By Azeeza Adeowu
When Kokumo was born, her mother knew there was something inside her that was ready to battle the world, ready to make space for herself and burn down anyone who intruded.
Kokumo cried a lot when she was born. So much so that her mother was concerned her baby would get exhausted and leave her again. That was the 3rd time she was giving birth to her. Both times, she died a few minutes after visiting the world, after crying so much.
But Kokumo wasn’t leaving this time. The Yeye Osun she visited without her husband’s permission had assured her. After nine months of eating terribly smelly Aseje and Agbo and swimming naked in a cold lake during her last trimester while 20 women in whites chanted and sang and prayed, Kokumo was here, but what was that look on her face? Like she had the Aseje and Agbo her mom consumed stuck on her tongue? When she eventually stopped crying, Kokumo looked so displeased with the world.
She wore a disapproving look no one had seen on a baby before. Someone compared her look to that of a nosy grandmother. A granny who sits outside the veranda with her nose turned up, hissing and clapping her hands in disapproval as kids of the new generation go about their lives.
One day, Kokumo’s mother visited Yeye again concerning the permanently displeased look on her daughter’s face. She thanked Yeye, a woman in her late 60s who was always in white iro and buba. She kissed the statue of Osun, as expected from anyone who enters the shrine before she confided in Yeye about her worries.
Sometimes, her daughter acted like a witch, someone who knew more than she let on. She told Yeye she caught Kokumo several times staring at her like she wanted to yank her head off. Kokumo looked like she knew she was forced into this world, and she hated her for bringing her into the world. “Yeye,” Kokumo’s mother said, “why am I scared of my own child, a child that can’t even speak yet?”
Yeye told her she was being paranoid. Of course, Kokumo knew she was dragged to the world. Didn’t she know she was the same child that died twice? Didn’t she know Abikus were like gods? Why do you think she died twice? Did she not know she was so unimpressed and scared of the world that she went back twice to gather ammunition to prepare for the mad, wild world?
Yeye told her to leave her, to let her child blossom, and be grateful Osun was kind enough to give her a child.
Kokumo’s mother went back home, less scared and more grateful.
It didn’t take long for everyone to know Kokumo had a fire in her belly. It’s the way she walked like a woman on her way to a battle she knew she was going to win. The way she spoke, loud and clear with an unwavering voice, the way she argued with her father, the way she questioned every fairy tale.
At six, Kokumo bit a boy’s ear because she called her Abiku. At seven, she spat in her aunt’s Sprite because she disrespected her mother. At eight, she used a blade to cut her father’s favorite shirt because he called her a devilish child.
At 9, Kokumo spat on a neighbour’s face because he slapped her for saying Good Morning rather than Good Morning, Sir after correcting her several times.
At 10, Mama Seki visited Kokumo’s mother with a solution.
“Your daughter has fire in her belly,” she told her with the assertive voice of wise men who knew and saw things others couldn’t. “If you don’t do something about it, she will burn everything in her path, and then she will burn herself. You need to quench that fire,” she told Mama Kokumo.
“But how do I quench the fire?” Kokumo’s mother asked. She was disturbed, and everyone could see it on her face. Her father spanked her every time. She advised her every time, what more could they do?
They were seated in the sitting room. Kokumo brought water in a tray and placed it on the wooden stool while Mama Seki regarded her curiously.
“Come here, Kokumo,” she said. Kokumo moved closer. She touched her chin, scrutinizing everything on her face as though to uncover some secrets, as if the answer to quenching the fire in her belly would become visible if she stared for a long time. Then she shook her head and told Kokumo to leave.
She sighed and said, you know my father is a powerful Babalawo? Kokumo’s mother nodded. “From what I have seen, your daughter is possessed. That’s the only thing that can explain her defiance and audacity. Something is pushing her. You said she cut her father’s shirt? Haa, Olorun Maje o, but a child that can do that has no fear at all. And anyone without fear is dangerous."
She suggested they visit her dad; he would provide a solution.
The Baba’s house smelled and felt like a deserted place in movies where bad things happen. Unlike the Osun’s shrine, which felt tranquil, there was hot as if some invisible spirits were boring their eyes into her skin. She wanted to change her mind at that moment. She couldn’t bring her only child here. What if something happened? Besides, Yeye Osun warned her to leave the child alone.
But Mama Seki urged her on, assured her that her father might be old, but he was still powerful and knew better than Yeye.
The Baba said Kokumo would need an incision. Inside it, he would plant a powerful amulet--one of a kind, the type he had never used on anyone else but would use on Kokumo. The amulet, he said, will quench not just the fire in her belly; it will stamp the embers so they never ignite again. She would be calm, demure, gentle, diffident, and meek, the kind of daughter everyone wanted.
The incision lasted an hour. Kokumo didn’t want to be held. She bit Baba, bit her mother, and in the end, it took three strong men to hold her down. The incision was on her back, about 4 inches long, deep enough to bury some concoction and sew it back in. She woke up in her mother’s bed, a different person. It felt like the real her was hypnotized, locked in a trance while someone else had taken over her body.
Kokumo became Anna. One of the conditions the Baba gave her mother was to change her name, to remove all traces of her root, of her being Abiku. Didn’t she know names are powerful? How can you name a child Kokumo and expect her to fear anything? So Kokumo’s mother made her second name her first name.
Anna became a good girl. She was all smiles, calm, and likeable, and she never got angry. When she got bullied at school, she came back home crying. When Phillip groped her body and placed bubble gum on her seat, she refused to report it. She started to say ‘Good Morning, Sir’ to the neighbour.
The change surprised everyone, even her mother. It felt like Kokumo and Anna were different people, and rather than make her happy, it scared her. She didn’t know which she preferred, Kokumo with the fire in her belly, or Anna, who lived like a robot.
At fourteen, the scar on her back started to itch. It began after she fell ill one day, and her mother, scared that Kokumo was about to leave her, called her by her real name. Even with the drip in her hands and the doctor’s assurance that she would wake up soon, Kokumo’s mother knew the sickness wasn’t medical. So she begged Kokumo to stay.
“Your name is Kokumo, not Anna. And you shall live. You shall live up to your name. You will fight, and you will stay with me.”
When Anna woke up, she felt Kokumo wake up, too. There was an itch on her back, and she knew it was Kokumo trying to displace her from the body.
Kokumo became a victim of SS1 boys' bullying and harassment after she became Anna. Phillip grabbed her little breasts and claimed it was unintentional. Tunde told the class she wore yellow pants after he placed a mirror on the floor. Dotun told the class Anna’s breasts were as small as tangerines, and the whole class laughed. Soon, Anna became an easy dare on the list.
It wasn’t like Kokumo didn’t try to fight back, but something always stopped her.
Once, she had tried to fight back, to raise her hand and pluck out Phillip's eyes, but something held her down. She stood rooted to the ground, heaving loud, gasping. She could feel herself swimming and drowning, unable to swim yet unable to drown. She was like this for minutes, tears falling from her rigid face. Everyone gathered around her, afraid to go near. Students who witnessed it said it looked like she was struggling inwardly or something inside her was struggling to come out. Phillip whimpered in a corner, and there was a loud thud on the floor; Anna collapsed. She remained in the hospital for a week. It was that sickness that made her mom call her by her name.
When she returned to school after the illness, she was still the same Anna, except that she had stopped smiling, and the scar itched so badly that she started using her metal ruler to scratch it.
Today, she sat by the school bus window, and after much hesitation, Gabriel sat next to her.
Everything was going well.
Students studenting, talking loudly about what went on during the weekend. Driver driving, holding the steering firmly less, he lost control like the last time, Anna watching life happen through the window and Gabriel sketching in his drawing pad with the HB pencil his father got him.
And then everything stopped going well.
An SS1 boy threw a tiny paper ball that bounced over Gabriel’s head. Gabriel tried to turn to find the person, but his arm was over Anna’s boobs, pressing it down hard. He gasped in shock when it happened, but Anna’s back was itching, and god forbid she let this pressing of her boobs slide again.
No one was sure how it happened, but soon Gabriel was on the floor. Blood was gushing out from his face, and he was screaming and writhing, more from the shock of the situation than the pain he was experiencing. Everything was in chaos. Some students scrambled in a corner as if whatever happened to Gabriel was about to descend on them, and some gathered around the scene but were confused about what to do next. The driver was trying to make sense of the situation while looking for where to park. Students began screaming. The driver couldn’t park. He started driving to the Federal Clinic instead because the sight didn’t look like something a private hospital could take care of.
Soon, Kokumo’s itch became worse; something burst on her back, and there was blood, too.
And then, there were two students on the floor, and they were both screaming. No one knew what had happened. All they knew was that Kokumo’s shirt had disappeared, and there was a large cut on her back and a pencil deep inside Gabriel’s right eye.
Azeeza Adeowu is a writer, storyteller, and content marketer based in Ibadan, Nigeria. She’s a master's student at the University of Ibadan studying Population and Reproductive Health.
Azeeza spends most of her time reading, watching K-dramas, and going out to have fun or watching people go about their lives while making up stories in her head.