The first time the ghost of my fraternal twin appeared to me, I was terrified – so terrified that my abrupt recoil jerked the low wooden table from which I’d been eating fufu and egusi, and spilled its precious contents across the concrete floor of my living-room. I call it precious because that soup had displayed an array of meat chunks the size of my fist. And this was an unusual thing in my house. Our meat was crayfish, Olamma and I. And so, if she had, by some inexplicable means, found money to make such scrumptious delicacy, it was because she had an even bigger demand to make of me. Hence, I reckoned it would serve me better to take what I could get before I offered up what I did not have – of course by borrowing from Osondu yet again.
And because it was precious, I’d spent the better part of that afternoon trying to get rid of Uwakwe, my closest friend, who also happens to be the village sluggard, after we returned from hunting rabbits. As always, the hunt had yielded nothing and since he had no wife to return to, he had come with me to my home and twitched his gigantic nostrils until I could tell that he meant to detect, whether or not, Olamma had left me any dishes before she went out to have her hair done.
Of course, I was familiar with that gimmick and so I was prepared to let the cockroaches in our outhouse kitchen get to the food before Uwakwe would. I, therefore, invented topic after topic and we discussed until our throats ran dry from all the talking. Soon, I feigned drowsiness and yawned with my mouth open just wide enough for him to see down my throat to my empty stomach and realize that I could not possibly share my food with him. But you know how it is with these sponges – they either cannot tell when they are no longer welcome, or they simply have no pride and do not care at all that you are trying to do away with them. And so, he stayed on until we had nothing to say and simply listened to our stomachs grumble.
I dozed off a few times, and I think, perhaps, he did too. Until, finally, he got tired of our little game and stood to take his leave.
“Ngwanu! Amadi, come and see me off,” he said. “Let me go home and eat.” His tone was laced with subtle anger.
I thought to myself: Eat indeed! When was the last time you used your pot or even your fireplace. Aloud, I said: “Ahn–ahn! So soon? Why don’t you wait until Olamma returns?”
“My brother, if I wait any longer, you will have to carry my corpse home. And you know hunger is a bad way to die. Just see me off, biko. I’ll be fine.”
I wasn’t sure my legs could endure any more than the distance to the door but I agreed anyway. At least, he would be gone and I could come home to eat – alone.
I made sure to go no further than the bend in the road, a little way from my house. Soon, I was speedwalking the distance home. My first stop was the kitchen. I unlatched the small sooty cupboard for which Okafor had charged a heavy price and dived into the food with an impatient enthusiasm, so that soon I was choking on a morsel. I paused to allow the offending morsel glide down my throat before I carried the steel tray across the compound, into the living room. Then, I fell to, and tore impatiently into the chunks of meat, spattering the thick yellow soup across my once white singlet.
And then it happened. One minute I was alone, the next, someone had joined me in the room. The chills that ran down my spine told me of the newcomer’s presence. I raised my head from the battle with the meat to see my long dead brother standing before me, and immediately, I jerked away towards the rear, scampering over the backrest of the threadbare couch. I crouched behind the chair to hide from the spirit, and only peeked afterward to be sure it wouldn’t advance toward me. Its visage was calm. I rubbed my eyes vigorously to be sure my mind hadn’t learned to play tricks, but still it remained.
As soon as I could contain my horror, I dashed out into the yard to fetch a handful of sand because it was a common practice to throw sand at ghosts in order to repel them. When I peeked again through the doorway, the ghost had vanished.
As Olamma requested for new jewelries that night, I did not mention it to her, perhaps because I was too stunned to think properly. My thoughts had become like the mess our black hen often made of our dump in its eternal search for food. I feared he had come for payback – to smite me for all of my atrocities.
The second time wasn’t as horrifying as the first, perhaps because I had as much sand at my disposal as I could possibly have needed. I’d come out to recline on the bench and let the cool winds that gushed beneath the huge mango tree caress my skin. Olamma had been indoors crafting a small wicker basket. As soon as I witnessed the apparition, I bent over to scoop some of the brown earth and emptied it at the ghost. It vanished instantly.
I ran off, afterward, to Uwakwe’s gloomy home, not certain how the visit would go – you know, because of the last time he visited. But that was the least of my worries. I needed to be away from home. I needed to clear my head – and if there was anyone I knew who literally kept a barn of snuffboxes, it was Uwakwe. He snorted so much snuff that the chambers of his nostrils held more tobacco than booger. Besides, I had bigger problems to tackle than the fury of a mooch.
At Uwakwe’s house, I buried myself deep in thought, completely ignoring his incessant chatter that really sounded to my ears like the irritating buzz of a persistent fly – you know, one of those flies that are hungry for death and need swatting. We remained that way, until another apparition occurred. My brother’s ghost appeared at the center of the stuffy room, between Uwakwe and I. He had his back to Uwakwe as he fixed an eerie gaze on me. In that moment, I imagined what death would be like – complete blackness.
For a moment, I was dumbstruck. I opened my mouth but no sounds came out – quite like one of those times when a thin, needle-like fishbone from Olamma’s soup would get stuck in my throat and leave me hanging my head until I could mold another morsel of fufu into a smooth ball that would glide down my throat and take the bone along with it. Wide-eyed and speechless, I got on my knees and rubbed my palms in a desperate act of contrition. Something dashed out of the room with the speed of light. It was Uwakwe. I took a cue from him and scurried toward the door but it shut itself in my face. I dropped down on all fours.
“Nduka, biko! Forgive me! Please!”
My brother’s ghost stared at me. I couldn’t tell if the coldness in his eyes was accusatory, or if it was simply the coldness that came with being dead.
You see, I didn’t kill my brother. I couldn’t have, even if I’d wanted to – not since I’m, as people say, spineless, and suffer a terrible case of hemophobia. But I did marry his wife after his death. I’d coveted her throughout his lifetime; so much so that I eventually bedded her behind his back. But who can blame me? After all, I’d met her first. Only, Nduka’s bigger barn and good fortune had enticed her, and in the end, she’d married him. But after he hung himself on the udala tree outside his house, luck smiled upon me.
“Amadi, Your life is in danger,” Nduka’s ghost said, in an eerily calm voice. “Olamma is not Olamma. I did not take my life. The river goddess, Ani, is after every ejima that escaped her claws and she possessed Olamma to get to us. She will destabilize and reconfigure your mind to only do her bidding. You must…”
The door burst open and Nduka’s ghost vanished. Olamma strutted in bearing a bloodied knife. Instinctively, I knew that Uwakwe must have run to my home to tell her of the apparition and had met with an untimely death.
She began to laugh hysterically and then stopped abruptly.
“Ngwanu! Take this knife and plunge it into your heart, fast-fast.”
Like a robot, I obeyed and, slowly, everything went black like I’d imagined.