Twice Lucky

10 min read – a story from the village

“Asiwo ochier. Asiwo has risen!”

“Wululululululu!”

“Asiwo ochier.

Frenzied shrieks rent the still air, chickens squawked, an owl hooted. Birds, chirping among the scarce trees spread along the shore of Lake Victoria, halted their melodies. A dark cloud hung over the entire village after the clear sky, earlier immaculately arrayed with the beauty of the last rays of the setting sun recoiled, giving birth to threatening obscurity.

Only a few minutes ago, there was an air of serenity complementing the somber mood by the graveside.

“The age of man is seventy, but if one has a good life, he can see many more sunrises. But those, my brothers and sisters, only bring more days of sorrow. Indeed, the word of God says, ‘Man shall return to dust, for from it, he was made,’” the priest had said, holding the Bible with one hand, sprinkling a handful of soil onto the coffin six feet below with the other. He had signaled the spade of soil to be passed on to Asiwo’s widow and his children. Hardly had she sprinkled did the coffin’s cover become open. Asiwo sat up, one of his nostrils still stuffed with cotton.

The wailing mourners went quiet. One nudged the other, and the other pressed the next, beckoning on each to behold the unfolding horror. Shock erased their mundane dirges’ lines, jaws dropped in awe as Asiwo stretched his hand to be helped out of the grave.

Not even the priest who preached about ‘a heaven’ upon resurrection anticipated a resurrection so soon. The priest, donned in a flowing robe, was the first to flee; he squeezed himself through the space between two frozen mourners, dropping his Bible, as he made for the nearby footpath behind the granary. It was days before he was seen.

Beating other agile, sober, and rightly motivated athletes scampering for safety, Jericho the DDO, a village drunk, was heard screaming, “Yaye! Asiwo; I just got myself a pillow. Please let me enjoy my woman a bit. Paradiso is not for me now.”

The year was 1987.

Days turned to weeks; weeks metamorphosed into months; months gave forth to years, but the villagers never ceased probing the resurrected Asiwo. What was heaven like? Are there streets of gold? Are our mansions complete? Did he take a peep at the Hell? Did he say it was the horrific scene of a red-hot Hell, with no sight of any waters, that terrified him in the grave, prompting his heart to beat again? Did he gape at burning toes of the world’s fallen wicked that had been in flames for years and were yet to be consumed? Was he able to say hello to their departed ones? Only the brave, the village’s very superstitious, tended to indulge him deeper in these thoughts. Asiwo loved this class of thinkers; he never failed to quench their illusory thirsts with dark fantasies. He was pleased with his new life.

“Keep drinking, my friend,” Asiwo one day told DDO, the Daily Drinking Officer, who was ever warned by his kin that his love for the bottle would be his ruin.

“I stopped; I swear. I was only admiring the bottle.”

“Fear not; it is not the drinking that will kill you.”

DDO smiled.

“When the gods seal your fate,” Asiwo said, teeming with indifference, “you will be gone early in the morning, my friend, even before the smell of the day’s drink hits your nose.”

“Aah! God forbid!”

“The last time they met, your name was not on their list yet.”

Initially alarmed by Asiwo’s words, DDO forgot the encounter and instead upped his drinking sprees. He looked at the bigger picture: the séance was positive; the spirits council had spoken. Who was he to doubt their wisdom?

A burning hell on the other side of life?

Milking the puzzle that surrounded his death, Asiwo coined himself a little kingdom of terror; an aura of fear trailed him. Few wanted to win an argument against him. What if he visited you in the dead of night?

But with every practice, there is always an exception. One man, Abisai, learned how parlous things could get. Abisai and Asiwo feuded at the market. At the core of the clash was whether the villagers should have embraced growing different crops other than rice that was a favorite but, due to frequent price fluctuations, was very unpredictable, unreliable.

Abisai dismissed Asiwo’s idea saying, “Some people behave in this land as if they are foreigners. Who loves green peas anyway?” Abisai smirked at Asiwo before sniffing hard. “The very thought is mediocre.” There were murmurs of approval. “Furthermore,” Abisai resumed, “any sober person knows that peas require red soils to thrive, the type of which we do not have here.”

By the villagers’ own admission, Asiwo was outsmarted, defeated; the villagers would maintain rice farming.

The next morning, Abisai woke up to five bizarrely decorated eggs strategically planted at his gate. The ground was slanted but the eggs stayed still, unsupported. Studying the eggs, Abisai had some queasiness, that gut feeling you get when an animal bigger than aidha1 has been caught by aidha’s trap.

Abisai, shaken and uncontrollable, swore to have seen an apparition resembling Asiwo’s the night before. He retreated to the interior of his compound and became captive, walking back and forth, restless, like a man with irritated bowels. Villagers craned their necks over Abisai’s fence, peeping. No one dared walk over the charm, the five strange eggs. “Asiwo must be appeased,” they concluded. Two messengers of plea were dispatched to Asiwo’s compound.

“I have nothing to do with the man’s hallucinations,” Asiwo refuted.

“But he said he saw your ghost…”

“After I heard the news of his self-inflicted imprisonment,” Asiwo interrupted, stacking dry leaves into his smoking pipe, “I passed by his gate. I saw no such eggs.” He lifted his left eyebrows as to signal the messengers to leave.

Baffling the more, when the messengers came back, the eggs were missing, and Abisai’s malady had ceased. Asiwo’s fame grew wilder and faster than bastards. He thought himself invincible; he would live and live until mushrooms like grey hair sprouted over his tiny coconut head.

***

His innumerable antics notwithstanding, at heart, Asiwo was a kind man. He freely shared his sugarcane with the few who braved meeting him head-on on the road. Sometimes, he placed the thing he longed to share by the roadside after the target had fled. Some would later pick whatever it was he left behind and feed on it. But the majority chose to walk away altogether from the thing left behind, and the spot it was left.

“This thing is not even harmful,” one day a bold teenager said, munching a piece of mandazi dropped by Asiwo.

“Keep eating. You’ll tell him when he visits you in your dreams,” another shouted with a concerned gaze.

“I hear Asiwo is possessed,” added another.

“Everyone says so, but I do not see it,” said the muncher.

“Oh. You want to see first to believe? Okay.”

The muncher goofed, digging deeper into the soft mounds of mandazi.

“Just remember, Mr. Seer, he must pass on whatever drives him. I see you are determined to be the heir.” Another chipped in.

Young children never understood Asiwo. To them, he seemed to have some pretty fierce spell working on him. His frame was bizarre; he was covered with a red complexion, his eyebrows were orange, and some black tuft of hair stood oddly pointed. Staring at his face gave the young children the impression of a ghost, the scariest creature that ever walked.

He appeared more rugged, less haggard at the age of seventy-three. His firm posture coupled with disturbing agility, made him look like his soles hardly touched the ground while walking. In fact, he did pounce occasionally while teasing young children; they took off the instant they spotted a blurry image of Asiwo yards away.

Wild things were spoken of the man Asiwo; it was said that if he asked one for fifty shillings, and one opted to give him less or more, he would not accept it. It was gossiped – in low tones – there was a ritual he sought to accomplish with the specifically sought amount. Caution did rounds, “If he asks you for ten shillings, give him less or more.”

“Or take to the hills. Run!” they would add.

***

One day, the village elders had gathered somewhere at Lawi’s to discuss another weighty matter. Apparently, some aspiring in-law, Daudi Nato, by any standards, not a poor man, had acquired an audacity so unheard of, summoned courage so rare, and brought a goat as bride price.

Ker, whose daughter was disgraced by the meager offering, had called on the fellow old men to deliberate over the matter, to choke it before it became a norm to treat in-laws as such.

A gourd of busaa stood amidst this throng of the wise, straws from the gourd pointed towards their mouths. It could have easily passed as a meeting of the absurd; it involved men from within the village and the next, Magina. The two villages, aside from shared language, had nothing else in common; their inhabitants did not exchange even basic salt. Yesterday, if two men from the two villages had met, they would have watched each other’s movement with caution and suspicion, avoiding each other’s path; tomorrow they would do so again. But today, they drank busaa freely, each struggling to outwit the other’s sagacity.

As the meeting wore on, drawing ire, rebuke after rebuke, there was a disturbance.

It began as the noises made when leafy twigs are juddered by a whirlwind. Then followed some heavy footsteps. An elder skipped a word or two. There was a lull; all attention was directed towards the direction of the sound. DDO popped out from the maize plantation, breathing profusely as a man chasing a mirage that is a night runner during a moonless night. 

“What is it? Why are you barging here like a lunatic?” Lawi asked, shouting.

“Sorry elders, there’s a problem.” Amidst gulps of strained breathing, stooping while resting his arms on his knees, DDO struggled to speak. 

“Problem?”

“Yes, a very big problem.” Droplets of dark sweat dotted DDO’s forehead; hairs of maize cob perched on his shirt’s tattered collar. 

“Calm down.”

“Yes, have a seat. You are very incoherent,” Ker said; he had spoken little until now.

“Give it to us in manageable portions. What exactly are you saying?” another elder asked.

“It is a big load on my head, and until I put it down, I cannot understand anything; I cannot sit or stay still.”

“Eeeeeeeeh! Mayie! What is the world coming to? I have not yet heard of a message that could not wait,” said the elder chairing the meeting. He turned to the other elders who nodded in agreement. Some agitated the still gourd with strokes on their straws.

“Or have you brought the news that Wuon Pe, the father of hailstones, has lost his power to manage the hail…?”

“Asiwo otho!”

“What?” they asked, almost in unison.

“Asiwo is dead. Dead as dodo.”

The previous equanimity gave way to anxiety. The elders wore gloomy faces, so lost in thoughts of what had befallen the village. Some looked into the dark sky, studied it with frightening keenness, mumbling, ‘The gods have unleashed their wrath; we have soiled their altar. The land must be cleansed.’

There were no reports, recorded or rumored that Asiwo had been unwell; this only helped fuel troubling gossip over the cause of his death.

Truphena, Asiwo’s wife, as everyone believed, was the one person who somewhat was not scared by the strangeness of her husband. In the beginning, they say a child will run from a pig, with the tenacity of time, however, the two will be inseparable buddies, sniffing each other’s smells, even rubbing their noses together. Truphena simply adapted into this peculiar world she had been inducted into.

Ten years ago, after his resurrection, Asiwo temporarily chose to spend his days alone in his hut away from the main house. Perhaps he was alarmed by the fear that struck even his homestead dwellers. He noted – after his family fled on the resurrection day and returned two days later – they still treated him with subtle suspicion like one who never belonged just yet.

Today as Truphena walked back to the main house, she spotted her husband seated at his usual spot. It was quite unusual for him to be home that early, she noted. But that was not the crux of the matter; he seemed awkwardly sunken from where she stood, face ashen, his head drooping on his left shoulder, and he appeared not to be breathing. She could not be sure.

She gave him another long look. Yes, she was right; he was not breathing.

His belly, under his shirt, stayed still. Dread gripped her. She dropped on the table a tray with which she had been sieving husks from rice and ran outside. She called out her neighbor. The two women dashed inside. Moments later, their keening tore into the quiet evening. Darkness descended on the compound. Some people rushed to the compound to ask what was amiss.

Others cautiously queried from the safety of their homes, a stone throw being the farthest they were willing to go.

It was then after the wails peaked and started to recede, after some neighbors, having warily touched Asiwo’s chest, came out of his house silent, shaking their heads, that DDO sought the elders’ attention. The angst that besieged Asiwo’s home was so immense; it almost turned the home into a haunted oracle’s cave. After his death, the superstitious invented stories of hearing chatters of the dead coming from his compound during the many moonless nights that ensued. 

***

It was agreed that, unlike the last time when they attempted to inter his remains four days after his death, this time, Asiwo would be buried after ten days. The wisdom was two-pronged; to give the self-declared immortal a chance to resurrect again if he wished to. Secondly – which looked like the sole aim – with ten days of sustained formalin injection, it would be nearly impossible for Asiwo to make a comeback. 

Will Asiwo rise again?

On his burial day, there was – for the first time – a deliberate hesitation to the graveyard by the community known for its love of the dead and burial ceremonies.

Those who overcame the fear were strategic; they stood tacitly depicting ‘about to take off’ pose lest the corpse decided to do his thing. The priest, unlike his typical elaborate tirade, hurriedly read a script about the assured coming of the Lord, mumbled a brief prayer, virtually gibberish, and crossed himself. Amen.

As the gravediggers’ first scoops of soil hit the coffin six feet under, someone said they heard some sounds.

“Yes, I’m sure. I heard it.”

“What?”

“Sounds. There’s noise from the coffin.”

There were mixed stares, then a commotion. People started pulling out; a stampede was inevitable. An already paranoid head will crumble at any tinge of shock.

Then they saw it; a broken spade’s head had landed on the coffin, scooped with the rest of the burial soil. A brave man (he must have never believed himself when he later recalled the ordeal) went down. He carefully lifted the spade’s head then jumped off the coffin like a hopping toad escaping a stealthy cat.

It appeared, the last time Asiwo was declared dead, his own god had been bypassed. The Igbo have a saying: ‘No matter how many spirits plotted a man’s death, it would come to nothing unless his personal god took part in the deliberation.’ This time there was consensus; the oracle of the lake had had enough – Asiwo was finally rested for good. They say, ‘Life is like a coin; you can spend it any way you want, but you can only spend it once.’ Asiwo, however, was twice lucky.

END

1Aidha – a type of squirrel known for seducing, trapping, and eating chicks.

2 thoughts on “Twice Lucky

  1. I totally love your remarkable sense of humor. I just can’t get enough. This blog is a Masterpiece. How you bring together the classic African life experiences into such a beautiful oracle leaves me in awe of how good a writer you are. When is the next one ? Hope you’ll post another one soon, cause I just can’t wait.

    Like

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