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Yayabe and the Child
A lowly being claws its way unto the surface into the land of the living and is determined to prove itself. How best to do this but to steal a child?
The soft earth bulged, shuddered and rose until it broke out in cracks, breaking into clumps of damp soil. Through its cracks seeped a fetid stench that coloured even the night's air with sallow wisps. What seemed like hands pushed through the seeping sore on the ground, pulling along a malformed dark mass that was the rest of its body. From the folds of that featureless mass, dripping with dampness, a face unveiled itself. Bulbous eyes, barely slits, squinted through thick lids that shut themselves against the night's brightness, for even the darkness of the night was a bright light deep down in the realm it had just come from.
This nsojida had no name, for from where it came, even amongst the lowliest, it was lower and as such undeserving of a name. For a name in Wajida, where all nsojida dwelt, implied recognition and only the strong bore names. Deep within the bowels of Wajida, it had stumbled into a darker shadow, one darker than the usual blackness that engulfed that realm. This darker blackness had swallowed the unsuspecting nsojida and spat it out somewhere in the bowels of Mba from where it had clawed its way out and unto the surface.
It pulled itself out of the hole, hunched over like one too aged to stand upright. Long, hard limbs extended from a body shrouded in an insubstantial mass that seemed like floating black water, like a spider shrouded in thick black smoke. Upon all of this, upon the long, many-jointed limbs hidden within its insubstantial form, upon it all was a face like the ancient ikuku masks, forbidding but yet forlorn.
Its form curdled, bulged and sank as it surveyed the night, dripping its essence in fat black drops upon the soil. The air seemed too fresh and the sounds too quiet. It hissed and sneered. This is what the nsojida were denied, this is what men enjoyed. Its anger and envy rippled through its dark mass and it hissed louder in resentment. At that moment, a cry pierced through the night, the cry of a child that had barely seen half a season. Nothing else it had come across so far enraged it as much as the child's cry. It chose a name for itself then and there. Yayabe, the stealer of life. It would find this child and steal it, yes, that was a fitting way to celebrate its arrival and new name. Yayabe shook itself like a large bird ruffling its feathers and tentatively held out one arm to knead the air. The child's cry came again and it felt the direction from where it came and pushed itself towards it. It was slow; moving upon Mba was unfamiliar to the nsojida, so it crawled slow and patiently towards the child's cry.
Yayabe's journey was slow but in time it arrived at a hut whose window was lit by light from it's single hearth. For a moment, the nsojida squatted in the shadows, blinded by the light that was even greater than that of the night. It waited as it's unused eyes grew accustomed to this new light and as it waited, it's hatred, anger and envy grew within it. Did they have any idea what it was like to be Odajida's child? To be trapped in a darkness so complete that even your very essence was a part of it? To be tormented all your life by those greater than you and made to do their bidding, and in Yayabe's case, to be so low that you were unworthy even of a name. Well, tonight things were going to change. Yayabe hissed as it swore it's oath. Biding its time, it waited in the shadows of the bushes and trees, watching through that single window as the child's mother laid it to sleep, watching as the hearth was put out and the rest of the household retired.
Yayabe pushed out of its hiding place and surged towards the window. Now its movement was more fluid, flowing like thick oil on a wet surface. Through the open window, it slid in, its fetid stench mingling with the night's cool breeze. For a moment, it scanned the household, listening, feeling, waiting. When it was sure no one was about, it sniffed the air and made its way towards the infant's cot. There was no cleaner smell than that of a newborn filled with innocence.
The nsojida breathed in that smell with its whole being as it cast its slit gaze upon the child curled up in oblivious sleep. So peaceful and unaware of the evil above it, the child gurgled in its sleep. Looking upon the child, Yayabe's anger rippled through its body. How can one be so peaceful? In Wajida, peace was non-existent. It reached out with its dark limbs and pulled the child deep into its folds and went out the way it had come, trailing its acrid stench behind it. Yayabe felt an emotion unlike any it had ever felt before. Was it joy or satisfaction? It couldn't place it, but one thing was certain, it liked this new feeling. As Yayabe retraced its path, it realised it was heading back to the hole it had come from and that thought stopped it in its tracks. Going back there would mean going back into it and back to Wajida. No, there was no way it was returning to Odajida's domain. Even if it returned with the child, a greater nsojida would claim it as its catch. No, it had to find a new dwelling, a place fit for a newly coronated nsojida to establish its new domain.
Yayabe lifted its head, its body stretching like the congealed sap of an uge tree. It held its hands up again and felt the air, feeling for a suitable area in which to seek dwelling. It sniffed the air blowing windward and hissed. Through its slit eyes, it saw the form of distant hills. Some hills had caves and if these didn't, it would make one. Yayabe shifted its bulk and began heading in that direction, all the while, the child slept blissfully within its folds. The hills were closer than it had thought and in little time, it stood before the surface of its roughest side. The nsojida had found no opening on the other side of the hills and had decided on making this side of it the entrance to its dwelling, right next ot the trunk of a large tree and where there was enough grass and bush to prevent wanderers from stumbling upon it.
It placed a hand on the surface of the hill and called upon its suru. It's body shook and shuddered as the unnatural energy coursed through its form and filled the inside of the hill before it with space. If there was one thing this nsojida had been good for back in Wajida, it was in filling a place with void. The nsojida's suru flowed like a dirty stream, carving out the inside of the hill to its user's desire. When it was done, the face of the hill crumbled like grains of sand and Yayabe slid into its new dwelling, pleased with itself. It divulged the child from within itself and placed it upon the floor of the newly formed cave, hissing with glee at its accomplishment.
Yayabe stared at the sleeping form before it and it soon began to realise that it had no idea of what to do with the child. It wasn't an nja that ate the children they stole or an nsowi that consumed the iku of its victims before taking its place in their body. Yayabe had never amounted to anything to be granted any special attributes. Just as its anger and frustration began to manifest, the child's eyes opened. For a moment, they stared at the each other, Yayabe hissing and the child gurgling, and then at the sight of a face it failed to recognise, the child opened its mouth and cried. Yayabe's whole body rippled and shuddered with the piercing sound of the child's cry as it resonated within the walls of the cave and it let out a loud hiss of its own. Yayabe stood frozen and confused, looking around and wondering what to do. As the child's shriek grew louder, Yayabe's agitation grew until it could bear it no more and it fled the cave.
That was not a child! That was a little nsojida, Yayabe thought as it paced the mouth of the cave. How could it silence that terrifying sound? It could kill it, but Yayabe could see no pleasure it would gain by killing the child. What could it do? There was no way it was going to return its first prize back to suckling at the bosoms of its mother. Just then an idea occurred to the nsojida. Suckle! Yayabe remembered seeing the mother bringing the child up to her bosom and watching the child suckle greedily before relaxing into the sleep from which it had snatched it. Quickly, Yayabe shot back into the bushes seeking out a tree he had passed by while seeking out the crying child. It remembered the spiky fruits it bore and how they had disgorged tufts of juicy white flesh as it slashed at them. They were ripe and full of white juice, very much like the milk the child's mother had fed it. Yayabe hissed with pleasure and delight at its brilliant idea.
The nsojida returned with a hand full of those spiky fruits and rushed to where it had laid the child. With one of its taloned fingers it punctured the fruit and let the juice drip into the child's crying mouth. The child stuttered in its cry as the sweet nectar dripped into its mouth and then its little hands grabbed at the nsojida's hand in search of the source. It held on to Yayabe's hand, pulling it closer until it was sucking noisily from the hole in the fruit. Yayabe hissed but stopped itself, fearing it might provoke the child into another fit of crying. It watched the child feed in silence, holding on to its finger and now sucking gently and steadily at the fruit. Soon it had its fill, yawned, gave a half-hearted attempt at crying, stuck its thumb in its mouth and slept off. Yayabe hollowed out a portion of the cave's wall into a bowl and laid the child into its crook, padded with the cloth it had snatched along with the child from its cot.
For a long moment, the nsojida stared at the sleeping child wondering what exactly it planned on doing with it. It decided the night was still young; it would wander the lands around until it decided on what to do. Hopefully, before Iya ascended to the sky. It had heared rumours down in Wajida that Iya's rays could destroy lowly nsojida such as itself. So Yayabe set about to prowling the night, hissing and thinking of what it could possibly do with the little child. It could eat it and see if it granted it more powers as it did the n'ja, or he could feel the child's inside with void and force itself inside it, not exactly what the nsowi did but it might work. Yayabe let out a frustrated hiss. Here it was on the surface of Mba and where it should be tormenting and torturing the lives of men, it found itself tormented with uncertainty. Maybe it could take the child with it back to Wajida, surely such young and innocent blood would be worth some recognition. Yes, that seemed like the best plan so far. That was exactly what it would do. For the second time that night, the nsojida hissed with glee and gathered itself before quickly heading back for the cave.
As Yayabe moved through the bushes and grass, it's head filled with thoughts of its imminent grandeur, it began to get a strange feeling. A feeling it was very well familiar with, so familiar was it with this growing feeling that even its form began to prickle and shudder. The nsojida stopped and sniffed the air, something was there but it couldn't quite tell what it was. Agitation erupted in rippling bumps over its body as it scanned around the bushes, desperately searching for the sudden cause of its uneasiness.
*Be still, nso.* A voice boomed from the shadows causing Yayabe to almost shed its form in terror.
At that moment, Yayabe realized the uneasy feeling that had been welling up inside it. Fear. That overwhelming feeling of fear that it had become so accustomed to back in Wajida. Yayabe cursed itself. A few moments upon the surface of Mba had already dulled its senses. Back in Wajida it would have long since sensed the air was filled with malevolence and departed from that area without sparing a moment's thought. The nsojida froze in place, staying as still as it possibly could.
*Face me, nso.* The voice commanded.
Slowly, Yayabe turned in the direction of the voice and if ever its greatest fears were given a single form, it stood before it right there and then. It was another nsojida, but not just any; it was a horned-one. An Oda’nja! It towered high above Yayabe, tendrils of shadows flailed about it. From high up there, a menacing face looked down with a very malevolent smile. Yayabe took very little consolation at the sight of the single horn that curved from the side of the Oda’nja's head into the night because it found itself wondering about how many children would an nja have to devour to become a horned one. Yayabe quickly flattened itself against the ground in obeisance.
*Where have you come from?*
*Wa_wajida.* Yayabe stuttered.
*What is your mission, nso?*
Mission? Yayabe's fears deepened as it recalled that the only time lowly nsojida made their out of Wajida was when they were required to do the bidding of a greater nsojida. Yayabe had no mission.
*What,* the Oda’nja boomed as it drew closer to the cowering nsojida and grabbed it by the neck, *is your mission! Have some of the others sent you to spy upon me, nso? Speak!*
*No, Oda’nso, great spirit,* Yayabe grasped for words. *I have no mission! I fell into an m'iru and it brought me here.*
*An m'iru?* It held Yayabe away and looked at it long and hard as if trying to determine if there was truth in its words. *It is not unheard of for a m'iru to open up in Wajida, but it's quite unfortunate that it's worthless nsojida that stumble upon them.*
*I speak the truth, Oda’nso.*
*Of course you do, would you dare tell me anything but the truth?*
*Do you have a name, nso?*
*Yayabe.* The nsojida spoke without thinking, forgetting that its kind were deemed unworthy of names.
*Yayabe,* The Oda’nja said and laughed into the night. *A very ambitious name, one more fitting of myself than of you, nso.*
Yayabe cursed itself again. Why was it being so stupid? Was it the clean air getting to its head and clouding its thoughts?
*Tell me, Ya-ya-be,* it spat the words out separately, each part dripping with venomous sarcasm. *How many lives have you taken?*
Yayabe opened its mouth to speak, to gloat about the child resting in its cave but it caught itself and snapped its mouth shut.
*I thought so,* the Oda’nja said. *I admire ambition in a fellow nsojida, but not in one as worthless and insignificant as yourself.*
Yayabe's anger rose with the humiliation it felt. *I will become worthy one day.*
*Ah, stubbornness, a good quality every nsojida should possess, one that would get you killed by the likes of me.* Its smile glinted wide and toothy in the darkness. It peered at Yayabe's defiant expression, still layered with fear but defiant nonetheless. *Such confidence, nso. What makes you so certain that you will ever be worthy of yourself given name?*
Yayabe looked away from the greater nsojida's unflinching gaze.
"Ah, you hide a secret.* The Oda’nja's hand tightened around Yayabe's neck, its talons pressing dangerously into its skin. *What are you keeping from me, nso?*
Yayabe writhed in the nsojida's grip, its form rippling in fear but still it said nothing.
*Good, good, there is no pleasure to be gained from an overly willing victim is there?* The Oda’nja's talons dug into Yayabe, piercing through just as easily as the lesser nsojida's talons had pierced the fruits earlier. The nsojida hissed in pain and defiance. It stole the child by and for itself! It was its own very first accomplishment, one guaranteed to make it worthy! Why should it surrender it all to this nsojidai, Oda’nja or not?
The choice was made for it. The horned nja dug its talons deeper into Yayabe and unleashed its malevolent suru. Yayabe writhed in agony, shrieking like an ija-ja on fire, for it felt as though a searing stream flowed through its insides. The agonised nsojida trashed and shrieked, lashing out inconsequentially at the Oda’nja. For all its fierce looks and ambitions of worthiness, Yayabe soon began to realise it was lacking in so many ways.
*A child!* Yayabe gasped. *A child!*
*What?* the Oda’nja asked, relishing its cruelty. *Did you speak, nso?*
*A child,* Yayabe managed to gasp through its pain. *I stole a child!*
*I'm disappointed, nso. I expected more resilience. You showed some promise earlier but now you are just as pathetic as the rest of your lowly kind.*
The greater nsojida released Yayabe, tossing it unto the dirt like filth. *Speak.*
*I stole a child,* Yayabe confessed, its form still shuddering from the suru induced torment. *I hid it away.*
*You manage to surprise me with every word you speak, nso.* Amusement dripped like venom from the Oda’nja's tongue. *And what, Ya_ya_be, did you intend to do with the child?*
Yayabe looked away in humiliation. *I don't know.*
The Oda’nja threw its head back in laughter, its single horn bobbing with its derisive cackle.
*Sadly, you speak the truth. There is nothing one such as you could do with a child.*
Yayabe’s eyes burned with disdain for the nja. Even here upon Mba, not only was it being oppressed by a stronger nsojida, it was also going to be deprived of its guarantee of worthiness.
*Nso, you look at me with hateful eyes,* The Oda’nja said with amusement. *If anything, I do admire your tenacity. Perhaps I might make you my minion, hmmm? Of course that depends on the quality of the offering you are about to bring me.*
It was inevitable that the nja would demand the child, Yayabe had known this the moment he had confessed to stealing it. Yayabe’s anger bubbled through its dark mass as it imagined ways to make its tormentor suffer and feel as much humiliation as it did. The Oda’nja sniffed the air, its lone horn prodding the air like a crooked finger.
*Ah, Iya is about to awake from his slumber. I doubt you would last even a moment beneath his rays. Your suru is no more powerful than the wind from a fly’s wings.* Again the Oda’nja boomed with laughter. *Go. Hide, crawl back beneath whatever rock you have made your dwelling, but at Nda’s rise, return to this place with the child.*
Yayabe glared with as much loathing as it could at the towering nsojida.
*Make no mistake, Ya_ya_be, if you fail to bring me the child, I will scour the lands until I find you, and when I find you, nso, you shall experience suffering beyond what any creature beneath or above Mba has ever known.*
Yayabe nodded. The vehemence in the nja’s threat was almost tangible enough to touch.
*I hear you, Oda’nso.*
With that the Oda’nja faded into the blackness of the night leaving the tormented Yayabe seething and fuming, angry at its powerlessness. Though it was furious, it was not foolish. It knew it had to bring the child to the nja or it would make good on its threat. Heavy and sullen, the nsojida slid back to its cave.
Yayabe hissed as it approached its cave. The child’s cry could be heard even before it neared the entrance. The dispirited Yayabe slid over to the baby, and surprisingly, at the sight of Yayabe, it stopped crying.
*You,* Yayabe hissed, pointing a taloned finger at its face. *Have caused me much pain.*
The child giggled and grabbed the pointing finger. The nsojida yanked its finger back, stumbling backwards away from the child. Yayabe examined its finger in confusion. An unusual feeling lingered where the child had gripped it. It had felt warmth. The nsojida drifted back to the crook and held out its finger again, watching with puzzlement as the child reached for it again, giggling. The child’s grip was warm and tender. Yayabe had never felt these things before and it found itself experiencing stranger feelings within.
Yayabe lifted the child into its arms and cradled it, watching the child busy itself with playing with the nsojida’s form, giggling each time the black mass rippled. Yayabe fed and laid the child back into its crook, its finger still in the infant’s tiny grip even as it slept. Carefully, the nsojida withdrew itself and watched the child sleep peacefully, oblivious to everything around it. A sudden vision of the child being swallowed whole by the Oda’nja suddenly filled its mind and it quickly looked away.
Nda went and Iya rose, and Yayabe remained in it’s cave, buried in thoughts until Iya once again fell into Mba’s womb. All day it stayed by the child’s side, watching and thinking. When the child cried, Yayabe fed it, when it soiled itself; Yayabe used its suru to make it disappear. Every now and then, it would cradle the child to feel its warmth. When Iya had sunk and darkness claimed the lands under Nda’s watchful eye, Yayabe bundled up the sleeping child and laid it deep into its fold before sliding out into the night. It was sure the Oda’nja was already waiting to devour the human child.
Many moments passed before Yayabe finally came upon the place where it had first encountered the Oda’nja.
*You kept me waiting, nso.* It seethed, flexing its talons.
*Forgive me, Oda’nso, I had to feed the child that it may fall asleep.*
*Feed the child?* the Oda’nja reared. *You bring me a sleeping offering?*
Yayabe knew the anger was feigned, it could tell the n'ja was eager to have the child.
*Where is it,* it demanded. *Give it to me.*
Yayabe held back, staying just beyond the reach of the n'ja. *You promised me worthiness.*
*Yes, yes,* the Oda’nja hissed with impatience.
*You will serve me, that is more than others of your rank can ever hope for.*
*Isa-sa Oda’nso,* Yayabe bowed. *Praises to you, Great Spirit.*
*The child.* It was an order, one that might result in unpleasant consequences if not heeded.
From its fold, Yayabe pulled out a bundle and held it out to the eager n'ja but pulled it back just as it reached out.
*You taunt me, nso?* the n'ja roared, even Yayabe trembled with fear.
*No, no, Oda’nso,* Yayabe said quickly. *I was just wondering what you were going to do with the child.*
*Give me the child and I will show you, nso. You test my patience.*
*I only want to learn, Oda’nso.*
In a flurry of motion that Yayabe barely had time to notice, the Oda’nja shot forward and seized it by the neck, digging its talons deep.
*If you intend to be my minion, you must start by doing what I command of you, nso.* The n'ja hissed. *Now. Give. Me. The. Child.*
Barely holding its form together, Yayabe thrust the bundle at the n'ja. The Oda’nja flung Yayabe aside, grabbing the bundle and bringing it to its face, breathing in deeply.
*Mmmm… The smell of innocent blood,* It rolled its head back, hissing in satisfaction. *Know that smell, nso. It is the difference between real power and merely being powerful.*
Yayabe nodded in fear, shrinking away from the terrifying n'ja, just in case it decided to wash the child down with its essence.
*This child makes no sound.* The Oda’nja looked at the bundle and then at Yayabe curiously.
*I fed it a few moments ago, the juice from the fruit causes it to sleep deeply.*
*Ah, a sympathetic nsojida,* It mocked. *And that, nso, is why you may never be like me. You care for these creatures. Nothing like the sound of a terrified child as it is swallowed whole.*
With that it plunged its sharp rows of teeth into the bundle of flesh and devoured it all before Yayabe could look away. When it was done, the n'ja held its arms apart and threw its head backwards, its great horn curving into the darkness, as though it waited for something. Carefully, Yayabe retreated farther away from it. Suddenly the Oda’nja roared and hunched over in pain.
*What have you done, nso?* It demanded, looking accusingly at the Yayabe. *What have you done to me?*
Yayabe decided it was best to flee but before it gathered itself to do just that, the n'ja surged forward, seizing it in its taloned grip.
*What type of child was that, nso? What have you given me?* The hardness of its grip faltering.
*That was no child, Oda’nja.* Yayabe spat. *I killed an animal and concealed its form with my suru.*
*You gave me old blood of a lowly animal?* the n'ja shrieked, attempting to tighten its grip on Yayabe’s neck but already its form was falling to the ground, weighed down by its growing weakness.
Soon the n'ja was reduced to a convulsing mass of blackness on the ground and Yayabe stood over it, watching with angry pleasure.
*You will suffer for this, nso.* It gargled.
*Me? A lowly unworthy nsojida?*
The Oda’nja writhed and contorted in pain on the floor as the old animal blood Yayabe had tainted coursed through it and undid its suru.
*You will pay for this, nso."
*Pay for what?* Yayabe asked wryly. *For bringing an Oda’nja to its knees?*
*Do you know who I am?*
*No,* Yayabe reached forward and grabbed the n'ja's single horn. *And it is not worthy of my knowledge.* It yanked the horn with a sudden ferocity fueled by pent up anger and humiliation.
The Oda’nja bellowed into the night like a gutted cow, its suru bleeding into the night from the open wound in its head. At that moment its suru coalesced and began flowing into the horn in Yayabe's hand which in turn began to melt into Yayabe's form. When the Oda’nja was depleted and merely a deflated shadow of its former self whimpering on the ground, a horn not unlike the one that had just been ripped off began to sprout from the middle of its head like the tusk of a rhinoceros. Yayabe felt a sudden power course through it as this new and more potent suru filled it from within. This was what if felt like to be an Oda’nso. Yayabe smiled and looked upon the n'ja.
Nda had risen high up in the sky by the time Yayabe reached the dwelling from where he had first taken the child, already tufts of darkened clouds where drifting across Nda's whiteness. It watched from behind a tree, its form no longer so small that it could conceal itself behind the bushes. Before going back to the n'ja, it had returned the child but not before taking a drop of its blood to coat the bundle of animal flesh it had prepared as a trap for the n'ja. The child was safe now. From its hiding place, it saw a cacophony of men going in and out of the dwelling layered by the unmistakable wail of both mother and child but above that, it could hear voices too.
"Tomorrow," a voice said with conviction. "We will perform the cleansing."
"Yes," another said. "This child has been marked by an nsojida. It will bring misfortune to the lands if we do not perform a cleansing ceremony."
"You want to kill my child!" The woman screamed, struggling against the arms that held her away from the child's cot. "Please, I beg you, don't do this to my child."
"Woman, can you not see the mark upon this child?" a firmer, calmer voice asked. "That is the mark of an nsojida, see how it spreads from that single spot like the web of a spider? I tell you, your child has been cursed."
Yayabe watched in confusion. All it had done was draw blood from a spot on the child's arm. It's suru must have stained the child's skin with the cracks they saw. A suru stain cannot be undone by mere washing. Foolish humans. It stepped out from behind the tree, deciding the unfolding events were none of its business. As if sensing the nsojida's presence, the child went silent. Yayabe glanced back at the dwelling and locked eyes with the child's mother, staring in open-mouthed shock, eyes still flowing with tears. Swiftly Yayabe veiled itself with the darkness of its form and slid further away into the shadow of the bushes.
It was well into Iya's golden rise when the nsojida resting in its cave and marvelling at its newly aquired powers was disturbed by the sound of someone approaching. It stilled its form and waited. The tired feet of the disturber shuffled in the earth and stopped before the mouth of its cave.
"Nsojida!" A woman screamed. Yayabe had no doubt of who it was. The child's mother had come for it. Foolish woman, it would rip her to bits. "Nsojida, my child will die by Iya's fall. Why take away my child and return it only to have it die. If you gave back my child then I know you do not wish it dead. Please, nso, help me. Save my child!
Yayabe stayed in its cave listening to the child’s mother lament. Her fervent cries began to unsettle it and soon its form began to curdle with annoyance. It lifted itself from its perch and moved to the mouth of the cave. It flinched at Iya’s brightness, the golden rays almost proving more than its eyes could bear. It filled the threshold of the cave; a yawning darkness with two red slits on top of it.
*You dare approach my dwelling, woman?* Yayabe hissed, doing its best to sound menacing.
The woman jumped and screamed, stumbling unto the ground. She had been so overwhelmed by her grief, she had failed to notice the nsojida before her. She opened her mouth to speak but her words had long since deserted her.
*Speak woman,* Yayabe commanded, clearly enjoying her fear. It felt good to be feared for once. *How did you find me?*
“I_I followed you.”
*Bravery or stupidity, we shall decide which it is. Why did you follow me, woman?*
“My child!” She wailed again, breaking into uncontrollable sobs that sent irritation rippling through Yayabe’s form.
*What about your child? Cease your weeping or I shall give you something to weep about.*
“They say he is tainted, that he has been marked by an nso, that he would become a black hearted person who will bring death to our village. They want to sacrifice my child!”
*What you people do to your kind is none of my business, woman.*
“But it is your fault!” The woman shouted in a sudden fit of rage, shocking even the nsojida itself. “You took my child and marked it. It is your mark that is going to kill my child! But you returned my child. Why would you kill me by taking him and kill me again by returning him marked. You are cruel nsojida!”
*It is my nature.* Yayabe replied, not entirely sure it believed its own words. *Why have you come to me?*
“Take my child again.” Her voice was firm, her resolve apparent even on her tear soaked face.
*Has Odajida struck you with madness?*
“Please, nso, I beg of you,” she fell on her knees clasping her hands to her chest. “Take my child again. If you don’t they will kill him. I can not bear to loose my child like that. Please, nso, save my child.”
*I do not save, woman. I destroy.*
“You lie!” Once again the woman’s audacity shocked Yayabe. “If indeed you destroyed you would have killed my child when you first took him. There is some good in you, nso. Please, help me.”
Yayabe’s mind swirled in turmoil. It hated the uncomfortable emotions the woman was stirring within it and hated even more the fact that it could feel a semblance of compassion towards her. Was it pity or guilt? Each one as bad as the other.
*Leave me be, woman, or you shall pave the way for your child’s death.* Yayabe’s eyes deepened with a reddish glow frightening the woman.
Terrified as she was, she fell on her knees and crawled to the mouth of the cave, her face wet, and her eyes bloodshot and swollen from crying. She wept at the nsojida’s feet, pleading until her voice was no more than a whisper.
“I beg of you, nso, please save my child.”
*I have nothing to gain by saving your child, woman. My kind does not save life, we take it.*
“Then a life for a life.” She looked up with that unusual resolve that made Yayabe shudder. “Take mine and save my child.”
Yayabe stared in wonderment at the woman before it. It was beyond its understanding how someone or anything would give themselves in place of another. In Wajida, if you were unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time whatever was meted out to you was yours and yours alone to suffer. Where it came from you were thrown into the fire if it meant saving themselves. Yayabe thought deeply.
*When will they do it?*
“At Iya’s fall!”
*Hmmm, your people are hungry for blood. What will you have me do with your child?*
“Just take it away. I would run with him if I could but I am mother to two others. I cannot abandon them.”
*I shall consider.* Yayabe said after a moment’s thought.
The woman looked up beseechingly. “You will save my child?”
*I said, I shall consider, woman, now leave me be.*
The woman sensed the finality in the nsojida’s words and gathered herself from the ground, brushing off the leaves and dirt from her garment.
“Thank you, nso.” She said, crying, but this time not in despair but hope. “Thank you.” The she turned and fled back down the path she had come.
Yayabe withdrew into its cave and puzzled over its new dilemma. It thought and thought well past when Iya passed its peak. Then its eyes fell on one of the fruits it had gathered earlier. It picked it up, pierced the skin and watched the milky juice flow out of it. It tasted the juice and cringed as its sweetness stung its tongue. Yayabe smiled.
* * *
The child’s scream echoed through the night as it lay on the mat set out in the middle of the compound. Denied his mother’s touch and nourishment, its cry was piercing and shrill. The mother cried silently where she sat, having given up trying to run past the men guarding the entrance of her dwelling. The child’s father stood to the side, his jaw clenched with acceptance. The Orabé have willed it so, he had told his wife, what is done is done, accept it.
A silent hush descended upon the gathering as the eji, the village priest, walked into the compound. He walked slowly towards the child, his cowry-laden staff rattling with each deliberate step and his face set in grim resolve for the task at hand. He reached the child and laid his staff upon the mat as he knelt down. It was to be a silent act, no words needed to be uttered. He reached for the blade tucked into his goatskin belt and pulled it from its sheath; the blade gleaming orange against Iya’s setting.
“Please,” the child’s mother cried from the dwelling, her voice a little more than a croak. “Don’t kill my baby!”
The eji raised the knife with both hands above his head, closed his eyes and began mumbling his prayers.
“Save my child,” the mother prayed, but to a different being than that of the eji. “You said you would save my child. Save my child, save my child I beg you.”
The eji’s eyes opened, he inhaled sharply and brought down the blade.
“No!” The mother screamed, throwing herself past the guards, desperate to throw herself between the blade and her child.
In the moment between the blade’s decent and the mother’s outcry a black wind erupted from the ground. It swirled with furious force, whipping the blade out of the eji’s hands and sending both him and everyone else in the compound sprawling on their backsides. The child’s mother stared at the black wind as it whipped around her child, the corners of her lips twitching into a smile as she realised the nso had heard her prayers.
“Thank you.” She whispered.
Yayabe had bided its time beneath Mba, observing the proceedings and listening to the mother’s cry. Even then, it had still been a little undecided about saving the child’s life. When it saw the blade begin to descend upon the harmless, nameless child, it burst forth from the earth, throwing its form about like an angry wind. It scooped the child into its arms as the eji hurled incantations at it, wide eyed with fear. In the midst of the commotion, Yayabe caught the eyes of the mother and heard her thanks. The last words it heard as it gathered itself and swirled off into the forest were the mother’s last gift to the child.
“Call him, Asanji.” She whispered. “Call him survivor.”
1 Claim: Originally written by Nigerian Fiction member 316 - Gene (Eugene Odogwu)
2 Nigerian Fiction title 156