Story: Who Shaved My Hair By Nnane Ntube
Amity came home that hot afternoon. She was different. The smile she wore on her face before she left home that morning for school had faded. She was stern. Nobody could understand her. A group of women gathered in her father’s compound; some cooking in large pots, others peeling unripe plantain, some sat with bottles of beer beside the edges of their large cabbas gossiping and swearing, swelling their broad shoulders, twisting their heads on their right shoulders, and frowning faces of dismay to convince their faithful listeners of the authenticity of their stories.
Stories usually cooked up before bottles of beer and pots of food. The women sitting beside the fireside roasting plantains and cocoyam, ululated carelessly. An aged woman with dirty white hair sprouted her head through the door and commanded them in Akoose (the native language) to stop the noise. The women choked with laughter giggling in their throats. They kept quiet for a while, then continued with thunderous laughter. The normal activities continued. Amity observed the whole scene, twisted her face even harder, walked through the busy groups of women without greeting.
One of the women, their nearest neighbour, a woman she hated for refusing neighbouring children from plugging mangoes from her mango trees, called her. As she heard her voice, she heaved a heavy sigh, picked the woman, with her large eyes, from head to toe, then continued on her way. Her aunt, Epole, landed a heavy slap on her face, confusing the little girl. Aunt Epole, a very strict traditional woman, has always been a guardian at the gate of Amity’s conscious. Aunty Epole pulled her by the ears towards the woman, and asked her to apologize. She apologized in profuse sobs. She said it loud enough that the men, who were slaughtering a very big cow at the foot of the Apple tree beside the grassy well at the entrance of the compound, stopped momentarily.
Amity rushed inside the house, pressing her fingers tightly on her jaws and sobbing silently. The house was filled with people. They looked at her as she sobbed and passed them by. As soon as she entered her room, she saw a thin ugly woman sleeping comfortably in her bed. She screamed, the woman jumped up, brought her upper body up, and leaned her round head on the rough unpainted wall. She. They scared her even more. She screamed again. The woman screamed louder. But her voice could not go out of the confinement of the room. She was very old, around her 90s. Amity feared her. She had often heard stories of old witches. The woman’s red eyes reminded her of ma’a Elong, the old witch who once fell on Madam Misodi’s zinc.
Ma’a Elong used to travel in the night in a can of sardine. She was an old woman whom everybody respected. She was kind and generous, always smiling. Children were fond of her. They used to fetch firewood for her, carry her water from the distant public tap, sweep her compound and run errands for her. Ma’a Elong was a fragile woman of about 1.40 meter tall. Though ugly, the smile she constantly wears on her face was a force of attraction to all. Little did parents know that Ma’a Elong had a special plane at night which she uses to carry some of these children to a land of palm kernel.
“People often say that the land of palm kernel is for children born with four eyes” Ngoe, Madam Misodi’s son, said.
“Yes! And even for twins”, added Molangwe.
“My sister and I used to go there. But we did not use the night plane. We used to travel on foot, climbing on tinny black threads. After eating palm kernel at night, we eat ants, moulds during the day. It went on for two years. When we tuned four, our mother took us to a spiritualist in Bamenda who blocked our road. We have not been there again.”
Amity shivered with fear, Molangwe was her bench mate. She did not know that Molangwe had been to the world of the unknown. Ma’a Elong had introduced all the children she succeeded in initiating, to her meeting house. Rumours have it that, ma’a Elong had carried a stubborn child that night, who did not want to be initiated. On their way to the palm kernel village, the child started fighting with ma’a Elong, the pilot. The fight was so fierce that the plane crashed on a pear tree, and fell on Madam Misodi’s zinc. It was exactly 12:05 a.m.
Ma’a Elong couldn’t run due to the spring of her leg. The whole neighbourhood was alerted. Everyone abandoned warm beds to embrace the cold breeze. At first, nobody could identify the woman. She was a tall, fair lady with long curly hairs. She suddenly changed into a handsome young man, then a beautiful young girl, and finally to an extremely old woman. “Ma’a Elong!!!” in a harmonious shout. Sticks, stones, logs of woods, gas tubes etc rained from every corner.
“No oooo!!!!!!!” Amity released the thunder in her.
The echo of her scream invited hooting legs. The worried women met her on the threshold.
The words “the woman”, “the woman” … fell from her chilling lips.
Her fingers pointed at the woman on her bed.
“She’s your grand aunt. Your grandmother’s sister.” Aunt Epole struggled to explain.
“Witches! Witches! Witches!” Amity cried.
Aunt Epole forced her to enter the room, which she did in a tepid manner. The evening was animated by traditional dances; the Ngonedancers got the onlookers rallying behind them, struggling to imitate their steps. The throbbing of drums sent others in trance, entwined by nostalgic feelings. The adulation from the crowd got the dancers drunk in the ecstasy of the sound of the drums and whistle. Jugs of palm wine flowed from everywhere.
Everyone was busy eating, drinking and dancing, while the corpse of Amity’s elder brother laid lonely in the parlour. Amity walked passed the parlour without looking at the corpse. She wrapped herself on a blank chair beside the door to her room. She heard dogs fighting fiercely at the backyard. Their barks, louder than the sound of music played. The fight continued, a furious dog came from nowhere and fell on her.
Amity screamed, woke up, and jammed the door of her room. The door flung wide open. She met face-to-face with the old woman who stood erect before her. Her hair started falling off, some fell on her eyes, and some fell on the cold floor.
Amity brought up her right hand, put it on her head, and shouted, “Who shaved my hair?”.