Apart from his prosthetic hunchback, the rest of his appearance was styled after his literary hero, Wole Soyinka. Leke sported a full afro of grey hair, and a matching beard too. Today though, as he waited for Deidre to arrive, he felt unsettled. It wasn’t just that he appeared to have developed an allergic reaction to the adhesive that held his mane in place, he was also beginning to wonder if there was more to Deidre’s story than met the eye. He cast a critical eye over his stage as he referred to it in his mind, and was pleased with what he saw. He had chosen his props today in homage to Shango, the mythical god of fire, thunder and lightening, and had placed small statues of the deity all around the room, with little fires burning in front of each one. He was tempted to remove his afro and give his head a good scratch, but he knew she was a short distance away, and he would not have to time to reattach it properly, so he sweltered in the stuffy room and awaited his clients. He was suffering for his art was how he termed it.
Deidre was tugging at the handle before the car had come to a halt, and almost fell out onto the dusty road as she succeeded in opening the door. Leaving the door open, and without looking to see if Deinde was following she darted into the corridor of the building, and started pounding on Baba Apata’s door. Only the fear of disturbing him in the midst of performing a ritual kept her from trying to go in before she heard his voice summoning her. She burst in, and started coughing from the smokiness of the room. Baba Apata stared at her impassively from where he sat on the floor. Cowrie shells were strewn around him, and there was a small wooden bowl filled with kolanuts, right beside his outstretched legs. Deidre knelt in front of him and started stammering. ‘The charm you gave me is under my pillow, I have not gone near any streams or rivers, and she is holding my hair…’ Her head suddenly jerked backwards as if in confirmation, and the suddenness of it caused her to lose her balance and she toppled over and sprawled before the bemused babalawo.
He leapt to his feet and gaped at her as she tried to return to her kneeling position, and then his attention was drawn to Deinde who came through the door at that moment, giggling weirdly as he scratched at the mass of hair clenched in his hand. ‘This is a matter for Shango’ muttered Baba Apata, and he began chanting Shango’s name over and over again in the most stentorian tones he could muster. The once clear skies started to dim as the erstwhile white clouds darkened, and thunder began to rumble in the distance. Unaware, Baba Apata closed his eyes to the unsettling sight of the head clutching woman and the giggling man, and continued to chant away, caught up in the drama of the moment. A name niggled at him, but stayed just out of reach as he tried to remember what it was. He knew it was something ‘wunmi’ but could not for the life of him recall what the prefix was. ‘Ife’, ‘Ade’, and ‘Omo’ rolled through his mind but he rejected each one in turn as they did not seem quite right. ‘Ijawunmi’ came to him in a burst of clarity and he yelled out the name victoriously. He was about to repeat the name for further dramatic effect when a resounding slap on his face out of nowhere abbreviated it to ‘Ija….’. He reeled in shock and whirled around to see who his aggressor was but there was no-one else there apart from his clients who were now staring at him with great interest. Despite his smarting cheek, he decided his over-active imagination had come into play, so he raised his voice and bellowed ‘Shango o…’ as loudly as he could. A flash of lightening streaked through the window and lit up the room, and then torrential rain came thundering down. The air in the room felt electric, and Baba Apata felt unseen hands grabbing him as others tugged at his hair and beard.
Deidre stared in disbelief as Baba Apata took on the appearance of a marionette. He was jerking from one side of the room to the other, fighting with invisible opponents and bits of him appeared to be falling off in the process. She saw pieces of his hair flying through the air like candy floss, and even though it was impossible, he seemed to get younger with every passing moment. He was yelling something in English for a change, and even though his voice was garbled, he sounded as if he was apologising. She saw his hunched back hurtling towards her and she ducked instinctively even as she registered that the rest of him was still in the opposite part of the room.
Deinde, fast losing his grip on sanity, was huddled in a corner, and even he was gripped enough by the unfolding events to ignore the black mass that was his hand. By this time, Baba Apata’s transformation into Leke was complete and he was revealed to be a tall, clean shaven young man. His trim physique was also being exposed rapidly as the unseen hands proceeded to divest him of his flowing robes. Stripped down to his underpants, he suddenly made a dash for a large wrapper that was draped on the wall, and he tore it off to reveal the door hidden behind it. He rushed through the door into the room that lay beyond and scrambling noises were heard as he fumbled with something or the other. He re-emerged wheeling a bicycle that had seen better days, the legend ‘White Superb’ inscribed across it. Leke’s face was swollen from all the slaps he had received, and without a word to either of them, he opened the door they had come in through, got on his bicycle, and cycled away furiously into the cascading rain.
Deidre stumbled to her feet, thankful that despite the hands tugging at her hair, her scalp was still intact. She knew for a fact that she wanted nothing further to do with Deinde but she still needed him at least for the moment. She grabbed him by the arm and hissed through clenched teeth, ‘I have to go to the salon’, gesturing at her hair. He reached out to touch it, but she backed away remembering how his hand had tangled with the hair the last time. She kept her grip on him firmly as they went into the driving rain, and got into the waiting car. She gave terse instructions to the driver, and then settled back into her seat grimly. Her mind was whirling as she struggled to come to terms with what she had just witnessed, and she made a mental resolution to pack up all Deinde’s possessions and return him, and his troubles to his wife once they got back to her apartment. First though, the hair had to go.
To be continued…………….