The Spirit and The Chi

The Chi of a young woman and the spirit of her late grandmother argued over who should take care of her. ‘There are many of you,’ asserted her Chi, ‘but there can only be one of me.’

‘You didn’t give birth to her!’ screamed the dead old woman so that the night wind howled and the sleeping woman’s zinc roof rattled violently. The Chi and the spirit quickly swooped down to her window to make sure she had not been disturbed and then returned to the highest branches of the manila tree to resume their arguing.

‘You didn’t either,’ the Chi pointed out.

‘She is my blood.’ The vindictive voice of the old woman rustled the leaves so she calmed herself down. ‘I died the day she was born. I never got to see her, the first daughter born in my line after me.’

‘I am not the creator. I cannot take blame for your lack of female descendants—‘ but the Chi realized that this was too harsh so she said ‘okay, let us do this together.’

But they argued and argued over which man she should marry, what job she should do and over which city she should live.

‘But the man is rich!’

‘A Hausa man?’ the Chi would laugh deliriously ‘You must be joking’

‘But he loves her,’ the great grandmother will insist.

‘And so? If she marries out of Igbo land how would her children get their own Chi? Tufiakwa!’

And so she was single for a long time.

‘Blogging is her passion.’

‘Blogging is witchcraft!’ the old woman will spit. ‘Sending voices in the air and in the sea I will tolerate because right from my time sending messages has always been important. But never in the spirit world would it be said that a descendant of mine made money from witchcraft, never!’

And so the young woman was jobless for a long time.

‘Ha, but surely you are an evil spirit disguising yourself as my great granddaughter’s Chi,’ the old woman lamented when her daughter got a job. ‘My Chi was not unkind to me like this o eh! Chei! See her Visa is ready; the law people are waiting for her in England to come and finish her school and employ her eh. What is your problem now eh? You don’t want me to go and brag in the spirit world that my great granddaughter presides over justice eh? Why don’t you want this girl to go and prosper in obodo Oyibo?’

‘I will lose my connection to her once she flies over any sea’ said the Chi unfazed by the old woman’s dramatics. ‘Any child she births over there would have no Chi.’ The chi turned sharply to the old woman with new malice: ‘oho that is your plan eh, you want her to go so that you will rid your line of Chis’ eh. You want me to lose her to you eh!’

And so the woman remained at home for a long time.

Her guardians argued and fought over her affairs for years, down to the littlest detail of what she should wear or which suitor was suitable or which one should suffer a fatal accident. They disagreed about everything without realizing that time was running out for time was an immaterial thing in the spirit world. It occurred to them during one of their endless nocturnal fights, just when she was already bored and tired of the idea of love, her passion for writing and the lure of a foreign land and had settled into a kind of half-life with days identical to each other in hopelessness and ordinariness.

‘Times have changed’ said the great grandmother with remorse ‘but a woman’s clock is as important now as it was in my time.’

‘Maybe If I wasn’t selfish,’ said the Chi with a voice heavy with sorrow, ‘she would have lived a happy life.’

‘But she is not dead yet! We can get her a job, a house and a husband this year!’

The Chi was contrite ‘Then I leave it all to you.’

The old woman was uncertain ‘Are you sure guardian spirit of my great granddaughter?’

‘Well at least those three things.’

And they laughed with the conviviality of long-time friends. But the next day the spirit of the great-grandmother returned to the manila tree weary and sad, almost invisible in the night.

‘What happened. What is it?’ asked the Chi, but the dead old woman sobbed in silence. The Chi grew impatient ‘Tell me! If you don’t talk to me who will you talk to?’

The old woman stopped sobbing long enough to reply, ‘I can visit those reverend sisters who fall asleep on duty at the local parish.’

The both of them exploded into a thunderous laughter that terrified dogs into barking, birds into running away and a cock crowing at 2am. Humans could only feel the terrible sound as some malevolent presence that inspired fervency in the shrieking tongues of some prayer warriors hosting a night vigil in a house not far from the manila tree.

‘She doesn’t want to see me,’ the old woman finally said ‘she doesn’t want to see us.’

The Chi endeavoured another laugh. ‘Of cause she wouldn’t want to see us. How many human beings can bear the sight of their guardian spirits?’

‘No you don’t understand. She doesn’t want us meddling in her affairs again.’

The Chi wondered for a moment if the old woman was back to her tricks again. She brushed it off. They had been friends for too long, even in those decades of enmity.

‘It is impossible,’ the Chi said warily ‘I am her Chi and you are her long lost mother. Even if she doesn’t know me her father must have told her about you. Who else can give her a husband at her age eh?’

‘You don’t understand,’ the old woman shook her head bitterly, ‘She told her Pastor to tell me she is married to Jesus.’




Post image is an adaptation of a photograph by Paolo Carboni via Flickr.

About the Author:

Portrait - BensonTJ Benson is a Nigerian short story writer and creative photographer whose work has been published online and in magazines like Harvard’s Transition. His collection of short stories ‘We Won’t Fade into Darkness’ was shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript prize and would be released in April 2017.


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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

6 Responses to “The Spirit and The Chi | by T.J. Benson | An African Story” Subscribe

  1. Jonathan 2016/08/25 at 10:48 am #

    Hahaha. I love this. Baked humour under a fine nuance icing.

  2. Jessica 2016/08/25 at 1:10 pm #

    Nice, fresh. Got confused about who the spirit and the Chi belonged to a couple of times, but this is good

  3. Nuzo Onoh 2016/08/25 at 4:12 pm #

    This is sooo beautiful, humourous, different and right up my street. As an author of African Horror, it’s just thrilling to see another one of my compatriots bringing our rich culture to a broader platform. Great work!

  4. Chiwoniso 2016/08/26 at 1:12 am #

    What a brilliant story. So unique and refreshing.

  5. Sylvia Eguzoro 2016/09/14 at 7:24 am #

    Tj, this is really good.

  6. Felicia 2016/10/22 at 6:15 pm #

    I love this story, especially the fact that the mother spirit was heartbroken over her daughter’s being “married to Jesus.” That, i bet, was neither in her nor the chi’s playbook at all.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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