School was over and Ife was running with her friends towards the gate. Dust and flying bags they made it out of the gate towards the main street. They laughed as they saw the other girls caught up in the squeeze to be first out of the gate. There never was any need to rush but they always did. It could be from the excitement of heading home now. Ife had her school box balanced neatly on her head as she skipped and wondered if she should finally spend her lunch money. Her best friend Josephine came close to her and looked solemn.
“What is the matter?”
“You have not heard?”
“They say Joana did not make it from that malaria, she died”.
They stared at each other and Ife sighed. They walked for a few minutes more in silence and Josephine had tears in her eyes. Ife noticed that and was horrified.
“Don’t cry, you are pouring coals on Joana when you cry. It will upset her and you would not hear what she wants to tell you. I have seen her, she is okay now, prettier and really happy. No more pain you know”, Ife counseled.
Josephine turned and gave her friend a very strange look. She sighed and in a soft voice commented, “Really? How do you know about such things anyway?”
Ife looked at her eyebrows raised, “what do you mean, how? Anyone can see you know you just refused to see”
Josephine was uncomfortable and Ife noticed that she was looking everywhere but at her and she got angry and started walking away. Josephine ran to catch up panting.
“I meant nothing”, she tried to mollify her friend. Ife knew why her friend had paused and she was irritated because she didn’t know what else to say as she was tired of being seen as strange or ‘Ogbanje as Josephine said she was called. She didn’t know which she minded more, being seen as ‘Ogbanje” which was the Igbo definition for a spirit child or Abiku which also meant the same thing or the Hausa meaning which was ‘Iska”
She had gradually learnt to accept that her friends and father’s wives saw her differently from how she saw herself. The fact that she was always very ill with one strane ailment or the other had made them sure of her strangeness. She did not feel strange but there was precious little she could do about people’s opinion. She knew what Josephine was thinking just now.
What that meant was that she was seen as a spirit child who could faint at will and visit her spirit kingdom. Spirit children had what was called spirit mates that they discussed with and could visit. She was suspected of hiding her pact stone and was always accused of being hard hearted in not taking pity on her mother. They assumed that she talked to her ‘mates’ and each time she denied, her mother will shake her head and sigh. She was upset because she never saw anyone and was not aware of any discussion with anyone and each time she tried to convince her friends they only stared at her as Josephine was doing now.
She sighed and started walking towards home. Her father was a policeman and she knew he would be home as he was on the afternoon shift. She smiled as she thought of him and quickened her steps. He was the only one who made sense in her world. The others were in the habit of treating her either with suspicion or with horrified awe.
There was a strained silence between her and her friend as they both were considering their thoughts, suddenly her happy nature got to the surface and she smiled at her friend asking her if she would share bean cakes or would simply take some ‘fura’ with her. Her friend smiled and they both walked towards the woman frying the bean cakes.
As she stretched her hand to request for bean cakes she froze and gulped, cocking her ears to the side as if listening then abruptly turned away running. Josephine stared and ran after her. She caught up and tugged on Ife’s skirts whirling her round.
Ife had a surprised look on her face and panted in some anxiety.
Josephine held her still, ‘what is the matter?”
“My brother, he has fainted at home, I must call him back.” Ife said her voice full of anxiety and haste.
“How do you know about that, and what do you intend to do?” Josephine asked shocked and frightened.
“I don’t know but I think I can help, come on let’s go now” and she ran all the way home. She met a screaming woman carrying a limp son in her arms. The other wives were all over the place crowding in on the woman all helpless.
Ife gave the boy a quick fast look and saw the threads around him. She saw his white shadow and using her thoughts sharply told him to stop playing pranks and return. She dropped her tin school box and dashed into the middle of the women, took hold of the mother, instructing her to get some chili peppers.
Get some charcoals quick and make a fire, she yelled with so much authority that the screaming stopped instantly. They all stared.
“Do as I say and stop staring”, she dashed into the room and brought out some chili peppers which she sprinkled on the coals the woman had fetched from the kitchen, then she held her brother’s face down to the hot coals as it burned the chili peppers and everybody started coughing moving away, but Ife held her brother’s face down, after a while he sputtered and started coughing and she moved him away too. He opened his eyes and stared at her. She nodded and smiled, handed him over to his mother and then went into the room.
Everybody was stunned, and trailed her to the room but she simply lay down on the bed and said nothing looking exhausted. Then she felt the soft touch of her friend who had been an awed witness to the emergency treatment. Josephine lived in the street behind hers so it was easy to spend long hours in each other’s homes. Ife raised her head and considered her friend.
“He is going to be okay” Ife answered the silent query. There was some movement and she heard the deep voice of her dad, she smiled, relaxing. Things were going to be fine now. He was home, so she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
When she opened her eyes some hours later it was dark and her mother was sitting by her side watching her. She smiled at her mother and asked if Deola (her bother) was fine now. Her mother nodded a yes and still watched her. Her eyes were full of questions and yet Ife sensed the fear. She did not know what to make of it.
“Have you eaten?”, her mother asked breaking her silence.
“No, I can eat now. Where is Papa?”
“He is in the parlor, you want to see him, he already asked after you” her mother supplied.
“Yes” and she rose from the bed heading for the living room they all called parlor.
Her father gave her a smile and asked after her school and she laughed happy to share the day with him. He did not refer to the drama that had happened just before he came and she smiled knowing he was going to ask in his own good time but wanted her to be ready and willing to share. She knew this and was thus at ease. Most times when such things happen she never really could explain. I mean how do you explain just having a conversation in your head with some people you never see or just knowing something even if you have to argue with them sometimes?