The forest used to be a burial ground for those that had defiled the land: twins whose only crime was being born as two from their mother’s womb, incestuous daughters who had seduced their fathers, traitors who had betrayed their people, slaves who had refused to be obedient, and those who committed ochu. They were often buried alive.
Many heard the wailing of spirits, the unsettled souls who cried for redemption, to be granted funerals in keeping with the laws of the land. Ghosts were seen wandering around these parts, dumb and sad-looking.
Ifunanya had never seen a ghost, not even when her mother died two years ago did she see or hear from her spirit, although everybody else reported seeing her.
Her mother had died a horrifying death, killed by one of those new machines people from the city rode in – the ones they called motor-cars – as she was crossing the road.
Even though she was given a funeral befitting her status as Lolo – the wife of a titled man – her spirit had wandered the earth refusing to go to the land of the dead, until the high priest of Ogwugwu had come to enchant her grave and drive her to the spirit world.
Ifunanya prayed not to see any ghosts as it would be too frightening and the memory would stay with her forever. Being dragged by her husband and two men of his family to see Ogwugwu was terrifying enough.
Who knows what Ogwugwu will say? Why am I afraid? Surely the gods do not lie.
She certainly didn’t want the emotional burden of encountering a ghost. Scared, she gripped her husband, Ngwu’s hand. To her surprise, he squeezed it back and smiled at her.
He had been cold with her, ever since his mother blamed their three years of childlessness to the fact that she might be an ogbanje. After all, she was as beautiful and fair as the women who were said to come from the spirit world to torment their loved ones.
However, Ngwu had taken the suggestion to heart and made arrangements for them to see the mighty oracle, Ogwugwu. Now she was scared he would send her away if the oracle would say that she could not bear children.
“Ifunanya, why are you clinging to Ngwu like a pumpkin leaf to the stem? Are you scared?” Her father-in-law, Pa Okoye teased.
“No papa, I’m holding him so I don’t fall,” she lied.
“Tah! I know you lie. But I forgive you. This forest sings silent sorrowful songs saturated in tragedies. Were it not for my strength as a man, I would have clung to my brother, Mazi Omenka here.”
They all laughed. Pa Okoye was a funny man, a good man. He was tall and well-built like his son Ngwu, but lacked the serious manner that made Ngwu a ruthless hunter, fierce wrestler, heartbreaker of maidens’ hearts and a formidable enemy. Pa Okoye had made his riches as a craftsman, weaving mats, hand-fans and wall arts that were shipped to faraway lands and sold to white-men.