There were three of them. Three women. Just like he said there would be.I stood undecided for some minutes. My legs felt heavy from the long walk from my village, Umuagu to Eke Amagunze. My heart thumped like a timed bomb, counting down to explosion; my palms were damp from perspiration.
The women sat talking to themselves, their wares in front of them. I had my eyes fixed on the one sitting in the middle. She sold eggs. It was to her he sent me. The market around them buzzed like a swarm of flies, with people moving about their businesses, bumping into each other, not bothering to stop and say 'sorry.'
I stood there for close to half an hour. It seemed that long to me. Might have been less than that or more even. I would have stayed longer had one of the meat sellers not stared suspiciously at me. My agitation grew when I looked in his direction again and he was still checking me out.
'I can't do this,' I thought to myself. But even as I did, I knew I couldn't back down now. His instructions were clear.
'Maika,' My name was Michael. That was his version of it. 'You'll go to Eke Amagunze, to the meat sellers line. There would be three women as you enter. The first sold garri and the second, eggs. The third...' He waved his hand impatiently then. 'forget what that one sold, for it is to the second woman I send you. Go to her, collect three eggs and come back here as quickly as you can. I need to get the rituals started.'
That sounded normal enough, except for one, Amagunze was about 6km from our village. There was no other means of transportation in the house save his old, rusty bicycle which he rarely allowed me to use. So that meant walking the long distance to Eke. Why couldn't we buy the eggs around? Secondly and more importantly, he hadn't given me any money for the eggs. he had looked at me with ice and murder in his eyes when I asked for money, then without saying a word, he continued stringing the 'agbu' he used for climbing palm trees. So here was I, in the middle of. Eke market, exhausted, without any money and about to be caught for theft in broad daylight. I think people are less sympathetic to broad-daylight-thieves!
When I crossed the atavo river that separated the two villages, I took long in the water, soaking my weary legs and pouring water on my scorched head. I shuddered, not from cold, but as I remembered his words as I left the house. The voice I heard then wasn't really his. It sounded like raging thunder; the sound of many waters. I know it was just in my head, what his voice sounded like. But the threat was real.
'the next time you question my powers, by your words, actions or even in your thoughts, you won't know what hit you. And the last question in your mind would be whether I'm really your uncle or not!'
I have seen him do things; kill things, even people. So I knew he wasn't bluffing. Deep shudders ran down my spine as I recalled the day he killed a neighbor's dog that dared to stray close to his 'onu arusi'-where he performed his rituals, by hitting the head hard on a big stone nearby. The dog jerked continuously in spasms of pain, blood covering his head, brain matter spattered everywhere. I watched in revulsion and then horror as he silently picked the carcass and cut it into pieces. He wears his silence like a cloak. He mostly doesn't say much; he does much. The cauldron he used only for his rituals was still sitting on the fire. He washed the meat and poured everything in the pot, averting his face. The fumes from that pot can kill a man faster than bullets. He actually took his time to spice the meat.
That night, when I returned from Eke, having sold all the meat and handed him the money I realized, he gave a wicked and satisfied laugh. I was sick for three days after. I refused to imagine the number of people that died; families erased from the surface of this earth, wondering what happened. That was two years ago...
I took a tentative step towards the women. That pesky meat seller was busy with a customer.
Another. Then I kept moving. The blood in my head pounded. My heart beat like a mighty river flowing in a violent and erratic way. The world seemed to stand still as I approached the women. I just stood there, unsure and scared. The women kept talking.
I reached out and took an egg.
A second, then a third.
I turned slowly, and retraced my steps, alert to when the women would scream 'onye oshi'-thief, so I can make a run for it. But that scream didn't come. If the women even saw me, they didn't show. All around me, business was still as usual, the flurry of activities as to be expected of a market. I couldn't believe my luck!
The meat seller. I didn't look in his direction. I dared not.
Keeping my head straight, my eyes fixed ahead, my shoulders stiff and my hands by my side, with the eggs in them, I kept moving, slowly at first, then I broke into a half-run until I got to the Atavo river. I removed my slippers and crossed. This time, I didn't linger in the water. Once I crossed, I ran faster than my legs wished to go and got home a little before dusk. When I handed him the eggs, he took them without a word. Typical. He just gave an imperceptive nod. But I thought I saw something in his eyes-pride. He was proud of me, my courage. That was before he masked it and went on to continue with his rituals.