Spider drove into his compound flushed and flustered. What had passed in the evil forest was enough to take the heart out of the stoutest of beasts. He would never forgive himself for that one thoughtless mistake, a scar he would have to carry all through his life. He dragged his feet to the door allowing tears to fall freely.
The Witch at the shrine had led them to a dark meandering stream, where they took oath of secrecy. Next, they crossed over a machete, a gun and a coffin each tied with red ribbons; contrasting with the white cloth tied round the waist of each of the twelve initiates. The witch smiled, revealing a tobacco-stain set of what remained in her teeth. She led them back to her shrine for fortifications. On a tripod stand, the witch built fire and set empty earthen ware on it. Next, she unhinged a wooden cage attached to the wall of the shrine, revealing assorted grotesque and spooky creatures. She gave a command in strange tongue, when one of the creatures began to step out in slow, noiseless movement; paused at the mouth of the cage and looked the witch askance. It was a flap-neck Chameleon. The witch snatched it up and began to tie its legs with white line. “Chameleon is the master of the art of disguise,” she said to no one in particular, “And when aiming for a prey, it’s not known to miss.” She dropped the reptile into the hot pot and replaced the lid. She retrieved a sharp fighting-knife from the bamboo rack holding skulls of animals. Armed with this dangerous blade, she began to cut their bare backs one by one. Then she tried to clot the massive flow of blood with the charred content of the earthen-ware.
“This is African Insurance. Your life is insured now,” she said, “but you have to prove your faith in the power of this medicine.” She walked into the shrine backwards and reemerged the same way bearing a long wet machete.
“Now, step out please, one after the other and prove yourself. This is your last test.”
The air around the shrine suddenly became stiff and dry for breathing. Even Magnus is highly tensed up now. The boys panicked and took few steps backwards, like timid little animals when cornered.
“You, come here!” The menace in her voice forced Isaiah to step out or, rather, danced out; for his legs faltered as if the ground would give any time and sucked him down. Before Spider could reach out to stop him, Isaiah was already standing before the witch, as helpless as an animal in a slaughter-house.
Spider has never felt this anxiety for a friend before. It can only be said that Isaiah was a friend so dear to his heart and so he would take any trouble to ensure Isaiah did not come to harm. He was too late, though. The witch has raised her machete, but something stayed her hand. Hot pee had started running down Isaiah’s legs, soaking up the white cloth around his waist.
“I want to use the toilet, please. My stomach turns.” He sobbed before the witch, a complete picture of misery. Spider hastened to the stage; with the agility of a lion, pushed him away and gave the witch a bold front. She nodded, a blood cuddling smile hanging on her face.
“Bend,” she said, “no, your neck. Good!”
The trickling rays of sunlight that defied the dense foliage caught the machete in a flash as it rose and descended. Then chilling fear settled. The blade gave a blunt rebound as if in contact against Honey-badger’s skin. Fear and sweet delight swept through all like electric waves. Fresh air was instantly liberated. The rest of the party was emboldened to step out and have a go at it. Isaiah too, crouching behind a baobab tree watching the proceedings, was encouraged. Much as he did not fancy going through the machete cut test first, he certainly did not want to be last.
But fear has once more ceased him. His head began to swirl in darkness. The machete rose and came down and everywhere became as quiet as the entrance of death. Two or three persons swooned. Somebody began to throw up violently. The blade has passed through Isaiah’s neck with less friction than if a hot knife was thrust through butter. Blood splayed about the shrine, dyeing red the white cloth serving the purpose of curtain at the entrance. Spider looked a complete wreck. The severed head quivered in bitter-cold paroxysms; his teeth chattered endlessly. Whether he was trying to pass a message across or making a confession, Spider was too stupefied to make something of it. It was Magnus who first recovered presence of mind.
“Who is he?” he asked Spider.
“His name is Isaiah.” Spider said with emotion. “He’s a four hundred level student of anatomy in the University. He told us he wanted to raise money for his project.”
“Does anyone know he’s with you?”
“No chief. We briefed him properly.”
“Good,” Magnus said, “take care of him. You’ll find his parents later and drop some money in their home.”
Image by Kenyan graphic artist, Jim Chuchu via African Digital Art.
About the Author
Aja, Friday. Hails from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Studied in the University of Calabar, Calabar, Nigeria and currently writes from Lagos, Nigeria. A pioneer member of Abakaliki Literary Society and the Association of Nigerian authors,(ANA), Ebonyi State chapter.