Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is a story that revolves around a mother’s efforts to find out if her daughter’s weird behavior is a result of a new friendship with an old neighbor. After moving to the home of her dreams, a young mother uncovers uncanny mythical happenings that threaten her young daughter’s life.

I had never thought my husband, Tayo, would get a big break at work. It’s not like I don’t have faith in my husband; It’s just that I had gotten used to the little money from a stressful, exhausting banking job for years. 

Nonetheless, Tayo’s passion is like no one else’s. Even though it paid peanuts, he gave it his all.

I speak like a Gen-Z person when I say, “It could not have been me,” I was not as dedicated and hardworking as he was. Then again, I was only a housewife. I don’t care about filing papers or the latest tech trends. My concerns were the household, clearing the dishes, doing laundry, cooking, etc.…

Tayo would wake up every day by 5 AM, even on days he didn’t have to work. One of the reasons I fell in love with him was how oddly organized and dedicated he was. Tayo had a structure for everything- He had a to-do list in one dirty old jotter he carried around. 

And he always had a smile on his face, even in poverty. 

How and why?

It was charming, even when it infuriated me. Tayo also had a knack for encouraging people. When our daughter, Farida, turned six, and I worried about how we would fend for her, he rocked me back and forth, whispering words of encouragement and faith. 

I was gravely worried about Farida and her lack of socialization. The young one was barely speaking to anyone, including me! Her mother! She would not even play with her mates during playtime. It scared me. 

Tayo was not plagued with constant worries and fear like I was. He was hopeful.

"Everything will be okay, Shade. We’ll be alright. God will come through." He said.

“When will he?”

“When the time is right.” 

From his lips to God’s ears. It worked. God heard our prayers and came through with blessings.

Tayo had a miracle- an unbelievable one. He was promoted to have a job paying up to millions. When he told me, I sat down, staring into blank space, waiting for the dream to end. It wasn’t a dream.

It wasn’t a dream when we moved to a fancy estate in Ikeja; it wasn’t a dream when my daughter was admitted into a beautiful school—none of it.

We left the other life behind- the life in a dirty apartment in Ojulegba with no light or water, to a life of luxury. It was a beautiful life. Even when Tayo told me the water was abundant, I still wanted to fetch water into many buckets. I had to be cautious. 

This new life also came with beautiful people- new work friends for Tayo, Farida’s good school, and neighbors- those who didn’t scream and shout and played heavily traditional songs in the middle of the night…

The normal ones. At least, that’s what I thought. 

Mama Siren was a woman who lived beside us in our new house. She was one of Tayo’s distant relatives- maybe a great aunt or something; I am not sure of the family tree. 

She had the greyest of hair, walked around with a stick, and had a frown on her wrinkly old face constantly. Even when I greeted her, the weird older woman would nod and move away. She never tried to converse with us or anyone in the neighborhood. 

The Judgmental Nigerian in me was convinced she was a witch out to cause chaos. 

I wasn't the only one who thought so. One of our neighbors, Fancy and beautiful Davina, also thought Mama Siren was weird and suspicious. Mama Siren didn’t seem like someone to live in this exotic estate. Forgive me, but she seemed like the kind who strived in a run-down hut in the bushes. 

Mama Siren never spoke to anyone- Only smiled at little children. 

Why only children? Was it because they were innocent and knew of no evil? It terrified me.

I wanted to restrict my daughter from being close to her because I was terrified of what spirit she could catch or any spell she could be under. 

Besides, Farida was already scaring me. I initially thought that she would be able to socialize more with children in our new life, but no, it got worse. She did not say anything to anyone. I would take her to birthday parties and nothing; instead of playing on bouncing castles, she would stay in one corner. 

I had confided in Davina, who seemed like the only person who could be my neighborhood friend. Every other woman was extremely snotty and didn’t like to mix with the “new money.”

Davina comforted me and even started to help me with Farida. On the first day, she visited with cookies and games for Farida to play with. Farida consumed the cookies and did nothing. 

A few other visits from Davina began to open my daughter up, but it was a slow development.

I was thrilled about it and I know Davina was glad to spend more time with Farida, since she didn’t have any children.

“Why does your husband travel a lot?” I asked her,” Do you think he does it to escape thinking about your infertility? Without kids?”

“I have no idea. I just collect the money he gives and enjoy my life.” She answered.

“Would you ever think about adopting?” I honestly thought she was the kind to adopt. There’s this thing about fancy women and adoption. 

She smiled and shook her head,” Oh no…” She opened up the plastic pack where her delicious cookies were. She extended them to Farida, who smiled in response.

“I think I already have a lot of children.” She smiled heartily at Farida,” But it’s my head. I wish I could have children to cook and make sweet cookies for….”

My heart fluttered,” And your husband? Does he feel the same way about you wanting children? Or he’s indifferent?”

“I don’t know.” She sighed,” Sometimes, I like that he’s abroad most of the time because we work differently. He’s a morning person and works hard mainly in the night.”

I chuckled,” I am the opposite. Once it’s night, I switch off. I wonder how you can manage doing the things you do, honestly.” I truly envied her.

She smirked and flipped her luxurious bone straight weave to the back,” Oh honey, I’m a multitasker. Honestly, I wish I had more hands. The hands I have aren’t just enough for everything I want to do. Especially for the children.” 

Farida scooted close to her to show her something on the iPad. My heart broke, watching the two of them. Sometimes, I wonder why God never gave Davina children. The woman was so dedicated to helping children- she donated to orphanages, she catered for children's birthday parties, she sold children's clothes. It didn’t make sense. 

“You are welcome in my house anytime you want.” I assured her,” You and your children.” 

Davina beamed at me and engulfed me in a bone-crushing hug. 

Life in the estate began to scare me. Mama Siren used to come to my home and eventually formed a bond with my daughter. Tayo had no problem with the older woman’s visits. I had a problem and wanted to scream and shout my resistance. 

Mama Siren also started to plait my daughter’s hair whenever she could. The head was a sacred part of the body. Who knows what she could do to naïve and unstable Farida?

There’s another thing… Well, the craziest and scariest thing. My daughter would babble about a great meal at night, always Jollof rice. The first few times, I would smile and nod away. She was six; she didn’t know what she was saying. 

It started getting worrisome. Farida mentioned to people that she usually ate Jollof rice in the night. She would say,” There’s Simbi, who always smiles; there is Dada with a lot of hair….” 

Children have imaginary friends, but what scared me was that every night, I smelled the enticing aroma. 

When I told Tayo, he thought I was crazy. He claimed Farida was saying nonsense; maybe she has “imaginary friends.”

It wasn’t nonsense. My motherly instincts were kicking in. 

I was beginning to think that my daughter was under a spiritual attack, and something told me it was Mama Siren. After all, she was always cooking for us and spending time with Farida. Mama Siren was also a night owl who loved cooking at night. One night, I had checked through the window- There she was, cooking in a large pot with firewood. 

It screamed, "Witch."

I prayed like no mother could. I prayed and anointed every corner of my home. Two days later, I heard that Mama Siren had passed away. 

Of course, I was happy. My prayers had worked. My enemy had been killed. 

After her death, Farida didn’t speak about Jollof rice or eating at night. I celebrated the win, not knowing what was in store for me. 

One fateful night, by 1 AM, I heard the clanking of pots and commotion coming from downstairs. I hated that I was always curious. Why couldn’t I go back to bed? But it was my home, for God’s sake. I had to find out what was going on. 

I picked up an umbrella- for defense; who knows if someone had broken into the house? 

Stepping downstairs, I saw my little Farida sitting at the dining table with cookies on her plastic plate. I called out her name. Her eyes were shut, but she turned to me. 

Her lips contorted into a small toothless smile before she turned to continue eating. I noticed the distinct shapes of cookies and wondered where I had seen them before. 

“Jollof will be ready soon.”

I heard a squeaky little voice in the kitchen, followed by pots hitting each other. With a thundering heart, sweaty palms, shivering hands, and heavy feet, I took myself to the kitchen. 

I never understood the term “Paralyzed in fear” until that night. I should have run away, screamed, or done something. Three children around the same age as my daughter sprawled around the kitchen. They all had plates in their hands and scowls on their faces- one of them was distinct. She has a broad smile on her face.

But that wasn’t entirely what terrified me. 

It was the entity in my kitchen. It was standing over the gas cooker, cooking. 

How do I explain this? She had three arms attached to each side, each hand doing something different- petting a little child on the counter, slicing onions into the blender, looking through the cabinet, and one…. Mixing Jollof rice in a pot.

It was multitasking. 

I finally screamed; the children didn’t turn, but this entity did. 

That entity was my neighbor, Davina. 

Fancy Davina with the fancy short clothing, acrylic nails, long weaves… it was almost hard to recognize her. Still, I knew the distinct mole on her face- she didn’t have fancy weaves or heavy makeup. Her natural hair was in disarray, and her acne-filled face dripped in sweat. 

Everything made sense to me… her words, “I wish I could have children to cook for and make sweet cookies for.”

“I work hard mostly in the night.”

I’m a multitasker. Honestly, I wish I had more hands. The hands I have aren’t just enough for everything I want to do.”

Every single thing made sense. 

I let out another scream when a hand touched me from behind. It was Farida. Her eyes were still shut. She extended the plate of cookies and cooed,” Mummy made cookies….”

Mummy? Which mummy?

I glanced back at the entity and then at the cookies. 

Yes, it all made sense. 

“Tayo…” I whimpered, hoping he would wake up and somehow end this madness because I did not know how to. 

I fell to my knees, holding Farida by the face, hoping she would open her eyes. I shook her multiple times,” Farida, Farida…”

The singsong humming distracted me. I turned backward, obviously still holding my daughter, trying to protect her from the mess I had put her in. 

The entity smiled, showing her crooked brown teeth. She nodded," Don’t worry…. Jollof rice will soon be ready.” 

And I thought about it… I had been fighting the wrong enemy, and worse, I’m the one who pushed my daughter to this.

I gave my daughter a spiritual mother. 


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