Fellow Azen of Ubiaja, I greet you.
Thank you all very much for responding to my invitation at such short notice, though we would all agree that this meeting is long overdue. Our people say that the rabbit does not run in the daytime except something is in hot pursuit. Fellow Azen of Ubiaja, indeed, something has pursued me here.
There is no one present who does not know who is talking. My name is Anukhimegiele. I am pain, and darkness and death. I shot out of my mother’s womb nibbling on my umbilical cord with fully formed teeth.
I am the long-beaked Vulture that perched on a man’s roof and pecked at his entrails on the dismal morning of his passing.
The troublesome, loud-mouthed women in the market-place I make pass blood in their urine. Those who cannot keep their fortunes to themselves I make unfortunate.
Yes, you know me very well, just as I know you.
I can read the bewilderment on your faces. I know the story you are waiting for me to tell. You want to know why it rained beheaded birds one night in this village some moons ago and the following morning, strange, mutilated corpses of some of our people were discovered in their houses. This is the reason why I called all of you here.
I will tell you what happened today, and afterwards you will attempt an explanation as to why it happened because it has eluded my understanding.
You all are aware that we, the Azen of Ubiaja, are well-known to be the most powerful of the six villages that make up Amenrukhi. No Azen in Uromi, or Eguae or Eworhinmwin even comes close to grazing the hems of our wrappers. Otu nor? We are not mates. It is because of our unrivaled skill in Azencraft that no one dares lob bad medicine to our villagers. It would only backfire without harming a strand of the person’s hair. Indeed, it has been said of our village that looking for our trouble is equivalent to poking a scorpion in the ribs. We are so adept in the affairs of the supernatural that people from other villages come to us to help them throw or remove Otagba. Some of us have been hired in time past to prove ourselves and we have always seamlessly triumphed over our adversaries.
It saddens me therefore to say that very recently, our coven was terribly desecrated and disgraced. Our reputation as the most influential and powerful Azencraft coven in all six villages has been tarnished.
Considering the gravity of the denigration, you all may hang your heads in shame while in the midst of Azen from other covens.
Awa, you say? Moons ago and I would have thought it an abomination as well.
So, what is this thing that has happened?
Many moons ago, a high chief from Eworhinmwin woke the Rooster at Illobekhemwen’s compound to report someone absurd in his village. You may have heard of this man—one of those men who have abominations hanging over their heads—called Egiemwen. The chief reported that since Egiemwen joined the white-man’s religion, he no longer had any regard for the tradition of their fathers. He left the Evil Forest, where people like him had been condemned to live forever, and entered the village.
When the elders confronted him, he told them that the white-man had taught him that he was not born with Awa on his head as the gods had pronounced at his birth so he could eat in the same bowl of Ehma and wash his hands with the same gourd of water as the other villagers!
Yes, I know. He might as well have claimed to be one of us, since he had such desire to be atrocious. But let me finish the story.
The problem was, one by one the villagers started to see reason with his madness. Many of them abandoned their personal ehis and embraced the white-man’s God like a man would receive a new bride.
Naturally, the elders were infuriated by this new development and sought to put Egiemwen and his followers in their place by showing them whose god had more power. Consequently, they decided to request for our services. It was easy enough (or so we had thought).
That turbulent evening, fourteen of us converged at this same spot to hunt down Egiemwen’s spirit. Only three of us came out alive, with our heads intact. Or am I wrong, Uyoya? Amurhukpa?
What happened to the remaining eleven?
As we were summoning his spirit, we heard the snapping of necks before we heard their guttural screams. Then, by a powerful force unknown, they were all hurled down to the earth, the flames of their spirits extinguished like oil lamps in a wind storm.
Never had our coven recorded such a tragic loss. The events of that night would forever be painfully seared into the memories of the survivors like the imprint of a fire brand on human flesh.
Fellow Azen of Ubiaja, now you know the whole story.
Eleven of our Azen were mysteriously massacred, their supernatural bodies dismembered.
Uyoya’s wings were charred by the fire that engulfed her as she tried to flee from the incredible power. Amenrukhi was afflicted with unbearably painful boils all over her body that endured through weeks of rigorous herbal treatment.
And what about me?
As a little child, I fell from a tree branch and split my skull open. I simply mended it with black soil and rubber sap and my two legs carried me home.
But that night, I transformed back to my human form with the greatest of difficulties; my body feeling as though it had been massaged with yam peels and fresh pepper. I would not have survived the night if I had not immediately bathed in very potent medicine.
Is there really a power that is greater than the black blood that runs through my veins? I, the cold wind that hovers over the village when a man dies prematurely? The devourer of little children’s limbs?
What is this power that dealt with a staggering eleven of our Azen? What is this power that only three of us narrowly escaped from? Could the God that Egiemwen and his people serve truly be more powerful than Olokun or Omoluve? More powerful than us?
Does anyone of you here know the answers to my questions? If you do, let me listen. I am aching with curiosity.
Once again, I greet you.
Otu nor? –Is it a contest?
Otagba –Medicine made through black magic.
Ehma –Pounded yam.
Michelle Enehiwealu Iruobe is a writer and law student from Nigeria. She writes both speculative and literary fiction and juggles her time between studying and storytelling. Her works are published/forthcoming in Lolwe, African Writer Magazine and Kalahari Review