Fehintola stayed silent in the other room and cried as she listened to the sounds of passion from the bedroom of her husband. She had stopped attending social outings with her husband because she was afraid of the pitying looks. She could not be angry nor could she make demands so she became a prayer warrior. Fehintola prayed to the Lord to remove the rebuke, and shame the devil that made each pregnancy an agony of nine months wait and a tragedy of birth. She was labeled as the harbinger of sorrow as each time she gave birth, the child never stayed long enough to welcome a younger sibling. She knew what that meant. She was being punished by a spirit child, or in her language, an abiku, which had taken an interest in her. Some of the births were very painful as the child would wait long enough for love to blossom in her heart and then leave very quietly. The child would have a slight fever, and before she could do anything, the infant would be gone.
Her husband was tired of coming to her bed for she knew he was asking himself what was the point of all the passion if he was going to have to bury another child. Some evenings, Fehintola would stare into space unaware of her surroundings, just wishing she would die, and then shiver that such thoughts should come to her.
One morning, a simply dressed young woman knocked on her door, and gave her a beautiful smile. Fehintola stared at the lady wondering who she wanted to see. The lady identified herself simply as a priestess and an usher in the house of the goddess Numen Yeye. Shocked and surprised she stared as she was told by the quiet, unassuming young woman to be at the shrine to respond to the summons from Numen Yeye.
“You are to be pregnant again and we have decided that this is the final time Numen Yeye would try to cross the bridge into you. If we do not mend the bridge, she will not come and you will remain barren.”
Fehintola was electrified by the information and tears came to her eyes. She was suddenly resolute—she was going to keep the appointment with Numen Yeye.
Ayo was skeptical when she told him of her encounter. He gave her a long look, Fehintola sensed that he was maybe wondering if she was half way insane. The last death had almost unhinged her and she suspected her husband was not sure of trying again.
“Please, Ayo, I understand it is my last chance,” she pleaded in desperation.
“And what did you say the name of the girl is?” He shook his head. “Honestly Fehintola, are you not taking things a bit far?”
Fehintola was silently fighting to hold back her tears. She did not want to cry as that would only irritate him and cause him to totally refuse to come along. The message was more like an order from the priestess, as she was leaving. Fehintola was to come with Ayo.
There was silence in the room, she could swear she almost heard her own heart beating and she almost smelt her longing. He stood up and she remained in her seat because she felt if she tried to stand up her legs would not be able to bear the weight of her pain.
Ayo got to the door and turned around. “What time?”
She replied softly, “Four in the morning by the river.”
He turned completely round and stared at her. “You have not gone completely crazy have you? You expect me to meet some mysterious witch at four in the morning?”
“Numen is not a witch—”
“Like hell she is not, she just simply sends her apprentice to invite you and me to a stream at four in the morning? What does she want? My blood or semen sample?”
Fehintola sighed and walked past him. What is the point?
She tried to decide who really had cursed her. Her mother or her mother in law? Both of them had been furious when she ran away with Ayo. She knew she had created a stir and the panic had been fearful for her mother. When they came back and tried to make amends, insisting they wanted to be married, her mother had given her one look and remained cold and silent. She remained that way all through the marriage rites, barely speaking and only when there was somebody around. It did not matter that a stained cloth had been presented to her mother, evidence of her virginity, proof she was not wayward.
Her mother-in-law had one of those strange smiles she was famous for—it was assumed that she was furious with Ayo and put up an act for the benefit of the village, but Fehintola shivered each time she saw the looks her mother-in-law directed at her. She knew she had been a surprise to her, who everybody called Olaoye. Well, her mother-in-law had given her one look and simply said she was going to kneel only once in supplication for her hand in marriage to her parents. It was the practice that the family of the groom should come for the hand of the bride on behalf of the groom and her mother had simply been outraged at the prospect of any type of relationship with Ayo’s mother.
Ayo had found all the fuss amusing. He had stated very simply and firmly to his mother he was marrying Fehintola. After the show of the stained cloth, her mother in law had given her five shillings. After the wedding, she got pregnant which she felt would reconcile both mothers, however each pregnancy had ended in disaster. Her mother was strangely silent, never showing anxiety nor coming over to the North to help her to look after her baby as was customary.
Ayo became restive and one day walked into the house with a young Arab girl. He was uncomfortable but he was firm as he said he was marrying her as his second wife. He asked Fehintola to accept the girl and look after her. Pain like hot lead streaked through her whole being but she stayed silent. The first night after he told her his plans was awful, she could not sleep as Ayo snored by her side. Her heart ached, the days ahead looked uninteresting and the nights became lonely; she held her tears as she joined in the bridal plans for her iyawo.
She could not cry or rage, but inside her things were breaking. Then she discovered she was pregnant. It became a relief for her. She looked towards the coming baby and fearful of another doomed birth. She joined the ’Aladuras‘ a white garment church that was a mix of orthodox Christianity, with a large dose of traditional religion, visions and revivals thrown in. It was a fast growing church.
When Fehintola lost the baby, her agony was immeasurable. The Arab girl had moved in and was quickly pregnant, so Ayo had little reason to be miserable. Ajide, the Arab girl, was very beautiful, young and had very winning ways, and Fehintola saw that her husband was besotted.
She wanted her own love, but accepted sadly that she would need to share her husband. She felt a baby would fill the ache and void she experienced, but even babies did not seem to want her company, she would think sadly. She railed at the stigma of being the mother of an abiku, even as the prophets in her new church told her that she would have a child but warned her not to call the child an abiku.
She was puzzled: if they all agreed it was the same child, why then had she been warned not to call the child an abiku? One evening at prayer sessions, as the clapping was reaching a frenzied peak, the ‘spirit’ entered one of the young girls and she started speaking. The ‘spirit filled’ girl had insisted that Fehintola would soon be a successful mother but she was to follow all instructions given to her.
It was while she waited for the instruction that she received the visit from the priestess of Numen Yeye. Could she blame her husband if he was not keen on following her to a stream at that unusual hour? She slept it off and was rudely awakened by an irritated Ayo shaking her and saying if they were thinking of making that time she had better get dressed.
She was so happy at his willingness to come along that she grabbed her wrapper and buba off the peg above her head, looking for a stale chewing stick to chew.
Fehintola was surprised to find that the house of Numen Yeye was not like a shrine at all. She heard Ayo take in his breath sharply and she knew he was as surprised as she was. It was a house full of all types of flowers, and a small clay pot of water in front of the building, as was common in most Northern homes. Fehintola was surprised because a feeling of home down in the South had been created with local tribal cloth thrown on some of the seats. There were mats laid on the earthen floor which were kept clean, and in that early dawn, Fehintola could see how pristine everything was kept.
It was like any ordinary room, not like a shrine she had half expected, not dark nor frightening; a local lamp burned at every corner making the place light and airy. She also noticed herbs in pots at every corner and some had scents that gave the place a musky floral feel. It was also cool, possibly because of several open windows. The whole place gave a sense of simple beauty and peace. The young priestess came and took Fehintola’s hand, offering her a glass of cold water that Fehintola guessed came from a spring.
“I think I should introduce myself to your husband, I am happy he came,” the priestess said with a gentle smile at her two, silent guests.
Fehintola guessed her host was fifteen but she carried an air of maturity, and wore the white dress of a priestess with a native white cloth thrown elegantly on her shoulder. Her wrists were wrapped with bleached, white cowries, which were also woven into her braids. She looked more like a sea goddess herself.
Fehintola knew the deity was always called Numen Yeye. This elegant priestess, is very young but may be old in the service of the goddess, she wondered silently, and was startled when the priestess spoke.
“You can call me Yeye, I gave you that permission when I first came. I know your name is Fehintola and you are here with your husband, Ayodele. You have had five children now who all have died at infancy. We want to help you. Are you willing to listen?”
Fehintola nodded, stunned by the knowledge of the priestess.
Yeye smiled at her and explained that the incoming spirit was special and she was to be in a contemplative state. Yeye gave instructions that kept both of them stunned and silent. They were quite simple instructions. No ritual—in fact it was strictly forbidden. Fehintola was advised that the incoming Numen Yeye would talk to her and send down her Earth name when the time was right.
“Every morning as you fetch the water you need from the spring water close to the river, you will talk to no one, until you return home. You will fetch only water you need for the day, it is to be kept in a special water cooler. You will also ensure that there is no disharmony for as long as you are pregnant. You will always think of Numen Yeye and listen in to yourself, for in quiet meadows your mind will open and you will see glimpses of Numen Yeye.” The priestess smiled again. She explained that both of them must be willing to do this and then stopped talking, waiting for their agreement.
Fehintola was so entranced by all the beauty and peace that she promised.