The day I confessed that I was a witch started like every other day. I went to school, returned to my mum’s shop and bought lunch from Mama Emeka, whose egusi soup I favoured over my mum’s. It had lots of vegetables and went very well with fufu. The first time I ate it was a lesson in disappointment as I was so excited at the thought of extra bits of meat and fish which turned out to be nothing but lumps of egusi. Still, I acquired a taste for it and would rush there with a plate before taking off my school uniform.
My mum was waiting for me when I returned.
“Jite, how many meat you buy?”
“Bring am make I see.”
I rolled my eyes – as per this woman and her wahala – and showed her the plate of soup. I was notorious for stealing more than my apportioned N50 for lunch and buying extra meat with it. My mum gave the plate a cursory glance and nodded, giving me the go ahead to eat. What she did not know was that since I knew she knew I stole money for meat, I would buy the extra meat and eat it at Mama Emeka’s, clean my mouth and return home.
The fever came without warning that evening. One minute I was doing my regular 11 or 12-year-old things and the next, I was burning up.
“Mummy, I’m hot.” My mum felt my neck and forehead with the back of her hand and sent my brother out to get drugs which we all knew I would vomit. One theory in my house about why I rarely fell sick was that I hated drugs so much that at the thought of them, my body fought germs and viruses like super ninjas. But we bought the drugs any way to fulfil all righteousness.
My brother returned with the drugs. They didn’t reach my throat before I vomited them. The only thing I would take in the way of ‘medication’ was Holy Water. I sipped it, the saltiness for some reason calmed my stomach. I knew it would make me better. It always had before. Plus I didn’t really think I was sick. As a child I listened to lots of David Oyedepo tapes and ‘I cannot be sick’ was something I believed fiercely, despite the evidence before me.
My faith in God and my love for reading the Bible were two things that didn’t quite add up with how I behaved. My mother never said anything bad about me but when you walk in on your mother crying and pleading with God to help her change you, you didn’t need anyone to tell you you were ‘special’.
It wasn’t just that I did the things I did – steal money, tell lies, stay out late, go to fetch water and disappear for hours, leave church in the middle of service and go exploring, hide dirty plates inside our big pot and not wash them till my mum found them (by which time they were already growing maggots), eat meat from the pot with my fingers and sour the whole soup, get really angry at nothing and bang things around – it was that I did these things consistently, every day. Sometimes, twice a day. My mother would scold me for taking two hours to fetch one bucket of water from the next compound and warn me to return immediately and I would take the empty bucket and disappear for another three hours or until she came looking for me.
The fever continued into the next day and I didn’t go to school. I felt I was going to die. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t eat or keep food down. I couldn’t hold a book not to talk of opening it and trying to read. I felt light-headed whenever I tried to stand up. All I could do was cry and pray. My mum was by my side as much as she could be, wiping me down with a wet towel, rubbing my back while I threw up, helping me sit up and making sure I was as comfortable as possible.
By afternoon, I was certain I was going to die. And I didn’t want to. I asked my mum to send for Sister Phina, one of the top prayer warriors in our fellowship. “Why?” she asked.
I sensed her reluctance and burst into tears and would not be consoled till she promised to get Sister Phina to the house. My mother was a ‘pray yourself out’ kind of person and didn’t understand what I needed Phina for.
Sister Phina was a dark-skinned woman with bulging eyes and a nice smile. She didn’t have any children of her own at the time but she didn’t carry the air of sorrow I had noticed in a few other women who attended my church and didn’t have kids. She joked and laughed a lot but when it came to prayers, she was fire for fire. People always invited her to their homes to lead prayer sessions.
She came late in the evening. It was fellowship day and my brother had been sent to call her. Church that day was out of the question for my mum.
There was nothing really dramatic about my confession. I cried. I told her I was either a witch or possessed because I found myself doing things I shouldn’t. I told her whenever my mum punished me for wrongdoings, as soon as the punishment was over I was ready to commit my next offence. I told her I wanted to be a good girl but there was something in me that wouldn’t let me. I told her I was going to die but I just wanted to confess first and she should tell my mother I was sorry.
The fever broke that evening. By the next day, I was back to normal, eating Mama Emeka’s egusi and my meat bought with stolen money with gusto. I had been to the brink of death and back and was determined to make the most of life.
Ah, what did my mother do? I knew Sister Phina told her because a few days after, when I was being punished for something she said, “I know say you go still do the one wen dey your mind but this one wen you don do so, you go suffer am.”
My mother figured out long before I did that I had been born with the vivid imagination of a writer. It was the reason I lied so much; I liked to make stuff up. She had told me a number of times that for one who read the Bible so much, it didn’t reflect in my behaviour. Somehow I had taken that information, added it to something I had read in some book about the signs to look out for in witches and come up with coven-teen.
(I was pretty lucky. I watched one of my second cousins go through rounds of deliverance and be treated as a pariah by her mother and siblings because some pastor had said she was a witch.)
PS: This is the first in a series of five or six stories about growing up as an imaginative child in a family of pretty normal folks in Warri. Started as a random tweet and I decided, why not?