Chinaza Eziaghighala

Story image for Nwanebeakwa by

Onye tiri nwa nebe akwa? Who made my baby cry?

O kwukwe touched me the night before the day of Ani’s ceremony, a night too dark to see more than his outline—not the birthmark on his chest, nor the lines of his features, not even the glint of his eyes, none of the things of him I knew so well.

His hut was at the edge of the palace, beside the bushes, so it was difficult for people to know what happened inside. The room was dark and dimly lit by my candle and a sliver of moonlight. The sky had a crescent moon that night which reflected into the room through a secret hole in the wall, one that only myself and Okwukwe knew about.

Okwukwe had knelt to search for his Isi agu. He asked me to hold the candle and stand in front of him as he searched for it. I assumed that he was using his hands to search, but as I felt the warmth of his palms creep up my legs I didn’t move. I didn’t ask him why his hands were searching me instead of the floor. When his palm got to my waist, he unravelled my Isi agu and I felt a moist warmth on me. I pulled Okwukwe’s head closer to me and felt frustrated that I could not get all of me in all of him. My moans echoed off the walls of his room until Okwukwe said I should quiet down.

“There may still be people in the palace,” he said when he took his mouth off me. “Biko wetu olu gi.”

I kept silent as Okwukwe took me in his mouth again.

Orbit-sml ><

Eze mere nwa nebe akwa? Eze made my baby cry?

I was given to the Eze of the village as a gift from my father who owed him a debt: reparation. The Eze made me an Ohu, a slave, forever doomed to serve the royal family’s estate. But being his personal Ohu was a joy, and nothing made it more fulfilling than serving the Eze’s son.

Okwukwe and I were friends first. We would always play games together around the village square, much to the annoyance of the merchants, councilmen, and other members of the palace courts. I was always at Okwukwe’s side and he at mine.

The Eze noted Okwukwe’s fondness of me and entrusted me to him. I escorted Okwukwe everywhere: to the palace pen, where we fed the noisy pigeons together; to the village stream, to watch girls balance water atop their heads; to the wrestling grounds, to spectate and thrill.

He told his father that he preferred we stay in the same room because he saw me as a brother. The Eze agreed. And one day Okwukwe escorted me to his room, to assist him with chores, and later to wrestle, and later still to do other things between only we two.

Orbit-sml ><

T he day after Ani’s ceremony, the Eze called me and Okwukwe into his private quarters and asked us why we did not attend. I kept silent because it was not my place to speak.

Okwukwe said that he had overslept and I had to stay with him because it was dark and he didn’t want to be alone. I watched as the Eze looked at his son with disdain, as if he didn’t believe a single word that came out of his mouth. If Okwukwe was aware of his father’s gaze, he didn’t show it, but I was petrified. When the Eze looked at me, it seemed as if he already knew everything.

When Okwukwe and I went back to his room he said we should not speak about what had happened between us because people would not understand. I agreed. We were Okorobia, young men, how would we explain that we liked to suck and enter each other?

Orbit-sml ><

Weta uziza weta ose. Bring leaf and pepper.

Weta ngaji nkuru ofe. Bring a spoon to let me collect soup.

O kwukwe and I spent most nights together. They were the most magical. Each shared kiss, warm touch, and tantalising climax brought me closer and closer to Okwukwe until I knew that I would never want another. I wondered how no one in the palace knew about us. Our surreptitious smiles and furtive exchanges were subtle enough not to be apparent, but had anyone paid close attention, the truth would out.

All was well until Ani’s priest came to see the Eze himself, one full moon after Her festival. Dibia mmuo was a stout figure whose intimidating speech seemed to mesh all the voices of the gods together. Every man and woman gathered in the town square in a semicircle around him. The sky was overcast, and harmattan fog filled the air.

He offered Ani palm wine by pouring the drink on the ground in the centre of the square. Next, he offered Her Abacha and Ugba. The whole village watched in silence, and a strange feeling crept to my throat from the pit of my stomach. Okwukwe was seated by his father on a mat at the forefront of the gathering. He smiled at me when I glanced at him. I wished I could tell him how uneasy I felt inside, how bare.

As Dibia mmuo continued his incantations, he edged closer and closer, until he stopped, barely a whisker away from me, and stared me dead in the eye.

“Weta Uziza na ose, na ngagi ikuru ofe!” he screamed. His mouth had the stench of stale tobacco, his teeth were stained with spots of chocolate brown.

The Eze’s eyes widened and the village elders looked like they had been dealt blows to the stomach. I didn’t understand why Dibia mmuo was shouting a children’s nursery rhyme at me.

“Nwosu!” The warmth left my face at the sound of my name on his lips. The atmosphere in the square seemed heavier than before. I could feel the eyes of everyone in the village, watching, waiting for what was about to unfold. I urged myself to move forward but I couldn’t. I was transfixed. The palace guards yanked me out of the crowd, yet I remained limp as I was dragged into the centre of the square. I could see from the corner of my eye how Okwukwe writhed in his seat, fists clenched on his lap.

The Eze’s gaze pierced through me, his eyes revealing what I had most feared. “Nwosu, you have been selected to be the Nwa obe-akwa by Ani herself. Rejoice!”

I felt my heart skip a beat as I came to terms with my doom. Ani had selected me to be one of Her nwa-obe akwa: a bushbaby, witch monsters who become Her servants forever, consuming the souls of the who crossed Her path. People began to murmur among themselves, yet no one tried to help me. They all looked at me with pity, even agony. I pleaded to the Eze, calling him father, and to Okwukwe, but the Eze placed his hand on Okwukwe’s clenched fists. Okwukwe looked to the floor, averting his gaze. If he said a word he would face dire consequences, I knew. I was condemned and there was nothing anyone could do.

Orbit-sml ><

Umu nnunu aracha ya. Birds have licked it up.

T he palace birds kept silent on the day of the initiation ceremony. It was a bland day with empty skies and dead-silent woods. I was not allowed to say goodbye to Okwukwe before the Eze ordered the palace guards to bundle me out of the village.

“I knew about you and Okwukwe,” the Eze said, just before he turned his back on me forever. “It is better this way.”

The ceremony was a simple one, to be performed at Ani’s temple, right beside her altar. I was to be put into an open grave, where the body of a dead baby had already been placed. The baby looked fresh, like he had been killed specifically for my rebirth. I wondered whose Ohu this was, whose reparation this child became.

Dibia mmuo performed the ceremony himself at Ani’s altar. I cried out as he pushed me into the grave. Chewing tobacco like curd, he declared in delight that I was perfecting my bushbaby scream. Lumps of baccy mixed with spittle rained on my face as he incanted. I watched in anguish as he tossed sand into the grave, covering my limbs. My body became too heavy to lift as the last beam of light was covered by sand, and soon I was alone in the darkness.

Then, I was not alone.

The sun had set when I woke on the altar to the sight of a young girl who was not much older than I. She had nsibidi markings on her arms and legs, but she had no eyes, just black pools of nothingness. She drifted towards me and smiled as she cupped my face in hands that felt like harmattan, cold and dry.

“My beautiful one,” she said. Her voice sang like a lullaby; her hair flowed like silk cloth against the cool breeze.

I wondered how someone who looked as young as me could call me her child. That was when I saw the creatures surrounding her, children, with talons for hands and fangs for teeth. I shuffled back.

“Don’t be afraid,” Ani said. “They are your family now.”

The children smiled at me and began to chant: Nwanne, Brother. They formed a small circle around me and I could feel my will to flee overpowered by their collective gaze.

She took the red clay on Her altar and began to rub it onto my skin. It felt cool at first, then it began to burn. A bawl escaped my lips. It felt like acid, melting away my skin and sending jabs of pain that coursed through my body.

“You will have a family now and never be an Ohu again,” She said as She put the sands on my upper and lower limbs, all the while singing, “Onye tiri nwa na-ebe akwa.”

Her voice began to change from its initial soothing tone to a loud banshee-like screech, scrambling my hearing. As I focused on trying to stop the pain in my ears, She opened my mouth and forced Her voice down my throat. I felt my own voice flee me, and this new one become my own.

Orbit-sml ><

Nwosu aracha ya. Nwosu has licked it up.

F or unknown time I lay as though sleeping, though it was something else. When I woke again I was alone in a bush, and it was day, and the voices of two children playing hide and seek echoed close by. One of them hid in front of me, his breath bristling against the bushes. Although I tried to move, I couldn’t. I felt the pain in my arms, the pain of the red clay, and I began to cry. Nwanebeakwa—a crying baby.

The boy turned to me at the sound. “Your voice is too loud, eh! Do you want my friend to catch me?” he said.

I answered with silence, scared of speaking, of sounding unlike myself.

“What village have you come from?” he said, ambling closer.

Then I caught the boy’s scent through my nostrils, and he smelt like freshly made Abacha and Ugba. My belly began to grumble, a pang of hunger began to eat at me from the inside, and I felt my body spasm out of control like it did not belong to me. The last thing I remembered was the searing pain in my limbs and my incessant weeping.

As I came to myself once more, I saw blood splattered on the bushes around me. It lay on the leaves like sweet nectar. I struggled to stand, unsure of what had just happened. My eyes scanned the bushes for the boy, but he was nowhere to be seen. His friend, however, stood at a distance not too far from me, eyes wide, skin drained of blood, mouth agape. As our eyes met, he pointed at me, whispering “Obiora” as his lips quivered, before stumbling into a run.

Without thought, my body ran too, arms reaching out for him. I saw now that they were grisly things that ended in talons, curled into fists, then creaking as the fingers unfurled, extending backwards as I lurched forward with arms outstretched to dig into flesh, spirit, and soul.

Orbit-sml ><

Ohhh ohhh.

I n the night I stared out into the empty darkness, my bare head turned against the firm forest floor. My eyes searched for any glimpse of illumination within the shadows. I trembled from the cold and caught my breath, surprised I still recalled how to tremble. I had thought I would forget how to feel, but my body insisted on remembering. I supposed I should be grateful.

I looked up, past the darkness above the tall palm trees, and into the stars in the sky. I tried to lift my hand and count them, like my past self would have done, but reached out only with a gnarled claw. My whole body is a siphon, thirsting to absorb the souls of human prey, borrowing them to me for a brief period, a full moon when I can feel like I once was.

And my body remembered what I had before, and now had lost.

Orbit-sml ><

Egwu Ozor. Another song.

I made my way back to the palace in the daytime and most of it was empty. I moved to Okwukwe’s hut and looked through the secret hole to see if he was inside.

He was, but he was not alone. He was putting someone else in his mouth just like he did me.

Tears welled up in my eyes, and confusion built in my chest, and I wailed, surely a sound louder than any sound ever before!

In a fit of rage, I kicked open the door and ran the other man through with my talons, clenched him in my fists, slaying him instantly,

The blood drained from Okwukwe’s cheeks as he stared at me in terror. I uncurled my claws and let the corpse of his lover fall away, and Okwukwe called desperately out to his father, but then I wrapped myself around him, just like I had so many times before. I spared him my claws, held him in our lover’s embrace and absorbed him into me, feeding on his soul, spirit and body, his eyes wide with horror as he watched me become him.

When all was done I slumped against a wall, my breathing laboured, and only then saw the Eze at the door, watching as the body of his son dropped from my arms. As I looked upon him he shivered in terror and fell on his buttocks.

Rage rose inside me again, and I was about to move towards him when Ani appeared from the shadows of the hut, as though She had been with us all along.

“We are going home,” She said. “Your brothers and sisters are waiting for you.”

I gestured at the Eze, then stared at my claws as I realised they had become hands again, though not my own. I looked down at myself, at my torso, and instead of melted flesh and red clay I saw the birthmark Okwukwe had upon his breast. I had not consumed Okwukwe, I had become him, and it felt strangely comforting. Now no one would take him away from me ever again.

The Eze took advantage of my wonder, and ran as far away as he could. Ani said not to chase after him. “He still has much to do for me,” She said. “I will take care of you from now on, and if anyone ever makes you cry again, you could just do to them what you did to Okwukwe.”

She cackled in that voice which had now become my own. And I have been doing just that ever since, and will continue to do so until Ani fades away.


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Chinaza Eziaghighala

Author image of Chinaza Eziaghighala Chinaza Eziaghighala is a medical doctor who tells stories. An interdisciplinary writer at the intersection of health, film/TV, comics and literature, she is a University of Iowa International Writing Program Alum. Her works appear or are forthcoming in The British Science Fiction Association’s Fission #2 Vol 1 Anthology, Metastellar, Hellboundbooks’ Kids are Hell Anthology, Brittle Paper, Afritondo, and the British Science Fiction Association’s Focus. CHIMERA, her debut novella, is forthcoming in 2024 from Nosetouch Press. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers Association of America and the African Speculative Fiction Society, a First Reader for Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, and a Guest Nonfiction Editor for Please See Me. Connect with her here or on Twitter.

© Chinaza Eziaghighala 2022 All Rights Reserved

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