Water Child. Chapter 1.
The first time it happened I was five years old. I was playing in the garden with my dolls. I was surrounded by the sweet scent of jasmine and rose. Mangoes pregnant with ripeness, were weighing down the branches of the mango tree, pulling them to the ground. I stood up, grabbed a mango, changed my mind and returned to my dolls. I wiped the sweat of my brow with the edge of my pink dress. Mom had told me not to do that again, but I did it. I heard a noise and I looked up. It was like a screen opened before my eyes and I entered another dimension. The garden disappeared and I saw a wall of water towering above me. I looked up at it in wonder. I was not scared, rather I was curious and reached out to touch it. The water poured over me and I was submerged in it. It felt strange but I was breathing normally under the water. I saw sea creatures I had never seen before, even in my story books. I bent down to pick up my dolls but couldn’t find them. I turned around and that was when I realised that the house was no longer behind me. I called out for mom. Moments later I woke up with mom and dad kneeling beside me. Mom was crying. “They have come to take away my daughter from me,” she said. “My enemies have come to take her away,” she wept.
Dad said nothing. His eyes were alert behind his glasses. He had a puzzling expression on his face. He took off his glasses and wiped the sweat on his face with the back of his hand. He knelt down beside me and asked me a question.
“Lara, how did you get your clothes wet?” he looked around the garden searching for the source of the water. He didn’t find it. He turned his gaze back on me.
Until he asked me that question I had not paid attention to my dress. I looked down at my dress and it was dripping with water. I had this strange urge to lick my lips. My lips were plastered with salt. I stood up and looked around me. It looked like the sea visited me in the garden and when it retreated, it left memories of itself behind. Seaweeds hung from the mango tree, twisted around the fruits and littered the ground. There were blue, green, white, orange coloured sea shells on the spot where I had been playing with my dolls. The strong smell of sand and salt hung in the air around us. The strange thing was that we lived five miles away from the ocean. My parents took me inside the house and changed my clothes. The garden was cleaned and we never spoke about that incidence again. Then another one happened.
One day I ran into the house with excitement and showed mom what I had found as I played in the garden. Mom took a look at it and screamed. Dad ran into the sitting room, saw what was in my hand and stopped in his tracks. It was a squid, alive and wriggling in my hands. Dad took it away from me. He put it in a bucket of water, drove all the way to the lagoon and released it into the water. When he returned, dad sat me down beside him on the largest chair in the sitting room and asked me several questions which I could not answer. How did I get the squid? Where did it come from? Did someone give it to me? Did I leave the house at any time to play in the street? My parents must have come to the conclusion that their questions were futile.
Several incidents later, my parents were advised by some of their friends to seek spiritual help for my situation. They tried some churches but got tired of the pastors pushing me down to make me give up my powers. They decided to take me to a juju priest who lived in the forest. We drove outside Lagos, parked our car in a village and were led by two men into the forest. After an hour of following them through narrow forest paths, we arrived at the hut of a juju priest. It was built on a large clearing in the forest. The priest made me sit before him on the earthen floor while he consulted the oracle. He held some cowries stringed together by a white thread. He threw them on the floor before him. After looking at the cowries for several minutes, the expression on his face began to change into concern. He shook his head and glanced at me in disbelief. Finally he set the cowries aside with trembling hands. He looked up at my parents with terror in his eyes.
“I cannot help you. This is beyond me. Take this child away and leave my house,” he said. My mom quickly grabbed my hand and pulled me up. As we left the hut, he shouted after us. “And do not bring her back here.”
Several visits later to different juju priests, my parents came to the conclusion that no one could help me. The juju priests said the same thing.
“She belongs to the water.”
“We cannot help her.”
“She belongs to the sea.”
“She is too powerful for me to help. You have to find a more powerful priest.”
When I was nine years old, we were directed to an olokun priestess, who lived in a big hut near the Osun river. She tied a white wrapper around her chest, and red beads hung from her neck. There were four other women dressed the same way standing behind her. When the priestess saw me, she fell down to her knees and bowed down to the red earth. The four ladies behind her also fell on their faces and bowed before me. The white wrapper of the priestess was stained by the red earth, but she did not seem to mind. With her face bowed to the earth she spoke to me.
“My queen, welcome.”
Mom and dad exchanged fearful looks.
“She is not your queen,” mom moved me away from the woman. “She did not ask to be your queen. She deserves to live like other children, to enjoy her childhood, to enjoy her life.” Mom grabbed my hand to leave, but dad held her back.
While my parents decided on what to do the priestess continued to sing my praises.
“Ruler of a thousand leagues of the sea. Queen of the armies of the seas. She who speaks to the water and it obeys. Daughter of Olokun, queen of all the creatures that live in the oceans.”
But mom was not impressed. “Please tell us, how can we put an end to this…this curse?” mom asked.
The priestess lifted up her head from the floor. She looked directly at mom. “This is a gift from olokun. You asked for her and olokun answered your prayers. But you have reneged on your promise to return her. Is this not true?” the priestess smiled knowingly.
Mom was speechless.
Dad regarded mom with suspicion. She looked at dad, her face covered with guilt. “Simi, what is she talking about? Did you bring this upon us?” dad asked in a trembling voice.
“I had no choice,” mom said.
Dad held mom’s arms and shook her. “Simi, what have you done?”
Mom broke free from dad and sat down on the red earth. She held her head in her hands. The priestess regarded them both in silence.
“Simi, so while we have been going from one place to another seeking a solution to our predicament, you knew about this? How could you say you love me and hide this from me?”
Mom lifted up her head. Tears streamed down her face. “The doctors said we could not have children. I was getting old and couldn’t wait any longer.” She paused and regarded me. “I visited a white garment sect at a beach in Lagos. Their leader gave me some sea water to drink and prayed for me. She said I would have a child but I had to return the child to them when she was five years old.” She looked up at dad. “When the time came to return her I couldn’t do it, I could not let her go. That was when she started having those strange experiences. The sea wanted her back according to my agreement with the white garment sect. I couldn’t tell you that our daughter would be returned to a white garment sect. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. Lara belongs to me…to us. I will do anything to keep her.”
Dad was silent, deep in thought. He looked into the distance in a hypnotic gaze. Mom fell on her knees before him and held his hand. He looked down at her, his face twisted in anger. “You deceived me. All these years you knew what was going on but you hid it from me. Simi, you said you loved me. Why did you do this to me? You betrayed my trust,” dad said.
“They also promised that we would have more children but I have not been able to conceive. I couldn’t give up Lara when we did not have other children. I did this for us, for our happiness. Please forgive me,” mom said.
Dad pushed her aside and she fell down heavily on the floor like a sack of garri. Dad took difficult steps forward. He stumbled out of the hut in a daze, like a blind man groping around for direction.
“Gbenga, please don’t go…,” mom’s voice trailed off into tears. But dad never looked back. He kept on walking until his blue shirt was swallowed up in the green foliage. The priestess watched dad leave but did not try to stop him. She regarded mom on the floor with some sadness in her eyes.
That was the last time I saw dad.
Then the nightmares began.
To be continued….
© Praise George, January 31, 2019.