“What turns everything around but does not move?”
Darkness hid some of her, but I could make out something hovering at the foot of my bed. Moonlight showed bright, leathery wings floating above me. A human-like body was at the center of them looking down on me. I tried, and failed, to keep my hands steady as I pulled the covers down. I had grown accustomed to Aziza and her questioning. She had given me three days of silence, but then had followed me home.
“What turns everything around but does not move?”
It was a riddle my grandpa told me when I was a kid.
“A mirror,” I moaned and I tossed in my bed.
“Would you follow if we teach?”
Aziza had been one of the few constants over the past few weeks. Her beauty was unmatched, her wings a silk web, her presence a shield against the dangers I was still coming to terms with. I grabbed the first mirror I saw in the bathroom: a round one that fit in my palm, and followed her lead.
As I hit the hallway Aziza was making its way for the front door.
I put shoes on and hit the night air. The sky was blank, except for a full moon. The dry lawn was ahead, and Aziza was flying across the street. I hit the trees and the mosquitoes welcomed new prey. We passed the creek, where I played with my cousins when we were kids.
Aziza took a left, heading through a canopy that ended at a cave. This was an area my aunt always told us to avoid. The cave could serve as a den, for anything from snakes to wild dogs.
Tonight the den was a home to something else. The eyes that looked back at me almost looked like stoplights. The flames coming from their nostrils revealed more of their bodies and I wished that they didn’t. Their skin was white. They looked like cows, and smelled like them too. Albino-like skin covered the thigh, calf and the five toes below them.
I remember from one of those stories my uncle told to scare us: The story of the Rolling Calves. Murderers and voodoo priests’ spirits became trapped in the afterlife, coming back as a ghost that stalked the streets looking for victims. But these were not ghosts, they were full, and alive, and now there was a herd in front of me.
Their mouths stayed open but no sound came out. The only sound was that of the chain tied to a collar around their necks. The chain rattled on the ground as they moved, limping and swaying. The legs were uneven, making it slope forward: meaning their heads were almost level with mine.
“What are these ?” I asked Aziza but she was gone. My only company now was the herd.
A herd of chained calves, rustling under the full moon. I know what they are. The feeling of grief comes over me. Then comes anger.
My uncle didn’t just tell me what Rolling Calves were. He told me they are scared of moonlight. That’s why they attack on dark nights. How do I even know what parts of the folklore are true, and what is not? I just know now, I am living in it.
The herd were moving out of the forest before I got here. Their path would take them to the ocean.
From his stories I remember, A calf without victims is lost and will end its life with water.
My uncle’s words were on my mind again, but this wasn’t a campfire story. These calves were real. Would they go to the water? Would they go to the city?
Should I lead them to the ocean? The ground was starting to shake more as the albino calves made their way over. The smell reminded me of a butcher shop. The air was thick with the scent of rotting meat left out in the sun. My stomach started churning, my knees felt weak. I buckled and Aziza took that as a cue to talk again.
“I’m made of glass, this much is true, but when you look, you won’t see through !”
Mirror, again. It was supposed to be a weapon against the calves.
I tuned out the herd and focused on one calf. The one closest to me was just out of arm’s reach.
The Rolling Calf opened its mouth wider and flames sprouted from it. My confidence withered. I meant to jump out of the way, but my feet got tangled and I stumbled backwards. My hand shot up to cover my face, even as a voice in the back of my head told me it was too late.
The rattling of the chains continued ahead of me. Pain didn’t come. I opened my eyes, looking into the flaming eyes that were a few feet from my face. My skin was untouched.
The Calf was swaying now. Its body heaved with slow, ragged breaths. The ones behind it seemed to copy its movements, with each row more delayed than the last, forming a twisted domino. They were rabid dogs, and they needed to be put down. I almost pitied them.
The canopy above still hid the moonlight. I kept tracking back until we passed the creek. Moonlight hit the water and I took that as my sign. I opened the mirror, angling it so that the calf could see the full moon above.
The sound it made was the one I heard in my dreams when I saw the pink door. Some parts of the calf had a shared ancestry with me, a common thread.
It began to change in front of me. It was getting smaller. The snout began to collapse in on itself, reforming into a human face. First, there was a cow’s face, contorted into the shape of a human’s, with flaming eyes still glaring at her. The eyes were too big for the head, forming saucers on the face. Then the bones kept shifting and the eyes grew smaller, like they were being sewn shut. The sickly, white skin began to darken, like an inkblot on white paper. Its front leg became hands.
In a few seconds, a man was lying on the floor in front of me. The first calf to be unchained. He looked like he wanted to run but an attempt to stand sent him back to the floor. His limbs looked like tamarind, barely able to stand up to the wind let alone his weight. His skin was ashy and cracked. His voice was the harsh whistle of a hot desert.
He looked around, confused and fell when he saw the calves behind him. He pointed to them, screaming something in a language that sounded older than Twi.
The first calf was still behind me. A quick looked back showed him crawling to a tree, peering back every few seconds.
I blocked him out and went to another calf. Then another.
As I kept on the moaning grew louder. Behind me, they were all crawling to the first. They were still a herd, but they were speaking to one another now.
My mirror was my only weapon, but it wasn’t enough. I must have gone through at least ten calves when I realized the rest weren’t still trying to attack me.
The herd ignored me and the unchained. They were still heading towards the ocean. No matter how fast I moved, freeing them one by one would take too long. Some of them would be drowned by the time I finished.
I felt fatigued, and not just from lifting a mirror. I felt as if each conversion took something out of me. My shirt was drenched and burned to patches around my shoulders.
I didn’t see Aziza return. I felt her.
She was behind me, acting as a shield against the odd calf that was more focused on the unchained.
“I can’t get all of them,” I said.
“I’m quite common, sometimes I’m rare. Throw me around, but treat me with care !”
My heavy hands reached for my necklace’s wooden frame, pressed against my skin. I took the necklace off my neck, holding it in one hand and the mirror in the other.
My mind went to all my talks with grandpa as he dropped me off at school. I promised myself, I will believe in myself. I stretched my arm above my head. The necklace was in my hand, and my power in My Body.
“Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan!”
The moonlight above was partially obscured by the canopy but nothing could hide the blue fire that stretched out from the key. The necklace became a lighthouse, illuminating the calves around me.
Blue fire hit the first one and the wail that followed brought me back to my dreams. One drawn-out scream echoed through the beach, then another and another.
I suspected the mirror trick took something out of me. There was no doubt the fire did. My heart was hammering against my chest as if I’d just run a mile. My calves were tight, my knees buckling.
As I took out more calves, the others began to fight. They turned around and headed back to me. What kind of creatures do not want to be set free !?
Their mouths opened and red fire mooed out. I looked to my right and some of it hit Aziza, seemingly having no effect. Behind him, the unchained huddled together.
The calves were moving faster. Their fires seemed to merge into one before me. Whatever strength was left in my legs threatened to leave as the ground began to shake. The trees’ branches were swinging, dropping fruit and insects onto the ground. The air got thicker as the calves’ fires drew closer. If I moved, the unchained would be exposed. They couldn’t even stand.
I angled the necklace down, making the fire spread. I freed five more calves who had moved within ten feet of me. Behind them, at least twenty more were bearing down.
I raised the mirror in my other hand, and two rays of blue light sprung from my hands. The rays of light hit multiple calves at once, unchaining one trapped spirit after another. My arms and my knees shook, quivering beneath me, but I tried to tune out what my body was feeling. The herd was thinning, and my fear was slowly being replaced by confidence.
A final calf remained. Its eyes bulging, head lowered, nose mooing with flames. It was a beautiful tragedy watching a piece of my childhood turn to ash. The flames were coating the trees. The bark crackled like plantain in hot oil and the air felt hot enough to burn my skin. I could see the heat waves rise from the ground and shimmer.
I held the key, just for a few seconds. Maybe it was a placebo, but it gave me strength. My hands went to the flames on the trees, patting them down. With each slap, the fire dissipated. It was like throwing a napkin on an oil spill but I had to try something.
My shoes burned to nothing, leaving my feet bare. My pants became shorts. Another wave of fatigue hit me, and my stomach started to turn.
The calf kept going and I realized I’d be patting down the fires until I passed out. I rushed it, which seemed to get its attention.
It raged towards me and we locked eyes before my hands wrapped around its mouth.
It bucked, but my hands remained planted. Despite its size, it felt weak in my hands.
“Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan.“
This calf tried to wail, but my hands stopped it. The scream was muffled as it began to change shape.
The unchained behind me started shouting. I tuned them out, but they got louder. My hands shifted as the head got smaller, until I realized I no longer heard a chain rattling on the ground. The skin I felt was smoother now, free of the leathery texture I first laid hands on. My hands were now wrapped around the throat of a little girl.
I let her fall, worried about the fire around me. I ran to the flames, falling into them, letting my body smother them.
My hands and bare feet hit every burning surface. The fire was out, but so was my energy. My clothes were burned, leaving me covered in charred rags. My sleeves ended in black, pitted husks. My body was shaking, barely able to avoid collapsing.
“Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan.“
The words didn’t come from me this time.
I saw a pair of feet in gold sandals next to my face. I looked up to see a woman beside me, draped in purple and green robes. They almost looked like the robes Papa wore in his pictures of Ghana.
This wasn’t one of the calves.
“Who are you?”
“Hmm, is this where you catch the flying fish.” She said in a smirk.
She was older than the little girl I saw in my dreams. She was an adult now and stood as tall as I did.
“Doorkeeper, what does that mean?”
“Did they forget to tell you?”
“Forget about what?” I ask.
Kwesa tells me about the garden we made, and the Helpers we kept inside to protect them from invasion. And the key that was created, and how the door would open in a thousand years.
“You knew all this while, but you did not say a word!”
“You did not want to know.”
And she was right. I did not want to, I did not know how to know.
But I saw the door. Where these people trapped in there ?
“There are many types of binding spells, but this is not Ashanti Magic. ”
“Then what kind of Magic is it ?” How many kinds of magic are there ?”
Aziza was still huddled in front of the unchained, looking back at me. I think to myself, the last time this many Africans came here at one time it didn’t go well.
“Who ever they are, wherever they come from, your Juju has caused them to return. They are here now. They will need you.” She says.
“My city is used to tourists, but how do we explain one hundred Africans showing up on the beach? I don’t know if I can.” I respond.
Her hands went to mine, wrapping my hands around the necklace.
“You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams. You are the reason we persevered. What you will do with these gifts we have left for you; this Body, this Magic, and these Helpers is your choice. With them, you must create the world you want to live in. You must push past what you think is impossible. Aziza will help you, but you’ll need to open doors for yourself.”
“Can you stay?” I ask.
“No, I don’t belong here anymore. I’m only a memory. You have not seen half of your power. You are the trunk, but you must find the seed to be complete. Doorkeeper, may the ground meet you as you walk”
The calluses on Kwesa’s grip fades into the air. I feel a herd of eyes staring at me. They were stronger than they knew too. Most were crawling before, now they all got to their feet, leaning on the trees and each other for support.
The necklace was one of the few things I wore that was still whole.
I felt less burning in my muscles and got to my feet too, and faced the unchained.
“My name is Akeelah Adinkra. I am the seed of the Wawa Tree, The Door of Return.