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“Let the swimmer beware. The sea is far too deep and broad for anyone to be boastful about.”

***

The sixty-year-old man had hoped the journey would avail him a chance to mend the bridges he had burnt in the past, but his daughter had her hood up and gave her focus to The Way the Cookie Crumbles by James Hadley Chase.

She arrived in her father’s house on Tuesday, 30th of December, 1986, after a four-year absence.

The compound was in darkness. She could hear the whispers of the wind conversing with the rows of coconut and palm trees. Josephine Senayon heard the waves celebrating her homecoming. They swept memories of her wonder years into her mind. Images of her laughing sisters, of running bare-footed along their dazzling white beach after crabs swept ashore, unsure of where to go. Shrill excited voices of sisters calling out to each other, building tiny mansions with wet sand. Her two elder sisters now married. Memories of waves lapping their legs, lathering like the froth on Daddy’s glass of beer when he is home on weekends. Memories of her mother bringing on something sumptuous straight from her kitchen at weekends.

Pleasant snapshots before the dark days, before Daddy’s face became a place where smiles were aliens and laughter was forbidden.

“Sweetie?”
Her mother’s velvet voice brought instant tears to Josephine Senayon’s eyes.

“My baby, is that you?”

She could not trust her voice. A howl of joy burst forth from the dark porch and before she could align the speed and vigour with her mother’s age and bulk, mother and daughter were on the sandy ground, weeping and laughing at the same time like the crabs which were never sure where to run.

“Does Daddy still beat you? Does he?”

“No Sweetie, your father is a changed man now.”

“Mummy, please tell me…the truth.”

She really did miss her mother and the beach and all the memories that hovered over the Atlantic.

Later, she brought out her diary and wrote: The eagle has landed at last. Mummy claims that Daddy has changed. Better be true.

She closed her diary. It was twenty minutes to midnight so she went straight down, without warming up, and did fifty rapid push-ups. After which she brought out her skipping rope and bounced for fifteen minutes.

Joe took off her tee shirt and walked into the bathroom. And that was when she noticed the body changes under her hoody.

Her nipples were budding and she was alarmed by the very thought of catching up with her mother’s.
From dating Faith, she knew the hormones creating these glands were going to compromise her strength.

As Faith explained back then, it was a freak surge of testosterone that empowered her to gain freedom from her father and to create the Joe Macho image.

By Sunday, 4th January 1987, when she was supposed to return to school, her breasts had become liabilities that made her reluctant to travel to Benin City until her father offered this six hours ride in silence.

The time was 2:25 p.m. when the Honda Celica breezed past Okada junction. Benin City was not far away. As the car sped over the Ovia river, Josephine wound down and threw her diary into the water down there.

She saw tears flowing down his face. “Daddy, what’s the matter?”

“I remembered when we drove to Warri in those days. We were singing songs from The Sound of Music. You girls knew all the lyrics. The journey was so short because there was laughter and happiness.”

“Then you changed. And destroyed all the sand castles.”

“I was a fool. I thank God for giving you the strength to beat me back to my senses.”

“Tell me your story, Daddy.”

“It started March First, 1978.”

“We’ll be in Benin in twenty minutes so you’ll need to cut to the chase. No need starting what you can’t finish.”

“My company was under political pressure to discover hydrocarbon in the north. I was flying to Kano to lead the seismic activities. Deborah was with me that morning. As my driver got to the exit of our driveway, an old woman in white stood in our way.”

“What did she want?” asked Josephine, trying to pace the narrative.

“You’re not boarding that plane, she declared. I was furious.”

“Did you know the old woman?”

“I’d never met her in my life.”

“How did she know you were flying that morning?”

“Exactly the question Deborah asked when the woman insisted we can only go to the airport over her dead body.”

“What was her point?”

“She said the aircraft was going to crash and seventeen of us will die.”

“Then what happened? Did you make the trip?”

“Deborah persuaded me to abandon the trip.”

“Did the plane crash?”

“It did. Nigeria Airways F28-1000 crashed in Kano and sixteen people died.”

“How did the old woman know that was going to happen? Did you ask her?”

“We never saw her again.”

“That was weird. How did that transform you from a sweet man into a wife basher and a molester of your own daughters?”

“October First, the day General Obasanjo handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. I was returning from Ikenne, from a visit to Tai Solarin, my senior at Wesley College. As I was about to turn into our driveway, the old woman stepped in front of my car again….”

“Daddy, you said earlier that you never saw the woman again.”

“Honestly, I did not pay any attention to the woman who warned me about the plane crash. She was just another insane old woman until NTA announced the crash in Kano. Anyway, an old woman in white engaged me as I prepared to turn into my place.

‘Good afternoon,’ she said.

‘Good afternoon, madam,’ I replied.

‘So you don’t recognize me?’ she asked.

‘I’m afraid not, Madam.’

‘I’m not surprised,’ she declared. ‘Human beings are ungrateful and forgetful. So you have forgotten the woman who saved you from a plane crash just last year.’

She was old and was in white but I could not pretend to remember the face of the woman who predicted the crash. She started to walk away so I drove after her and apologized. I offered her a bundle of twenty naira notes. To my shock, she turned down the offer. That intrigued me. Normal people could not reject that kind of money at that time. That was almost four thousand U.S. dollars. That move got me curious.”

“She told you to bash your wife and rape your children? Daddy, you had two Masters on scholarships? Did mummy believe this cock and bull tale?”

“My dear, Deborah even got used as a bait. They had everything worked out.”

“How did they get Mummy involved?”

“As I said, she turned down almost four thousand dollars and caught me off.

‘How do I show my gratitude?’ I asked.

‘You can’t show me gratitude,’ she said. ‘I was only a messenger. And the one who sent me requires only one egg from you.’

‘By all means, take the money and buy as many eggs as you like,’ I said.

‘My son,’ she replied. ‘The one who sent me requires just one egg. I know you have millions of money. But money cannot buy life. The sender saved your life. Inside an egg is life. Inside you is life. The same creator made both. Go to the market by yourself. Buy one—not two—buy one egg and bring it to the one who sent me. Then the promotion you are expecting in your office will arrive safely.’

I was indeed expecting a promotion. All my guards were down at that point.

‘Okay, get in the car and I’ll drive you to your place so I’ll know where to bring the egg.’

‘I can’t accept anything from you until you give a life for a life,’ she said. ‘Explain please,’ I pleaded.

‘The last time I gave you a warning about your life, you took it lightly. I am about to give you a more serious one. Seyon, son of Senayon, do not tell anyone about this visit. Neither your wife nor your three children. Do not have anyone but yourself buy the egg from the market. When you have bought it, go to the sea behind your house. Make sure you stand where the water is in touch with the soles of your feet and throw the egg with all your might into the sea. The one who sent me will bring you good news after that. But be warned. Tell no one about these things. Or else, you will be like the other Joseph who told his brothers about his dreams and was sold into slavery. Be warned.’

She laughed and walked away. This woman knew my name and everything about me. Even something unpredictable as a plane crash. My pending promotion as well.”

“Daddy, you said Mummy was used to bait you. How and when? From your story, I can see you were already in her bag,” Josephine Senayon observed.

“Did you know parrots produce red feathers in their tails?”

“Yes. What about that?”

“Do you know that they went to Deborah’s hospital and convinced her to hide that red feather in her bag?”

“Why did they do that and how?”

“You must be patient, girl, if you’re really interested in how they enter the mind of their prey. Like you said, I was already in her bag. I turned my car around and went to the market to buy an egg and followed her instruction that night. The following morning, Tuesday, October Second, 1979, as soon as I got to my office, a call was connected from our switch board. It was this old woman again. The timing gave me the impression that I was being watched.

‘Seyon, son of Senayon. Well-done. You have fully repaid your debt to the one who sent me. The one who sees in the dark and reveals secret things. Well. You have fully paid for your life with another life. The life in the egg. Expect your promotion before the egg decays. Well-done. The wise one salutes you.’

The call ended. Before lunch that day, I got my promotion letter. I was so happy I could have put that woman on a salary out of gratitude but they wanted my soul. She called again at the end of work. My offering for my promotion would be a spoon of salt thrown into the sea.

‘Seyon, son of Senayon, you are now privy to the secrets of the heart beats around you and of time. You must be a keeper of secrets or you will rot alive, I warn you. Today, when you get home, secretly look into your wife’s bag, whichever bag she took to work. You will find a red feather there. Steal it. Never admit any knowledge of it. Bring it to me. Seyon, keeper of secrets, the sea is deep. Let the swimmer beware. The sea is far too deep and broad for anyone to be boastful about. Bring it to me. Bring the harmless looking feather to me immediately.’

Then she described where she lived. I was submerged in falsehood.”

“Meanwhile Mummy had been tricked into keeping the red feather in her bag. You would then most certainly find it there and be vulnerable to any explanation they gave you.”

“Precisely what happened, Josephine. I got there in a most gullible state. It was a bewildering place. There is a tree in that place that I cannot describe. It looked like a nightmare. The branches were twisted and tangled. Many of the branches touched the ground. Nothing was regular about that tree. Just the tree and a black hut bypassed the circuitry of my Harvard and Oxford education.”

“Of course, they must have told you Mummy was a witch. What were your daughters? Mermaids?”

“The tree did the talking. I was given a root to chew and taken into the hut. I looked into a pot of water and I saw Deborah dancing and flying while the tree told me things about her.”

“What about us?”

“I was told Deborah had three sons for me and hid them under a tree in my compound and gave me girls whom she had for her spirit lovers. I saw her dancing and flying about naked with these weird fellows inside the pot of water. That root was hallucinogen. But I was convinced when I unearthed three infant skulls in my compound.”
“What was the goal of their grim game?”

“They wanted to permanently compromise my filial bond and make Deborah leave the house without ever thinking of coming back. So that they could give me a woman through whom they would own everything I own.”
“What went wrong with their plan?”

“Deborah didn’t leave as designed. The woman they gave me, Funke, didn’t get pregnant as planned. When you gave me the beating of my life, I remembered how my mother was reputed to be able to beat up men when she was your age. I confessed what was happening to Deborah. We did DNA tests of your sisters which showed they were my blood. We drove to the weird tree with armed police men from my company. We met the wicked woman, my driver and the others planning their next move.”

“Your driver was the insider collaborator.”

“He hatched the entire plot. He was there when the prophet or soothsayer staged the drama that saved me from that plane crash. When he heard from a driver of the GM, Human Resources that my promotion letter was in the tray, he quickly set up his mother and his sister as prophetess and wife-in-waiting respectively. They had two cousins as watch dogs. Deborah identified Funke as the one who spooked her into keeping the parrot feather in her bag. Funke was armed with information from my driver. The cousins were in the wings when the old woman was baiting me with the egg script. When I turned my car around, they knew I had swallowed the hook.”

“And the poor tree was just a freak of nature that must have been used by quacks again and again. But why didn’t you suspect the driver at any point?”

“If I was given room for suspicion, I wouldn’t have suspected my driver because he’s always acted like a dunce. He buys National Concord when you send him for Daily Times and goes left when you tell him to go right. He’s the last man that would have crossed my mind.”

“It’s ironic that a dunce driver was able to put you and Mummy who schooled in England and America in an air tight bag.”

 

 

**************

Post image by georgetikis via Flickr

About the Author:

Aoiri Obaigbo, novelist, author of The Wretched Billionaire, attended Immaculate Conception College, the University of Benin, and the University of Lagos. Aoiri was Editor, Mister Magazine, Associate Producer, Energy This Week, Africa Independent Television and Head, Media and Communications, West, Shell Nigeria. His play, Re-incarnation, made the BBC shortlist in 1992 and his collection of poems, Proverbial Child, made the Cadbury/ Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Competition shortlist in the same year. He attended the Farafina 2016 Creative Writers workshop as the ‘grandpa’ in class.

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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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