The first time it came, fear wasn’t the emotion I felt. Maami led the devotion that night, instructing us on the need to avoid going to hell. I remember rolling my eyes, properly hidden by the dark shadow cast by the other side of the lantern. We said our goodbyes and stretched out on our respective mats, left alone with unbidden thoughts and high aspirations. I thought about death that night, and the freedom I thought it would bring.
I heard the voice beckon unto me, gently, musically. It was strangely compelling and I felt myself get off my mat. I walked into the arms of the night, sought succor and warmth in them, and wasn’t disappointed. But that was all that was left of the voice, succor, and silence.
The loud whisper of the missionary priest pulled me out of my bliss. He held maami in an embrace, murmuring about a deliverance that had to take place. I called out to maami, wondering why the priest was in our house.
“Iwò òmò yìí,” maami began, re-tying her wrapper hastily. “Kini gbogbo eleyi bayii? Tó ń bà rán è sí mi, só fun wan pè o ò ba no ni lè o.”
I tried to remember if I had done anything displeasing the previous night, but I couldn’t seem to understand why maami was acting all up. It was considered rude to ask an elder what you did wrong. Asake, my younger sister, explained that I was burning up and muttering words no one seemed to understand. I had no response.
It happened again, but this time I was ready. A man appeared, in dazzling apparel and blinding beauty. Peace and joy wrapped themselves around me as he took my hands and led me to the center of a forest.
“Ajike, this is where you have to return.”
“I don’t understand. What if I don’t want to?”
“I feel more at home with you than I have ever felt with maami. I don’t want to return.”
“It’s a cycle, Ajike. If you go with me, there won’t be an end to our meeting. Not until eléduwà gets tired. Your parents will mourn you and rejoice over you repeatedly. Is that what you want?”
That was the moment it clicked.
“Is that who an Abiku is?”
“Ajike, they chose that pattern, just as you are about to.”
I took his outstretched hands, walking further into the unknown. Maybe being an Abiku wasn’t so bad after all. It would give the missionary priest something to work and talk about, rather than his stories of hell.
It was my little gift to the people of Adegbuwa town who detested the settling of the missionaries as much as I did.