by Eloghosa Osunde
The devil was already inside Amenze when she walked past Goodies on Awolowo Road. At first, it was squatting inside her small stomach, leaning against the walls and eating ground up groundnut from the day before. Then she felt it becoming a fuller presence from her waist, expanding through the width of her chest.
“You’re hungry,” the devil told her. She ignored it.
It tried again. “Cross the road.”
But stubborn girl that she is, she kept walking towards her boyfriend Olu’s house. Since the devil’s last visit, she had become born-again, complete with a choirmaster boyfriend who wanted to marry her. Not willing to backslide into those unholy days, she quickened her steps forward, because she could hear the devil’s voice differently—not from far down in the gut anymore but pressing its blurriness against the inside of her throat.
The devil becomes in increments, in spurts, until it has taken over the whole form. Amenze knew this, anticipated it, but hoped that if she moved quickly and steadily enough, it wouldn’t be able to spread itself.
“Ok, fine then. Keep going,” the devil said.
Amenze stopped and stomped her foot. “That’s enough.” She couldn’t stand its tone and her shoulders tensed at the mocking patience of it. “Just go. Leave!”
The devil sniggered. Amenze was trying what Pastor Pius and the Bible had taught her: Resist the devil, they said, and it will flee. What she was never told is that the devil’s entrance into anything is almost always entire. As Amenze seethed, the devil stretched its limbs inside the case of her flesh—legs lengthening inside her own, one then the other and after, arms the same, until her flesh fit snug like a jumpsuit. Then it marched her reluctant body towards Chicken Republic.
“Are you coming in, ma?” the doorman asked, confused.
“Yes,” the devil said, straightening Amenze’s blouse. “Yes, sorry.”
Inside, the devil headed straight to the counter. It had felt Amenze’s hunger earlier and it knew that she was refusing to eat anything because, of course, now that she was a Bible-believing, saved-by-grace-through-faith Christian, she fasted with her church at every slight opportunity.
“Please be fast, ma. Fried rice or Jollof rice?” the waitress asked, impatient.
The devil looked at her through the eyes in Amenze’s head, considering ways to deal with her curtness; but deciding that she was not worth the work, replied, “You choose for me.” The waiter, Chioma—as seen on her nametag—shrugged and ordered one fried rice with chicken. The devil stood aside. The man behind was a UBA driver and she attended to him better, which assured the devil of her problem: Chioma was one of the desperate ones, leaving all windows in conversation open for any potential husband to creep in. The devil snatched the tray from her hand and left.
Tunde walked in just as the devil was sinking Amenze’s teeth into the drumstick. The devil did not need to look up; it had smelt him as he walked past the air conditioner. It straightened Amenze’s back when Tunde sat by the yellow playground slide opposite and bent to untie his daughter’s shoelaces. From the corner of Amenze’s eye, the devil watched the daughter disappear into the playground as Tunde moved towards the till.
The devil was sat next to a man who was sitting alone. He was watching Soundcity on the TV above his head; frame slightly slanted, neck craned upwards, Adam’s apple floating under a sheet of skin as he ate. His kind was easy to discern just by looking at him: thirsty, predictable, would do anything for a gorgeous woman—and between forkfuls of fried rice, the devil dismissed the dull desire to ruin his life. The devil did not take Amenze’s eyes off the man as it cleared her throat and then unbuttoned the first two buttons of her blouse. It was a way to test the fit, to use the man as one would use a mirror. The man let his neck fall gently, eyes resting on her cleavage. He looked pleased—not even slightly disturbed—aroused even, so the devil, now sure that it had worn her body well, looked away from the man, re-did one of the buttons and returned to the food, opening Amenze’s face in a smile.
Tunde passed by with two dishes and glanced in Amenze’s direction. The devil met his gaze, already knowing what he had to lose. For one, his relationship with his daughter. With that, a solid business reputation he curated ruthlessly. But it was after neither. From this encounter and with this available body, the devil just wanted sex, so it pushed the tray of fried rice away and walked towards Tunde, avoiding Chioma’s judging eyes from behind the counter.
They talked for just over ten minutes before exchanging numbers. The devil dazzled the man so well that for the first time in years, he got that heady feeling of everything but the woman in front of him blurring into a stunning irrelevance. In just that time, the core details were clear: Tunde, real estate developer and single father trying to figure out how to tend to a needy daughter; they were even just en route to a family friend’s house before stopping to get the girl a sandwich.
“Not a sandwich, dad. A chickwizz. That’s what it’s called.” The little girl startled them, appearing out of nowhere like that. And for the first time, the devil noticed her properly.
It smiled at her with Amenze’s complete teeth. “Hay. Feisty.”
“I know. Serious wahala.”
The girl ignored them, focusing on her food.
Tunde called that evening, and then the next.
“Of course,” the devil said, in Amenze’s voice, in a call to Tunde, “but let’s be clear, I’m not here to be your friend.”
“Or for that love crap.”
The devil liked being a woman, because in a woman’s body, it could feel the truth. The things the body did when no one was watching, the way it could swallow things, drown parts whole, hide and house people. In a woman’s body, it could feel the weight of her kindness; the restraint it takes to know exactly how easy it is to raze a man’s life but still choose not to—and yes, there was something delicious about being that close to being good. But its patience was running thin.
“So, are we doing this or not?” the devil asked him.
They met at his house. His daughter wasn’t there. He had asked his cousin David to do him a favor and babysit her. It wasn’t the first time, he said, so it was fine.
“This time, I told him it was business,” Tunde said, laughing a short, rash laugh. He knelt on the bed behind her and kissed her shoulders.
“It is,” the devil said, already peeling Amenze’s dress off her back. “It is business.”
When Amenze returned into herself, naked under the clingy arm of the stranger, she knew what the devil had done. All she could hear in her head was: “Chicken Republic, ke? Stranger? Wetin me I wan know na how life take land you for here.” Her dead mother’s voice in her ear, neatly wrapped in condescension. How would she explain that though she was not above making foolish decisions, she’d never have chosen this brand of mistake in her right mind? Which mouth would she use to say that she was walking on her own jeje only to be shrugged aside and ejected from her body?
Amenze wriggled out from under Tunde’s arm and told him never to call her again. She knew he’d try regardless, because he looked like he would never recover from what happened, so she blocked his number to save them both the stress. Whatever happened in that bed wasn’t her own skill anyway.
The devil had been drawn to Tunde’s daughter from the moment it saw her. At the time, she was just not the focus—she could not be—because the devil needed to enter the house through an adult. But it had eyes on her, because she looked far too sad for a girl her age; a type it had always enjoyed. Late that afternoon, she returned from her Uncle David’s. The devil—now restless, aching for a new entrance—entered her room as her father tucked her into bed. “Goodnight Daddy,” she said and after kissing her forehead, he said “Goodnight Telema.” The devil liked her name, Telema.
It lay down on her pillow next to her as her father turned off the light. Then it entered the unzipped part of Telema’s teddy bear’s back where the batteries sleep, and hummed a small, sweet song from inside: “Sleep, Baby, Sleep, Baby, Sleep.” The devil is sexless near a child, so the voice came out sounding like nothing Telema had heard before: not quite male, not quite female, not quite cartoon. Still, being a mere six years old, she was not shocked, only grateful to be met halfway with more aliveness.
The devil had sensed the secret screaming from under her skin as it introduced itself through Amenze, but it was too desperate for Tunde to think further into it. So, now that it was trying to enter the girl’s life for the first time, it sang and sang in that mellifluous tone. The girl hugged the teddy closer to her body, so that she could hear the music better. She wanted it too desperately, and it was obvious, so the devil perched on her shoulder. Sleep, Baby, Sleep, Baby Sleep. The voice was fluid in Telema’s ear, reaching inside her brain, spilling onto the pillow. It called sleep quickly.
When the devil was sure she was asleep, it entered her head, found a space against her skull and stood there, watching her dream. It made warm, purr-like sounds, trying to help her sleep unbothered. But things kept falling into each other. Inside her dream, there was a man coming close to her body to touch it, and the devil kept trying to warn him away. Go away! but he refused, so the devil smelled the rottenness on the stranger and knew. When the girl woke up, her heart was pounding. The devil, unmoored by her body’s stutter, slid into her chest and found a chaos.
It took three good nights of the devil whispering, “Tell me. What happened, tell me?” for Telema to say, “God, please kill Uncle David. Please make him go away.”
The devil flinched at her mistake. But since no request that is prayed into its ear is ever met with silence—questions are met with fast answers, desperation with sharp release—the devil asked Telema, “Why? What did he do?”
“He has… He has bad, painful hands.” Then she started to cry.
Tunde came in but when he opened the door, her body fell dead-still and she pretended to be asleep. So, Tunde kissed her forehead and left. Something about that simple deceit made the devil like her even more. What a cunning child! If any prayer ever deserved to go unanswered, it wasn’t hers.
The devil sang her to sleep again, and before morning, it had left through her left ear.
The devil stood at the edge of Tunde’s bed while he slept. His vest was raised to show smooth skin above his boxers, so the devil chose his navel as the door and then stretched itself out until the body was his, closing Tunde’s eyes tighter. Then it conjured David, raising Telema’s dress and touching between her legs. The devil did this so that it could also happen in Tunde’s head like a dream, an unraveled story, a secret flowering open, full and fat in the mind’s eye.
In the dream, Telema was wearing the same dress she wore the day Tunde slept with the devil. The same dress she had on when he took her to David’s house. The devil brought the vision closer so that Tunde could see Telema squirm as she watched her uncle pant and sweat and shake and morph into a grotesque thing while touching her. Getting to the part where David took off his belt, and let it fall to the ground in a curled-up squirm, the devil—still interested in showing Tunde mercy—let the dream cut.
When Tunde’s body tried to rouse itself, it felt heavy. The devil had exited his flesh and was sitting on his stomach, pushing his head into the pillow, holding his hands to the sheets and his feet to the bed. He tried to scream but nothing came out. When the devil let him go, he sat up, muttering “Jesus! God Forbid. God Forbid.” He knew Telema wouldn’t be awake but he walked to her bedroom to be near her—and she looked like such a frail, unharmable thing, upheld and hallowed by clouds of duvet.
Of course, he did the most senseless thing. He prayed. He sat by his daughter’s sleeping body and prayed. It amused the devil, because if it were a good dream, he would have received it with both hands, trapped it with an Amen and believed it as a revelation. But you can’t blame a father, can you; it is easier to take bad news as a warning than a fact.
When the child woke up, he held her close and said, “You know you can tell me if anyone does anything to you that you don’t like, right? Anything bad,” and the child said, “Yes. Yes daddy.”
“I’m here. I’m always here. You know, right?”
“Yes, daddy.” So since Tunde clearly wouldn’t be the one to do the necessary, the devil left him.
Soon enough, the devil was gawking out of David’s wife Funke’s eyes as they argued.
“The worst part is that you show no fucking remorse.” David was raising his voice now.
But as David kept shouting, the devil kept Funke’s mouth tight-shut, so that no words could come out. You’re not sorry, the devil thought into her ear, you’re not. And as it had no patience for her guilt, for how hungry she was for her husband’s forgiveness, it took the rest of her over in seconds.
The devil was the one who bent Funke’s knees and took David in her mouth, teasing his eyes to the back of his head so that he forgot everything. It was the devil who faked her orgasm, gyrating on the bed, after David held her legs apart and let his tongue sigh in surrender. It was the devil inside Funke’s body after, stroking David’s arm repeatedly, saying “I love you, baby. Please believe me. It’s you I love,” until David was soothed and finally able to sleep.
And it was the devil that jolted David out of sleep at 3:22am and made him unable to fall back asleep, so that he’d decide to put earphones in and go for a run to clear his head. It was the devil who kept his blood awake and made him sprint up Bourdillon Road so that he’d have to slow down just as he was approaching the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge.
It was the devil that left him there alone.
Seun, conductor by day and agbero by night, knows the devil well. He knows when it is coming, and he never says no. His own desires are simple; Seun likes action and reactions and shekpe and blood.
That night, since the road was dead, Seun was dragging his feet, sipping Orijin and smoking a blunt, looking at his ex-girlfriend Rosa’s picture on his Blackberry. Then the devil perched on his shoulder. Its entrance came as a simple suggestion in Seun’s head; to walk up to the man who had just stopped to breathe. He welcomed it lazily, because he felt it cold as a fact in his chest: that the man needed a little surprise in his life, and so, it would be good to shake him up—just small, nothing too deep like that.
So, as David was panting, trying to recover his breath, Seun strolled across the road towards him, hands in pocket, bathroom slippers slapping against gravel.
“Bros!” he called. Once, and then a second time. When David did not respond, not even by turning around to ask what he wanted, Seun chuckled. “Ah! Bros, den no dey ignore me o. Especially now as my eye don red.”
As he moved, the devil climbed into a pore at the back of Seun’s neck, and descended his spine, using each layer of bone as rung.
“Fuck him”, the devil instructed, from the bottom of Seun’s back.
Seun didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to ram himself into a man’s body in a moment of random hunger. He wanted—instead, all of a sudden—to draw blood. And on this particular occasion, that was equally fine with the devil.
So, Seun tapped David on the shoulder, and before the man could turn around fully, collected his jaw in a sharp punch. David could feel the tip of his tongue dangling in a tiny bloodpool in his mouth. Seun wanted to be sorry, now that he could see that David had had earphones in his ears, but that vague remorse he felt was silenced by the way blood sang through his veins. When he stretched out his fingers, his whole palm was a chorus. It was pleasure enough and he was ready to stop—he was—when he heard the dry voice in his ear, asking, “Is that all?”
The devil wanted all of David’s blood to spill away and waste on to the road. It wanted a mess so severe that David’s face would no longer be a face by the time the sky cracked with new light. So he rose from Seun’s waistline.
You see, spirits are like liquid, they take the shape of their container and ah, the devil poured itself into every part, every bulge, every muscle, filling the whole of Seun.
“Easy o,” Seun said, before he left himself. The devil replied, “Ah ahn. You no trust me?”
Seun didn’t trust the devil. But it was too late, because now he was a wordless, dangling thing and all the devil could hear, loud in its new ears—Seun’s real ears—was Telema saying, “Please kill Uncle David… he has bad, painful hands.”
It was easy. It took successive belt whippings and a small, eager knife.
When it was done, the devil shrank and shrank and shrank inside Seun until he was small enough to go back to just his waist. Then it climbed back up his spine and out into the night.
Now, there are many things that the devil had done for itself from Seun’s body, but killing a random man was not one of them. So, when Seun came back to meet his own body on its knees, bent over David’s corpse, he didn’t believe it at first. He shook the body, pushed it on its back and saw his knife still deep in David’s stomach. Seun pressed his head against the chest, just to make sure. He heard music, still thud-thud-thudding out of the earphones. But David’s body was noiseless, facing the sky, streetlight pouring coolly on his only intact eye.
“He’s not dead, he’s not dead, he cannot be dead, he isn’t,” Seun told himself as he ran the whole curve of bridge. But not even the sound of a necessary lie can match the night wind, growing dark in your ear like the devil’s last laugh.
The Night Wind features in Somesuch Stories Issue 3, which is available for purchase worldwide via these outlets.
Photograph by Eloghosa Osunde