It was louder than before. This time it sent a shiver down his spine. He knew his feet were on the move, but he couldn’t see where he was running to because it was dark again. The only thing he remembered when he woke up was the pair of intense eyes. No matter how far he ran, he heard the voice closer than before. It was taunting him. Bones and blood fought the dried-up trees for space on the soil.
Finally, it stopped. Perhaps it had given up.
A bold voice that spoke with the familiarity of a relative. Kesiena paused and held his breath. The spurts of hot wet air caressed his neck with passion, and lust warned him further. As if the chaotic breathing was not enough to keep Kesiena grounded.
Sharp nails dragged themselves down his neck, circling the layer of muscles.
Kesiena’s breathing hitched. He wanted to take a deep breath, but he feared any sudden movement would annoy the whatever was behind him.
“Won’t you talk to me, Kesiena? I have waited ten years for this moment,”
“Who…what are you?” Kesiena strained out.
The entity allowed its fingers to relax its chock hold around Kesiena’s neck. It moved closer, draping its void form around a shaking Kesiena.
It was angry. Kesiena noticed the sudden rise in the pitch of its voice. He felt his torso turning to face the shadow. Only he didn’t find a shadow. What he saw pushed him out of the arms of his everyday nightmare. It was the first time he woke up without screaming.
His eyelid parted. Kesiena sat up. The sun was already up, taking its favourite spot in the powder blue sky. Today was going to be a hot day, and Kesiena didn’t exactly wake up on the best side of his bed. His mind rewinds back to his nightmare. He knew something big happened, but he couldn’t find the memory. It was like the memory hid.
Kesiena gave up his unfruitful search and decided to begin his day.
“Oseiwe. Leave me,” the older twin groaned out, swatting his sister’s hand away from his fried yam.
The twins were a carbon copy of each other except for their different sexes. One wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Their haircut didn’t help solve the mystery either.
“Give me small,” Oseiwe, the younger twin, pleaded.
She had rushed her own fried yam hoping her brother would be kind enough to overlook her greed. She knew the yam seller had given him extra from the way the woman batted her non-existing lashes at him.
Even though they looked the same, people figured Onagite was a boy, and she was a girl.
“Oya take. We still have a long way to go. Eat fast.”
Onagite was meticulous with his time and anything he set out to do. While Oseiwe was a chronic procrastinator.
“It’s too early. The market would still be full of those watchers,” Oseiwe said.
The watchers enforced the laws and kept order in their city. Onitsha was a land that buzzed with new inventions, unconventional ideas. And food that put on foreplay for your taste buds.
“True true. You remember the plan?” Onagite asked his sister.
She had finished devouring the four stripes of yam he gave her earlier. And was sucking the sauce off her fingers.
“Mmm,” she mummed out between greedy licks.
“Oseiwe answer me!” Onagite frowned.
Onagite needed today to go well. Oseiwe was ruthless when she was working- sometimes he feared she enjoyed the job a little too much.
It was her way of coping with the harsh realities of what they did every day.
The twins hid their weapons behind the shield of their flowing kimonos. Oseiwe shaved the right side of her hair while
Onagite shaved his left side. When they entered the market they paused to watch the people of Onitsha go about their business. Oblivious of the plans of the twins.
Onagite spotted a watcher.
The young boy had a dull face, but it was a decoy. The watchers recruited men and women who would kill at the sight of any disorder.
“You remember the plan?”
Onagite asked Oseiwe again. Oseiwe thought with a smirk if she got paid a coin every time her brother asked her if she remembered the plan. She would be rich. But still, she nodded.
“Be careful of the watchers,” Onagite said.
The twins held their foreheads against one another, whispering a familiar prayer. The twins were popular among the Igaro people- elites of Onitsha. Onagite mimicked the pace of a buyer as he strolled down the street of the market. His eyes never left the watchers- six of them. It took five people to stop a single watcher. If they messed up, their death would be quick.
And if the watchers didn’t get them, the Igaro that sent them would make their deaths painful. Onagite preferred dying fast.
The market was colourful. Tables lined the rough, dusty road, umbrellas shaded sellers and buyers from the wrath of the sun.
Oseiwe saw their target- the woman rivalled the sketch their client had given them. Oseiwe sang their signal tune. It was simple, a bird call. You could never tell the difference between the twin’s song and the ones the pigeons sang. Onagite’s ears perked higher.
His eyes drove through the crowd to find his sister. A watcher’s eyes followed close behind Onagite’s.
The woman, their target, was pricing a yard of Ankara. The fabrics had swirling patterns. Bold flowers stained its perfect geometry Oseiwe enjoyed. Onagite was behind schedule.
Ten fingers counted, and he wasn’t making the first move. Oseiwe’s breathe rose as her hand fidgeted around her blade.
“Hello, ma, would you like to see my shop? I have fine fabrics,”
Startled, the woman dropped the Ankara she had been admiring. As she turned, her face concocted into something from the other world.
Her body lost communication from her brain, allowing gravity to have its way over her. The woman’s spirit man shimmered above her.
Oseiwe stared at the floating transparent figure the woman had become.
“Let’s go, Ose!!!” Onagite yelled out.
He pushed past the panic that swept through the market.
“There! Close the stone gate. Sound the bell.”
The watchers pushed through the crowd of traders. Towards the killers responsible for the disorder.
“Shit, shit, run Ose, run faster.”
“I am Gite. I am running,”
Oseiwe’s lungs tightened. She struggled to keep her eyes on the road and focusing on her speed at the same time. Onagite was managing better than she was- she should have focused during training.
A young man was crossing the road. The sun was angry, but it seemed the market was angrier today. The man heard shouts after shouts from every edge of the market. As he balanced his body, he faced the stone gates.
“Let’s start toda…” he coiled with a strong force interrupting his affirmations. It was enough that it knocked his restored balance.
The twins staggered up from the fall, Oseiwe pulled her brother with urgency.
The watchers were closing in. Oseiwe began to envision the horror of her death. She was too young. The man they collided with also stood back up. The three of them looked at each other. Onagite caught himself from the trance as he grabbed Oseiwe’s hand.
The twins were about to rush into the road, into freedom. As though on cue, a black van drove in front of them. It was too fast. Onagite, Oseiwe, and the young man in a blink of an eye all sat, with tied hands inside the van. The sun smiled, burning fiercer as the van speed off away from the watchers.
TRIO DUO UNO
Kesiena knew the nightmare had been a sign because his day was not going to go well. He was sitting inside a moving van with two strangers. He had been starring at the stone wall’s carvings when the twins tried to push past him. Instead, the three of them lost balance and fell.
After what felt like an eternity, the passengers of the van plummeted forward. The van’s tires screeched like a hungry hawk as it brought the van to a stop. Oseiwe freed the breath that was stuck in her airway. Onagite allowed relief to flow through him.
He remembered the dead woman in the market. He twitched his head- hoping her face would fade away as the others had.
“Get out,” one of the men of the van growled out.
Kesiena stepped out first, Onagite and Oseiwe were next. The van was gone the next minute. Their masks came off next.
They stood in front of a two-story building with faded paint. At the entrance, an old woman stood. Every strand of her hair was grey- even her eyebrow was becoming grey.
“He is waiting. This way,” she said.
They all followed her. The house felt deserted but well furnished. A complete couch set sat in the center of what Oseiwe assumed would be the sitting room. Opposite the sitting room was another room, the trio never explored. Their journey continued beyond the stairs.
There was a black door waiting for their arrival, with two men- armed with guns and knives- standing akimbo.
The room was cold. Kesiena missed the heat the sun gave for free. It also had a wide table.
Behind the table was a chair with gold embedded into its carvings. A4 papers and weapons- guns, daggers, a bow, and even a spear decorated the table.
Their kidnappers forced them to sit down facing the chair that backed them. As soon as they sat, the chair twirled. Khol coated the rim of the eyes of the man that sat in the chair.
“Welcome,” the man paused as his eyes settled on Kesiena. He motioned his index finger towards one of his henchmen. He asked in a subtle tone Who the third man was.
The henchmen explained they thought he was part of the target. Furious, the man in the chair slapped the neck of his henchman.
“Welcome Onagite, Oseiwe, and Uhm,” he beckoned at Kesiena to share his name with everyone.
“Kesiena,” Kesiena replied.
“Yes, Kesiena.” He scrutinised Kesiena, unsure of what the man could offer him. “I do not think you know me. I am Igaro Ozioma.”
Oseiwe scowled at the man. His name didn’t ring any bells. It was disturbing because she knew the majority of the Igaro people. Igaro Ozioma ignored Oseiwe’s frown.
“I have an offer for you two. I am searching for a rare flower that grows outside Onitsha. I ask you to help me find this flower. For a price, of course.” He added.
“How much will you pay?” Onagite asked. If it was a business deal, he was always ready. He slides his eye under the hood of his lashes to get his sister’s support. Oseiwe enjoyed the idea, but she didn’t trust this man who called himself an Igaro.
“Look at this sketch. It is all I have of how you will find the flower.” Igaro Ozioma started.
“We said how much?” Oseiwe asked.
“Yes. I know how you work. I must warn you this is a dangerous job. The money might not be worth it.” Igaro Ozioma said with curved lips.
Onagite rose to his feet, spread his feet apart to free it of cramps. The henchmen moved, but Igaro Ozioma’s raised palm stopped them.
“Why do you want this rare flower? “ Onagite questioned the strange man who wore kohl.
“I cannot tell you that. I know how you work. You do not ask questions. Let us discuss a befitting price,”
“Fine. How much then?” the older twin huffed an annoyed breath dropping back into his seat.
“Three thousand coins.” Igaro Ozioma announced with pride.
“What!” Oseiwe blurted out. All their life’s earnings would never sum up to three hundred coins. But this strange man was offering them more than they ever needed in this lifetime. Onagite pinched his twin, cautioning her outburst.
“Yes, as I said, this is important. Do this job well, and I will be willing to increase the payment.”
This was good Onagite taught. This was a chance to live among the Igaro people. He was getting tired of the stench of blood he tasted every morning. He was sure Oseiwe wanted to do something more than spend her years taking the lives of others.
The future of having a good life shrunk his twin’s doubts. This was the job they had been waiting for.
“We’ll do it.” Onagite beamed, stroking his knee. He imagined himself sitting on Igaro Ozioma’s chair barking commands at his own men and servants.
“Beautiful. This is a sketch of what it looks like. No harm must come to this flower. When you find it, put it inside this jar to protect it. The place you’re going to is not ventured by humans. But I’m made to believe you twins have certain abilities,” Igaro Ozioma finished.
“We wouldn’t say abilities. What about this one?” Onagite now had Kesiena’s time. The young man who looked a few years older than him had been mute throughout their negotiations. Kesiena posed under a shocked façade as all the eyes in the room focused on him.
“You do not know him?” Igaro Ozioma asked with a sceptical look.
“No,” the twins began with extra force. They were not willing to share their gains with a stranger.
Kesiena sat in the oblivion of what was about to happen to him. Igaro Ozioma cleared his throat, a croak came out of his bulging lips.
“Kesiena, is it?” the Igaro man allowed the reality of what words he was about to bring into existence dance over everyone.
“I have to kill you.”
“I don’t understand. What have I done wrong?” Kesiena asked.
“You have seen and heard too much. No one must know this much.” Igaro Ozioma whispered.
“Please, please. I can help you, please. I know the lands outside Onitsha.”
“Kill him.” Igaro Ozioma gave the order.
“Wait! He can be useful. Do you have a working card?” Onagite asked.
The boy twin was always a step ahead of everyone. They would use the boy’s skills to elude the watchers. After they found the flowers, it was bye-bye Kesiena.
“Y…yes. I do. I have a card.” Kesiena said.
“Igaro Ozioma, we will take him as a precaution. If anything happens, we will kill him without second thoughts.”
Onagite was too happy Oseiwe didn’t like it. Now he was letting another stranger into their team. Igaro Ozioma agreed to Onagite’s suggestion. The blood on his hands would reduce for now.
“Thank you, thank you.” Kesiena slumped back to his seat.
Onagite, Oseiwe, and Kesiena packed supplies for the journey- torches, knives, guns, water. There was only one route out of Onitsha, and watchers swarmed it- watching for a pair of identical twins.
“We have to create a distraction,” Oseiwe breathed out loud enough for her companions to hear.
“Him,” Onagite agreed.
The twins worked together since they started their illegal business. Having an addition to their team was going to slow down their efficiency. The trio walked towards the watchers. Oseiwe masked the face of the dead woman’s spirit man with her resident scowl.
Kesiena’s mind was scrolling through his files of emergency lies. When someone grabbed him by the neck. His earlier nightmare flashed before him, Kesiena bucked and yelled. He stopped trashing the second he felt the cold surface of Onagite’s blade. It was sitting without fear at his throat.
The twins were mad. Watchers began closing in on the commotion. It was like a button switched on whenever the peace became disrupted- the killers went into a killer mode.
“Stay back, or this innocent man dies. I mean it.” Onagite shrieked at the approaching watchers. Guns and arrows pointed at them, awaiting orders.
“Do it.” All the watchers heard the same command. The sky rained bullets and arrows. Onagite, Oseiwe, and Kesiena rushed to find safety.
“Look,” A small boy screamed. The watchers had brought out a shocker. A shocker was strong enough to set the whole street of the gateway on fire. The watchers fired with precision towards the trio. Everything went blank.
He saw the face again. This time it wasn’t a nightmare- it was real.
They found themselves suspended in a floating bubble. Kesiena’s gaze didn’t waver from the face that taunted his every nightmare. The bubble floated out of Onitsha. The watchers continued firing their shockers. But their bubble neither flinched nor did it threaten to burst. The moon had relived the sun of her anger.
The air was chilly and quiet. The world outside Onitsha was different. It cherished a vibrant ecosystem. Without any warning, the bubble broke apart. The trio crashed, bruising their knees and legs.
The injury was not serious. It was what was looking at Kesiena that was the mystery they needed to unscramble.
“What is that?” Oseiwe threw the question to no one in general.
“It’s you” Kesiena tested his gait as he drew closer to the answers he had been searching for.
“Yes, you can finally see me, Kesiena.”
Every night he dreaded sleeping because of her voice. Now she was standing in front of him. She had the guts to smile at him. The question he asked her gathered all his other confusion. And questions beyond logical reasoning together.
The twins started walking away. Kesiena stared at her as she sat on the floor, still smiling.
“My name is Dieko.”
“Well? Am I supposed to hug you and say thank you for haunting me?” Kesiena fired at her.
Dieko’s face turned sour.
This wasn’t how she wanted to plan their first-time meeting. But he was in danger, and she had to do something.
“I…I…I’m sorry, Kesiena. I promise you I didn’t want to do anything to hurt you.”
Salty water pooled at the corners of her feline orbs. The blackness shrunk to a single slit. She talked and looked human, but her eyes said she was otherwise.
“What are you?” Kesiena asked.
It wasn’t human. Kesiena decided not to treat it like one even though it saved his life or had a beautiful face.
“I am from the other world. One of Esu-Elegba’s children. I walk through worlds. A trickster traveller. The crossroads know me as I know them.”
Dieko fumbled with the loose fabric of her clothing that draped over her delicate skin. Even with the poor lighting, Kesiena explored the way the shards of linen hugged her figure. She looked fragile, but Kesiena knew she was anything but that.
“So you’re a spirit? I don’t understand. Why are you always in my dreams?”
Kesiena was the safest place to hide. The man whose roads Esu-Elegba sent her to cross tried to kill her. The man used something on her- she could not reach the crossroads for the last ten years. She was stuck in Kesiena’s body. Her powers were too much for small Kesiena’s mind. Watching him grow without a family to support him pushed her to manipulate his roads. The effects came to him as nightmares.
“Yes, a spirit, but I can change to look like you,” her skin morphed, turning inside out.
In a blink, a girl older than Kesiena by a few years sat in place of the feline-eyed Dieko.
“How…how did you do that?” Kesiena stammered the words.
“I have gifts. We call it the shift. It helps us blend with other life forms as we do the work we were going to do.”
“What were you sent to do here?” he asked again.
“To cross the road of a bad man,” Dieko said.
The twins walked back to join Kesiena and Dieko- she had an up-do native hairstyle, and the ripped linen was gone. An Ankara dress replaced it.
“What is she?” they scrutinized Dieko but decided she wasn’t of importance to them. It was Kesiena’s problem.
“We have a job to do.” Oseiwe, the youngest twin, was impatient. And the presence of a mystical being was not helping matters.
“I am a crossroad traveller from the other world. You may call me Dieko.”
Dieko’s posture became stiff as if she held a grudge with the twins.
“Welcome. Let’s find the flower. I don’t want to die,” Onagite spoke.
Kesiena leads the trail. Dieko follows in front of Onagite. They began to trek deeper into the forests beyond Onitsha. Darkness walked side by side with the group of intruders. Onagite and his sister shared a torch, leaving Kesiena and his spirit to the other torch.
“Wait, do you hear something?”
The group froze, with backs towards each other. Onagite could hear the loudest and lowest sound. The footsteps danced forward, waking the earth with their rhythm.
“I don’t like the sound of this. Ose, can you see anything?” Onagite asked.
Oseiwe strained through the fog. The trees formed a canopy over the forest- she couldn’t see the starless sky. Onagite shuddered beside his sister as his fear dripped into her. Oseiwe opened her third eye. She began to convulse, the group went into a frenzy. They couldn’t see anything. Their torches went off.
They relied on the moonlight as they navigated the forest.
“It’s them. The movers. Hold her tight.” Dieko cried out.
“Onagite, let me see the sketch of the flower,” Kesiena grunted out as he struggled to hold Oseiwe down.
They had found the flower, and it wasn’t for free. Dieko stalked the bush with blooming blood-red flowers. The movers knew who she was, but still, she was trespassing. Dieko allowed her finger to worship the petals- they began moving in sync with her fingers. The movers were half-humans half-spirits. They could see other spirits.
A man who wore braids- with seashells and ceramic beads- stepped out into the moonlight.
His gaze rested on Oseiwe, who had not still stopped convulsing.
“Give her this,” the man said.
Onagite snatched the pouch. He sniffed its contents before emptying it into his sister’s mouth.
“Why are you in our world?” the man asked Dieko.
She remained silent. In her world, Esu-Elegba had warned them countless times. The movers were not anyone’s friends. They were opportunists. And when the situation wasn’t in their favour, they became the betrayer.
Kesiena felt a surge of hesitation course through him. These weren’t his fears- they were Dieko’s. He understood the hostility Dieko felt.
“Forgive me, let me introduce myself. I am called Nsikak. My mother’s mother was the first mover.”
“Diekola of Esu-Elegba,”
Dieko morphed back to her spirit form. The ragged linen-wrapped her breasts and thighs leaving her abdomen open. Kesiena trailed the lines on her abdomen.
“Very well Diekola of Esu-Elegba. Why have you come to our lands? What do you need our Oshun flowers for?” Nsikak asked.
Other movers began to reveal themselves. The moonlight outlined their figures.
Onagite spoke, “Nsikak, we need this flower,”
Nsikak understood, but his face read a different conclusion. “I must warn you, the Oshun flowers have powers even we do not understand.”
“Yes, we are aware of its uniqueness. We only need some of it,” Oseiwe said.
“Very well. We will grant you your request for a future favour.” Nsikak offered.
The movers plucked the flowers and handed them over to Onagite. Dieko caught a sniff of the flower’s scent. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head, her bones felt weak. Kesiena noticed Dieko lose her balance. He moved, catching her in his arms before her fall concluded. The flower was safe and secured inside the jar. Kesiena supported Dieko. It was nostalgic, the feeling. Like the first time, she tried to cross to carry out her task.
The man had been expecting her. He knew she was going to cross. The moment she stepped through the road, she lost control of her senses. The man and his men tried to subdue her. She panicked. Without thinking, she possessed the small boy that lingered around the building. The small boy was Kesiena.
Igaro Ozioma was waiting. He had pulled certain strings that controlled the watchers. When Onagite reached the gateway, the watchers were absent.
They boarded a car once they entered Onitsha. Dieko began to slip back into Kesiena’s body. He heard her mellifluous voice. This time he wasn’t afraid- instead, he embraced her presence. She shared her sight with him, and he understood her even though she said nothing.
Kesiena promised Dieko he would find a way for her to cross the roads again.
Oseiwe paid the driver. Igaro Ozioma’s two-story building had changed in the last two days. Igaro Ozioma peeked at them. He felt the flower humming. The last thing to is find that spirit.
“Ahh, I see you have made it back…in one piece,” Igaro Ozioma started. “ Even you are alive,” he taunted Kesiena.
Kesiena was feeling nauseous. Whatever was affecting Dieko had transferred into his own system.
“Yes. We have your flower.” Onagite said, “ Our payment?”
Igaro Ozioma pulled the jar close to him. The jar’s lid fell off after three anticlockwise twists. His thick fingers brushed the petals with tender admiration. Kesiena coughed. Onagite and Oseiwe glanced at him for reassurance he was coughing and nothing more.
“Thank you. You have done me a huge deal. Eme bring me the coins.” Igaro Ozioma said. He pushed the sack of coins into
Oseiwe’s open hands.
He continued to stroke the flower. The stone had said he the spirit must ingest the Oshun flowers. Then he would drain her life source- he had to kill her with the knife. Igaro Ozioma was becoming worried about the frequency of Kesiena’s coughing episodes.
The boy left for the job healthy. Whatever sickness he brought back with him, Igaro Ozioma wanted no part of it.
“What is wrong with you, boy?” Igaro Ozioma asked with upraised brows.
Kesiena tried answering, but Dieko was choking.
“N…nothing,” he said, followed by spurts of a deep cough. Blood trickled down his nostrils. Onagite’s eyes widened. He reached for a rag on Igaro Ozioma’s table- passing it to Kesiena. Igaro Ozioma moved the flowers to a flat stone with ancient markings.
Kesiena blacked out a few heartbeats later. His pupil rolled back into the socket of his eyes.
Dieko shifted out of Kesiena’s body. Guns pointed straight at the feline-eyed girl as she landed on the rug of Igaro Ozioma’s office. Onagite and Oseiwe rushed to Dieko’s side.
“Wait. I said, wait!” Igaro Ozioma screeched at the top of his lungs. He zoomed in on the feline-eyed girl. Dieko wrapped her arms around her body. The man she Esu-Elegba sent her to kill had a wicked and cold heart.
Esu-Elegba had told her, “Find his thread and cross it. It will change his future.”
He didn’t tell her about the Oshun flowers and their intoxicating powers. Dieko’s eyelids dropped over her slender eyes. She memorised Kesiena’s stern face, Oseiwe’s greedy heart, and Onagite’s worried mind. She had a job, and it was tradition to fulfill it before returning home.
“Get me the flower, fast. Hurry. This is the day I have been waiting for.” Igaro Ozioma yelled.
His henchmen went to work. The twins fought to keep Dieko shielded but the henchmen overpowered them. They dragged Dieko towards Igaro Ozioma, who was waiting with a grin.
He cleared his table- giving the henchmen enough space to lay Dieko. Kesiena recovered, he knew what Dieko was about to do, and there was nothing he could do to stop her. She had decided.
The twins felt light-weighted; They were floating. Onagite held his sister with all his strength. Kesiena knew he was next. Dieko was coming for him, he pleaded to her. She heard his thoughts for the first time. He couldn’t explain the feelings she set ablaze inside him. Igaro Ozioma reached for the petals and knife.
“Thank you, Kesiena,” Dieko whispered into Kesiena’s mind before the room went up in flames.
It has been a month, but Kesiena still hears the rotten screams of the henchmen. He never saw the twins- Kesiena assumed they made away with the three thousand coins to start a new life. Whenever he closed his eyes, he dreamt of her soft feline eyes. He felt the softness of her skin teasing his own. He remembered the way Dieko’s breathes had raised the tiny hairs on his neck. If she returned back to her world, he had no proof. All she left him was how she felt when she fulfilled her job- crossing Igaro Ozioma’s road.