What If We Remembered?
by Amadin Ogbewe
“Osi, my boy, you’ve got it all wrong. Magic is simply physics with a soul,” Epa Osadolor said to his audience of one, gesturing dramatically, his eyes wide.
Osi’s eyes and mouth were just as wide, his little face frozen in anticipation. His breath stilled. He knew better than to interrupt Epa Osadolor in the middle of a lesson, but found he couldn’t help himself.
“What is Physics?” he asked, unable to hold back.
“Oh, yes, I suppose it’s still elementary science to you,” Epa Osadolor said, snapping abruptly out of character. He scratched his puffy beard as he looked at the boy.
“How best to explain this?” he pondered aloud.
He walked behind his counter to stand over the wounded puppy placed there. One leg was bent in an awkward angle. As Epa moved his hands above its leg, he could hear the dog whimpering.
“As electricity flows through conductors, so does life force flow through every person,” he said, hands still poised over the puppy. “There’s very little life force cannot do. Create, break, heal.”
The puppy’s whimpers began to warp into little barks. Before long, he was hopping about on his fixed leg.
“Wow,” Osi exclaimed.
“There are varying factors to using life force, such as how efficient a conductor you are, how much life force you can hold. Magic is about transference, and as a practitioner, we’re simply conduits of a higher power. We don’t create the energy. We direct. It is not unlike the first law of thermodynamics in physics. The more we study; you’ll find that the laws of nature belong to science and magic.
“As I tell you more about your ancestors, I’ll show you how to awaken your ability to conduct,” Epa Osadolor continued. “So many live their lives closed off from the gift. A pity.”
Osadolor held his hands out to each side of him as if holding on to invisible pillars. Indeed, Osi thought he could see vague outlines of subdued light gathering in the Epa’s hands.
“Osi!” A thickset woman suddenly appeared before the shop, causing the little boy, who had been at the edge of his seat, to fall off. She was followed by a small crowd of men and women—traders from the market. She marched in and grabbed the little boy by the scruff of his neck.
“Ah, good day, Huwa. You’re right on time to pick up the student,” Osadolor said.
“He’s not your student, old man!” she said, before rounding on the prey in her hand. “And how many times have I told you to stop coming to this mad man, Osi!”
“He was in the middle of a lesson, mama!” Osi said, unrepentant, his open mouth displaying two conspicuously missing front teeth.
“I must commend your son.” Epa Osadolor fiddled with the bracelets on his wrist. “It’s quite rare for a child his age to be interested in history and the arts.”
The puppy continued to bark at everyone, trying and failing to get some attention.
“Osadolor, what you’re doing is blasphemous,” Ebuka the cobbler intoned.
“If you don’t stop corrupting our children with your dark magic, we’ll deal with you!” Osahon yelled from the back of the group. Osadolor could barely see the short man overshadowed by the others in the crowd. He shook his head as he massaged his temple.
“Don’t teach my son juju!” Huwa said.
Osalodor cringed. “That’s an oversimplification, madam. It’s important to know where one comes from, their roots, their traditions, the knowing of it—it’s power, and the forgetting is a fall from grace.”
Huwa rolled her eyes. “Oh, spare me! You sell your little charms and trinkets and go on to take classes at the university. If you cared so much for the ancient ways, why do you bother with school at your old age?”
“Yes, you are very, very old, Epa,” Osi intoned, still in his mother’s vice-like grip.
“What? How old do you think I am?” Epa Osadolor huffed.
“70,” Huwa said.
“150 years old,” Osi said at the same time.
“You’re both wrong. I’m only 69! And it’s never too late to get a formal education. Imagine the applications of chemistry in my concoctions! Why, they are limitless!”
“It would be so amazing,” Osi said, wide eyed, though Osadolor doubted if he knew what he meant by chemistry.
“Shut up your mouth,” his mom said as she started to cart him away. “Epa, stay away from my son.” The crowd followed the mother and son, throwing some parting glares as they turned.
Epa Osadolor sighed as he watched them leave. He smiled and shook his head as Osi winked at him behind his mother’s back. He put the puppy down from the counter and watched as it scurried after them, still largely ignored.
He looked round his shop. The walls were filled with nails, which held numerous necklaces, trinkets, carvings and sculptures and bronze works. He had established it a few months ago when he’d noticed an alarming disconnect.
How could a people know they are great if they didn’t know that they had always been so? His efforts had been met with scorn and fear that quickly turned into hate. He’d received little or no patronage, and the bulk of his sales and lectures had ironically been for tourists who were eager participants.
His eyes rested on a large red wooden carving of a woman’s face. It was in the likeness of Queen Idia of Benin, who was Oba Esegie’s mother. She had been a formidable warrior. Osadolor was a huge fan.
“What do you think, my Queen, will they finally come around?” he asked. The red queen’s face was disapproving in answer. He sighed as he took a bucket of water and sponge to the door of the shop and begin to clean off the writings there.
Die, you heathen!
I rebuke you, agent of Satan
God is the greatest mandman!
He chuckled at the last inscription. The writer obviously needed spelling more than he needed religion. Osadolor locked up the shop after he was done and went home. His house was close. Sleep took him to a vivid dreamland after he helped himself to a heavy meal. He’d planned to wake up and do some reading and start his school assignments.
Osadolor awoke to the smell of smoke. It was nighttime, but his room was lit. He jerked up suddenly. He glanced around the room and realized that the fire wasn’t in the room as he’d feared.
The light was coming from outside. He looked out the window and saw that the market was burning. He started to hear the screams.
“Fire Fire Fire o!”
The voices raised the alarm.
He saw people rushing out with buckets of water and sand. Osadolor went back to bed. He had warded his shop against minor incidents like fire outbreaks, and at this time of the night, only a few goods would be lost, especially after the efforts of the traders who lived nearby like him.
He found it hard to continue his little nap with the entire racket, so he got up to do his homework. As he started to write, he heard something that caught his attention.
“Osi! Osi!” a familiar woman’s voice screamed. Osadolor sprung to his feet, his joints aching with the effort.
“God I am old,” he said, panting as he grabbed a satchel and ran out in only a white night gown.
His bushy mane billowed behind him as he ran to the scene. The fire had grown bigger. He noticed some of the traders give him curt looks while they fought the flames. Quickly, he found Huwa by the edge of the fire. She was still screaming. Tears streamed down her face as she called out to her son. When she saw Osadolor, she latched onto him manically.
“He’s inside—please, please help me! I sent him to get me something from the shop before the fire started, and now he’s locked himself in.”
Osadolor had already taken off. He muttered incantations as he ran. The air around him fizzled as he ran face first into the inferno. When he got to the center, where the shops were laid out in a U shape, he saw that the flames had spread to all of them except one: his own shop, which was at the middle of the bend, was untouched.
He pondered calling down rain, but that would be harder to do in the dry season and would probably not be sufficient for the large fire.
Osadolor thought frantically as he headed for his shop. He didn’t bother going to Huwa’s shop because he couldn’t extend his protection from fire to Osi even if he could break down the shop’s door. He thought he could glimpse Osi through the flames. The little boy heaved in coughs as he waved frantically at him through the dense smoke. Osadolor could not afford to waste any time. He blew out some white powder into the air before him and kept running. Behind him, the powder formed a vague shape of the old man making a calming gesture at the panicked child. He had to stop the fire.
It probably had one source, so he couldn’t isolate portions of the flame to quench. There was only one option left. He had to direct the flames elsewhere. It was difficult, but not impossible—like the puppy he’d healed earlier. Osadolor began the process to draw the fire to the only place he could surrender to the flames: his own shop.
Osadolor brought out the contents of his satchel and began to draw a large circle in the ground with native chalk. He added vertical lines to cut the circle, then sat cross legged at the middle of it and began to speak incantations. He broke the ward to his shop as the flames began to gather above, snaking from the various shops to culminate in a point at the center of the market.
Sweat poured down his face as his hands trembled; his breathing grew laboured. He felt his extremities tingle, his joints aching furiously. He had not expected so much resistance. Dread made his body weightier as he entertained fears that he might be broken by the transmission. As he strained, he realized he should have strapped on his amulet augmenters before taking on the task. It was too late. In the corner of his eye, he glimpsed his chalky doppelganger still making the calming gestures. A quiet passed through him as he imagined Osi holding on to that image as they both succumbed to the flames. He clenched his teeth and screamed as the fire, which had slowed, started to fold into itself till the flames disappeared completely.
The market seemed to go dead silent except for the whistling wind. Suddenly, Osadolor’s shop burst into flames. He muttered furiously as he brought the ward back up, keeping the flames on his shop. He fell sideways, feeling his consciousness slip away as his shop continued to burn before him.
As he faded away, he noticed the traders emerging through the smoke. They were holding cutlasses, hoes, and shotguns—and they were coming right for him. It seemed he’d finally tipped them over the edge with his brazen display.
Osadolor’s eyes closed, knowing it would be for the last time.
Osadolor woke to the smell of roasting meat.
“Hell?’ he whispered.
“Yes, you’re still in Nigeria,” Huwa said, seated by his bedside. He was in a semi-private room at the town clinic.
“Yes, you are, Epa,” she said, smiling.
His eyes began to water.
“So they weren’t coming to kill me after all,” he said, unable to hold back the tears. “They were coming to save me because they thought the fire might kill me. Oh, bless their hearts!”
“Oh, no, they were definitely trying to murder you for being different, unfathomable, and saving a life and all their goods with juju.”
“What?” he asked, his tears stopping abruptly.
“And it didn’t help that this morning, after the fire had finally burnt out and your doors and windows came down, everything was burnt to a crisp… except your precious artifacts. I held them back last night when they were mad with rage. I wasn’t going to let them kill my son’s only friend,”
He could picture the mama bear standing before the crowd and holding them back with sheer force of will.
“They really tried to kill me still? I-I thought—”
Huwa waved him silent. “Don’t be so sad. The Benin Empire wasn’t built in a day. I think you’ve made progress in your mission.”
“How? My shop is burnt down, and the people hate me even more.”
“Yes, yes, but at least you got one new student,” she said.
Just then, Osi burst through the door and jumped on the old man, his half-toothed, smiling face nuzzling him. “Mama says I can come for your classes after school!”
Osadolor chuckled in amazement.
He turned to Huwa, smiling. “But he was already my student, you know?”
“I wasn’t talking about him,” she said, getting up from her seat. “I’ll be coming for Sunday lessons, Epa.” She grabbed his free hand. “Thank you, for saving my son’s life.”
Osadolor’s smile deepened and suddenly disappeared. “Oh my God!”
“What?” Huwa and her son asked, alarmed.
“I haven’t finished my homework, and it’s due this morning,” the old man groaned.
Huwa rolled her eyes and went to get him smoked bushmeat as Osi giggled at his teacher’s predicament.
About the Author
Amadin Ogbewe hails from the ancient city of Benin. He spends most of his time in his head as his body navigates the real world. He’s a journalist who’s been published in Fireside Fiction Magazine, Dark Moon Digest, Expound Magazine and others.
About the Narrator
Solomon Osadolo is a UX Writer and Product Experience specialist based in Lagos, Nigeria.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.