“We have two rules at the coven. The first is not to kill. Doreen says that life is a precious gift from the gods and should not be wasted. The second is this: break the first rule if necessary. Doreen says that while life is precious, there are decisions that must be made. Whether the gods like it or not.”
Lydia, Witch’s Brew: Theory of Witchcraft
“Witches do not fall. We walk gracefully into love.”
Teni, Private Recordings 2019.
Let me tell you a story.
There was once a girl who had two sisters…
Is it a scary story, you ask?
No, I say, it is not.
There was once a girl who had two sisters.
It is a story of breath, and death.
A story of beginnings, and endings.
A winding tale of wins and losses, fools and warriors, heroes and knaves.
It is a story of peace and war, love and hate. Blood and water.
It is not a scary story; it is a story of life.
There was once a girl who had two sisters. And a mother.
Their father had run away after the youngest was born, leaving them to fend for themselves in a hut on the outskirts of everything. This tale begins centuries ago, before you, before me. Before Mansa Musa would traverse the plains with his riches and deflate the value of even gold, before the Dahomey warriors would terrorize West Africa, before the war that led to the downfall of the Benin Empire. This happened before all that. But close your eyes, listen, hear the soft tunes of the birds singing in the air. Feel the sun on your skin as you walk with your sisters to your mother’s grave. The one you all had to dig.
There was once a girl who had two sisters. And nobody else. They had all died or left. She was the youngest, but she had the most love in her heart, it enveloped her and everything around her. It was her shield, but one day, it would become her sword.
But that was still far away in the distant future.
For now, she was just a girl, with two sisters, standing over the grave of their mother, blue-flamed candles burning while they muttered arcane words of blood magic. They were owed by the universe, and they would collect.
Doreen woke up in the early hours of the morning, in sweat, gasping. But in a moment, she was fine. The nightmares were fine, and after everything she had done in her life, they were expected.
She looked at the time and stood from the bed, got dressed, ready to begin the day. She coordinated the witches as they all dealt with customers and called the distributors. All the while, she was looking at the clock, counting down the hours until it was time.
Was she excited? Or afraid? She didn’t know.
When the time came, she left her chambers and wore a dress she hadn’t worn since 1962 when she was Azikiwe’s plus one at the Independence dinner.
That was how things moved in her life, everything, every person would eventually be was. Everybody but her, that is. She would remain as the world broke all around her. Immortality isn’t staying alive forever.
Immortality is everyone dying, and you being forced to watch.
She wore the dress and snapped her fingers and—
–she was in the restaurant now, sitting down and waiting. She arranged the cutlery to her right, then her left. Then her right again.
Then she felt her, and her head went up, her hands still.
Teni walked into the restaurant, a vision in a blue dress that would have outshone the stars. Every head turned, every mouth moved; male and female. They were in awe, Doreen knew, and so was she.
Teni sauntered to the table as Doreen stood to hug her. They sat down, both of them still smiling at each other. Both of their fingers moving around the table rearranging cutlery. Nervous.
“So…” Doreen said, still smiling.
“So,” Teni replied, also smiling.
A waiter came to their table with a menu, saving them both. “Good evening ladies,” he said, a smile on his face, “what would you like to have this evening?”
“Water for now,” Teni said as she browsed the menu, “we’ll call you later for the food.”
The waiter smiled and left. Doreen gave him a quick glance.
“So,” Teni said, “Chichi is a full witch now. That’s…something.”
Doreen nodded. “It is definitely ‘something’.” She sighed. “Just yesterday she was a child playing with her toy dinosaurs and now she’s all grown up setting men on fire.”
“Awww. They grow up so fast.”
“They do,” Doreen said, her tone dipping. The waiter came back with both of their glasses of water. As he left, Doreen’s eyes followed him.
Teni brought her head forward. “What’s up?” She whispered.
Doreen looked around. “Something is wrong,” she said.
Teni balled her fists. “Is something coming?”
Doreen stared at a man passing by their table. “Where did you find this restaurant?”
Teni shrugged. “I saw it on an ad on a newspaper in the shop. I don’t get it, what’s wrong? D, talk to me.”
Doreen just looked at Teni.
And the penny dropped.
“But…” Teni began, “we don’t get newspapers in the shop. You threatened the boys that used to bring them.”
“Nothing is coming,” Doreen said, standing, “it’s already here. He is already here.”
Teni stood up too and then, the whole restaurant froze. The people stopped eating; the waiters stopped midway with food in their hands. The chefs froze while they were dishing out food, even the lapping flames stopped.
“What…” Teni was saying, and then everyone disappeared, leaving just the two of them.
Doreen walked to Teni and held her hand softly, rubbing her thumb over it. Teni calmed down a little.
Teni looked at Doreen. “How much trouble are we into on a scale of 1 to 10?” she asked.
Doreen looked at her but didn’t answer.
A slow clap rang through the room as a man walked into the restaurant. His black robe was too short to cover his gut. He had a red cane in his hand. There were white markings all over his body.
“Baba Exodus,” Doreen said, venom in her words. “What have you done?”
“Ahn ahn, Doreen,” said the man as he walked slowly to a table in front of them, sitting down, “is that how you’ll greet me?”
“I apologise,” Doreen said. Then, “Baba Exodus, you disgraceful bastard, what have you done?”
“Who is he?” Teni whispered.
“Nobody,” Doreen answered.
“Really?” Baba Exodus said, smiling. “Are you really sure about that? Really really sure? Really really really sure?”
“What do you want?” Doreen demanded.
“I’ve gotten stronger,” he said, inspecting his fingernails. “You can feel it, can’t you? The magic in the air.”
Doreen flexed her fingers, and blue sparks travelled along them. “I will kill you,” she said.
“So will I,” Teni said, with blue sparks coursing through her hand.
“You see,” Baba Exodus continued, not even remotely minding the women, “I have uncovered something. A secret.”
Doreen looked at him but didn’t say a word.
“What secret?” Teni asked.
“It’s a secret of the witches,” Baba Exodus said and immediately started laughing. It was an ugly guffaw. Then he stopped, and looked at Doreen, “She knows. Oh, she knows. It’s all her fault. And she knows.”
Teni looked at Doreen. “What’s he talking about, Dee?”
Instead of answering, Doreen took a step towards Baba Exodus. “What do you want?”
He smiled. “Oh, you didn’t know,” he said. “It’s simple sha, really. All I want is for you, and her” he pointed to Teni, “to suffer. That’s all.”
The windows shut ,and a cruel wind began to blow in the restaurant. “You took everything I loved, you bitch,” Baba Exodus said, his smile gone. “And now, I’ll take everything you love, one by one, starting from your little girlfriend.”
Doreen waved her hands and shot a web of blue fire towards Baba Exodus. But they weren’t in the restaurant anymore.
They were on the shores of a beach. Alone.
It had been two days.
They had traversed the island three times and found no way out. The days were scalding, and the nights cruel and starless.
That bothered Doreen. Where had the stars gone?
They sat on the shore and watched the sun descend in the darkness.
Teni looked at Doreen beside her. “Why does he hate you? Like why does he hate you so much to do something like,” she raised her hands in the air and gestured, “this.”
Doreen shrugged. “It could be a number of things,” she said.
“It could be my height. I am taller than him, maybe that makes him insecure.”
Teni glared at Doreen. “Or…”
Doreen shrugged again. “Maybe he’s jealous of my voice. His is disgusting, did you hear him laugh?”
“Well, there’s one thing, but I don’t think that’s it. It’s too silly, barely worth mentioning, really.”
“Well,” Doreen began, “about fifty or even sixty years back, I may have, not accidentally, actually on purpose, very well if I’d say so myself, and I do say so myself, years ago, I may have, quite simply put, thrown his father off a mountain.”
Teni stared. “What?”
“His father was a horrible man, and a horrible Babalawo. He was sacrificing children through their dreams, Teni. Children.”
“So,” Teni said. “You killed him.”
“Really,” Doreen said, weighing her fingers, “all I did was throw him down. Gravity killed him.”
Teni put her face in her hands. “My gods, Dee. You didn’t think you killing his father had anything to do with his wanting vengeance?”
Doreen stood and brushed sand off her dress, lending Teni a hand to stand too. “I genuinely thought he was over it.”
Teni rolled her eyes. “Sha, how do we leave this place?”
Doreen looked at the sun again. “We don’t,” she said.
“But we have to leave, Dee. We have, you know, lives.”
Doreen suddenly turned and grabbed Teni by the waist, pulling her in until their foreheads almost touched. “We don’t leave,” she breathed, “because we’re not really here.”
Teni looked at Doreen’s eyes, and then her lips. “…How,” she managed to say.
“The stars, Teni,” Doreen said, her grip tight, “what happened to the stars? Why haven’t we gotten hungry, or tired?
Teni bunched the fabric of Doreen’s dress in her hands. “So, this is an illusion?”
Doreen held the look for one more moment that stretched for longer than a moment. When she let go, she could feel her heartbeat again. Teni was panting like she had just run a race.
“It is,” Doreen said and whipped her hand back into the air, holding it in position. Her tone was dark, “I don’t like being threatened.” She squeezed her hand, and Baba Exodus materialised; his neck being crushed by Doreen’s hands.
The sky darkened, and lightning flashed.
“You…” Babe Exodus managed, trying to talk as spittle dribbled on his chin, “you…bitch.”
“You tried to kill me,” Doreen said simply. “You tried to hurt my…” she looked at Teni and then back at Baba Exodus, “friend.”
“He…was the only…only thing we…had” Exodus said, his eyes were red now.
“I don’t care,” Doreen said. Lightning struck the forest behind them. Blue flames burned everything in their wake.
“Dee,” Teni said, staring at the flames.
Doreen continued, raising Baba Exodus in one hand. Her body was crackling with blue energy, “I. Don’t. Care.”
Baba Exodus looked at Teni now as his legs dangled in the air, life leaving his body. “Girl…” he managed, “let me…let me tell you a—story. It is a…story of…of a girl who had two sisters…who are both dead…now…. but—but she lives!” He laughed his ugly laugh, the sound ringing in the air and only stopped when Doreen broke his neck, letting his body crumple on the ground.
It had started raining.
“He’s dead,” Teni said staring at his body.
Doreen walked to Teni and held her chin in her hands. “He is,” she said. “You won’t remember any of this. Now that he is gone, his spell should break and we’ll both wake up.”
She leaned into Teni, pulled her, and kissed her. She slowly stopped and looked at Teni again. “You also won’t remember any of this.”
Doreen was cleaning the shop counter while Chichi was moving around, counting their stock. She brought out her phone and dialled a number.
“Hello, Teni,” she said, “are we still on for tonight?”
Teni’s voice sounded drained, tired. “Yeah…I don’t think we can do it again today. I’m feeling sick. I’m still in bed even.”
Doreen paused before she said, “Oh okay, that’s fine. Maybe another time.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Teni said and hung up.
Doreen stared at the phone for a moment and put it back in her pocket, whistling as she arranged the counter.
Teni looked out of the kitchen window after cutting the phone, her mind racing as it tried to process the strange dream she had. She wasn’t supposed to remember, but she did.
The words…they rang in her head and called and screamed for her to acknowledge them, but she waved them away as she did the dishes.
“Teni!” her husband called, “I’m back oo.”
“Coming!” Teni called back as she dried her hands and left the kitchen, the words relentless, the words following her. She heard them in her sleep, when she was quiet and they came out to play.
There is a story, he had said, a story of a girl who had two sisters. They are dead now, but she lives.
All art by Anthony Azekwoh
About the Author:
Anthony Azekwoh is a nineteen year old Nigerian writer. He graduated from Whitesands Secondary School and now attends Covenant University. He started writing at the age of thirteen. Some of his work has since been published online and in his secondary school’s annual publication. He won the ACT Joint Award in 2017 for his story, ‘The Fall of the Gods’, which was originally published on Brittle Paper and later republished in book format. In 2019, he won the Loose Media grant of $1,000 for his short stories.