Every night through the seasons, Odimfe's compound would be serene as a lagoon, dark as the night skies only to be interrupted at intervals by the hooting of the owl that often positioned itself on the mango tree at the rear end of the compound and Odimfe's ever nocturnal creaking bed.
The bed that had produced his fifteen children and served with total loyalty as his three wives love cradle.
Each morning after 'the creaking bed escapades,' he would trot out of his compound, whistling with a leer in his face and his pot-belly right before his stout body. His fair skin tone and handsome face would have been the bait with which he caught his wives who often turned his compound to a wrestling ground. Adindu was sweet-mouthed. A skill he used effortlessly.
His creaking iron-spring bed was to be warmed up through the week by Hauwa. She was a beauty to behold. A northern goddess. Her white gap-toothed dentition made her endearing. Her coco-like toned skin glistened like the rays of the harmattan sun.
Dawn had broken quite fast. Longer nights and shorter days were the cause. Hauwa stormed out of her block yelling "My husband! My husband!"
Ekwunife and Bimbo who had been engrossed in early morning gossip chuckled hard in sheer mockery.
"Hmmmm! My husband kwa, so Odimfe is now a personal property?" Ekwunife asked mockingly.
Hausa rolled her small slanted eyes-balls that often made her look like an African woman of Chinese descent. " How does what I am saying concern you?"
The two women whispered into each other ears and burst into an irritating laughter apparently to Hauwa.
A distant ringing of bell heralded the atmosphere. It continued in intermittent rings till it sounded louder.
"Mtcheeeeeew!" It must be these white garment church people" Ekwunife dismissed the sound.
Soon the bell ringer saunters into the compound with hysterical dance steps, flinging her legs as it pleased her. Her dishevelled hair dangling along to the ringing of the bell.
"It is an Aladura nah" Bimbo asserts
"Ala gini? Its Ekeoma the village mad woman, Mazi Agwu's daughter"Ekwunife disputed her co-wife
"Mad ke? What are we waiting for? Let us chase her out before she pounces on us"
They both ran to the mango tree, each of them trying to outrun the other, jostling to pick up the short brooms sprawled on the floor and chased her.
The mad lady ducked Ekwunife leaving her with no balance as she toppled and fell to the brown dust with her wrapper around her waist untying in the process. Ekeoma continued to run towards the right wing of the compound when Bimbo caught up with her,both of them panting like they had run round the entire village.
"Get out of this compound" Bimbo screamed at her, threatening her with the short broom that she shoved at her.
"I am not going anywhere till I finish my mission," Ekeoma said in a sharp tone
"You are evil and you must go" Bimbo insisted
"Only seven market days and witches will fill this compound" Ekeoma prophesize.
"I reject it over my household. It is your father's compound witches will fill" Ekwunife blurted out as she ran breathlessly towards the two women.
"God forbid you!" Bimbo rejected her utterance with a snap of her fingers.
Ekeoma laughed till she was going to choke. "Don't say Ekeoma didn't tell you" She pulled her hands at her tiny ears and walked towards the gate in a crazy dance pattern allowing the dust guard her from behind while her gait and that of the jingling bell rhymed in a pattern.
"Coven against coven!" Her voice echoed as she left.
The two women looked exhausted after the unanticipated exercise they had been coerced into by Ekeoma.
"What do we do?" Bimbo asked the senior wife.
"I don't know. Let us wait till Odimfe comes back" Ekwunife said with a shrug of her shoulders.
As they both walked into the red bungalow. They sighted a shadow that had been peeking at them and fled upon hearing their footsteps.
The children had all left early for school and the silhouette could only have been Hauwa's.
At dusk, Odimfe sat on his cane chair stroking his bald head. His right fingers poking his teeth as he removed the strains of meat stuck in his teeth with a toothpick.
"Nna Anyi, I hope you enjoyed the meal?" Ekwunife inquired.
"Mmmmmnn" He answered with a grunt.
A shuffle of feet revealed to him that it was not just only Ekwunife standing by him. He lifted up his head proudly adorning his fat neck to see Bimbo.
"If it is money you people want. I don't have o"
"Our husband, money is not everything nah" Bimbo informed.
He nodded his head in sarcasm."So what is it?"
Ekwunife stole a glance at her co-wife and cleared her throat.
"Ekeoma was here earlier today and prophesized that our compound will be filled with witches"
"Ekeoma?" He retorted
Wait o, the village mad woman?" He asked rhetorically
"Exactly, my husband," Bimbo said
Ekwunife quickly stepped on her. She had warned her about using the phrase 'my husband'. Odimfe was their husband hence he should not be personalised.
She tended to act like her heart was devoid of jealousy but it was an act. Under her very watch as his first wife had he married Bimbo and Hausa.
"So what am I supposed to do about that? I am not a clergyman" Odimfe sounded indifferent.
"Our husband" Bimbo stole a glance at Ekwunife. "Having witches in our compound is not something to be toyed with o" She aired out her opinion as Ekwunife nodded in approval.
"The bearer of the prophecy is mad. What credibility do we owe to this? Biko, I am not ready for old wives tales, give some time to rest. I will say nothing else on this issue" He said with an air of carelessness.
He stretched his stout body, reclining himself on the long cane chair. The two women looked at him with disdain and proceeded towards their block.
"Ehen! And don't bring another set of mad men for exorcism and give them titles of pastors. Odimfe's house will never be turned into a psychiatric centre" He informed them.
The night was cold and quiet. A feeling of an eerie sinister hovered over the compound. Ekwunife laid on her bed but tossed continuously till the break of dawn. She had to meet the popular man of God at Uzi.
It was an hour drive from the village. She arrived at the magnificent building that served as his church. A large multi-coloured signboard with an inscription 'House of the Holy Bulldozer' was right in front of the building. She had just noticed a similar signboard was also positioned by the adjoining road that linked to the church.
A young man in his twenties was beating the drums with rhythmic and enthusiastic moves. Each time, he rolled his drumming sticks on the percussion drums to strike the jazz, it seemed he would jump off his seat. A young woman in a red beret and polka dot pleated skirt rendered sonorous Christian worship songs, she wore a white short sleeved blouse and red shoes to match.
The church service lasted for three hours after which announcement was made by two older men. Worshippers who needed counselling had to wait behind. The congregation was made up of more women and men.
An old lady with an air of self-confidence sat near Ekwunife. She wore a gold laced off-shoulder blouse and an Ankara wrapper to match. Ekwunife was bothered about when it 'd get to her turn to see the man of God.
She felt a hand tap her, only to turn around and find the old lady sitting close to her smiling at her.
*It seems it's your first day here?" She asked in sheer curiosity
"Yes ma" Ekwunife replied. She was glad to talk to someone for the first time since she had stepped into the church.
Majority of the' waiting women ' engaged in chit-chat to kill boredom. They were obviously old members.
The old lady gestured at a female usher to come closer and whispered something to her. The usher looked at Ekwunife and smiled.
Ekwunife could see a display of friendliness but was yet to discern what it meant. Her seat partner squeezed her shoulder lightly and whispered "I know its not your turn but she will take you in"
A smile curled up Ekwunife's lips, "Daalu, nne"
The lady smiled back in acknowledgement as the usher led her to the pastor's office.
Pastor Oku Mgbagbu sat behind his wooden table with a bible opened before him.
"Rigbo nterere male kumasa ribote" He chanted at intervals while he muttered a solemn prayer.
Ekwunife stared at him in amazement as his thin body convulsed to the rhythm of his chanting, his face covered in pellets of sweat.
"Woman, what do you want?" He asked when he had finally opened his eyes.
"Prophet, its the enemy. The enemy plans to destroy my home by sending witches to visit us" She stuttered.
He laughed out loud while Ekwunife wondered what she had said that sounded funny.
"Whose report do you believe?" He asked, peering into her face.
"It is yours, servant of the most high" She replied in a near babble.
"Good!" He closed his eyes to allow the words sink and be absorbed by her.
"The holy book lets us know that heaven helps those who help themselves, so you will need to sow a seed of five thousand so as to draw supernatural power" He continued.
She repositioned herself on her white plastic chair. "Buuut....."
"No buts, my sister. If you are not comfortable, you may as well go home and deal with the situation yourself" His temper gradually rising.
"No, sir. I am ready" She struggled to let the words out as she untied the end of her wrapper to count five thousand naira and stretched her hand towards the Prophet.
"Stop it, woman. I will not touch anybody's money. It belongs to God, put it in the basket"
Pastor Oku Mgbagbu had eyes that pierced even the soul. He had his gaze settled on her for a while then bent over the table and pulled up a white gallon of transparent liquid.
"This is Jerusalem holy water. Sprinkle it all over your compound on the anticipated day and no witch shall ever attempt that compound"
Ekwunife's face brightened up after his instructions. She hurriedly carried the gallon and headed back to her home.
It was the sixth day. The sun seemed lazy to appear in the sky, the breeze blew the dry leaves on the mango tree while the birds chirped an ominous sound.
Odimfe had left the house for three days without information of where he had gone to. Ekwunife was more worried that perhaps the man of God's holy water had brought about a repercussion on them by making Odimfe go missing while the compound remained calm.
Bimbo was beginning to become more carefree but Ekwunife was still apprehensive. The siege was not over. Ekwunife prayed for Odimfe's return and for the evil prediction to fail.
It was dusk, the seventh day of the prediction was on the verge of ending. The skies rumbled while the clouds squeezed its features like a sulking child and allowed rain drip out it bowels unapologetically.
The wind seemed to be enraged as it swung the gates of Odimfe's compound.
Soon the atmosphere was calm and two figures walked in brisk steps. Ekwunife propped herself up on her bed, it was dark but she could hear the flip-flop sounds of their footwear.
They approached the building and banged on the door. She felt a lump rise in her throat then she thought about if Bimbo and her children were fast asleep. Her gaze also strayed to her sleeping children.
"Who is that?" She finally mustered courage.
"Will you come and open the door, my Fren!" The near coarse voice ordered her.
It sounded familiar. It was Odimfe.
But who was the other figure? Her mind buzzed with thoughts.
She made her way out of her bedroom to the main door of the building, only to meet Bimbo standing frightened by the corridor.
The women looked at themselves. Hauwa approached them in quick steps.
Ekwunife held the door handle with her left hand and unbolted the door. Odimfe walked in with a younger woman.
The three women looked quizzed. Each seeking answers from Odimfe's face.
"My darling, these are the old cargoes. Welcome to your new home" He said without a shade of guilt to the younger woman in his company.
The night lost its quietness. Hair nets were pulled, wigs flung away, grunts, blows, bites and bruises.
A piercing laughter rent through the air. "Coven against coven! Old witches against a younger one"
No one needed to ask whose voice was that.