I was struck with surprise as I heard what came out of the soothsayer’s mouth.
“Ask for anything you want and I would give it to you.”
Those words, I listened to her, no longer bothered by the smell of rotting onions that filled the dark room.
“What I want?” I asked.
“Yes, just mention what you want,” she said again. Her voice reminded me of cold Indomie.
What did I want? At this time the only thing I could think of was money and power. I was not poor, I had enough money to feed my wife but I didn’t want okay, I wanted wealth and power. The memory of my elder brother casting me out of his storey building home with a wide compound and exotic cars parked in the garage was enough for me to make up my mind.
“Wealth,” I said without a hitch, “I want wealth.”
The soothsayer peered at me from dark clothes that covered her nose and mouth,
“Yes,” I said with a firm nod.
She nodded. “You can go home, but before I grant your wish, I want to see your wife.”
I frowned, “My wife?” What has she got to do with this? Was it…? I stood up, “Why do you want to see my wife?”
Her eyes wrinkled with laughter, I couldn’t see her mouth but I knew it would be wearing a weird grin.
“I don’t want to do anything to her. I just need a few words from her.”
I didn’t let my guard down. How could I let my wife come to this type of place? How could I let her know what I was about to do, that I was about to seek fortune from a soothsayer, when we were supposed to be staunch Christians, Christians who abhorred any sort of evil, any sinful means of getting money?
“She wouldn’t come here. I would go to see her,” she stood up from her mat. A putrid smell enveloped my nose. I fought the urge to throw-up.
“I can’t let you see my wife,” I blurted. My prim and proper wife with her permed hair and pump shoes could not bear to be around anything she deemed dirty and contagious. This soothsayer could not even stand near her.
“You forget the person you are dealing with,” a voice spiraled through my mind. I jumped with fear. A coarse laughter brushed my ears. “Don’t worry. I will meet her by myself on my own terms. You cannot interfere again. I will give you what you want, the rest leave it to me. You have no business here again,” she said dismissively.
“What—?” the words were cut off by a gusty wind. I shielded my eyes from the debris in the wind and by the time I looked up, I was no longer in the dark room. I was back in my room, the red plate which I had opened some minutes ago was now empty, the contents had disappeared. Even the inscriptions around the plate had cleared off. It was now like any other plate.
I tossed it aside with disbelief, how could I believe this nonsense? When the old woman had given my the plate on my way back from my shop, I had only collected it out of politeness. I had placed a five hundred naira note inside the plate where she sat by the roadside. I was hit with surprise when she caught up with me as I entered a keke. She had handed me the plate, I didn’t want to collect it, but she persisted and the keke driver was getting impatient, so I took it from her reluctantly. When I had gotten home, I had opened the plate in curiosity. The red plate was made of ceramic, with an exotic design. How could it be in the hands of a beggar? Around the plate were inscriptions in a language that I couldn’t read. There were drawings of women dancing, their hands raised in an elegant swish. It seemed life, their waist moving to the rhythm of a music. I forced my eyes from the drawings and opened the plate. Inside the plate was a piece of paper wrapped around a clay model of a man.
Struck with fear, I threw the plate and its contents aside. The plate fell to the tiled floor, but didn’t break. My heart thumped with dread. What was this? I thought of the breakthrough crusades that had been organized by the church, pictures buried with red bands, clay figurines tied with their hands behind them. I didn’t have much, what was this for? Who wanted to tie me down? I mentally went through my relatives, but I couldn’t guess who wanted to pull me down. I thought of the five hundred naira note that I had given to the old woman, I could imagine a group of old women seated in a circle, chanting and humming, the five hundred naira note inside a bowl in their middle, my picture on the mirror above them.
I was finished, my small business was gone! Filled with fear, I picked up the plate and its contents as well as the swan bottle of kerosene that I kept by my bedside for the lamp. I was going to burn it, I decided. As I burned it, I would cast out the demons that had been summoned to deal with me. I wasn’t a powerful evangelist, but I could speak in tongues. I counted as one of the strongest members of our prayer ministry. I couldn’t just seat down and do nothing.
Just as I made to leave the room, the paper fell out of my hands. I picked it and unconsciously read the words on the paper. As soon as my eyes laid on the last word on the paper, I felt the world spinning around me. I sat down when I felt dizzy. When I got myself, I was in the dark room facing the old woman. It happened in few minutes, I couldn’t tell if it was real or if it was just a dream. My heart was still thumping with fear, I placed the plate on my table and laid down. It was already late but Nnenna, my wife wasn’t home yet. She might take a while with Lagos evening traffic. She was six months pregnant and still having to deal with the stress of going to work, jumping over water puddles, struggling to get into buses, taking bikes over bumpy spoilt roads. I didn’t want her to go through this, but with my small electronic business, what other option did we have.
My lips stretched out in a smile when I thought of her reaction when she came back to fresh ora soup with chunks of dry fish and goat meat, well-pounded fufu in a flask. Ora was her favorite. If she couldn’t rest this period, I had to do what I could to make her happy.