By Prince Akatika
I am a grass-cutter man, and I have no other destiny than to cut grass in my entire existence. In my village, there is one bush animal called grass-cutter, which I like to eat. I am not this animal, however, but a human being. I do not cut the grass with my mouth. I use my sharp cutlass, which I stole in Ghana two years ago from Kofi Addo’s compound. All the people in my village know me well, and they would give me gifts and groundnuts whenever I cut their grass to their satisfaction.
I have a wife, who is as blind as the Ekwerre mask head. If this woman could see, she would have packed her loads and run away from my house. This is because of my inherited ugliness. However, my wife does not know I am ugly. Even if somebody were to tell her, she cannot run away because of her acute spiritual madness. I found this woman in a green, stinky gutter one evening while I was cutting the grass of Chief Obe. One terrible cobra was slithering close to her, so I killed it with my cutlass. Then I married her because of her gigantic buttocks. But that is a story for another day. Today, I shall tell you what happened after I cut the grass of Old man Saka.
This old fellow called Saka is a very impious soul, and he belongs in hellfire. This is because he employed me to cut his grass for fifty naira, and when I finished cutting, he did not come to pay me my money. So I went to his door to knock on it, but he did not answer. When I started using my cutlass to hack the door down, an elderly woman came to open it. Her wrapper was drenched with the gallons of water coming from her eyes and when she told me with a sad voice that her husband had just died, I said, “Madam, what you are saying is your own problem. All I want is my fifty naira.”
We argued for some minutes until she finally agreed to pay me the sum of two hundred naira–for my wasted time. Then, because it was getting dark, she invited me inside to have some dinner before I went home. I only agreed because my foolish wife could not cook, and this was the first time a person had invited me into their house. Old man Saka was lying on the floor when I entered, and truly, he was dead, so I jumped over him and sat down on the nearest chair, waiting for my food.
The old woman went into the kitchen to prepare something, and I got up and crept to where Old man Saka lay. Standing over him, I peered down at his face to check if in truth he had departed this life.
“Ha-ha-ha,” Old man Saka exclaimed in silence. He winked a wide-open eye at me. “My friend, I am not dead, but very alive.”
“Why in the name of the first god are you alive?” I asked him without fear. I fear no man, even if the man was previously dead and had come back to life.
Old man Saka explained to me that he did not love his wife anymore, hence his deadly pretension, and when she had gone back to her people as custom demanded, he would wake up back. As he was saying all this, I felt sad, because his wife had already promised to pay me two-hundred naira–four times what her husband and I had agreed! That is when I knew I must kill him myself or forfeit the extra one hundred and fifty naira.
As his wife returned with my food–which was draw-soup–I told Saka to sleep again and play dead. The weeping woman sat down beside me and when I tasted her soup, I told her that in my village, we had a better way of making draw-soup, and her own concoction was rubbish. I told her that if her late husband were to taste my soup, it would revive his soul from death to life. After saying all this, I decanted my soup out the window and walked into their kitchen. The old woman started to lament in the sitting room because she did not think I could wake her husband. I told her to wait for me there and remember to keep my two-hundred naira payment.
In the kitchen, I dished out some soup from the woman’s pot into my empty plate and then opened my belt pouch to collect some snake poison. I once had a rotten friend who cooked poisons, and when he did not have money to pay me for cutting his grass, he gave me a sample. So, therefore, I sprinkled all the white powder into the soup and mixed it very well. Then I returned to the sitting room. The woman was still in her chair, while old man Saka was on the floor, a motionless buffoon.
“This is the magic soup!” I said, lifting the bowl into the air so the woman could not see its floating pallor. “If this does not revive your dead husband, then the gods have claimed him.”
“Let me taste it first,” the woman said. She stood up and wiped off her tears.
I told her she was being stupid and she would die if she drank it and she sat down again. As I marched to where Saka was playing dead, the old man opened his other eye to wink at me. I ignored him. I knew he could not try to run away because his wife would never forgive him if she learned of his plan to hoodwink her.
The soup was not very much, therefore the poison was extremely potent. And as I poured it down Saka’s throat, he did not flinch. Once the bowl was empty, I sat down on the chair, folded my arms, and told his wife to watch and see magic.
“The gods have mercy!” Saka shrieked. He leaped off the floor like an agitated cricket as the corrosive poison flowed into his belly. His wife also jumped in exhilaration to clap her hands. But when she saw the white foam oozing out of her husband’s mouth and ears, she stopped clapping. Old man Saka came after me then, tackling and pushing me into the chair. There was no time to reach for my cutlass.
“What is happening? Why is he acting that way?” Saka’s wife was asking, but I could only focus on the narrow-minded man in front of me.
Saka’s hands clasped around my throat. And then his grip started weakening. I allowed him to remain in that position until he fell back to the floor, as dead as an unlucky bush monkey. Then I wiped down the froth on my cloth and got up.
“The magic did not work,” I told his wife. “That means the gods want your husband. Now, pay me my money.”
The woman had no more tears. She undid the wrapper around her waist; her eyes fixated on her twice-dead husband and pulled out four fifty naira notes, which she gave to me.
“Thank you,” I muttered, grabbed my cutlass, and departed from the house. Then I walked until I got to the long road leading to my small hut. This road was one thousand meters long in length. I chose it because nobody liked to follow it, so my money would be safe from robbers.
As I embarked on this long trek, I was thinking of all the things I could buy with my new money. I decided on buying a very fat goat and some yams with which I would prepare some foo-foo. I had only walked two meters and arrived at the first iroko tree when I heard somebody laugh at my back with a deadly voice.
“Turn around, killer of men,” the voice called out to me. “Turn back and escort your victim to the Deads’ Town.”
I knew that if I looked back, I would see no human beings. I knew the owner of the deadly voice would kill me, so I reached into my pouch and from it produced my Kanako pebble. I swallowed the juju stone hastily, extending my right leg at the same time.
“Father of everything,” I said, keeping my leg hoisted and my eyes on the road’s horizon. “At my next step, let this road become short.”
The Kanako juju is a road-shortening juju, and my Babalawo father gave it to me before he went into the bush and disappeared. As my leg hit the road, the remaining nine hundred and ninety-eight meters disappeared from my front, and I found myself in front of my small hut. My sightless and crazy wife was sitting on a wooden stool, having a heated conversation with an agama lizard. I knew if I informed her of my latest predicament, she would not understand what I said, so I left her with her lizard enemy. I rushed into my hut and arranged my most precious valuables into a small leather bag. Then I slung the bag over my shoulder and ran outside.
Old man Saka was in front of my house, waiting. He was holding my wife to himself and one of his hands was around her neck like a slave chain, squeezing her throat.
“Follow me now or I will kill your useless wife and take her to Deads’ Town,” he said to me and right away, I knew this was not the real Saka, but an evil spirit that had come to torment me. Where the old man’s eyes were supposed to be, two dusky orbs now rested.
“Kill her,” I said, raising my cutlass. “That is not my business.”
At once, the evil spirit snapped my blind wife’s neck, and she transformed into a black bird before disappearing from the world. By this unpleasant incident, I knew I had made a huge mistake in killing Saka, because he had been a member of the Eagle Society, and their members never forgave or forgot.
Using the killing of my wife as a distraction, I took off with my belongings and ran into the thick forest behind my hut. As I jumped over a rotten tree trunk, I began to feel ashamed of myself. I might have been a poor grass cutter, but I was still a man. Men do not run away from the people who kill their only family in the world. They fight. Therefore, my cutlass and I turned around to avenge the killing of my lunatic wife.
The spirit was hounding me into the forest, but when it saw me screaming and charging in the opposite direction towards it with fearless rage, it swiveled to escape. And that is how the hunter became the bush rat. I pursued the spirit back to the long road, and when we got to a tie-tie tree, the spirit ran into it and vanished from the world. I did not stop. I clenched my weapon handle to follow it before the spell expired, and when I hit the tree, it was very soft.
It is forbidden for the living to enter Deads’ Town, so when the juju deposited me there, I took a black cloth from my bag and covered my head with it. I knew it was Deads’ Town because many monsters were ambling about and I could no longer see Saka’s spirit that I had followed.
All the other spirits were walking backward, so I copied them, trying to keep my balance while looking for my deceased wife. As I moved past a giant bouncing on its head, I saw a man tied to a tree post and gasped. The man was human–like me, and his stomach was wide open. His innards were all but falling out.
“My son,” the living man cried, “Come and save me.”
I knew this was my missing witch-doctor father, so I tried to dodge and run away, but the spirits heard him and they all came to inspect me.
“Are you a witch?” A bodiless leg asked me, and I shook my head. Then the spirits surrounded me, pushing a handful of beans in my face. They told me to chew it because they hated witch humans. These were poisonous Esere beans, so I took care to swallow them, and then I vomited afterward.
“Not a witch!” The spirits declared and left me alone. As they departed, I ran to liberate my father, and we hid at the back of a red calabash. My father used a charm to seal up his ravaged belly, and we ran to look for my wife in another street. We found her a few minutes later sleeping in a pot of boiling water so we rescued her and carried her to leave the forbidden town.
“There are two roads ahead,” my father – the witch man – said. “Both of them are the exit.”
I nodded, and we jogged to the two converging roads. Once there, my father threw a juju onto the floor and the two roads merged and became one, but as we were about to leave, I heard a sound from above.
“Save me too!” Old man Saka’s familiar voice screamed from a tall iroko tree overhead. “I will pay you a big bag of gold when we reach my house. I promise!”
Against my father’s suggestion, I climbed to rescue the senile man from his fetters, and the four of us exited Dead’s Town undamaged. Once we had crossed the threshold into the real world, we carried my wife and Saka to my hut to give them water to drink. Then Saka woke up from his faintness and I followed him to his house to get my promised gold payment.
“My husband, you are back!” Saka’s wife ran out to welcome us, and the old man hugged her.
“I never want to die again,” he said, howling. “I am sorry for leaving you, my lovely wife.”
Then they kissed, hugged, and did their rubbish, but I was frowning and gripping my cutlass tighter. Saka looked back and when he saw my expression, he immediately rushed into his house. One hundred seconds later, he came out, and he was hefting a big bag of gold coins, which he handed over to me with gratitude, telling me no amount of gold was worth his life.
I snatched the bag from his wrinkly hands and marveled at how heavy it weighed. With the wealth, I no longer needed to cut grass. I was automatically a rich man! I hurried away from their house and sprinted the entire one thousand meters of the long road before reaching my hut. My father was sitting in front, so I ran to hug him.
“I am rich, father,” I told him with joy. “Where is my wife? I need to break the good news to her.”
He did not reply, and his morose countenance made me fear the spirits had stolen her again. So I rushed into the hut. My wife was not there, and I dashed out.
“Where is she?” I asked my father. “Where did she go?”
My father squinted. “When your wife woke up, she had been cured of her blindness and madness. She said she no longer wanted to live with a pauper like you, and she would use her big buttocks to attract genuine men of wealth.”
I began to cry, realizing I had loved her all the while. Now all I had left was a father and no wife. After wiping my tears, I went inside and cleared the small hut of all my possessions. Then I emerged bearing a jerry-can of kerosene and some fire-stones.
My father knew what I planned to do, so he stepped back as I doused my hut in kerosene. I burnt the house that unfortunate evening, and my father and I decided on leaving the village for a place where nobody knew us. I put the experience of my greedy wife behind me. I was rich, and they were bigger buttocks in the world. Then I dug a small pit at the outskirts of my village, just as we were about to leave, and in it I buried my cutlass, submerging my past life of suffering with it and hoping for posterity.
We walked to the mountains and scaled them, and we crossed the seven great rivers until we arrived at the land of the sun. There, I bought two modest houses with some of my gold, one for myself and one for my father. I gained a large pad of land, in which I grew a booming agricultural business. Everything became well in my life, and as I grew, I no longer felt the exhilaration of my grass-cutting days.
One sunny day, I went out for a stroll in the city and saw a beautiful woman near the stream. She did not have an ample backside, but I noticed she was bent over in the process of cutting grass. She was doing it all wrong; hence, I approached her.
“Hello,” I called out to her. “My name is Amos, and I was once a grass-cutter man!”
But once this woman heard my voice, she bounded into the stream with a great splash and swam to the bottom. Before she could completely evanesce, I saw her lower body morph into fish scales and I deduced she was a mermaid, one of the most beautiful species in the world.
Without thinking, I sprinted to the stream’s edge and pulled off my expensive clothes. After that, I inhaled a few mouthfuls of air, and then I jumped, knowing that my proper destiny was to experience living and not merely exist. Even dead men know the grass is unquestionably greener under the water.