The following morning was as bright as ever. Birds chirped on the surrounding trees, and the sun gradually rose to illuminate the village.
The servants were up and about. Some cooked. Others cleaned. While the junior navy officers prepared their bags for a journey back to Lagos.
They left for the city at about 9:18 AM.
Aaron should have returned with the officers. But how could he? When Ese had said her mother was ill? The woman helped save his life and he owed her at least a visit. Rodah had told him she was a native healer, and so was Ese. From his observation of such people, they hardly fall sick. Aaron believed the elderly woman would be ok. But he still needed to pay that visit, to show concern for her well-being, just as she did for him.
Besides, he wouldn’t be going alone. Rodah would be with him.
Talking about Rodah, he still wanted to spend sometime with her – to get to know her some more. Of course, Chief was already pushing a marriage list in front of him. He had expected a huge list. But no. The list was very reasonable and when he asked why? Chief’s eyes twinkled in the dark.
Aaron knew then, the list was reasonable, but the contracts Chief was hoping to get from him, was definitely the real list. He shook his head mentally. Men will always be men.
Rodah didn’t know anything about the list. If she knew, she’d flare up again and he didn’t want that. So he kept it a secret.
Due to house cleaning, cooking and some important documents Rodah had to go through, regarding her father’s company, the duo didn’t leave for Ese’s, until it was well past mid-day.
Arriving at the house, they climbed the steps leading to the front door, and knocked on it. A first time. Second. Third. Subsequently, they heard footsteps approach from inside the house. A key turned and the door opened.
“Rodah”, Ese called, stepping out to hug her one time friend, “I thought you weren’t coming again”.
“How will I not come? I need to see mama” Rodah hugged her back, “hope she isn’t sleeping?”
“No. She’s in the sitting room”, she turned to Aaron, “good afternoon Aaron”, she smiled.
“Good afternoon, Ese”. He greeted back, although he didn’t fail to notice the seductive look in her eyes, “hope you’re doing good today?”
“I am. Come inside. Mama is expecting you people. I already told her both of you were coming today”.
They followed her in. Mrs. Eugene sat on one bench. She wrapped herself with a black cloth. Her eyes looked sad and swollen, like she had been crying.
“Mama”, Rodah called, moving to stand by her side, “mama, I heard. you were not feeling well”, she squatted in front of the elderly woman and took her hand, gently.
Mrs. Eugene looked at her and frowned, shaking her head. Then she looked up, briefly, at Ese. Aaron followed her gaze. And he couldn’t help but wonder why the woman was shaking her head and looking at her daughter with contempt.
“Mama has really been through a lot”, Ese spoke up, when she noticed Aaron’s eyes on her, “I don’t think you should force her to talk. Please sit”, she pulled Rodah away from her mother and then gestured at one empty bench, “the yam porridge I’m preparing is almost ready”.
“Let me help you out in the kitchen”, Rodah volunteered, as she couldn’t seem to understand why the once healthy woman was very ill. Besides, the workload must have become too much for Ese alone.
“Oh, don’t worry. If you assist me, who will keep Aaron company? Especially as mama can’t talk. Just sit and relax. I’ll be here with the food soon”.
Aaron took his seat. Rodah did same. They tried to initiate a conversation with Mrs. Eugene, but she just stared at them. Her expression dampened by the second and soon, she had tears rolling down her cheeks, again.
“Mama what is it”, Rodah stood up and went to her side again. Aaron joined her. He was truly worried. But this time, she grabbed Rodah by the hand, firmly, and whispered.
“Do not eat what she gives you. Do not even wait. Go. Now”, she let go of the younger woman’s hand.
Rodah couldn’t make sense of what just happened. But Aaron, even though he wasn’t close enough, got the gist. He quickly thanked Mrs. Eugene, grabbed Rodah by the hand and left the house.
They didn’t go far, though. Aaron knew they didn’t have the time to. He dashed into a nearby bush and hid there with Rodah. She was angry at him for rushing out like that and he was trying to explain his suspicion, when the door of the small bungalow flew open. A very angry Ese emerged from it, cursing and calling out to Rodah, loudly.
“Why did you tell them to go, mama?” She turned back into the house, “I know it was you. Nobody else. So you can still talk ehn? When I’m done with you today, you will never cross me again”, she marched off to a plantain tree to cut out some leaves for a fresh concoction. It happened to be close to the spot Rodah and Aaron hid.
They heard her clearly, when she started to talk about how she planned to feed them with concoctions that would turn Aaron against Rodah, and Rodah into a hideous looking witch. And her mother, having ruined her plan, was going to pay the full price.
Rodah had to cover her mouth, for fear she might gasp out loud. So Ese had this much hatred for her? The apologies at the market yesterday was a lie?
Long after Ese had marched off into the house, Rodah was still in shock.
“Now you understand why her mother asked us to go”, Aaron said, “something’s not right. I am a very sensitive person when it comes to spiritual matters. And I know Ese’s mother might be into some dark powers. I knew the night you three brought me here. But since they seemed like normal people, I didn’t think a big deal of it. Until now. I fear you friend is not who you thought she was”, he finished.
“Ese is responsible for her mother’s health”, Rodah said, fear gripped her heart, “this is all black magic”.
“We have to find a way to help her. She saved us. The least we can do is repay her kindness”, Aaron explained, when Rodah turned questioning eyes on him.
“But how do we do that? Ese is mad, and she has magic”.
“We call the attention of the villagers. We tell them exactly what we saw, and they will do the rest.
And that was what they did. They went to the houses nearby to report what they had seen and heard. At first the villagers questioned them, but since Rodah was in their midst, she spoke to them in their native dialect, and they knew she was not the sort to go about spreading rumors.
The women called out their men and young sons. Together, the crowd stormed the premises. While the crowd surrounded the house, a few of them went it. As luck would have it, they were in time to stop Ese from pouring a hot liquid concoction on her mother.
Upon seeing them, fear of being discovered took over. It took a while, but in self-defense, she threw the liquid at the men. Those it touched screamed, like acid had touched their skin. They melted before the eyes of the others, who summoned courage and rushed at Ese before she could cause more harm.
They tied her hands and legs and dragged her screaming form out. When asked about the other men, they explained what Ese had done to them and that was when, the whole village believed, she was really into dark magic.
“Take her to the village square and burn her!” Somebody yelled from the crowd. Others raised their voices in support.
“No”, another countered, “let us hand her over to the Chief Priest . He will know what to do with her”, another said, “we shouldn’t waste such powers.
They debated amongst themselves and finally decided, she’ll be given to the village priest. They carried her all the way to the shrine of the priest, located deep in the bush. Throughout the journey, women and children flogged a crying Ese with whips.
Rodah didn’t go with them. Neither did Aaron. As long as they were concerned, Ese deserved what she was getting. Rodah never for once thought, her friend of several years, was capable of dark magic, let alone attempt to use it on her.
The couple made their way back into the bungalow to help the elderly woman. Mrs. Eugene was still sitting on a chair, but she was no longer sad or sick. She suddenly looked healthy. She smiled at them and said her thanks, before explaining, Ese had used magic on her, at an unguarded moment.
The reason being that Ese had been furious that her own mother had asked her friend to steal her man, a man she found first and whose life she saved. Mrs. Eugene had never expected her daughter to go that far. But since she did, there was nothing else she could do.
“We will return to Lagos tomorrow”,
“We?” Rodah looked up at him.
“Yes. We. After this, I don’t think it is advisable to stay anylonger in this place. You never can tell what your friend will do next”, he turned to the elderly woman, “you should come with us too. We promise you’ll be comfortable”, he was persuasive.
“But I do not want to inconvenience you”,
“You wouldn’t be inconveniencing us”, Rodah insisted, ” please come with us”.
And she agreed. They helped her pack a few things out of the house. She spent the night with them and the following morning, they all started their journey to Lagos.
Of course, Aaron had to convince Chief to go with them. After hearing what had happened, he gave his daughter the, ‘I told you so’ look. And although he was angry at Mrs. Eugene, he couldn’t help but thank her for the safety of his daughter. Mrs. Akiri thanked her too. Even though, she still didn’t think it was wise having the mother of a witch in her house.
Chief Akiri had insisted on staying and ensuring Ese was severely punished. Rodah was glad though, Aaron was able to talk him out of it.
The journey was exciting for Mrs. Eugene and when they finally arrived Aaron’s mansion, she was even more thrilled. Aaron insisted she stayed with him. He knew, Rodah would love to have her friend’s mom stay at her home, but her parents would kick against her decision.
The days moved fast. Weeks turned to months. And while the couple worked hard at their respective places of work, they had dinner, at least once during the week, and then they had the weekends all to themselves, at several resorts.
Mrs. Eugene thought it wise to always stay out of their way. She was withdrawn, mostly in her room and sad. When asked what the problem was, she’d say she misses her daughter so much.
But Ms. Helen wasn’t buying that. Right from the first time Mrs. Eugene was brought to the Obara mansion, she kicked against the idea of her staying with them, especially when she learnt, from Aaron, the story around their decision to bring her to the city.
Aaron on the other hand, wasn’t interested in his nanny’s opinion. Mrs. Eugene had turned against her own daughter, just to spare them of the evil plans Ese had cooked up, and she deserved to be cared for too.
He spared no expenses when it came to her wardrobe, or whenever she needed anything.
However, the security man, John Eru, was different, along with the servants. They welcomed Mrs. Eugene with open arms, and did everything to make her comfortable.
Rodah visited the mansion regularly, and even spent time with Mrs. Eugene, before hanging out with Aaron
However she was displeased with reports on how shabbily Ms. Helen treated Mrs. Eugene .
Ms. Helen, of course, was like a mother to her husband to be. That made her, Rodah’s mother in-law to be. Confronting her was a wrong idea. So she took the issue to Aaron himself. He promised to talk to Ms. Helen.
The months breezed by and the date fixed for the marriage between Rodah Akiri and Aaron Obara, came. The traditional marriage ceremony was held in Lagos, instead of Iri, for fear that Ese would attack the marriage, as she was still believed to be with the Chief Priest , but could escape from him at will.
The ceremony was peaceful and filled with laughter and jubilation. The only person who didn’t seem to be jubilating much was Ms. Helen, for two reasons. First, she was scared Rodah will take her place in Aaron’s heart. Secondly, she knew Rodah reported her to Aaron, concerning her treatment of Mrs. Eugene.
She had said to herself then, “a woman who reports a mother to her son is definitely not fit to be called a daughter-in-law”.
After the marriage ceremony, things went on smoothly. And then the church marriage followed the next day. And again, things went smoothly.
Their honeymoon lasted a month, abroad. There was lots of sightseeing activities and plenty of time to rump up the sheets.
However, 3 months after the marriage, something unexpected happened. Mike, a friend of Aaron from Europe, who happened to be into black magic, came visiting. Of course, he was well received.
But upon being introduced to Mrs. Eugene, he sensed something odd. She was hiding something. Though his host and hostess didn’t seem to know what was up, he told himself, he needed to know.
And so he questioned Aaron about the woman. Aaron didn’t know much of her history. He called on Rodah and she explained her history with the woman, as well as the events that led to her living with them.
He was wowed by the stories he heard from Rodah, but he still felt uneasy in his spirit. And whenever he ran into her and held even a small conversation, the uneasiness increased.
Being a student of sorcery, he told Aaron his suspicions and made it clear, he was going to carry out experiments to clarify if what he sensed was true.
Aaron was reluctant, not wanting to hurt the woman’s feelings. But he eventually gave his consent.
It was on a raining afternoon. Mike had assembled everything he needed for his experiment. He made a concoction and turned it into a bottle. He was going to pour the content on Mrs. Eugene, who will then be forced to confess what she had been up to, before being thrown out of the house.
Mike called on Aaron. And Aaron, having to delay work that morning, agreed to assist. All he had to do was call Mrs. Eugene out to the sitting room and Mike, hidden behind the door, will emerge and pour the concoction on her.
So Aaron sent a servant to get Ese’s mom. But Mrs. Eugene didn’t show up. Rodah did instead. And she was furious.
“What is the meaning of what you’re doing?” Rodah asked her husband. Hands on hips.
“I don’t understand”, he looked confused,”what is it?”
“Have you forgotten that despite the fact that she knows magic even more than her evil daughter, Mrs. Eugene chose to use her knowledge of magic for good?”
“I don’t understand what your point is”. Aaron asked.
“My point is, she knows you only sent for her, so you and your friend can use magic on her. You think she’s hiding something?”
“I don’t think anything, Rodah. But Mike does. I do not wish Mrs, Eugene any harm. I just want to be sure she is what she says she is and Mike says he can help with that.
In the middle of their argument, Mike emerged from behind the door and Ms. Helen joined them. Of course, she took sides with Aaron. Not because she hated Rodah, after all they had become somewhat close during the past months after their wedding.
“There is something odd about her, I noticed”, Ms. Helen said, “she’s always withdrawn, locked in her room and make weird noises at night. Besides, I have seen her make attempts to visit Aaron’s bedroom. That was before both of you got married”.
“You’re lying”, Rodah accused.
“No I’m not. I don’t hate your friend’s mother. But I don’t trust her”.
It took plenty of talk from Aaron, Mike and Ms. Helen, before they could convince her to take their side. However, they didn’t send for her again. Mike, accompanied by Rodah, Aaron and Ms. Helen, made their way upstairs to Mrs. Eugene’s bedroom. But she was ready for them when they arrived.
It was a major battle, between her and Mike, before he was able to pour his concoction on her.
Mrs. Eugene screamed and twisted as smoke rose from her burning flesh. She dropped to the ground, writhing in pain, as she started to confess. And her confession shocked everyone. Fear gripped Rodah and Ms. Helen. They pulled closer to each other. Shocked.
Mrs. Eugene was never in the house. She was never spared. According to the confession, after Ese found out her mother had encouraged Rodah to go ahead with Aaron, she was really angry. Out of anger, she unleashed on her mother, a curse she learnt during her training session with a herbalist her mother had sent her to.
The result was a terrible sickness that couldn’t be explained. In fact, Mrs. Eugene wasn’t supposed to talk. But she did, when she warned Rodah about Ese’s evil plan. And when the village mob gathered around the house, Ese did the unthinkable. She swapped bodies, taking her mother’s own and sending her mother into hers.
Out of fear of being captured and lynched, Mrs. Eugene, now in Ese’s body and holding the bowl of concoction Ese had wanted to use on her, threw the concoction on the men. But she was still captured.
Ese smiled inwardly as the event unfolded before her. But despite everything, she didn’t want her mother killed. She influenced the decision of the villagers, to hand her over to the Chief Priest .
No, the villagers didn’t capture Ese. They captured Mrs. Eugene in Ese’s body.
Ese’s joy knew no bounds, when Aaron and Rodah agreed to bring her to the city. And her joy tripled, when Aaron insisted she stayed with him.
But she had not been able to carry out her many plans because he was always so busy and hardly around.
Ms. Helen was an issue too, as she prevented anyone from ever going near the door of Aaron’s bed chambers, let alone, stepping into it. And when Rodah came visiting, she made a report to Rodah, of how mean Ms. Helen had been, just so she could get the elderly woman out-of-the-way. But instead, security doubled around the room.
Also, there was the issue of Rodah not staying in the mansion, at least, until the duo got married recently. Else, she’d have been able to carry out at least, one, out of her many plans.
But after the marriage and now staying in the house, Rodah paying Ese a visit in her room, every day, gave Ese the item she needed to succeed – hair strands from rodah and even sweat from skin contact. For her new plan, she needed to perfect swapping bodies with Rodah, just as she did with her mom.
Then she’ll be Aaron’s legal wife and Rodah, will be regarded as Mrs. Eugene. Worse, she’d never be able to cry for help. She’d remain that way, until she died of sickness or old age.
Ese was close to perfecting the plan, when the stupid visitor, Mike, arrived. She tried to be careful, so as not to draw attention to herself. But still, she sensed his growing suspicion.
Knowing she was running out of time, she invited Rodah, under the pretext of needing help with a dress, to her room that morning. Ese had planned to hurry up the ritual, so as to be done with it once and for all, when the servant Aaron sent, came knocking at the door.
She had to respond to the knock. But after being told her presence was needed in the sitting room, she in turn complained to Rodah about the suspicion, pretending to be innocent of the accusations.
Thinking about the scenario again, Rodah didn’t remember hearing the servant say Mrs. Eugene was invited downstairs because Aaron suspected her of anything. She wondered then, why she bought the false claim without questioning.
Everyone in the room, including the servants that bumped into the scene, were shocked beyond words.
“So my friend was right about you all along”, Aaron made a fist, as Ese, recovering from the effect of the concoction, started to get to her feet.
“Save your fights for another time”, Ese said, taking several steps backwards, “because I’ll come again, and whatever plans I put together for the both of you, will come to pass”, she jumped out of the window.
Rodah and Mrs, Helen gasped. The men rushed forward to hold her back. Too late. She fell hard with her back. The pain was excruciating, but she struggled to her feet.
The men rushed out of the room, down the stairs and out of the house, to the spot Ese fell. She wasn’t there. They started to search the entire compound for her. But she was nowhere to be found. And when the men asked the servants and security man about her, none of them seemed to have seen her.
Taking precautions, Mike sprayed more concoctions around the premises to ward off Ese’s spirit. And it worked.
The following days were sad for Rodah, as the thought of the real Mrs. Eugene, sitting in Ese’s body, and had been handed over to the Chief Priest . And to think that the villagers flogged her as they took her away.
Rodah sent news to her parents about the development. And although Chief Akiri never really liked the medicine woman, he felt bad about her predicament.
After days of deliberating, a day was set. Rodah, her father and Aaron visited the Priest’s shrine at Iri, to plead for the release of the real Mrs. Eugene. Unfortunately, the Chief Priest refused, saying she was his apprentice now and her help was valuable to him.
But Mrs. Eugene did ask them to sit, so she could explain things to them. They did.
“I’m keeping tabs on Ese”, she started, “I know where she is, and what she’s planning. You must know, though, she is my daughter. I still love her, and I will do everything to help her overcome the spirit that has taken over her.
“There is no spirit using her, mama”, Rodah cried, “Ese has become something else. She’s evil itself”. It felt awkward, looking at Ese’s young body but having to refer to the elderly woman within.
“No”, Mrs. Eugene shook her head, “there is a spirit. What is happening to her now, started two years after you went to Europe to study, Rodah. I had only managed to get her interested in the healing business and wanted her to be better than me. So I sent her to another herbalist to learn. That was my biggest mistake. Ese learnt more than just medicine. She learnt the art of black magic, and when she returned, she used it in the first healing job we did together.
The Chief at Ozoro that was poisoned. The one who gave me that radio as a gift, remember I told you earlier about him?”.
Rodah nodded in the affirmative, “yes”.
“He should have died”, Ese’s mother continued, “but he promised to pay 5 times our bill, and also shower us with gifts, if we heal him. Whatever has taken over Ese, is in love with material things, a lot. I also noticed, it takes advantage of Ese’s likes, and then manipulates her to do everything possible, including using black magic, to get it”, she paused, and turned sad eyes on Rodah, “Because of the fee the dying chief promised to pay, Ese killed someone that day, and swapped his life with chief’s. I was shaken, but she warned me not to talk about it to anyone.
Three more jobs came after that. And she killed three more people, and swapped their lives for that of our patients.”, Mrs. Eugene sighed, “things were different from then on. And as we went on with our lives, I got to understand my daughter could never overcome this spirit and she will go on hurting people, even friends and family. Like she’s doing now.
I warned her to stop what she was doing. But she flared, and almost killed me too. For fear of my life, I came to this very shrine to explain things to baba. He gave me something to use for her. I used it. And it worked. But after she found Aaron, it resurfaced. I noticed it. And I knew the man she was loving, wasn’t hers”.
“We didn’t even know she took your body”, tears streamed down Rodah’s cheeks, “what has happened to my friend?”
“Something terrible”, the priest said in their dialect, “but if you work with us, we can help her”.
“How?” Aaron asked.
“She is planning Something against the both of you. And your son”, Mrs. Eugene said.
“Son? The couple chorused.
“You’re Pregnant”, Mrs. Eugene, in Ese’s body, smiled.
“I….”, a speechless Rodah touched her tummy. Aaron looked at it. They thought then, what if Ese had succeeded in swapping bodies with Rodah? She’d have been carrying the life in Rodah’s womb.
“When you’re celebrating your two years anniversary”, the Priest explained, “she will come again. Fully prepared. Right now, she’s undergoing training in another village, very far away, up north, on how to cast direct spells. Her training will take a year plus. By then, you’ll be celebrating your anniversary. Do not protect yourselves, on that day”.
“But why?” Chief Akiri’s brows shot up
“Why?” Aaron, after Rodah interpreted to him what was said, was furious.
“Because if you let her succeed, then we can help her and still reverse whatever damage she does to you”. The priest said, “take this”, he handed Rodah a necklace with the image of a mirror as the pendant, “whatever she does to you or your family, as long as you wear this chain when it happens, will bounce back at her. She will be under the spell too and will be unconscious for several weeks until the spell is reverted and that terrible spirit taken out of her”.
It looked like a good plan, and they all agreed to it. When it was time to leave, they said their thanks. But no one noticed the sadness in Mrs. Eugene’s eyes as they left. Only the Chief Priest noticed. He patted her shoulders, “Everything will be fine”, He kissed her, then rubbed her tummy.
Yes. Mrs. Eugene was a few month pregnant for the priest, a young man, who despite knowing an older person resided in Ese’s body, took her as his wife. She hoped though, that her new-born to be, would be a perfect replacement for Ese, if things get out of hand.
©Karo Oforofuo. August 2017. All rights reserved
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