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August 2007 Volume 9 , Issue 8 submit to us!
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Eyes+of+a+Barren+Witch
by A. Igoni Barrett -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

Dimié Abrakasa was fourteen years old. He had small ears, a long neck, and the sensitive, flexile fingers of a born pianist or pickpocket. His grandmother said he had a skin that was the colour of burnished camwood. His sister compared his smile to a lover’s sigh. His mother only saw his eyes.

‘You have the eyes of a barren witch, my son.’

His mother, impelled by the wisdom that comes swirling in a bottle, had one day uttered these words to him. Then she turned the shouting match that ensued into a physical one and had tried to rake out his eyes, but, failing that, she changed tack and bursting into tears had accused him of having no heart, none at all, not even a stone for a heart, because if he did then even a stone would have long since been shattered by the reflection of those eyes in the mirror. He did not protest her accusation, nor bother himself with those blandishments with which any son could dissolve the grist of his mother’s disaffection, not at all, he just stood there before her like the evocation of a curse, swaying in time with her efforts as she sought to wrench her arms from his grasp. Their tussle was brought to an abrupt end when her tongue overstepped boundaries she did not know existed, and she shrilled at him, it is you, you are the source of the evil that is eating away my life--you, the first fruit of my womb, and without a blink he dealt her a slap that lifted her off her feet and curdled the black of her eyes, and imprinted itself on her cheek and heart. By the time her feet again found the earth the drink had left her head, and Dimié Abrakasa had made of his mother the most sober and implacable of enemies.

Though Dimié Abrakasa was only fourteen years old his eyes were as deep as still waters. In all but his eyes he looked his age, from the pout of his lips to the kitten swagger of his gait. But to a suspicious mother the only feature by which the depths of the soul can be sounded are the eyes, and, as Daoju Abrakasa was already convinced that her son’s soul was the devil’s property, it was as natural a concatenation as scratching an itch for his eyes to haunt her dreams.

Daoju Abrakasa--who until she came to depend on it for the courage to face up to each day’s challenges had steered clear of even the whiff of alcohol--had taken to the bottle not long after she and her three children were forced to abandon the comfort of her husband’s house. Prior to her removal she had for five long months been engaged in a tooth-and-nail battle to secure what was hers by right of marriage. Pa Abrakasa, eighty-two years old but still hale and hearty enough to drain five calabashes of palm wine at a sitting and then make the bedsprings squeal every night as he played house with his fourth and youngest wife, had one day thrown a quizzical glance at his chest, scratched his grizzled chin, and died. His death struck his household like a thunderclap: no one had seen it coming.

Pa Abrakasa’s widows had at first reacted to the calamity of his demise by running around like headless chickens, flailing their arms and indulging in the daredevil feats of acrobatics against which they had always warned their sons (lest they break their necks and thus increase by their own portion their half-brothers share of the inheritance), but as their steps inevitably led them in the direction of the only water well in the compound, the menfolk abandoned them to their antics to stand guard at the mouth of this precipice, and there resolutely nurse their own grief. Thus prevented from joining their husband in the hereafter, the widows turned the full gale of their grief upon Pa Abrakasa’s prone body. They wept over the corpse until it was thoroughly bathed in the waters of their lamentations. They wailed over a face whose lines had been rendered unfamiliar by the make-up artist that is rigor mortis, their ululations causing even the walls of the death chamber to tremble and the ceiling to rain down plaster. Then, at the end of three days mourning, they gathered themselves together and, each herding her friends and sympathizers into the kitchen, they vied in the preparation of a feast worthy of an emperor’s coronation.

The trouble began after the man of the house had been placed in the earth’s bosom. First the inheritance--there was no will, and no consensus. While they butted heads over the insuperable task of sharing out two houses, five acres of land and one car amongst four wives and twenty-two children--five of whom had been conceived on the fevered nights of a wild youth without even the umbrella of wedlock held over their heads, but whose claims were given weight by the fact that they, unlike the two who only came to light after the worms had already begun work on the man they accused of the crime of their existence, had been acknowledged by Pa Abrakasa during his lifetime; while this scrabble over scraps was at its most frenzied, with hasty alliances formed between siblings that were so shaky they dissolved with the unclasping of the clinching handshake, and the co-wives recalled with the white heat of a long-festered fury every detail of a past wrong, and the brothers of the deceased fanned the flames of his burning house with well-aimed whispers that were so soaked in the turpentine of ulterior motives that they exploded upon contact with the eardrums; while this disgraceful dogfight destroyed the only evidence that once a man had lived, it dragged his name through the mud of public contumely and held it up for the enemies of his friends to ridicule and point at with glee--while all this went on, the children of Pa Abrakasa began one by one to die off.

The first Abrakasa to follow the father under the earth succumbed to a two-day bout of malaria fever. The second, who had all her life been a war prisoner to sickle cell anaemia, died of a twisted intestine. And the third and fourth, who as undergraduates had symbolized for their mother an inestimable bragging point, together met their fate in an automobile crash from which every other passenger emerged unscathed. It was only after this double tragedy that the haggling family began to suspect that someone with a vested interest had a hand in all these deaths.

At first, as the second and third wives had both lost children, the spotlight of suspicion fell wholly on the persons of the first and fourth wives. But the first wife soon left Daoju Abrakasa to alone bear the burden of the family’s suspicion. She one day gathered up such effects as were incontrovertibly hers, and the one remaining child who still shared the father’s roof with her, and, publicly renouncing all claim to the property of a man with whom she had cohabited for over fifty years, she fled for regions unknown. It was several weeks afterward that light was shed on the conundrum of her departure, when it came to the ears of the family that the first son of this frightened woman (who was a fabulously wealthy banker in some foreign country and his mother’s only hope for a comfortable existence in the autumn of her life) had fallen victim to a strange ailment that ate up all his hair and caused him to sprout purple toadstools on his lips and eyelids. Thus did Daoju Abrakasa become the cynosure of a beleaguered family’s fears and accusations, and so was thrust into that chapter of her life that tested to the utmost her strength and resolve, and ultimately left her a broken woman.

Dimié Abrakasa, in contradistinction to his mother, blossomed in the season of anomy that followed upon their eviction from the family house. While Daoju Abrakasa drowned her despair in alcohol, and bemoaned a conspiracy that had robbed her of both repose and property, her son, freed from the constraints attendant on the child of the youngest wife in a polygamous establishment, inexorably came to a discovery of self. Whilst his mother sank deeper into the swamps of self-pity, and every day relegated a bit more of her moral authority, Dimié Abrakasa grew stronger on the revivifying air of his emancipation. Faced with the abyss from which his mother shrank, his young mind burst its pupa case, unfurled its wings, and flew.

Thus, soon after the move to their new quarters, Dimié Abrakasa relieved his mother of all responsibility for domestic affairs. He took over the preparation of meals, the cleaning of the one room they all shared, and the role of caregiver to his younger brother and sister. He took over the laundry, the shopping, and later, when his mother had lost all sense of propriety under the onslaught of importunate whispers that was the voice of her addiction, he even took to procuring for her the balm which her suffering craved. The only task for which his arms were still too short was that of financial provision--the execution of this duty however his mother only fulfilled by a total dependence of her aged mother. But, as the flow of funds from this source reduced over time to an exasperated trickle, and as an ever-increasing proportion of this widow’s mite was allotted to the pursuit of forgetfulness, Dimié Abrakasa, without his mother’s knowledge, took the momentous decision to drop out of school in order that his siblings might continue. That Daoju Abrakasa had still not discovered her son’s deception was in the main due to fact that every morning, after he had seen to his siblings’ feeding and sent them off to school, Dimié Abrakasa would depart the house on a pretext whose cover expired only with the close of the school day.

On the morning of our entry into his life, the morning he let his feelings explode in his mother’s face, Dimié Abrakasa had been about to embark on the elaborate ruse that had seen him abandon school for exactly three weeks and two days, when his mother, who had all morning been watching his movements with a simmering fury in her eyes, gave vent to a suspicion that had stalked her all through the night. She accused him of watering down her liquor. Then, disregarding his impassioned denial, she rose from the bed with a calmness that belied the liquid fire of her gaze, and downing the dregs of the bottle that was exhibit one of her accusation she leaned into her son’s face and intoned:

‘You have the eyes of a barren witch, my son.’

On that fateful day, the day Dimié Abrakasa raised his hand to his mother’s face, he had felt in the pit of his belly the nagging pain of a severed bond. But, with an assurance indicative of a sum of life-experience only fourteen years deep, he had shrugged off that warning. Though his mother deserved the slap (he told himself), it hadn’t been delivered in an effort to return a hurt, but rather to stopple those words that left no secrets between mother and child. He however agreed to himself that it was an action into whose ambush he had fallen. But, mistake or no, it had produced the desired effect, it had made her shut up. For that he was unsorry, even grateful--and so his mother also ought to be. However, when he had no choice but to look in her face--as he informed her he was leaving for school--he perceived in the depths of her eyes a glimmer that immediately turned his belly to a seething marsh of apprehension. Even after the door had been shut on the incarnation of his eternal mortification, even over the distances he traversed that day in an effort to evade a searing vision, that look in his mother’s eyes did not give up the chase.

 
 
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Features -- August 2007 -- Beginning Month Issue