I awoke during the night with the strange sensation that something was different. I lay there in the darkness of our room for a few minutes before I realised what it was – total silence. The usual music of the cicadas and all the other night-time cacophony – insects, lizards, rodents, night-birds – was absent, leaving a strange silence in the village. I got up and had a look outside; no one was around. I took a leak at my usual place beside the big pile of bricks and gazed up at the night sky, there was a beautiful moon and a stunning spectacle of stars. Wide-awake by then, I decided to go for a walk. I headed off down the path towards the forest, the only noise was that of my own footsteps and breathing. Bizarre.
When I had almost reached the forest, I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of an owl hooting. “Twitawoo, who are you, how do you do?” she seemed to be saying, as if beckoning me towards her.
I headed along the path into the forest, towards the call of the owl. It was darker in the forest and I cursed myself for not bringing a torch, but thanks to the light of the full moon, I could make my way without too many problems. Just when it felt as if I was almost upon the owl, the source of the call seemed to move on, leading me at first along the main path, then onto narrower, more overgrown paths. I didn’t feel overly frightened, even if at the back of my mind were thoughts about what or who I could come across in this forest, as I made my way deeper and deeper – wild animals, poisonous vegetation… even the witch, if he or she existed; the call of the owl was somehow both enticing and reassuring.
Eventually, just as the path was getting almost impassable and I’d started hacking at the undergrowth with a big stick to be able to continue on my way, the call stopped. I continued on a few meters and arrived at a huge clearing in the forest. Suddenly I heard the flap of wings and saw the owl, pure and white in the moonlight, flying off above the trees in the direction I’d just come. It was then that I noticed a chink of light in the middle of the clearing. As I walked towards it I saw that it was an open fire and there seemed to be someone sitting beside it!
I approached cautiously. Was this the infamous witch? Had she put some kind of spell on me to attract me into the forest, where she would perform some fiendish rites upon me or sacrifice me to some evil spirits? When I drew nearer I could see that it was an old woman; she looked up and smiled at me.
“Welcome, Sandy. Sit down and warm yourself by the fire.”
“Hello. How do you know my name? Who are you?” I suddenly felt the cold; I was dressed only in thin pyjamas and flip-flop sandals. I could feel myself shivering from a mixture of cold and fear. My desire for warmth overcame my fear and I sat down hesitantly by the fire.
“My name is Sandra. I’m a féticheur.”
“What’s that? Some kind of witch?”
“I have the same powers as a witch, but I use them for good, not for bad; to help others, not for my own personal gain. I’m a traditional healer if you like.”
“And you live out here, in the forest?”
“Yes. The forest provides – fruit and vegetables, the odd bird or squirrel or monkey. And some of the people who come to me bring me food too.”
“Did you summon me? The owl – was that you?” It seemed crazy, but what other explanation was there.
She may have been a witch or a healer, but true to Ivoirian form, she answered my question with another question. “Do you believe in witches, in supernatural powers?” She looked at me intensely; her eyes appeared to be the same colour as the fire; or was it just the reflection?
Despite everything that had happened on the trip and before, I still didn’t really believe. Although sitting there by the fire, looking into the mysterious eyes of this ancient woman, her face a thousand wrinkles, the immensity of the African night around us, the silence broken only by the crackling of burning wood, my remaining scepticism started to evaporate.
“Yes. I do. I’m starting to.”
“It’s real, Sandy. Evil witchcraft exists and is at work here.”
“Who’s the witch? André? His new wife, Carole?”
“Unfortunately for you, I can’t tell you now – it’s too dangerous. But you’ll eventually find out, much later, who the witch is. Then you’ll be able to exact your revenge.”
“Revenge for what? What do you mean?”
“Look for the sign, the sign written in blood made to the devil. And the sacrifice.” She shuddered, then starting shaking a necklace of what looked like animal bones and chanting something in a language I couldn’t understand. It didn’t seem to be Bété.
What sign? What sacrifice? What was she talking about? I wanted to ask her more questions, but her chanting was strangely hypnotic and I found myself looking entranced into the flames, which danced seemingly in time to her incantations.
After a while – ten minutes, an hour? I don’t know how long I stared into that fire – I was aware that the chanting had stopped. I shook my head and came out of my trance-like state. The woman was gone. Sandra. Almost like Sandy.
The fire had died down to a bed of glowing embers and I began to feel cold again, so I got up and headed back to Guédéyo; to André’s house. I had no owl to guide me, but somehow I found my way back with no problems. The village was still asleep, silent. Only once I’d closed the door and got into bed, did I hear the cicadas begin to sing again.
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