Your trusted place for Sierra Leone and global news
HomeLife and EntertainmentShort Story: Seance

Short Story: Seance

Short Story: Seance

Azure sky romanced the soothing Atlantic sea breeze whispering and distilling through dancing palm and baobab trees. Granma Henrietta relaxed on an antique mahogany stool, knitting the names of deceased relatives, on a model quilt she was painstakingly crafting. Intuitively, it pricked her mind that her time clock was ticking, in towing the line with the ancestors. (Photo: Roland Bankole Marke, author)

Not until her extended family had assembled for a communal Awojoh feast that she plans on hosting. Her quilt replicates Joseph’s coat of many colors.  She had over time, carefully observed a viral pattern of disrespect for the elderly. And stunned with bewilderment she said,  “Age is a symbol of respect, braided as African women’s hair, holding the family tree together.”

Cautiously, she peeled her window curtain, catching a glimpse of movements outside as people scurry to and fro, in the alluring sunshine. Mentally, she recalled the numerous sunrise and sunset she had weathered. “Honor like respect is a deep rooted tree that adds wit to our beloved culture,” she said. Her cottage stood on a precipice, from where one could catch a panoramic portrait of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her warm and infectious personality seduced family and other compatriots alike. Â

She’s the oldest survivor on the paternal side. But she does not look her age, though she just turned four score, a milestone in the family’s genealogy. About 8.30 am on Saturday, Effuah, her daughter dropped off Abiola her 6 year-old son at Granny’s house before leaving for a weekend trip. “I love to visit Granma’s house,” Abiola said. Excitement sparkled in his glowing eyes as a flame. Granny makes his favorite cookies: toffees, gingerbread buns, pepper-mints, and coconut cakes: snacks that most kids love because of the aroma and juicy taste. She was an expert at telling spellbinding stories to them.

The squeaky hinged front door was flung open, allowing people to walk in unannounced, and generous fresh air to trickle in. She had no fan or air conditioner unit. The front and back doors are left wide open when she’s home. Abiola’s eyes peeled with wide-eyed probe as he rushed inside the house. Culture and glowing charm danced and breathe in unison. Antique family portraits animated her parlor, displaying the artistry of the late photographers Adenuga and Jonathan.

“Good morning Granma,” he greeted with an embracing hug. “Good morning Abiola. How are you today?” she said, patting his head. “I’m fine mah,” he replied. Like a weird trance, he inhaled a pungent familiar smell, firing wrinkles to invade his youthful grace. “Oooh! Again? I don’t want it,” he said. He’s in trouble. He’s forced to drink this bitter concoction, whenever he visited her in the morning. At dawn, she ritually gulps down a cupful of Agboa bitter brew of roots and herbs, before breakfast. With the cup in her grip, she religiously sipped the fuming potent blend that fights malaria, and boosts her health and longevity. She had never visited a doctor in her lifetime.

“This is for you Abiola. Drink it before it gets cold.  Swallow it quickly before I make breakfast,” she coaxed him. “I don’t like it. It’s nasty and bitter,” he protested. Trusting her invested love in him, he closed his eyes and nervously swallowed the strong brew. Grim expression ruined his face as he drank the mixture. “Yeaaah good boy,” she said, monitoring his emotion with lighted and supportive eyes. Briskly he gave the empty cup to her. She clapped heartily praising his child-like obedience.

“You’re my obedient boy, she said (patting his head). Now we can eat breakfast and tell some nice stories.” He needed water to dilute the bitterness that had ruined his taste bud. Bending under the table, she dipped a cup into an old clay country-pot that stored well water. The refreshing drink would slowly restore his taste bud. Subsequently, Abiola feasted on a bowl of Quaker Oats and baby bread “sweet bread baked in the shape of a doll, that he washed down with a cup of sweetened lemon-grass tea, creamed with Cow and Gate powdered milk. He was very hungry. Naturally, he ate ravenously like a starving cub.

Henrietta’s calm, persuasive words generated more voltage than 240 watts of electricity, warmly smoothened with passionate leadership. She’s the rallying factor and spiritual guru the family cherished. She had arranged other Awojoh feasts like reunions before. Neighbors wanted her to grease the wheels of time, speeding up more lavish feasts. She a brown-skinned beauty, and endowed with wisdom”Tree of Life,” who enjoys singing. Her favorite tune is, “I know ee go well with the righteous” when I reach home.  Rhythmically, she employed the ideal moves, flavored with the matching intonation.

The awesome rendition sent Bandale peeping at his window, watching her sing. “I love Mama Henrietta’s sweet and lovely voice,” he said. Her songs touched him so deeply.

“She helps me forget my worries,” his wife added. Granny had earned the accolade singing Nightingale, because of her legacy of soulful tunes and voice. The couple had been enduring financial hardship, resulting from the gruesome civil war in Sierra Leone that left them devastated and depressed. The songs had lifted up their spirits still plagued with anxiety and destitution. Family like friends enjoyed her solos too as the Songbird wrestled with humanity’s shortcomings. For her, every challenge had a peaceful salvage that she crafted into a therapeutic song.

Abiola grabbed his toothbrush and paste. Granma starred at him speaking with bulging, penetrating eyes. She had never used a toothbrush before. Singing fearlessly, she picked up her chewing-stick, adding charcoal and salt to brush her teeth.

“You are a toothbrush and paste generation,” she said. She had a passion for nature’s endowment. And she resisted the enticement of processed goods made with chemicals. She lubricated her skin with animal fat – orie and nut oil; and made her bathing soap black soap, from nut oil and herbs. As she smiled, Abiola admired her sparkling white teeth she took pride preserving. She had a passion for her carefully groomed appearance.

Her favorite color was white. She hand washed her clothes, leaving her hands rough and hard. Her clothes looked spotless and sparkling clean. She did not wear perfume or makeup, nursing a virtually natural look. And she traced the footsteps of her beloved ancestors. Her favorite slogan was, ‘When two elephants fight it’s  the tall grass that suffers.’

“With my golden gray hair, I have one foot in the grave. My time ebbs closer to its twilight,”she said. She was the oldest surviving family member, and her duty involves nursing unity, peace, love and understanding among them. “We must endeavor to uphold the rich tenets and beauty of our tradition and culture. The gift of life is neither a paragraph, nor is death a parenthesis. Our children and grandchildren have to get to know each other, and they cannot date or marrying each other blindly. It’s a taboo and unhealthy practice,’ she stressed. She spoke with a seductive voice depicting her warm persona, speaking to the family. Simultaneously, sobbing tears slowly trickled down her sagging cheeks.

In other families, close relatives are carelessly dating and marrying each other like stray chickens. She wanted to arrest this growing cancer in the bud. She was no demagogue who strived to coax the family to adopt her ideals. Awojoh ritual is a family reunion that is similar to the feeding of the five thousand in the Bible, or Thanksgiving celebrated in the US. This gathering unites the family, socializing and getting to know each other on a more personal and relaxed atmosphere. The event drew people from other backgrounds. Folks would eat from the same bowl and at the same place. The event blossomed into a seance with the ancestors.

“Our ancestors form a communion between the celestial and terrestrial domain. It’s necessary to maintain a healthy marriage between the two worlds,” she said. The feast required no formal invitation. Heads of families contributed toward funding the event. Large-scale gourmet of dishes lavished the charity that drew mammoth crowd. She had a fire for charities and endearing fellowship with people. Granny founded the Daniel’s Band cottage group, catering for the needs of the poor. As part of its agenda, the group visited charity homes including the city’s King George’s Home, caring for the homeless and destitute.

She enjoyed organizing rituals for them. Some had no relatives or friends, amid such dire needs, as society had given up on them. She ensured that tasty home cooked meals were served. And she distributed toiletries and clothes to the residents. It’s so heart warming and transforming, igniting blazing smiles on their faces.  But she avoided serving those with mental problems.

It was pouring when they tied up the benevolent event. The team got dripping wet. Consoling them she said, “The pouring rain was showers of blessings. In due course we would reap the reward: though not in monetary terms.” A chartered mini-bus driver who transported them turned down his balance payment for the trip. He was touched by the compassion and dedication expressed towards the afflicted. He wanted to be part of this worthy venture. The group sang choruses heading home.

New Year’s Day ushered the big Awojoh feast. Granny had sent Abiola and Mariatu to uncles, aunts and cousins reminding them of the upcoming event. Cash contributions flowed in from families living abroad. A contribution of $300 came from her grandson, Joko. Aunty Phoebe also received money from her daughter in the US. Granma coordinated the details of the shopping list that included an assortment of food and drinks. Several experienced cooks volunteered in preparing various sumptuous meals. Helpers transported the extravagant provision of drinks, food and livestock including rented chairs.

Neighbors like Mr. Cole peeped outside feasting on the excitement. He said, “Ar get for take purge to eat lek wolf: before good eat go waste nar me belleh go bos.” He purged himself with laxative making room for glutinous eating. The tethered livestock – cow, fowls, goat and sheep were waiting to calm the uneasy salivation of numerous guests. The sonorous booing of the cow, crowing of the fowl and bleating of the sheep and goat, attracted mammoth crowd, including strangers who joined the event too.

A vivacious and infectious musical blasted off motivating other people to attend the feast, now three days away. Cooking took place at the backyard in a makeshift kitchen, suitable for spherical tripod firestones that could hold the gigantic cooking pots. Granny reminded neighbors to bring containers for take home food service.

The Coles said, “There is no cooking here today, we will kill the food over there to replace dinner.”

Before the ceremony, Granny visited the cemetery, inviting her ancestors, requesting their presence and blessing. Vultures, dogs and cats got wind too. She poured libation in communing with the dead by spinning lobes of cola nuts. According to the tradition, she tossed up an equal number of cola nut lobes in the air, landing with an equal number of head or tail. Men dug two holes at the entrance to the house to hold the blood of the slain cattle. During the ceremony, blood sprouted into the air, as vultures stood patiently observing, and loudly rattling on the rooftop.

The smell and sight of blood attracted a drove of vultures, landing with stampede on the rooftop, interceding in the butchery. So emboldened they descended snatching portions of meat away. “It’s a good sign to be graced with their presence. Our ancestors are pleased. It is a bad omen organizing Awojoh and vultures do not show up,” an old woman said. The birds feasted on the entrails as the legitimate ancestors. “That old vulture resembles late auntie Katie,” she observed.

Later, they feasted on the food provided for the dead cooked without salt. The meat was prepped and seasoned. Granny saved cola nuts and a variety of fruits like oranges and bananas. On the eve, volunteers helped with the initial preparation of the dishes. A bowl of black-eyed beans was prepped and ready to blend  later fried into akara  a tasty beans cake. A large pot of beans cooked with palm oil, pepper and onions complimented a favorite dish aborbor. A vegetable dish orbiata – cooked with Crain Crain, goes with the foo foo a product of cassava, cooked and molded into dough. There was white rice, fish and beef stew, with a choice of palm oil and groundnut oil stew. At about 5.30 am, helpers made a trip to the mill to blend a bowl of beans. Women who recently slept with their men could not handle the mix: fearing the mixture would turn flat as unleavened bread, even without adding baking soda.

January 1 was a public holiday, the date of the Awojoh. Family, friends from afar, visited the cemetery early that morning to commune with the dead. It’s a rite visiting the cemetery at least once a year, New Year’s or Eastertide. Uncle Bob and his family wore colorful Ashorbie – African attire on arrival in a chartered poda-poda van, local minibus. Men wore embroidered lapel shirts, and women wore expensively crafted long flowing dresses. Alhaji Cole and his family the Muslim wing of the family were dressed in white unblemished, long flowing robes.

As they came off the latest model Mercedes Benz, they greeted with handshakes and said, “Salamalaeku, Malaeku Ma Salaam,” to family and the guests. Women wore silk veils and men wore hats, caftans, long gowns, mukays and slippers. Mr. Cole a Christian tried to shake Safiatu’s hand. But she bowed respectfully, greeting him from a distance. He was boiling with emotion as he greeted relatives from abroad. In tears, he said, “If nar so die bin tan we go gladdie, usai una bin hide, tenk God for Mama Henrietta.  I would be happy if death reunited us all with our deceased. Where were you all hiding? I thank Mama Henrietta for organizing this wonderful gathering.”

Spectators flooded the scene, admiring a fusion of costumes with beautiful bright colors. Granny’s house was stormed by a flood of well-wishers. She sat on a regal armchair dressed in purple dress with head-tie to match. “Mama Henrietta, I love your beautiful dress. Where did you buy it?” Salamatu Cole said. “Hahaha, Oh I got it fifteen years ago. Doris Davies made it. This is the third time I’m wearing it,” she said. A jubilant atmosphere beaming with anticipation reflected the spirit of the celebration.

Cooking had progressed and some dishes were already wrapped on the table. The preparation of other dishes went according to plan. Food for the dead was set on a table in Granny’s room with a glass of water.

At noon, she said, “My dear ancestors, this modest feast is for you to dine with us, please bless those who made it possible, and spread your wings of protection and provision over us all. I’ve attained a milestone as the leader. I’m ready to join my ancestors on the other shore. May unity and love bind our family, as I draw closer to my time.”

Her mystic rhetoric seemingly transformed her into a trance, depicting reverence and dignity for the ancestors. Amid the merriment and celebration, Granny had retired to her room. Guests were at the peak of high-spirited entertainment, and no one had noticed her absence. The Nyorleh ceremony, charity for the dead was about to begin, as folks took positions for a Capu Capu, free for all stampede. But Granny was absent from the designated site.

Suddenly, like transfiguration, a fleet of vultures descended parading like an angelic train, rehearsing a solemn, melodious overture that nailed the consternation of those present. Simultaneously, the chime wall-clock had stopped working. And the family portrait suddenly fell off the wall and shattered. It was evident something out of the ordinary was brewing. The thought of Granny’s memorable words began to resonate to the family. Everything stopped, including time. Anxious folks began to ponder on the mysterious events. But no one noticed she had earlier retired to bed, and quietly taking off her shoes.

Shortly, Granma closed her eyes as if she had taken a drug and began a sojourn to the unknown. A sensational flashlight and awe had possessed her. She reaches out to greet the ancestors with a smile, beaming with excitement. There’s no night or day, once she landed at the realm beyond: where life is organized with precision. She had anticipated this moment, the advent epitomized a dream she could not comprehend or apprehend.

Reclining on her bed, her brittle spirit seemed divorced from its entrapped body. She had taken a mystic form, overshadowing many folks comprehension. People were thrown into disarray, stalling the feasting and socializing. It was getting dark and time for the guests to leave. Emotionally charged women would invade her room, finding a transformed soul smiling on her bed. They peered, shook her with frenzy jaw-breaking screams. But she was as cold as she was unresponsive. She could hear and empathize with them. But a mysterious mighty river had separated them. Finally, she had peacefully joined her loving ancestors, deserting this enduring Awojoh fusion, shocking confusion.

Roland Bankole Marke © 2010

Roland Bankole Marke is a Sierra Leonean, and the author of Teardrops Keep Falling, Silver Rain and Blizzard and Harvest of Hate: Stories and Essays. He’s widely published in various journals and magazines around the world: including world press, Guardian Weekly, Journal of African Literature, and Pambazuka. His work is also featured in anthologies of short stories and poetry. His website: www.rolandmarke.com

Stay with Sierra Express Media, for your trusted place in news!

© 2010, https:. All rights reserved.

Share With:
Rate This Article
No Comments

Leave A Comment