Thinking of you, E.
It’s been ever since that accident in which she said she died and came back to life. An unruly driver reeking of alcohol, manning an unruly bus requiring much needed repair, chasing an unruly market crowd. My wife was among the victims: the Living who all claimed the bus killed them, but somehow, were brought back to life by a higher power who still had plans for their lives.
But the fear of death, this higher power forgot to take; for Yami, she now wears it like a cloak. She wears it to bed. It pursues her in her sleep. Last night, she dreamed of eating a boiled egg. It choked her, she said. It choked her to death, she said. Two nights ago, it was a woman chasing her with a broom. She beat her with the broom and it was painful. So, Yami urinates. Like the borehole in the market place. Free flowing water for all community needs.
We have done what we believe is everything to stop this. But she gets worse. The fear won’t go away. It’s her shadow. Her best friend. Her worst enemy. The doctors at the community hospital cannot help. The city doctors cannot help either. The elders, they tell us it’s a sacrifice we must perform. We have offended certain ancestors. We have completed the course. All levels. And every time: Nothing.
Give it time, our physicians, both traditional, and non-traditional tell us. This problem takes time to solve. Give it time.
Time is not something we have. Not when the problem we have is the epitome of embarrassment.
So, we cover the mattress with old wrappers.. We dare not spread it outside for fear of the neighbors. Why are they always drying their mattress outside, they would say. And with that, it won’t take long, even for the village idiot, to figure things out. Oh, did I mention that sometimes, we use the iron to dry the sheets? That’s on days when electricity is available. It’s not often. The sheets turn brown…light brown. Like a white man’s toasts. Crisp. All from ironing out pee. The ironing works best especially when we are out visiting family in the city. It’s not often. When we are in our home, we use the old wrappers to cover the wetness, then Yami lies back on the spot in which the deed was done.
By morning, it’s dry.
We are running out of old wrappers.
The smell? I do not notice odors anymore. I am used to it. I smell nothing. It’s all air to me.
So, imagine my surprise when Kuna comes by tonight. She says our house smells of dead owls. She’d come by to wait for Yami. But of course, Yami is never home when she is needed, not even when she was the one that had informed her busybody friend from the market to wait for her in the house at this almost ungodly hour so she could return the money she owed; to wait for her in the house, because her husband with nothing-else-to-do would be there in the house too. So, Kuna comes by…and not just by herself. She had to bring that morbidly, built-of-lard baby with her. The child had fallen asleep in her thin-like-rake arms while she nursed him; and she, while covering her nose with one hand, had asked to lay down the child in the only bedroom in the house. Our room. And I, out of the kindness of my heart, had pushed dry wrappers out of the way, heaping them to one side of the bed so as to create space for the infant, only for Kuna to look at me and then say the unthinkable: Our room, in fact, our entire house, the whole house, smelled of dead owls.
And I’d laughed to hide my shame. The shame of the man married to the woman who urinates on the bed like a toddler.
One pointed look from her, with one hand still holding said nose, and she goes, “What?:
“How do dead owls smell? Have you even seen an owl before, talk less of a dead one?”
Another pointed look. A long stare. A long, quite offended stare.
“I have seen an owl before, Yayi. Thank you very much.”
“In a zoo. Market women do know zoos, Yayi.”
That would have to be debate for another day. “But a dead one?”
“Yes. A dead one.”.
And they smell like –
“Like your room. Your room, Yayi. Your house. Your whole house, Yayi” She replied, before I could voice the question in my head
“Lay the child here, “I say, creating more room on the bed.
She holds the child tightly to her bosom.
“ I am telling you, Yayi. Your room smells of dead owls. You need a cleansing.”
“A cleansing. It’s what the big Samuraye do from the other village…when there’s an evil spirit in the house. They come out with their pots and with boiling hot water. Then, they cleanse the room and rid it of all evil spirits.”
She gives me that long offended look again.
“Leave my house alone, Kuna. I am okay with the way it smells. I don’t need the Shama-“
“Whatever. I don’t need the Samuraye or shama shama or whatever here in my house.”
“No buts. Leave it alone. I don’t want some hopkus shit doing any hopkus shit in my house. Let it go.”
Yami enters just then. She gives me a look, then turns to her market woman friend. Me. Then friend. Me. Then, back to friend again.
“All is well?” she asks Kuna, who is a funny sight, what, with one hand on nose, one hand clutching enormous baby to chest. .
“ You have evil spirits in your house.”.
“No, it’s dead owls, “ I counteract – my best attempt at sarcasm – way before Yami has the opportunity to comprehend Kuna’s announcement.
But Kuna is not to be deterred easy. “I tell you Yami, You have wicked spirits here in your house. In fact, your entire house. Better call the Samuraye. From the other village. Let them help you get rid of them. I have told Yayi. He doesn’t believe me. He thinks I am stupid.”
Yami makes a sign with her eyes to caution me not to say anything further. She is not really looking at me though. She knows what this is all about now.
“I will give you your money now. And you can go.” Her demure tone is quieter than usual.
Kuna looks at me, then goes back to Yami. “But what about your house? I can help you get the Samuraye here.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Yami replies. “I have everything under control . How much do I owe you again?”
Kuna tells her. Yami dips her hand inside her bra and retrieves the notes. Market money. Sweat-bathed money. She counts, and hands it over to Kuna.
“Thank you,” she says.
“What about the Samuraye?”
“I told you, it’s under control. Best be going on your way now.”
Yami walks her friend to the door. They exchange looks.
Kuna tries one more time. “You sure you don’t want_”
“I am sure, “Yami cuts her off. “I am very sure. Good night.”
Yami closes the door after her. She turns to face me. I want to tell her that it would be best not to invite anyone to the house again. But that’s not what I am thinking when she turns to me. Her eyes are lowered; her face pale with the palpable shame that wraps her.
She nods at me once as she heads for the bedroom. She is thinking what I am thinking. It’s settled. We shall reach out to the other village in the morning. One more attempt to chase away Yami’s spirits that torment her so. Yes. One more round of hopkus shit. Or healing.
It really could go either way.