Huff, huff, huff.
Itoh panted as she squatted to catch her breath. This was the last shop in her area to check for the precious fuel that would save them all.
She mentally crossed her fingers and prayed this provision shop had what she was looking for.
The tears welled up inside her eyes. Itoh was strong. Strong people did not cry. That’s what her mother taught her.
Her mother lied.
The shop attendant had no way of knowing why the pretty girl, who was obviously not from around suddenly broke down in tears after hearing that they didn’t have any kerosene for sale and hadn’t in fact, sold it in years.
The pretty girl asked if perhaps, she could have just a little of the ones not for sale, the ones they used to light their coal pots.
Such impudence the shop attendant thought. Who the hell was she to act all high and mighty? Just because she and her family lived in the kiosk that doubled as a shop gave the pretty girl no right to think they were poor.
The shop attendant bit down on her lip. She admired the girl’s beauty before. She admired her innocent eyes. But now she knew better. Lies, masks…all of it. This girl was not nice.
The shop attendant hated seeing people cry but this was a ruse by the pretty girl. She just knew it. Even if she did have any kerosene, she would definitely keep it away from this pretty girl, looking so innocent and soaking herself in tears.
Itoh was devastated. She had entered all the shops she came across. But nobody had it. A memory came to her. A memory of TV ads highlighting the benefits of LPG over coal. The ads that demonized the continued use of charcoal and coal pots. The ads that had consequently rendered kerosene an irrelevant commodity.
She cursed the memory.
But she didn’t blame the shops. She had never used nor needed to use kerosene her whole life. That changed just two weeks ago but none of these people would ever have to know about it; if she could only find some kerosene.
These people would know hell if she and her companions failed.
There was nowhere left to go. Itoh just hoped Temi, Sitso, and Rya had better luck than her. If they did —
All four of them met at the railway crossing, panic clearly plastered across their faces.
“No luck” they all chanted. They were, fucked.
A long time ago, an evil doctor with a full-on beard and a shiny potbelly sacrificed children, men, and women for his magics. He grew powerful by the day. As his powers increased, so did his acclaim.
There were stories about him everywhere. At first, they were dismissed as mere fantasy since they were first reported in the imaginatively bizarre and quickly disregarded newspaper, P&P.
It didn’t take long before the evil doctor’s exploits crossed over from fanciful, unserious reportage into serious news. Dr. Gbekley’s stories stirred a national storm of fear, panic and an all-time religious frenzy.
The doctor should have seen his end coming. Instead, he reveled in the newfound attention. Finally, his powers were being recognized. He was being visited by “big men and enormous boss ladies ”, discreetly. He was a saviour to a lot of people.
In exchange for his help to his VIP clients, a blind eye was shown to his actions. He got cocky. Brazen attacks on the streets, raiding, kidnapping, sacrificing…the streets were his. Everyone feared him.
Until, the people didn’t any longer. The people, mothers, fathers, brothers, best
friends, lovers, neighbours and concerned citizens who had lost, were about to lose or saw the need to end it all immediately reached down into their hearts for the smallest flames of courage they could find.
They gathered all their weak sparks, about 500 of them to create a raging inferno neither Dr. Gbekley nor his cohorts saw coming. The evil doctor was flushed out of his home onto the streets and forced to lie in a puddle of mud in a neighbourhood where the goats, chickens, and cows had no need for bathrooms.
The great Dr. Gbekley was reduced to nothing. With their courage restored, and
with sticks, kerosene, tires, and matches, the mob attacked. Different feet made lasting connections with the doctor’s body. The sticks came down heavy, painful, mercilessly.
The doctor’s powers had deserted him. There was nothing he could do. The mob drenched him in all the kerosene they could find. He ate the kerosene drenched dirt and swallowed, unwillingly, a lot of the smelly fuel. That’s when he felt something, a flicker of his power.
Though faint, it was useful. But he was too weak to fight the mob. Instead, he channeled his ebbing strength with the faint power he could feel into the kerosene-drenched dirt he lay on.
He began casting his spell, a most wicked spell.
Some men forced two old truck tires over his body. Gbekley thought it was poetic justice for it was a similar act that had led him on his path to power. His little brother was lynched Ghana-man style when he was caught stealing a loaf of bread. That bread was meant to feed Gbekley, his brother and little sister. They hadn’t tasted food in a week. His little sister died from hunger a few days after.
Gbekley then swore on his siblings to amass all the power he could find so as to never go hungry again. Poetic justice.
The mob let a little boy through. He held a match stick. Gbekley recognized the boy. He had taken his twin brother. He had planned to come for him as well. Gbekley looked into the little boy’s eyes and saw nothing but anger and hatred.
Good. That would come in handy.
The boy lit the match. It burned, it burned hot. Gberkley could feel his body
crumbling away but paid it no mind. He cast his spell in cyclonic fervor. He stretched out his hand to the boy. The boy backed away terrified. He stretched out his spiritual hand and touched the boy.
He melded the boy’s hatred with his own. Of course, the boy died and that was the last evil thing Gbekley did.
That’s what they all thought.
Itoh didn’t know how but she was the first to sense it 2 weeks ago. She sensed the doctor’s evil in her bones.
She had stepped out of her house. The clouds had stopped playing hide and seek with the sun and just let the big yellow ball glow. The weather was clear. Except it wasn’t.
It was raining. But unlike anything Itoh had ever seen. It was raining from the ground. The water rose then evaporated as it hit the sky. Itoh loved the smell of rain. She loathed this rain. It smelled like kerosene.
A flaming hole had suddenly opened in front of her and from it, a creature with the face of a pig, the fangs of a dog, the ears of a bat, the horns of a goat, the torso of a bodybuilder and the legs of a horse emerged.
The creature slammed its gorilla fists on the ground and the ground quivered. Itoh could swear she was dreaming. But the people on the street had reacted along with her.
Out of nowhere, a n aked, creepy w oman slowly rose from the ground. Her hair looked like a brewing storm and her legs…there were no legs. Just a fishtail.
Itoh let out an audible gasp. The fishtail woman looked at her alarmed.
You can see me?
A look of confusion burned across the woman’s face, followed by disbelief.
You. You can ‘elp me stop ‘im.
Without warning, the woman grabbed Itoh’s hand and together, they disappeared.
Itoh ended up in the woman’s library under the sea. She was in the M ami Wata’s abode. There, the mami wata started:
Gbekley did this. ‘e took away my beauty for ‘imself.
‘e cast the evilest spell the day ‘e died. I’ve been battling the demons ‘e created from ‘is burning for 15 years and I’m tired. I’m old and I can’t do this anymore.
The demons always returned and I never understood why. But I do now, Itoh. You being ‘ere makes it all clear.
Burning them or decapitating them not enough. It never ‘as been. These demons were born of fire, fire borne from dirt, kerosene, ripe hatred, and Gbekley’s magic.
I’ve battled the demons with all the necessary counters save for one, the catalyst, the kerosene.
Itoh, I need you and your friends, the ones like you, whom you’ve shown the demons that caused the recent earthquakes and massacres to bring me kerosene, any amount of it so we can destroy the demons.
I fear our failure will bring ‘im back from the grave. ‘E want that. I don’t and I promise you, no one needs it.
And thus Itoh and her friends set off on their mission from Adze, the ugly mermaid.
But they had failed.
Itoh cursed her luck for being in Accra. Elsewhere and she would have found kerosene easily, no questions asked. She could do that now but there would be no time.
The demons were going to attack in a few hours and there was nothing they could do.
Stupid, stupid modernization was all that run through Itoh’s mind. “What the fuck happened to all the kerosene?” Rya suddenly yelled. Rya did not swear. Ever.
Rya had on his favorite t-shirt. A light blue fabric that had the infamous quote, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime!” printed elaborately on it.
Itoh feared what Rya might do to his shirt. It was Itoh’s favorite shirt too. All four friends sat on the rails, anxious for the dark days to come.
A little girl walked up to Itoh, a sad glow in her eyes. She looked like she had walked on the sun and back. Twice.
You could smell her sweat and poverty even in an orchard of lavender trees. Rya, ever the generous giver was too angry to even acknowledge the innocent little girl in rags, begging for money.
From the way she moved, it was obvious sales had been non-existent, terrible at best.
She had a pan on her head. Whatever she was selling, today wasn’t her lucky day.
Itoh had just enough money for the kerosene. But they hadn’t had any luck yet so she concluded, “what the hell”.
She offered the girl GH¢20 cedis. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was something of a life changer for the little girl.
Itoh heard Rya mumbling gibberish angrily to himself. He did that whenever he was upset.
Itoh looked up at him and paused. She read the words on his shirt. Now wasn’t really the time but the words spoke to her at that moment.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Itoh decided the little girl had to earn her keep; however generous it was going to be. “What are you selling?” she queried, absentmindedly.
“Ke-kerosene” she stammered.
Written by Kadi Yao Tay and originally published in Tampered Press. Feature illustration by Collyde Prime and Mohammed Agbadi.