Tina closed her eyes, placed her thumb and index fingers over her nostrils, and swallowed the foul liquid. She grimaced and spat on the ground before dropping the cup on the tray. Mamus grinned at her, her eyes bright in the night. The hut was full with girls from different quarters of Odukolo village. They were there for the rites of passage test. The test was designed to select the next priestess of Ukolo, the patron goddess of the community.
Tina did not want to be there. Her mind veered off again and again to her traps waiting in the shallows. She was sure her crab business has suffered in her absence. She could not wait for the ceremony to be over so she can return to the swamp, to the things she understood. She could not understand why Mamus was excited.
Mamus felt sorry for Tina. She knew her friend did not like being in the hut with the rest of the girls. She did not like it herself; the smell, the heat, the foul tasting teas, the old women and their clawlike fingers,were irritating. She wanted to be the next priestess and hopefully the next chief priestess. She bore every disgusting thing for that prestige. Her step-mother would be cruel to her for the rest of her life if she failed to get out from her clutches. She took the cup before her, grinned in spite of the sour smell that hit her nostrils, and drank deep.
Mama Usoya stirred the big iron pot that sat over the fire. The smoke almost blinded her but she was used to this chore. She has been stirring this pot for twenty moons. During her selection process, when she was younger, it was discovered that she was not a virgin. The Chief priestess decreed that she be made a slave to the goddess. She has never married and has not felt the touch of a man since. She heard that her lover, Kabiyu is now married to her step-sister, Enoi. She wished them well but she still felt the bitterness of failure in her gut. It was worse when she saw that some of the girls did not want to be there. They did not deserve the goddess' grace.
The old woman whose name had been stricken off records, the one who served as the godess' image on earth, began a song. It was a popular song that all the girls knew. From the shadows, the drummers tapped the rhythm to the song and the girls swayed.
The trees are sated with salt;
their branches painting birds
in the ochre sky. The gulls are
carrying gossip to the waves
& the hunter cradles his charm
to ward the eye of the leopard
from his path, to save his life.
O mother we hungry for lust
O mother we hunger for dust
The ground is a mouth of want.
It has swallowed me into climax.
This sea has come before, a curious
spit into our throats, silencing us.
Ukolo save us with her whip, with
the seduction of her wind, she
forced water to bend knee.
O mother we hungry for sweetness
O mother we hunger for loneliness.
Drowsiness fell like a blanket on the girls and they dreamt. Tina sat before a cave. Before her was a basket and it was full of crabs. She felt as if she had four eyes. Two eyes were seeing from the Tina seated on the sand and the other pair of eyes watched the body of the Tina seated on the floor as well as the dark mouth of the cave. She heard footsteps behind her. Though she did not turn, she saw Mamus walk out of the darkness carrying a small sack.
What are you doing? Tina asked.
To claim my destiny, of course, Mamus replied.
You are going into that place? Are you mad? She will eat you alive! Tina yelled.
It is better than what waits for me at home, Mamus replied then she stepped pass Tina and entered the cave.
Her scream tore through her throat like a pierced bladder of air. Mama Usoya watched the girl thrash on the floor. Two older priestesses stepped forward and held her down. This one will die, she thought, her hand stirring the contents of the pot. Let them all die. They are not worthy, she thought.
Tina jumped to her feet at Mamus's scream. She turned to look at where Mamus had appeared from but no one was coming. She wanted to leave. She wanted none of this. She looked at the basket on the ground filled with crabs. She bent to pick the basket up then Mamus screamed again from inside the cave. Tina sighed, stood straight and retied the wrapper around her chest. She grimaced and spat to the side then she ran into the cave. This was how their legend began.