Death had struck again. It had started with their parents. Taking their mother first, and then even before the full year was over, it took their father. Then barely three years after, it took little Jamuike. And now, another year past, it had taken her sister. Taken Chizu. Death had come in the form of an overdose of sleeping pills and had taken Chizu.
Chizu was dead. She was gone. It seemed so implausible that she had seen her only hours before—before death had visited her. It seemed incredible that only some short time ago, she had had a sister, yet now she had none. Her only sister was gone. Dead.
Chizu, who had been led astray. Chizu, who had craved so much, had so little and then lost the much she’d wrongly acquired. Chizu, who had, because of her insatiable desires, allowed her hands to be tainted with blood. Chizu, who had been gentle and kind and loving and—dutiful.
Nkem could not still believe it. That her sister had killed, or had allowed, her son to be killed. Slaughtered for wealth. It was harder to believe than the ugly fact that she had taken her life on the very same day she had come to her and confessed all.
Had that been the point of her confession, to clear her conscience before taking her own life?
Nkem did not understand it. She did not understand any of it. Her sister was dead. Her nephew had died and the reason for their untimely death came from one source. A man with too much greed in his heart. She, Chizu, had begged her not to blame him when she was gone. But who would she blame when her only sister lay buried under the earth that covered their late father’s backyard. Who should she blame? For surely, there must be one to bear the burden of blame.
If only Chizu had not married him… Nkem bit down a strangled sob. And to think she had encouraged her to marry him, to start life with him from the bottom and grow together with him. If she had not encouraged her— If she had seen through the false shell into what truly lay in his heart. If only.
Too late, her heart told her. Too late for Chizu. Too late for Jamuike.
Nkem moved her gaze. Searched for him among the throng of family, and some friends. She saw him, and for the first time in the years she had known him, Nkem hated him. He turned, tilted his gaze upwards and met her eyes. He said something to her older brother. Obi gave him a rub on the arm. She was yet to tell the family what Chizu had confessed to her, so they all sympathised with him. They sympathised with the silent murderer of their sister and their nephew, and now he was walking towards her, his face shrouded in false sorrow.
Ifee stopped by her side, and stared out the old wood window she’d been staring out of. He could feel her animosity. It has been there in the two weeks they’d been making preparations for Chizu’s funeral. He had no comprehension where it had sprung from.
“I cannot believe that she is gone.” He murmured. He said it, not as an opening for conversation, but because it was the truth. Her death, her taking her own life, still hurt and confounded him. “If I had suspected that she would—” He breathed and left the rest unsaid. “Jamuike’s death wounded her deeply. She would not let it go. I suppose now that she could not. And I think her not conceiving again added to her grief.”
“Her true grief lied in her knowledge that her husband killed her son.”
Ifee physically jolted. He gaped at her. And her hate stared back at him. Behind the hate, knowledge gleamed with the bright confidence of certainty. She knew.
“What are you talking about?” Was it the rage he felt now towards Chizu for breaking their pact that echoed so strongly in his voice? “How dare you say such a thing?”
Of course he would deny it. “She told me everything, Ifee. She came to my house that day and confessed everything to me.” Her voice was low. And Nkem supposed it was because she didn’t want to call attention to them. Not yet. Time will come for the whole truth to be made public. “She told me how you came to her and told her that Onwa had promised your wealth if you would only sacrifice Jamuike. Sacrifice your own son.” Disgust coated with loathing. “You convinced her, promised her that nothing would happen to Jamuike and then you took him away. To Onwa… to your secret cult.”
“You talk nonsense.” Ifee cast a glance over his shoulder. Relieved no one was within earshot, he spoke in a rasp whisper. “I cannot believe that Chizu would tell you a ridiculous atle like that. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Her grief made her confused and she began to imagine things—”
“Liar! You would lie against the dead?” Nkem gave her head a shake. “You have no shame. No honour. No limit to your evil. You killed your son and now, you have killed my sister.”
“She took her own life. Autopsy confirmed that it was death by overdose on sleeping drugs.” Ifee forced his voice to remain low. Forced himself to not grab her and strangle her. “I did not kill her. I would never have hurt her. She was my wife and I loved her.”
“He was your son and yet, you killed him.” Nkem taunted. “You are a cultist, an evil man. You have been feeding off the blood of your own son. How could you kill your own flesh and blood, Ifee?”
“I did not!” He should have guessed when she’d confronted him during that dinner she’d set up. He should have guessed that she had balked… that she would balk sooner or later given the state of her mind. “Jamuike died of acute malaria and typhoid. We could not take care of him then. We begged you for help but you would not help us.”
“Don’t you dare blame his death on malaria, or on me, Ifeanacho!” Nkem saw him for what he was at last—a pretentious, weak-willed and greedy man. And seeing him clearly, her hate solidified. “You cannot escape justice. The evil you have done will leave with you. I might have no proof except my sister’s word, but God, the One who is Almighty, He does not require proof for He knows all truth. He will bring justice upon you. Mark my words, Ifee, you will pay for the evils you have done. You will pay.”
“I have done nothing. And the only justice God will bring upon me, is to continue blessing the works of my hands. Don’t spread a lie against me because your sister chose to kill herself, Nkem.” Ifee spun around and left her.
Nkem stared after him. He said something to her brothers and her father’s brother. They nodded, gave him pats of sympathy and he stalked to his car and drove off.
“Don’t worry, Chizu, you won’t be the only one to bear the repercussions of your sins, he too will pay.” She murmured under her breath and felt the tears roll down her cheeks.
HE went to the only one he knew would bring him solace and a solution.
“I did not think that Chizu will break the pact we made and turn against me.” That she had done so still wounded and angered him. “She betrayed my trust. She set me up and then took her own life so as to leave me alone to bear the consequences.” The ugly mix of pain and fury made him prowl. “I trusted her, Onwa. I trusted her with everything.”
“I warned you not to.” The one known as the “great benefactor” and the one no one dared rile, spoke in his usual calm and unruffled deep voice. He was a big man, physically hefty and it echoed in his resonant voice. “Women were not created to comprehend these things. They are called the weaker vessels for a reason. Chizu was not equipped to handle such confidence.” Though impatient with the back and forth stalking on the vintage carpet of his private parlour, Onwa’s voice remained calm as he ordered. “Sit down, Ifee. There is a solution to every problem.”
He obeyed, because no one dared disobey Onwa, and he would never think to do so. “What am I to do now? Nkem would surely confide in her brothers and the rest of their family.”
“That would be mere accusation. It would not be the first time a wealthy man would suffer such accusations in our society.” Onwa dismissed that worry. “You late wife’s sister is not important. Your wife solved your bigger problem by ending her life. She would have been your greatest stumbling block, Ifee.”
“But what she knew, Nkem now know.” Ifee did not want to be subjected to a public accusation. Her brothers would come after him. Obi was a Military Officer. “If I don’t do something about her before she confides in them, I will be in trouble, Onwa.”
“And I am telling you, she does not matter. How many will you do something about, eh?” Mild amusement coated his voice. “Blood sacrifice is to be done only when necessary. Don’t expend your energy when you need not to, Ifee. We will call a meeting of the brotherhood.” It was important. A regular meeting cannot be waited for. He needed to consult with Dibia. “I will speak to Dibia on your behalf. There is, after all, the matter of the restless spirit of your son.”
“I have not sensed him for a while now.” Ifee murmured absently. “Maybe the death of his mother had brought him rest. She was the one he was haunting not me.”
“If you sensed his presence, even once, then he was, or would be, after you sooner or later.” Some spirits never rested; not until you forced them to. “Tonight the brotherhood will meet. I will summon everyone. Stop worrying, Ifee. Dibia had the solution to every man’s problem.”
IN the inner chamber, Dibia, the one who communed with both spirits and gods, confided in Onwa. “It is too late.” His voice was grave. His appearance was that of a wiry built man in a designer pitch black suit with a red cap on his head and a black feather attached to it. “Death accompanies him now. His fate has been ordained.”
Onwa had feared it would come to this. “Can you do nothing?” He asked, hoping there for a chance of salvation.
“No one can do anything.” Dibia was a man who possessed great powers but he knew his limitations. “What has been ordained cannot be undone. The mark of death has been engraved on him. He will die. But sometimes, death does not come quickly enough before damage is done. Not unless it is rightly precipitated.”
“What are you saying, Dibia?”
“He must die before he betrays us.”
“Ifee would not betray us. He is loyal. He is loyal to the brotherhood; to me.” Loyal like a son would be. “I trust him implicitly, Dibia.”
“In the face of death, a man’s courage is most often weakened.” Dibia looked at his second in command and the known head of the brotherhood. He pitied those who still placed their faith in mortal creatures. “In any case, his blood belongs to us. His soul belongs to the gods and must not be lost. If he is to die, and he has been marked to die, then we should perform the ritual of his death. It must come from us.”
“We only bring death upon them that betray the brotherhood, Dibia.”
“It is not us who condemn him to death, Onwa. But we will serve as messengers and do that which must be done.” Dibia rose. He walked with paced steps to the high table covered in red satin and picked a talisman. “Give him this. Tell him that it will protect him from the spirit of his restless son and have him wear it before your eyes.”
“It is not a protection against his son.” Onwa did not question, he knew.
“No, it is not. It is our eyes upon him. Go. Death is close and we must not tarry.”
“And about his late wife’s sister?”
“Inconsequential.” Dibia made a sound of dismissal. “Ifee’s death will satisfy her. Go.”
Onwa nodded and exited the inner chamber. In the great hall, lit only by oddly scented candles with the smoke of incense billowing from all four corners of the room, the brothers of the brotherhood stood in an arched circle, all clad in black suits, as he was.
Onwa walked to Ifee and held out the talisman. “Dibia has spoken with the gods and they have this for you. You will no longer be haunted by your son. Should he return, this will keep him away.” And to be certain it was worn according to the demands of the gods, he gestured. And when Ifee bent his head, he slipped it on around his neck. Then he raised his eyes to his. “It is done. You have nothing more to worry about him.”
“And about Nkem?”
“She is of no consequence. The gods will take care of her.”
“Thank you. Great One, thank you.” Ifee smiled and reverentially dipped his head.
Gratitude shimmered from his eyes and Onwa offered his own smile in acceptance whilst his heart broke at what will—what must be.
“IT is time.” Dibia lifted the knife with a red cotton bound to its handle and held it out to Onwa. “It is your sacrifice.”
Onwa was startled. He had not expected it to be. “Why not you, Dibia? You are, after all, the servant of the gods.”
“I am.” The Eyes and Mouth of the gods nodded in agreement. “But the gods chose you. You are the head of the brotherhood and he is your right hand. His blood must be spilled by your strike.” When he noted the hesitation that kept the great benefactor from taking the knife, Dibia muttered a series of utterances in a foreign tongue. “Do not cause the gods to lose patience with you, Onwa. No mortal dares disobey the gods. Duty falls on you.” He held forward the knife again. “Do your duty.”
Onwa took the knife. Duty, no real man runs from duty. He inhaled just once and let out the breath with a single force. Then he raised the knife and presented it to the gods. “I am servant of the gods. Your wish is command to me.” He lowered it and opened his eyes to peer through the mirror that was set upon the high table.
Ifee was behind the wheel of his car, his eyes steady on the practically empty highway that was barely lit by broken down streetlights. Every now and again, his right hand slid off the steering wheel and crept to his neck, curling briefly around the talisman.
“The hour has come. The sacrifice of blood is ready.” Dibia began a chant in a language only known to him and to the gods he served. When his chant was done, he spoke only a word. “Ifeanacho.”
Through the mirror, Onwa saw Ifee turn his head and cast a quick glance to his right and then to his left. Then he spun it upward. “No!” The word spluttered out of his mouth as shock and disbelief sprang into his eyes.
Onwa raised the knife and plunged it into his neck. The mirror did not break at the forceful strike but blood sputtered out of it and started to trickle.
Dibia lifted the mirror and set it in the bowl with the red cotton circling its bottom; then he began another chant, his voice rising ferventness as he circled the bowl and the high table.
IFEE’S hand slithered off the steering wheel and clutched his neck. He muttered a curse against his greed and his lack of foresight. The one he had trusted most and to whom he had been loyal without question, had taken his life even as he, when he had been prompted by greed and by their encouragement, had taken his son’s life. The brotherhood he had believed in had claimed his blood as sacrifice. He had not betrayed them. They had betrayed him. Another curse leapt out of his mouth even as the car spiralled out of control and rammed against the culvert.
When day broke and he was found, those who came to the rescue were puzzled at the minimal damage to the posh Bentley Continental that killed the man in black suit with a gaping hole in his neck.
ALONE, and furious that she was once again left to live this existence without a friend, Tobi cast her eyes heavenward where a dark sheet of cloud gathered and travelled slowly. “You gave him vengeance. You sent death to his enemies. You are the Almighty, the All-Seeing and All-Knowing One. You know what they did against me—I demand vengeance against them. Give me my justice.”
A thick cloud shuffled. Droplets of it rained down. But there was only silence.
“Will you not hear me?” Tobi cried. And when the silence did not break, she fell on her knees, crouched on a bed of dark clouds. “Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord God of Hosts.” She sobbed into her palms.
The rumble of thunder came swiftly and with it, a flash of light that struck out like lightning.