I stared at the empty bottles of Star on the glass table and the plates that still had some bits leftover chin-chin, a wry smile on my face as my most recent visitors came to my mind. I could still see Senator Madueke seated on the couch, his white handkerchief that had turned brown landed on his face from time to time to wipe the sweat that was not there. How would he feel heat when the AC was turned to the lowest temperature. On his left was Sir Ommekannaya, a big personality in the Catholic Church where I also worshiped—Church Of Assumption. He was the patron of the Block Rosary Crusade and had single-handedly constructed the building that was used for Children Mass and other church activities. Unlike Madueke that had been wiping invisible sweat from his face, Ommekannaya was shaking his legs, an act that was unfamiliar with him. He gulped glass after glass of alcohol, and by the time they were walking out of the door, he was stumbling slightly, his eyes a fierce red. It was only a week, and the difference was shown clearly on them.
Last week Sunday, the priest had mentioned two people during his introductory rites—Dr. Stella Madueke and Lady Georgina Ommekannaya. He had ended the news with “May the souls of the faithful departed” and the answer had been poor because the news had been shocking to the congregation, who were used to the woman who was at the forefront of almost all the societies in the church—Catholic Women Organisation, Sacred Heart Of Jesus, Mother Of Perpertual Help. Lady Georgina never missed a meeting or even morning mass. She was also in charge of the weekly church cleaning, and often donated huge amounts of money to the St. Monica’s School for disabled children. Her very close friend, Dr. Stella was not an active members in the weekly activities in the church, but her Women Development Program which she had started in the church was helping the women in the local government, including those who were not Catholics. Of course, the death of the two women would come as a surprise to everyone especially the recipients of their goodwill. Much more puzzling was that they had died on the same day, and at relatively close time. Dr. Stella had laid on her table in the office for a short nap, and when her secretary had gone to wake her up, her body was already cold. Lady Georgina had slumped on the floor in the hospital where she had gone to visit one of the choir members that had recently been admitted. All attempts to revive her by the doctors and nurses failed. Her death occurred just minutes after Dr. Stella’s death had reached the ears of her husband in his office.
The atmosphere in the large church remained gloomy, even the offertory hymns were not sang with as much gusto as it usually was. I was on my seat, felt myself nodding off as the priest preached about eternal life and getting ready for the coming of Jesus. He extolled the virtues of the two women, who had contributed greatly to the development of the church. Following the announcement with the need for us to go to the homes of the two families for condolence visits.
The mass ended in a gloomy state and as soon as the priest entered the sacristy, the church became rowdy with sorrowful mourns from some of the congregation. A large crowd had gathered around the two men as the shouts of “St. Vincent de Paul, Help the poor” punctuated the atmosphere. Soon, two of the church’s big buses filled to the brim with church members who started the journey first to the senator’s home, after which they would visit Omekannaya’s home. Some had opted to go with their private cars, and then within minutes it would be filled to the brim with church members.
“Dike, are we going?” my petite wife asked me. Her red gele was already losing off, so I removed it earning a glare from her.
I chuckled as I stroke her wig, “We will go later, when the crowd has reduced at their homes.”
I didn’t tell her that I didn’t plan on going at all, that would earn a series of preaching from her. As much as I loved listening to my wife rant, it would definitely not be about those two scums, they were not worth it.
I entered the car and watched as she dismissed the two women who had been planning on going with us.
“This life eh! So fickle,” she had sighed as soon as I drove my blue Highlander out of the church. “I spoke to Stella just that morning. She was saying that her supplier had brought some wrappers from Dubai, that I could come and choose the one that I wanted, can you imagine?” She shook her head in disbelief.
I looked away with a wry smile, “Sometimes it is not life. It is we that bring death on ourselves.”
She looked at me with disapproval, “What did those two women do that deserve death?”
Marry the wrong men, I thought.
“They are the women with the purest of heart. They don’t deserve this kind of death,” my wife mourned, “Good people indeed died young.”
Good people? I thought with a sneer. What would my naive wife say if she knew what Georgina did with the gateman and the driver? What would she say if she found out about the underground business that her friend Stella ran, the sex market that she ran and that fueled her husbands business? What if she knew the underground wars that went on between all the big men that attended Church Of Assumption. What if she knew that it was Senator Madueke and Sir Omekannanya had caused their wives’ death?
But of course, she wouldnt’t know. Her positive, kind heart would not let her believe that underneath the riches of men, there usually lay a power that was frighteningly powerful.
I was brought back to the present by a light tap on my shoulder, “Dike, you should go in and sleep.” My wife’s soft voice struck at my heartstrings, dispelling the negative thoughts from my mind. I smirked as I pulled her to me, her squeals making me laugh.
“Stop that,” she slapped at my wandering hands. “What did Sir Omekannaya and the senator come to discuss?” She peered at me with curious eyes.
“Their wives’ burial,” I said without missing a beat. I couldn’t tell her that they had come to beg me to save their cult.
“Oh!” she kept quiet, I could see the gloom gradually take over the happiness in her.
“Don’t think about it now,” I tickled her, happy when she giggled and returned the favour. Well, the night ended like every other night, with us tangled up in our matrimonial bed, and my wife’s moans beating off the walls of our bedroom.
Night-time was our time. The time where from different homes, transparent bodies flew out, heading to different directions. I wasn’t any different. I stared down at my body, entangled with that of my wife on the bed. I pecked her on the cheek before I walked through my door, down the stairs and into my study. That was my passageway. I slid in through the flower pot and reappeared in a red room, candles burning at different angles, rich with the scent of leaves and flowers. The ground was not cemented rather it was filled with dark loamy soil. The feeling of my barefeet against the soil, filled me with a satisfaction that nothing else could bring me. Plants were sprouting at different areas, I was careful not to step on any of them. The chairs around a long table located in the middle of the room were already occupied by figures dressed in black and red robes. They stood up as soon as I arrived. In the silence, a low hum was made as I walked to the seat located at the head of the table, the hum corresponding with my slow steps. I got to the table, and waited as the figures in the room went through the normal chant:
“We are the lions, the winners, the victors. We are powerful. We are strong. We fear no one, we will crush our enemies. We will stand tall against all men. We always succeed.”
I resisted the urge to laugh at their theatrics. It had been Godwin’s idea to chant the sentences, everytime we gathered. I didn’t understand why he insisted on it, but he and I were the founders of the cult, and so I had allowed him to introduce the practice.
I sat down on the chair, and others bowed before they sat down. We sat in silence as one of the figures stood up and poured a liquid from a calabash into a glass tumbler. He brought the glass to me, his head bowed down in reverence. I took the cup from his hand and took a sip. I resisted the urge to throw-up the bitter liquid. I and Godwin had gone through a lot to find a replacement for the warm metallic red liquid that cults like theirs were supposed to drink during their night meetings. It was after mixing a number of drinks that they were able to get a drink that corresponded with our theme.
Roaring Lions was the only name I could think of when I decided to create the cult that was a shift from the norm.
“When you give reverence to something, you breath life into it,” this was what a fortune-teller from India had told me, once during those years when I had been hiding from the custom officers in London. My girlfriend, Avery had once forced me to have my hands read by a fortune teller. I never did believed in those things, being a staunch Catholic. But in order to appease the auburn-haired girl, I had handed the fortune-teller my left hand, resisting the urge to burst out laughing. And after the ‘reading’ my hand, the fortune-teller had only looked at me and muttered those words with an air of mystery and other-worldliness. A laughter had bubbled out of my mouth the instant I left the tent, and I had received a mouthful from Avery.
The words of the fortune-teller came back to me, three weeks after I had been deported back to Nigeria. I met up with a friend, who was a Evangelist. And while I narrated his unsuccessful trip to abroad where I had expected to make it and return gloriously to Nigeria, the friend went on to tell me about the ‘real business world’, a world that the weak could not survive in. Despite the warnings of the friend against any diabolical means, I had found myself the next week in a dark room, listening to a man dressed in black tell me to bring a picture of my girlfriend. Anyone that knew me, also knew that I was deeply romantic. It had made me a target for my friends when I was in the university, and I was given the tag ‘the romantic boyfriend’. I became the role model for all the guys that were close to me, their girlfriends would say “Can’t you be a bit more romantic like Ifeanyi?” And on more than one occasion, there had been girls who had approached me to teach their boyfriends how to be romantic.
And being told to bring my girlfriend’s picture was something that went against one of my greatest beliefs, Women were special. I knew what would become of my girlfriend the instant I gave her picture to the black-robed big-bellied man. She would either run mad, like the girls that had been recently trending on the media or have her womb destroyed. Of course, my girlfriend then was now my wife—Kelechi. The fact that she had been with me despite when I told her that I had been deported from London, that she had been with me when I was broke and jobless, and that she had a pure heart and trusted me, blindly believing everything that came out of my mouth, after all these I didn’t have the heart to put her, or even any other woman through the pains my own mother had gone through.
And so, by a slim chance, I was able to abandon that cult without much loss. My parents were still alive, my siblings had not been used to get blood money, and the most important, my wife had not been affected.
It was then that the words of the fortune-teller came back to me. What made people so firm in the belief of blood money? It was because when you believe so much in something, you breath life into it. When you feed a dog raw meat, it might not eat it for the first time but after the second and third times, it would hunger for more raw meat. And it was the same thing with cults, when you believe that you can exchange human life for money, it might not work out the first time, and the second time was not a gaurantee, but when you have fed that belief with the most powerful thing on earth—human life, you give life to that belief, and it becomes your god. It begins to feed on your belief, and when you cannot feed them by giving them blood, they target your own blood, and your family becomes the target.
That is exactly what led me to create ‘Lion’s Heart’. In simple terms, it was a caricature of your typical cult, rather it didn’t feed on blood, but rather on nature.
Godwin was my partner in crime. At first, it had merely been a topic to joke about between ourselves (he had been told by another secret cult to bring the blood of someone close to him), and after life had dealt with us on the streets of Lagos, we turned the jokes into serious matters. Soon, we were buying plots of lands and planting huge plantations.
I was not a businessman. I was an agriculturist, but like some business men, I also had something spiritual backing me up, and that spirit was nature, the purest form of life.
It was funny how many people disregarded nature. Nature was pure, it was rich, it was divine. Nature could not be defeated. And so, with my belief in nature, I started my agricultural enterprise. Of course, there had to be a sacrifice, and the sacrifice was the land I had inherited from my father. The large plot of land had a rich soil, and was highly rated. The first crops that I had planted on the land, grew richly. But, it had to be given up.
Inheriatance was a powerful word. It had a lot of power attached to it. It was something that was passed down from your ancestors, and so the instant I sacrificed that plot of land for my prosperity, it lost all value in the eyes of the public, but to me, its value increased. It became the primary source of my income, the mother that channeled growth to my other plantations in different parts of the country. The empty plot of land, that lost all its richness and was now just a ground for dumping refuse became the land of life for my enterprise. It wasn’t surprising that when I made a plantation on a land that had been declared infertile, it would suddenly become fertile and produce rich crops.
My power came from nature. I didn’t need to kill to make millions, I didn’t need to sacrifice my parents for money. My mother had been the target of a money ritual when she had been younger; a ‘slay queen’ in her early twenties, she had once dated a guy who wanted to use her for blood money. It had been a difficult time for my mother, and she spent days in the church, fasting and praying, going for night vigils, before she was finally able to save herself and the child in her womb, my elder sister. And to think that the man responsible for it still had the guts to approach me for help.
I picked up the phone and dialed a number. I could hear the surprise in the tone of the other person as he said, “Good evening, Chief.”
“I will help you,” I said, “But it has to be on my own terms. But after this, I am taking over the Brotherhood of Ekemmuo.”
I could feel the happiness as he said, “We will listen to you, Chief. We just need you to help us destroy the Wolves. We will do it your own way.”
I hung up the call with a grin. My own way was different, a series of change was going to hit the town. What Brotherhood of Ekemmuo, what Wolves, what Universal Brotherhood, I was going to crush them all. Without shedding the blood of anyone, I would show them the powet of Nature, the power of The Lions.
Even if blood was spilled, it would be their fault, they who traded blood for money, who offered the lives of their family in exchange for wealth.
Sir Ommekannaya, I thought, This is just the beginning.