In the afternoon, after the burial of the babalawo, Yosi returned home. He informed his wives of the events of the day. He ordered them never to mention the name “Gombii” in their compound. The family decided that Yosi would leave with their four sons very early the next day for Ileokuta.
Later in the evening, Yosi went to meet with the others at the edge of the sacred forest. All the elders were there. They discussed the events of the day for a long time. They all agreed that they were confronted with an unknown evil - a plague. They did not for once mention the name “Gombii”. It had become rather dangerous to mention its name. It was decided that they had to share the information with all the others in the neighbouring villages in order for people to take individual protective measures. They however took some decisions for collective security. They decreed that women should not go alone to the river - they must be accompanied by the village hunters. No one should go out at night. Women should put out the fires in their hearths before dusk. No one should whistle at night. All emergencies at night should be contained till first cockcrow. Children should not make noise at night. All gombo plants near the homesteads must be uprooted and burnt, and the ashes should be spread in the four corners of every hut in the village. And under no circumstances should anyone mention the name “Gombii” in any of the villages. The elders agreed that they would offer some sacrifices. The problem was that they did not know what to offer to appease Gombii. They agreed that they would all think about this. They would meet again in five days unless there was any emergency.
The next morning, before the first cockcrow, Yosi left with his four sons for Ileokuta. It was the hour of the day, when people believed that evil spirits and witches who had been hunting their human preys during the night would be returning home in different shapes and forms to their caves and crevices. Such spirits could be very dangerous if they came across any human beings. Yosi remembered a story from his childhood about a hunter who had lost his way in the nearby forest. Knowing the habits of the spirits, the hunter decided to spend the night under a tree until the early morning hours when he would try to trace his way back home. He thought the spirits would have retreated into their tree homes; the witches who flew about at night would also have returned to their beds in rock crevices. But this was a mistake. The hunter was close to his village when he looked up at a junction and saw an old woman, who beckoned to him to help untangle her foot from a trap that someone had set for animals. She appeared to be in great pains. The hunter approached the woman. He put down his bag containing all his charms. Then he bent down to release the foot of the woman from the trap. Suddenly, the woman began to laugh and speak strangely in a deep guttural voice. She put her hand on the head of the hunter and the hunter turned into a cat!
Yosi was determined that no spirit would turn him or any of his sons into a cat. He prepared and wore amulets. He munched some alligator pepper. He tossed a phial of cooking salt into the left pocket of his grey, baggy trousers. Next he threw a small, black-nylon-wrap of salt into the left pocket of the khaki shorts of each of his sons. Armed with a very sharp machete, Yosi left home with his sons for the twenty kilometre-trek to the District headquarters to board a truck going in the direction of the border.
The mood was sober in the lorry. It appeared that everyone on the lorry had heard about Gombii. They called it “the thing” and some suggested that it had been there all along before the Director announced its presence. Two people in the lorry narrated the experience of some people they knew who had been visited by Gombii. In one case, a whole family - the man, his wife and two young children wasted away. They were thin like broomsticks. They all had very bad coughs. No medicine or food could save them. The babalawo of their village said that the man, who had been a miner in another country, brought home the disease that killed him and his family. People now believe it was Gombii that did the job. In another instance, a whole family became paralysed in the legs when Gombii visited. It all started like a minor illness - a little fever. Then, little by little, the entire family members could not move their legs. Neighbours, friends and relatives, who had been helping and nursing the family, all fled when they heard about Gombii. No one would like “the thing” to visit his household. These conversations reinforced Yosi’s belief that he had taken the right decision concerning his sons.
Yosi and his sons arrived in Ileokuta in the evening. After asking around, Yosi located his brother’s house. To Yosi’s amazement, it was a big storey building with a total of sixteen rooms: eight on the ground floor and eight on the top floor. Yosi’s brother, Oye was not at home. However, his three wives welcomed Yosi and his sons and served them food. Oye arrived in a small blue car late in the evening. He was delighted to see his brother and his nephews.
After dinner, Yosi told his brother of witchcraft in the village and that he had brought his sons to stay with their uncle in Ileokuta for their protection. He did not mention Gombii because he did not want the evil thing to come into his brother’s house. Oye gave his brother a sharp look. He thought for a moment, and finally said, “Of course, they can stay with us here. They are my children too. I will be happy to be of assistance to you and your family anytime.” Yosi asked his brother if sending the boys to school would not pose a problem.
“School? What for? Why do they need to go to school?” Oye asked.
“They were in school in the village, and they need to continue with their studies,” Yosi replied.
“Of what use or benefit is that to you? Look at me. Did I go to any school? Look at my house. Look at my car. See my wives. I have money. Yet I never for once set my foot in any school,” Oye boasted.
“So, what are they going to be doing then if they do not go to school?” Yosi asked.
“Simple. I am a contractor in the quarries here. I employ many young people as apprentices to dig out gravel. They learn the trade for three years, after which they are free to become contractors too. And, of course, in the three years of apprenticeship, I send some money at the end of every month to their parents. You remember Kanako in the village of your senior wife. His three sons are here with me. How do you think Kanako got the money to marry his third wife? From here, it was from me! The children have been here for two years now and soon they will also become contractors like me,” Oye explained.
“And your own children? Where are they? What are they doing? Are they also learning to become quarry contractors?” Yosi asked.
“Oh! Those ones? They are all useless children. They all insisted on going to school. The eldest is in a private university. I wonder what they want to do with all the books they are reading. I am not happy with them at all. Can you imagine how much money they would have been making by now? Instead, they are all still hanging on me like parasites. I will not advise you to let that happen to you. In three years, your children will be making real money.”
“Hmnnn. Don’t you think that the work will be too hard for my sons. They only know farm work. Back in the village, they used to help out only after school and during school holidays,” Yosi said.
“Listen my brother; I have children as young as five years working for me in the quarries. How old are my dear nephews?” Oye asked.
“The first is twelve years old, the second is eleven, the third is nine and the fourth is eight,” explained Yosi.
“These are already men in the quarries. There are lots of younger ones learning the trade. The younger, the better. Trust me, Yosi. It is for the good of your children and for your own good too. If I had my way, all my children would be in the quarries.”
“I am not really sure about this,” Yosi said.
“Will you like to take them back to the village then?” Oye asked.
“Oh no, that is not what I am saying. But I will really like them to go back to school,” Yosi pleaded.
“Schools are expensive here. How are you going to pay the school fees of four children? Let us imagine that I house them and feed them, how about the fees and the books? I am proposing that you and my dear nephews begin to make money immediately and you are talking about schools where you have to pay money. Come on, Yosi, can’t you see the great opportunity you have with these strong sons of yours?”
“Are you sure my children will be okay? Do you promise to take good care of them?” Yosi again asked.
Oye became angry. “What do you mean, Yosi? Are you in any way suggesting that I will maltreat my own nephews? My own flesh and blood? My own brother’s sons?”
“Oye, I am sorry. I am just worried. I trust you will do your best for them,” Yosi conceded.
“In order to show you my good faith, I will pay you straightaway their three-year apprenticeship wages,” Oye said. He went into his room and soon re-emerged with a wad of notes. Yosi had never seen so much money in his life. He swallowed hard. Then he asked his brother if all the money was for him. The brother reassured him that it was all for him and that his sons would give him much more after their “graduation”. Yosi asked if Oye could also do something for his daughters. He trusted his brother more than his wife’s aunt. He believed that with his brother, his children would be safe.
“How many are they?” Oye asked.
“Three: aged ten, seven and six years old,” Yosi stated.
“Tomorrow, I will discuss with a friend and I will let you know before you go back to the village in the afternoon. I am sure we can find a solution. Let us go to bed now. Good night”
Yosi slept in one room. His children slept two per room on beds. It was the first time that Yosi and his children ever slept on beds.
Excerpts from "Gombii and Other Short Stories" By Abimbola Lagunju