I Put a Spell on You
Buddha said, “My thing has stopped working.”
They didn’t hear him at first. He had spoken with the softness of a reluctant confessor. They sat round Alex’s four-seater dining table, drinking wine and playing straight poker. They played with small bets, a hundred naira limit per bet, but it was still intense. Buddha had spoken at the end of a round which Tonse had won, as usual. Tonse’s previous winnings were stacked in front of him in neat piles of notes—hundreds, two hundreds, five hundreds, one thousands. As he scooped the latest pot from the centre, he sensed Buddha’s listlessness, and asked, “How far?”
That was when Buddha sighed and repeated himself. “Guys, nsogbu di. My thing has stopped working.” Again, his voice was no more than a whisper and they had to lean in, strain even, to hear him.
It was Alex’s turn to deal. Focused on thoroughly shuffling the cards, he asked, absentmindedly, “What thing?”
“What is praka?”
Tonse rolled his eyes before he explained. “His particulars.”
Tonse clarified again. “He means his equipment.”
Alex was still slow to catch on. Maybe it was because he was concentrating more on the cards, or maybe it was because Buddha actually ran his family’s oil tools company (with lots of equipment). He asked, “Which equipment?”
Buddha sighed, “Just negodu this one—forming like he doesn’t know the meaning of equipment.”
“Ebuka, I don’t know the meaning of equipment. Sue me.”
Anytime Alex wanted to irritate Buddha, and it was most times, he called him Ebuka, his given name. It wasn’t the name: it was his tone and the unspoken conflict between them. It had started nine years ago, when Alex had returned from the UK, armed with a masters and a new accent, and declared that he was going to stop calling him Buddha, because according to him, it was offensive to Buddhists: (ironically, it was Alex who had given him the nickname in their early teens). Ebuka, believing that Alex was being a poseur as usual, had replied that he too had lived in the UK for a total of four years (studying for his graduate and MBA degrees), and no Buddhists had complained to him about the nickname. Besides, Alex, who had also just declared himself atheist, shouldn’t take Panadol for a headache which Buddhists didn’t have. Alex had smiled, smugly, and insisted on using Ebuka (however, there would be occasional slips—both in the consistency of his accent, and the use of Buddha). And that was when Buddha, who was actually raised ajebuttered on all sides, developed his schtick of speaking to Alex with a heavy Igbo accent and mixing English with Igbo.
Buddha said, “Equipment is prick. Penis. Amu. You want me to spell that for you?” Then as an afterthought, he sighed and added, “Ewu! Idiot!”
Tonse’s feet drummed a staccato as he snickered. When he was done, he asked, “What do you mean by your praka has stopped working?”
Buddha shrugged. “It just stopped. It no longer receives signals.”
Buddha sighed and slunk in his chair, “I don’t know.”
“Have you . . . you know . . . tried?”
“Of course I’ve tried. I’ve tried with all my girls.” His slow-rolling thunder of a voice dropped to a pitiful rumble. “Nwokem, I need you to look at it.”
Tonse’s eyes widened. “You mean me?”
“Yes na! You’re the doctor.”
Tonse raised a warning finger and spoke slowly. “You know I’m an O and G guy, right? I look at vaginas, not penises.”
“C’mon . . . just . . . take a look. You may . . . you know . . . observe something. Or, you can refer me to somebody . . . ”
“OK. No wahala.”
“Is it possible today?”
Tonse raised an eyebrow. “You mean now?”
“I don’t mind.”
“Whoa! No! No! No!” Alex slapped the air, jumped from his seat, and faced Buddha, “What is wrong with you, man? You can’t just lay out your penis on my dining table. I eat here, you know?”
Buddha protested his innocence. “I wasn’t going to do it here. We’d have gone to the—”
Alex didn’t let him finish. “The answer is still no. Nobody is looking at any penises in my house.”
Tonse raised a hand. “Alex, you’re still vexing that he called you a goat? That small thing? Abeg chill.” To Buddha, he asked, “So do you have any problems peeing with it?”
“No, that’s fine. It’s just that I can’t get it to perform anymore . . . with any of my girls.”
Tonse asked, “And Moji?” Moji was Buddha’s wife.
There was a long pause before Buddha said, uncomfortably, “It works with Moji.”
“Then your thing is working na!”
“Not really. It only works with Moji, no one else. I think Moji has jazzed me.”
Tonse shot up. “Back up.”
“Jazz?” Alex asked.
“Why do you think Moji jazzed you?”
Buddha sighed, “It’s a long story.”
“Make it short.”
Buddha tilted his head sharply as he drained the wine in his glass. As he put down the glass, he frowned and shot an accusing look at Alex. His voice dropped low again, indistinct and hesitant. “Okay. Remember that I made a business trip to Abuja last weekend?”
“There’s this girl I was supposed to arrange on that trip. If you see her ehn—fine girl, achalugo nwanyi. It was supposed to be our first jammings. The plan was that she’d spend that weekend with me—”
“Have a baby by me, Baby, be a millionaire!”
His ringtone shut off the story. He looked at the caller ID, and whispered his fear, “It’s Moji!”
“We were not talking about you, Moji . . . I swear on my mother’s grave.” Buddha paced the room as he talked.
Tonse and Alex sniggered.
“ . . . OK. OK. OK. Leave this matter first. It’s a good thing you called sef. Soibi’s there with you, right? . . . No, I’m not trying to change the topic. I really want to speak to Soibi . . . What do I want to talk to her about? Well, we’re drinking in her house and we’re hungry, and Alex, her silly boyfriend, is too lazy to get us something to eat.”
Alex raised a middle finger at Buddha.
“Ah, Soibi. Nwunye anyi, our wife . . . How now? . . . Oh you heard me? Good. Good. So I don’t have to repeat myself. We’re hungry here but Alex says he doesn’t know where anything is in the kitchen. You have spoilt that boy, you know?” He shook his head. “There’s fresh fish pepper-soup in the big pot?”
Tonse whooped. Buddha raised a fist as he hailed Soibi. “Ah, Omalicha nwa. Akwa nwa. Chukwu gozie gi.”
When Buddha ended the call, he turned to Alex. “And we asked you o. We asked several times if there was anything to eat. Anything to go with this your rubbish red wine.” He winced his pain.
“Knowing Alex, he probably thought it’s an abomination to eat fish with red wine,” Tonse said drily.
“Actually, you’re right. Fish and red wine is a faux pas.” Alex sneered at Buddha. “But, I’m not surprised that you didn’t know this, Ebuka. After all, you just called a classic Bordeaux rubbish.”
“I don’t care what you call it—it tastes like cough medicine and piss.” Buddha put his glass on the table, “Abeg, I no dey drink again.”
Tonse added, “Shey, there’s is Coke in this house?”
Alex, on his way to the kitchen, pointed to the fridge in the dining room.
“Thanks.” Tonse opened the fridge, grabbed a can of Coke, opened it, took a long gulp and sighed his pleasure. “Ah . . . I needed that to cleanse your expensive plonk off my taste buds. Besides, Coke doesn’t act like it’s too classy to go well with fish.”
“Your father, Tonse! You hear me? I say, your real father!”
Tonse laughed as he shrugged off the yab.
Twenty minutes later, after polishing off two big bowls of fresh fish pepper-soup, Buddha belched, sighed his pleasure, and wiped his lips with a napkin. He studied Alex for a while, and sighed again before asking, quietly, “Why haven’t you married the girl?”
Tonse chuckled and almost choked on his pepper soup.
Alex scowled. “Why do you keep calling her ‘our wife’?”
Buddha sighed, “Nwannem, you have not answered my question. You’ve dated Soibi for long, too long sef. You live together. Apart from us and your mother, she’s the only other person who can put up with your crase. You’re in love with her. She’s crazy about you. So, why haven’t you done the proper thing?”
As Alex opened his mouth to speak, Buddha said, “And no, don’t give me that your usual oyibo rubbish about marriage being a dogmatic, sexist, and oppressive socio-cultural convention.”
Alex smiled. “Okay. What if I told you that Soibi and I agreed not to get married?”
“When was this agreed?”
“When we first met and started dating. That was during our masters.”
Buddha rolled his eyes and groaned, “That was nine or ten years ago, in London: dem no send marriage for London. Besides, you were her rebound from that guy she was engaged to, but later discovered was already married with kids. What did you expect her to say then? Things have changed now. She . . . could be under intense pressure from her family and . . . ” There was something about the way Buddha trailed off that revealed that he knew more than he was letting on.
Alex noticed it. He whispered, “Has she been talking to Moji about this?”
“Look, your usual rebellious-to-societal-norms shit may have worked when you were nineteen but, Nwannem, you’re forty-three now. Now, no one is going to think you’re being contrarian: they’ll just assume you’re an efulefu. And stop thinking about yourself for once. This is not about you. This is about the woman you claim you love . . . and the child you guys are about to have.”
Alex smiled. “So, she told Moji?”
“Congratulations in advance, man,” Tonse said. He picked up his forgotten glass of wine. “I’ve been waiting for a while to toast you on this.”
“You knew too?”
“Guy, I’ve been an O and G doctor for sixteen years. I should be able to tell when a woman is pregnant even when she’s not yet showing, yes?” He raised his glass. “A toast?”
Buddha did the honours. “To Alex’s child. If it’s a boy, may he not turn out to be an onye nzuzu like his father.”
“Ise!” Alex replied. “And, if it’s a girl?”
“Ah . . . ” Buddha said. “May God keep her far away from men like us.”
They considered it for only a brief moment. Then, rather enthusiastically, they chorused, “Amen!”
“So, Buddha, what about you and the girl in Abuja?”
“Oh yes . . . so . . . she came to my hotel suite. Mentally, I’m rubbing my hands and licking my lips because of the kind of sweet thing I was going to chop. She stripped, sharp-sharp. She was my kind of girl—ready for action, no plenty grammar.
“And that was when I first knew that I was in trouble. I can’t explain it. I mean, I’m there and I know what I’m looking at. It was surreal. My brain is reminding me of what I’m seeing. Naked woman. Silky chocolate skin: real chocolate o, not Choco Milo. I’m looking at ripe bobby, incredible waist to hip ratio, even thigh gap sef. I am seeing all these things but my praka was doing as if I was looking at a mere table. It refused to pick any signal.
“I worried about it for a moment, but I thought, OK, maybe I’m tired, or maybe I had too much to drink. I expected that things would get better once we got going. And as if she could read my mind, she started to blow me. I relaxed, expecting things to pick up. But, mba nu, nothing. Nna mehn, that was when I realized that clap had turned to dance. I start freaking out. Not shouting or anything like that, just silently going mad in my head.
“But this girl, good girl—it seemed like she took it as a challenge. Which was good for me, abi? She went through her amazing repertoire. She blew ooo. She played piano on my body sef. Nothing. No movement. I even started to pray. I mean, as she was blowing, I was praying. Maka Chukwu! The spirit was willing but the body was weak.
“Eventually, she started to tire. Me sef, at one stage, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started feeling sorry for her. I stopped her. I said, Nne, it’s enough. You have tried. Don’t overdo this thing and give yourself locked jaw . . . ”
Buddha paused while they guffawed. He even allowed himself a small smile.
“So we took a break. Ordered room service. Watched a movie. Gisted a bit. She acted as though nothing remarkable had happened, which in a way, was correct. Like I said, she’s a good girl. Smart, still in uni but she can school all three of us, easy. We fell asleep. In the morning, we tried again.” He shook his head. “Still no action.”
“I changed my plans and returned to PH that day o. I called up Voke, my regular, and headed straight to her house. Ol’ boy, the same thing happened. Praka refused to stand. Guys, I won’t lie. I went into Voke’s bathroom and wept like a child.”
Buddha took a sip of wine, without noticing it. “I went home. Moji didn’t act surprised to see me. In fact, she was smiling, a one kain smile, like she knew what happened to me. She kept on asking how my trip went, still smiling that gloating smile. That was when I began to suspect something.”
Alex snorted his disbelief. “Because she was smiling, you think she jazzed you?”
“Nwannem, I know this woman. I’ve been married to her for twelve years. She is the mother of my three children. If I tell you that she knew what happened to me, hapu the matter: best believe me.”
“Abegi. I don’t believe Moji will do that.”
“You don’t know Moji. She threatened to deal with me if she caught me again with any of my chicks. You only see her sweet and loving public persona. She’s like that o, but she’s also more vindictive than Genghis Khan.”
“Have you tried taking something for it? Viagra?” It was Tonse.
“Guy, I tried that and two other kinds of over-the-counter medication. They didn’t work. I’m just forty-two, man. I’m not old enough to be taking this kind of medication and it failing me.”
Tonse said, “No be by age.”
“So, how are you going to treat your erectile dysfunction?” Alex asked.
“Haven’t you been listening? It’s not erectile dysfunction. I can get it up, but only with Moji.”
“Oh, the same Moji who put a spell on your penis. Right.”
“Ever heard of magun?”
Tonse smiled. “True story. Guy in my neighbourhood slept with another guy’s wife. Died on the spot, the spot being on top the unfortunate woman . . . in her bedroom. Word on the street is that the woman’s husband was a renowned connoisseur of jazz.” He sighed. “I don’t understand people sometimes. They still brought the corpse to the clinic. I don’t know if they were expecting a miracle: like I was supposed to play Jesus and raise him up.”
Alex said, “Maybe he had a heart attack or something. Where’s the autopsy report?”
Tonse laughed, “Abegi. I work with vaginas: I don’t do autopsies. Besides—”
Buddha cut in, “Guys, you know my elder brother, Obinna, the pastor . . . ”
“He screwed this married woman once—”
“As a pastor? Na wa o!”
“No no no. This was years ago. He wasn’t a pastor then.”
“Oh ok. I for don fear. Back to the story, jor.”
“So, Obinna shagged this married woman. When he finished, he couldn’t pull out.”
“What do you mean he couldn’t pull out?”
“He just couldn’t. He said it was clamped.”
“Didn’t he wait for his praka to fall before pulling out?”
“Praka fell tay tay. Shrunk to the size of tiny ube sef. He still couldn’t get it out. Nna men, the thing ah ji lock down. Maximum security.”
Alex threw his hands in the air. “Oh, c’mon, guys. Google penis captivus.”
“Oh yes, go on, please lecture the gynecologist about penis captivus.”
“Tonse, if you want to be treated like a doctor, then talk like one.”
“You can’t be encouraging Ebuka with all his AfricaMagic Yoruba shit. There is a scientific explanation for everything.”
Tonse shook his head, “Alexander Nosakhare Osagie, sorry to burst your bubble, but there isn’t a scientific explanation for everything. You, a Bini man, are asking for a scientific explanation for jazz, abi? Continue. Your ancestors would spin in their graves if they could see how much of an educated idiot you’ve become.”
Buddha asked, “What is penis captivus?
“So how did Obinna resolve the problem of the . . . clamped penis?”
Buddha smiled. “Now, that’s the interesting part. He said the woman recited some incantations. And miraculously, he was free.”
Alex insisted, “I call bullshit.” But there was a hint of a growing doubt in his voice.
Buddha shrugged. “The thing scarred Obinna. He stopped chasing women, got serious with God. Hasn’t looked back since.”
“Buddha . . . ”
Tonse smiled as he said, “It seems people are always trying to damage the penises in your family.”
Buddha roared his laughter.
Tonse continued, “You know, you’re my man and all. But, if your suspicion is true, I can’t honestly say I blame Moji. Your waka waka was too much. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m forced to have some grudging respect for your wife. She’s finally checkmated you.” Alex nodded and chuckled.
Buddha shook his head, carefully, like it was heavy and belonged to someone else. “Ah . . . now I know the meaning of the saying—na who dem catch, na im be thief. You’re laughing today. But you forget that Moji is close friends with your wife, and with Soibi too. I pray that Moji shows them the way, and they checkmate you too. Let us see if you will be laughing and having grudging respect then.”
The silence fell suddenly, heavy and uneasy. They wrestled with the weight of unspoken thoughts.
“So are you going to ask Moji to, erm, free you?” Alex sounded different, concerned.
“Guy, how will I put my mouth to even raise such a conversation?”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”
“Hey . . . wake up.”
He had called five times before Soibi stirred. She was a heavy sleeper, preferring long lie-ins on weekends, like today, Saturday. He was an early riser; partly because he had to leave early for work, and mainly because of his insomnia. He sat by the edge of the bed, slipped his hand under the duvet and gently rubbed the back of her thighs. She slapped his hand, closed her legs and burrowed deeper under duvet.
He yanked off the duvet leaving her writhing, naked under the sudden rush of air conditioned chill. He leered at her body: rangy, a whisper of a baby bump, small breasts with the perkiest nipples in the world (coffee breasts, he called them). But his favorite part of her body was her eyes: big, bright pools of wonder and mischief, with lashes so lush that she had never used mascara.
“Oooohh! It’s too cold!”
He picked up a mug from the breakfast tray he had earlier set on the table, and handed it to her. “Here, coffee.” He had made it the usual way—black and unsweetened for himself; creamed and Laser-honeyed for her (she claimed any other brand of honey would just dull the taste of the beverage).
She sat up and smiled as she sipped. “Perfect.”
He nodded towards the covered plates on the tray and said, “I got you breakfast.”
They shared housekeeping and cooking—an agreed rule of their relationship. She made lunches and dinners, he did breakfasts. It was ironic because he usually didn’t eat breakfast, just coffee: she was the breakfast person. “Niiice. What is it?”
It always warmed him, the way her eyes lit up. She loved akara. One of her fondest childhood memories was following her father most mornings to buy akara from a woman who fried them down the street. Then they would eat them, piping hot and greasy, from the newspapers they were wrapped in, as her father drove her to school.
“You bought it from Mama Peace? Thanks, Baby.” When she moved in with him, none of the akara sellers in his neighbourhood would do. Whenever she wanted akara, she insisted that he drove to Mama Peace, her customer in her former neighbourhood, to get some.
“No. I made it.”
“Nope.” He placed the breakfast tray over her legs and lifted the covered plates. “Today is your lucky day. You’ll finally get to eat the best akara in the world.”
He too had some history with akara. His maternal aunt had taught him how to make it when she took him in after his parents died just after his thirteenth birthday. In her shipshape house, akara was twice a week on her meals timetable: breakfast on Sundays and dinner on Wednesdays. He was responsible for making it and became an expert, so expert that till now, he genuinely believed and boasted that no one made better akara than him: (it didn’t matter that the last time he made it was about twenty-five years ago). Nevertheless, he still hated the process so much that he refused to make it. Till today.
“Awww. Smells nice. Hope it wasn’t too stressful to make?”
He shrugged and lied, “It was OK.”
She took a tentative bite, hmmed, then gobbled the rest of the akara ball in quick bites. She paused her nippy shoulder dance of joy, when she noticed him considering her with an inscrutable smile. Mouth full, she mumbled, “What?”
“Well . . . is it the best you’ve ever had?”
She nodded and laughed and spat flecks of half-chewed akara. They settled on her chin, chest, coffee breasts, and the bed. He knelt on the bed as he used a napkin to wipe them off her.
And that was when, still on his knees, he said, “Marry me.”
“Hello . . . Moji . . . Wait, wait, wait. I have gist . . . Guess what I’m doing now? . . . Sitting in the bathroom and rocking a beee-yooo-tiful opal and pearl ring on my engagement finger. Alex proposed!... Haha, Moji, stop screaming . . . Yeah, finally . . . He wants a quick wedding . . . Within two or three months . . . Mmm mmm, because of the baby and all . . . Yes, I said opal and pearl. You know Alex na. He thinks diamonds are too cliché . . . Yes, my sister. Thank God o . . . And thank you, Moji . . . For that thing you gave me na . . . Yeah, I put it in his pepper-soup, just like you said . . . Without it, this wouldn’t have happened. Thank you . . . Hahaha. You can say that again . . .
“ . . . Meanwhile, I’ll need your help again . . . There is this girl Alex is seeing: she’s not even fine sef . . . She’s an intern in his office . . . He thinks I don’t know . . . WhatsApp na! You know how WhatsApp messages can be hard to delete sometimes . . . It’s not just that he’s shagging her, he’s friends with her: he tells her almost everything that happens in this house . . . Are you telling me? I know, my sister. That’s how wahala starts . . . They must break up o . . . Before the wedding na . . . Abeg, abeg, my day has to be perfect . . . She’ll always smell like fowl shit to him? Moji, you’re too funny. I love it . . .
“ . . . On to more important things, jor. We have a wedding to plan . . . Venue, décor, cake, photographer, aso ebi. For the White, I’m thinking something angelic, heavenly . . . All white. I want my wedding pictures to slay. Just like Solange . . . ”
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