image cr. to Sara Golish
It was twilight and the clearing was packed.
At first glance it looked to me like every known species of entity in the several worlds was present and jostling to be close to the high table at the centre of the clearing. I could see why. There was a giantess there presiding over a great, open book which lay across a desk that seemed to have grown out of an immense tree stump. I could only assume that she was the Osun.
On closer inspection of the entities I was being squished by, I decided that even if it wasn’t every known species in the several worlds, it was every known one in Africa. Particularly in West Africa. I recognized the wetly glistening, iridescent forms of the water types gossiping animatedly on my left and the hairy, shuffling, brightly patterned tube shapes of Egungun lowing gently at my right with melancholic gong sounds.
I did some shuffling of my own. I was not used to wearing my precious body anywhere but where it belonged and it wasn’t just the heat from standing in a crowd that was making sweat prickle under my armpits and dampen my shirt. I felt nervous and vulnerable. As a rule, I stay away from deities. Ayo was right about them being powerful and sometimes mean. Temperamental was the term I would have used. Most things that are as powerful as them tend to be that way since very few things are strong enough to put them in their place. An annoyed deity could snuff you out of existence without a second thought and that would be that. A deity in a gracious mood however…
I sought out the Osun because African deities tend to be less moody than most since they are mostly still celebrated and revered in many worlds. Since people depend on them a few of them have developed a weird Noblesse Oblige frame of mind and see those that come to them for help as responsibilities. The Osun in particular has a reputation for settling disputes between entities within what she considers her jurisdiction. Since, to my thinking, only an entity could have stolen my thing, and Lagos was only a few hours drive from Osogbo where her shrine was, I figured that me and my case were part of that jurisdiction. At least I hoped we were.
I was expecting it but my stomach still lurched with fear when the voice of the giantess suddenly said, “Maro.”
She raised her great head showing a face patterned with an intricate patchwork of spiraling scars. Her features were large and her eyes were long and completely black. No irises, all pupil. The colour reminded me of Ayo. “Are you here or not, I haven’t got all day,” I heard her voice plainly but it also echoed inside my head.
Everyone had started to look around before I gathered myself sufficiently to answer breathlessly “I’m here! I’m coming!”
I had to struggle to the front since none of the creatures in the clearing seemed inclined in any way to move out of my way. I stepped on the tail of something shapeless and scaly that seemed to be carrying its own darkness and It hissed at me showing me sharp, yellow teeth. I hissed back even though I probably looked stupid doing it in my human body. It looked startled and I hurried past it with a measure of satisfaction.
At last, I stood as firmly as I could in front of the woman considering I was being jostled from behind and looked up – and up some more. She was like the height of a medium sized tree and – on looking more closely – she, like her stump table, appeared to be growing out of the ground. When you followed her massive body downwards, instead of a hemline and feet poking out from either side of the desk, all I could make out were great, knotted roots that plunged into the clearing floor.
I always thought Osun and the river that was named for her were the same thing. Serves me right for expecting things to make sense in the In-betweens.
I looked up again to see that the woman had bent back to the massive book she was writing into. In the dying but never quite dead light her skin was as dark as wet soil and seemed impossibly shiny and supple where it was visible through her indigo dye tunic. A scarf of the same colour covered most of her head. Out of the exposed end of the scarf, her hair extended in what I initially thought was a threaded style. Now I was beginning to suspect that the elaborate framework was exactly what it looked like. A network of twigs.
The massive woman made an irritated sound, “Do you have a case or are you a tourist?”
I cleared my throat, “I’m here to file a complaint, Ma,” I told her.
The woman looked up and now it was her turn to stare. “What,” she asked narrowing her long eyes, “in blackest salt are you supposed to be?”
“Er – ” I began to sweat again, “I’m abiku.”
“A-bi-ku?” she drew out the word, snarling it from the back of her throat. I hoped fervently that none of my million siblings had offended her recently.
Everyone seemed to realize something was up. A stiff breeze had picked up making the brush around us whisper while all the entities in the clearing suddenly quietened. I felt the attention of a few hundred supernatural beings, visible and invisible pressing down on me.
“Why?” the Osun leaned over her wide desk towards me,“would an abiku come here wearing her human body?”
“Th-that’s what I’m here to complain about, Ma!” I heard myself stutter, “I can’t leave my body! I lost my – my thing!”
Now the giantess looked incredulous. “You lost your thing?” she repeated, the sound knocked against the inside of my skull. I nodded holding my head.
Suddenly she snorted, a short, powerful sound that I felt tremble through the ground underneath my feet. “You shouldn’t have been so careless,” she said dismissively, “an Abiku without its thing is a human being. All that is left is the forgetting. Next.”
“Wait! You don’t understand!” I gripped the table desperately as a stocky man with three fierce eyes and a belly the size of a cauldron began to painfully elbow me aside. “It was stolen! And I still have time to get it back!”
The noise level in the clearing had risen again. The giantess slammed the flat of her hand down on her table. It was a solid affair, riddled with carvings and smoothed silky by time. The sharp sound of her heavy palm on its surface brought an answering hush. All attention was on us again. “Stolen, ehn?” the woman said her glance suddenly speculative.
Then all of a sudden a great rustling roared through the trees like all the leaves surrounding the clearing and maybe even all the leaves in the world were chattering at the same time at the top of their voices. I found myself covering my ears because the noise was so terrible. Around me the entities shrieked and moaned, adding to the cacophony. The woman’s immense hand reached forward and caught my jaw. Her grip was rough and I was sure it would leave marks, in fact, I was sure that just a little more pressure would definitely put me in hospital. I felt my eyes water and I regretted the temerity that had made me come here with all my heart.
The woman drew me forward and peered into my eyes. Her irisless pupils seemed even huger than before (or was it just that we were closer?). I suddenly had the sick feeling that I was peering down two bottomless holes. I could even feel the pull of vertigo.
“Orisi risi,” her voice pushed into my already crowded head, “it takes all sorts.”
She let go and I fell back violently, jolting my bottom on the clearing floor.
“Go in. She wants to meet you,” the giantess hummed. The voice was only in my head now as there was too much noise from everything else to hear her physically. I gazed up confused. Go in where? And who wanted to meet me?
“Just look in front of you…honestly, you abikus…”
I did as she said and realized I hadn’t noticed that there was gap at the bottom of her table/trunk just large enough to crawl into. With one more cautious look upward and feeling rather like Alice and her rabbit hole I moved forward and pushed myself into it.
I squeezed my eyes shut and tensed expecting a sudden drop. When none came I opened my eyes and found myself in a dark, crawl space tunnel. Behind me was the gap through which I had entered and I could see the lower halves of the crowd of entities outside. I heard the hard slap of the Giantess’ palm on her table again and the hush that followed, “The next creature to make one peep of sound gets eaten,” the Giantess growled. I decided to get a move on.
The tunnel bent a couple of times but otherwise was pretty straightforward. After a few minutes crawling, it began to get a bit brighter and I realized I could hear water. A lot of it.
It didn’t take much longer to finally see the end of the tunnel and the source of the water. It looked like the subterranean passageway opened up into a waterfall.
I approached it then holding my breath I passed through the heavy curtain of water and found myself in a glade that was apparently the venue for –
– a – um – pool party?
There were lots of kids, my age or slightly older, some in white skimpy things, some in nothing at all, playing in and around the pool formed by the waterfall. Loud eoro-pop music was playing from somewhere and everyone seemed to just be – well, partying.
I stood there kind of gaping.
Someone standing outside the pool, a guy that was thankfully wearing what looked like a pair of white board shorts, noticed me and motioned me over. Hesitantly I made my way to him, wading trough the water that wasn’t very deep then climbing out of the pool. As soon as I set both feet on dry land, the water ran off my body like mercury and drained back into the pool leaving me completely dry.
More gaping on my part.
I turned back to the guy that had called me over. He was elegantly slim and his brown skin had that typical, water entity iridescent sheen in the dappled sunlight of the glade. His light brown eyes roved over me in a distinctly hungry way. A lazy smile broke out on his face showcasing teeth that seemed too white and too many, “don’t you look – yummy,” he drawled.
I backed away sure he didn’t mean it the way it would be interpreted in Dim world.
“Relax,” he said grinning more, “we’re well fed here. Besides, she wants to meet you. You’re supposed to follow me,”
One more over generous smile and he turned and set off as though he expected me to follow him. I didn’t feel it was entirely wise to but I was pretty sure trying to run away would be even stupider, plus I was beginning to have a hunch about who “She” was. So long story short, I wandered into the glade at what I hoped was a safe distance behind the water type. He took me someway in till we stopped at what was seriously the widest tree I have ever beheld in real life.
For real, it would have taken fifteen minutes to get around it even if you were walking briskly.
There was a wide ladder kind of moulded into it (or did it grow that way? It looked so organic) and we climbed up it. Up in the branches I found myself in what could only be described as the lounge of a pimped out tree house.
Branches seemed to have woven themselves into a dense couch padded with silky looking upholstery that took up a central position in the lounge. A tall, light skinned girl with braids past her butt sat in the couch sideways, her feet drawn up.
She was painting her toe nails white.
She looked up alertly when we climbed in. Her eyes were light brown too. “Hey!” she smiled when she saw me.
“Hey.” I answered back instinctively then flinched. If my guess was right, she and not the great tree woman I met earlier, was the true Osun. I shouldn’t treat her casually even if in her white t-shirt and white jeans she reminded me of nothing more than another teenager like me. “That is – I – I greet you well, Water Mother!” I hurriedly amended.
She didn’t say anything and I frowned. Was that correct? I wondered if I should try to sing one of her praise songs. I wasn’t even sure I knew any…
She signaled to my escort to leave with a motion of her head which he did with one more knowing smirk my way. Seriously, what was with him!
When we could no longer hear him, she motioned for me to come forward. I did. Then she patted the bit of the couch near her firmly.
Carefully without taking my eyes off her, I sat.
She went back to painting her nails white. “So they stole your thing, ehn?” she said, “that sucks.”
“Er….yeah,” I answered less than eloquently. I wasn’t sure how to deal with her. She was acting so…I don’t know, normal.
“I made a few calls already. It’s definitely not in your plane any more. And whoever has it knows how to hide it.”
Holy crap, did this mean she was on my side? Despite myself I relaxed, so relieved that she was helping me. “I know, right?” I said unable to hide my excitement, “I keep wondering how someone strong enough to do that could have come near my thing without me knowing!”
“It’s because they didn’t have to,” the Osun said looking up from her toe nails, “and that’s whats working in your favor right now.” I must have looked confused because she sighed and explained further, “Spirit transactions are kind of like credit card ones – they leave a trail. It’s not as clear but it’s there. Two transactions were made to take your thing from where you hid it.”
My eyes widened. Two transactions? Meaning someone made a deal with someone who made a deal with someone else to get it. “But who?” I asked more than a little baffled, “and why?”
Suddenly the Osun swung her feet down to the floor making me start. She stretched her legs in front of her admiring her handiwork. There was a smile on her face now that was too similar to that of the irritating entity that had brought me to her. “Hey, Maro,” she said, “how about a little transaction of our own?”
I froze. Uh-oh. I should’ve known. Deities were never so chummy with you unless they wanted something. Oh God, what would it be? My unborn children?
She glanced at me from the corner of her eyes and their was a really weird look on her face.
“Not a spirit transaction. Just a casual one. You want to know something, I want to know something too.”
The weird look was still on her face. I didn’t relax again because I couldn’t imagine what I could possibly tell her that she didn’t already know. “Okay…?” I said noncommittally.
She faced me and her brown eyes were solemn. She had a youthful face but it wasn’t strikingly beautiful or anything like that. In fact, she looked like any averagely pretty girl in my school. Only the big brown eyes and the sheen on her skin (like the colours that swirl around in bubbles) were remarkable and if not for them, she was not a person that would have stood out to me on a regular day. It really reinforced the feeling that I was sitting in the bedroom of some kid I maybe knew from school gossiping about TV shows. Except her room was made from tree and she was a goddess. It was truly weird.
“Okay,” she took a deep breath like she was drawing nerve, “first of all, how exactly did you cross over from your plane with your body?”
This wasn’t good. I had sworn over several things dear to me including my missing thing that I would tell no one that Ayo had done this for me. He would be soooooooo pissed if I breathed a word of it to anyone, dim or entity.
But… then what would have been the use of his doing it at all if I couldn’t even get the information I came here for? Since he’d broken all his rules to do it I had to at least make sure it was worth it, right?
Maybe I wouldn’t have to tell her everything. “A Witch,” I confessed reluctantly.
The Osun never took her eyes off me, “I know,” she said, “but – which one?”
I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t open my mouth and rat out my friend. I looked helplessly back into the Deity’s eyes instead and felt myself begin to tremble. Would she get angry and kill me?
“Was it – Anikulapo?” she asked.
Shocked, I breathed in sharply and gave the game away.
The Osun closed her eyes and looked vindicated, “I knew it!” she said, “I would know his signature anywhere.”
I trembled even harder. Where we in trouble? Ayo was so right! This had been a bad idea! I wondered if I would get a chance to tell him I was sorry! “Loo – look,” I stuttered dread making me desperate, “he didn’t really want to do it – it was my fault completely! I forced him!”
The Osun opened her eyes and the look she turned on me was amused. “Didn’t I tell you transactions leave a trail?” she smiled, “I can see the one you made with him on you.”
Ah – so… she’d known all along.
I guess the reason she’d wanted to see me was to confirm it.
“Okay, another question,” she said . I sighed. I guess the main cat was already out of the bag. Ayo couldn’t kill me twice.
“Do you know, if it’s really him or – y’know – a reincarnation.” That funny not quite looking at me directly look was on her face again.
And suddenly in a burst of insight I realized what that look was. Fear must have really been messing with me or I would have recognized it sooner. It was a look I was pretty used to seeing where my friend was concerned.
The Osun was – blushing.
Even the Deities, Ayo?
I sighed again wondering what their history was. Too bad I couldn’t tell her what she probably wanted to hear. “He’s a reboot,” I said quietly.
“Oh,” she said over casually, “I thought so ‘cos it’s been years… like hundreds of years.”
I nodded then there was a small awkward silence.
“Um – ” I finally said wondering how to bring us back to my thing.
“The original buyer is hidden,” she said quickly as if she’d read my mind. “The first transaction was with a witch and the second was with an abiku like you. Both of them are in your plane,” she looked up and gave me a small, sad smile, “Sorry. That’s all I can tell you.”
An abiku and a witch, huh.
It wasn’t everything but it would do.
Witches were like religious people. There were tons of pretend ones (like Jumoke and her gang) in Dim world but only a few actual ones. Apart from Ayo, that was.As for Abikus – there was just one other one active in my locality and we were about to have a family reunion.
“Thank you, Water Mother,” I told the Osun, grateful for her help. Grateful to be alive too.
She smiled and raising her hand, she touched my forehead. She had rubber bracelets on her wrist including one of those wwjd ones that were all the rage in the 90s. “I’ll send you back, ” she said, “just close your eyes”
I closed my eyes. Nothing happened.
“Maro, ” she said.
I opened my eyes again.
“Did it seem like he remembered me?”
I felt really bad. The Osun was nothing like I’d expected. In fact, she seemed really cool. Like, I would’ve wanted to be friends with her if she wasn’t a scary goddess. I didn’t like disappointing her.
“I don’t know, ” I told her. But then – I remembered how Ayo had said her name without using “the”. Had it really been because he’s gotten used to talking like a Dim? Or was there something more? “Maybe,” I amended my opinion.
She smiled then the way your friend smiles when you tell her you think the boy she likes was looking at her at the party last night. “Close you eyes,” she said again more cheerfully. I did as she asked. Her voice was near my ear, “back to where you came from,” she said.
I opened my eyes and I was sitting under a cashew tree in the backyard of the Anikulapo’s Compound in Osogbo, the Osun’s voice echoing in my head.
I blinked up at the sharp sunlight then blinked again when a silhouette blocked my view.
The silhouette crouched in front of me showing itself to be Ayo wearing a necklace of cowries over his t-shirt and jeans and a very stressed expression. He reached forward and began to pat dust out of my hair.
“What the heck took you so long?” he complained, “I was worried.”
I opened my mouth to tell him everything that had happened and then the trauma of the entire adventure caught up with me.
Much to my surprise, I burst out crying.
FYI: All the chapters for this story can be found HERE on Channel One with the most recent chapter at the top.