The next morning, I found myself trudging down a weed choked path to the dibia’s place along with my mother and her elder sister- aunt Amaka.
Before that day, I never knew what a dead weight Nneka was but carrying her on my back for the past twenty minutes just proved it to me. I was so sure that if I had to endure another ten minutes of carrying her I was mostly likely to end up paralyzed.
We had left the house by 4.30am so it was still dawn. We walked in silence; the only sound was the chirping of insects and the birds calling out to each other. A few steps from me I saw a snake slither across the path and I hurriedly made the sign of the cross.
‘Here we are’, whispered Aunt Amaka pointing to a little hut in a clearing just a few feet ahead.
I was pleased to know that there was actually light at the end of this tunnel and I felt re-energized.
On getting there, we were told that the exact dibia that had helped out that period was dead but his son had taken over for him. I was skeptical about the whole transfer of authority but my aunt insisted that the late dibia was one of the best so the son ought to be as good as he was.
I watched with barely concealed distaste while he fiddled with his cowries humming and hawing all the way. I was never a fan of theatrics and I had a feeling that he was more of a thespian than a dibia. He looked too young to know squat.
He looked up too quickly for me to change my expression and our eyes met. He smiled a cold cocksure smile.
‘You have doubts…’ he sniggered. ‘You think I don’t know anything about what I am doing…it’s a baby boy’, he added mysteriously.
‘What?’ I asked in shock.
‘It’s a baby boy’, he repeated.
I managed to look confused as my mother and aunt turned to look at me. Even in the dimly lit room I could see the questions in their eyes.
I wondered how he knew about the pregnancy and the sex of the baby. I had only just discovered the previous day through a pregnancy test kit I had at home, Nneka’s issue had totally occupied my mind and I hadn’t even been able to go for a confirmatory test.
‘Now do you still have doubts?’ he asked.
I could feel the doubts seeping away from my body and I relaxed. ‘No.’
After the consultation, he said Nneka was an ogbanje and she was going to die if nothing was done. He listed some materials and we were to come back the next day with the necessary items for the ‘onwe-ishi’ as he called it. He had asked for a virgin cock, alligator pepper picked from the right trunk of the tree, a ram, and so many other things I couldn’t quite fathom. Of all the things he mentioned, the only thing I could get was the ram so I had to drop fifty thousand for him to get the rest.
The next day, we came back for the sacrifices. I watched as he slit the throat of the ram and collected the blood in a bowl and led Nneka to an already dug hole. He lifted her gently and dropped her into the hole and proceeded to bath her with the blood and some other things.
‘Mummy I’m scared’, she whimpered as the blood was poured on her.
‘It will be alright baby’, I replied. My skin was crawling and it was almost like I was in that hole with her, I could feel the blood cascading down my body…the gooey mess sticking to my flesh and I looked away in revulsion.
When she was brought out from the hole, she slid to the hard ground in a faint and started writhing.
‘Nneka’, I cried rushing to her help but the boy held me back.
‘Leave her alone’, he commanded sternly. ‘The ogbanje people are leaving her body.’
I watched helplessly as my daughter writhed like a snake then as abruptly as it had started, it ended.
For the next couple of months, there was peace in the house. No more talk about the voice.
He was right about the pregnancy; it was a baby boy…a perfectly beautiful baby boy.
Four months after I had put to bed, I was giving Nneka her evening shower. I had asked her to raise her hands while I made a great show of washing her armpits, we were laughing when the baby woke up with a loud cry.
‘Sweetie I need to attend to your baby, please rinse your body’, I said before rushing to check the baby.
He was wet so I changed and fed him. After a while, I turned expecting to see Nneka but I couldn’t find her. Still carrying the baby, I went to her room but she wasn’t there, I had all but searched the entire house when it suddenly occurred to me to check the bathroom so I went back there.
She was there, arms raised and staring into nothingness, still in the exact position I had left her.
‘Nneka’, I called.
No sign that she heard me.
‘Nneka’, I snapped.
Switching the baby to the crook of my left arm, I bent over to take a bailer of water and I doused her with it. I saw her shake herself awake like someone awakening from a deep sleep.
‘Awww mummy’, she groaned wiping her face.
‘Get yourself out of that bath tub fast’, I ordered.
Over the next couple of days, I noticed the changes creep back, she would stand and stare at nothing for long, her destructive acts came back as if with a vengeance and her teachers were complaining about her…
Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back…
My sister in law who was visiting had just entered baby’s room only to catch Nneka hunched over his crib with a pillow held to his face, she rushed into the room, grabbed the baby from his crib and ran to me.
‘What!’ I thundered when she narrated the incident to me. I rushed to baby’s room and Nneka was still there staring into an empty crib with a pillow in her hands.
She seemed to be far away so I brought her back with a slap.
‘Mummy’, she cried clutching her cheeks and looking at me with hurt filled eyes.
I responded with a slap. I was so enraged that if my sister in law hadn’t intervened I would have made mince meat out of her scrawny flesh.
Later, when I was calmer, I asked her what happened and she said the voices were telling her to hold a pillow over her brother’s face.
‘Voices again?’I groaned. I had thought we were done with that.
‘Mummy I’m so sorry’, she cried. ‘I didn’t mean to kill my baby…the voices…they said I should do it. I tried…’ she sobbed.
It just dawned on me that she was saying the voices-meaning more than one. Initially, we had dealt with just one voice now they were more than one? Without meaning to, I slumped down on the bed and sobbed with her.
She knelt down. ‘Mummy I’m sorry’.
I reached out and drew her into my arms. She was just six; I couldn’t begin to imagine what she was going through.
When my husband came back, I told him of the incident and this time he didn’t just wave it off. We invited my mother over and the next day, we began the search for healing.
We spent so much money just to find a solution; we went from one prayer house to the other, one self- acclaimed dibia to the other. Sometimes she would feel better then it would worsen. Each place we went to was convinced that she was possessed and equally convinced they could help. I had to get two maids in the house, one to take care of things in the house and the other to make sure Nneka was never alone with her brother.
With each day, her condition worsened. We had to withdraw her from school because she was becoming increasingly destructive and abusive to her class mates. Sometimes she would fall on the floor and writhe for minutes.
One of the prayer houses we went to required that she spent a month in their care so I had to live with her in the church for a month yet there was no change, the voices got increasingly stronger. She was now seven but she had suffered much more than any person I could think of.
I had practically upturned my entire life due to her case, my law practice was suffering but that was little compared to what I was ready to do if only she would get better. She was a danger to herself, to everybody around her. There was no telling what she would do next, one time she was normal, the next she was staring into space or hearing voices.
She was relatively okay that week and I was in the sitting room when the maid ran in screaming.
‘Madam fire oh! Fire!’ she shrieked.
‘What happened?’ I asked swinging my leg from the sofa.
Without another question I followed her swiftly. I could see a flaming figure, standing and twirling with hands raised sky wards.
‘Jesus!’ I screamed lunging forward. We were able to put off the fire but by then she had fainted and we rushed her to the hospital.
According to the maid, she was cutting some vegetables when she looked outside the window and saw the flaming figure. She had looked away but something had drawn her eyes back to the figure and she realized it was human and she went to take a closer look.
I couldn’t thank her enough-if she hadn’t been curious enough to take a closer look there was no telling what would have happened.
She had just sustained some minor burns and when she was stronger, the doctor in charge questioned her. Dr Chika was a very good doctor and she seemed to like him so she talked to him.
According to her, the voices had directed her to creep to the backyard with kerosene, douse herself with it and set herself ablaze. They told her that her sole purpose on earth was to atone for the sins of the world and the only way she could do that was by burning herself to death.
‘Can I see you in my office’, he said when he had finished talking to her.
I and my husband exchanged looks and I nodded. We followed him to his office and sat down waiting for him to tell us the reason he asked to see us.
‘Has she seen a psychiatrist?’ he asked twirling a pen in his hands.
‘A what?’ my husband all but roared.
‘A psychiatrist’, he calmly repeated. ‘I think I might know what her problem is and I’m sure that with the right drugs she will be better.’
It took him some minutes to convince us to take her to a psychiatrist and he gave us the name of a very good doctor. I was absolutely sure my daughter had legions of demons dwelling in her but I just agreed to take her to the doctor so as not to seem stiff necked.
Nneka was diagnosed with schizophrenia and epilepsy!
According to the doctor, those times when she would writhe on the floor or stare into space or behave like a robot she might have been having a grand mal seizure. He threw around a whole lot of medical jargon that I didn’t quite understand but my happiness was that there was hope.
Just two months in the ward, she got better.
Now ten years later, she’s still healthy and the voices have not made another appearance.
Every now and then, I struggle with this question in my head; is it that there are no spiritual causes of any ailment? Are there only medical causes? Has science abolished spiritually caused illnesses? What happens to the belief that the spiritual controls the physical?