At midnight, when a new moon appeared, when the night is darkest, the witches have their meeting.
Eve Akpabio had been sleeping. She didn’t dream anymore; she had killed all of her dreams a long time ago as a sacrifice to the gods. Her body was jolting with energy now, and she knew instinctively that it was time. She reached over her husband’s snoring self to the yellow piece of cloth on the bedside table and tied it over her head.
Aisha Karim worked the night shift at a shitty job with shitty pay. One of her co-workers had been staring at her all night, winking at her and all that. She made a mental note of him and sighed. She hated the stress, she really did, but she loved killing men.
They deserved no less.
A surge of power racked her body, and she gasped. Grabbing a black cloth from underneath her desk and closing her laptop, she left for the bathroom, ignoring the pair of eyes that followed her.
She entered an empty stall and began tying the black sash around her head.
And as soon as the sash was fully knotted, she disappeared.
If there was anything that Funke Aminu hated, it was slowness.
That and people who wore those earphones that were wireless but not really. She sat in the back of the Hilux as it barrelled its way through the road, and she tapped her driver and told him to drive faster. That, or he was fired. Literally.
Her last driver had been his cousin and they had buried his ashes just the weekend before; he knew she wasn’t bluffing.
“Erm…” the man stuttered, turning around. What was his name? Mike? He looked like a Mike.
“What?” Funke demanded.
“It’s just that—just that…you to…told me…”
“Spit it out!” She screeched.
“Twelve,” probably Mike said, almost crying, “it’s…twelve.”
Funke could feel her fingers tingling. “Find a space and park,” she said. “Then put your head on the steering wheel, close your eyes and count to five hundred.”
He did as instructed.
“1,2…” he was counting as Funke opened her purse and brought out the blood coloured piece of cloth inside.
She wrapped it around her head and disappeared.
There was a special joy she found in armed robbery. Efem Ighohwo smiled as the cashier slowly put all the money in the bag. He didn’t make any sudden moves. A gun aimed at your face would do that to you.
Efem wanted to shoot him.
He hadn’t annoyed her yet. But he was a man, and she had a special place in her heart reserved for hatred towards…her hand shook a little.
“Fuck,” she said to the cashier who was crying now, “what time is it?”
He slowly looked at his watch. “It’s…it’s midnight,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Lock up this place and close all the windows, then go to the toilet and lock yourself there.”
She brought out a purple rumpled piece of cloth from her pocket and tied it on her head.
“Okay, Chichi,” Doreen said, as they sat opposite each other, “say what I said back to me.”
Chichi pursed her lips.
“By twelve,” she said, “I have to wear the sash around my head.”
Doreen nodded. “Yes, and…”
“And I’m not supposed to trust the other witches. They’re…evil. And we’re not.” She added.
“I should tell them that you went to the Darklands to get ingredients for a new spell and that you won’t be back for a while and that’s why I’m representing you.”
Doreen nodded, “Good. I’ll be back by tomorrow morning. Keep the shop safe until then. Teni is busy, and Wúrà is at work. That leaves you, Chichi. It has to be you.”
Chichi furrowed her brows. “What about the others?”
“I don’t trust them.”
“But they’re nice.”
Doreen shrugged. “Maybe. But I still do not trust them.”
“Lydia has a funny hat.”
“That’s her hair, Chichi.”
“It’s funny. We should trust her.”
“I don’t…I don’t think someone’s hair is a solid enough basis for whether or not to trust them”
“It’s not?” Chichi said, crestfallen. Then, “It should be.”
“It really shouldn’t, Chichi.”
Doreen stood and brushed imaginary lint from her trousers, “Because, my dear, people are a wicked, evil breed and sometimes, they also have funny hair.”
“It’s true,” Doreen said nodding. She clicked her fingers, and Midnight came from wherever he went and nestled on her leg, purring. “But now, I have to go. Chichi, please be safe and don’t worry. You’ll do fine.” With that, she clapped her hands and twisted them, blue sparks erupted, swallowed her and she was gone.
Chichi was left in the store staring at the blue sash in front of her.
She stared at it. And stared at it some more.
She looked at her barbie watch. It was only 6:30. She sighed. What would she do to pass the time, she thought, as her eyes swept the shop filled with general groceries.
She walked around the store, naming everything she could and went around again, doing the same thing in reverse.
She went to the cashier, and stood opposite it, her eyes fixed on the wall behind it. It was a good wall, sturdy. It did all the things a good wall was supposed to do. It held the ceiling up, and you could hang things on it.
It also wasn’t real.
There was a way that Doreen explained it. It was real and not real at the same time.
It’s like fear, she had said. If you see it, it’s there, but if you don’t, it vanishes into the air.
Chichi could see a wall there now, and she took a deep breath and let it out. She emptied her mind like Doreen had taught her, like she had been teaching her since she was a child. Magic was its own life force that lived within you, but it was fickle and powerful. You had to calm your mind and empty it so you didn’t lose control.
Chichi always found that funny. The emptying your mind thing. It made her think that her mind was a wastebasket that needed emptying—
She shushed herself.
She had to empty her mind.
And be calm.
Someone bumped into her, and Chichi opened her eyes.
“Sorry,” the woman, Lydia, the one with the funny hair, said, “just came back to pick up my knife. I forgot it.”
Chichi nodded. Lydia approached the wall, looked at it for a moment and walked right through it.
Chichi’s eyes widened as she moved to the wall and walked through it—except she didn’t walk through it. Her head banged against the wall, and she fell on her backside, her hand cradling her aching head.
Lydia came out a few minutes later and looked down at Chichi. “Are you…are you okay?”
Chichi sighed. “Yes,” she said. “Stupid wall,” she mumbled as Lydia left.
She waited and waited and waited, staring at the blue sash in her hands and she waited and waited and waited, and then she doubted the meeting was even going to happen at all.
Maybe they moved it, she thought.
Maybe they decided that—she felt it then, the rush of energy that Doreen told her about.
And she knew it was time.
She wrapped the sash around her head and in a blink, she disappeared.
The witches sat around a table with one empty seat, at the edge of nowhere in the land of dreams. Chichi was the last to arrive. She looked down at her clothes and saw that she was now wearing a simple blue iro and buba.
“Nice of you to join us, child,” said the woman in yellow sitting beside her as she held her hand, “it has been very long since we last saw. Look how big you are!”
Chichi smiled as she gave her a hug. “Aunty Eve,” she breathed into the woman’s chest.
“How are you?” Eve asked holding Chichi at arm’s length. “How old are you now? How’s your mo—Doreen?”
“I’m 17,” Chichi grinned. “And she’s fine, she told me to greet you.”
A cough came from the head of the table as a woman in red adjusted herself, shooting daggers at them with her eyes. “If both of you are quite done, we have a meeting.” A woman beside her in purple with her feet on the table smirked. Doreen had told her about them both: the big woman in red was Funke, head of the Witches of Blood and Tears, and the lavender one was Efem of The Witches of Feud.
Eve flashed her a wink as she placed her hand on the table. “Yes,” she said, “let us begin.”
“What about…” Chichi was saying, her eyes going to the empty seat.
Efe smiled at her. Chichi didn’t like the way she looked at her, made her skin crawl.
“The representative of The Witches of Night will not be present for today’s meeting despite the arrangements,” Funke answered with a sigh. “She encountered a…problem. So, Efem?”
“Sha, for me,” Efem said, using a toothpick to remove something from her teeth, “we’ve compromised at least three politicians this month. Business is booming more than ever. We’ve brought crime to a whole new level, more guns on the street and more sacrifices to us. It just keeps coming in.” She twirled her hands.
“That is good,” Funke said. Looking at Eve with mild distaste, “Representative of The Witches of Sun? What is your status report for the month?”
Eve maintained her composure and managed to smile. “So far, five women have come to us for fertility. They have accepted our…terms of sacrifice,” was all she said.
“You’re sure?” Funke prodded.
“Yes. I am.”
Funke looked at Eve for a moment longer. “That is good,” she said, and then looked at Chichi. “Witch of Auchi?”
“Well…” Chichi said.
“Well?” Funke answered with narrowed eyes.
“We’ve done…a lot this month. A lot.”
“Oh. You want me to tell you now?”
Chichi dropped to a whisper as she used her hand to shield her mouth. “But there are other people here.”
Funke sighed. “Yes, girl. This is a meeting.”
“Yes. So, your coven’s deeds for the month?”
“Yeah, you guys will like what we’ve been up to.”
Chichi looked around. “Are you guys ready?”
Efem smiled, her hands out. “We are. Spill.”
“Okay, okay. I’m about to spill.”
Efe nodded. Funke glared. Eve looked expectantly.
Chichi slumped in her chair, then she perked up. “Last week, we helped an orphanage that was running out of food. We made the food with our magic. I grew a tomato myself!” she beamed. “Then, we charmed the governor to provide sanitary—”
“What the hell are you saying, girl?” Efe said, her eyebrows furrowed. “Your coven has been…helping people?”
Funke rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You Witches of Auchi have been a problem for centuries, you know that, right? Have you even been Initiated?” She pointed at Chichi. “My mother wrote about your leader in her diaries. That Doreen.”
Efem smiled again. “I actually like the woman, she has style,” she said and then she looked at Chichi, “tell her to come to me when she wants a real woman, not that stick.”
Chichi balled her fists and was about to talk when Eve placed a hand on her shoulders. “My fellow witches,” she said, “the girl is young, and The Witches of Auchi have been invaluable comrades for generations. It doesn’t bode well to speak ill of them like this.”
“Yes, Eveth,” Funke said. “But where did they come from? We can all trace our origins to our founding mothers who braved the Void millennia ago. Who is the founding mother of the Auchi Witches, hmm? We all get our powers from each of our Infernal Sources, but from where do the Witches of Auchi draw power? Why is their magic so different?”
Eve spoke with calm. “Discretion has always been our code.”
Funke looked at Chichi and clicked her fingers. A glass sphere filled with blood appeared in her hands. “Girl, aren’t you tired of not knowing? Of all the questions and no answers?” She asked Chichi. “Don’t you want to become your own witch? Take this sphere and break it when you want to call on me.”
“You don’t have to take it,” Eve warned Chichi. But Chichi had her own thoughts. Her own questions. And all Doreen had ever told her to do was wait till she was ready, that things would be clearer after her Initiation. She was getting older now, and she wanted to be like the others. Strong. Confident. To be able to walk through walls without banging her head.
“It’s okay,” Chichi told Eve as she opened her palm, the glass sphere floating into it.
“I think that the Witch of Auchi should be excused,” Eve announced. “She has done her duties to the best of her ability. She must leave. Now.”
Efem leaned in. “But we were only just—”
Eve held up her hand. She then turned to Chichi and smiled sadly. “You should go now,” she said and gave Chichi a hug, whispering something in her ear. Chichi looked confused as Eve kissed her forehead. “Be safe,” she told her.
And Chichi disappeared.
“So,” Doreen said as she removed the vials and tubes from her bag, “how was the meeting? Did anything interesting happen?”
Chichi thumbed the glass sphere in her pocket and rolled her tongue nervously as she shook her head.
Doreen finished unloading her things and then looked at Chichi over the shop counter, her eyebrows creased.
“My baby,” she said, cradling Chichi’s head in her hands, “you’ve been very quiet. Are you okay?”
Chichi hesitated. Then, “Something happened today.”
“What?” Doreen asked, anger flashing in her eyes as blue sparks flew out of her body, “If that child, Efem even—”
“It wasn’t her,” Chichi said, “it was Aunty Eve. She said I should tell you something.”
Doreen cocked her head.
“She said…She said I should tell you that they’re suspecting. That they’re…close.”
Doreen’s hands fell to her sides. She pulled Chichi into a tight hug as she stared into the distance, not speaking a word.
None was needed.
None could do.
All art by Anthony Azekwoh