PROSE & FICTION
Great Boys: An African Childhood (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1998).
The Activist (Lagos: Farafina, 2006).
Sovereign Body (Spring, Texas: Panther Creek Press, 2004)
God’s Medicine Men & Other Stories (Lagos: Malthouse Press, 2004)
From “The Captain’s Apology,” a short story in a forthcoming collection:
It was a humid evening that brought no respite indoors or outdoors. A crowded room was too suffocating to bear. When Captain David Segine alighted from a taxi in front of his rented off-white painted house that Monday evening at dusk, his wife and her friends and family members commiserating with her were sitting outside. The dampness of the weather and the deep grief told on those gathered there. Though it was twilight, it was not difficult to see the taxi painted with the yellow of taxis that plied the city’s roads. On top of its roof was the red-lit TAXI for easy recognition. Those gathered to console the bereaved young widow were distracted; they turned to watch the yellow taxi pull up at the right curb of the road in front of the house. An undeveloped plot stood between the house and the road. Since the owner of the plot died in a motor accident, his relatives had not arrived at who should own the plot.
The gathering of mourners saw the passenger at the back seat fumbling with the back door for a moment before the driver came out to open the door for the person. The mourners watched. They thought of either more friends or family members who heard the sad news coming to console Edirin, David’s wife. There had been a stream of people coming and leaving the past two days. It all began almost as soon as the bad news broke out. The young couple’s house had turned into an open house which men and women came to and left when done with their commiserating with the grieving young wife.
“Have a strong heart,” many told her.
“Everything is God’s will,” others said.
“Only God will help you to bear this sad loss,” the religious ones told Edirin.
Words of wisdom poured from many mouths.
The death of a young man was sad enough, but David Segine’s was even sadder. Here was a young man who had a good chance of rising to become a major-general in the Nigerian Army, if the unexpected had not happened. David was doing so well in the Army that he had good prospects in his career of becoming an army commander or a military governor at a time when coups were so common. He had shown smartness in his job to endear him not only to his senior officers but also to his colleagues and friends. In his Second Division, he was among the few captains expected to be promoted to the rank of major when the list would be published in three months.
But Captain David Segine also had a young wife who had just conceived after three years of marriage. The conception had brought joy and relief to both husband and wife, who were both beginning to question their ability to have a child.
“You will be fine with time,” some elderly relatives told Edirin Segine.
“Have faith in God and pray for strength,” her church members added.
“Everything that happens is God’s will,” others said.
The taxi driver opened the right rear door, pulling it wide towards his side so as to give enough room for the passenger to come out. Those sitting and facing the street turned their gaze to who was joining them to grieve and console the young widow that fate had struck a terrible blow.
In the half-light clumsily came out the figure of one that looked like a man. He balanced himself on both legs, as if he had been unsteady or had a disability. The figure then stepped forward. All eyes gazed at him as he moved towards them and his profile gradually became fuller and clearer. It was like a thick fog lifting from a hidden figure. Soon that figure became recognizable as the man they were mourning.
It happened so fast that everybody was in a flash struck dumb and felt immediately cold with fear. As he took his next step, after his profile became clear, there was a sudden blackout street-wide. A sooth-black blanket was thrown over everybody. The air turned eerie and the bold amidst the frightened group let out a simultaneous fearful shout of “Who’s this coming?”
A stampede broke out. Some circled their fingers round their heads and snapped them.
“You didn’t meet me in your house!”
“Go back to where you belong!”
These frightened people were all addressing the ghost they believed they saw.
Edirin and everybody else took to their heels. David Segine’s ghost was on the loose, they thought, and each ran away so as not to be on the way of the ghost of the young officer who had burnt into ashes with his many colleagues in the plane disaster three days earlier. It was a bad omen to see a ghost at all, but worse still to encounter closely the ghost of one being mourned. Nobody wanted to be struck dead by the ghost of the person they were mourning.
Captain Segine was dressed in army fatigues, the same dress that on Friday he had worn when he left the house and said he was going to catch the army plane to Kaduna. Without blinking or looking at those fleeing from him, he went straight into his own house. He was dazed by the act of people running away from him but he did not know how to react. It had happened so quickly. Was he to shout at them to stay or run after them? He did not know where they were running to and he could not run after them shouting his name. He was not crazy, he knew. His steps were heavy but sure of one come to his own house. He could notice the confusion outside his house. There was an assortment of drinks, beer, Coke, Sprite, Fanta beside glasses. The place smelled of beer as the drinks had poured down from glasses and bottles as those drinking them scrambled out to be out of sight of the person they considered to be a ghost.
David walked through his wake and stepped into the parlor that was almost bare of chairs. He went straight into his bedroom. He crumpled into the King-size bed that was not made and appeared not to have been slept in the past day or two. He knew how Edirin used to be so meticulous about the bed. She liked making the bed neatly with colorful bedspread, sheets, and pillow cases. The house appeared to have changed from its warmth into a solitary cold place. However, he knew he was in his own house and not somewhere else. That realization gave him confidence not to worry about himself.
Alone and quiet, he looked at himself in the bedroom mirror. He saw himself as the same person who had passed by the house three days ago to tell his wife that he was going to the airport to return to his base in Kaduna. That reflection made him real; hence he did not think of changing clothes.
David fell asleep in his army fatigues and had a series of dreams. In one of them, he piloted a plane to bomb a building in which the military president and his armed forces ruling council were holding a meeting. In another, he was in a battle trench waiting to ambush an enemy when a snake emerged and he had to jump out into a circle of prisoners of war.
He left the dark curtains down. To him, it did not matter whether it was day or night. He slept on dreaming when it was already daybreak.
It took a whole day before a medicine man that his wife and family had consulted and asked for help in the strange case went into the house in the late afternoon. The medicine man had come with the intention of exorcizing the evil spirit of the deceased from the house so that his widow could return and live to bear their child. He did not expect to perform a miracle but wanted to do his rites and bring in the wife and the immediate family back to the house. He told Edirin and members of the Segine family how dangerous the ghost of a young man could be, for being deprived of a long life. He explained that old people did not have ghosts because they immediately joined the ancestors. But not a young man like David Segine who had so much life left in him dying in a plane crash.
When Ojokoto entered the house, he had some trepidation. But he realized that he had to impress those who had asked for his assistance to solve a serious problem, a supernatural one at that. He put on his bravado to perform his duties as an experienced medicine-man. He started to chant some esoteric commands to drive out whatever evil spirit lurked in the house. He got more emboldened the more he chanted.
He chanted his way into the bedroom where he saw a man in a military uniform.
“Leave, all evil spirits. I command you to leave. Leave!” he shouted.
Captain Segine turned himself in the bed and saw a man costumed in cowries chanting and waving a flywhisk. Sunlight was filtering into the bedroom from a side window.
“Are you the owner of the house?” Ojokoto asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Are you well?” he again asked.
“Why did they say that you are dead?”
“You can see that I am alive.”
David Segine got out of the bed. He shook hands with Ojokoto.
“Wait for me. I’ll be back shortly,” the medicine-man told the owner of the house.
Ojokoto went out with a swagger that only a successful medicine-man could muster. He realized what he had just achieved. It was a miracle to turn a ghost into a living human being.
In front of the house were gathered Edirin, relatives, and friends waiting for Ojokoto to come back and give them instructions on what to do. They were all downcast and thinking of not only dealing with the grief of David’s death but also being threatened by his ghost. They were surprised at the manner that Ojokoto swaggered out of the house as if he was a clown and not a medicine-man dealing with a serious issue.
“I’ve done my work. You all will be very pleased with it,” he said.
“What do you mean?” an old cousin of David asked.
Ojokoto placed his right palm over his mouth. He would not answer any question, and that confused the people the more. However, he went to Edirin, held her by the right hand, as a few immediate family members looked on, and led her into the house. As they went into the house, Edirin thought Ojokoto was playing pranks with her so as to charge enough money to live on for the rest of the month. Before they entered the bedroom, Ojokoto paused.
“Your husband is now alive. If he died, he is now alive,” he told her.
When Edirin first saw her husband, she took one step backwards and wanted to run again. However, Ojokoto held her tight and David beckoned on her to come to him, as he himself moved forward. In an instant Edirin’s fear disappeared. She sprang forward to embrace David who had already opened his arms. They embraced and remained glued to each other.
David spoke first.
“I’m sorry,” he told his wife.
He knew she knew he had gone somewhere else instead of going back to Kaduna that fateful Friday.
“Let’s thank God for your survival,” she told him.
David could feel the warmth of her pregnancy. Three hearts were beating. David and Edirin appeared to be studying each other’s eyes. At this moment, the family members came in to see the couple clasped to one another. They were dumbfounded and just stared at what was before them. A miracle had happened.
Ojokoto became instantly famous for confronting a ghost and solving a bad case. He had made a ghost turn to a living human being. With such confidence, he told Edirin and the rest of the family that they should pay him what they thought he deserved. He was not going to charge them a specific amount. He said he would give them time to reacquaint themselves with David Segine and he would return for his fee in three days. The members of the family around begged him to accept what they could collect from those around. He made ten thousand naira for confronting a ghost. And he expected much more when he came back. And that upon the publicity this single case would generate!
Only Captain Segine knew the story of his miraculous survival from the military plane that blew up in the air and disintegrated into ashes.