“What!” Ify exclaimed in shock.
Johnson nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
“She’s going to marry him! What are we doing here? We need to stop her!”
“We will. It’s just… I thought we’ll have enough time to complete your training. Well, we don’t have a choice. Lucky for us, tonight is full moon. Her pythons will prowl.”
“Her pythons? I thought they’re too sacred to come out.”
“They are the mother pythons, the symbols of her power. That is why some communities don’t kill pythons. It grieves the mother pythons which in turn grieves the queen and incurs her wrath. If we must get to her realm, we must get them out of the way. And what better way to do that than when they are out?”
“Ok.” Ify said, somewhat reassured.
“Good. It’s settled then. We’ll strike tonight.”
Then night came. As Johnson predicted, it was the full moon. It was also an eerie night, a night of reckoning. Johnson was already packed and ready as he waited for Ify on the front porch. He had two back packs. One for him, one for Ify.
He was checking the bags, making sure everything was ready and nothing was left out when Beatrice came out. Since his last confession, she had deliberately avoided him. Even when they had occasionally met face to face, she pretended she didn’t see him, that he didn’t exist. He was pretty sure she would have thrown him out of the house if not for Ify.
Now she was staring at him at her front porch. He didn’t know what to make of it. Had she come to wish him the fieriest part of hell?
“Everything is ready. I’m just waiting for Ify.” He said, breaking the awkward silence.
She nodded but didn’t speak. Instead, she stared out into the night. Johnson wanted to talk to her but for the life of him, he didn’t know what to say. It was already enough that she wanted his head on a platter. He didn’t want to say anything that would trigger her to make it a reality. So, the awkward silence dragged on.
Finally, she looked at him and said. “Before you go, I just want to say that I forgive you for what you did to me and… and Nene… That’s all.”
She turned to get back into the house.
“Beatrice.” He called softly.
She turned back to face him.
“Words can’t describe how sorry I am for everything. I want you to know that if I could go back to change things, I would, I shouldn’t have left you for Sharon. I will regret that for the rest of my life. And I am very grateful to you for finding it in your heart to forgive me. You don’t know how much it means to me.”
Beatrice’s glistened with tears as she smiled her forgiveness. Ify entered and glanced between them. “Am I interrupting?”
Beatrice chuckled and wiped her tears. “No dear. Are you ready?”
“Yes ma.” Ify replied.
Beatrice hugged her tenderly. “Be careful. Take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will.” Ify replied softly.
Beatrice let her go and faced Johnson. To his greatest surprise, she hugged him too.
“Good luck, Johnson.” She said.
Johnson was speechless. It took him a moment to hug her back. He closed his eyes to savor the moment. God, how he missed her. In that moment, the regret of all the wasted years washed over him. How he wished he never met Sharon. Never met the queen. By now, he could have lived a happy life. Nene would have lived and may be had brothers and sisters. But all these could never be, because of his stupid mistake.
Johnson gulped. “Thank you. She’ll come back safely. I’ll make sure of that.”
“And you too.” Beatrice said.
Johnson smiled. “I’ll try.”
They broke the embrace and Johnson turned to Ify who was watching them with tears in her eyes.
“Ready, young lady?” He asked, his eyes shining with new found joy.
“I am.” She replied, sniffing.
“Good. Let’s go.”
They went into Beatrice’ car and drove into the night while Beatrice waved them goodbye.
At the beach, Johnson and Ify hid behind the trees to wait. And wait they did. Neither of them talked. Each was occupied by his or her thoughts. There was no mood for chit chat when the next moment might make or end their lives.
They kept waiting. Just when Ify thought that the cold night would suck her last blood or she died of boredom, the sea heaved and Ify’s eyes widened in shock at the sight emerging before her.
“Jesus.” She said under her breath.
They were HUGE. If Ify felt frightened at the sight of the pythons at the queen’s realm, it was nothing compared to what she felt now. The pythons raised their heads up high and hit the waves with a massive splash. The full moon silhouetted their beautifully patterned bodies as they slithered to land. The sight was both magnificent and terrifying.
Ify was coming to a rapid conclusion. There was no way they could defeat those pythons and get to the queen’s realm. Johnson was crazy for suggesting that idea. Look at those pythons. It was simply not possible.
Ify almost dropped everything and ran. She didn’t know why she stayed. Perhaps, Johnson’s stoic expression reassured her. Or perhaps, she knew this was her last chance to get her life back.
“I am going to face them. Stay here and don’t move until I call you.” Johnson instructed quietly.
Ify protested. “What? No. I’m not leaving you to face them alone.”
“No, I need you to stay here. I can handle them myself.” He was adamant.
“Please, we don’t have time to argue. Stay here until I call you. I mean it.”
Miffed, she obeyed and watched him slowly make his way towards the prowling pythons. Her heart went into her throat as the python’s turned their deadly eyes on him.
* * *
In Ify’s room, the queen jerked to her feet. Her eyes flashed a fiery green and she hissed loudly, baring her teeth.
* * *
The whole world stood still for a second. Then the pythons advanced rapidly towards Johnson with the speed that belied their sizes. Johnson gripped the fish oil soaked stake and knife and waited. Then he threw the stake and it accurately hit one of the pythons on the tail. It hissed loudly and writhed in pain.
* * *
The queen fell on the floor and clutched her foot, crying loudly. If Ify’s parents were around, they would have heard her. But they weren’t. They had gone for a date night.
* * *
The other python attacked. With calculated speed of light, Johnson threw the soaked stakes and knives in quick succession. They missed. Johnson had one last stake in his hand. He didn’t want to waste it. So he resorted to dodging the python’s attack as best as he could, bidding his time. That time came when the python reared its frustrated head up and opened its mouth wide to bite. In a flash, Johnson drew the stake straight into the mouth.
The python reared its head back and writhed violently, hissing so loud it must have shook the earth. For Johnson, the python’s pain induced violent tail got him and sent him flying and hitting the sand with a thud. Then the python stopped moving. It was dead.
Johnson remained on the sand, panting heavily. But it wasn’t over yet. The other python was still alive and it was coming for him with all the vengeance it could muster. Johnson tried to move. He couldn’t. The first python’s hit had wounded him, badly. He knew it was too late and waited for the second one to get him.
Just as it was about to grab him, Ify came from nowhere and drew a stake into its neck. Just like its partner, the python shook violently, gave a terrifying hiss that seemed to shake the earth and stopped moving. It was also dead.
* * *
The queen howled in grief as she felt her precious pythons died. Her pythons, her children. They had killed her children.
She staggered to the dressing table and began to mutter furiously.
* * *
Ify helped Johnson to his feet. He grimaced in pain.
“You’re wounded.” Ify gasped at the blood seeping from his side.
“I’m fine. I told you to stay back.” He said sternly
“If I did, you would be dead.” She retorted.
“Thank you. It’s not over yet. We need to get to her realm now.”
“Are you sure you can make it? You need urgent medical attention.” Ify said, staring skeptically at his wounded side.
“I am fine. Don’t worry.”
Ify was worried but she decided to let him be. “Alright. How do we get into her realm?”
Johnson brought out a seashell from his pocket. “With this.”
Ify chuckled. “A seashell? I should have known.”
Johnson smiled. “It’s the only way I know.”
He threw it to the ground between them and looked at her. “Ready?”
“Always.” She replied.
Johnson jumped. For a moment, Ify thought he would land painfully on the ground with the seashell sticking up his ass. Instead, he jumped into it. Stunned, Ify hesitated a moment. Then she jumped in as well. They spiraled through the seashell and suddenly found themselves directly at the queen’s lair in her realm.
The maidens and the animated statues of the queen were waiting for them.
They stepped back.
“I will take the maidens. You go for the mirror and urn.” Johnson instructed.
She nodded and they stood back to back, ready for the advancing maidens and statues. The maidens moved fast, throwing deadly green BOLTS at him. He dived out of the way and charged at them with knives and stakes.
Ify fought with all the pent up frustration that plagued her all these months. Killing that python had awoken her inner amazon. She fought like hell, like she had nothing to live for. The statues shattered to pieces on her stakes. Ify forced her way through them, striking until they were all shattered.
She ran for the mirror and urn on the two sides of the throne. She wasn’t looking when a maiden sent a deadly green bolt towards her. Johnson who had just finished off a maiden saw and ran towards her screaming, “LOOK OUT!”
Ify turned but it was too late. Johnson ran between her and the bolt and it got him in the chest. Acting purely on adrenaline, Ify threw a stake into the maiden’s chest. Then she dragged Johnson to his feet and together, they jumped into the swirling vortex.
They zoomed up through the water and came to the surface, gasping for air. Ify dragged Johnson out of the water and they collapse on shore.
She smiled triumphantly in between gasps. “We made it.”
Johnson smiled weakly. “We sure did. Did you get them?”
Ify patted her backpack. “They’re right here.”
“Then my work is finished.”
Ify turned to him in rising alarm. “ I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“I’m not going to make it.” He said, resigned.
“Of course you will make it.” Ify said adamantly.
“Ify–” Johnson began weakly.
Ify wouldn’t hear it. She rose to help him up. “You can’t die now. Not after everything you’ve done for me. I won’t let you.”
Ify shook her head. “No, I said you’re not going to die.”
Johnson gripped her hand with his last strength. “Ify listen to me. That bolt was fatal. I am dying. But it’s okay. I have found my peace. I’ve lived a very selfish life. For the first time, I put someone else’ need before mine. I got the chance to see my Beatrice and had her forgiveness. That is all I need…”
He looked earnestly at her. “Tell Beatrice that I love her.”
“I will.” Ify said softly, not holding back the tears that choked her. Johnson sighed contentedly and died.
Ify held him and wept.
* * *
The queen wept angrily. Then she raised her hands and looked up the ceiling. She began to chant.
* * *
Ify was still crying over Johnson’s body. A loud thunderclap sounded in the skies. Lightening flashed. Suddenly, everywhere was awash with heavy rain. Ify ran to the car and drove off the beach, heading to her father’s house. Her face was set with resolve. She furiously overtook the cars before her and ignored their angry honks.
* * *
Ben and Agnes ran into the living room to escape the rain outside.
“This rain, eh? And it’s not even rainy season yet.” Agnes said, shaking herself.
“That’s global warming for you.” Ben replied.
Agnes hissed in agreement. Then Ben gave her a naughty smile. “You know, we never got to finish our drinks at the restaurant.”
Agnes returned the smile. “I’ll get the wine.”
“And groundnuts.” He added.
Agnes laughed. “Okay.”
Ben went upstairs to their room. Agnes went to the kitchen. She took the wine from the fridge and a bottle of groundnut from the upper cabinet. She turned to leave and gasped, letting the bottle slip from her hand to the floor. The queen was staring at her.
* * *
Tony’s phone rang. He put on the bedside lamp and checked the caller. It was Ify.
“Hello, babe?” He said sleepily into the phone.
“Baby please come. I need you.” The queen pleaded from the other end.
* * *
Ify stopped at a traffic. She came out the car into the rain. Several motorists had also come out to the rain. The traffic was very loooong!
“Oh no.” She gasped under her breath.
She walked towards the front. A crowd was gathering there. She approached a man going back to his car.
“Excuse me sir, please what’s going on?”
“A huge tree fell and blocked the road. There are trying to see how they can move it. It’s going to be a long night.” The man replied and entered his car.
Ify was devastated. “Oh no, no, no.”
She went back to her car, resigned. Once again, the queen was winning. Ify knew the rain wasn’t ordinary. But her melancholy didn’t last more than a few seconds. She looked at the long traffic with a new determination. She didn’t come this far to quit. Johnson didn’t die for nothing. She must continue if not for her sake, but for Johnson’s sacrifice.
She grabbed her backpack, climbed to the top of her car and began to run on other car tops in the traffic. People screamed and honked their cars in protest. She didn’t listen. She had a mission to accomplish.
Ify ran over the cars until she was able to jump over the tree that blocked the road. As soon as she hit the road, she kept running. She ran so fast that if not for the shining headlight, she would have run into a car.
* * *
The car finally dropped her in front of her house. Lola and Halima were coming out of a taxi, holding their overnight bag.
She hurried to them, relieved. “Oh, thank God you’re here.”
“Ify what are you doing under this rain?” Lola asked in concern.
Ify thought fast. “I was looking for something. It’s so good to see you guys. I never thought I would see you again.”
They stared at her, puzzled.
“Ify, you called us. You said you were scared and needed us to spend the night here.” Halima informed her.
“I did?” Ify asked.
“Yes. What is going on, Ify?” Lola asked, confused.
“You will see.” Ify replied calmly. “But first, I need your help.”
* * *
The queen sat before Ify’s parents and Tony, waiting.
“QUEEN OR WHATEVER YOU CALL YOURSELF, COME OUT!” Ify’s voice reached them. The queen smiled and stood up.
Outside, Ify stood between her friends and waited. When it seemed like nothing was happening, she yelled again. “I know you’re in there! Come out now! Your time is up!”
The queen came out, closely followed by Ify’s parents and Tony. There was total silence. All eyes fell on the two identical Ifys. Same face, same build, same height, same complexion. Their appearance was the same in every way. They couldn’t believe it.
Ify was the first to break the silence as she stepped towards her parents. “Daddy, mommy, it’s me. I’m back.”
They merely stared at her.
“Is she the one?” Ben asked the queen without taking his eyes off Ify.
“Yes, she is. She’s the queen, the evil one parading as me. She’s the cause of the problems I’ve been having. Daddy, please save me from her.” The queen pleaded with a tearful voice.
Ify was stunned speechless. She couldn’t believe the tide had turned against her. Here she was, trying to get her people to chase this intruder out of their lives. And the intruder had effectively turned them against her. No wonder sea goddesses were fond of pythons. They slithered their way into someone’s life and swallowed that person whole.
But she had had enough of the queen’s manipulations. She would see it through whether it costs her everything or not. At this point, she was fighting for her life.
“It’s a lie! You are lying. You did those things not me.” Then she faced her parents. “Please don’t listen to her. She may look like me but she isn’t me.”
She moved forward. But Agnes stopped her. “Stay right back, you evil marine spirit.”
“Mommy it’s me, Ify.”
“Get ye behind me, satan! I rebuke you and cast you back to the marine world you came from!” Agnes rebuked on top of her voice. The queen barely stifled her laughter.
Ify stopped. This was getting pointless. She turned earnestly to Tony. “Baby, you know me. It is me. I have never tried to hide anything from you. Please look at me and reach into your heart. You will know it is me.”
Tony stared at her, confused. On one hand, he wanted to believe her. Something told him she might be right.
Ify saw he was beginning to yield and pressed on. “We’ve been together many times. Surely, you must know the difference. There must be something about her that is totally out of character.”
Tony glanced at her parents. She was right. Ify’s sudden aversions to fish. Everyone knew Ify loved fish.
“Don’t listen to her. She’s manipulating you. I told you that’s what she’s been doing to me. She caused me to hate fish so you will hate me.” The queen said, reading his thoughts.
All eyes went to Ify. She sighed. Very well, she had a card to play in her favor.
“Then how about this?” She suddenly brought out the mirror displayed it in front of the queen.
“No, don’t fall for it. You know better.” The queen told herself. But she couldn’t help it. She stared straight at her reflection and cringed. Is this what she looked like? She was more beautiful than that. This image before her was an insult to her everlasting beauty. She had to show them that she was all beautiful, all powerful queen of the sea.
While she was looking at her reflection, she didn’t notice Ify gradually stepping back to the middle of the compound. And she followed like a sheep to the slaughter.
“Your game is up, your majesty.” Ify sneered.
“You little, snotty, sneaky–” The queen began, enraged.
“NOW!” Ify shouted.
Water suddenly splashed over her and she screamed like it was acid. Audu held the hose that gushed the water.
Ify held up the urn and smiled in satisfaction. “While you were busy inside, I poured your pythons’ skin powder into the tank.”
To everyone’s shock, the queen began to change. And before they could understand anything, she had transformed into her true self. All traces of Ify’s features were gone. Before them was the queen of the coast in all her majestic glory.
Everybody gasped and stepped back. Audu was so shocked that he dropped the hose. Suddenly free, the queen let out an ear piercing scream and blasted everyone into different directions. She turned her full attention to Ify and stretched out her hands towards her. A strong force dragged Ify to her and she gripped her throat tight and lifted her to the air.
Ify fought for breath, trying to break away. The more she fought, the tighter the queen squeezed her throat. The queen squeezed so tight Ify could feel her eyes almost popping out of their sockets. She gradually closed her eyes unable to fight anymore.
The queen’s voice was so cold it could quench hellfire. “I always knew you were trouble. Too bad that we couldn’t use your courage. I would have made you the most powerful person on this wretched earth. What a waste. Where is your family to save you now?”
“We are here!” Ben said loudly, holding the hose Audu dropped. He immediately sprayed water on her. She screamed and dropped Ify. And screamed harder as more water was poured on her from different directions. Agnes, Tony, Lola, Halima and even Audu joined to pour water on her with anything they could find.
“Take your scaly fingers off my daughter!” Agnes shouted.
The queen kept screaming as they assaulted her with more water. She gradually began to float in the air and shrink slowly into a small ball of green light. Then she shot rapidly in the air and plopped back into the sea at the beach. Thunder struck. Lightening flashed. And another heavy downpour began.
Tony ran to Ify and lifted her up. He called her but she didn’t open her eyes. She lay limply in his arms, surrounded by family and friends.
* * *
A month later, two women dressed in black hurried into Ben’s compound in the village. Cars were already parked outside. The whole place was filled with family and friends. Beatrice was there. A few weeks before, she had given Johnson a decent burial.
At the center of them all, Tony and Ify danced to the music. It was their traditional wedding.