by Jonathan Edelstein
Day One: The Candidate
Past the dancers, past the conversations, past the haze of cigarette smoke, Tunde King's
band was playing.
At the outer rim of the room, Mary Ejiofor leaned on a table and listened. In the two years
she'd lived in Lagos, she'd become used to the palm-wine music that was standard fare at parties
and market-stalls. There was a New World rhythm to it, something that might have come from
Cuba or Brazil. King was something new: he called his music "jùjú," and it married the
Caribbean sound to something defiantly African. Drum, rattle and banjo flowed together in a way
that came out of deepest Yorubaland, and the lyrics were from the countryside, not the sea.
Àlùkó ló l'ósùn, kii ráhùn ósùn--the violet woodcock owns the rosewood, he will never
mourn its lack. . . . Mary wasn't Yoruba, but that was something she could appreciate. She'd
used rosewood in her spells many times, and she knew the álùkó bird well.
"Mary!" someone called. She strained to see who at this party knew her well enough to
use her Christian name, and saw the crowd parting before a figure in cap and agbada. A moment
later, he joined her at the table.
"Dr. Azikiwe," she said, inclining her head.
"What are you doing all the way out here, and with an empty glass too?" Nnamdi
Azikiwe motioned to a passing steward, who refilled Mary's cup of palm wine. "The election
committee needs to meet you. We have a brief for you tomorrow."
"Oh?" Mary asked. She was interested now--paid work was always interesting--and she
let Azikiwe lead her through the press of people and toward the tables next to the stage.
"We'll need you to file some election petitions. Two candidates disqualified in Ikeja and
five in the city. The commission denied their appeals. And we may have need of your other
skills, shall we say, to protect the rallies."
Mary nodded again. The local council elections, the first under the new rules, were a
week away, and Azikiwe's Nigerian Youth Movement was contesting all the seats--or it hoped
to. "The commission is neutral," he went on, "but neutral in the National Democrats' favor, and
even more so in the Union's."
He said more, but her attention had been drawn back to the stage: the lyrics King was
singing now were political. "King George is our father, Governor Bourdillon is our father." Said
another way, the words might have been relevant, but the tone was wickedly satirical. The crowd
laughed and shouted and clapped their hands.
"He calls that one 'Oba Oyinbo'--white king," said Azikiwe. "There's another one he
sings about the war. . ." But whatever he might have said was lost amid cheering as the song
came to an end and the candidates took the stage.
They weren't like any others Mary had seen--at least, not here. All of them were in
traditional clothing, which wasn't itself so unusual: at a nationalist gathering like this one, half
the guests or more had forsaken suits and dresses for agbadas or wraps and geles. But the ones
who weren't reporters or teachers were working men: lorry drivers, dock workers, stonemasons.
Most of them couldn't even vote in the Legislative Council elections, where the qualification was
a hundred pounds a year, but the new local council law set the threshold at either twenty-five
pounds or a Standard Six school certificate. Half the city, rather than five percent, would have a
voice in this election, and it showed.
"They overcome the night," King's praise-song began. "They are the moons of Lagos,
they are the stars of the working class. . ."
The members of the party committee pounded on the table--this was the song they'd
commissioned from King, and he was doing them proud. "Some of us wanted to introduce the
candidates jeje," whispered Azikiwe to Mary. "They said to do it all nice and polite, not to scare
the oyinbo. But that's not who we are, is it?"
Mary couldn't help but agree. Azikiwe had been doing little but scare the colonial
administration since his exile from the Gold Coast, and his new newspaper, the West African
Pilot, had been screaming for the Youth Movement since the elections were announced. If she
were Bourdillon and saw the people gathered here--Saros, Igbo, Yoruba from both Lagos and
the north, even a Hausa man or two--she'd certainly be scared.
"Though, for all that, we're speaking Yoruba now," she murmured. She wasn't sure if
Azikiwe heard, but then he gave the barest answering nod. Neither was entirely comfortable in
the Yoruba language, but it was better than speaking Igbo and having people think they were
conspiring, speaking pidgin and looking uneducated, or speaking proper English and looking like
puffed up been-tos. Two years back in Nigeria, and Mary still wasn't sure she was home.
"Show the light and the people will find the way," King sang--it was the Pilot's motto,
and also the climax of his praise-song. The crowd rose to its feet, and the cheers were deafening
as the candidates took a bow.
"Now we can talk about those petitions," Azikiwe said when the noise died down. "You
haven't met the whole committee--let me introduce them. . ."
Mary held out her hand as the introductions were made, and sipped her palm wine while
they discussed the electoral commission's rulings. After, she got up to go home: it was getting
late, and she didn't want to be distracted when she planned out the petitions. If she could finish
them tomorrow morning, she could argue them the day after, and speed was important.
She was distracted anyway. The band that had taken the stage after Tunde King's group
was called the Three Night Wizards, and she realized from their voices that they were Igbo.
Though they sang in English, their music was enough to give Mary a moment's
homesickness--until she heard the chorus.
"I love Yoruba girl," they sang, and the room erupted in shouts of approval.
Mary stifled a laugh and tried to imagine a Yoruba band in Igboland singing about their
love for Igbo girls. They know their audience, at least, she thought, and she hoped that the courts
would give her as friendly a reception in two days' time.
Day Two: The Gathering
The next day was mercifully quiet. In the morning, Mary went to the Law Society library
to research the election petitions, and she worried that there would be a queue at the door when
she returned to her chambers, but there wasn't. One man came in later to talk about a will and
another to file suit against a lorry driver who'd knocked him down, and a couple of women
wanted a charm to ease morning sickness, but there was plenty of time to type up the petitions
and send a runner to file them before the courts closed.
She stayed a while longer to work on the will, and then locked the office and walked to
the shed where her bicycle was waiting. It was a veteran of the wars: she'd got it soon after she
came back from England, and on Lagos roads, even her mending charms had barely nursed it
through two years of use. She steadied it carefully and started to mount, but stopped short when
she heard someone calling her name: no, someone singing her name.
The voice was coming from the garage across Apongbon Street, and it was one she'd
come to know. Antonio was sitting in front of the gate, banjo in hand, and he and his friends had
clearly been playing for a while.
"Mary," he sang again, running the word up and down an octave, and at the wave of his
hand, she walked the bicycle across the street and sat down on the box next to him. Like the
others, he had the map of Brazil on his face. The garage owner was Igbo like Mary was--Igbo
men did magic with iron, and in Lagos they were great mechanics--but his employees were
descended from Brazilian freedmen as most people in Apongbon were, and they'd been a palm-wine band together for years.
It wasn't palm-wine music they were playing now, though--it was an ofo awure, an
invocational chant. It was magic, and it was a kind of wizardry that Mary still found new. Igbo
sorcery--and English sorcery, for that matter--came from handiwork and growing things, but
Yoruba magic came from poetry. The forms were intricate, and though Mary had become
conversational in Yoruba, she still found poetic meter difficult to master.
She listened, opening her mind to the lyrics and cadence. "The agbe bird carries blessings
to Olokun, the álùkó bird carries blessings to Olosa. . ." As the music flowed, she realized that
the song was a prayer for songs: a plea for inspiration, for success as musicians, for friendly
audiences and large fees. There were other kinds of ofo, but ofo awure was used for good fortune
and possessions, and she wondered if magic channeled through poetry might be especially
effective when the fortune sought was the poetic gift.
"You try one now, Mary," Antonio said. "You want your blessing, right? Blessing in the
courts? See how you ask for it."
Mary searched for a theme, and decided that her ofo too should center on birds. She'd
once heard Antonio sing that a hawk knew no litigation; maybe there were other birds that did.
"The eagle sees from above, the parrot is eloquent in its speech," she began, and Antonio
accompanied her on the banjo. "They will carry my voice to the judges, they will bring me to
Olorun for justice..."
As it had done since Mary was a child, the verses and music became an anchor for her
concentration, a source of power. She felt energy flow through her, felt the difficult meter
become easier. This time, she hardly noticed when the ofo came to an end.
"Much better, Mary!" said Antonio. He and the others were clapping their hands. "Law
isn't so different from ofo, you see." He launched into a palm-wine song, a lampoon of two
wives who sued each other over their husband's affections, and she joined in their laughter until
she suddenly realized the time.
"I'll be late for the otu umunwanyi!" she cried, rising from her seat and vaulting onto the
bicycle with a single movement. "I'm sorry. . . ."
"Oh, don't worry. Time is nothing to us." Antonio gave her a languid wave that would
have done honor to a Regency nobleman, and returned to his playing.
The otu umunwanyi, the society of women from the Owerri district who lived in Lagos,
met in Obalende where most of the Igbo community lived. It was less than two miles from
Mary's chambers, but even at this hour, the streets were filled with lorries and cars, and drivers in
Lagos knew no rules. Mary also had to detour to the market for a jug of palm wine. It would
never do to come to the meeting empty-handed, and there wasn't time to stop at home. She was
breathless when she got to the second-floor room that the sorority had rented, and the kola-nut
invocation had already been made.
A few of the women looked sharply at Mary as she made her apologies, but most of them
didn't, and in a way, that was even worse: they no longer expected of her what they'd have
expected from another Igbo woman. Eight years ago, in the uprising that had become known as
the Igbo Women's War, Mary had used a cooking charm to jam the government soldiers' rifles.
No Nigerian since then had stopped British guns from firing, but it was worth something for the
British to know they could. It had given them an edge in negotiating reforms like the
Consultation System for picking warrant chiefs and now the urban council elections. The votes
that many of the women would cast in a week's time were partly Mary's doing, and it made her
larger than life. . . but it also made her a witch. Everyone had a little magic, but a person who had
as much as Mary was something fearful, and now with a Cambridge law degree on top of it, she
was something different.
"Come sit here!" called Sarah, who'd fought with her in the Women's War, and Mary felt
a stab of gratitude that almost brought her to tears. She hurried to the table that the women from
Ulakwo village had claimed and took the chair that Sarah pulled out for her.
"I got a letter from Caroline," Sarah said, naming the woman who'd once been Mary's
best friend. "She misses you. Why don't you visit home?"
"She has another baby she'd like to show you," said Martha, who'd been fifteen when the
uprising happened and who'd moved to Lagos when her husband became a police officer.
"Yes, I should see the baby," Mary answered, but without much feeling. Martha, too, had
an infant on her lap--her third--and the sight reminded Mary of something else about witches:
men didn't marry them. She would be twenty-six in November, three years older than Martha,
and she had no children of her own and wondered if she ever would.
She'd had an offer of marriage once--from an Englishman. Sometimes she wondered if
she should have taken it.
The happiness she'd felt during Antonio's ofo lesson seemed far away now, and she was
grateful for Sarah's voice bringing her back to earth. "Is it true they've offered you a civil service
post in Owerri?" she was asking. "You could live there and visit home whenever you want."
"Mr. Hunt from the governor's office invited me to apply for one--no guarantees, but
they'd consider it favorably." Exactly what to think of that invitation was something Mary was
still working out, and she was grateful when Sarah let her change the subject to the election
petitions. She moved on from there. For a while, the talk was of home things, family things, and
it was good to laugh and sing in her own language.
Then she heard the gunshots.
The conversation in the room dissolved into screaming, and Mary found herself in the
middle of a confused group of women rushing down the stairs. Outside, the gathering darkness
revealed a body lying on the ground, with two gaping wounds in his forehead and blood running
in rivers to the gutter.
The police were there quickly--they must have been on patrol and heard--so Mary had
only seconds to register two facts. The first was that the victim was a drummer she'd sometimes
seen play with Tunde King. The second was the scrap of paper he held in his hand--a scrap that
read "OBA OYINBO."
Day Three: The Client
On Simpson Street, the morning road crew, supplemented by a double platoon of area
boys hired for the occasion, was putting up bunting. The posters of candidates' faces were now
one layer deep in the strata, with one face replacing them: that of George VI, King by the grace of
Britain's God. He was scheduled to visit Lagos on election day. His route would take him past
the courthouse, and the government obviously intended to be prepared.
The king gazed down on Mary as she chained her bicycle to a courthouse post. "The oba
oyinbo," she thought, and the reflection brought back memories of both Tunde King's song and
last night's murder. She seemed to see the drummer's face, his eyes unseeing as they'd been
when the police took his body away on a stretcher, the dark stains of blood on his skin and
clothes. It was a poor omen for the day, and the thought carried her into the courthouse. Amid her
preoccupation, it came as a surprise when the bailiff announced the beginning of the session.
"The High Court of Lagos, the Honorable Sir Kitoye Ajasa presiding!"
Mary hastily rose to her feet, and her eyes met the judge's as he took the bench. Sir
Kitoye was one of a very few Africans to be named to the High Court, but that wouldn't make
him any more sympathetic to her petitions. He was a Saro--from a Sierra Leone family--and
like most of the Saro upper class, he'd cast his lot firmly with the British Empire. He'd also been
on the commission that investigated the Women's War, and in their periodic meetings, he made
no secret that he considered Mary's testimony impertinent. He would follow the law--there was
no disputing his integrity--but she expected no mercy.
The case was called, the electoral commission's counsel followed her into the well, and
the fight began. She quickly won one of the Ikeja petitions and lost the other, which was what she
expected: the documents were straightforward and the evidence beyond serious dispute. In Lagos
city, she also won one and lost one, and then she won Toyin Akinsanya's appeal, which she
hadn't expected. His income as a carpenter was just above the threshold and his affidavits of
employment only covered part of the year, but as she pointed out when the commission counsel
objected, there was nothing to contradict his statement that he'd worked at similar jobs since
coming to Lagos. "I've seen his work," Judge Ajasa said, "and I can't imagine he's ever been out
of work long."
But then it was time for Ernest Ikoli and Isaac Oluwole. There was no dispute about their
qualifications--Oluwole was a doctor and the first African to hold the rank of city medical
officer, and Ikoli a well-known journalist--but the commission had raised a dispute about
whether the former had resigned from the civil service in time to be a candidate and whether the
latter was guilty of seditious speech. And as the argument progressed, it became clear that Ajasa
didn't intend to rule that day.
"There are ambiguities in Dr. Oluwole's documents," he said, "and I don't feel I can
decide his case on affidavits. I'll need to hear his testimony and that of the city clerk. And in the
Ikoli matter, the context of his words is all-important. I have the words themselves in front of me,
but I need to hear from those who heard them."
"With respect, your Honor," Mary answered, "speech is either seditious or it isn't. No
charges were brought against Mr. Ikoli as a result of the statement in question, and to hold that
the same words can be seditious in front of one audience and not seditious in front of another
would allow selective prosecution without limit. It can't be a crime to say to Africans what it
isn't a crime to say to Europeans."
"That's certainly arguable, Miss Ejiofor, but to my knowledge, the Court of Appeal has
never ruled out context as a factor in assessing seditious words. And we're also not talking about
a criminal prosecution here--my brief is to protect the integrity of an election, and I believe that I
can apply a more malleable standard. I will need to hear the witnesses, Counselor."
"I can subpoena them for this afternoon, your Honor. . ."
"I'm afraid I have other matters on the calendar for this afternoon, and tomorrow, of
course, is Saturday. We will have to reconvene on Monday morning."
"The ballots are being printed Monday afternoon."
"I will do everything possible to issue a timely ruling," said Ajasa, but Mary suddenly
realized he had no such intention. These were the candidates the governor was most afraid of,
and there was no real reason to rule against their petitions, but Sir Kitoye could still run out the
clock. He wouldn't break the law, but he was quite willing to stretch it.
"Counsel are dismissed until nine o'clock Monday." Mary thanked the judge reflexively
and hurried out of the courthouse. She'd need to send a runner to Azikiwe with the news and
issue subpoenas for the next session, and she'd also need to be in the Court of Appeal first thing
Monday morning with an emergency petition. The day ahead looked to be a frantic one. Maybe
her ofo for success in court should have been more specific.
Matters only got worse when she reached Apongbon, because an excited crowd had
gathered outside her chambers. She recognized their spokesman--Udechukwu, a clerk working
in the Survey Office--a moment before he reached out to grab her handlebars. "Emecheta has
been arrested!" he shouted.
"Charles Emecheta. For the murder last night--the musician. We need you to defend
Mary disengaged the bicycle as politely as she could and waved everyone into the office.
"Why was he arrested?"
"He and Adeola--the one who was shot--were in different bands. People heard him
threaten to kill Adeola, something about a fee." Udechukwu's voice said he believed Emecheta
guilty, and it seemed that most of the others did as well, but he was Igbo, so they would pay for
For a moment, Mary considered refusing--if she took the brief, she'd have to go visit
Emecheta today in prison, and that would keep her working on the emergency petition late into
the night. But she was Igbo too.
She got to the front gate of the Broad Street Prison twenty minutes later. The officer on
duty was Martha's husband Emeka, but she made sure to dash him a shilling anyway. It was
important to keep him sweet for when she needed something outside the rules. He greeted her
with only slight reserve and saw to it that she didn't have to wait long before she was brought to
She sat on a bench opposite the prisoner, and as her eyes adjusted to the light, she
recognized him as one of the Night Wizards who'd played at the candidates' party two days
before. He, too, scanned her face for something familiar, but found nothing and looked down.
"Are you the lawyer?" he asked.
"I am. And you're the one who loves Yoruba girls."
She'd meant that to lighten the mood, but Emecheta was terrified enough that it only
scared him more. "No, ma'am, that was just a song. I didn't mean any insult to Igbo girls. . ." He
trailed off and looked at her anxiously. She was an Igbo woman, and she had his life in her
"I was joking," she reassured him. "But I need to know--did you threaten to kill
Emecheta exhaled deeply. "I did say I wanted him dead. You know he plays with Tunde
King and a couple of palm-wine bands? He put a curse on me--he left an oògùn, a medicine
object, under the Marina Tavern so that the owner would have his band play there instead of
mine. I found out about it from a street witch, and I said I wanted to kill him--wouldn't anyone?
But I didn't shoot him. I didn't."
"He was shot after nine o'clock last night. Where were you then? Can you prove it?"
"I was at home. In my room in Obalende. I live alone."
"Did anyone see you come and go, at least?"
"Maybe the landlady."
Mary took the landlady's name and filed it away for further inquiry. Maybe she'd seen
Emecheta last night, or maybe she could lead Mary to other witnesses. But right now, it didn't
She promised to see him again after she'd inquired, and made her way back through
crowded streets to her chambers. She sent a runner out with the subpoenas, laid out the books
she'd borrowed from the Law Society, and began drafting the papers for the Court of Appeal.
When she looked up, it was seven o'clock and she was hungry and exhausted. The
petition wasn't finished, so she'd have to stop in the office over the weekend to work on it; she'd
also have to find time to meet with the witnesses when she wasn't protecting the Youth
Movement's rally. It was all too much to think about at once, and her mind turned instead to
If she couldn't prove anything about where Emecheta was, maybe she could find
something out about Adeola--did he have other enemies? Rivalries between bands did go as far
as murder sometimes, and that went double when music mixed with politics and witchcraft.
Maybe Tunde King would know something, but he didn't know Mary and he'd get defensive if
she started poking around. She'd have to start with someone she did know, and she suddenly
realized there was such a person not far away.
Antonio lived upstairs in an old Brazilian house with a latticework balcony and shuttered
windows. He had two rooms to himself--somehow, he could afford it--and when Mary knocked
on the door, he was making egusi with fish and pumpkin leaves.
"Are we in England?" he asked, opening the door and motioning her to a chair. "Have we
become so free that ladies just come calling? Maybe this isn't England but paradise."
Mary couldn't help laughing. "I'm here on business. I don't think that happens in
"Then have some egusi." He ladled a generous helping into a wooden dish and set it in
front of her. "Business isn't for the hungry."
She settled back and took the edge off her hunger, and as she did, she explained the
Emecheta case quickly. "Do you know him, and do you know Adeola? Is there anyone else who
might have shot him?"
Antonio thought for a moment. "Emecheta gets into fights sometimes, but I've never
heard of him using a gun. Not sure he'd even know where to get one. Adeola. . . yes, he has some
enemies, and a few people who might remember where he was going after he left the Marina
Tavern last night."
"Would they tell us, if they remembered?"
"There's a kind of ofo that calls forth memory--ofo isoye. But I'm not sure if they'd
remember anything useful. He was done at the tavern two hours before he was shot."
"They could lead us to other. . . wait!"
Antonio spread his hands. "Wait for what?"
"Adeola's friends might not remember anything useful. But maybe Adeola can."
Day Four: The Dead
They visited Emeka the next morning at the prison gate. "I need you to take me to the
morgue," Mary said. "I need to talk to Adeola. It's important, if Emecheta has any hope."
"That'll cost you two pounds." Emecheta might be Igbo, but risk was risk. Mary reached
into her purse and the money changed hands, and Emeka disappeared into a wardroom to find a
fellow officer to cover for him. A moment later, he ushered them across the street to the General
The hospital was a low, whitewashed colonial building, but the downstairs morgue, damp
and poorly lit, seemed like another world. Adeola's body was laid out on a table in roughly the
same condition it had been when Mary last saw it. The cause of death was obvious, so there was
no need for the medical examiner to do an autopsy. The bullets, at least, had been removed--no
doubt the police were holding them elsewhere--and Adeola's face had been cleaned, but the
violence of his death was still written across his body.
Mary felt Antonio stiffen beside her. She wondered why, and after a second she knew:
he'd never seen the corpse of someone who'd been shot. She remembered the first time she'd
seen one--in the Women's War eight years ago, when Grandmother Adanna had fallen to the
Hausa soldiers' bullets--and by instinct, she took his hand. He steadied, and though he withdrew
his hand a moment later, she felt the gratitude in his touch.
Her other hand carried a pestle and palm leaf. These weren't oògùn--they were Igbo
magic, not Yoruba--but the entity Mary planned to call on with her ofo was no Yoruba god.
Long ago in the Women's War, she had called on Ebele, the first mother of her village, for a
vision of the future. They were far from Ebele's home, but an Igbo had been accused of this
murder, so maybe she would agree to be Mary's ambassador to the country of the dead.
"This pestle is sacred to Ebele," she began. "This palm leaf I offer to shield her. This
voice I join with hers, to call on her countryman's memory. . ."
Antonio followed her on the banjo. The music would keep her to the rhythm, make sure
her meter didn't falter, and she grasped it as a drowning man might reach for a rope. Her verse
went on, the ofo she'd spent the night carefully composing, and as it did, she felt a ghostly voice
And on the table, Adeola stirred.
"Speak to me, Adeola," Mary said. "You were murdered, and I am looking for your killer.
Tell me who shot you, that I might give his name to the police."
She heard a voice, low and indistinct. It seemed that Adeola, under the compulsion of the
ofo isoye, was searching his memory. "I would tell you if I knew," he said. "But I don't know. I
didn't see his face. I only saw the gun."
"What did the gun look like?"
His description was labored--he didn't know the make--but Antonio hissed as he
recognized it. "A Colt," he said. "Not many American guns in Lagos. That might help."
Mary scarcely heard. "Can you tell me where you had come from? The Marina Tavern?"
There was more searching of memory, and Adeola hummed a song, possibly one he had
played at the tavern the night he was killed. "No. No. Finished there. In Obalende." He choked
out an address, and Mary recognized it as the same one Emecheta had given her.
"That's not good," Antonio whispered.
"Was Emecheta there? Emecheta from the Night Wizards?"
"Don't know Emecheta."
Mary knew that was untrue--by now, she'd heard a half-dozen stories of Adeola and
Emecheta's rivalry. But the dead didn't lie--had Adeola simply lost the memory? Surely, if
Emecheta were indeed his killer, he wouldn't have forgotten so soon.
Suddenly, Adeola interrupted. "Ask me where I was going."
"Yes," Mary answered, overcoming her shock. "Where were you going?"
"To Zik--Azikiwe. To the party. To tell them."
"Tell them what? You had a paper that said 'oba oyinbo.' Was that what you wanted to
"Tell them. Oba oyinbo. The gun. . ."
And all at once, the ofo's force faded. Memory faded with it, and there was silence.
"We have to go to the landlady," Antonio said. The spirits of the dead were gone, but in a
morgue, he still spoke in a whisper. "She can tell us about the meeting, at least. Landladies know
everything--if we can learn who Adeola was meeting with, maybe we can learn what he wanted
"Maybe," Mary answered. "Oba oyinbo. . . the song? Politics? The gun. . ."
"Pieces of memory in the dark. We won't know unless we find the other pieces."
It was a mile to Ojo Street in Obalende, and sometimes when Mary went there, she
thought she was back home: the smells, the foods, the clothing all seemed to spring from deepest
Igboland. But nowhere in Igbo country--not even in the cities--were the buildings so tall or
impossibly close together. When they got to the building on Ojo and Moshalashi--beauty parlor
and garage on the ground floor, apartments on the upper three--they knew they were in Lagos,
and when a Yoruba landlady answered the door, they knew even better.
"Who you looking for?" she asked, and noticed Mary. "I've seen you. Heard you were a
"She's a member of the Lagos Bar," said Antonio, "and I'm sure the witches there are
That was a joke that might have worked in Apongbon or the Marina, but Mary could see
that it went over the landlady's head. If anything, it made her more suspicious. "I'm a lawyer,"
she said. "I'm instructed by Charles Emecheta, and I'm making inquiries into the murder of Mr.
Adeola. I've learned that he was at a meeting here last night, shortly before he was shot."
Her matter-of-fact way of speaking didn't dispel the landlady's suspicion altogether, but it
did disarm her, and more than that, it convinced her that Mary and Antonio already knew
something. "Meeting. . . yes. There's a group that rents a room on the second floor. They meet
"A union? A village men's society?"
"Not like that, no. They get all kinds--Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, men from Calabar. They're not
from one village. Something political, I think--a political party."
Mary ran through a mental list of political parties, and could think of none that had their
headquarters in Obalende. "Was Adeola a member?"
"I don't know who their members are, but I see him there before."
"Was Emecheta?" Antonio broke in.
"Him? No. He stay in his room all the time playing music when he's not out playing
somewhere else. Sometimes he bring in a girl. But politics--no, he never say a word about that
as long as he live here."
That didn't necessarily mean anything--Emecheta could still have lain in wait for Adeola
to come out of the meeting--but it was a point in his favor. Mary's mind raced, but another
question came to her. "Oba oyinbo. Did they ever say that?"
The landlady gave her a sharp look and adjusted her gele where its knot had begun to slip.
"White king? When they come downstairs, I hear them talk about British this and governor that,
but they never say that."
"Their room. Can I see the room?"
That proved to be a bit much for the landlady, even when Mary offered ten shillings'
dash. "I tell you what, though," she said. "They rent the room again for tomorrow afternoon.
Maybe you go to meeting, find out what Adeola knew."
"Maybe," Mary said. "Thank you."
She'd have to come back after church tomorrow--after church and before the Youth
Movement rally. She'd have to find time somewhere to finish the Court of Appeal petition.
Maybe she could go back to the office tonight--she was drained, but a meal might help.
She let Antonio walk her home to the Marina. When she'd first returned from Cambridge,
she'd looked for rooms in Obalende, but there were few single Igbo women in Lagos and none
available to share. No one would rent to her alone, and if she boarded with a family, she'd be
treated not much differently from a second wife. So she'd found space in an old Brazilian house
very much like Antonio's where she and two Englishwomen chaperoned each other and shared
four rooms and a maid.
Delilah, a trainee nurse, was at the hospital when they arrived; Margaret, a secretary at the
Health Commission, was reading in the common room. "What's that, a gentleman caller?" she
said, looking up from her novel. "He can certainly call on me. But a note came for you an hour
Margaret motioned toward a table, and Mary saw an envelope there with the governor's
emblem on it. Inside was an invitation to a tea reception at the government offices. "What's this
about?" she murmured, and it didn't help that her housemate looked equally surprised.
"Are you going?" Margaret asked. "I'll go if you're not."
"No, I'll go." So much for finishing the petition, Mary thought, but she needed to know
why the invitation had materialized, and there would at least be food. She looked up at Antonio
and realized that she wanted him there with her, but the ticket didn't say anything about a guest.
"Tomorrow?" she asked. "The meeting?" Antonio nodded and disappeared with a
dancer's skill. Mary went into her room to change.
She found a car to take her to Government House--the bicycle wouldn't do for this--and
a uniformed guard took her ticket and brought her inside. The reception was in the garden, and it
was full of upper-class people of both colors: Governor Bourdillon was off to one side in a knot
of people that included Sir Kitoye Ajasa. Mary mentally rehearsed the pleasantries that they'd go
through if they encountered each other, and realized that these were people who, fairly or
otherwise, she'd come to regard as the enemy.
"Miss Ejiofor," called a voice behind her, and when she turned, she felt a flash of shame
at her thought of a moment before. Commissioner Hunt wasn't an enemy of hers. He'd also been
on the Women's War commission, but she'd impressed him more favorably than she had Ajasa.
The consulting fee that had enabled her to go to Newnham College was his doing, and even now
that he was Chief Commissioner of the Northern Provinces, he took an interest in her career. She
was suddenly sure that he'd arranged her invitation to the reception, and she was even more so
when he steered her to a table.
"Sir Kitoye was very impressed with how you handled yourself yesterday morning."
"He did an admirable job of hiding it, then."
Hunt laughed, just slightly more than politeness demanded. "But he was. Whatever he
may think of the affair in Owerri, he recognizes your skill. I was happy to add my voice to his,
but he was the one who brought your name up at the Executive Council meeting."
Mary sipped her tea and was silent. From the morgue to the Executive Council was rather
much for one day, and she sensed that Hunt had more to say.
"We've had discussions in the past about civil service posts in Igboland. The government
is prepared to do more than discuss. We're offering you a seat on the Native Court of Appeal in
Enugu with immediate effect."
"I don't know what to say," Mary answered, and she didn't. A few women had been
appointed as Native Court judges in Igboland after the war, but none until now had been named
to an appellate seat. To be offered this at twenty-five was an honor. . . but hard on that thought
came the realization that she was being bribed. With immediate effect--the job they were
offering her would keep her out of Lagos and out of politics. And, appellate or not, it was a
Native Court judgeship: she might indeed have impressed the government favorably, but that
didn't make her European.
"I need time to think about this," she said.
"Take some time. But not too much time," and when Hunt's voice flattened on the last
sentence, she knew it was coming from the government.
"Now, let's find you something to eat," he continued, softening the message. "There are
some people over there who you'd enjoy knowing--a bookish lot, like you are. You can talk
about Henry James with them."
Mary followed where he led, but was already preparing her excuses. The petition was still
waiting, and though she'd been offered one job, she still had others to finish.
Day Five: The Secret
It was two in the morning before Mary finished the petitions, and at eight she was in St.
George's with the other members of the otu umunwanyi who followed the Church of England.
She liked St. George's. The pastor was African and not ashamed to show it, and he preached the
new faith in a way that respected the old. It wasn't like Warden Coker's church which had
seceded from the Anglican communion entirely, but it wasn't like Cambridge either. It was a
place of boisterous joy, of palm leaves and drums, and when Sarah led the hymns in Igbo, Mary
could imagine that she was once more a child taking her lessons from Mrs. Carter the
She walked toward Tinubu Square and the Youth Movement rally when the service
ended, and many of the congregation followed her. She was surprised, but on a moment's
reflection she realized she shouldn't have been. Sarah might be the only other member of the otu
umunwanyi who was overtly political, but most of the Igbo families were broadly in sympathy
with the party's platform. Mary didn't complain: they were welcome, and the more people who
could join her protective spell, the stronger it would be.
There was already a crowd in the square, and Mary had to push through them as she
handed out palm leaves to the other women. She stopped at each of the streets and alleys that fed
into the square and began chanting a protective charm; the women joined her and even some of
the men, though protective spells were usually a woman's magic. At every street, she said "no
evil will enter this way;" at every alley, she said "no harm will pass here;" and at the speaker's
platform, she said "let no discord come."
It didn't seem like there was any discord, at least from within the square. It was a fine
day, and the people were treating the rally like it was one of the Afro-Brazilians' carnivals.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the teacher, was talking about free primary education and equality for
women, and though she got more cheers for the former than the latter, the crowd received her
All the same, it was only half an hour before the spell was tested. A group of people
carrying People's Union banners, some European but most African, started to push their way in
from the direction of Broad Street. Some of them had clubs and the others had clearly come
ready to use their fists, and they shouted their party's slogans. . . and after a minute, they came to
the bewildered realization that that was all they were doing. They argued with the Youth
Movement people in the square--palm leaves would never protect against that, because what
harm was there in argument--but none of them raised a hand, and Mary could see them
struggling to understand why. And even when others came with red flags, shouting that taking
part in the elections at all was playing the oyinbo's game, no fists were raised and no rocks
She turned her attention back to the stage with a measure of satisfaction, and wondered
whether the Union and the National Democrats had put similar spells on their rallies. Probably
not, she decided. Most of them held to the British attitude that spells were nice things for
housewives but not for something serious like factories or Maxim guns.
Dr. Oluwole had taken the platform--he spoke for the party whether his appeal was won
or lost--and was talking about the public health improvements he'd made as medical officer and
his plans for sanitation in the slums. Azikiwe spoke next, about the cocoa growers in the Gold
Coast who'd banded together against monopoly pricing: "What they can do together, so can we."
Could Igbo palm-oil growers do the same thing? Mary wondered. Monopoly pricing had
been part of what led to the Women's War eight years ago--declining prices on top of higher
taxes--and despite reforms, it was still a problem. Maybe if she took the judgeship on the Native
Court of Appeal, she could support a planters' union. . .
"Those cases would come before the High Court, though," she said out loud, "and they're
not about to offer me that. I'm a native, so the Native Courts have to be good enough for me."
To Mary's complete surprise, Sarah slapped her in the face.
"You're twenty-five," Sarah said while Mary stood there stunned. That was the sort of
slap that Caroline might have delivered to bring her to her senses when they were both girls, but
it was nothing she'd ever expected from Sarah. "Do they put twenty-five-year-old white men on
the High Court? If you think you can fight better or do more good some other way, then refuse
the Native Courts, but if you can do good there, don't ever think it's beneath you."
Mary looked at Sarah and at the gathering crowd, and for a second she raised her hand,
but then she put it down. She could do good on the Native Court of Appeal. She'd have a say
how customary law should adapt to changing times, and appellate judges sat trials too, so she'd
have a chance to help people settle their disputes like neighbors. She might even find someone
willing to marry her--a chief, maybe, who wanted influence more than he feared witches.
"Maybe you're right," she said. The slap still stung a little. Evidently it wasn't the kind of
discord that palm leaves protected against. Maybe that meant it wasn't harmful.
Sarah nodded, conceding the "maybe," and took Mary's hand.
It was past four by the time Mary could break away to Obalende. Antonio had found a
spot opposite Emecheta's building between a market stall and a street tailor with her sewing
machine, and he moved aside to make room. He had a bowl of fufu with groundnuts, and he'd
already borrowed a second plate.
"Lot of people going in," he said, pointing toward the door. "The meeting should be
Someone else entered the building even as he spoke, someone Mary thought she'd seen
before, maybe a hanger-on of one of the bands.
"How do we get in?" Antonio asked. "They don't know us. They'd never talk when we're
there. . . wait a minute. You told me once about a British spell you learned, to cast a glamor over
someone's face. Will you disguise me?"
Antonio laughed. "That would scare the bastards, wouldn't it? It would have to be one of
them--but we don't know who they are, do we?"
"We don't. And the place is warded--I smelled that yesterday. If I cast a glamor on us, it
would come off as soon as we walked in. No, I'm going to teach you an Igbo spell in return for
the ofos you've taught me."
Mary laid a Great War bayonet on the table. "We need iron for this, and you know iron
well. And in Igboland, divination is men's magic. We need to pierce their wards subtly so they'll
never know we're listening through the keyhole, and this spell works more smoothly when it's
cast by a man."
Antonio demurred no more, let his hand rest in Mary's, and bent his head to listen. As
Mary had expected, he learned the spell readily--his musical sense and his feel for iron guided
him to the words and gestures, and he was a man of the New World who didn't fear witchcraft.
Soon, he wasn't learning the spell but casting it, and soon after, voices came through the bayonet
as if on a scratchy telephone line.
"You got the map for Colt?" someone said. Mary took in her breath, remembering what
Adeola's ghost had said about the gun that killed him.
"Yes. Oba oyinbo go all down Broad Street. Colt wait, Colt shoot."
"You give it to him?"
"He's hiding now. Colt kill that Yoruba man, bad thing."
"He would have told."
"Still bad for Colt."
"You find him. . ."
Mary realized with a start that the men in the room were talking about a person: Colt
might have got his name from the gun he used, but they weren't talking about the gun, they were
talking about the shooter. And hard on that came the realization of exactly who they planned to
shoot. "Oba oyinbo. . . ," she murmured.
"This morning at the square," the voice from the bayonet was saying. "You know what
"No. Something smell strange, and then halfway home, I remember we didn't fight
anyone. Something smell strange. . . something smell strange now."
Suddenly, Mary sensed that something was searching, and she jerked her hand away from
Antonio's and knocked the bayonet off the table. Antonio looked up at her, shocked out of
"I'm sorry." Mary knew how it felt when a spell was interrupted. Sometimes there was
even pain. "They felt we were watching. We have to go."
"We'd better." Antonio gripped Mary's hand again and led her down Ojo Street, looking
anxiously back at the door as if he expected someone to charge out and shoot them. They were
lost among the market crowds soon enough, but he didn't stop until they were past St. Gregory's
College and back in the Marina.
"They want to kill the king," he said, breathless.
"What do we do?"
"An ofo afore?" Mary said. That was the kind of ofo that averted misfortune. "The
police? But first I need to tell Zik."
And she did, an hour later when Azikiwe had hastily summoned the party committee.
They sat in the third-story suite on Broad Street that the Youth Movement had rented as election
headquarters, looking down at the route that King George would take less than three days hence.
"Why do we do anything?" asked an intense man that Mary had met once or twice. She
remembered that his name was Okpala. "Why not just let them do it?"
"What?" said Dr. Oluwole. A few others looked on the verge of rising from their seats.
"Let them do it," Okpala repeated. "The British rule our country in the name of that king.
They take everything from us in his name. Why should we save him?"
"The king has no power," Ikoli said mildly. "He's not the prime minister or the governor.
He's a symbol--he's blameless."
"Then strike a blow against the symbol."
For a moment, there was silence, and Mary wondered at the odd counterpoint between
this meeting and her conversation with Sarah earlier in the day. "And after that blow," she said,
"what about the blows they'd strike against us? Are we strong enough to take them?"
The words called back memories of the Women's War eight years before. She'd stopped
rifles from firing, but when the district officer had threatened to bring in airplanes and machine
guns, she'd known she couldn't stop those. The uprising had ended in a compromise, not a
revolution. No, they weren't yet strong enough to throw off the British with one blow.
"She's right, I think," said Ikoli. "Even if we could brook murder--which I won't, I'll tell
you right now--they'd go bloody mad after. If a Nigerian killed the king. . . well, we could count
out any more elections, and the prisons would be full."
"I won't stand for it," Azikiwe said. "He's a figurehead, which means he's an innocent. I
won't stand by and let someone murder him. That's not who we are."
"We go to the police, then?" asked Dr. Oluwole.
"Yes, we'll tell the police," said Akinsanya, an old Yoruba man from Ibadan who'd been
silent before. "But all we can tell them is that there's a threat against the king from someone
named Colt. Do they know who he is or where to look for him? I'm worried that's no protection
"Let Mary put palm leaves out on Broad Street like she did this morning at the square,"
Ikoli said. "Or in the carriage, if they'd let her."
Mary shook her head. "Palm leaves don't stop bullets. I learned that in '29."
"Maybe the police do know who Colt is," said Azikiwe. "And if they don't, then I think
Mary had better find out."
Day Six: The Song
The judges on the Court of Appeal wanted to talk about sedition. They'd ordered books
down from the library and they had questions about cases from Britain and Australia and Canada,
from India, even from America. "What was it Mr. Justice Holmes said about shouting 'fire' in a
crowded theater?" asked Judge Harris. "Can you say that there's a right to speak in a way that
might endanger the peace?"
"At times, your Honor," said Mary, "there may be a duty to shout 'fire' in a crowded
theater--for instance, if there is a fire."
Judge Harris wasn't sure what he thought of that. But as the argument went on, it became
clear that, whatever role context might play in determining whether speech was seditious, the
judges weren't comfortable with the idea of prosecuting an African for saying to an African
political club what an Englishman could freely say to an assembly of Englishmen. "And make no
mistake about it," said Judge Price, "the learned Sir Kitoye is correct that this is an election case,
but any decision we might make today would be cited by the public prosecutor."
There were a few more minutes of this, and then the electoral commission's counsel
abruptly withdrew his objection to Ikoli's candidacy. He's afraid of making bad precedent, Mary
realized, but whatever the reason, she didn't plan to complain.
"On the other matter," Judge Harris said, "we will remand to Sir Kitoye with directions to
rule immediately after the hearing, and in light of the urgency of the matter, we will hear any
After that, there were only minutes for Mary to attend Emecheta's arraignment and
whisper to him what she'd learned before she was back in front of Judge Ajasa. Dr. Oluwole and
the clerk took the witness stand, and when they finished, Sir Kitoye did the only thing he really
could do. "The petition is sustained, and Dr. Oluwole is eligible to be elected," he said. "And,
Miss Ejiofor, I hope to hear great things about you from Enugu."
That brought her up short, and she wondered, as she left the courthouse, whether that
might be part of the reason for her victory. Were they giving her this to sweeten the deal, speed
her out the door, ensure that she wouldn't be a thorn in their side next time? Their ways might
not be as crude as Colt and his party, but if Africans were to have a part in governing Nigeria,
they still wanted to make sure it was their Africans.
But it's out of their hands, at least this time, she thought. Whatever the reason for the
Youth Movement's achievement, they'd achieved it. In 1919, the colonial government had
agreed to let the upper-class Africans vote for a few seats on the city council. Now, that crack in
the door was wide open: all but three of the council seats would be elected, and most of the city
would have a say in who filled them. For the first time in British Africa, the Africans would have
a chance to govern a city.
Unless Colt shoots the oba oyinbo and brings it all down.
Mary had to find Colt, for Azikiwe and for Emecheta as well. She was certain now that
Colt had killed Adeola, and that if she found him, the police would be able to compare his gun to
the bullets that had been in Adeola's head. She'd be able to prove her client innocent, but only if
she found the killer.
But how? Her mind ran through divining spells and ofo chants, but in a city as large as
Lagos, her spell would need a starting point. She had no idea who Colt might be or where his
ancestors were from, and though she knew he was a member of the radical party that had tried to
disrupt the rally yesterday, she didn't know the party's name and she couldn't remember any of
the faces that had marched under its banner. She had only the word "Colt" to separate him from a
hundred thousand other people.
The talk last night had been of the police. Maybe that could be the place to start. She was
near the Broad Street prison, and behind the gate, Martha's husband Emeka was at his desk.
"Visiting?" he asked, but she waved him over and quickly explained.
"That's political, Mary. That'll cost you three pounds." He held up a hand to forestall her
protest. "I swear only one of them is for me. I have to call someone in the political section, and
they're not cheap."
She took the notes out of her pocket and waited while Emeka made a call. There was
conversation on a level too low to hear, then he shook his head and called someone else. The
discussion was interrupted by shouting from upstairs and the banging of gates, and Mary wished
she knew what was being said.
Finally, Emeka motioned her over. "They don't know much," he said, speaking Igbo and
talking quietly. "The name Colt has come up a couple times, but no one could identify him. He
must go by other names most of the time. The one thing they've heard is that he's been to the
United States and plays music."
"Music!" said Mary, and wanted to slap herself for not having thought of that before.
"Adeola--the one who was killed--played with some of the political bands. Maybe some of the
others in Colt's party did, too. Did they tell you anything about where he played?"
"They say one time he played at the same place as the Sailors. He isn't part of the Sailors,
though--that's just something they heard."
"The Sailors. Where can I find them?"
"They're at the Good Shepherd today, by the docks. But that's no place for a lady."
"I'll take my chances," Mary answered, and before Emeka could say more, she was out
She thought of asking Antonio to come with her, but he would surely be at work now.
She rode through construction sites and alleyways, past the signs that said "no trespassing by
order." One day, she thought, maybe she'd find out where all the orders came from. The roads
grew worse and the neighborhood seedier, with warehouses and empty lots where migrants from
the countryside had built huts.
The Good Shepherd was a makeshift building of clapboard and corrugated metal near the
docks themselves, recognizable as a tavern only by the music within and the smells of beer and
palm wine. Mary ducked her head to pass through the doorway and looked through the cigarette
smoke. To her surprise, the Three Night Wizards were playing, or at least two of them were:
they'd found a replacement for Emecheta, and they were singing "I love Yoruba girl." Mary
thought about dropping them an ironic curtsy, but then thought better of it and found a seat in the
The Night Wizards sat down after the song was done, and another band--surely the
Sailors--took their place. They were Yoruba, though one of them looked like he had Fulani
blood--a Muslim from Ilorin, maybe, as some of the musicians were. They played a jùjú song,
one that Tunde King might have sung, but more political than even he would have written. Not
an ironic tribute to the oba oyinbo or a tragic story of African and British soldiers, but a martial
promise that Nigeria would rise.
The song drifted into something else rather than ending, and with a shock, Mary realized
that it was an ofo for Nigeria's freedom. She recognized the awure form she'd been taught, and it
was woven with something darker: an ofo ogede to bring misfortune on an enemy. It was a spell
to overthrow the British.
Her mind flashed back to other spells, and to the day in 1929 when she'd faced the
soldiers with their rifles leveled. With a thousand women aiding, she'd overcome the soldiers,
but not even a thousand were enough to defeat the Empire in its might. The Sailors's spell
wouldn't be enough either, but if others sang it with them, if the whole country sang together. . .
An election might be that, might it not?
She leaned forward to catch the words and realized that people were staring at her and
murmuring to each other Women alone didn't come here, much less women dressed as she was.
A couple of men stood up and walked toward her table. She put a hand on the palm leaf in her
purse, recalling a verse from Tennyson to focus her mind for a spell, but one of the Sailors
"She's all right," he said. "She's Zik's lawyer."
The place calmed after that, with the barman even bringing Mary a cup of palm wine for
free, and after their set, the Sailors came over to see what she wanted.
She walked outside with them, to a nearby alley away from the sounds of conversation
and the tinny Irving Berlin record that had taken the band's place. The singer shook his head
when she mentioned Colt, but the drummer said "I think she means ?b?," and suddenly he knew.
"Bad news, that one. You stay away from him."
Mary wanted to do exactly that--if Colt's other name was "knife," then he wasn't anyone
she cared to meet--but that wasn't one of her choices. "I think he killed Adeola," she said,
careful to say nothing about the oba oyinbo. "If I can find him, I can get Emecheta--the Night
Wizards man--out of jail."
"He kill someone," the drummer said. "He's hiding somewhere."
The Sailors murmured among themselves, and Mary caught the names "Adeola" and
"Emecheta." They were obviously reluctant to talk, but there were musicians' lives caught in this,
and maybe they'd want to avenge the one and free the other.
"You look on the mainland," the drummer said at last. "The slums past Yaba and Ikeja.
He go there when he has to hide. Ask for ?b? if anyone tell you."
"What does he look like?"
None of them knew him very well, and the descriptions she got contradicted each other in
some details, but they were close enough to give her an idea. Short, stocky, an old knife scar on
his left arm, some teeth missing and another scar above his eye. She'd know him if she saw him.
And now she had her starting point.
She started riding home, but her path took her to Apongbon instead. Maybe she could do
a couple of hours' work at the office before finding supper and her bed. She had a statement of
claim that was due, and she worked on it for a while, but she kept losing concentration, and as
dark fell she finally gave up.
Antonio and his friends were across the street, done with work and improvising palm-wine songs as they always did. He saw Mary and called to her, and she could see he was
"I heard you were at the Good Shepherd. You could get hurt in a place like that."
"I have to go to a worse place tomorrow. Can you teach me a madaarikan?" She sensed
that palm-leaf wards wouldn't be enough where she was going. Maybe an ofo for defense could
add to them.
"Where are you going, that you need that?"
"The slums on the mainland. Where Colt is."
"No," Antonio said. "You're not singing a madaarikan to go there. We'll sing it and we'll
come with you."
Mary looked into Antonio's eyes in the fading light. "It's dangerous. And you have
"Boss can do without us for a day, and you're not telling me no. Come here tomorrow,
and we go with you. And if you don't come here, we'll find you."
Day Seven: The Chase
Sarah found her too, coming to her home in the morning as she tried to dress without
waking her housemates. "You go to Yaba, you go with me," she said.
For a moment, Mary wondered how Sarah knew, but then it was obvious. The Night
Wizards had seen her at the Good Shepherd. They'd told other Igbo men, and from there the
news must have filtered to the otu umunwanyi. Mary was a frequent topic of conversation in the
women's society--she'd learned that, to her chagrin, soon after she came back from
Cambridge--and by now half the city probably knew of her errand. She only hoped word hadn't
got as far as Colt. If it had, she'd just have to be ready.
"It's dangerous, Sarah," she said. "What will you do there?"
"There are Igbo who live in Yaba. I know some of them. And I know a few charms
too--your magic works better when other people are working it with you."
Mary offered no more objection. In truth, she was grateful for Sarah's presence. When
they were girls in Ulakwo, Sarah had been the oldest of their age cohort. She'd been the first to
marry and have a child, and she'd always seemed more adult than the others. Now, nearing thirty,
she was as much of an anchor as Caroline had once been, and without further word, her part in
the expedition was conceded.
Mary made her apologies to Margaret, who'd been wakened by the discussion, and they
completed their preparations. They went out onto the street, already full of mammy-wagons
bringing people in from the countryside to see the king, and threaded their way through traffic to
the garage where the others were waiting.
Antonio wanted to take the Carter Bridge to the mainland, but there was no getting near
it: between the lorries, the wagons, the peddlers' carts and the sheer press of pedestrians, it was
jammed to the point of impassability. They found a fishing boat to carry them across instead and
paid a pretty penny for it. With all the traffic in anticipation of Nigeria's first British royal visit,
the fishermen knew they could name their price.
They hurried through the older part of Yaba where many Europeans lived, and north to
the newer part that was all African. The markets were busy and there were political rallies here
too. The election was on the morrow, and the parties were taking their last chance to make their
case. They passed a square where a National Democratic orator was haranguing the crowd, and
another where a Youth Movement candidate was speaking, and at that rally, there was a fight.
Mary heard the fighting before she saw it: slogans being shouted, blows being struck,
cries of anger and pain. Without conscious thought, she began a protective charm, but as Sarah
and Antonio joined her, she suddenly realized what slogans were being called. The attackers
were shouting the same things as the radicals who'd tried to disrupt the Tinubu Square rally the
day before. They were from Colt's party.
She left Sarah to finish the charm and, with the three mechanics close behind, ran toward
the trouble. The attackers were beginning to falter under the charm's influence and the Youth
Movement supporters redoubled their defense, and just as Mary reached the edge of the battle,
the radicals broke and fled. She chased the one who looked like the leader and caught him in a
flying tackle. He fought back, and for a moment she felt that she had a tiger by the tail, but
Antonio jumped on him quickly and subdued him.
"Colt. ?b?," said Mary. "Where is he?"
The man on the ground looked at her, and his eyes grew wide in recognition. "You're
Zik's witch, aren't you?"
Sometimes, Mary regretted having a reputation as a witch. Now, she just nodded and let it
do its work.
He cried out and thrashed wildly, but he couldn't escape Antonio's grip. Finally, panting
with fear, he gave an address in the slums. "It's only your funeral, though," he said. "Colt's a
witch, too--a better one than you."
"We'll see," Mary said, and with a quick charm, she put him to sleep. He'd wake
unharmed in a few hours, but that would be too late to warn Colt. She got up and led the others in
the direction of the outskirts, the shantytowns--the slums.
This was a Lagos different from the one Mary knew. It wasn't the Marina or even
working-class Obalende. The streets were thick with garbage and wandered with little plan, the
houses were built as casually as the Good Shepherd, and in the day's steamy heat, the smell of
open sewers was overpowering. Most of the people were lately come from the country, and the
children who played in the streets spoke a form of Yoruba that Mary barely recognized.
There were no rallies here: few people in the slums met even the relaxed property
qualification for the local elections, and they cared little about the pageantry in the richer parts of
the city. The parties returned the favor. Mary realized, with a flash of shame, that Dr. Oluwole
was one of the few even in the Youth Movement who talked about improving conditions here.
The party called for universal suffrage, but there were things it could do in the meantime. One
more thing to bring up at the next meeting. . .
But that was a problem for later; the one for now was finding where Colt was hiding. Few
of the streets here had names, but she'd been told that his house was near a small church, and
with some help from the street children and a few shillings' dash, they found where the church
was. From there, they needed to find a house with a green door, and after twenty minutes'
looking, they saw it. . . just as gunfire erupted all around.
By a miracle, or possibly because most of the gunmen were armed with pistols, nearly all
the shots missed. Nearly. They dived to the ground--at least there was plenty of cover here--and
Mary heard Antonio's cousin João groaning from a wound just under the shoulder. She could
feel the presence of men darting among the houses, and more shots plowed into the ground
Antonio fired back with a pistol that Mary never knew he had. "Jam the guns!" he hissed.
"I'm trying," Mary said, but something was interfering. The gunmen were moving, and
something was blurring her sense of where they were. Without knowing the exact location of the
guns, she couldn't stop them from firing.
"Sarah!" she said. "The Igbo who live out here--go find them!" Sarah rolled behind a
mound of earth, scrambled up, and ran. In the meantime, Mary searched. She'd been told what
Colt looked like. Maybe, if she concentrated, she could find him. . . and suddenly she felt him.
"Over there," she whispered to Antonio. "Keeping his head down." She began chanting a
new charm: it was one that Igbo women used to disorder things and to get to the bottom of big
piles, and it would bring down a house as badly built as the one where Colt hid. The timbers
shook, and there was a sound of something falling inside.
Suddenly, a man came running out. His build and the livid scar he bore above his eye
marked him as Colt, and the gun he carried removed all doubt. He fired, and he seemed to know
where Mary was just as she'd sensed him. The first bullet slammed into the ground inches from
her head, and the second one still closer.
In '29, when she faced the soldiers, she'd used a cooking charm to heat the rifles' firing
pins and make them expand and jam. She didn't know the parts of a Colt pistol, and there was no
time for anything that subtle. She called down a lightning charm instead. It was mostly used for
fireworks or to bring down wrath on enemies, but she'd learned that she could use it to send an
electric current through metal. Colt's gun crackled, and he threw it from him with a cry of pain
and ran away.
Mary couldn't follow--the other gunmen still had her and the mechanics pinned down,
and they were covering Colt's retreat. As Colt fled farther away, though, their forms became
more distinct. She sent lightning through another gun and felt another man flee. And then she
heard the noise of dozens of people running and the sound of Igbo voices. Sarah had returned
with aid, and the remaining gunmen scattered lest they be overwhelmed.
Mary dragged herself to where Antonio and João were and took stock. She cleaned João's
wound but could do little else. A charm might ease his pain, but a bullet wound required a
doctor's care. "Sarah, can you get him to the hospital?" she said. "There are nurses who belong to
the otu umunwanyi--make sure they take care of him. And take that gun to the police--it's the
one that killed Adeola."
For a second, Sarah seemed about to demur, but she realized it might be life and death.
She nodded once and went to the other Igbo people to organize a makeshift stretcher. Only
Antonio and Luís, the third mechanic, followed Mary into what had lately been Colt's hideout.
If she were hoping for a diary or a plan of attack written on note paper, she was
disappointed. There were few possessions in the house, and nothing that would identify its
erstwhile occupant. But what she did find, on the blanket that did duty for a bed, was a lock of
"Can you find him with that?" Antonio asked.
She took it in hand and tried. "No. He's too far away, and he's doing whatever he did
before to hide the gunmen. If we could get closer, pick up the trail. . ."
Antonio was silent for a moment. "He'll have to get a new gun if he wants to shoot the
king. There are only a few people here who sell guns. Maybe we can find the one he uses."
It was the only chance they had, and they were off at a run. The first man they visited had
never heard of Colt and there was no sign of his presence. The same was true of the second, and
Mary felt a growing sense of panic at how far ahead their quarry was getting. But when they got
to the third place, behind the tracks in Oke Ira, the strands of hair in Mary's hand seemed to burn
and the sense that Colt had been there was overpowering.
"I've never heard of him," said the gun-seller.
"I know you're lying," said Antonio, who had read Colt's presence on Mary's face. "And
so does she. Do you know who she is?"
"She's a witch, I hear. I'm not afraid of witches, and Colt is a better one."
"That may be so," Mary said, "but I'm a closer one." She began a charm; the room
darkened, and menacing shapes swirled into being before the gun-merchant's eyes.
"He's going to kill the king with the gun you sold him," Antonio added, advancing on the
frightened man. "If he does, how long do you think the police will leave you alone? All Nigeria
won't be big enough for you to hide."
"Yes!" the gun-seller wailed. "Yes, he was here."
"How long ago?"
"Half an hour."
After all the day's unpleasant surprises, that one at least was welcome. Evidently Colt,
too, had encountered delays. Maybe he'd needed to get money, or maybe he'd had to go a
roundabout way to keep from being recognized. Maybe they might yet get close enough to pick
up his scent.
"Which way did he go?"
The gun-merchant led them outside and pointed down Oke Ira Road. The feeling of
Colt's presence was less than it had been inside, but now that Mary knew what to look for, she
could feel it. He was headed toward the Iddo island causeway and the Carter Bridge, and if they
hurried, they might find him this side of the mainland.
They followed the road toward old Yaba, keeping as fast a pace as they could, but even
with charms to smooth their way, exhaustion was beginning to take hold. Mary was starting to
despair when suddenly, ahead of her, she sensed Colt's presence like a beacon. More than that,
he seemed to be coming closer--he was somewhere in Iddo and moving north.
"He must have got stuck on the bridge!" she said. He wouldn't want to push through a
tangle of lorries and returning market-women, not when he was fleeing and one of them might
know him. He must have doubled back to find someone who could row him across in a pirogue.
"Let's go, let's go!" With the last of their reserves, Mary and the mechanics quickened
their pace, making for the Iddo landing. And when they got there, they could not only feel Colt
but see him. He was in a fishing boat not more than five minutes ahead of them.
"Follow him!" Antonio said to a fisherman, holding out a five-pound note. The fisherman
had been making ready to go home, but that was more than enough to make him change his
mind, and he pushed off from the landing as his passengers leaped into the boat. Mary cast her
charm again to quicken his strokes. Maybe they might even catch Colt on the water.
But they didn't. Halfway across, she saw Colt throw himself to the bottom of his boat
with a start. He must have seen, or sensed, that they'd found him. A second later, a pistol shot
rang out and a bullet whistled past them. It was wide--at this distance and in this light, he had
little chance of hitting them--but the fisherman slowed and sheered off, and Colt's boat touched
land while they were still in the middle of the strait.
Mary willed herself calm as their boat finally came to shore. By now, King George would
have landed in Lagos. By now, they would be feting him at Government House and preparing the
room where he'd sleep before tomorrow's motorcade. She'd never seen the king all the time
she'd lived in England, and it was strange to be scrambling onto Lagos Island in pursuit of his
"This way," she whispered. Colt's scent had become faint, but she could still sense it.
They followed him past the oba's palace--Lagos's own oba, not the oyinbo one--and through
Apongbon toward the customs wharf and the warehouses. He was near the Good Shepherd and
then he was past it, and Mary wondered if he might be seeking shelter after all with the Sailors or
another band. And then, abruptly, he disappeared.
"He's gone," she said, leaning exhausted against the buttress of a palm-oil warehouse.
"He got to a warded place."
"Could we use that listening spell you taught me?" asked Antonio.
"He'd be ready for that, and I don't know where his shelter is. It's somewhere that way,
not far from here"--there was no spell Mary had ever heard of, in Nigeria or in England, that
would allow Colt to jump to some other place--"but I can't say exactly where. We'll have to
search the warehouses and the sandlots."
Antonio and Luís nodded and slumped against the wall beside her. They shared a meager
supper and gathered their strength, and then they dragged themselves to their feet and began
quartering the first of the warehouses.
The moon was out as Mary's charm opened the door, and she noticed that her watch read
five minutes after midnight. It was a new day.
Day Eight: Oba Oyinbo
Six in the morning found them in yet another warehouse. They had to search each
building inch by inch and be ready every second in case Colt came out shooting, and the constant
alertness had drained them beyond exhaustion into something else altogether. They'd tried asking
the area boys and squatters if any of them had seen Colt, but whether out of fear or because
they'd seen nothing, they weren't telling. The royal motorcade would begin in two hours, and
their quarry still eluded them.
They were very nearly at the end of the docklands. The warehouse of Williamson Cement
and Construction loomed before them, and after that was a warren of apartments and shops. If
Colt had gone to ground there, they'd never find him. "If he's not in here," Antonio muttered,
"we just go to Broad Street and hope we can pick him up along the parade route."
Mary nodded and hoped it wouldn't come to that. Picking Colt out of such a large crowd,
not knowing where in the crowd he might be, would be no easy task, especially with the
sorcerous defenses he'd already shown. They pushed through the door, winding their way among
bags of cement and cinder blocks, talking in whispers as they searched the ground level and then
the one above.
She hissed suddenly. She felt something, and though she wasn't sure what, it smelled like
magic. A ward, maybe, of a kind she hadn't seen before, and if so. . .
"I think he's. . ." she began, and then suddenly there was a shadowy form above them and
a muzzle flash as the noise of gunfire shattered the quiet. An unnatural darkness seemed to wash
over them, and as Mary fought against it, a form slipped past them and fled pell-mell down the
"Let's go!" Antonio shouted, but then they saw that Luís had fallen and was sitting
against a wall, blood running from his leg. "I'm all right," he said, but his face was drawn with
pain and the blood was starting to pool on the floor around him.
Mary knelt, cut away the clothing above the wound, and surveyed the damage. Luís was
lucky: the bullet had merely grazed him, and this was something she could treat. She cleaned the
wound quickly, gathered the flaps of skin together, said "this will hurt," and chanted a sewing
charm. The mechanic cried out--sewing up a wound this way hurt as much as doing it with a
needle--but it was over in an instant, and when he tried to stand, he found he could.
He wouldn't need a doctor, but there was no question of him continuing the chase. "Go
find Azikiwe," Mary said. "If he's not at the party headquarters, maybe they can send you to him.
Tell him everything--tell him who to look for." Luís nodded and limped toward the door. If he
could find Zik in time, maybe the party leader could work out a backup plan.
But for now, they had to assume he wouldn't. Mary gripped the knot of hair in her hand
and cast about, afraid that she'd lost Colt's trail once again, but there he was. In fact, she felt him
with a greater clarity than she ever had the day before. She gripped Antonio's hand and led him
out, pulling him toward the city center and the route King George would follow.
The presence ahead of her moved slowly. The crowds must already be gathering, and Colt
would have to push through them the same as everyone else. They were gaining. When they got
to Broad Street, he was a hundred feet away, maybe less, and Mary's eyes scanned for him
among the crowds. He'd picked a place near the end of the parade route--evidently he wanted to
give the royal procession a grand finale--and right now he would be choosing a position at the
front of the crowd. She ought to be able to pick him out; he ought to be somewhere where she
and Antonio could tackle him and wrest the gun from his hand.
But no matter how close the presence was, she didn't see him, and the presence itself
never stopped moving. Colt was maddeningly invisible, somewhere just outside her grasp, and as
she forged on through the press of people, she became aware of Antonio urgently pulling her
"We're going in circles," he said, and when she stopped to mentally retrace their steps,
she realized they were. They'd been chasing a shadow all this time, and suddenly something felt
very wrong. She looked around for the source of the feeling and realized that it came from
within, and then, all at once, she shook the illusion from her mind.
"Colt gave me a false trail," she said. She felt a stab of shame for succumbing to it, and
for not realizing that the very certainty with which she'd sensed the assassin's presence was part
of what made the illusion subtle. Shame turned to panic as she sensed where his real presence
was. She felt him faintly, but she could tell that he was a mile away, close to where the
motorcade would begin rather than where it would end. And panic became something more as
she glanced at her watch and realized how little time there was.
She began to run, but running was impossible. The crowd was too thick, and people
shouted curses at her and told her she needed a beating if she couldn't watch where her arms and
legs were going. She chanted a charm instead. People began moving aside without knowing why,
but her progress was still far too slow. As she got closer, she could feel Colt's anticipation, and
now she could feel the king too, waving from his open carriage and greeting his Nigerian
subjects on their election day. The oba oyinbo's presence drew closer to Colt's, and she
quickened her pace desperately, trying to get to where Colt was before the king did.
Finally, she broke through, Antonio close behind her, and the tableau that met her eyes
nearly stopped her heart. Colt was there--yes, it was really him this time, no mistake--and King
George's carriage was less than a hundred feet away. It would pass Colt in seconds, and the
assassin was already getting ready to draw his weapon and lunge forward.
There was no time for the cooking charm or even the lightning charm. There was one
spell she knew that she could cast with a single word: the glamor that had been taught to her by
the scion of Merlin who'd once offered to marry her. It would change a person's appearance--it
had been invented for court masquerades, he'd said--but if it were cast on someone
unsuspecting, the change would confuse him for a moment. She sent it out toward Colt, saw his
shape change, and saw him falter, but for how long? He was strong, and if he recovered from the
confusion quickly, she'd never reach him in time.
Then she remembered Ebele.
Mary had called on her village's first mother in the Women's War and again to talk to
Adeola, and on both occasions, Ebele had come through time to aid her--through time. If her
ancestor could go forward and backward in time, then surely she could stand still as well, and
maybe she could hold Mary's hand and make sure Mary stood still.
She gripped the pestle in her pocket and began an ofo in her mind, composing feverishly.
Making an ofo on the spot was the hardest thing she'd ever done, but she had to, and somehow
she did. The words spilled from her mouth, coming in patterns that were Yoruba and Igbo and
even European, taking in old gods and new physics. "Take my hand, mother of my people, and
guide your child through time."
She felt time slow, but it didn't stop. She felt resistance, even with Ebele's ghostly
presence guiding hers. It felt like she was moving through water or thick air, and while time
lengthened more and more, it did so with agonizing slowness. It gave her time to move, and time
to finish her spell, but she saw the carriage pass the place where Colt stood, and she saw Colt, in
slow motion, draw his pistol and fire at the soldier who guarded the king. She saw the bullet--it,
too, looked like it was moving through water--and she saw the soldier begin to fall. He wasn't
dead, but he could no longer protect his monarch, and Colt brought the gun up again.
Mary flung herself forward. By now, time had slowed so much that Colt hardly seemed to
move, and for a second she was sure she'd got there in time. But when she reached Colt at last,
she saw she hadn't. There was a bullet an inch past the muzzle of the gun, and its path would
take it straight to the king's heart. Wresting the gun away from Colt would do no good now, so
Mary did the only other thing she could: she brought her arm down in the bullet's path.
She'd thought that she might just swat the bullet aside, but that wasn't what happened.
Time might have slowed for her, but it hadn't for the bullet, and it had all the force the pistol had
given it. It struck her with the force of. . . a bullet.
Mary felt an agony worse than she'd ever imagined. The bullet tore skin and broke bone,
and it did so slowly. She felt as if hammers were pounding on her from inside, as if she were
being cut by a thousand knives. She fell backward, fighting to keep her ofo flowing and keep her
grip on time, and the world blurred and darkened.
But her arm had struck the bullet with a speed greater than the projectile itself, and that
had a force of its own. Its path was deflected. It veered downward and plowed harmlessly into the
ground as the motorcade moved on.
Somehow, Mary found the strength to cast the lightning charm. In slow motion, she saw
Colt throw the gun from him and turn to flee. As he did, she released the glamor. She'd made
him an oyinbo, and the crowd would never associate the white man they'd seen fire two shots
and throw away his gun with the stocky African who, like many others, was now running away.
She'd done that because greater change meant greater confusion, but there was another reason as
Colt wouldn't get away for long: Azikiwe knew who he was, and he wasn't nearly a good
enough magician to be able to hide when all of Zik's people were looking for him. And this way,
the British could have their moral clarity. Let them think that the assassin was a Jerry or one of
Mosley's lot, let them think that an oyinbo had attacked the king and a Nigerian had saved him.
Clarity was the privilege of colonizers, wasn't it?
Abruptly, Mary lost the thread of her ofo, and Ebele vanished as time resumed its flow.
She felt Colt's presence fading, and she felt Antonio's hand take hers Then darkness claimed her.
On the day Mary left the hospital, she rode to Victoria Island. She rode past the beaches
where party-goers had built bonfires, past the place where the road became a trail, almost to the
first fishing villages. She found a strip of sand that no one else had claimed, leaned her bicycle
against a log with her bag underneath, and swam.
She stayed in the ocean for most of the day. In salt water, she could swim forever, and the
sea was clean. It was made by God's hand alone, and if there was magic in its depths, only the
fish knew it. Maybe it would wash away sin.
She thought about the past, and then she thought about the future. Maybe she'd accept the
judgeship in Enugu after all, or she might go home without taking the appointment and start that
palm-oil growers' union instead. There were many things she could do. Surely, in one of them,
she could help the whole nation sing of its freedom together.
At evening she swam to shore for the last time, dressed, and built a fire to make supper.
Her cooking charm lit the tinder and the flame blazed high, and in its haze, she saw another light
approaching. It resolved into the shape of a man riding a bicycle, and a moment later, Antonio
swung down to sit beside her.
"Could you use some company, Dame Mary?"
She started to say no, but the word never left her mouth. Antonio had stayed with her the
whole time she'd been at the hospital, and he'd been a loyal companion. He'd let Sarah,
Emecheta and Azikiwe in but kept other visitors out, and he hadn't left her side even when the
king came to pay his respects. He'd spent hours composing the music for the ofo she'd used to
knit the bones of her arm; he'd stolen the medical book from which she'd learned how the bones
ought to look; he'd scavenged the ingredients she needed to turn her plaster cast into an oògùn.
He was welcome. He could never be unwelcome.
"Sit down," she said. "Just don't call me dame."
"You earned it. And think how it'll look to have a DBE standing up against the empire."
It was the same thing Azikiwe had told her when she'd thought of declining the title, but when
Antonio said it, something made her smile.
He'd brought fish and plantains and skewers of beef and pepper to make suya in the
northern style, and the conversation became natural as they prepared the meal: the inauguration
of a city council with a Youth Movement majority, Azikiwe's election as mayor, the life of the
taverns and markets and clubs.
"Zik spoke to me at the hospital," he said. "He said that when you get well, I should tell
you that there's a post waiting for you in the city attorney's office."
That was something to think about, and she did while they ate in companionable silence.
No doubt the government would find ways to make trouble for her if she stayed in Lagos, but
trouble was nothing new to her, and her mind raced as she thought of what she might do for the
"But I'd also like to see Enugu or Owerri if that's where you're going. I could open a
garage there, and there must be some other Igbo who want to learn ofo magic."
She looked up sharply. "You're talking about going with me?"
He didn't speak. His eyes flickered in the firelight, eyes that told of valor in ancient
Africa, slavery in Brazil, the promise of freedom and progress. Yes, he would go or stay with her,
and all at once she wondered why that would ever come as a surprise.
"I love Igbo girl," he said before he kissed her. After, they didn't say anything.