I am a prisoner of circumstance, a prisoner to life and I kept hoping that any moment he would open up the door to allow me my freedom. Escape isn’t an option and even if by some freaky stroke of fate I see a way out, I still wouldn’t be able to save myself for I am too weak to fight. I feel so cheated, deprived and unloved, I feel like a thief, a robber of happiness that has stolen from my parents again and again or so I have been accused. I can hear the rustling of the leaves outside as the cool evening breeze caressed it and the echoes of the other kids call as they fell into the rhythm of our nightly games and disturbing memories threatened my sanity. With nothing to do other than to stare hopelessly at the thatched roof of a room I soon began to associate with as my prison, memories of the good times flashed by in quick succession like it was but a blur in the distance, only to be replaced by memories of the mental and psychological abuse suffered, tortures and cruelty meted on me and the very fiber of my existence shook as I wailed in torment, like a broken soul.
Tonight I must lead the village of Nsukwu to where I have hidden it, for my crimes and the suffering of my parents must end. Desperately I listen to hear of my missionary teacher’s return, the “Onye ocha”, the only person that stood by me even when my family and village forsook me. But he was a tardy too late because I can now hear the sound of approaching feet and whispers as the time for my reckoning arrived. And my broken soul yearned for solace as I saw the inevitability and hopelessness of my situation.
I still remember the day it all started with so much clarity and intensity that it brought tears to my inner eyes. It was in the rainy season of the year after the missionary had come into our village, Nna had come home angry after he had consulted with the oracles about my constant illness. It was revealed to him that I was an “Ogbanje”, an evil spirit who has been bringing pain to them by tormenting and dragging them through the rigorous rituals of childbirth, only to leave them shattered and heart broken by dying. The oracle claimed that my mission was to rob them of all their happiness by dying, watching them mourn and then coming back when the scars have almost healed to give them hope only to shatter it again.
Is it my fault that three others of the same gender and likeness have died before me? Is it my fault that we all were afflicted by the same mysterious illness that eventually took their life and would eventually claim mine? Was it my fault that I was never as strong as my peers and even now lay sick and weak on my bed? All these I asked myself as I was being carried away to the dibia’s shrine where I would hence forth remain till I revealed the whereabouts of my “Iyi-Uwa”, or the rites of “Ibe-Ugwu” would be performed on me because it was sometimes thought to get rid of the “Ogbanje” too.
All these accusations I could have lived with if my sweet and loving Nne hadn’t shied away from my touch when I cried out and tried to reach for her as they carried me away. That singular action from her brought down all the bitter tears I had struggled to hold back because I could accept Nna deserting me to the verdicts of the gods but not Nne. That sweet loving woman who stayed up and sang to me in my worst nights, Nne that cried with me when the pains of my illness had become nearly unbearable for me, the same Nne who carried and bathed me when the rigors of my illness had ravaged my body had looked the other way like I was an “Osu” and that singular act of betrayal burnt so deep in my innocent soul that it left it forever scarred.
I could understand my Nna and Nne trying to find answers to their problems, but why blame me an innocent child for a misfortune that was not just theirs but also mine? Aren’t they emphatic to my plight? Don’t they know that I go through the most heinous of pains and suffering during my bouts with this mysterious illness? Or do they think I would want to put myself through that kind of pain and suffering just to make them suffer? Where is the sense in that? The gods should answer me please. Are the gods really watching over us? Are they seeing my predicaments? Is their no justice in this cold world? Are the gods responsible for this? Or are the gods laughing at me now as they break “Oji” over my sufferings? All these I bitterly asked myself as they battered me with incantations and forcefully made me drink different herbal concoctions just to reveal where my “Iyi-Uwa” was buried.
I was told an “Iyi-Uwa” was an object that bound my spirit to this world and caused me to return to my Nne after I have died. The dibia also revealed that the oracle has shown him that my “Iyi-Uwa” was a piece of coloured stone and I must show them where I have hidden it, so that they can destroy it and thereby put my evil spirit to rest. So I was faced with either showing them my “Iyu-Uwa” or face the excruciating pains of the “Ibe-Ugwu” rites [circumcision].
I am merely a blossoming fourteen year old girl who had dreams of becoming a teacher in the missionary school someday, but I have already experienced eight years worth of pain and suffering. At one fell swoop I had lost the affection of both my parents and my friends to the verdict of the gods and nobody in the village cared less. Even my childhood friend Iheoma abandoned me to my fate, but still the memories of Iheoma and times we spent which now felt like a figment of my imagination almost brought a smile to my face. Iheoma and her penchant for mischief, Iheoma and that twinkle in her eyes when she was up to no good, The fun we had together on the days my illness loosened its grip on me, the times we spent in the forest day dreaming when we were supposed to be at the stream, the days we helped Nne fry garri, our quarrels and our love. All those cherish-able memories marred by the injustice meted on me.
I remember the day I was too ill to participate, let alone attend the dance festival of my age group in the village. I remembered the pain I felt knowing that Iheoma and my peers would be out there jiggling and shaking their small rotund buttocks while I lay on my bed hapless and helpless. I cried my soul out that day like I am doing now, as I am being led out to find my “Iyi-Uwa”. The only difference is that today the gods are crying along with me and as the intensity of my tears increases so did the out pour of the rain outside. It was like the celestial bodies were mourning the iniquities of my life with me.
The search is about to begin and I am surrounded by a handful of the villagers but I am surprisingly filled with renewed vigour because of the sacrifice I have decided to make today. Deep down I know I won’t survive the night for I most surely would die from the long trek into the forest, but I would rather die than face the painful rites of “Ibe-Ugwu”. I go light hearted and with hope because of the promise my missionary teacher made to me. He was the only one who vehemently fought for my release, he was the only one who came to visit me throughout the two weeks I spent in the dibia’s shrine and he was the reason I agreed to take them on this wild goose chase for if I hadn’t, he would surely have been harmed for interfering. His explanations that my Nna and Nne were the reasons for their predicaments fell on deaf ears, he tried to explain that there was something in both their genes that made them incompatible and therefore led to them birthing sick children but that only further infuriated Nna and the elders for they were willing to use the gods to blame an innocent child for nothing she knew about rather than accept the blame.
I remember his last words as he left my side;
“Anyuli I will do everything in my power to help you because I know that this isn’t your doing. I leave you now not because I want to abandon you but because I want to gather help and save you from this hell, and with the support of the mission I will forever put an end to this abomination. Wish me God’s speed and wait for my return,”
Tonight I pay the ultimate sacrifice for others like me out there so remember my names, “Anwuli” which I was named because I was supposed to bring happiness along with me, that same happiness I have been accused of robbing off my Nna and Nne. “Okwukwe” which I was named for I had brought hope to my parents, the hope they have lost in me and that I am now giving to others like me out there, and “Ifunaya” which I was named because of the love I had brought along with me into this world, the same love I have lost from everyone and now showing to you all by sacrificing myself. Please weep for me, please remember me.
- Nne- Mother
- Nna- Father
- Dibia- Witch doctor’
- Osu- Outcast
- Ogbanje- An evil spirit that deliberately plagues a family with misfortune
- Iyi-Uwa- an object that binds an Ogbanje to this world and caused them to return after they have died
- Onye Ocha- White man
- Oji – Kola nut
- Ibe-Ugwu – Female Circumcision