“Ah, guy, I don cash out,” one says.
“How much?” another one replies, others turn, glancing at him with keen interest.
“Hundred thousand naira, guys. She don send am. Ah!” he screams, jumping from the white plastic chair.
They watch the boy jubilating. None of them are busy with computers any longer. The boy sitting with the cyber cafe attendant stops pressing his phone and lifts his head. His eyes slither. He blinks.
“How much be your money?” the first guy asks, turning to the shop attendant.
“Shey make we dey go?” one of his friends asks, turning toward him, his neck cranes backward.
They are four. The third one is busy hitting the keyboard buttons, showing less interest in their shenanigans. He appears more focused than before. The fourth one has pulled his fingers from the laptop, looking at his friends.
“Yes, all of you. Make we dey go,” he says, shifts his attention to the shop attendant. “How much be our money? Everything?”
“Na one thousand.”
“Na small money sef.”
He slips his hand into his pocket, takes out three minted naira notes. They are clean, but some are folded at the edges. The shop attendant squints, staring into the computer screen; its light illuminates on her curiosity-ridden face. Obumneme stands, still watching. Everything seems interesting, and he cannot stop staring. He is immersed in the ongoing activities. His face occasionally gives a soft smile.
“You fit give me everything, since one thousand small for your eyes,” the cyber cafe attendant says.
“Ole, go steal am nau,” he replies, handing a naira note over to her before walking out with his friends.
She moves her neck along with her head, rolls her eyes immediately they left. She claps, making a sound with her tongue. The boy sitting on the chair glances at Obumneme. Obumneme moves his attention to the cafe’s attendant, his face flushes, emotionless. He stands as he waits for her to notice him.
“Hello,” the boy says.
Obumneme remains mute. His mind is elsewhere, reminiscing on what had just occurred. The cyber cafe is quiet, excluding the sound of vehicles and motorcycles that hum outside. “Hello,” he says and taps him.
“Hi, I am sorry…” he says again. “I want to print out my JAMB registration slip from my portal.”
The boy requests for his details before walking to the computer. He begins to input them into the computer, the cybercafe’s attendant interrupts him, “Oya, go home and fetch water into the drum. Don’t worry. I will take care of it,” she says.
He nods. When the boy walks out, Obumneme moves close, sitting on a wooden chair beside the lady, his gaze darting at the computer to make sure she does not make an error. She is fully focused on the computer screen. Soon, she prints out his document. She hands it over to him and smiles. Obumneme returns the smile, hands a hundred naira note to her. A near rumpled hundred naira note and the woman’s nose scrunch. She collects it and smiles again. Obumneme is feeling uncomfortable, then he conceals his face, forcing out a smile.
“I love children that take education very seriously,” she says.
Obumneme smiles. She is young. He tries to guess she will probably be in her mid-twenties and should not be addressing someone like him, who is a teenager as a child. “Thank you,” Obumneme replies.
“Be serious with your studies. Don’t be like those boys doing yahoo yahoo with JuJu from herbalists. Na small pikin dem be but their lifestyle don make them old. Dem do yahoo and spend the money on girls and drinks,” she says.
“JuJu? I thought it was just a scam?” Obumneme asks.
“Normal scam? Forget that thing. Oyinbo people don wise now and these boys don dey use juju knack them correct jazz. Black magic. I no that kind thing. Na woman pants dem dey use now.”
Obumneme sighs. He has to leave but doesn’t want to walk under the blazing sunlight. The cafe is chilled. He enjoys the breeze searing into his skin, making him feel pleasant. He is lost in the feeling, then he jolts when her phone rings. It stops ringing. She hisses and drops the phone on the table.
“Hah, but how do you know so much about these things? Have they used your pants before or you know someone whose pants have been used?” Obumneme says, suppressing a smile.
Obumneme asks the question, calmly noticing how her gaze rests at him with disgust. He knows it irked her, and she rolls her eyes. Her face flushes a fit of anger, soon Obumneme realizes his mistake and mutters, “I am sorry.”
“Don’t worry. It’s nothing. None of my people dey dumb to dey follow all these omo shepeteri boys.”
Obumneme sighs. He has delayed enough in the cybercafe, and in a few minutes, he will walk out of the cafe, thanking the lady.
In the evening, Umar strolls into Obumneme’s compound. Obum, as Ma fondly calls him, is sitting on the pavement with a book on his laps, swinging his legs back and forth. He busies himself with the book, sometimes, looks up to wade off the buzzing flies with his hands. He did not hear when the gate creaked. A hand taps his leg, and he looks up. It is Umar. Umar is holding a book in his palm. When he walks closer, he sits beside Obumneme. Silence swallows their presence for a few seconds.
“Hey, Umar,” Obumneme finally says.
Umar is one of the few hot-headed boys Obumneme talks to in the neighborhood. They are in the same secondary school, and Umar has repeated classes on a few occasions. He would have graduated with Obumneme, but he still has a year ahead for him to graduate from secondary school. He comes around from time to time, asking Obumneme’s assistance with his assignment. When they are done, he will slip a crisp hundred naira note into Obumneme’s palm and giggle. At first, Obum is confused, wrinkles on his cheeks, then he will say, “for what?”. Umar giggles and replies, “for the assignment you did for me.”
Obumneme asks how he makes money since he isn’t doing menial jobs like other boys pushing trucks with gallons of water to different shops in the vicinity. Shops like local restaurants, salons, and a few others. He has never seen Umar pushing a truck. Umar smiles and says that his mother gives him the money, and she is happy that Obum takes out his time to teach him on his school works. Whenever Obum sees Umar’s mum on the way, he giggles at her. Umar’s mum waves. Obum notices her facial expression does not have the look that indicates she knows him. Obum keeps waving, giggling at her anytime they meet. She will sometimes wave, greeting aloud.
“I don come again for my assignment,” Umar says.
Obumneme drops the book in his hand on the pavement, collecting Umar’s own. He skims through it, then stops and looks up at Umar. Umar stares at him, suddenly confused. Umar eyebrows flicker, and he asks, “what?”
Obumneme starts to chew his pen, his legs moving to and fro. He says the first word and stutters, “eh—eh—eh,” he pauses. “Do you think Yahoo Yahoo boys use Juju to make all the money they are spending?” he asks.
Umar pauses, then takes in his facial expressions. He is quiet for some seconds. Obumneme feels uncomfortable observing Umar’s demeanour, suddenly feeling the urge to retract his words. He looks up, staring at leaves, watching it fall from the tree in the middle of the compound. Umar did not believe he heard Obumneme utter such a statement. “Do you want to do Yahoo yahoo?” Umar asks.
“No ooo… No ooo… Abeg ooo…,” he says defensively.
“I just want to confirm if what I heard is right. The cyber cafe attendant at Amos Inyiam’s road said Ikemefuna and his gang are into it and they use juju but I believe they only scam with Naija sense sha,” he pronounces the word, ‘Naija’ stretching each syllable.
Umar cackles. “You wan do one wey JuJu no dey involved?”
“No. I can’t engage in such activities.”
“So, why did you ask? I resemble yahoo boy for your eye?”
“No. I thought you will know about it,” Obumneme says.
He rolls his pen on the paper; silence elopes them with only soft splatter on the ground from the dead leaves, occasional noises from the moving animals and insects. There are low murmurs. He finished the assignment, and Umar begins to talk about yahoo. Umar gives him two hundred naira note, thanking him for the previous assignment he did. He says he is the only one who got the answers correct; later, he tells Obumneme that he engages in yahoo. He moves close to Obumneme’s ear, whispers that he used Shola’s pant to do juju from a native doctor. Obumneme jumps in shock, eyes stretches, and his mouth droops. Umar continues, “young boys enhance their scam power with black magic which they use to scam their white clients.”
When dusk came, Obumneme stays in the kitchen with Ma, which is his usual routine every day. Ma spends time in her shop alone where she sells commodities and petty products. Ma is stirring the pot of soup on the gas cooker; Obumneme is watching her. A dog-eared book is resting on his laps. Ma sends him on errands as she stirs the soup. After some minutes, she turns off the gas cooker, then fixates Obumneme. “Why are you looking at me?” she says, smoothers her eyes with her hand and the spoon drips soup.
Obumneme shivers, the book falls from his grips. He bends to pick it, then holds it tight across his chest. “Nothing Ma.”
Ma stares at him for a while and laughs. She harrumphs. “I hope everything is fine. You don’t look all right. You look disturbed.”
“I am okay, mum.”
Ma hums again. “Okay o, if you say so.”
Obumneme is lost in thoughts; the words are refusing to sprawl out. He doesn’t know if he should bare his mind to his mum or not. He seems lost in the aroma wafting from the pot of soup sitting on the cooker. His mother is cooking the local bitter leaf soup delicacy. The air is filled with the sweet scent of aroma. His nostrils flares, he leans close to the pot, inhales the aroma as it chokes his nose. His squints and coughs violently. Ma waves, gesturing he should move backward. She carries the pot and puts it on the sink. Obumneme catches a glimpse of the blue flame on the burning gas cooker and squints. Ma walks toward it and puts it off before dropping the piece of rag in her hand to the table. Obumneme strolls behind her, his mind buzzing with questions. He paces around, wondering if it is okay to open up to her.
“What do you think about JuJu…?” Obumneme blurts, his gaze drops to the floor, anticipating his mother’s reply.
Ma is sweating profusely, the beads of sweat streak tiny balls across her forehead. She walks to the living room, sits on the chair opposite the standing fan. The cooly air sifts into her pores, and she shivers in excitement. Obumneme’s heart skips. They are adherent to the Catholic Faith. He doesn’t know his mum’s reaction if she hears about anything relating to juju. He is somehow skeptical. Ma acts as a mere churchgoer except for Pa, who takes church activities seriously. He engages them in a daily morning Mass every weekend, morning prayers every morning before he goes to his job, and prays Angelus if he is around by twelve noon.
Ma has a sinister way she operates. He knows Ma isn’t a religious fanatic. He feels Ma is open-hearted, but he did not care. The day he fought at school, and his opponent tore the virgin Mary rosary off his neck, Ma hissed, when he told her about it. He was not worried about Pa. When he returned and heard about it, he ranted for long before he stopped, swallowed his saliva, breathing like it was Obumneme that nailed Jesus. He bought another rosary the next day, made him pray twenty-five decades every day to atone for the sin. It was rigorous. He had to repeat the rosary five times every day. Obumneme never understood why, and he dares not question Pa.
Obumneme sits on the white-armed plastic chair. Same as Ma, and her gaze darts at him. “You asked a question, Obum,” she says, relieved. She has a sardonic look like she has done a hectic job.
“Err…I did…I didn’t…Err…”
Ma laughs. “Don’t be scared. You asked what I think about juju. I love juju,” she says. “I know you’ll ask about it one day. A woman doesn’t give birth to a child that doesn’t have some of her traits.”
Obumneme giggles, his face contorts. He is scared. He thinks Ma is trying to get him to spill a secret, so she will beat him and report him to Pa. Ma’s demeanor is calm as they discuss juju. He gets to know his grandfather is a native doctor. Her parents died when Ma was a teenager, and as the only child, she went to live with her uncle and his wife in Lagos, where she spent most of her days growing up. Her uncle’s wife maltreated her, only allowed her to sleep in the kitchen after she finished her house chores. It was a surreal night that she decided to respond to the creaking noise, always disturbing through the window. She stared outside through the window, saw a man that looked like her father. He was carrying a petite woman in his arm. The woman looked deformed from her skinny, little body, and a huge head. She had the face of her mother.
Ma was shocked, almost screamed, but she capped her mouth with her palm. A bolt of lightning seeped into the window; its flashes strolled into Ma’s eyes, making her uncomfortable. She felt dizzy, fell to the ground, and fainted. In the morning, her uncle and his wife were scared when they saw her lying on the ground half-dead. Afterward, she began acting strangely. She was taken to different churches for deliverance. She discovered she possessed supernatural power when she clocked twenty and was married off to Pa at twenty-five. Pa was the former catechist at the St. Saviours Church Agege when Ma was kept in their care. Her uncle catered for her welfares.
Ma believes in juju. She belongs to the leopard secret society. They confer power to the needy. Some helped internet fraudsters in duping the white elites masquerading as Nigerian princes. Ma hates it because it puts Nigeria in a bad light. She keeps wishing for the end.
Obumneme is speechless, but he is not surprised. He had always noticed how Ma behaved with her puritanism when they prayed in the morning and night. Her eyes are open, staring as she mumbles the word, ‘Amen’ like she did not mean it. Obumneme loves whenever Pa asks her to lead them in prayer. She will say, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, then regurgitates other cliché prayers and stops. He loves it because it means he will be able to go to his bed on time. Pa begins to notice it, then starts to lead the prayers every day. Obumneme has always wanted to question Ma about the day she staggered, mistakenly hit her leg on the table, falling the little statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the little grotto Pa beautified at the end of the house, almost close to the walking alley. Ma picks it carelessly, dumping it on the table. It was what Pa would not do if he was the one that tripped on the table, and it fell. Pa would pick it gently, kissed it, and smoothed its body before placing it gently on the table.
Obumneme later confides in Ma about Umar engaging in Yahoo. Ma laughs and says she knows he did. She says that whenever Umar walked into the compound, she felt the air of uneasiness. His face flushed his spirit mind. She gets to know his evils. They engage in Yahoo with women’s underwear; some did with people’s blood; mainly their family members. The members of the leopard society in their clan can identify them. They are unfazed whenever the Yahoo boys flaunt their wealth because they know the source of their riches. Only a handful of the people in the community belong to the leopard confraternity. Less than one percent of the total population in their community are aware of the dark activities that are performed in their town. The native doctors performing the ritual do not belong to the leopard society. They possess the knowledge of mixing concoctions and the ability to use basic spells. It is teachings passed down from their masters: either as an apprentice or inheritance. Ma is one of them. She believes that one day, African juju magic will be used for the goods in the society rather than the evil, which people often use it for, thereby portraying Nigeria in a bad light to the western media.
Obinna Tony-Francis Ochem is an Igbo- Nigerian writer. He writes from the comfort of his tranquility, exploring the theme of gender, class, sexuality, climate change, and shape-shifting monsters. He is an alumnus of the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Online Workshop and SpringNG ’20 cohort writing mentorship programme. His works are published in Moskedapages, Kalahari Review, Rustintimes, Punocracy Longlist ’19 & 20, Tush Magazine essay finalist, and The WorkBooth magazine. He was a finalist for 2019 Quramo Writers’ Prize for his manuscript, Deep Ocean. He is studying Marine Sciences at the University of Lagos. Some of his works can be accessed via https://linktr.ee/obynofranc. He tweets @obynofranc.
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