The Witches of Auchi and The Frozen Heart (Genesis, Chapter 2)

haron Uyai was meant to be happy.

She had a good job at Providus Bank and made comfortable money. She had a loving husband she was happy with. She had two children and had just given birth to her second son.

She was meant to be happy.

Every Easter and Christmas, her husband, Mike, would bring a globe to the dining table, and they would all take turns spinning it; wherever their finger touched, they would travel there that holiday. Adam, her first son, touched France the previous year. It was a nice trip. Emem, her daughter, was representing the state in a national tennis competition; she was training almost every day. And her youngest boy, Edem, had just started drinking formula.

They were all winners in their own way.

Her mother-in-law loved her. Her father-in-law loved her, though maybe he loved her a little too much.

She had friends — maybe ‘friend’ was too strong a word — she had people she talked to and hung out with. They had girl’s nights on Fridays, book club on Saturdays and church on Sundays.

She was the secretary for the estate council and a counsellor at church. Her children were close to her. She had sex regularly with her husband. She had a life most people would kill for.

By all accounts, Sharon was meant to be happy.

But she wasn’t.

She started cutting herself after she gave birth to Edem.

Tiny cuts with a razor on the underside of her arm, where Mike couldn’t see. Then when she needed space, she moved to the inside of her thighs. Again, small tiny cuts. No more, no less.

She felt empty, like a balloon floating through the air with no purpose or guidance, just riding the air. She couldn’t sleep at night, so she started taking pills to help her sleep.

Then more pills.

And more.

And more.

Every night when the pills weren’t working, she cried herself silently to sleep, and the pain would move its way through her heart, wracking her entire body. Some days she couldn’t even get up from her bed, but she had to. Or someone would think something was wrong, and that was the last thing she wanted -people worrying.

She would weep and weep; during her break time at work, silently behind the tinted windows in her car, in the kitchen as she was cooking, and in bed as her husband slept.

She was meant to be happy.

But she wasn’t. And she didn’t know why.

One night, Edem was crying in his cot. Mike sluggishly tapped her, but Sharon was already awake- she didn’t sleep much anymore. She mechanically got up and went to check on her baby boy.

She stared at his face, his beautiful innocent face. She was going to pet him to sleep and saw she had a pillow in her hand.

Why did she bring her pillow? When did she grab it?

Then she looked down at Edem again, her beautiful bundle of joy, wailing and wailing the whole roof down, making her life miserable. All anybody cared about was him, him, and him. What about her?

She held the pillow with both hands and slowly lowered it over his face until she couldn’t hear the crying anymore. She sighed with relief and smiled, the lines on her eyes easing. The crying had stopped.

And so had hers.

Then she screamed and flinched away from the cot, flinging the pillow across the room. The wailing started again, with a renewed vigour.

What had she done?

Oh, God, what had she tried to do?

She ran from Edem’s room like a fire was chasing her and entered her bedroom softly, tip toeing on the carpet.

Mike was still sleeping. Edem was still crying. She hesitated, then kissed Mike on the cheek, took her car keys from the bedside table and left the house.

She was the new branch manager for the Providus bank in Lekki, and it was a great job; a lot of people found it difficult, she loved it. She walked into the building in her pyjamas, mumbling to the tired security guard about some work emergency. She walked up the stairs, to the floor her office was on and kept on walking.

It was 3 am.

Sharon walked until she got to the topmost balcony, where she calmly climbed the railing, and sat over it.

She wiped her wet face and hugged herself against the wind. The moon was shining in the sky, like a pearl in the darkness, the clouds little less than smoke.

Lagos was quiet at 3 am. There were no shouts or angry horns. Just the gentle hums of engines and generators as everyone slept.

She swung her legs as she continued crying. This was the only thing she could do; she knew. There was no other way. She was a burden to all of them, to Mike, to Adam, to Emem, and to Edem. They would be better off without her. She gripped the railing tightly as she took a deep breath and —

“Um,” a voice said behind her.

Sharon turned around and saw a tall barefoot woman in a blue t-shirt with Mama D’s written in white across the front and black jeans. She was carrying a calabash in her hands and it was tied to her waist with a blue ribbon. But this woman in front of her looked no older than thirty. But her hands, were very strong, and aged. Her mother had had hands like that, and her mother before her. Those were the hands that came with age.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Sharon said, her eyebrows furrowed.

“Hello,” the woman said, looking up at the sky, her voice was calm and easy like this scene was the most normal thing in the world.

Sharon cocked her head and took one hand off the railing and waved. “Hi,” she said.

“You can fall,” the woman said, taking a step closer.

Sharon turned and looked at the ground below her. The only car in the car park was a red Honda — hers. Mike bought it for her birthday last week.

“I know,” Sharon sniffed, tears falling down her face.

The woman was now beside Sharon, leaning over the railing “You can call me Doreen,” she said. “I just moved to Lagos, with my…family.” She said the word family in a funny way, like it meant something else.

“I’m Sharon,” Sharon answered.

Doreen leaned on the railing with both hands. Sharon blinked. Hadn’t there just been a calabash in her hands? She probably just imagined it. She was tired, after all.

“How did you get up here?” Sharon asked. “You’re not an employee here, I’ve never seen you.”

Doreen smiled, but there was no humour in it. “I flew,” she said.

“Flew?” Sharon said.

“I wanted to see the city tonight,” Doreen shrugged, “get a feel for it. It’s been a very long time since I was here. This whole place was still a marsh then.” Her accent was strange. It wasn’t one thing or the other. It was jumbled like it came from different places, all at once.

She pointed towards Oniru. “I remember that family, and their land when it was just marshes and forest. Even here, Lekki was just mud and grass all the way to Epe. Life changes, very quietly and very suddenly. Without warning.”

Sharon nodded. She didn’t really care either way. She just swung her legs and kept her gaze on the ground.

“Do you want to talk?” Doreen suddenly asked. Something in her voice had changed, though Sharon couldn’t tell what.

“No,” Sharon shook her head, wiping her tears, “I don’t want to talk.”

Doreen looked at her for a very long moment before nodding. Then, “You have children,” she said.

Sharon looked at her. “How do you know?” she asked.

“You can always tell a mother’s eyes,” Doreen answered, gripping the railing and sitting on it.

“What are you doing?” Sharon said, her voice hollow. “You could fall.”

Doreen sat on the railing and swung her legs, looking down at the city below them that twinkled in flashes of orange, red and blue. The ocean was wide and dark, like ink stretching across the world.

“It was more peaceful then, I think,” she said. “There weren’t so many people. But then again, it was never this colourful. If you just close your eyes and breathe,” she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, “you can feel it in your veins, feel it pumping through your heart. This place, Lagos, is alive.” She looked at Sharon and held out her hand. “And nobody should fall alone.”

Sharon looked at the hand, then at the woman. There was something peculiar about her face, her eyes. She looked like how a statue would; old and eternal. But there was a softness there, somewhere.

Sharon wiped her tears, nodded, took a deep breath, and held Doreen’s hand. She winced; it was cold.

“You have children,” Sharon said, looking at Doreen.

Doreen looked surprised. “How did you know?” She asked.

Sharon looked at her and smiled. It was the first honest smile she had smiled in years. “You can always tell a mother’s eyes,” she said. And without another word, while holding Doreen’s hand, she jumped from the railing into the air.

“I had children,” Doreen said as they fell through the air, “but I outlasted them. I always do.”

Sharon’s mouth was open as she felt weightless, holding Doreen’s hand as they fell through the air like it was custard, air bubbles moving slowly around them.

“I thought you would want more time,” Doreen said, smiling sadly at her. Blue sparks moved and whizzed around them. It felt like they were in an aurora, explosions of blue all around them.

“I wish I had kissed Edem goodbye,” Sharon said as she began to cry again. “But I couldn’t…I couldn’t look at him, after what I had done.”

Doreen looked at Sharon with eyes that had seen fire and destruction, death and carnage, blood and cold iron, and she just nodded.

They both talked some more as they shared stories; because in the end, those are all you have, those are all we are.

Stories.

They outlast everything, even us and when we fail and fall, as we can only do, they go on ahead of us. Tales of sound and fury echoing in the murky darkness, signalling a life, more or less, well lived.

he security guard would find a body on the ground that night as he woke up from his nap. Her back to the floor and her eyes closed with a smile on her face and a handful of blue roses.

hey would tell people stories about that night as they grew up.

Three of them, all in their rooms, had been woken up by a cold kiss on their foreheads, and the woman — they were sure it was a woman — whispered words to them. Words of comfort, of faith, of hope. Of tomorrow. But even the memory of that would go too, as it died and faded, going to where memories go when they die.

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A long time ago, witches came to Nigeria. Witches are known to be bloodthirsty, cruel, and evil. But the Witches of Auchi, a small coven located on Adelabu Street in the nondescript Mama Dee’s All Purpose Shop, are different. These are their stories.

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Anthony Azekwoh

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.