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<<Re-read Chapter I

Season of the Babalawo

Shonubi dipped the spring-loaded spike on his ring into poison and blew on it until it dried. He carefully sheathed the spike and checked his appearance in the jagged mirror fragment leaning against the wall of his hut. Squinting in the gloom at the painted markings on his face and neck, he grunted in satisfaction that his appearance did justice to his fearsome reputation.

            Setting off on the short walk to the shrine, he fought an urge to hum a tune, considering it unbecoming of the gravity of his office. Clouds of dust, rising and falling with each step, formed transient, spectral faces to accompany him on his journey. Instead of humming he spoke practised gibberish to the dust clouds, and they answered back, in a language even his befuddled brain did not understand.

            Dust clouds were plentiful when the land was parched, and when the land was parched, people went hungry. Shonubi enjoyed the hunger of his people. Hungry people needed someone to intercede on their behalf with capricious gods and mischievous spirits. This was his time, the time of year when blistering days turn to icy nights, and bones young and old are chilled by the dry harmattan wind that flows south over the Sahara, sucking moisture out of crops, skin, lips, eyes, washing on the line, even spit on the ground. Nothing was too small or too insignificant for the voracious desert wind that brought forth the Season of the Babalawo. The wind brought Shonubi a living; in return he gave it thick, red blood to drink.

Lifting his eyes from the ground, he saw the men who awaited him, standing in a

circle at the shrine. They saw him too and edged closer to the fire as if his approach sent a chill down their spines. In its exposed setting the naked flames offered comfort, but little warmth, so the men pulled cloth wrappers tighter about their shoulders, stamped on slippered feet, and blew hot, damp breath into cold, cupped hands.

 

            Iyabo heard an anguished scream. She sat up in bed and placed a palm against her thumping chest. Across the room Kehinde and Taiwo were fast asleep. She kept very still and strained to hear, but nothing seemed amiss, so she concluded it was nothing more than an animal howling and returned to the zone twixt dreams and wakefulness in search of sleep.

            Her head had just nestled comfortably on the pillow when the scream came again. This was no animal cry; it was familiar. She flicked through her memory and it came to her. The source of the scream was the source of her secret whisper. Once it had been indistinct, then it spoke words, now it came as a full-blown, guttural cry. It was Kunle!

            She got out of bed to investigate. His scream came again, accompanied by the rumble of distant drums. It was no howl of pain; it was a summons. The drums beat an urgent, insistent rhythm, in time to the thumping in her chest.

            Iyabo left the house and following her instincts went to the stream that ran past her bedroom window. She realised she hadn’t properly woken and was sleep walking when she saw Kunle paddling in the stream. Kunle wasn’t real and her heart wasn’t connected to a choir of drummers. When the water turned blood red in the moonlight she fought to wake herself, but she couldn’t. The smile on Kunle’s face as he witnessed her struggle told her he was the reason she couldn’t wake.

            Kunle, unperturbed by bloody water, began to dance and skip through the stream to the rhythm of the drums. The moonlight sparkled beneath his playful steps and it looked like he was having fun, but Iyabo did not like this dream and tried again and again to wake. In front of her, Kunle was getting away, but she wanted him to go. She turned to retrace the steps to her bed, to undo this frightening dream, but found only darkness behind her. The house was gone. There was no safe retreat, only a surety of mind that somewhere in the darkness a monster lay in wait. Following Kunle seemed by far the lesser of two evils.

            At the old guava tree, which marked the boundary between homes and farms, Kunle crossed to the far bank and began climbing the hill in the direction of the shrine. Iyabo wanted to tell him not to go there, but she had no voice. She wanted to tell him that she, especially, did not want to go there. Females were forbidden, on pain of death, from being there after dark, but she couldn’t speak and her legs betrayed her, carrying her up the hill behind him as if they had a mind of their own.

            Kunle crested the ridge and for a moment disappeared from sight. When Iyabo reached the top Kunle was waiting for her. He pointed at a fire burning in the distance and spoke with the voice of the stream and the trees and the wind. The words, which sounded like he was gargling as he delivered them, terrified her.

            ‘They want to kill us. Go there and you will see. They want to kill us.’

            Iyabo peered at the figures around the fire, and when she turned to ask Kunle who they were he was gone. The dream was over. Mama and the twins were at home asleep, where she too should be. She was alone, half naked and barefoot in the dark. She looked at the orange glow coming from the shrine, and despite her rising trepidation, knew she had to go there.

 

As she crept forward the gathering round the fire took shape. So many men! It looked

like most of the adult males in the village had come. She looked for a way to get closer to the huddle. The area was barren, the only concealment a cluster of bushes into which two men were urinating. She was frightened, and wished she could observe from afar, but Kunle had said ‘go there’ and he meant her to hear what would be said.

Dropping to her belly, she crawled in a semi-circle around the edge of the shrine until

the line of sparse shrubbery lay between her and the fire. She crawled up to the bushes, hoping the men were done easing themselves. All she could think as she inched her way forward, was that this recklessness would mark her last night on earth, and by the time she slid under the low branches her head was spinning from an adrenaline-fuelled high.

Iyabo was trying to get comfortable on the hard, stony ground, when a guttural cry

and a loud squawk brought everyone to attention. She looked up and for the first time caught sight of Shonubi, arms raised, clutching the wings of a black cockerel that were pinned behind its back. The hubbub fell to a murmur and died away.

From her position beneath the foliage, Iyabo thought the silent men looked like

statues, the features of their faces lost in shadows cast by flickering flames. The wind rose and whipped away the last, strangled cry of the cockerel as its throat was slit. Shonubi chanted incantations in the strange, high-pitched language of the spirits only he understood. Holding the dead bird by its feet, he placed a fist beneath its dangling neck to let blood pour over his hand and spill to the ground. After a few drops struck the earth on their way to the thirsty spirits, he dropped the carcass at his feet and cast whatever had been in his blood-soaked fist into the fire.

Blue-green flame shot up, and all bar Shonubi stepped back in surprise. In the brief

breaking of the circle, Iyabo got a good look at the man in his ceremonial glory. She had never seen him like this - stripped down to a leather loincloth, anklets of cowrie beads, a necklace made from canines hanging round his neck. His body glistened from red pigment mixed in palm oil, and white markings decorated his face and neck.

Shonubi spun his head in her direction, and his mop of thick, black, matted hair,

which hung down to his shoulders in dreadlocks, swung apart. Iyabo was too far away to see his features, yet memory and imagination recreated for her the hard, narrowed eyes, and deeply gouged tribal marks on his cheeks. Iyabo’s heart was in her mouth. Shonubi looked like a beast sensing prey that has foolishly strayed into its lair. She felt drawn to him and dug her fingers into the soil to resist. An urge rose in her throat to cry out and confess her presence, but to her great relief, he looked away, and she could relax and breathe again.

The fire burned brightly. Shonubi, dancing drunkenly around its base spread his arms

wide and exhorted the flames to rise ever higher. The flames flickered high as his head when he trembled violently and screamed. Possessed by the spirits his juju had summoned he pointed one bony finger at the sky above and declared in his shrill, unnatural voice that the gods had decided the matter before them, and their judgement was death!

An involuntary squeak escaped Iyabo when she heard the judgement, and her

stomach convulsed with an involuntary urge to vomit. She was lucky the men were too far away to hear her, but even if she’d been closer the hubbub accompanying Shonubi’s proclamation would have drowned her out. She gave up the unequal struggle with her body and threw up where she lay.

Iyabo felt light-headed, as though she was only slowly emerging from a far away

place. Shonubi’s words collided with her reason in the ether and she wanted to laugh at their absurdity; but they weren’t funny, they were horrific. Like a judge reading his summation, Shonubi explained the logic of the gods’ judgement.

 

‘The Fashola children are juju children, not of this world! They are in league with

witches. They brought bad luck to the village and will bring more unless they are sacrificed and their hearts removed before they are buried. These children, especially the twins, are the reason the harmattan wind is so unrelenting this year. The girl is the cause of Mama Aina’s miscarriage. The trio working together caused Papa Muyiwa’s charms to fail him, which is how he came to die from snakebite despite the fact he was wearing charms to protect himself from the very creature that killed him. No charms can protect you from these children. If you want to live, if you want to protect your families, these children must die!’

Featureless faces nodded sagely at this explanation in chest-puffing, self-

congratulation. It appeared that not a man among them had failed to anticipate the verdict, with which they all agreed. It was an unpleasant but necessary evil, and Shonubi would surely do the hard part.

Iyabo felt sick. She covered her mouth and sobbed. She continued watching in a state

of curious detachment, as if a sick voyeur inhabited her body. Only when Shonubi began daubing chicken blood on the forehead of each man did she galvanise herself into action.

Stealing away from her hiding place, she crawled back the way she’d come, down

the hill and across the stream. Once in the clear she ran until she reached the edge of the village, where running was no longer safe. She was too young to be abroad alone at this time of night, and if she was seen coming from the direction of the shrine she might be delayed or detained.

Behind her a muffled cheer disturbed the trilling of crickets. She turned to see yellow

pinpricks of light. Torches were being lit. The men would drown their inhibitions in palm wine and religious fervour, acquiring the reckless courage needed to carry out their dark intentions.

 

When the door to her room flew open, Mama gave a shriek of surprise. It opened so

hard it bounced on its flimsy hinges.

 

‘Iyabo! What is it? Are you okay? Is it the boys?’

‘Mama, we must go!’

‘What? Go? Go where? What are you talking about? What’s up with you?’

‘Mama please just do as I say. We must run!’

Iyabo saw only bewilderment on her mother’s face, and had no time to explain. She

ran from her mother’s room into hers, where she seized the mattress her brothers were sleeping on and turfed them onto the floor.

‘Oya! Get dressed. Quickly! Come on! We have no time!’

 

Mama stayed in her room, momentarily frozen, and listened to Iyabo banging about

next door. Was this witchcraft? She inched her way fearfully from the room and followed the noise. She stood in the doorway and watched Iyabo gesticulating wildly at the boys, trying to mobilise them but succeeding only in scaring them. They weren’t going to do what she wanted and just wished to be left alone to return to sleep. Mama grabbed Iyabo’s arms and pinned her against the wall.

‘Iyabo, stop! What-are-you-doing? What’s the matter with you? Stop this!’

         

Iyabo’s eyes retained the wild-eyed terror of a cornered animal but Mama’s superior

strength and ability to restrain her told.

         Iyabo stopped struggling. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and composed herself. Being pinned to the wall was an effective reset. She put her head forward and whispered in Mama’s ear.

 

‘Shonubi has just told all the men we are juju children. He said the gods have

declared we must die, or we will bring evil here. The are all at the shrine, but they are coming.’

‘What?’ Mama swayed on her feet and for a moment looked like she might faint, but

she recovered her poise. ‘No… How can he say such a thing? Who would believe him? Who would believe a man whose mother’s husband was not his father?’

‘They all do. They believe him because...’ Iyabo couldn’t bring herself to say the

words, to confess that the dreaming had continued after she vowed they would stop. ‘Even Uncle Olumide believes him. I heard him say we were Abiku. I thought I was mistaken, but tonight I saw him there. I saw him.’ Iyabo began to cry.

‘No. Not uncle Olumide. Your father’s cousin could never say such a thing.’

At this, Iyabo’s face became a picture of enraged contempt and she spat out a vicious

riposte.

‘He cheered when Shonubi said they should kill us!’

Mama had no answer. Iyabo’s face, her child’s raw anger, left no doubt she was

telling the truth. They embraced and rocked gently from side to side, comforting each other.

 

Time passed, neither willing to speak or to break the embrace that brought on a

strained peace. The twins exchanged worried looks, knowing something strange and disturbing was happening. Then, from far away, a war cry carried through the open door. Mama raised her eyebrows quizzically. Her eyes locked with Iyabo’s and they did not need to speak to confirm its source. Iyabo wiped away tears, her face set in grim determination.

‘Come!’ she took Mama’s hand and led her outside.

‘Look!’ she said, pointing to a procession of torches snaking towards them down the

hillside.

‘You see? They’re coming. They’re coming here! When they get here they will kill

us. They will kill me. They will kill Kehinde and Taiwo. Mama, they will kill you too. They will make you watch us die, and then they will kill you. You know this. We must go!’

 

But Mama would not go. No amount of pleading or cajoling or threatening could

persuade her to move. Even the twins, tugging at her arms when they emerged from the house, confused and scared, failed to register with her. She just stared at the procession of torches and seemed unable to speak or hear.

Iyabo waited as long as she could. Seeing they would soon be in sight of the mob,

she abandoned her mother, took her brothers by the hand, and dragged them away. Something about their sister’s desperation, and their mother’s catatonic state, persuaded the twins that Iyabo was the one to follow.

‘Come on!’ she urged, turning away so they wouldn’t see her tears. ‘Mama will

follow us. Come on!’ And such was the force of her will, the boys, believing Mama would follow, ran with her.

At the edge of the village Iyabo cast one last, despairing look over her shoulder.

Mama was a small figure illuminated by a flickering pool of light from the house. She would not be coming. Iyabo’s sadness was matched by a fear that made her weak at the knees. She stared at the stars and tried to drink in all the wonder of the world in one sweet moment. It came to her in a sickening rush - she’d been right; this would be her last night alive.

 

Shonubi rounded the bend at the top of the street. In one hand he held a flaming

torch, in the other a knife. Only now did Mama react to the threat. She strode into the house with grim purpose and quickly stuffed clothes and pillows under the sheets, so that it would look as if the children were asleep in bed. Then she extinguished the oil lamp, plunging the house into darkness, and took up a position behind the door.

She was standing there, trying to remain still and quiet, when her bare foot came into

contact with cold metal. It was the machete she used on the farm. Bending her knees, she groped in the dark for its handle and seized it.

A minute later, long shadows of men bearing all manner of weaponry – scythes,

rakes, knives, cudgels, and machetes - crowded through the open doorway. Mama pressed her back against the wall and gave thanks for the way her shadow knit seamlessly with theirs.

One shadow grew taller than the rest. Shonubi crept forward and peered inside. He

entered the house stealthily and put his head into the rooms. Seeing motionless shapes in one room and an empty bed in another, he tiptoed back to the doorway to announce to his followers in a loud whisper: ‘They are here. Look for the mother; she’s not here. She must have abandoned them. Or maybe they killed her.’

A collective gasp went up at the suggestion the juju children might have killed their

mother. Faint hearts took a backward step, a little less certain things would go their way. Killing children was one thing; killing juju children who could kill you back was altogether different.

Mama held her breath as Shonubi passed. He was so close she caught his scent - a

mixture of rancid sweat, stale herbs, and harsh liquor. Her heart beat so hard she could hear blood rushing in her ears. She closed her eyes and prayed for divine intervention, and if that wasn’t forthcoming, then for the courage to face what was.

Right up until the moment Shonubi raised his arms and threw back his head to

receive the adulation of his followers, Mama had not known what she would do. That triumphal gesture triggered something she didn’t know she had inside her. All her being was possessed by one overwhelming feeling: hatred; her mind consumed by one thought: revenge.

Shonubi never heard her parting words. In the aftermath, Mama wasn’t sure she’d

spoken them. All her thoughts, her fears, her hatred and need for vengeance, erupted in a maelstrom of blind fury that reached its crescendo in the sickening thud of a machete embedding itself deep in the back of the Babalawo’s head. The men outside, who were preparing to enter the house after their leader, backed away as he staggered from the doorway towards them, still holding his knife and torch. The expression of surprise on his face caused them too to be surprised, before he fell forward, dead.

For Mama, the storm of emotion now gave way to deathly calm. She stepped from

the doorway, covered in blood spatter.

 

‘You came to kill my children eh? You dogs. Just try it and you shall live to regret

your mothers weren’t barren.’ 

 

Mama slipped the knot at the back of her neck and the cloth wrapper that she wore

for sleep fell to the ground. Naked, she wrenched the machete from Shonubi’s skull and drew its bloody blade across her torso. Blood began to flow from the wound, but so much adrenaline coursed through her veins she didn’t feel a thing.

‘You want my children? Come and get them.’

 

With her free hand she smeared blood from the cut across her face and wiped her

hand dry in her hair. Then she pointed the blade at the crowd.

‘I want you to see what I will do to myself, so you have no doubts about what I will

do to you. Let the first one of you whose genitals are bigger than the red-headed lizard’s step forward, so I can send you to join this animal.’

So saying, she spat on Shonubi’s corpse, placed a bare foot between his shoulder

blades, and waited.

Mama had no illusions about her fate. For killing the Babalawo she would pay with

her life. But while these murderous men delayed, the children were escaping. Nobody expected this turn of events and she’d bought them time.

She caught sight of her husband’s cousin hiding shamefully at the back, and the

thought process leading to this point became clear. The children couldn’t outrun grown men. They could not have escaped without a diversion. To buy them time she had to stay and fight.

Martyrdom didn’t trouble her. The joys of living are worth dying for. Those were the

last words her husband said before the fever took him. As the crowd began to rumble with anger and inch closer, she knew now what he meant.

 

Lost

To be lost in the jungle in the dark was to die. This was the wisdom Iyabo and her

brothers received from their parents, and this was their belief. Every rustle in the undergrowth or cracking twig was the sound of the wild jungle spirits gathering for the kill. Such was the children’s fear of the bush they made no attempt to go deeper than its fringe until the flaming torches marking the pursuit came into view.

Fleeing the pursuit, Iyabo believed the men hunting them were herding them to their

deaths. These men had experienced hunters in their number, and they closed in fast. The torches drew nearer, the noise of the pursuit grew louder, and Iyabo knew they would be soon be overtaken. They couldn’t outrun their pursuers who had the massive advantage of light in the dark. Their only hope was to hide. She stumbled upon a spot where the gnarled roots of a mangrove tree stuck out like the misshapen toes of a giant. Placing her hands over her brothers’ mouths she pulled them to the ground with her and they lay between the roots.

            Their parents had instilled the belief that Ifa would always watch over them. He must have been watching that night because the moon hung like a bulb in the sky when Uncle Olumide pushed his way past the branches that hid them from their pursuers. He stared straight at their hiding place, his eyes coming to rest on Iyabo’s face. The bushes behind him began to shake and Iyabo opened her eyes wide, begging.

            ‘They’re not here,’ he said over his shoulder, turning quickly to create a new direction for his companions to move in. Iyabo held her breath as a machete-wielding party of men, stripped to the torso and with murder in mind, moved on by.

            Being terrified was exhausting. Once the hunt melted into the blackness they talked a little. Iyabo had to explain all that had happened, but she was careful not to mention Kunle, and said only that she had woken to and followed the sound of drums. They had no heart for a more in-depth conversation, their sense of loss was too great. Iyabo persuaded the boys to sleep, and planned to keep watch over them. As the night wore on she thought she’d close her eyes for just a second, but when she opened them again it was dawn and the birds were busy in the trees.

            Iyabo drank in the wonder of life in a world she was sure she’d be leaving in horrible circumstances only hours earlier. She felt desperately sad, but at the same time she couldn’t quell the rising joy that accompanied the thought: I’m alive! The boys are alive! We’re alive!

The rising sun had yet to chase the mist from the treetops but she was too wide

awake to return to sleep. Shrugging off stiffness, she raised her head from the lumpy root that had been her pillow, eased Kehinde’s leg off her thigh, and got up to inspect their surroundings.

She’d not been up long, and was drawing patterns in the ground, when Taiwo stirred.

She heard him approach but chose to ignore him.

 

‘What are you doing?’

Iyabo glanced up.

‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I was trying to work out where we are. I thought about going for

a walk, but I was too scared to go on my own.’

‘Do you think we can shout for help? If Mama is searching for us she might hear us.’

Iyabo didn’t reply. She suspected they’d had the same thought as soon as he asked

the question – that Mama was dead. Neither could bring themselves to say it, so it gnawed at the silence, creating a sense of unease they didn’t know how to relieve. When Iyabo spoke she could tell from his scornful expression that Taiwo found her evasive. He looked angry, as if he thought their predicament was all her fault, but there wasn’t much she could do about that.

‘We can’t risk Shonubi and his friends finding us,’ she said, ‘he’s probably looking

for us right now.’

‘What do you want to do then?’ It was as much an accusation as a question.

‘I think we should pick a direction and follow it until we come to a road, or maybe

another village.’

         Taiwo stared into the impenetrable jungle and clearly didn’t like the idea of venturing deeper into it. His face said it all - they were already hopelessly lost, why make it worse?

 

‘Iyabo, the bush goes on forever. We’re just going deeper and deeper into it.’

‘Do you have a better idea? Can you remember the way back? Even if you did, we

can’t go home, we have to go somewhere else.’

           

As Taiwo pivoted on the spot, trying to identify the way they had come, he came to

realise what Iyabo had found when she woke up; there were no clues they could interpret to help them pick a direction.

‘We didn’t come from there,’ he said, both aimlessly and pointlessly, speaking more

to himself than his sister.

Iyabo watched indecision gather on Taiwo’s face. She rolled her eyes to the heavens.

They were in trouble, she was the eldest, so she would have to take the lead.

 

‘Right,’ she said, tossing her drawing twig away and taking command. ‘Let’s do it.’

 

She looked to the East and the rising sun. It represented a direction if nothing else.

 

‘We’re going that way and we should start now, before it gets too hot.’

Iyabo woke Kehinde by tickling his ear, but for all her gentleness she was in

determined mood. His refusal to rise met with a no-nonsense response. He was pulled to his feet and made to march in the middle, with Iyabo setting the pace and Taiwo bringing up the rear.

            It was hard going and they made slow progress through the dense vegetation. The heat and humidity were oppressive, insects bit and bothered them, and branches snagged their clothes and hair. They’d left without shoes, and though the soles of their feet were hardened from years of going about barefoot, sharp stones and thorns pricked their feet painfully.

 

            The jungle was so dense it was difficult to see more than a few feet ahead, but it was still a surprise when they came upon a massive boulder barring the way. The sun was at its zenith and Iyabo thought the decision on when and where to rest had been made for her. The twins needed no encouragement to follow her lead and slump in the shade of the rock.

A short while later, with the vigilance of a surrogate mother, Iyabo spotted Kehinde

rising.

 

‘And where do you think you’re going?’ she whispered, trying not to wake Taiwo

who was catching up on missed sleep.

‘Nowhere,’ Kehinde whispered back, his tone all injured innocence.

         Iyabo raised her eyebrows knowingly.

‘Well you look like you’re going somewhere to me. Nowhere is right here, with me

and Taiwo.’

‘I’m just going to look at the rock,’ Kehinde replied, matter-of-factly.

Iyabo couldn’t forbid his exploration, and thought it best to reserve her authority,

such as it was, for weightier matters.

‘Don’t get lost, and watch out for snakes!’

The caution concerning snakes was a desperate attempt to get Kehinde to stay, but

he’d received that particular notice too often for it to have any effect. He skipped out of sight, experience telling him that if he delayed Iyabo would think up a list of prohibited activities. He was quite sure that given time to think, Iyabo would have put a big fat ‘don’t’ around the idea of climbing the rock, which was the very thing he intended to do.

Out of sight, he searched for a starting point and spotted a long crack running like a

chimney to the top. It represented a tricky and arduous ascent but he felt equal to the task. Twenty minutes later, his self-confidence was justified. It had been a gruelling climb but he’d made it, and as he looked out over an unbroken carpet of green tree canopy, he knew it had been worth every bead of sweat.

Kehinde was a king surveying his green kingdom. He’d hoped from his vantage point

to see a road, and if not signs of civilisation then birds, snakes, even monkeys. There were none of those things to be seen and eventually he tired of staring at treetops and began investigating the rock itself. On hands and knees he crawled across it, following a vein of dark ore that ran in a jagged line through its centre, until he reached the edge. Peering down, he decided he’d found an easier way back to his siblings than retracing his ascent.

As he descended, Kehinde found himself in a gloomy, eerie world. On this side of the

boulder the trees cast more shade and hampered his progress, with branches that reached almost to the rock face. An unusual flower growing from one of these caught his eye, and he reached out to pluck it. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he slipped and fell.

 

Iyabo and the newly awakened Taiwo were engaged in conversation about food, and

where they might find some, when Kehinde’s anguished yell rent the steady jungle hum they’d come to regard as silence. Leaping to their feet, they sprinted round the rock to find him.

Taiwo saw him first, floating face down in a narrow stream that flowed silently past

the base of the boulder. Tall reeds grew there, obscuring the near bank. He leapt in amongst the reeds and landed waist deep in water. Iyabo followed suit. Soon they had Kehinde between them, flipped him onto his back and pulled him to the far bank.

 ‘Kehinde! Kehinde! Kehinde!’ Taiwo shouted into his brother’s face, and getting no

response began to cry. Iyabo dropped to her knees and began shaking Kehinde. She delivered small slaps to his face to try to rouse him, but there was no reaction. Taiwo was annoying her, wailing about their brother being dead when she was not so sure. She shouted at him to shut up, pulled Kehinde’s shirt open, and put her ear next to his mouth.

He was breathing! She could see the faint rise and fall of his chest, and when she put her hand on his abdomen and pressed down sharply, she felt his breath on her ear.

‘Kehinde!’ she called out, her mouth only inches from his ear, but there was still no

reaction.

Taiwo stopped wailing but remained highly agitated.

‘Iyabo, what are we going to do?’

She thought for a minute. There wasn’t much they could do.

‘One of us will have to stay with him while the other goes for help.’

Taiwo shook his head and wrung his hands.

‘No way. I’m not going on my own and you’re not leaving me here. We have to stay

together.’

Iyabo was pleased Taiwo killed the only sensible idea she could come up with. She

was sure it was the right thing for one of them to go for help, but she would rather stay with her brothers and die than be the one to do it. She felt certain that if she forced Taiwo to go off on his own she’d be handing him a death sentence.

She looked at Kehinde. He looked so peaceful. Her thoughts focused in on him, on

how much she loved him. To her surprise, the more she let her mind drift in this direction the more she felt she could see something hovering around him. She’d instinctively looked for his aura and hadn’t seen it, though that was not a surprise because auras did not show in true sleep. Yet now she detected a dark haze around him, and wondered if she could connect to it. If nothing else, she was curious.

Iyabo drifted into a daydream and learnt that Kehinde’s dark aura was not magnetic.

It would not come to her, so she decided to go to it. Bending over Kehinde, she rested her forehead on his. If it were possible for their different auras to mingle it had to happen if their heads were touching.

In her mind she posed a simple question, with a single unspoken thought: are you

there? She felt a hint, a feeling he had tried to answer but was lost and needed to be guided out. Emboldened, she asked, over and over again: Kehinde, are you there?

 

Taiwo saw Iyabo’s aura grow, which infuriated him. This was not the time for

daydreaming. Their brother was dying and she was wasting precious time. He was about to tap her on the shoulder and ask what she thought could be obtained by this pointless exercise, when Kehinde opened his eyes and said ‘yes.’

 

Later, Kehinde was so obviously recovered, Iyabo took to berating him.

‘You fool. You had me so worried. It’s true what they say - give a madman rope and

he’ll make a noose for his necktie.’

         Kehinde took the ribbing in good humour. He was fine, though he couldn’t remember falling. He sat naked on the ground while Iyabo rinsed his muddy clothes and stretched them out on a bush to dry.

The sun beat down with rare ferocity. Taiwo paddled in the stream to stay cool. Iyabo

fashioned a cup from a leaf and offered Kehinde a drink. When he’d drunk his fill, she knelt beside him, pulled him close, pressed his head to her lap and stroked his hair until he fell asleep.

 

Kehinde woke to find his siblings splashing playfully in the stream. He was

disorientated and momentarily forgot where they were and how they’d got there.

‘Iyabo!’ he shouted, reaching out to the proxy mother with whom he’d always felt safe.

Iyabo looked up and saw Kehinde was awake. The game she and Taiwo had been playing stopped, and she smiled sweetly. Kehinde scowled and stuck his lip out.

‘Aw Kehinde. Come on, don’t be cross,’ Iyabo pleaded playfully, wading towards

him and smiling. ‘Come and try it. It’ll cool you down and make you feel better.’

Kehinde shook his head.

‘I’m hungry,’ he declared. ‘There’s no food, we haven’t eaten in… In forever, and

you’re just playing.’

Iyabo walked up to him and took his face in both hands.

‘All right,’ she said, ‘if you give me a smile we’ll find some food. Okay?’

‘When?’ Kehinde wore his most defiant expression.

Iyabo knew there was only one answer that would suffice.

‘We’ll look right now.’

‘Then Taiwo has to get out of the water.’

         Kehinde didn’t see the look that Iyabo gave Taiwo, but it was effective because Taiwo let his shoulders drop and walked out without a murmur.

‘And I’m not eating any rubbish!’ Kehinde added for good measure, as Iyabo threw

his clothes in his lap.

Iyabo paid no attention to Kehinde’s likes or dislikes. Her instructions were to forage

for fruit, termites, grubs, anything that looked like a vegetable, and eggs of any description.

Kehinde was only half-heartedly foraging when he made an exciting discovery.

Growing at the foot of a tree was a cluster of mushrooms. He recognised these as something they’d eaten before and called out to Iyabo.

‘Can we eat these?’ he asked hopefully.

Iyabo came to see, dropped to her knees and broke off a piece of mushroom. She put

it in her mouth and chewed slowly. Kehinde watched her reaction carefully. Iyabo swallowed and hesitated a moment.

‘Delicious,’ she said, a broad grin breaking out on her face.

Kehinde picked a mushroom.

‘Oh no you don’t,’ Iyabo said, grabbing his hand when it was halfway to his mouth.

‘We’ll gather these and take them back to the clearing by the stream. We’re not

eating here on our knees. Besides,’ she added, using her tried, tested, and thoroughly ineffective ruse to get him to do her bidding, ‘there may be snakes around.’

 

            The mushrooms were poor fare but better than nothing. A while later, Taiwo found a crumb of mushroom in his lap and noticed it had purple gills. Or were they red? He didn’t care, there were too many other interesting things going on in his head for him to care much about the colour of mushrooms. For one thing, the stream had stopped flowing and had turned into a silver road that glistened in the sun.

            Kehinde giggled and said Iyabo looked funny. Taiwo looked to see what was funny about her and noted she’d acquired the same purple hue as the mushroom gills. She appeared to be captivated by her hand, staring closely at it like she was looking at the lines on her palms.

Taiwo found that colours looked different - brighter and more vibrant. The silver road

that had once been a stream, spoke to him. It whispered in his head, telling him it led to a secret city of light where his mother and angels waited for them. Yes, he thought, we are dead. We died here and this is the road to heaven. He explained his theory to Iyabo, but she wasn’t listening.

 

If she’d been minded to speak, Iyabo would have told her brothers about the golden

orb in her hand. One minute she was looking up at the sun, the next she found she could reach out and pluck it from the sky. By the time she decided to tell them what she’d done, Kehinde had rolled away from her, and was crawling on his hands and knees inspecting the ground, while Taiwo had left them and was walking in the stream.

She watched Taiwo for as while, and became mesmerised by the splash of water

beneath his feet. Walking through water looked to be the most wonderful thing to do, so she decided to follow him.

Iyabo danced through the stream, spinning and laughing, reaching down to scoop up

handfuls of liquid light and hurl them in the air. She lost track of time and distance, and when Taiwo stopped and sat on a sandbank she collapsed in a happy heap beside him, closed her eyes, and spiralled into a whirlpool of madness.

            Iyabo’s world of delight transformed itself into a terrible dream, in which the stream picked her up and carried her away against her will. She was fighting its flow when it cast her adrift in the centre of an inky-black pool. Around her the walls of a vast cavern, streaked with white crystal and flecked with red ore, sparkled with light, and she was momentarily absorbed with its beauty.

The sense of wonder did not last. Something told Iyabo she was not alone in this

mysterious place, and she grew fearful of the unknown. At first she linked her fear to the black water, and the possibility of something dangerous in it. Then she heard the whisper, looked for Kunle, and saw Kehinde instead.

He wasn’t in the water with her, but instead was sitting on a boulder by the edge of

the pool. He seemed happy, and something about his happiness was wrong. Her fear had not abated, if anything it was heightened, and Kehinde’s happiness was unguarded, like a tail-wagging pup, which meant he would not see something was wrong. He saw her, and waved. The wave was wrong. It was a gesture of farewell, not of greeting. Coming up behind Kehinde to rest a hand on his shoulder was their father. This wasn’t right. Papa was dead. Kehinde had to be warned to stay away from him.

‘Kehinde get into the water! He’s dead! The water is safe. Get into the water! Papa

can’t follow you into the water!’

Why the ghost of her father had to stay out of the water was not something she

considered, she just knew it to be true. Kehinde left the cave accompanied by their father. Iyabo screamed, and screamed, and screamed, but she never knew if her brother heard her, because the act of screaming woke her up.

 

She was in bed. Turning her head revealed Taiwo in the bed next to hers. He was

talking to a white man. She tried to speak but found it difficult. Her tongue felt like it had been glued to the roof of her mouth. With much concentration, she managed to utter his name.

‘Taiwo?’

At the sound of his name, Taiwo turned to face her. She could see he was as confused

as she was.

‘Ah young lady, awake at last,’ the white man said, turning his attention to her and

speaking in his strange, Oyinbo accent.  Without asking permission, he lifted her eyelids and shone a torch into her eyes. Iyabo didn’t have the strength to resist, so she waited until he’d finished. He remained between the beds and began writing notes. Iyabo moved her head so she could speak to Taiwo behind his back.

‘Taiwo, where are we?’

 ‘I don’t know.’

‘How did we get here?’

‘I don’t know.’

Iyabo looked about in desperation, almost too scared to ask the question that emerged

from her throat as a strangled whimper.

‘Where is Kehinde?’

Iyabo’s eyes begged for an answer, but Taiwo had none. They had lost their brother

in the bush.

I hope you enjoyed chapters II and III of The Oracle of Osho. There will be more coming your way shortly. As always, your feedback is warmly welcomed and I hope you'll get in touch to let me know what you think of the story so far.

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