BY Michelle Enehiwealu Iruobe

Nene kept people’s destinies bottled up in rusty beverage tins. She used to cork them in old groundnut bottles but she’d broken one too many and soon stuck to the aluminum containers instead. Mummy and Daddy thought she used the tins to store palm oil (At least, that was what she told them when she stacked them from our house in the city to take back to the village) but their true content was Nene’s and my little secret. 

Mummy and Daddy also thought that the endless string of visitors that came to call on Nene during Christmas and New Year were her friends, but I knew that many of them came with the destinies of their enemies contained in strands of hair and clipped fingernails wrapped in cocoyam leaves just as Nene had instructed them. 

Towards midnight, I would tip-toe into her room and watch her unwrap the leaf bundles, carefully harness glowing embers from the items by reciting a special incantation too fast for me to memorize and sealing them magically in the tins. Sometimes, the very powerful destinies violently shake the sturdy containers and Nene would ask me to sit on the lid to prevent the tin from exploding. Other times, the embers glowed so brightly that I would shield my eyes with Nene’s wrapper and wrinkle my nose at their harsh scent, like blended fresh pepper. Nene told me that these were people’s very promising futures, and she too had to be careful with them because they scalded the hands quickly with their power. There were others she allowed me cradle in my palms; others that were barely warm. She was not too happy when her suppliers brought a lot of the warm ones. They did not have so much value, she would say to them. She would have to pay double the usual ration when she met an Azen.

When Nene was frustrated with the quality of the destinies her suppliers brought her, she would tie her wrapper, clutch her purse, and visit Mama Ogi’s beauty salon.

Mama Ogi was a tall, coal-skinned woman whose nose had switched places with her buttocks and who had awful reddish-brown hair so badly eaten away at the scalp that she was never without a black scarf around her head. I always wondered why she didn’t use her hairdressing skills on herself.

        “Ahh! Nene!” She’d exclaim on seeing my grandmother standing by the door, craning her neck to look inside the cramped salon space. “Welcome, ma. Uwaila, you follow Nene come today? Una dey for holiday?” 

She would clear the packs of hair extensions strewn on the wooden bench away to create space for Nene to sit but Nene would refuse the invite with a raised hand.

        Mama Ogi would nod, crouch down, and drag a small cellophane bag from under her dressing table. After stretching her neck from left to right to confirm that no one was watching, she would hand the bag over to Nene.

           “Nowadays, dem nor like to dey leave their hair for salon,” She whispered the last time, folding the cellophane into squares. 

 “The woman wey come jusnow…she say make I sweep everything give am. Later, she carry broom for my hand. Kia-kia, she nor let one strand remain. Na the small thing wey I fit gather for morning-time be dis.”

          “Nails nko?” Nene asked, peeping into the half-filled bag.

          “Ehen,” Mama Ogi snapped her fingers, opened a drawer and took out a small Mentholatum bottle.

         Her tone was low, conspiratorial, as she said: “Nene, make you dey careful oh. Person tell me say people dey observe some kind things for this market.”

Nene tucked the bottle into her purse. Then she loosened the folds of her wrapper, took out squeezed naira notes, and with clenched fists, as though what was lodged within was a secret, pushed the money into Mama Ogi’s palms.

        She re-tied her wrapper. “You do well. Your business go dey boom. Khionwei oh. Till next time.”



We never met Mama Ogi again. The makeshift stall where she served customers in the heart of the market had been reduced to splinters of wood and shattered concrete.

       “You dey find Mama Ogi?” Asked her 

provision-selling neighbour as Nene and I took in the remains in bewilderment.

         “Na day before yesterday some Agberos bring caterpillar come. Before anybody blink wah-wah like dis, everything don level.”

         “Wetin happen?” Nene asked.

        “Nobody sure oh. But dem dey say…” She leaned in and tuned down her voice. “…she dey do money ritual. She jam who she nor suppose jam. Na why this thing happen so.” She clapped her hands together. “Na God go save us for this world wey we dey. Person fit be friend with person wey dey plan to steal your destiny.”





The people from the church near the community powerline came to our house one hot afternoon, accusing Nene of robbing a former school teacher of his destiny. His name was Mr. Abiala and before the third student in his class and one of my friends, Miracle got pregnant for him, he taught Geography at the village school.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the community abandoned him, the powerline church granted him asylum. Now, there were so many of them lodged outside our house, shouting for Nene to come out and confess. 

Without zipping her blouse so that she looked like she had droopy wings, Nene marched outside. The ailing man lay on a mat at our doorstep.

Though I only watched from the tiny holes in the mosquito nets, I could see that Mr. Abiala wasn’t far from the grave. He seemed to have tennis balls for eyes, and massive red and yellow boils mosaicked his ashen skin. A wrinkled woman with pupils the colour of condensed milk knelt by him, weeping profusely and calling out his name as though she was performing a summoning ritual.

Nene took one glance at him and turned away.

           “I didn’t do anything to this man.” She said.

There was an immediate uproar. The men and women hurled insults at her, told her she was a liar, and that she’d better confess what she did before they set her ablaze. Their prophet had already seen that it was her.

           “Then your prophet does not know what he saw,” Nene shouted back. “I am innocent.” She looked at Mr. Abiala again, snorted, sucked in saliva, and spat to the side.

         “The person that did it did society a favour, by the way. You should be thanking them.”

The wrinkled woman sprang up. “I hope it’s not my son you’re talking about, you old witch?!”

Nene puffed out her chest, veins already climbing up her neck. “Ehn! Come and beat me nau. Because of this dirty pig you call a son. Maybe they should have dealt with you too. You knew about the disgusting things he was doing with people’s daughters in that school yet you didn’t make pim! Now, you’re coming here to spill nonsense. I’m not surprised. Human beings like you have less shame than a Billy goat in mating season.”

The crowd had gone silent.

        “See. I put water on fire some minutes ago.” Nene continued. “If I go back inside and come out again and you’re still here, I will speed up your son’s journey to the afterlife. Do you hear me?!”


For days after that incident, Nene did not admit any suppliers. She told all of them to stay away. True, she had won that round with the Abialas but she was certain that the townspeople, especially the Church ones, had her under constant surveillance and were just waiting for the perfect opportunity.

Since she was being cautious, it came as a rancid surprise when one cool evening as she lounged on the balcony, the growl of a glistening Mercedes announced the arrival of a visitor.

Nene struggled to her feet, muttering curses under her breath.

The door of the Mercedes pushed open and golden stilettos sank into the muddy soil. The woman bunched up her lace dress to knee level to prevent it from sweeping the ground as she made her way to Nene.

Immediately Nene realised who the woman was, her grey eyes widened and she turned to me.

         “Bring a stool! Eh gie gie!”

I ran into the house and came back with a small stool. The woman sat down without a word, crossing her legs. She resembled those actresses in Nollywood movies with skin like milk and smooth hair extensions cascading down to the waist. She looked young, young enough to be Nene’s daughter but her dark eyes glowed with an antiquity that was unmistakable.

I almost gasped, finally comprehending. An Azen!

         “Aunty Sewa. I didn’t know you were coming.” Nene said.

        Her voice was honey when she spoke. “I was getting impatient. You’ve not sent me anything since.”

         “Well, you know, it’s difficult nowadays…”

Aunty Sewa waved her hand, cutting her off. “Just give me whatever you have. I came prepared. I can’t go back empty-handed.” 

         Nene arched her brows. “You came prepared?”

Aunty Sewa rolled her eyes and drew out a black cellophane bag I didn’t remember seeing before from under the stool. Nene’s eyes were locked hungrily on the bales of cloth and chunky jewelry peeking out of the bag.

         “I only have three tins,” Nene said automatically. “That much isn’t worth this…” 

Aunty Sewa slid the bag towards Nene’s feet.

          “Don’t you see that my face is falling apart already?”

It was then I noticed the tiny purple and black cracks on her cheeks and neck, like weed tendrils breaking through foundation plaster.

          “I said I will take whatever you have like that. Just get some more as soon as possible.” She said.

Nene nodded, clasped the cellophane bag under her armpit and went into the house. She returned soon after with three tins of destiny embers in an empty crate and put it in the benz’s back seat.

         “Safe journey, Aunty Sewa.” 

As the Mercedes sped off, Nene turned to me and it seemed like her youth had momentarily returned.

          “Shey you will eat catfish?”


The person who hated Nene the most was a man called Oriri. And for obvious reasons too. He was a witch doctor, who made a living from curing spiritual sicknesses and Nene was making business difficult for him. But of course, he could never admit that.

          “You evil woman!” He’d shouted the last time he came to threaten Nene. “Do you think you’ll live your own life and die at a ripe age when you don’t let others live theirs?! Would there be new problems for me to solve every day if there weren’t people like you?”

Nene laughed loud and long. “Do you really care about your customers? Or am I just your enemy of progress?”

 “You and the Azens who patronize you will suffer together. Evil witch!”

          “You and I are the same, Oriri. No matter how horrible you paint my business. We do the same thing.”

In simpler times, Oriri would make cool money from spiritual healing. He would negotiate with Azens like Aunty Sewa to release some destiny embers so that his customers would be under the impression they were cured when they started functioning properly again.

Now, brokers like Nene were involved. The Azens get the destiny embers at inflated rates in return for the brokers making everything easy and keeping them incognito. So the Azens charge so much more when they negotiate with witch doctors. So much that doctors like Oriri behave as though merely setting their eyes on brokers like Nene made them hypertensive.

He behaved the same way when he led the powerline church’s prophet to our house when another villager fell ill. This time, my age-mate and well-known bully, Eseose.

Eseose’s diseased body was lowered on our doorstep, the same spot the former teacher lay less than two weeks before. She had the same swellings and bulging eyes. 

Oriri began to yell.

            “It will not be well with this woman! I tried my best for this little girl but this witch has refused to let her go. What did she do to you? Do you now have quarrels with little children? Return her destiny! I command you, return her destiny!”

He probably thought that if he couldn’t make money, then Nene wouldn’t. Even if that meant he had to team up with the church people.

Nene’s squinting eyes scoured the crowd in front of her. Many of them carried lanterns burning bright oranges. The night had travelled far.

       “You jobless people are back again.” She said.


The prophet, train tracks etched on his face and wearing a long, white garment with a wooden crucifix hanging from his neck raised his hand, halting Oriri immediately.

His voice was authoritatively calm, almost hypnotizing.

        “Woman, where did you keep this girl’s belongings?” 

        “If you ask me again, I will tell you the same thing. I did nothing.” Nene replied.

        “My God has led me to this house. He is never wrong.”

        “Perhaps, the fault is with you then.” Nene crossed her arms. “Are you sure you followed him well? He may have passed this house already.”

      The prophet stepped forward. “I will search your house to confirm. Leave the way.”

      Nene did not leave.  “My dead body will be cold first.”

          “What are you waiting for?” Oriri turned to the townspeople. “Get her!”

Within seconds, four hefty youths grabbed Nene by her hands and legs. The Prophet marched into the house. I stood watching by the window, shaking in fear. Nene had told me not to step out.

The echoes of a thousand footsteps reverberated through the house. They raided everywhere while Nene screamed at the top of her voice and thrashed to be freed.

Soon, the prophet came outside again, holding out Nene’s crate like a trophy. My hands shook against the mosquito net

A hush fell over the crowd as the prophet set down a lantern and emptied the contents of the tins on the ground. He removed clumps of hair from the large tins and spread them on the dry earth. There were black and curly tufts, brown with the tightest of kinks and red that could be mistaken for brown but for the lantern’s light generously showering them.

He opened the Mentholatum bottles and turned them over. The clipped nails were unrecognisable in dirt brown snips like improperly ground melon seeds. 

The crowd gasped. Abuses were hurled like slingshots.

         “Those do not belong to the girl.” Nene ground out, eyes blazing. The men still had her bound so she could do nothing about her fury.

         The prophet brought out a spray can from his garment pocket, sprinkled some of its colourless content on the items and crossed himself.

Then, wordlessly, he stretched out his hand and someone handed him a lantern. 

Seconds later and the smell of burning hair percolated the air. Nene cried out, catching the men off-guard and yanking them away. She flung herself into the fire. 

I ran out then, screaming: “Nene! Nene!”

They were trying to haul her out of the remains of the fire but she refused to move. Her wrapper had slipped off and there were blackened patches on her skin. I wasn’t certain if the patches were merely soot smears or spots of charred flesh.

       “Nene! Nene! What is happening here?!” Someone shouted.

I turned and saw that two of our women neighbours were coming towards the house. The townspeople moved back and made a way for them to pass.

        “Ah! Nene!” One of them rushed to her.


Nene opened her eyes but she made no further response.

        “Uwaila! Go and bring water for your Nene. Quick!” One of the women shouted.

I stumbled back into the house towards the kitchen but paused at Nene’s room. Nene’s big bed and drawers had been turned over and her clothes were strewn on the floor. I went over to the smaller bed, which I had used for years before I could sleep without Nene by my side and plopped down on all fours, resting my head on the ground as though listening for a heartbeat underneath.

I heaved a sigh of relief seeing that my crate was intact under the bed.