The Choice (chapter 29(cont'd)

Sarah sat on a bench under the big tree behind Baba Fagbami's hut, nursing her son. She liked the feel of the fresh air on her skin.

Now she could breathe with ease, unlike when she was inside the hut. Sarah pondered over Baba Fagbami's words. She couldn't imagine sleeping in a place like this. Was there even a space large enough to accommodate her and her son comfortably? Anyway, that was the least of her worries. What she couldn't dream of was lighting sacred lamps for Baba Fagbami's deities. The last time she checked, she was a Christian. Sarah glanced at Joseph. He had stopped suckling and was sleeping already. He appeared satisfied and at peace. It seemed he was breathing better now. Sarah pulled down her blouse and lifted Joseph unto her shoulder. Sarah drew a long breath.

Maybe Baba Fagbami was right. If she followed his instructions, Joseph might never need surgery, Sarah thought. It was merely to sleep over a night and kindle lamps, after all. Once she was done with all she had to do, she could return home and to church. She would only need to seek God's forgiveness. After all, God was said to be a loving Father. Clouds gathered in the sky, sending the sun into obscurity and beckoning to dusk. A teenage boy with a bag in his hand walked toward Sarah. "Baba said I should give this to you," the boy said. He dropped the bag on the bench, turned around, and left.

Sarah cast a suspicious glance at the bag. She looked away and stared at the hens and cocks retiring to their cage opposite where she was seated. Sarah heard her stomach rumble. Her last meal had been in the afternoon, long before she came to Baba Fagbami's place. Sarah glanced at the bag the teenage boy had brought again. She carefully placed Joseph on her thighs so as not to disturb his sleep. Sarah moved the bag closer. She peeped into it before sending her hand inside to bring out the content. Two covered plates and a cup of water. Sarah uncovered the first plate. Vegetable soup and chicken— the size four people could eat satisfactorily—smiled at her from the plate. Sarah's eyes widened. She opened the second plate, and a mountain of good-looking pounded yam beckoned to her. She fluttered her eyelids.

The food was bigger than she could finish. She covered the plates and looked away. She wouldn't touch it. She wanted nothing to do with Baba Fagbami and all his. The picture of the chicken and pounded yam kept playing in Sarah's head. Maybe because her stomach wouldn't stop rumbling. The food didn't seem it was purchased. It appeared homemade and enticing. Sarah wondered who could have cooked the food. Had Baba gotten people to prepare the meal? It didn't seem so. Sarah had been seated under the tree since her mother-in-law left. She hadn't seen anyone in the backyard. Probably Baba Fagbami made the food himself. Sarah swallowed. Just a few morsels, she thought. She was nursing a child and couldn't endure an empty stomach for long. Sarah washed her hand with some water from the cup. She opened the plates. With a finger, she drew a sign of the cross on the food, her own way of blessing food.

She took a morsel of the pounded yam. It was soft and smooth. She lifted it to her mouth after dipping it in the soup. Yummy. Whoever prepared the soup was a good cook. Sarah ate on. She lifted the chicken to her mouth and took a mouthful bite. She chewed. The chicken was fresh and well cooked. A thought crossed her mind. Perhaps the chicken she was eating was from one of the cocks brought to Baba Fagbami for ritual. Irritation stained Sarah's throat. She spat out the chicken remnant in her mouth. She couldn't eat sacrifices. But had she not already swallowed part of it? It made no difference. True, she thought and continued eating. After all, she saw many fowls in the compound. It could be one of them. Sarah ate to her fill. She washed her hands and returned the plates to the bag. Darkness fully settled in. Baba Fagbami emerged. He walked towards Sarah. "My daughter, how are you?" he said with a smile, a lantern in his hand. Sarah bowed briefly. "Baba, thanks for the food. I'm grateful," she said. "Thank the gods. They were the ones who entertained you, not me. I hope you enjoyed yourself," Baba Fagbami said. The gods entertained her. Sarah swallowed, unsettled. "Thank you, sir," she said. Baba Fagbami bobbed his head.

"It is time to light the sacred lamps. Please wake your child and nurse him before we start the process." Sarah nodded. "Alright, Baba." Less than an hour after, Sarah walked into the hut. Baba Fagbami approached her and handed her a white wrapper. "Please bring the child," he said and took Joseph from her. "Undress completely and wrap that cloth around you. I'll come back to tell you what to do," Baba Fagbami said and exited the hut with the child. Sarah obeyed. She packed her clothes into her bag and placed them on a pew. Baba Fagbami returned. He gave Sarah an ointment to apply on her arms and legs before handing her an ancient oil lamp. "This is the sacred lamp that illuminates the seven worlds that exist. With it, you will kindle the seven lamps that represent the seven worlds. Now, follow me,” Baba Fagbami said. Sarah followed him. She thought she had seen it all until she got into the inner chamber. She trembled as she walked in. Her eyes ran the rat race.

Brainpans hung from the roof, human skeletons decorated the chamber, a few black pots dripped blackish liquid, and unspeakable symbols of terror littered the place. The chamber reeked of fear. Baba Fagbami pointed to an altar with seven lamps atop it. "Those are the lamps you are to kindle. Once you're done, turn your back on the altar and walk out. There are warnings you must heed. One, the seven lamps must be kindled. Two, you must not look at the altar after the seventh lamp is lit. And three, the sacred lamp in your hand must not go off. Have I made myself clear?" he said.

Sarah bobbed her head, hoping the process would be over with soon. Baba Fagbami left Sarah. Sarah walked fearfully to the altar. Her brain wasn't even helping the matter. Eerie sound filled her head. She lit the first lamp, the second, third... Phew. The light threatened to go off. Sarah's heart thumped. She paused briefly before continuing the process.

Sarah lit the seventh lamp. She turned her back and walked out of the chamber. Baba Fagbami was waiting. He took the sacred lamp from Sarah. "You have done well, my daughter. Now your son will live. He will grow and be a mighty man of war," Baba Fagbami said. Sarah smiled, relieved. She had scaled through the test. "Thank you, Baba." Baba Fagbami returned the sacred lamp to its place and came back to Sarah. "My daughter, lie on that mat," Baba Fagbami said, pointing at the mat on the opposite end of the room. Sarah glanced at the mat. She wouldn't mind the hardness of the floor. It was only for a night, after all. But she had to stay with her son. “Baba, please bring my son. I want to see my son," Sarah said. Baba Fagbami smiled. "Fatele is with the gods as I have told you. The gods will return him in the morning. Now go lie down." Sarah lay on the mat and shut her eyes, waiting for sleep. Baba Fagbami put away the sacred lamp and walked toward Sarah.

He lay beside her on the mat and placed his hand on her hip. Sarah jerked backward. "What is it, Baba?" she blurted before she could control her voice. "Be quiet!" Baba Fagbami said and repositioned his hand on her chest. Sarah pushed Baba Fagbami's hand off her chest and sat up. She wouldn't take any nonsense from him. What right had he to touch her like that? He had overstepped his bounds. "Quiet? I can't be quiet. I could hardly tolerate the hard floor, let alone having to share the mat with you. Please excuse me, Baba!"

"Hear me. The gods have entertained you. It's your turn to entertain them," Baba Fagbami said. Sarah's eyebrows flew up. "What! Is this a joke? Do you mean I have to sleep with you to entertain the gods just because you gave me food?" "It is the demand of the gods. You have to do their bidding or face their wrath." "Call on your idols to come to lie with me themselves. You're a man, not a god," Sarah said and rose to her feet.

Baba Fagbami laughed hysterically. "Where are you running to? Where do you think you are? I doubt you still need your life. I am the mouthpiece of the gods. They will take whatever they want through me." Sarah hissed. "I saw perversion written all over you the moment I set my eyes on you. Your gods had a better look elsewhere. I'm not a woman they can mess with." Baba Fagbami shook his head. "You this woman. Hurry and come lie with me before I change my mind and invoke the wrath of the gods against you." Sarah ignored him and approached the door. Baba Fagbami stood and said some incantations. The door disappeared, replaced by a wall. Sarah jittered. The door had been just right there. Baba Fagbami laughed. "A child mistakes charm for vegetables. When a child is visited by dread, he must tremble. Whom do you think you are toying with? Me? I am Fagbamila, the son of the doorkeeper of heaven and earth.

I am he who rides tigers like horses. I am the one who drinks wine with death. Yet, death dare not touch me. I am the one who the gods have empowered to rule in the affairs of men," Baba Fagbami said, gesturing and demonstrating his speech. Sarah stood, blinking motionlessly. "Who talks, and you object? How dare you? Come here!" Baba Fagbami said. Sarah walked to Baba Fagbami like a rain-beaten fowl. "Are you now ready to entertain the gods or not?" Baba Fagbami said. Sarah lost her voice. She lay on the mat, her fingers quivering. Baba Fagbami smiled. "Good of you, my daughter. Now you will receive the blessings of the gods." Baba Fagbami lay on the mat beside Sarah. He stretched his hand and untied her wrapper.

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