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Fear Is The First Injury

Fear is the First Injury

Who are they? Are they human beings? Or are they truly spirits as many people in my village claim? One of my uncles swears that they are. Even Gogo, my sweet grandma, tells me that “these things are spirits”.

Spirits? What are spirits? They tell me that akaka are not like us. Akaka, they say, have special powers that we humans don’t have.

I have two opposing feelings for akaka. How do you hate something and still like it? That is how akaka make me feel. I don’t like how they chase us around and make some of us fall down while trying to run away from them.

But there is something I like about them, their dance. You should see them dance. They dance better than all the dancers in our village square. No ceremony in the village, Buluku, can be so sweet without akaka dancing their feet-replace-feet, and hand swings kind of dance. When they dance, I want to watch them dance forever. I bet you haven’t seen any dance that beautiful.

After every dance, I always desire to secretly follow them as they go to their houses just so I can find out where they live. Why do they only come out in times of celebration? Do they eat food like humans do? Who teaches them how to dance?

Why do my parents like taking us to the village every other holiday? Here in Bukuru where we live, we have electric light. At night, we just press a switch on the wall and the room comes alive with an orange-yellowish brightness from bulbs that are shaped like pawpaw hanging from the ceiling. Just that the bulbs are not big like pawpaw – they are small small.

In the village, everywhere is pitch-black at night. The kerosene lantern that Gogo uses only brightens the spot where we sit to eat pounded yam and akagyi or knunlolo soup. There is also this piercing noise from every corner that makes you feel like someone is blowing a whistle right inside your ears – my father says it’s the crickets. They make me see ugly insects jumping all over my face when I close my eyes. But when I open them to see where they are, the only thing I see is darkness.

My best time in the village is when there is a full moon in the sky. Everywhere looks blue ─ or is it white? ─ but bright. I can see things that are far away from me. Even though the crickets still make their annoying noise, they don’t scare me like when the place is dark with only a circle of orange light from Gogo’s kerosene lantern.

Why is it that in the village scorpions move around like ants? That is how in the evening, just before the darkness swallows up everything in front of us, uncle Cheshi gives me and my brother, Salasi, some rat meat. We go to sit on a mat in front of our grandfather’s dobwi, where he keeps freshly harvested corn and guinea corn. But the mat suddenly seems a mile away. The aroma of the rat meat and pounded fresh pepper already fill my mouth with saliva so that I want to sit on the ground and drag my buttocks till I get to the mat so I can start eating the meat along the way. But Salasi is faster; he gets to the mat before me. Then, just as his buttocks touch the mat, he bolts up and hits the rubber plate in my hand, throwing the rat meat and pepper somewhere out of my reach. I want to slap his fat cheek, but since he is screaming already, I start to look around the mat and the surrounding area for the rat meat, not minding why he is crying.

Mother runs towards us as she hears Salasi’s cry. “What is it?” she asks.

Salasi pulls his shorts down to his knees, clutches his buttocks, jumping and shrieking even louder like someone who has just sat on the edge of a new razor blade.

Gogo dashes towards us, too, lantern in hand. She holds Salasi with her other hand and turns him around.  “I’m sure it is a scorpion!” she says in Gbagyi.

Mother flashes a stern look at me. “What are you looking for?”

“He pushed the rat meat from my hand and now I can’t find them…” I answer, still looking around. I notice a piece of meat, the leg, somewhere on the ground. As I make to go pick it up, I feel a knock on my head. My skull cracks open and my brain tissues spill out into the darkness ─ or so I feel. There is a brief silence and then a siren starts screeching in my ears.

“A scorpion stung your brother and you’re busy looking for rat meat? What rat meat!” One look at Mother’s eyes and I know enough to quickly take two steps backward before my skull suffers another crack.

“Is that why you knocked his head like that? Please don’t do that again,” Gogo says to Mother. “Is it his fault that a scorpion stung his brother?”

I begin to cry because Gogo says it is not my fault.

In Bukuru, we go to a police station, we call the place Stable, to fetch pipe borne water. My daddy says that “In Nigeria, we have government that can’t even provide common water for the people. People have to trek long distances to fetch pipe borne water.”

I look up at him and ask, “But, daddy, why can’t you send akaka to chase the government?”

He laughs and says, “But it is even better here in Bukuru. There are many places where they don’t even have pipe borne water at all.”

In Buluku, we go to a stream – in that place that has many tall palm trees around it ─ to fetch water. I don’t know who owns the place, but all the people in Gbaknunadna community come there to fetch water for drinking and for bathing.

Sometimes, at the beginning of the rainy season, when it rains, the road to the stream and the surrounding areas of the stream smell of dry sucked shit and wet dry grass.

Our water in Bukuru is white. Or is it blue? Or colourless as my daddy describes to me. Our water in Buluku is almost the colour of the tea Mother sometimes prepares for our breakfast. I always think it is the smell of shit that changes the colour of the stream water in Buluku. Or maybe akaka always collect the dry shit and pour them inside the stream.

In Buluku, the old women carry their earthen pots of water on their shoulders, sometimes only holding it with one hand while the other hand swings along as they walk fast like their houses will run away if they don’t. The girls carry their basins of water on their heads, and most times they can’t hold it with just one hand. The water from the basins keeps spilling down on them, bathing them as they go along. They walk so slowly and gingerly like they don’t want their legs to touch the ground. Or they don’t want to get home on time. By the time they reach home, half of the water is gone into their clothes and skin.

“Buluku is your village. This is where they gave birth to your father and he grew up and went to school,” Uncle Tanimu tells me. “No matter how your village is, you have to like it.”

There are things that make me happy about Buluku, and there are things that make me sad about it. I love coming to the village, but I also hate coming to the village.

One of the things I like is Gogo’s kitchen. The floor is clean, except for the firewood and a heap of sacks of ashes which she gathers. I think nothing of the big earthen pots lined up by the left side of the kitchen wall, but I wonder why each of them sits on a bowl filled with wet sand. My daddy explains that they’re like the fridge – they keep the water cold.

Me, I am small, so I enter the kitchen easily. But others have to bend their heads or they will hit them against the heaps of yellow maize or smoked meat hanging from the blackened rafters of Gogo’s kitchen.

Bananas. Gogo always has bananas in her kitchen. She has them in different sacks. Some are ripe and ready to eat, others are not. So, when I enter the kitchen, I first feel the softness of each heap with my fingers. The ripe ones are usually soft like ripe tomatoes, while the unripe ones are tough like uncooked potatoes. One day I ask my daddy why some bananas refuse to ripe even when Gogo puts them together in the sack at the same time.

“If all of them become ripe at once, many of them will waste,” he says.

The sweet smell of banana makes Gogo’s confused kitchen feel cool and inviting – the kind of cool that reaches out and touches your skin gently.

Sometimes she forgets some of the bananas till they are overripe and become black and soggy, then burst open and drip a slimy liquid like snot. I hate seeing those ones because they make me want to vomit.

In Buluku, a night without a full moon is not fun. Darkness follows people everywhere. And each time I remember kakawyi ─ one of the akaka ─ chasing us, I start to see them in every place till I can see nothing else. Another thing I don’t like about Buluku is nyasubwi – my daddy says they’re dead people who come back to life – how they come out at night and beat people. My cousins in Buluku always talk about nyasubwi. In Bukuru, I don’t hear people talk about nyasubwi. Even when I tell my friends stories about nyasubwi and how they attack people at night and beat them up, they don’t believe me. Instead, they call me lie-lie.

I do not fear kakawyi. That was before. But now, when I see other children scream and run away from akaka, I start to run too. I remember an incident of long ago: kakawyi chases us, me and my big brother, Akumishi. Akumishi hits his leg on a stone and falls down. When kakawyi turns back, Akumishi stands up and limps towards me, crying. His lips are swollen like balloons and his forehead is also swollen, covered with dust, like baby-yam from my grandfather’s farm. One of his toe nails comes off with plenty of blood coming out of his toe. When I see the blood and his lips, I run away from him. I remember the zombie film we watch in Bukuru and I think Akumishi will turn to kakawyi, too.

My daddy is angry. He calls all the akaka and tells them to stop chasing children. While my daddy is talking to them, I see one of the akaka. Really see him. The thick white and black fabric that covers his body is torn somewhere around his buttocks. I see a white, dirty, black skin like Jumai’s buttocks when she finishes playing with sand. So, I say to myself, maybe akaka is like Spiderman. They are like us, but they change and have super powers when they wear their special clothes that cover them from their head to their feet.

May be that is why my daddy says that akaka can only make us run and fall if we fear them.

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