It began five days ago. It began the minute I chose to crawl up the dusty stairs to eavesdrop on this particular conversation. My stepmother’s pastor was telling my father that I was possessed by a marine spirit and that I had killed my mother so that my marine friends could eat lunch. Not exactly his words but that was the message he passed across. My father seemed to age in that minute. I almost tumbled down the stairs when the Pastor turned to look in my direction. I was sure that my father wouldn’t believe this “Pastor”—surely he knew better. Surely! I expected him to swat the story away like a pesky mosquito but two days after that, Dad drove me to MFM for a deliverance session mumbling a weak “we all need prayer” when I asked why. It was there in the way he gripped the steering wheel, in the way the skin on his chin sagged with sorrow. He believed the Pastor. He believed his ten year old daughter killed her own mother.
I bled tears all the way to MFM.
“Daddy, don’t cry. It’ll be alright.” I dabbed at his face with the hem of my dress while my own tears pooled in my lap. It was mommy’s wake keep and he held me tightly to himself like I was all that kept him from falling apart. He had prayed all year for mommy to get better but the more he prayed the more mommy’s condition deteriorated. The last time I was allowed to see her, her hair was gone, she couldn’t walk and she was in a ward that had a heavy scent of death.
“How are you, Kemi?” she motioned for me to sit on the bed beside her.
“Mommy, come home” I laid beside her instead, breathing her inside me, hoping she would get better but knowing she wouldn’t.
I’m rocking myself back and forth now in my room, hugging my knees, tears blurring my view of the Dettol and the personal deliverance book Pastor Uti pressed into my palm at MFM.
“When you feel any strange presence in your body, use this book and pray the demons out”, he said.
But I wasn’t sure I had anything in me or wanted anything out. I felt hollow and timidly said “But I don’t feel any marine spirit in me”
“You have to pray it out.”
“I am not possessed.” I wanted to cry but it didn’t matter. Dad believed.
I reach for the bottle of Dettol, squeezing my eyes shut as I put it to my mouth…
No. It is too bitter. There has to be a sweet way to die.
“God,” I start on bended knee, “let me sleep and not wake up so that I can come and meet my mommy in heaven. Give my daddy a replacement daughter just like me—but without the marine spirit. But before I die, in Jesus name every marine spirit in me die by fire!” I shake my head violently like Pastor Uti did with my eyes tightly shut so the spirit can die. I don’t know how long I repeat “die” for but I suddenly feel light. I open my eyes slowly and find a floating mermaid before me. She has lustrous black hair, the bluest of eyes, the fairest of skin.
“What are you doing, Akobi Oya?” she demanded.
I want to say: “My name is Kemi” but Akobi Oya sounds right, like the warm embrace of a long lost friend. In this instant, I know that that has been my name before it was Kemi. In this instant I know that she is my sister and I know she will take me.
“Only a man on fire can try to put out the fire before it consumes him but fire cannot put out itself. You are fire and your work here is done.” She says as she takes my hand and guides me through my room wall, towards the Ogun River. Transformation creeps upon me as we both dive soundlessly into the water. I close my eyes, running my hands through raven black hair, twirling, revelling in this new body that fits my soul snugly. I swim alongside rainbow-colored fish for what seems like eternity before choosing another path down the river. I know this path like the back of my hand.
Light is just ahead and there are mermaids everywhere cheering, welcoming me, circling me in triumphant joy, as I edge closer to the source of the light. I feel like I’ve been asleep all my life and now is the time I wake from an endless dream. In my heart is a tiny ball of expectant excitement! I’m eager to find the source, the one thing I half-know I will find…
She sits in a circle of light. Her hair is raven black, an ocean at the bottom of the river, glistening with every move her head made. Her beautifully sculpted features are new yet known to me. The tiny ball has become a planet inside me, bursting and propelling me into her waiting embrace. This is where I belong.
“K’aabo omo mi”, mommy says and I know that I never lost her.
by IBUKUN AKINNAWO
by IBUKUN AKINNAWO