaned fresh tears from her eyes. For a second I thought I had done something wrong and she had to save me with her tears. I looked up at her and tried to search her eyes. She closed them and moved me closer to her chest for a hug. Then she broke into my thoughts.
“I’ll miss you, Obim.” I smiled up at her and asked, “Mama where are you going?”
She replied, now smiling, “Your father will tell you.” She began to cry again. I noticed the wrinkles beneath her eyes and wondered exactly how old this woman was.
Father shouted my name from his room. I left Mother and ran there like my life depended on it. As I entered the room, I saw him seated on his bed.
“Come and eat, Chinedu,” he said calmly as usual. I smiled politely and replied, tilting my head downwards as usual, “Thank you, sir. I have eaten from mother.” He ordered me to sit. I did that without making a sound as I knew Father hated feet dragging. He washed both hands carefully after his meal and ordered one of my elder sisters, Ifeoma, to pick up the dishes. Father cleared his throat ever so casually and hit his staff on the floor. He was about to speak.
“Chinedu, since you are done with your junior school education, you are going to Lagos to further your studies.”
After dinner, when the moon came out, I went out to sit beneath my favourite tree at our hideout to think about the events earlier that night. This tree was just behind Father’s compound and a stone’s throw from Adanna’s house. All I heard was the rhythmical sound of rustling leaves. My thoughts were all surrounded by the knowledge that I would soon be leaving this homely village for the scary city of Lagos. No wonder my mom had been crying. I was going to miss her, too. If for nothing else, I was going to miss her unique method of cooking ofensala. I looked up and saw Adanna coming my way. Then it occurred to me. None of my friends could come to Lagos with me! Adanna could not leave because she was a girl, and girls ended up in a man’s kitchen. Besides, the rest of my friends didn’t have parents with such big plans for them. They would all continue attending the community school at the village. They would not get to explore like me. My eyes held tears threatening to pour. I held back the tears. A man was never to cry. I looked up and feigned a look of surprise. The smile on her face was so bright under the moon light as I stood up for her to sit on the best part of the seat. She had grown taller than me. She rubbed her head and mumbled something I did not hear as my thoughts had driven me far away. Her hand on her head reminded me of her silly reason she gave for not plaiting her hair.
“Making my hair is very painful and it makes people know I am a girl. And you know girls are believed to be weak. I can’t be seen as a weak person. Besides, I could use the time other girls use to make their hair to do my homework or even play with you guys,” she had said. Ironic was her adamant desire to not be referred to as one of the guys. I smiled. One of the things that still fascinated me about her was her ability to change her facial expressions in record time. The smack she gave my shoulder brought me out of my reverie and back to reality. I took my eyes off her head to her face. She frowned deeply and crossed her hand over her growing breasts.
“What?” Her voice hinted a note of annoyance as she retorted. “Are you even listening to me at all? Besides, why are you staring at my face like that?” I ignored her question and touched the scar I found on her arm.
“What happened to you here?” Her reply was nowhere near brief. “My mom almost killed me when I broke my father’s mug that aunty Chika brought for him from Lagos. It is even still paining…”
At the mention of Lagos, I remembered my own situation. I cut her speech, my voice unnecessarily loud.
“I am going to Lagos in two days time.” Her expression changed. I could sense she was crestfallen. The she broke into a small sob. I hugged her lightly, just as I hugged Mother. I whispered in her ear, “I will come back for you, don’t worry.” She looked up at my face and smiled. Flowers were her eyes. Then she whispered, looking straight into my eyes, “I love you.” I guessed she did not really know the meaning of the statement she just made. She brought her lips close to mine, and I felt hot air from her lips as they parted slowly. She kissed me.
“Let me tell you a secret,” she whispered when we came out of our trance. “I have thought about this day so much in the past few days that I can even recite some of the words.” She seemed so sure of what she was about to say. I took a deep breath and smiled at her in anticipation. “I have magic.”
“Really?” I asked, my sarcasm giving way to genuine inquisition. She looked into my eyes and her face broke into a sad smile.
“I cannot really perform yet. You know magic is used by many people for healing, keeping away evil, seeking truth, and even for revenge. I started…found out six years ago. My mom told me of how she had me. She had been in my father’s house for about eight years and her pregnancies had been miscarried four times. She decided against mine as a miscarriage and took a spiritual step. In her search for help, she met a magician who told her that if he touched her bulging belly she’d give birth safely. The child would be made of magic. The magic is both an advantage and a disadvantage depending on what it is used for. That’s how I have magic.”
I took a deep breath. “Honestly, I don’t know what to say.”
“I could perform some tricks for you, though,” she said, suddenly livened up. I nodded slowly in anticipation. She rolled her hands in circular motions, whispered some words, and like a scene from a fantastic story book, the words came alive. She wasn’t done. My eyes grew wide in astonishment. The dried, rustling leaves aligned and formed something resembling a smiling face. I shrieked back in fear.
In the midst of my reverie, I spotted Mr. Eze, a village chief who enjoyed snooping on mischievous teenagers. From his bewildered look, he had been watching us. Adanna was still in her realm. She had not opened her eyes yet and was totally oblivious to her surrounding, even my prodding for her to come back. She was still mumbling words when Mr. Eze walked up to us. He pointed his staff at the dead leaves that had formed the face. Then he made a funny facial expression and started to whisper strange words in Igbo. He then dropped his staff in confusion and ran away into the night. I looked back at Adanna, her strength sapped. She sat helplessly on the ground. I smiled at her as she opened her eyes briefly. As if by impulse, she closed them shut.
“The light is too bright,” she said in a very small voice. I stared at her in disbelief. Wasn’t it the regular moonlight? When had the moonlight ever been too bright? She opened her eyes again, this time very slowly. Then she grinned at me and asked, “How was it?” I couldn’t give a reply, and she went on, “That was supposed to be very simple, but I lost all strength doing it.” She started to ramble, her voice hinting her impatience “You know, I can only perform these two: conjuring and disappearing.”
“How did you even learn that? You did not say your mother had magic.” She smiled again.
“My mother does not want to accept that I have magic. I have a tutor that guides me in my dreams. He comes every night. The thing he worries about the most is me trying to tell anyone I have magic. But I love you, do you remember that? I cannot keep secrets from the one I love.” She lowered the loudness of her voice and continued, “You can’t tell anyone what I have just told you.” I nodded in affirmation.
“Do you love me, Chinedu?” I nodded, trying hard to convince myself that I did.
“Then why have you not said it when I have said mine twice?”
“I love you even more than you know it.” I saw her smile appreciatively. Then she put her hand in her pocket and brought out something that looked like an expensive precious stone. She untangled my necklace and added the stone as one of its pendant. “Whenever you think of me or need my help in Lagos, rub this pendant.”
It was a family custom to wake up at 5am. At 4:30am, I stirred in my sleep. I woke up and looked at the G-shock my eldest sister, Amarachi bought for me from Lagos. It was only 4:32am. There was much noise coming from Adanna’s house. I stood up from my bed, trying to not wake my younger brother. I entered the toilet and sat on the seat to dump my early morning load. The swooshing of the toilet indicated that the load had gone down the pipe. I did not need extra water, I smiled in satisfaction. The noise had grown louder. As much as my curiosity tried to drag me out of my room to check out the cause of the noise, my need for sleep was greater. I stayed on my bed quietly and then I began to wonder what Mr. Eze’s problem had been last night. I had told my mom about Adanna’s magic and then went far outside the compound to clear my head. Mother did not seem very interested in the news. I wondered if Adanna would mind, considering that I only told someone I loved. I also wondered what Mr. Eze had come to do in our house last night. As I entered the house again, I saw him leaving, his face plastered with what was akin to pity. Couldn’t he have waited till it was dawn before he reported to Father my misadventures under the tree? Gossips! My instincts kept nagging me to get out of bed. Despite the fact that it was earlier than usual, I got up and did my chores quickly. When the noise got too loud, I decided for a peek. As I stood and looked out of our gate, I saw an angry mob.
I felt sorry as people turned and spat in disgust. What could be the problem? As I returned from my bath, I heard Father shouting my name from a distance. I ran to heed his call. He saw me and feigned a smile.
“I guess the gods chose you,” he said. He took me by the hand out of the compound, and I saw the appalling sight.
“Chinedu, save me. I need help!” My adrenaline pumped, and I shouted in sudden realisation and fear.
“Chinedu, stay where you are,” said the voice I had always feared since I was a child as I rushed forward to save her. I felt powder blow into my face. Suddenly, I couldn’t move. It seemed like I had become paralysed. My brain blanked out as I felt my body hit the ground.
When I woke up, I looked up and saw Mother’s face. It seemed to have grown more wrinkles. It looked like there were no white in her eye sockets. She smiled down at me. I looked around, and my memories flashed back.
“Where is Adanna?” Mother frowned and I saw that look again in her eyes, those tears falling freely from her eyes and that part of her wrapper going up to mop them. She smiled again and replied, “she vanished.” Now I had grown both confused and impatient.
“Mama, what does that mean?” She answered me in a tone that commanded me to stop talking and listen. “They had poured a gallon of kerosene on her and gbam! She disappeared into thin air as they tried to put fire.”
“Where is my G-shock?” I asked, trying to pull the news off me. Mother looked at me in disbelief before we were interrupted by Father’s voice. He had entered the room gracefully and he smiled at me. He looked at my mom. “Ezinne, excuse me. I want to talk to my son.” She obeyed and left the room as quietly as Father had entered. Father cleared his voice.
“How are you, son?” I did not look up at him. Nevertheless, he launched into his story.
“You know my first son is my strength.” I looked up at him in disgust as I wondered what that had to do with anything. “When you found out that Adanna was a witch, why did you tell your weak mother? You should have come to tell me directly.” I sat up and looked at him in disbelief. I looked at my arm and realised there was a drip connected to my arm. He continued his speech. “Do you know you could have done this family a favour if you had told me? I could even earn another title, but then you went ahead and told your mother.”
“Papa, please leave my room,” I said, shocked at the sheer bravery of my speech. It was his turn to look at me in disbelief. His face changed to that of concern as he continued his speech, paying no attention to my rude comment. “Mr. Eze was given the prize because your mother went and narrated the entire episode to him instead of coming to tell me.” Mother had suddenly appeared. She stood there crying, weak, just like Father had described her to be. I stood up in annoyance, entered the bathroom and locked myself in.
When it turned dark, I stood up from my bed, went into the kitchen and picked up a box of matches. I fondled the pendant affectionately.
“I must avenge Adanna,” I chanted on my way to Mr. Eze’s house. When I reached the house, I snuck into their generator house and found two gallons of fuel. I opened both gallons and spilled the petrol, starting from the kitchen. The moon as my only light, I traced the liquid to the gate of the house.
“Hey, who is that?” a voice called out as I dropped a gallon. I tried to light the first match stick, and the cool night breeze killed the flame. I guided the second match stick as I dropped it in a patch of flowers close to the gate, where I ended the petrol. In seconds, the fire had travelled, following the pattern I had set. Mr. Eze’s house was ablaze.
I took the journey back in fear. When I reached home, I entered the bathroom and washed both the stench and memory of what I had just done. I rubbed my pendant for solace. My eyes widened in astonishment as Adanna appeared beside me. She looked more beautiful and her hair was full and black.
“Thank you,” she said, linking our fingers. “But, let me do you this favour.” She raised her other hand revealing something that looked like a wand. She twirled it and it made a swooshing sound.
I woke up the next morning to the beeping sound of my G-shock. I greeted my parents. Everything seemed normal. I stood up quickly and walked in hurried steps to Mr. Eze’s house. The entire place was darkened in soot. I stood dazed. I walked back to Mother.
“Mother, what happened to Mr. Eze’s house?” She looked genuinely surprised. Although she took a deep breath, her reply was short and straightforward.
“Nobody knows. His house caught fire with his entire family in it. A sad thing indeed. No one knows the cause of the fire. That reminds me, Adanna is waiting for you at your hideout, but don’t stay too long. Come back home for lunch. I’ve packed your bag already. Remember you are going to Lagos tomorrow.”
is a multiple award-winning writer and at the moment an entrepreneur. Presently, she is a student of English at the University of Lagos. She is the author of several short stories. She currently runs a personal blog: kemesecret.blogspot.com.