The Witches of Auchi and The Son of Affliction (Genesis, Chapter 1)
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
― Roald Dahl
On 71 Adelabu Street, Surulere, is a two storey house split in half: Above is an apartment that gathers dust and below that is a shop with Mama D’s written in neon red. The entire house used to belong to a family: a man, a wife, and their two children, but they have since been moved out by the landlord.
This story isn’t about them.
A man carrying newspapers carefully avoids the house altogether, stopping his shouting and settling down into a careful whistle. He tiptoes across the gate as beads of sweat criss cross around his body. After he has passed the house on 71 Adelabu Street, out of reasonable earshot, he continues his call, “VANGUARD, THIS DAY, PUNCH!”
This story isn’t about him either.
It’s about the curious house on 71 Adelabu, the one split in half. Specifically, the store underneath -Mama Dee’s.
On entering, to the casual observer, it may look and feel like a normal shop with clearly labelled products lined in neat aisles, everything in its place. There is a young girl at the counter with blue-green dreads clad in a bright blue uniform who would smile and wave as the casual observer would smile and wave back. The casual observer may walk through the whole shop, settle on buying a bag of crayfish and move on to their next destination, muttering to themselves about the strangeness of exotic coloured hair.
But we are not casual observers.
If you look closely, one thing is very strange, very wrong about ‘Mama Dee’s All-Purpose Shop’.
What is it, you ask? It’s quite simple.
There are too many doors.
Try it. Amuse yourself and count.
How could you have lost count?
You’ll wriggle your fingers and try counting again. You will fail and lose count, again. But don’t worry, it’s not your fault. There is strong magic at work here. Magic that seeps into your mind, muddling it so you never truly understand the dimensions of the shop or the lonely house on 71 Adelabu Street. If the witches don’t want you to find them, you never will. Assemble a team of a thousand men, pull them impossibly into the shop and still you’d fail to understand.
The shop is far bigger, far stranger, than you could ever imagine, and on the other side of the door directly behind the smiling girl with bright hair, there is a meeting going on in a dimly lit cave.
The Witches of Auchi wore their blue robes, hooded in darkness, as they sat around the table. They all had their hoods up, covering their faces, all except the leader; her head was bare, she thought the hoods were silly. Her locs rested like snakes on her shoulders, a golden amulet hanging on her neck.
Twelve of them lined the long table, the candles on it being the only source of light in the cave, and on their hands were sigils for various protections, written in a language lost to humanity, the language of the Ones Before. There was an owl as black as midnight with coffee brown eyes, eyes that were too intelligent, too sentient for a mere animal. It perched on the table in front of the leader, with an almost amused look on its face as she rubbed its back slowly, listening.
Though you couldn’t see their faces, you could tell that the Witches were bored as they looked at the man who knelt in front of them. By tradition, customers didn’t really have to kneel, but they had taken one look at the man’s mouse stature and decided they could make a change this one time.
‘Speak,’ said the leader, Doreen, a mountain of a woman, as she put her elbows on the table and stared at the man, and the owl flew off and perched on Doreen’s shoulder’s as if to say, You heard what she said, human, speak..
Doreen had lived far longer than anyone else in the coven, anyone alive, and you could see it in her eyes, hear it in her speech. You could feel the centuries she had behind her back just by being around her. She had watched kingdoms rise and fall. She had seen men born and seen men die; some of them she had killed herself. And now, hearing this man talk, she was seriously contemplating adding another to her list.
“O, great ones,” said the man, stretching his arms forward.
The witches groaned. This consultation would take a while.
“My name is Túndé Adémọ́lá,” he continued, “I learnt about you from my late uncle’s diaries and I have come all the way from Ogun State to Lagos here seeking wisdom, seeking help, from the great Witches of Auchi! I come from a long line of great men. In fact, my father — ”
“My guy,” said a slender witch, Tẹni, by Doreen’s right, “you don’t have to say all these ones. Just tell us what you want so you can do and go.”
“But,” the man said, raising his head now, his eyebrows furrowed, “in Uncle Bólú’s diaries, he said to always approach the witches with respect, citing your entire line and kneeling, never looking at their faces.”
The witches looked at each other, whispering in confusion. Then one, looking at the man again, faintly remembered another mouse-faced little man who had come to them nearly seventy years ago. They had played a joke on him, telling him to kneel down and recite his family line from beginning to end before he spoke.
“Yes,” said Doreen, nodding with a smile, “I remember him. Nowadays, a simple ‘Good evening’ is fine.” Her voice was like velvet, smooth, soft, but with an unmistakable hardness underneath.
Túndé looked at all of them as if for the first time. “So, can I stand up now? I can’t lie, this ground has been paining my — ”
“No,” Doreen cut in, still smiling, “keep kneeling. Our…” she said, looking at the others, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes,“…magic will not work if you stand.” Túndé nodded, accepting this as fact. “I want a — ”
“Love charm?” A voice behind Túndé said and he clutched his chest in shock, spinning around to see a girl behind him grinning from ear to ear, fingering her blue-green locs.
“Most men that come want love charms but I don’t know why,” she said, “nobody will tell me. Well, Lidia said that it’s because men don’t have sense, or emotional intelligence but that’s all she told me. Nobody even talks to me like that anymore, ever since I burned the old shop down — by mistake, it wasn’t really my fault, I swear. I was just trying out Aunty Doreen’s potions and gbam,” she clapped her hands in front of her face, “everything just caught fire. It was nice seeing them put it out sha, but it was also sad because we now had to move to another shop. But sha, do you want a love charm? We make the best love charms in Lagos, even Nigeria sef.”
The other witches and Túndé all turned to Doreen who had a sweet smile plastered on her face.
She had found the girl in the dirt years ago on a dark night during one of her travels; a small baby in the outskirts of a village wrapped in nothing but a tattered nylon bag. After she had turned everyone in the village into frogs, Doreen brought her to the Coven, named her Nkechinyere- ‘The one the gods gave,’ and raised her as one of their own. She was strange, yes, but she meant well. Mostly.
“Chichi,” Doreen said sweetly, “you’re meant to be watching the store.”
Chichi nodded. “But I got bored,” she sulked. “I want to handle real meetings and charms like you guys.”
“Chichi,” said Doreen softly, “the last time you were allowed to handle charms, you nearly killed everybody in Edo…and Ondo.”
Chichi hung her head and played with her fingers. “It was a mistake.”
“Oh, we know it was not your fault, don’t we?” said Doreen, looking sharply at the other witches.
The other witches, however, had suddenly found the walls of the cave very interesting.
“Don’t we?” Doreen repeated and the candles burned brighter with malevolent blue flames and the air filled with the faint smell of ozone.
The other witches quickly nodded, agreeing. Accidents happen all the time, they said. Who, really, hadn’t almost wiped out an entire state before? These things happened.
“We just feel,” said Doreen, clasping her hands as she spoke slowly, “that we should take things slowly with you as you learn the craft, so less accidents happen and less people die. We can’t keep wiping memories everywhere we go, do you understand?”
Chichi nodded slowly.
“So, just go back to the counter ehn, we will soon come and join you,” Doreen said, her smile never faltering. After she left, Doreen motioned to Túndé to continue, her smile fading to a blank look.
“So,” he said, “this is about my son.”
“He’s sick?” a witch wearing glasses, Lizzy, asked.
The man hesitated and nodded sadly. “Yes oo,” he said bitterly. “Very sick.”
“Malaria?” A witch offered.
“Hepatitis?” another piped up.
“AIDS?” said a witch with a snake tattoo on her neck.
“Sisters,” Doreen warned. She looked at Túndé, “What is your son’s affliction?”
Túndé shook his head as tears collected in his eyes and fell to the ground, and even the coldest-hearted of the witches, Amaka, felt a pang of empathy. His shoulders vibrated as he wept.
The witches watched him in silence. Waiting.
“He’s…” he said in between sobs as one of the witches walked over and handed him a tissue. “Thank you,” he said quietly, then continued, “My son. He’s… he is a gay.”
“Blood of Eshu!” one of the witches cried as another beside her shook her head muttering about white man culture. The whole cavern had quickly become a cacophony of angry voices, and in their outburst they didn’t notice that the air in the cave had gone a few degrees colder but Teni did. She looked at Doreen but Doreen’s eyes were on the man in front of them, her fists clenched.
“Silence,” Doreen called and quiet fell like dew in the early morn. Her face was like a book written in a different language, unreadable, unknowable, but she shifted her hand ever so slightly from Tẹni’s as Tẹni did the same. “So,” she began, a subtle edge to her voice now, “you want a charm to kill him?”
Túndé thought about that for a moment then shook his head. “Well, he’s my first son,” he said, gesturing, “and he supports Arsenal too, so…”
“What do you want from us, Túndé?”
“I was thinking,” Túndé scratched his head, “if maybe there was a way you could, I don’t know sha, turn him back? Make him like women. Cure him. Shebi, you people can do that?”
Doreen looked at him for a moment.
“Yes.” She said finally. “Yes, we can.”
“Thank G — ” He started saying but was cut off by an icy glare from all the witches. “Thank goodness,” he amended quickly.
“We will give you a charmed bracelet that you’ll wear,” said Doreen. “Once you touch your son, your problem will be solved.”
“Just like that?” Túndé asked in amazement.
“Just like that.” Doreen nodded. Her voice hollow.
“Okay,” he clapped, swaying from side to side, “so you can do it, that’s good to hear! But, ehm, how much is everything??”
Doreen pursed her lips and leaned forward.“Well,” she said, “high products demand high prices and — ”
“I’ll do it,” He said, standing up sharply. “I’ll kill my mother. It’ll be hard o but I’m willing to make the sacrifice and leak her blood into a keg for you all. She’s been making all these small, small jokes about me being short and jobless then that my goat wife will now laugh at me on top. She’s even old too so killing her won’t be hard, I’ll just…” he trailed off as he noticed all the witches were staring at him in disgust. “What?” He asked.
“Guy…” Tẹni said, “that’s your mother.”
“I was going to say,” Doreen continued, “that since high products demand high prices, we will charge 70k for the charm — Túndé, why would we want your mother’s blood? What would we even use it for?””
“Oh,” Túndé said sheepishly, “I just thought….”
Doreen shushed him. “It’s okay. Just bring the money and go.”
Túndé patted his pockets and brought out a wallet that had housed more cobwebs than currency. “I don’t really have cash on me like that.”
Doreen sighed, snapped her fingers and a witch hurried over and put a small machine in her outstretched hand. “Savings or current?” she asked.
When all dealings were done and the minutes for that day’s meeting had been concluded, Tẹni took Doreen in a quiet corner and asked her, “Does the charm really…”
“It will solve his problems,” Doreen said, avoiding Tẹni’s eyes as she whispered, “just not in the way he thinks. The bracelet was used in East Africa — I found it during my time away. It was used by rulers to be better leaders, made them fully understand the first person they touched,” She looked at Tẹni. “It’s an empathy charm.”
Tẹni let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “Quick thinking,” she whispered back as she looked around, squeezed Doreen’s hand quickly and walked away to join the others. They couldn’t be together for too long in public, they both knew that. Yet, there was a dull pain she felt in her chest as she watched Tẹni leave, her hips swaying softly.
She was used to it by now.
So, why did it still stab her heart?
The Witches of Auchi are infamous, but curiously, only infamous among fellow witch circles like the Witches of Blood and Tears, the Witches of Feud and the Witches of Night to name a few.
They are looked down on for being too soft and overly connected to clients. In other less cutthroat circles, however, they are actually famous, most importantly for being one of the only approachable witches. They have even been described by many as…good. Ask your friends about them, if they will be honest with you, and they will tell you of the curious women that live in the curious house on 71 Adelabu Street.
They’ll tell you about the love charms that didn’t compel another to love, but gave the caster a newfound affection for themselves, a peace that told them they didn’t need to be loved by another to be appreciated –they could do that themselves. Their death charms only made the victims unconscious for a little while, and the money charms? Those turned into lucky job application forms as soon as the customer got home.
Your judgement of the witches is entirely up to you, but that very night in Lagos, in a home not too different from yours, there was a mouse-faced man weeping tears of understanding at his confused son’s feet, a strange bracelet round his wrist.
He liked the dark. That’s why he chose The House for their meetings. It was dark, cold, quiet and as he watched the cattle laugh and talk and eat and drink, his smile widened–there was always a lot of prey here as well. And that never hurt.
Him, at least.
The waiters and waitresses looked at the man who sat at the corner of the restaurant, not talking to anyone, just staring blankly at the seat in front of him, like he was waiting for someone. He wore a black native tunic and trousers that had seen many, many, many years with a loose cap on his head. His face was scarred, his hands were scarred and he had only one eye left– evidence of the sacrifices of the life he had chosen, the same one his father before him had chosen.
He had asked for a glass full of just lemons with no water as he waited, and the waiter had fulfilled the request, albeit confused.
The man said nothing else after his strange request, and sat there, like a statue. Until the woman walked in.
She wore a killer red dress–literally. It belonged to a woman who had killed her husband and children with a knife just the week before. She would have been languishing in some cell by now, but Funke Aminu had convinced the judge to let her go. She needed women like that in her coven.
Her gold jewellery swished slightly as she walked and sat opposite the man who barely acknowledged her presence. He only looked out the window, staring at the people.
“You’re late,” he said, his voice was like plates of gravel scratching each other.
Funke smiled, adjusting the serpent band on her left arm. “Baba,” she said, “you know I’m a busy woman.”
He looked at her now, his one eye staring straight into hers. He didn’t like the witches, any of them, but they had their uses, like everything else in creation.
He took out a knife from his pocket, slashed his left palm and leaked the blood into his glass. He drank it all in a gulp and sighed in satisfaction. Funke watched him, her legs crossed, a glass of red wine suddenly in her hands as she relaxed in the chair. She emptied the glass then she tapped the glass once and it refilled itself.
“Have I told you the story,” Baba said finally, “of the little girl, the one who had two sisters?”
Funke sipped her wine. “No,” she said.
Baba leaned back. “It is an old story,” he said, “one older than you can know. The shadows, they whisper it. I hear them.”
Funke looked at him. “Baba,” she said, “there are better things I have to do right now. I called you here to discuss how to destroy my enemy, not to tell stories.”
Baba glared at her. “Then,” he said, “it will pay you to listen to the story. Only then will I give you what you want.” He sipped his drink, “after all, you’re not the only one who has a score to settle with that abomination, The Witch of Auchi.”
Funke’s smile fell for the first time in their meeting as the image of her rival came to mind.