By Ejike Eze
There were many stories about the initiation ceremony to the mmọnwụ society. None that I knew of was pleasant. Each story was a syringe with which fear was injected into the heart of the uninitiated. That night, as creepy night noises seeped through the windows and the cracked walls of my room, my mind swung back and forth like a broken pendulum, unable to stop long enough at any particular story before sliding to another.
There were stories about young boys who did not make it out of the initiation room alive, consumed by the mmọnwụ, the visitors from the land of the spirits. I did not bother wonder how this could be true. There was a particular story that fought hard to exhume itself from deep inside me, where I had buried it several weeks ago. It was the story of the boy whose mouth leaked like a sieve.
My cousin Eziobi told me that story many times, especially when he did something wrong and feared I would rat on him . The last time he told me that story, it was particularly terrifying because it was two weeks ago, two short weeks to my initiation.
“No one should be answering a question he was not asked”, he had stated, his pointing finger wagging left and right for emphasis. It was obvious that he wanted to remind me not to mention that he had taken Papa’s special Raleigh bicycle for a joyride with his friends, returning it just before Papa came home from work. Papa had warned everyone not to touch that particular bicycle, a gift from his white friend, Fada Heery. So, if Papa were to know what happened, Eziobi’s back would bleed. So, when he returned from shuffling the sand all around the compound to wipe out the bicycle tracks, he was ready to tell me the story for the thousandth time.
“Remember the story of the boy with the leaky mouth?” he asked. I nodded, willing him not to tell the story yet again. I knew the story by heart. It was his favorite weapon of torture.
“Do you want to hear the story?”
“No, I know the story”, I replied shaking my head as vigorously as I could.
“You should. It is a reminder of what can happen to a boy who blabs his mouth”.
I always wondered why he did that – why he would ask me a question and yet ignore my response, carrying on as though I never spoke.
“It was said that whatever entered the boy’s ears came out of his mouth. He would even add salt and pepper to the story to make it sweet. He would recount everything he heard and many he did not.”
My stomach had begun to churn. I knew what was coming next.
“Otu ubochi, i gbaa ama mmuo, his mother would warn, but that did not stop the blabbermouth boy from opening his big mouth.”
My hand involuntarily covered my own mouth, as though in an attempt to save the boy from himself.
“He told the secrets of his cousins, his brothers and his friends. He was always blabbing to his parents about what happened and what did not happen.”
He paused to make sure there was enough fear on my face. He did not need to worry about that.
“As the day of his initiation came close, everyone was worried that he was bound to reveal the akwukwo Mmọnwụ to the uninitiated ogbodu, or worse, to women. So, his initiation was the most anticipated in the town. Everyone was anxious to see if he would keep the secret of the Mmọnwụ. Did you know that the Mmọnwụ will ask you about secrets that other people asked you to keep for them?”
This was new. I did not know that. Seeing that confusion had joined fear on my face, he proceeded to answer his own question, another thing he was fond of doing. Why ask me the question if he was going to answer it anyway?
“Yes, they do. Take this house, for instance. If you revealed any secret that you were asked to keep, the Mmọnwụ would know and they will ask you about it during the initiation. They are spirits. They know everything”
My head began to spin with all the things I had revealed to Mama and Papa about what goes on in the house when they were not home. In the three years my cousin had lived with us, there were many such things. I always wondered why he did exactly what Papa and Mama told him not to do. And I had gotten him into so much trouble by telling my parents. If the Mmọnwụ knew all these, there was no way I was making it out of that initiation alive.
I wanted to cry. But I had been told that the Mmọnwụ kept a tab of how many times a boy cried like a baby, or worse, like a girl. I had bitten back the tears and found myself making promises that I would never reveal anything that happened at home. He seemed satisfied with that promise but that did not stop him from continuing the story.
“So, the day after the boy’s initiation, many went by his house to see what he would say. But the boy was silent. Days and weeks went by but the boy remained as muted as a castrated he-goat. Do you know what happened to him in that initiation chamber? I did not know and I did not want to know.
Now, at the cusp of my own initiation, the story had broken loose from within me and was rattling with other stories in my head. I was still fighting the fear that welled up from my stomach when a mosquito buzzed near my ear. Angered that I was so afraid, that I was acting like a girl, something the Mmọnwụ was bound to bring up during my initiation, I struck at the mosquito with all my might. The blow sent a sharp wave into my head. I felt my bed start to spin. I held onto it to make it stop, but the roof began to spin as well, then the cupboard and Mama’s rosary hanging from the rail above my bed. It was as though everything in the room was slowly being drawn into a macabre dance. The music started slowly and increased in tempo as the abia drums joined the ogene and as dozens of initiated boys poured into the arena. Then they began to dance and to glide away from me. I wanted to follow them, to tell them that I was one of them, that I was not afraid and that I was qualified to be initiated. But a pair of invisible hands held me down, my struggles feeble at their grip. I began to yell. “I have not revealed any secrets. Please let me be initiated. Let me join the dance. Please! Please!!”.
Then I heard the Mmọnwụ calling my name.
“Nnanna, wake up! You are having a nightmare”. The music had floated away and the voice had changed from that of Mmọnwụ to that of Papa who was shaking my shoulder.
I sat up, soaked in my own sweat. A sliver of sunlight filtered into the room. It was the day of the initiation.
“Good morning, Papa,” I said.
“Good morning, Nnanna. Are you ready for your big day?”
I nodded. Another lie that I was sure to answer for tonight.
To be continued…