It was evening when I reached Mazi Kenem’s house. Father had asked me to return a basket borrowed from the old man during the new yam festival. It was an old basket, most of the raffia used to weave it was damaged.
The evening breeze and cloudy skies painted a vague but hopeful imagery in my imagination. Birds flew in echelon. Their cries sounding across the horizon. I wished I could be like the birds, flying from troubles and people who create them to lands far, far away. I shrugged at the thought of leaving town. What if the Leopard spirit followed me to wherever I run to and there was no Dibia to pacify and cage it? I sighed.
Mazi Kenem was preparing to leave when I arrived. He had tattered white hair all over his face and held a walking stick as if it was his third leg. His hands shook with age and one eye lid sagged.
“Mazi, ndeewo sir,” I hailed him.
“Ndeewo, my child. I can see your father finally agreed to return my basket after so many months!” He gave a short laugh which made his moustache look like twigs sitting on his upper lip.
“He sends his greeting and gratitude as well.” I smiled and handed the basket to him.
“Come, my son.” He held my arm as I turned to leave. His grip was strong and for once I felt something, something extraordinary taking over me. It seemed I had blood pumping through my veins. My nerves tightened and I perceived a presence of something I’m yet to decipher. “Take it easy,” he said. “I just want to talk. Come sit with me for a while”. He felt my pulse and the tightening nerves and strange feelings went away. He smiled again.
“Do you know about me, sir?” I asked.
“Sure, my son. Do you think your father will send you to return an old useless basket?” He smiled again. He brought out an old box and generously fed his nostrils with snuff, shaking his head to hit his mark home. Some minutes passed by and it seemed like hours to me. When he finally got hold of himself he narrated the mysteries I feared most and how I can even control and bid the Leopard spirit to do my wish. “You see, I was your grandfather’s best friend in this village. He was a great Dibia of our time and no one dared challenge him. Once a stranger from outside this village challenged him to a race and when the day for racing arrived, a heavy storm came. The stranger attempted to run in the storm and was struck by lightning. Your grandfather ran all the way through lightning and thunder, through seven hills and across seven rivers and eventually won. He killed a Leopard during a hunt and the spirit of the animal was invoked on him as is our tradition” Mazi Kenem was nodding as he told the story. His eyes were nearly closed.
“But why did he chose me?” I asked.
“No warrior with an animal spirit dies without transferring his powers to living relatives. Your grandfather would have hidden this power or transferred it to someone not related to him but it can only be given to a blood relative. If he died with the power it will turn to a curse to his generation. He could have given it to your father but he chose you and there must be a reason! He was a great medecine man, he could conjure and feast with spirits of the dead. People rumored he could flood the village with rain and can make rain fall for a week! You might not know this but you bear a power, greater than a kings! But my child, this power comes with costs. You are very young, with time you will understand. There is no cause for panicking, if you follow my instructions nothing will harm your leopard or even you.”
I was scared to hear that if any harm came to my spirit animal then I will be harmed as well. I shrugged remembering the unexplainable pain I had one morning. My left arm was broken but when the physician who set bones came he discovered no physical wound…
To be continued…