The air was cool this evening after the rains which had fallen earlier in the day. All over the markets, stalls were lighting candles and oil lamps in preparation for the night market. This was the perfect condition for a night market. The rains had kept the villagers from coming out during the day and they would come out in swarms tonight to purchase our wares. I unlocked the door of my stall and promptly started my preparations for the night. The people would soon find their way to my stall and I wanted to be ready when they got here. I had just returned with my heavy bowl of ground bean paste. I hurriedly bring out my trusty old frying bowl, black with age. I had stored my firewood deep inside my stall to prevent the rains from reaching it. I bring out some and place on the fire place. I light a match and carefully toss it on the wood and watch it catch fire. Then, with my over-used raffia fan which is probably older than I am, I fanned the embers of the fire till they become a huge blaze. I place my frying bowl over the fire and pour out some groundnut oil from my battered oil can in to the bowl. With my oil heating up, I shift focus to my bean paste, stirring it continuously while adding salt and ground locust bean to the paste. I continue to stir until I notice my oil begin to smoke. I was ready to begin. This was my routine all night. I am the orphaned akara boy of Aro Village in Umuede land.
Obika is my name and frying akara is my profession. I lost my father at a very tender age. I can barely remember his face at all. All I remember is that there was a man that used to be there in my house and now is no longer here. My mother put on a brave face and took over the responsibilities in the house. Luckily, I was the only child and she brought me up with earnings she got from frying akara. While I went to school during the day, she would work on the farm to cultivate the crops we would survive on and some for sale but the real money came from the akara she fried. My mother always prepared her akara with love and smiles. Her customers were dear to her, like a kind of family. She knew all their names and most of the names of their family members. They all loved my mother because she took special interest in their lives. But that all ended three years ago when mother suffered from iba and passed away to the other side. I wept like a baby for weeks. Members of my extended family came to take care of me but soon left after weeks had passed and I was left all alone to fend for myself. I quickly took up my mother’s trade and started frying akara. I loved frying akara. I had learnt how to do it from my mother and by the time she passed, I was an expert. I loved the sound the hot oil made when the bean paste dropped into it. I do not the English word to describe it but the sound it made was “CHHHAAAAAAHHHH!!!” Somehow, I retained the same customer base my mother had. The villagers testified that my akara was as sweet as my mother’s and some said it was even better. My story spread round the village and soon I was known as the akara boy of Aro Village. I did not let all this get in the way of my education though as I made sure I attended school every day as my mother made me promise on her deathbed. But at night, I was the king of the market. The villagers trooped in in hordes and I constantly had to increase the quantity of beans I had to grind each night. It was rumoured that I was using otumokpo to attract good favour but I never paid attention to such stories.
Today, sales were booming as usual. Customers were trooping in and out of my stall. I had just finished frying my third batch of akara.
“Obika, biko give me N100 akara there. Spread small dry pepper on top of it.”
“Okay madam. How are Chinelo, Akachukwu and Ikedi? Please greet them for me oh.”
I was just about to begin frying the fourth batch when I heard the gun shots. They had come again. Of recent, a gang of armed robbers had been terrorizing Aro Village. Not like robberies were uncommon but they rarely occurred with such frequency as these ones have been occurring. I suspected a new gang had begun to operate in town. They had attacked Mazi Chukwudum’s compound the other day and beat up his family when he refused to bring out whatever money they felt he had. The last time they attacked the village market, everybody had left their wares and run away. They raided all the stalls and we came back to salvage whatever thing they had deemed unnecessary and left behind. So today when we heard the shots, the traders and every other person started panicking and began taking to their heels. My first instinct was to run too but the unveil spirit stopped me. Unholy spirit, you might ask. That is another side of my life’s story.
My village had numerous deities which the villagers worshipped. Amongst them was the one they called Idemmuȯ. It was revered by its worshippers and no one ever spoke out its name unless the person was in its shrine. Instead, it was referred to as the unholy spirit. It was a fearful spirit which possessed the body of a man and used him in mysterious ways, usually to mete out justice to whomever it felt was being unjust. The man it possessed was its priest and the role of the priest was hereditary. The spirit did not manifest in a male till he came of age. My father was the previous priest of Idemmuȯ and I was next in line. However, when my father died, I was to be initiated to become the next priest but I was too young and the role passed on to my father’s younger brother. I never told anyone but occasionally, I experience manifestations of the unholy spirit. I heard its voices in my head and sometimes, it imbued me with so much power that I could do things that would make the ears of the villagers tingle. It was the real reason behind the success of my akara business. The unholy spirit made all things work well for me and I loved being its host. So when I felt it surge through my body and force me to remain still, I knew something was up and sat back comfortably.
The gun shots ran throughout the market with its sounds getting closer. A huge market day like this was an opportune moment for them to strike. I sat down in my corner, whistling and frying my akara while the sounds grew ever so close. By the time the shots sounded close to my doorstep, the entire market was empty with me being the last one left. That was the armed robbers stopped in front my stall. The amazement on their masked faces was easily readable. They just stood there looking till the one I suspected to be their leader finally spoke up:
“Come this boy, what is your problem? You had better leave this place if you don’t want to die a painful death.”
I ignored him and went about my business. That seemed to annoy more as he yelled again.
“Are you deaf?! It seems like you want to fry your last akara today. You better fly away from here before I count to three. 1…”
I decided to reply him. Well, it wasn’t really me speaking anyway.
“I should be the one telling to leave here immediately. You have terrorized this village for too long but I will deal with you today. You better leave and not come back or be prepared to face the music.”
He laughed and cocked his gun.
“You already dead meat to me.”
And he proceeded to fill my body with bullets. As I felt the first shot tear through my chest, I staggered back and fell to the floor. I tried to talk while getting up
“Do you know what you have just done?! You have…”
But they didn’t let me finish. He and the four members of his gang proceeded to empty their bullet shells in my body. As I felt each one pass through me, my body moved to the beat of the bullets. They ruined my stalls, my clothes, everything. There was blood all over the place. When they felt I had had enough and now lay lifeless in front of them, they began laughing. Nothing annoyed me more than their laughter. My blood began to boil. With the unholy spirit surging through me, I labouringly stood to my feet and watched their bullets drop my body to the floor. The look on their faces was priceless. I saw their jaws drop through their masks. So I calmly asked them
“Is that it? Are you done? It is my turn now!!!”
Then, they watched as my body was slowly transformed into a frightful being. Halfway through my transformation, I noticed three of them had soiled themselves and they wear all weak-kneed from the sight in front of them. But this was just the beginning. I had not started with them.
I became the flesh of Idemmuȯ.
I became the harbinger of death.