“No, it is tiger-cat,” Ibuka snapped with heavy sarcasm. “Of course it’s pussycat. See question o.” This was Amaka’s umpteenth interruption since Ibuka started his narration of what transpired in our hostel over the weekend, and my friend’s temper had grown shorter with each cutoff.
There was a smattering of chuckles from the students around at his retort. Amaka’s face tightened into an angry pout.
“So after this person turned into a cat, what now happened?” Anulika prompted.
Her voice and its musical quality instantly drew my loving gaze to her. She looked very pretty, with her rich, dark hair worn in a weave, the plaits running down her head and hanging to her shoulders. I stared at her for some seconds, before she felt my gaze on her. She darted me a self-conscious look, gave a small smile and returned her attention to Ibuka. I did the same.
It was Monday, minutes to the end of the school period. We didn’t have any class; neither did JSS3A. So Ibuka was in our classroom recounting Frank Odiaka’s ordeal for a number of us huddled together. Nkeiru had visited from JSS3C, and there was also in our midst, Iheanacho Enejoh, Frank’s friend, classmate and fellow day student.
“. . .fiam! It just disappeared, just like that!” Ibuka was talking, eliciting a collective gasp of horror from most of his listeners.
“So the other one that he was talking about nko? Do you people know?” Nkeiru asked, her eyes wide and round behind her glasses.
“We don’t know, but. . .” Ibuka hesitated, and shot me a look before saying what I knew what he would say. “Well, actually, I think we already know who the other one is. . .”
“Ibu, don’t –” I began.
“What? It might be true nah. You said so yourself, you only poured water on a snake.”
“I don’t want trouble abeg. And I don’t want to accuse Henry of something I’m not sure of.”
“Who’s accusing him? We are just talking about it.”
“Will someone please tell us what is going on?” Njideka cut in impatiently.
“Yes, who is Henry? And what is this thing about a snake?” Ememesi added, his eyes blinking rapidly from Ibuka to me.
“Last night, Eze went out of our dorm to pour away the water we used in washing,” Joseph took up the reins of the story. “And he poured the water on a snake he saw outside. Minutes later, after he came back inside the dorm to tell us, an SS1 boy in our hostel, Henry, rushed in and stared raking for him, saying he poured him water.”
There was another gasp from the audience, one punctuated with the snapping of fingers and clapping of hands in wonder.
“So you boys have evil spirits boku in your hostels, ehkwa?” Njideka said. “After now, they will say it’s girls that are full of ogbanje and mummy water. See it now?”
“But girls’ own are more biko,” Ndidi countered from where she sat beside Ememesi. “If I tell you the stories of the things I experienced in my former school eh . . . Hmm, you will just know that we girls can be very dangerous.” Ndidi Obi attended a Catholic girls’ school in her JSS1, before changing schools to attend ours in JSS2.
“Abeg, gist us, what happened in your former school?” Amaka said, turning to her.
“There was this one girl, Stella,” Ndidi began, picking up the baton of the storytelling. “We were in the dining hall like this o, eating lunch – rice and stew. She just suddenly jumped on the dining hall table and started screaming, ‘Leave me alone! I don’t want! Leave me alone!’ See the fear that was in her eyes eh! She was just scattering her hair and tearing her dress.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes nah. They came for her nah, ndi secret cult ya. And she must have decided not to follow them again. They tormented her eh, our reverend sisters had to do deliverance for her – serious one.”
“You’re talking, is it not how the other night, I witnessed my own.” All eyes turned to Anulika when she spoke. She suddenly looked self-conscious, unused as she was to being the center of attention. She continued nonetheless, “I woke up in the middle of the night to go and ease myself. I had just stood up from my bed when this voice started talking. Very unnatural voice, as though the person talking wasn’t even a human being. And if the girl talking wasn’t lying down like two beds away from me, I would have thought it wasn’t real.”
“What was she saying?”
“I can’t accept this!” Amaka cut in. She was in the same House and hostel with Anulika, so she must know the story. Anulika shot her friend a peeved look, but let her carry on with the story. “That’s what she was saying o!” Amaka continued with a clap of her hands. “I can’t accept this! This was not the agreement! I have to be the first to do it!”
“The first to do what?” Ibuka asked.
“Ojuwalam. Do I look like a spirit-girl to you?” Amaka snapped, going for her pound of flesh.
“Do they write evil spirit on the face?” Ibuka fired back. “You could be one of them and we won’t know.”
“What did you say to me?” Amaka rose from her seat, her eyes narrowed, her arms akimbo. “Are you accusing me of what I think you are accusing me of?”
“E don do abeg, calm down,” I interjected. “Nobody is an evil spirit here.”
“How will you know?” Joseph muttered, tongue-in-cheek.
Amaka scowled at him, but said nothing in response. She sat back down just as Iheanacho said, “All these stories are the reasons why I have sworn never to be a boarder. In fact, I warned Frank not to agree to his father making him a boarder. I warned him, but he didn’t listen.”
“Finally, all these stories sef,” Joseph intoned. “I just don’t believe they are all real. Some people could be fabricating them.”
“Fabri-wetin?” Ememesi rounded on him. “They are true. I have witnessed my own too. Last term, one SS2 boy’s father visited us in our hostel. But the thing is, the man was already dead. He died two months before that happened. We saw him live!”
There was another round of shocked finger-snapping and hand-clapping.
“In my hostel,” another boy in our midst said, “there was a rat that was going about in the night biting us while we were sleeping. You’ll just wake up like this and see rat bites all over your body, especially your toes. Our house prefect is a prayer warrior. Hmm, the guy fired prayers one day, and his prayers nabbed the boy responsible. He ran away from school after that.”
“Yes, I heard that story. . .”
“Nawa o, nothing we will not see in this school. . .”
“My own is me and my friends ate the food meant for one other girl,” a girl piped up. “Luckily for us, nothing happened to us. But this girl that the food was meant for almost died because we ate her food. Nothing but prayers saved her o.”
“The one that happened to me is that. . .”
All at once, a majority of the small crowd was talking at once, trying to get their stories heard. The buzz got louder, and the other clusters of classmates threw us fleeting looks of interest.
“All these things you people are saying,” Joseph said, raising his voice above the din, “are they really true?”
“Yes!” The resounding chorus of indignation silenced him immediately.
Just then, the clang of the school-over bell sounded. The roar of students anxious to get home or to the dormitories followed next. My friends and I, Anulika, Amaka and Nkeiru strolled out of the classroom together, conversing about evil spirits and paranormal activities as we walked. We soon went our separate ways, and Joseph, Ibuka and I joined the horde of boys moving towards the senior hostels. Our numbers thinned by the time we got to the gate of Peace House senior hostel.
There was however already a small gathering inside the compound, with several murmured conversations rending the air.
“What’s going on?” Joseph asked no one in particular.
I tapped the shoulder of the boy in front of me. He turned. It was Obieze.
“Ah, Eze, how far?” He was grinning, and had that familiar shine in his eyes.
“I dey. Wetin dey happen?”
He pointed. “Frank’s father has come to pack his things. And both principal and VP admin came with the man. Mr. Nwachukwu is also with them.”
I followed his finger to the pavement where four adults stood beside two of our house prefects, Seniors Ifeanyi and Olumide. There was the principal, Mr. Iheukwumere, with his paunch that was protuberant enough to support the fingers he had clasped at his chest. The Vice Principal Admin, Mrs. Ihejirika, matronly and bespectacled, was talking to our housemaster.
The fourth adult was a stranger to me. Bishop Odiaka, I presumed. The man wasn’t tall, certainly not as hulking as my father, but he had a commanding presence that I supposed came with the territory of being in charge of a Christian ministry. He was hawk-faced and nattily-dressed, and his most striking feature was his very-black and very-thick eyebrows, which undulated above his eyes to accentuate every expression on his face each time he spoke.
“So what is happening?” Ibuka asked. “Is he causing any problem?”
“Unto wetin nah?” Obieze responded.
“Have you forgotten what his wife said?” Joseph said, before he puffed out his chest, pushed his behind outward and extended his arms in an incongruous mime of an obese person. His voice was a squeaky soprano as he said, “You people should wait, when my husband comes, that demon in this hostel should better run. He should better run o!”
We laughed at his antics.
“Come, let us go, they’ll soon ring bell for afternoon food,” Ibuka said.
The three of them started drifting away.
But I remained where I was standing. I was watching Bishop Odiaka. The man had an undeniable intensity that held me momentarily spellbound. Those beetle-black eyebrows hovered over dark eyes that stared out, searching, missing nothing. He had eyes that looked like all they had to do was rest on you, and you’d confess your deepest, darkest secrets to him.
“Eze, come on nah. . .” one of my friends called out.
I was about to walk away after them when I saw Bishop Odiaka give a visible start. His eyes narrowed, and those impressive brows dropped into a furrow. His eyes were on us; I couldn’t tell who in particular. He muttered some words to the principal, apparently excusing himself, then he started toward us. The students stilled as we watched him approach. As he came closer, it soon became apparent who he was looking at.
Bodies shifted away from the SS1 boy when it became apparent he was the focus of the man’s attention. Bishop Odiaka came to a stop before him. Both of them had the same height, and their faces were level with each other. The boy looked placidly back, his brow crocheted with bewilderment.
“Uh . . . good afternoon, sir. . .?”
“What is your name?” The man’s voice was deep and gravelly. It wasn’t loud, but due to the sudden silence that had enveloped the compound, his question resonated.
Henry shuffled his feet, his awkwardness evident. “Uh, Henry, sir. Henry Nwagbara is my –”
“I’m not talking to you,” Bishop Odiaka interrupted. “I’m talking to you.” He pointed a stubby finger at Henry as he stressed the last word. “What is your name?”
A second or two ticked by. My breathing was hitched as I watched. Somewhere in the background, the lunchtime bell was tolling. No one moved to the sound.
Then, a transformation came over Henry’s features. His face contorted into an ugly mask, with narrowed eyes and twitching facial muscles. His lips peeled back over his teeth, which unclenched just long enough for his long tongue to dart out. Its tip quivered, as though he was tasting the air, and then the tongue vanished back inside. There was something incredibly serpentine about him in that moment.
“What is your name?” The volume of the pastor’s voice was climbing steadily.
Henry stared malevolently at him for a moment, before throwing back his head in laughter. The laugh was a chilling, unearthly sound that lacked mirth.
Struck with dread, the boys that stood around him hurried further away from him. Bishop Odiaka remained standing before him, resolutely waiting him out.
The boy finished laughing and fixed him with an icy stare, before saying in a voice that was startlingly loud, plangent, as though a legion of full-grown men was speaking at once through him, “Be careful what you ask for, man of God.”
“What is your name, demon? Tell me!”
“Sisiri, I want you to get out of this body. It’s not your home. It does not belong to you. It’s a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“Oh yeah?” Henry sneered. “Well, where was the Holy Spirit when I found the body and took charge, eh?”
“You will not speak of the Lord your God in that manner!” the pastor burst out furiously.
“He is your God, not mine,” Henry snarled. “And I will speak of Him anyhow I please.”
Bishop Odiaka stepped back, took in a deep breath and released it with a flurry of words of prayer, speaking them at the top of his voice. “I command you, you evil spirit, agent of darkness, to leave this body right now and go back to Hell, where you came from! In the might name of Jesus, I loose you right now . . .!”
As he fired his volleys of spirited commands, Henry chuckled, assuming a pose of disinterest, with his arms crossed. “Do not waste your breath, man of God. I’m in this place to stay –”
“You lie, demon!” Bishop Odiaka thundered. “You are a liar! And I come against you with the Truth. That body belongs to Jesus Christ. Vacate it now or feel the wrath of the fire of the Holy Ghost. I call on the Holy Ghost fire to consume you now! Holy Ghooooost –!”
Instinctively, everyone watching yelled, “FIRE!”
“Holy Ghooooost. . .!” repeated the pastor.
“FIRE!” we shouted.
“Holy Ghooooost. . .!”
Henry screeched, a loud, piercing wail, as he twisted this way and that, his hands clutching at his body. “Say my name!” he raged. His eyes were mad, and his face had contorted into a snarling expression. “You asked for it! SAY MY NAME!”
“I will not! Father, consume this demon with your fire –!”
“You bastard!” he shrieked, and lunged forward at the pastor, his arms outstretched, and his fingers in hooks. But his attack was cut off precipitously. His body jerked to a stop, as though he’d slammed against an invisible barrier, and he was sent careening backward. He tripped on his feet and fell to the ground, on his back.
The pastor went after him, enraged in his righteousness. “Satan, I come against all your powers, principalities and evil forces in this place – all your spiritual wickedness in high places. Whatever number of demons is inside this young body, I come against you all with the mighty name of Jesus!” He broke off and let loose with a storm of gibberish. He was speaking in tongues. With every word he spoke, there was a hand wave accompaniment, and every line of his body vibrated with his righteous indignation. “The Bible says, ‘Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy!’ I am exercising that power to set this child free! I come against you by the power and blood of Jesus Christ, by the Word of God, by the name of Jesus, by the authority of a believer . . .!”
Henry writhed about on the ground, shrieking maniacally and flailing his arms about. He seemed unable to get back to his feet.
“I command you to GET OUT of this boy! OUT!”
“AMEN . . .!” the onlookers shouted.
“In the mighty name of JESUS!”
Henry gave another inhuman wail, one so high-pitched it felt as though my ear drums were going to splinter from the strength of its volume. I clasped my hands over my ears. Even then, to my horror, I saw the boy shrink into the form of a snake. A thick, black, long, muscular coil that hissed furiously under the onslaught of Bishop Odiaka’s prayers. Everyone around gasped and scattered further away from the arena in astonishment.
“I bind you, devil! I bind you and cast you out into Hell where you belong . . .!” the pastor fearlessly kept on with his praying.
Its tongue flicking in and out of its snout, the angry, black mamba reared its head, up and backward, and then launched itself into the air, at the pastor. The man didn’t flinch; he waved a hand, and whatever invisible force that had him safeguarded knocked the serpent back again. It thumped to the ground and began to thrash about.
“I bind every power that you have, demon! And I loose you from this child! LOOSE! LOOSE! In the mighty name of JESUS . . .!”
The snake transformed back into the boy, and from his mouth came another wail. It was loud but piteous this time. His body arched forward, with his torso angling upward as though to split into two. His hands and fingers began to spasm, as though he was caught in the throes of an arthritic attack. And then he flopped back down and remained still.
Something had left his body. Something we couldn’t see. Something only the pastor could see as he continued firing his prayers at the unseen presence hovering in the air before him. Even though we couldn’t see it, we could hear it, as it emitted another wretched howl, one that finally petered out into nothingness.
Silence descended again. The silence was shocked. It was heavy. It was pregnant with questions.
And then it was broken by a whimper. Henry was awakening from his unconsciousness. Bishop Odiaka heaved a sigh and instantly went to him, hunkering by his side and began muttering soft words to him.
“Wow! That was my first time, seeing someone delivered,” Joseph said as we walked to the dining hall several moments after the episode in our hostel. His tone was almost reverent.
“Me too,” I said. “I still can’t believe what I saw. So Henry was a snake true-true. . .”
“Oh boy, Frank’s father is a powerful man of God. The man no get fear at all.”
“And he was protected by the blood of Jesus sef. Did you see how the demon kept trying to attack him…”
“As in eh, no way for the demon cha-cha. . .”
Joseph and I kept on recounting what happened excitedly for several moments, before we realized that Ibuka wasn’t saying anything. The boy simply walked on beside us, his face turned straight ahead. His eyes were slightly unfocused and there was a frown on his face.
“Ibu, what’s the problem? You’re not talking,” I said.
“Abi Sisiri don comot Henry body enter your own?” Joseph joked.
“That’s not funny, Joe,” I snapped, the same time that Ibuka shot him a scowl. Then he said, “I was just thinking. . .”
“About what?” I asked.
“Well . . . it’s just that. . .” he answered slowly. “That was a snake . . . so, that is Henry . . . I think . . . right?”
Joseph and I looked at each other.
“Well, that clears that up,” said Joseph sarcastically. “It would have been really annoying if you had not explained yourself properly.”
Ibuka looked at us then. “I was just wondering,” he said, his voice stronger now, “Frank said he saw somebody who changed into a cat. But Henry changed into a snake.”
“Ehen? These evil spirits can change into whatever they want.”
“Yes, but Frank also said the cat was asking for the other one. And I was thinking, perhaps Henry’s evil spirit is the other one.”
“That would mean. . .”
“That the cat-person is still out there. . .”
“Oh God. . .”
“Who do you think it could be?”
The three of us exchanged blank looks, before shrugging and joining the rest of the students trooping into the hall, into the welcome aroma of garri and okra soup.
Seetha walks slowly behind the three boys. Their words float through the atmosphere into the vicinity of his sharp auditory senses. He can hear them as loudly and as clearly as though he is standing next to them.
Everyone believes the danger is past. Sisiri is gone. The human child is healed. All is well.
All is supposed to be well. But these three . . . these three. . .
He watches them as they all walk into the din of the dining hall. And he decides he will watch them. They will need to be terminated, but only when the time is right. In the meantime, he will simply watch and wait.
I am @Walt_Shakes on Twitter
PS: This ends this particular storyline, folks. Seetha’s story isn’t finished. It has merely been suspended, to be continued in a much later episode. Thanks for reading. Till next Monday.