The Day I Met Egbara Ndi Mmuo (Spirit plant)


If I truly understand the permutations of hell fire, then I can boldly say that I experienced it the day I encountered the plant, egbara ndi mmuo.

My childhood like many other ‘privileged’ kids was joyful. Even though I did not enjoy the privilege of going for summer holidays at Manchester like my classmate, Olumide usually did, nor enjoyed the luxury of having a driver attached to my brother and I who would take us to school and bring us back every day, but at least I was allowed to be a child, to worry only about going to school and passing tests. Some other kids in the neighbourhood went to school in the morning and hawked plantain in the evening. They had to also assist in providing food and paying their fees.

To be on the good side of privilege is so beautiful that you cannot help but feel the nudge to just rub it in the faces of people you are better than or have more than. At the resumption of a new class, those who enjoyed their summer abroad would be quite generous with their time in explaining what an aeroplane looked like, how to pronounce chocolate as choklate and not chokolate, and how the next Summer holidays was going to be in Madagascar. I would just be hearing that name for the first time, but I would catch myself jealous already. The name Madagascar was enough to get any child jealous. It sounded rudely exotic, just like Disney land.
I wanted to also upgrade the privilege I had, to be able to tell fantastic stories to other kids with amazement in their eyes. This was one of the reasons I looked forward to the biennial ritual of travelling with my family to Nsukka for Christmas.

Travelling to Itchi Nsukka meant that I had a chance to feel elite or better than some others. The kids in the village would stare with so much longing at our canvas and kito foot wears that emitted light at night. Their desperate look gave me a trifling feeling of ‘I have arrived.’ I felt rich.

But something happened. Like the hubris that preceeded the downfall of a character in the novels we read at school. It played out again and this time, I was the persona. That particular thing cleared the overarching illusion of superiority I felt amongst other kids. On one fateful day while my brother, Chiboy and I were playing football with other kids in one Mama Caro’s compound.

In the course of playing, the ball sped off into the bush and the village kids cheered me on to get the ball. I unhesitatingly made my way into the bush and I saw where the ball was caught in a thicket. As I moved to pick it, I felt a sensation run through my body. A sensation that felt like a mixture of ose Nsukka, atarodo, and dried Cameroon pepper was poured over an excoriated skin, then flogged with those canes that have little thorns masquerades like Ori Okpa use to harass people. To say I was not on earth again is to say the least.

I zoomed out of the bush abandoning the ball I had gone to fetch, wailing, rolling on the floor and scratching. I cried the more when the village kids began to laugh. They knew I had encountered Egbara ndi mmuo. My shout attracted other villagers. Soon many hands were on my body, some used sand, others stones. A few minutes later, I was carried to our house. My sister, Chiamaka was instructed to use hot water to bathe me.

The sleep that followed was so long that it was as though I went to mark my attendance in the spirit realm. After all, I had experienced one of their own.