“I was cursed by a mad woman,” said this caller.
It all began with a message I found in my Facebook messenger box.
The Facebook profile has no picture.
I browsed through the Facebook content.
Just four posts.
The last was in 2018, the picture of a baby, without caption.
It received no “like.”
I took my chances and gave this fellow my WhatsApp number, thinking if they bothered me, I would block them.
Moments later, I saw the WhatsApp message, and accepted it.
The phone rang, and I picked it.
“Prof,” it was a female voice. “You don’t know me but we went to the same primary school at Iremo Road in Ile Ife. Not far from your mother’s shop.”
This was someone who truly knows me délédélé.
“How are you doing?” I greeted her.
“I’m fine prof,” she replied. “I read on your profile that your mom died last year. My condolences. We bought school uniforms from her shop.”
“That’s very kind of you,” I replied.
“I’m calling you because I’d like you to share my story with your Facebook friends,” she said. “I can’t share it on my page because I don’t want people to know me.”
“I see,” I said.
“I was cursed by a mad woman,” she continued. “You must know the mad woman because she roamed the Iremo street naked in the very early seventies. We called her Aríṣe.”
I recalled Aríṣe. She was the beautiful young woman who took occupancy of the abandoned post office at Lagere, Ile Ife. She showered in the nude in front of the building.
Neighborhood urchins, mostly boys, would gather and stare at her as she carefully washed, dried her body, and gently rubbed her skin with adi agbon until they glistened; and bringing out a mirror, powdered her face, and sometimes painted her nails red, moving slowly, no sense of urgency.
She liked to be watched: tall woman, slim, dark skin, with long hair that she plaited herself, gazing in her mirror.
When she was done, she would wear some buba, tie her wrapper, and stroll through the streets.
People would call her and give her food and money.
But also some people taunted her: “Síwèé ìpẹ̀jọ́,” they called out to her.
She would slowly untie her wrapper and allow them a sneak view of her pubic area. They rewarded her with coins after getting sufficiently entertained.
For more coins, some people would get her to remove her buba and wrapper. Often after doing that, Aríṣe wouldn’t bother to wear her clothes back on, but would just continue to stroll the street, nude.
At some point, it became clear that Arise was pregnant. Her belly began to rise. Women in the neighborhood brought lots of food to her apartment in front of the abandoned post office building.
Aríṣe gave birth. She nursed her baby by herself for about a month and then she disappeared from street just as mysteriously and suddenly as she had appeared.
We never heard about her again.
“I know Aríṣe very well,” I told her.
“After she gave birth,” the caller continued, “a couple of us went to watch her. She was breastfeeding her baby. We found that so intriguing.”
“Many of us did,” I reassured her. “I watched her breastfeeding her child too.”
“That fateful day,” she continued, “as we watched her, one rascally boy threw a stone or something at her. It almost hit her.”
“You know those roguish kids,” she said. “They were up to no good.”
I grunted. Too true.
“Well,” she continued, “Aríṣe was upset. She got up, yelled at all of us, and cursed us. ‘Ẹ́ ra a rẹ́yìn gbọ́mọ pọ̀n!’ she cursed us.”
“That is wild,” I said. “She said you will never have a child of your own.”
“Exactly,” she responded. “Not to me personally. She screamed at all of us. But I felt she was directly looking at me while cursing. I immediately left the place. I said to myself, ‘Èpè domi’.”
“You must have been scared,” I said. “You removed the curse by saying ‘Èpè domi’.”
“Yes, I did. I always remember that moment as if it was yesterday,” she said. “Many years later, when I got married, I recalled the curse, and was afraid it would affect me, though I wasn’t the one who threw the stone at Aríṣe.”
“That is just psychological,” I reassured her.
“Well, one year, two, three years after my wedding, no pregnancy,” she said, softly, sadly. “My husband was tired of waiting. He called me and said he was taking a second wife. I shrugged. The day she joined us, I cried all night, thinking of Aríṣe’s curse.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I tried to soothe her.
“Our wife got pregnant within six months of her arrival,” she said, “and I became a stranger in our home. But I did not leave.”
“My father gave me some money which he loaned from friends, and I opened a small grocery stall near our house. Unlike you, I was not from a rich family. I dropped out of secondary after completing Class Three. I hated school. I learned sewing, but the trade was not doing too well. My shop was not drawing a lot of people.”
“Mind you,” I said quickly, “I don’t know how people got this idea that our family was wealthy. We were really poor….”
“Oh, come on,” she said, “Your mom was the number one textiles seller in town. Anyway, to return to my story. Our wife had two sons in three years.”
“Your husband must have been happy,” I said.
“He was indeed,” she responded. “He no longer raged at me. He even continued to sleep with me, though both of us knew it was not going to be productive. He gave me some money every month to feed myself, but he did not eat whatever I prepared. He ate only our wife’s food.”
“Was she nice to you, your wife?”
“Sometimes,” she replied. “Most of the time, she was not concerned about me. But she wouldn’t let me as much as touch her child.”
“That’s mean,” I replied.
“I focused on my trade, which was doing well,” she continued. “I was the only one selling provisions in our neighborhood, and people thronged to my shop, perhaps out of pity for my barrenness.”
“You must be a good trader,” I said.
“I tried my best,” she said. “I went to Ibadan to buy supplies to restock my shop, at least once a week. I always looked for the cheapest bus when I traveled. A friend told me that I could get better deals in Lagos. And I began to ply Oshodi market, leaving at dawn, and returning to Ife very late at night. My husband was not worried. He was relieved, to be candid.”
“He had his other wife and children,” I interjected.
“One day, as I was returning from Lagos in a bus, the vehicle in which we were traveling broke down,” she said. “All the passengers abandoned the vehicle because it was late and night was falling; we trooped to the side of the road to hail down vehicles traveling toward Ibadan. Those without luggage quickly found other vehicles and moved along. But I had a large luggage full of thing that I bought in Lagos for my shop. It was rapidly getting dark, and I was worried.”
“There were armed robbers on that road in those days,” I said.
“Exactly,” she agreed. “Then a good Samaritan in a Peugeot 404 slowed stopped. Many of us rushed toward him for assistance. But he singled me out to assist. He helped me to place my load in the back of the car and I sat in front next to him. He was very nice to me. When we got to Ibadan, it was almost 10 pm. He bought me some bread and hot akara, with Coke. He told me that Ibadan was his destination and he didn’t want to leave me by the side of the road. It was very late and the chances of getting a bus from Ibadan to Ife was slim. Beside, it was risky to drive at night.”
“I agree,” I said.
“He suggested passing the night at a hotel,” she continued. “I hesitated at first, but when I thought about the risk involved in traveling at that late hour, I agreed with him. To cut a long story short, we went to a hotel and lodged there for the night. We slept on the same bed. And Esu pushed us.”
“I didn’t see that coming,” I said.
“At dawn, we got up and he took me to Agodi, where I joined a bus to Ile Ile.”
“Your husband was not worried?”
“I explained to him that there was a problem on the road, and the passengers slept in the bus. He didn’t doubt my story.”
“Really?” I said.
“Six weeks later, I realized I was pregnant,” she said. “I didn’t ask for the name of the good Samaritan. I didn’t know where he lived. We didn’t really have a conversation. I knew nothing about him. I decided to keep the story of the journey from Lagos to myself.”
“our husband was elated when I gave birth to a baby girl, though she was born premature. he threw a feast for the naming ceremony. His attitude toward me changed. Our wife was jealous because he he doted on our daughter. Our wife pack her things left in anger after a quarrel with our husband one day. She took her sons with her. Both of them are now lawyers in Abuja.”
“Hmmmn,” I grunted.
“My daughter now lives in Canada. She is a medical doctor,” she said. “Our husband died mysteriously last year. Cardiac arrest. Next week, I am moving to Canada to join my daughter.”
“I’m so happy for you!” I said.
“This is the question for you, prof,” she said. “Do you think I should tell my daughter that the man she called baba all her life is not her father?”
Ọ̀rọ́ pèsì jẹ.
I’m speechless. You?
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