My stomach belted as I glared down at the steaming bowl of ndole set in front of me. I pinched the lining in my pocket to keep from grabbing the spoon off the table and wrestling with the bowl. Sinking into the worn chair in Tata Anique’s dining room, I glanced around the table, studying all four of my siblings’ faces, freezing when I landed on the empty chair across from me. As my eyes traced the fabric on the seat, I wondered what bébé Claude would think if he knew we were mingling with his murderer. 

With the village house being about an hour away outside of Yaounde, my family only made time to go in the summer, as the village’s vast, open landscape made the sweltering heat more bearable. Typically, I love going to the village– the street suya and corn was better there, and I could play for hours without Maman bothering me. But the somber essence of the trip cast a shadow over my excitement. The day prior, we’d buried my little brother’s body after his “mysterious” passing. Although, we all knew why he’d passed. 

The last time we’d seen Tata Anique was during easter. On our drive up, Papa gave the same spiel on everything we couldn’t do when we entered the house, Lysette and I practically mouthing his speech along with him. We knew we were forbidden from touching any food or drink when we got there, and god forbid we let her know when we were traveling back home. Papa always says Tata Anique had despised him from the second she’d laid eyes on him. She could see he was special, and it didn’t sit well with her. But despite her wickedness, Papa claimed keeping a close eye on your enemies was necessary. She’d been Papa’s father’s fourth wife and married him young, leaving school and an impoverished family behind to do so. Along with the marriage came her juju, and my grandpa was blind to it, building her the largest home out of his wives and dedicating far more time than he should’ve to a fourth wife. Papa always said that despite her beauty, her eyes were as black as the devil, nicknaming her “la jolie sorcière,” and avoiding her compound like the plague. Shortly after the wedding, Tata Anique put a hex on my Grandfather, as he stopped visiting his other wives and families, neglecting everyone else in his life but her until he died. Papa was sure she was a jealous witch that had come to take their riches and ruin their family. 

We were engulfed with the smell of Maggi spices and grilling meats when we stepped into her house. I could hear my stomach sulk seeing the feast she’d prepared for the holiday. But like usual, me and my siblings hugged our bellies like they were swollen, claiming we were too full to eat. While Papa attempted small talk with Tata Anique in the living room, my siblings and I sprawled our monopoly out on the table, hoping to pass the time we’d have to spend. Claude was still alive at the time, and too little to grasp the game, so all he could do was wander around the table playing with the horse monopoly piece. Glued to the game, we didn’t peer up to check him until we heard chewing from under the table. 

“Abeg, what the hell are you doing?” my brother Girard roared, reaching over to rip the beignet from Claude’s hand.

In a hurry, I grasped his t-shirt and tried to make him spit out everything that was left in his mouth. But despite my efforts, we knew the bite had sealed his fate. 

Hearing all the commotion at the dining table, Maman and Papa hurried over to examine the situation, gasping when they saw what Claude had done. Maman burst into tears, and Papa visibly angered as he stared at bébé Claude. 

“We must go now,” ordered Papa. 

We all rushed out the door leaving Tata Anique standing in her dining room with simulated confusion on her face and monopoly money scattered on her table. A month later, Claude got sick. He’d been a weak baby but had got stronger over the years, so we were sure it was the beignet. We contacted doctors from all around Cameroon, and no one could diagnose or cure what was wrong with Claude. Tata Anique’s sickness spell had taken him six weeks later in his sleep. 

Despite the dry climate breathing over the village’s grassland, it rained the day of Claude’s funeral. We went out into the bush and stood huddled on the muddled grass to bury bebe Claude among Papa’s father and ancestors. We’d stay in the village for two weeks, tending to bebe Claude’s skull. Maman brought him large pots of Jollof and fried banane plantain because they were his favorite. Me and the girls left out Sunday jewelry Claude loved to fiddle with, and Girard left some game pieces and Claude’s monopoly horse. Papa never visited bebe Claude during our stay in the village; he told us we needed to move on from Claude and not let Tata Anique ruin our family anymore. 

We left our grief and memories of bebe Claude’s meddlesome, vibrant personality behind in that village house. But even back in Yaounde for the fall, the spell still hadn’t been lifted. Listening to Papa, we tried our best to move on from the loss of our baby brother, avoiding his name as if it were the plague. Maman rarely left her bedroom, despite Papa’s wishes, and we could hear the sounds of her weeping as we crept past the room. Much to Papa’s dismay, Maman would still talk about bebe Claude to the house girls and elderly in the town, getting choked up when remembering his hugs or his laugh. Maman no longer greeted us when we returned home from school with a fresh plate of chin chin, and the sound of her praise and worship music faded from the kitchen. The four of us were sure Tata Anique had put a depressive haze over Maman but whispered about it so we didn’t upset her further, with Papa always affirming our beliefs when she wasn’t around. 

During Christmas that year, our cousins and Tontons decided they’d pay our family a visit. They pitied our loss, and they hadn’t spent the holiday with us since I was five, always choosing to go to the coast instead. The day was filled with loads of festivities, as we ate loads of Poulet DG and danced until the clock struck midnight. Before opening our presents, Tonton Jacques requested he pray over the gifts. 

“Dear Père Jésus, I pray that you cover the blood of Jésus on these gifts and these children. We thank you for bringing us all here today as a family so we can celebrate your

birthday. I thank you for allowing this family to heal after the mysterious loss of their precious son Claude.” 

Papa thanked him. “We know that Anique poisoned the boy, there is nooo-thing mysterious!”, he said. 

Tonton Jacques just sat shaking his head, seemingly annoyed at Papa, but maybe that was just his reaction from the shock of hearing his nephew was poisoned. Maman instead rolled her eyes and shouted, “Can you just let my poor son rest in peace without your crazy wahala.” Despite Christmas being her favorite holiday, she left the den, retreating to her bedroom before she could even see us open gifts. It was shocking how strong Tata Anique’s spell was on Maman. Even after months the depressive funk continued to loom over her like smog. 

Maman and Papa were never the best of friends, but we used to see them spend time with one another, watching television and going to the local town events in tandem. Yet in the year after bebe Claude, Maman, and Papa grew more distant. Papa would stay out later and take more trips to the village, and Maman would remain in her bedroom, letting all the town events and holidays pass her by. 

Every summer after Claude, we’d handle the Cameroonian heat in the bustle of the city rather than returning to the tranquil escape of our summer house. Except for Papa, of course, who still frequented the village throughout the year and during all of the solstice period. Me and my siblings would wonder whom he was going to see in the village, since our only living family still living there were Tata Anique and Grandmere, whom he wasn’t the fondest of either. 

I had no plans on returning to the town until I heard my Grandmere was ill. Although Papa thinks it’s him, Grandmere has been my favorite in the family. She was the only one who would let me gorge on bonbons and treat me like an only child rather than overlooking me among my swarm of siblings. So, while my siblings protested the visit, I happily obliged. 

As I walked into her bedroom, she welcomed me with a smile. “How’s my namesake?”, she asked. 

I sat on the side of the bed and nestled beside her arm. “I’m doing good. Are you feeling better, Grandmere?” 

“I’m not, but it’s ok. I’m old, and god has let me live a long life, mon amie,” she said, stroking my braids. 

“I know this is Tata Anique’s fault; she’s so wicked.”, I shouted, with tears welling up in my eyes. 

Grandmere gave me a muddled look and asked, “What does that woman have to do with anything?” 

“I know she’s a witch; Papa told us she married Grandpere to try and destroy our family.” “Abeg, he’s still telling that wahala,” Grandmere sighed. “He’s been making up stories about Anique since André married the woman. I used to pay that girl to watch Tonton Jacques and Alexis when they were babies, and we all knew your father admired her since they were only a year apart in school. He’d follow her around while she watched the kids and used to sit for

hours listening to her stories and folktales. Then she left to marry my husband, and your father never let it go. I can’t believe he is still insisting that that woman is wicked; he’s been married to Sylvie for years.” 

I soured my face in confusion, stretching my arm out to gauge the state of Grandmere’s illness. 

Patting my arm, she said, “Ashia darling, Anique is not a witch. She’s a good woman and takes care of me out here in the village. She even brings me food, unlike your useless mother.” 

After seeing Tata Anique’s latest victim, I never stepped foot in that village again. 

In the following years, as my siblings and I matured, the roar of our compound would continue to fade into a distant memory. Papa preferred the serenity of the village to Yauonde’s bustle and Maman was most fond of her comforter and her bedroom’s four walls. 

One day, Papa would end a month-long stretch outside the city, bringing home one of the village house girls rather than suya. Despite my mother’s fervent desire for us to remain a Christian household, Papa explained to her the need to add another wife, informing her of the upcoming wedding in the weeks to come. With my siblings and I sitting huddled in the sunroom over scattered monopoly pieces, I couldn’t help but hang my head as we overheard the news. In disbelief over that witch’s latest triumph I pondered, muttering 

“He must’ve tried her ndole.”

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