“I have been expecting you,” the man says. He watches the fluid form solidify — teeth first, then hair, wide jigida-clad hips and soft-soft skin gleaming reddish-brown from uli — inside his hut. The smell of lemongrass fills the room. Metal anklets jangle as the newly formed woman takes a step towards him.
The man looks down, pretends to ignore her. He picks a large, ox-blood–colored feather on the floor and continues stirring something in a clay pot. “I thought they’d send someone else for me.” He stirs faster: clockwise, anti-clockwise. Mist rises, fills the hut. And it is suddenly a fog so strong that it obscures a red, sun-shaped flame hovering near the thatched roof. When the room clears, the man is looking at her. His lips are turned up in a smirk.
Her smile matches his. “That was impressive.”
“That was nothing,” he says. “Also, I’m not going anywhere.”
The woman’s eyes widen in surprise; then, she roars in laughter. “You have no choice,” she says, wiping tears from her cheeks. “You know how it works, how it is written. Everyone has a day assigned for their death. Today is yours.”
The grinding noise from his teeth fills the room. His voice is venom. Steel. “How dare you threaten me? You couldn’t take me even if I lay dying, woman.” He spits out the word, woman, like it is unwashed bitter-leaf. “Do you know who I am? I have studied at the feet of Gods: Ala, Amadioha, even your master, Ekwensu.”
She sighs. There is a raffia bag slung over her shoulder and she reaches into it. Out comes a glowing orb as big as a baby’s head. The ball floats into the air and sits next to the warm, red flame. Its light is blue, sharp as lightning; it throws into stark relief thousands of patterns, lines: nsibidi drawn with charcoal and uli on the clay wall over his bamboo bed.
“You have history, destinies written on your walls, yet you fight yours?”
“Nothing is set in stone,” he says. “I have stopped droughts, plagues. I have given life to the dead. Changing destinies is not hard work.”
She smiles. Her walk is slow and sensual; the space between them disappears. “There is no need to boast.” She squats behind him and her nails trace a pattern from his lips, past a mutilated left ear, to the back of his bald head. “Everyone knows who you are. Ozokandu, the greatest witch-doctor in all the ten kingdoms!” His scalp tingles beneath her hand; spores blossom where her touch lingers.
“You know me!” He is calmer and his voice is laced with laughter as he smacks his chest with both palms, a customary acknowledgment after a salute. His teeth clatter as he jerks, stands up.
“Your touch is cold, woman.” And in response to an unheard command, his red flame drowns the blue light. Heat radiates from the mini sun in waves and spreads through the room. He helps her up and cups her face in one palm. “Your kind is usually warm bodies and warm crevices. Perhaps, if you learn the proper way to entice a man, one will actually follow to his death without a fight. Breasts and hips like yours can only do so much, but nobody likes a cold woman.”
She smiles. “I have heard.”
“You should go,” he says. “Ndudim lives down the road. He has been sick for many days and I think he would be glad to see you.”
The woman nods.
“Don’t forget your orb.”
The orb’s glow has grown weak and it sputters and falls like a dying firefly. “Ozokandu! Dimkpa! Your magic is strong.”
He beats his chest. “Do you not know that I foresaw your plan to drain my essence with that thing? That was why I burnt mpichi when you came.” His grin is replaced by a frown as he bends to pick up the clay pot by his feet. His hands are shaking.
“You are indeed great, Ozokandu, tamer of even immortals. Live in peace then. I shall take a peek at Ndudim.”
“Greet your master, woman.”
Her waist is liquid as she saunters out.
In a hut at the edge of a bamboo forest, the heat from a magic flame burns hotter, hotter, bending to a wizard’s command, his need for warmth. White fairy dust pours from this wizard’s head and his skin grows ashy, like nzu. And when this wizard, the greatest witch-doctor in all the ten kingdoms, staggers outside his hut, his mouth is stuffed full of cotton and he cannot understand how.
Somewhere, a dying orb burns out. The night is silent for only a second.