The two men walked steadily in the darkness towards the old man’s hut. They were dressed only in raffia leaves and sack cloth, and their heads had been clean shaven. One of them carried the necklace of thier intended victim and the other wrung his hands nervously.
“Do you think he’ll listen to us this time?” The first man asked apprehensively as he struck at a mosquito on his chest.
“He has to, the oracle said he is the only one left who can carry out this feat.” His colleague replied.
“She deserves to die. She killed our boss.” The first man hissed and then began to stutter ‘but…but I dont know if we should rahter forget the whole thing, afterall the boss didnt say we should avenge him…”
The second man stopped in his tracks and grabbed the first man by the throat.
“Our boss is mad! Our source of livelihood is gone! This might be our only chance to redeem ourselves and gain recognition in the family, who knows, the gods might smile on us and Brother Afam will respect us enough to give us a well paying job, afterall we did what he dared not do!
He let go of his squirming companion and hissed.
“We who once lived on the laps of luxury have been thrown into the pit of penury and you still wail like an old woman! Have some courage! Or did you enjoy the fact that you had to beg for food yesterday? Did you?!”
“No!” His companion rasped. “Its not like the food tasted good anyhow. Mama Iyale knows nothing about cooking, i don’t know what she is doing owning a buka…”
“Shut up and stop yapping! This is your last chance, if you want to turn back, do so now!” His friend drew close “but know this. when I do succeed, when I gain my riches and glory, when I get the respect and accolades I deserve…I dont so much as want to see you near my doorstep! I will have nothing to do with you! do you understand?”
The first man grumbled, still massaging his aching neck.”Why are you talking like this, I was only airing my views a little. We are here already, lets see Baba together.”
The second man grunted and they continued their march.
As they got close to the hut, they heard a voice
“Ikenna and Richard, what are you doing back here again? Did I not tell you that what you ask for is impossible?”
The two men stopped abrubtly. Ikenna, the first man looked terrified and almost made to run away but Richard grabbed him.
“We got her necklace Baba!”
There was silence, the only sound coming from the laboured breathing of both men in the still cold night outside. Finally the door of the hut swung open and Baba came out. He was indeed an old man, his scalp covered with a red plain cap with silk white hair protruding from the sides. his jaw hosted the same colour of hair, only bushier and longer. His eyes were suprisingly soft as he regarded the two men pitifully. He took a step forward with the aid of a twisted walking stick.
“Give it to me.” He said, his voice strong and coarse.
Richard handed him the necklace and Baba studied it.
“It carries her essence. You speak the truth.” He said. “How did you get it?”
“We followed your instructions.” Richard said “We followed her for a number of days and saw it was her favourite, she wore it every day to work. We finally made our move yesterday and pretended to be beggars. We were able to convince her to give us the necklace instead of money.”
“I preached to her and told her since the necklace was very dear to her it would mean more to us than her money.” Ikenna chipped in finally. “I even quoted a passage from the bible-”
“You must be certain she gave you this necklace of her own free will, Ikenna. Are you sure you are telling me the truth?”
“Of course he is!” Richard retorted. Baba looked at him sternly and he took a step back and shut up.
“Answer me Ikenna, did she give you this necklace willingly?” Baba inquired again.
Ikenna thrust out his chest and nodded emphatically. “Yes she did! Check it yourself , is it not hers?”
The sadness that had momentarily left came back into Baba’s eyes.
“The only way i can check is to begin the rites. If it fails…”
“Enough of all this baba!” Ikenna shouted suddenly in a burst of courage, “If it fails we will look for another way! Try it first!”
“The punishment could be severe…”
“We don’t need to know the punishment Baba!” Richard cried. “We need to avenge our boss! Try it!”
“Go ahead!” Ikenna shouted as he got carried away with his own bravado.
The Old man sighed and finally nodded.
He turned and entered back into his hut as the two men sat outside in the company of the night insects. Richard clapped Ikenna gleefully on the back.
“Now you are behaving like a man!” He grinned. Ikenna smiled back. He had always wanted to impress Richard who on more than one occassion had made him feel weak and less than a man. Richard was the only family he had ever known as he was abandoned by his mother as a child and left to die in the streets. Richard had found him and introduced him to a street gang of orphans who begged, stole and did all sorts for money. They had grown up together like prothers and Richard was always getting him into trouble butr he didnt mind as he practically worshipped him. He was proud of himself as Richard clapped him on the shoulder again and they both grinned.
From inside the hut they heard the old man’s coarse voice as he raised up incantations. The smell of burning incence filled the air and the sounds of cowrie shells tumbling in an earthen vessel pierced into the night. Ikenna looked at Richard, his apprehension returning full force.
“But what if it doesnt work? He said the punishment would be severe…”
“Whatever it is, I will share it with you.” Richard said thumping his chest. “The last time someone disobeyed baba, the Boss gisted me that the man was made to walk through the bushes naked and beating a gong announcing his shame…”
“What? I dont want to do that?!” Ikenna retorted, “I thought you said we will be made to sacrfice a goat or two…”
“Anyone, I will help you steal a goat, its not a big deal so don’t worry. And if its to walk round the forest naked it will be a chance for both of us to show off to the ladies!”
They grinned again in thier camaradierre as the moon went behind a cloud and the night grew darker. the chanting in the hut had stopped and a moment later, Baba came out.
“Here,” He said, handing the necklace to Ikenna. “since you were the one she gave, you have to give her back.”
BOth men jumped to thier feet.
“So it worked?” Richard asked enthusiastically.
“Yes, it did.” Baba replied, his hand still out.
Ikenna smiled and stretched his hand to collect the necklace
“We are going to be rich! We are going to be famous!” He said and took the necklace.
As soon as his hands closed around the necklace Ikenna fell into a terrible fit. He convulsed where he stood as his eyes rolled up into his head leaving only the white sclera visible. He opened his mouth to scream but his clamping jaws bit down on his tonuge andcut a good portion of it clean off. Blood spilt on Richard’s face as he started to shout in alarm
“Ikenna! Ikenna! What is it? Baba, what is going on?!”
“You finally killed him, Richard.” Baba said sorrowfully. “You finally led him to his death.”
Richard cried out and grabbed his friend, tried to make him lie down but it was no use. The convulsions increased in intensity and Richard heard a sickening snap as the bones in Ikenna’s hands began to fracture. Ikenna suddenly toppled over like a log of wood and crashed on the floor with Richrd following suit, trying to hold his friend still with no success. Ikenna continued to convulse and his bones continued to break as blood oozed from his nose and mouth.
“It will continue like this,” Baba said, “Till all the bones in his body are broken. If you have a gun it will be good of him to spare him the misery of a very painful death. ”
“But why?” Richard screamed as he continued to hold on to ikenna, “Why is this happening?!”
“It only happens like this when the item is stolen. I told you specifically not to steal it…”
“But we didn’t!” Richard shouted. “We told a boy to steal it from her hoe and then give it to us willingly. Isnt it the same thing?”
“Apparently the powers that be don’t think so.” Baba said with a dep sigh. “I should kill you for what you did to your friend , but I think letting you live will serve a better punishment. Now go. and carry this corpse with you.
So saying, the old man turned and went back into the hut. Richards screams toreat him from outside but he ignored the man. he had no pity for him and actually wished he could kill him, but unfortunately there was no one around to help move two heavy bodies.
He turned back to the Oracle before him and saw the girl in the magic mirror. She was sleeping peacefully on her bed in her room far far away in Lagos. And covering her were the biggest pair of wings he had ever seen.