It all began that night. Yes, that night would not be forgotten so easily. The croaking of frogs, fluttering wings of fruit bats, the cawing of owls that rested on the Ukwa tree every night, the chirping of insects, and the pelting of rain on the thatched roof of the hut still echoes in my head when I remember that night, but the most outstanding of it all has always been the dry coughing of Nana Eduza, my grandfather. Yes, it would be Nana Eduza’s coughing, those dry subtle screeches that left him wheezing terribly, causing the thin skin which was all that was left of his body to cling tightly to the bones of his chest and rib cages.
Nana Eduza, my grandfather had been a powerful dibia and an orator in his youth and towards old age. He was well advanced in the diabolic art and his experience in dark spiritual practice had been second to none. He had also been a great herbalist and knew the usefulness of every herb in Itumo forest, the huge mass of land that harboured spirits who loved to posses human beings and whose thickness intimidated even the best hunters. Nana Eduza was indeed a great man but now, he lay there on the mat, gasping for breath, with my father over him, grudgingly doing his best to give him succour. There were empty bottles of alcohol around the mat which my father kicked away. My father had actually never wanted to go close to Nana but today, I had begged him to.
I stood by the entrance of the hut and watched. There were no tears in my eyes even though I saw that my grandfather was dying. There were no tears even if I thought about how painfully he was going to die. On and on as everything happened, I stood and watched until he began to speak, gasping for breath intermittently as he spoke.
“Chu-“, Nana Eduza said and gasped. “Chu – kwuemeka – Chukwuemeka, listen… listen to me. You must shake me Chukwuemeka, my son! You must shake me now. Let me feel the palms of my son before I go. Shake me, my son!” His voice was suddenly loud and sounded somewhat annoyed. He took his bony hands up to shake my father and I could see that his flesh was rotting terribly. My father looked at me as he took his right hand towards Nana Eduza’s outstretched hand and gripped it in a tight handshake. There was a flash of light that lasted only a split second, an orange glow that spread through their hands and was quickly drowned by the glow from the hurricane lantern. I wondered if Nana Eduza was trying to give his last show of dark powers before passing on. I knew my father was not aware of what had happened because his eyes were fixed in Nana Eduza’s eyes.
As my father took his hands off, he stood up abruptly and gazed down at Papa Eduza. “I am sorry”, he said. “Death is a scary thing!”
Papa Eduza pointed his hands accusingly at my father, his hands shaking with the effort of being lifted up. “You-!”, He said, struggling to get up. His voice sounded so much different, so young, so emotional and just then, he had a heart attack and reached for his chest. As he fell, his eyes reverted on me. They weren’t accusing as they had been when they looked towards my father but had become wet and filled with pity. They didn’t close even after he was long dead and seeing those eyes, it was then that my tears filled up and fell. Suddenly, I felt very emotional.
As my father guided me out of the hut, I could not fail to see that there was a mischievous smile playing along his lips. I didn’t fail to see the crafty twinkle in his eyes. He suddenly looked so much like Nana Eduza but then, it could be grief. “My tears could be altering things”, I had thought.
Nana’s body was buried. Months passed and then years. Then, there were whispers, whispers by some hunters who claimed they had seen my father around the entrance of Itumo forest and that my father, whom we all knew abhored the dark ways of my grandfather, was now capable of disappearing and appearing. Of course, we dismissed it as the idle gossips of the villagers and in time, they stopped.
Things were changing quickly as the years went by. Our village had developed so profoundly in the space of thirty years. My father, after the death of Nana, had suddenly developed an insatiable thirst for alcohol and in his old age – thirty years after – it had become even worse, just like it had been with my grandfather. I watched him sit down on the reclining chair under the ‘Ugbe’ tree everyday and drink just like Nana had done. At times, one could count 30 empty bottles. At other times, it could be 50. Yes, papa only drank and when he was so drunk, he would lay there and sleep, under the tree. Everything he did had total similarity to the actions of my Nana Eduza before his death thirty years ago.
It wasn’t long before he became sick. He was unbothered as he kept drinking. His eyes twinkling at me sinisterly whenever I passed by. I thought how strange my father was behaving but I really had no one to talk to. And then, the coughing started, dry and gritty, night after night.
When I couldn’t watch him suffer anymore, I left for the village dibia’s place to get something to ease my father’s pain but the dibia, a tall and powerfully built woman, had laughed as I entered. She turned and began a bout of incantations before I had the chance to speak. Her eyes were white when she turned towards me after her crazed recitations, almost causing me to jump out of the shrine but then, she held a string of cowries in her hand and when she spoke, her voice was ancient. “Tie this around your waist and never take it off!” The woman said. She danced a little to an inaudible tune before asking me out. I had tied the cowries on my waist as I hurried back home to meet my father. As usual, my father, Chukwuemeka, was sitting on his chair under the Ukwa tree and his eyes twinkled and trailed me when he saw me making my way to my room.
Two nights later, Papa’s cough became more intense. Somehow, I felt he wouldn’t make it past that night. I left to his room, the hut of my grandfather which he had chosen for himself after the death of Nana and he was laying on the same mat, his eyes looking at me expectantly while his body shook with the torture of his dry cough and pained body. I hurried to the table to get ready the mixture of honey and dried bitter cola powder—which I had gotten from Nna Etweke, the herbalist—for my father’s cough.
“Kelechi, come!” My father’s weak voice rang out amidst wheezes. “I do not think I will make it past tonight, my sweet son,” he said and gasped. “Come, shake me. Shake my hand, my son. Let me feel the palm of my son.” His eyes were pleading as he brought out his hand to shake me. I spotted the bare skin of his wrist which were peeling. I saw how weak he looked and I thought perhaps, death wouldn’t be a bad fate for him. I moved towards him, abandoning the mixture I had made on the bamboo table that stood to the side of the wall. Reaching out my right hand, I gripped him in a handshake. I saw him smile mischievously, a mild lopsided smile that was easy to miss and then, that glow that spread through our hands. It was quick. There was a flash of lightning and suddenly, I was in the body of my father, coughing, weak and dying.
My father was now in my body and he looked down at me and shook his head and then, he said “I am Nana Eduza, your grand father and I will live forever, Kelechi! Death is a scary thing. I hope you can bear my cross.” He laughed a raucous, mirthless laugh, and it was then, I realized, oh yes, I realized fearfully that I was in trouble.
I could feel the aches in my temple, my joints and stomach. The weakness I felt and how terribly sick I was and then, there was the dry coughing that threatened to take life out of me. I knew I would be gone soon and so I relaxed myself, trying to force my shocked mind to stay calm as one question nabbed at me—why?
Nana Eduza, my grandfather suddenly screamed as there was that flash of lightning once more and he was slammed back into the dying body of my father and I was restored to my own body. It was then I remembered the cowries from the dibia that I had tied tightly on my waist.
“How?! Why? Oh!! Why?!” He screamed intensely and his shocked eyes bore into me. I slowly raised my shirt up so that he could see the cowries on my waist. “Kelechi, you must shake me! Shake me now, Kelechi!!” He screamed angrily and then, Nana Eduza who was now in the weak and frail body of my father had a heart attack and clutched his chest. And very slowly, he fell to the mat. His eyes were open and there was no pity. Those eyes reverted on me with painful accusation.
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