A Christmas Horror: The Betrothal Ceremony
Emeka looked around at his extended family. He loved being around them, but that still couldn’t overcome his severe hatred for crowds and spaces where people were over joyous and happy. He often told himself countless times that he needed to outgrow this thought process because it made him feel like a wicked person.
His phone buzzed again for the umpteenth time; however, this message was from Toyosi, and owww, this one had JPEGS attached to it. He smiled mischievously at his phone as he put it back in his pocket.
“Ahh, my God, not again,” he murmured. A whole political leader like himself running errands to deliver Christmas food to neighboring houses. This was why he had wanted to stay back in school; he and Toyosi had planned to spend the 10-day break in each other’s arms, only for his dad to veto his return. And the sad part was he didn’t even return home to the city; it was to the village.
“Emekaaaa, is it when I reach the land of the spirits you’ll answer me?”
He normally loved to answer the third call with the hope that she would call someone else, but what she said scared him; he answered and rushed to her. Usually, he found it hard to understand the lopsided Christianity his grandparents observed; they went to church regularly but had a few graven idols at the back of their house and still believed in spirits.
“Help me take this food to Chief Ndubisi’s house.”
“Mama, can’t my younger ones do that? You’ve been sending me around since morning.”
“Ndo, this is the last one; you know how important Chief is, I can’t send any of your clumsy nephews or nieces.”
“Ok, Ma,” he replied. He would use this opportunity to talk to Ngozi, the Chief’s daughter. All his life, his heart yearned for three ladies alone: Ngozi, Tita, and Toyosi. Moving to the city for his secondary school education and finally, Obafemi Awolowo University to study Medicine had disconnected him from the former two.
“Where’s your mind? Also, make sure you’re back before nightfall for dinner,” his grandma cautioned.
As he made his way through the semi-tarred pathway, he noticed how much development had come to the village since he left. The scent of beautiful greenery hit his nose. However, one could see that the grasses were already succumbing to the weight of the harmattan season.
When he passed the village square, he remembered the bonfire celebration the night before. The ladies that had shared his childhood had blossomed. He noticed their full hips and elevated bosoms swaying as they danced to the tune of the music. Ngozi was much prettier, and Tita had the right curves and bulges in all the right places. The quality of the beads on their waist showed their parents’ affluence. He wondered how all of them, university undergraduates, had easily dropped the enlightenment and exposure that came with formal education and returned to their traditional ways. In a way, the spirits of the land brought that carefreeness in them.
The Chief’s house was well-lit with Christmas lights; this was a mansion, to say the least.
“Our doctor is here,” the Chief’s wife greeted as he entered the house. He dropped the wide array of food carried for the past 30 minutes. He wanted to be out of there immediately, but he knew he had to wait a little if he was ever going to see Ngozi. On inquiry, he realized she had gone on a similar food delivery mission. Is this how you guys do here? Turn returning youths to food couriers?
“How old are you now?”
“20 years, Ma,” he answered.
She shared a knowing look with her husband. He smiled from his comfortable position on the chair.
“Oh, no wonder you’re home,” he said in a hushed tone. Emeka looked at both of them with confusion.
On his way home, he noticed a group of girls walking in front. He could easily make out Tita’s distinct structure among them. They branched off on the path leading to the old grove. He stood for a few minutes, contemplating whether to follow them. On the right, he noticed the last rays of the sun were already kissing the horizon. The grove would make his journey faster; it was a win-win.
He took the path but couldn’t see them anyway. The grove led only to three places: his house and the stream. The overhead vegetation covering gave the forest an ominous look. Still, he spent his childhood here and could make his way through it at any time of the day. The darkness there seemed to suck the light out of everything in his path. He was beginning to regret his decision as the ladies were out of sight, and he didn’t know what animals lurked in the dark.
A scream brought him to a halt. It had come from a distance away. He contemplated turning back; he wasn’t built for all these. The sound of someone crying made him move forward to help; maybe one of the ladies had injured herself.
He could only see one figure on her knees way ahead. From her unique build and the sheen of the bead on her waist, he knew it was Tita. He wondered what could have happened; he couldn’t see anyone else around.
He moved forward and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Tita, are you ok?” He got no reply.
He made her turn her head, and when he did, he jumped back and released a low gasp. Her face was unrecognizable. Not that it was recognizable; there was nothing to be recognized there. All he could see was a smooth surface on her face; her eyes, nose, and every other structure had disappeared.
“Emeka, please come,” he heard. There was no saying where the sound came from because there was no opening for her mouth.
“Please come”, he heard again. “Ehnn, come where?” He said to himself, and he bolted past her towards his house. He didn’t know if she made to follow him; he didn’t bother to check.
When he reached home, he was half-drenched in sweat. The season’s celebrations were already thick in the air. He could smell several aromas in the air. However, he couldn’t find his appetite. All he wanted was to see his granny and narrate everything to her.
The great dining table was already set, and several people were sitting around it. The chatter was deafening, and no one seemed to notice he had arrived. He pulled his grandma aside on her way back to the kitchen, and with his hands trembling, he made to tell his tale.
“Emeka, what is it? Why are you looking like you’ve seen a spirit? Guest are arriving, I can’t talk now. Go and sit at the table. We are about to start eating.”
The tone of urgency made him reconsider; at least he knew he was safe now, with family. As he sat at the table, he also wondered how she knew he had seen something. Did he look that shaken?
More guests walked in; they were increasing by the second.
“Don’t you guys have anything to eat in your houses?” he wondered.
And then he saw her walk in. Tita walked into his house, her composure unscathed. He felt his heart in his throat as he tried to assess his next action. She turned her gaze to him, gave him a good long look, and then smirked.
She knew, although her face was intact now, he hadn’t been hallucinating. Tita smiled at everyone else and made her way towards him. Emeka felt the oxygen in his lungs fizzle out as he fainted.
When he came to, he found himself on his bed, covered with sheets. He could make out the form of granny on the other side of the room arranging his clothes.
“Mama, you won’t believe what happened to …” he said, rising from the bed and pulling his Santa-themed duvet aside.
“Shhhhh, I understand you; you’re ripe for the ceremony,” she replied, cutting him short.
“Ripe for what?”
“The completion of your betrothal ceremony,”
“My what?” he asked, almost laughing.
“Come in now,” she said without answering his question.
Emeka looked to the door and saw a form enter the room. He recognized those waist beads and already knew who it was. He gasped when he realized she was faceless again.
In a flash, he made to jump out of his bed when his grandma turned, and he could see that all the structures on her face were gone, too. He reached for the phone in his pocket when he noticed she held a small calabash and a small penknife.
Emeka couldn’t move a muscle as he noticed the world around him spin in circles, and his consciousness left him. Again.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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