Note: This is from a long story I’m writing. Don’t ask me when I’ll finish because as at now that information is unknown even to me, the writer. But be sure to let me know what you think. Thank you.
Efo Shishiawovor looked at the eight young recruits seated on the floor before him. They sported uneasy grins, as if to suggest that he was trying to scare them. He was not. He understood their scepticism of his words. The four years of training they had all gone through had been full of tests that had been designed by men long dead to scare them and open their eyes at the same time. If they were able to go through this final ritual, they’d be fine. But he’d been preparing recruits for more than forty years. About half never made it past the final ritual.
“Get up and pick up your cutlasses,” he ordered the young men. They each had two cutlasses wrapped in cloth lying in front of them. They had spent the last three days bent over whetting stones, sharpening the cutlasses till they could slice a hair. They picked them up and stood. There was a quiet rustle as each of them moved in their small raffia skirts. The thought of wearing the skirts had made them uncomfortable at first until they had actually worn them and seen just how well-made they were. The raffia was held together by little strings of cow leather, and it was the most weightless clothing they had ever worn. The raffia also served as a protection because it softened kicks or even cutlass attacks to the groin area.
“When you hear the drums playing, dance. Feel free to move about as you want to. You can dance our traditional dances or even the new ones. Eh, what do you call it…atonzo or azonzo.” A couple of the boys snickered at Efo’s mistake. He smiled briefly, and resumed with a deadpan face.
“When you’re chosen, you will lose control of your body. Do not fight it, or panic. It happens. You’ll be fine. If you’re not chosen, don’t worry about it. Just keep dancing till the drums stop playing. You all become warriors when the drums stop playing. Is that clear?”
“Yes Efo,” they chorused.
“If you see people being chosen and you still have control of your body, do not copy them. Whatever they do, let them do it. Do not try to mimic their movements. You will die. Do you understand? You will die.”
“Yes Efo” they said together, but this time less enthusiastically. They had figured out that he wasn’t joking.
“Good. Agbeve,” he called out to his assistant who was seated on a stool in the corner of the room, “bring them the herbs.”
It took a minute for Agbeve to disappear and reappear with a small pot and a calabash. He sat the pot on a stool close to Efo, and dropped the calabash into the pot. He left the room and came back again with a bucket full of water. Steeped into the water were aviantsi leaves. He placed the bucket next to the pot.
“Drink from the pot, and then wash your hands,” Efo commanded the recruits.
Godwin was the first to take the calabash. He dipped it into the pot, and down its contents with ease. It was a bitter concoction, but he had grown up drinking bitter concoctions. He felt a bit lightheaded as he bent over to rinse his hands in the aviantsi water. Efo hit his shoulders with a horsetail switch and incanted something in Fon to him. Godwin didn’t understand Fon, but he felt the words lend him a strength he didn’t have. His body felt charged.
Fianu followed almost immediately, and let out a low growl when Efo intoned the same words to him. It wasn’t an aggressive growl, it was a growl of excitement. Like an obedient dog ready to pounce on meat once his master unleashed him. He was confident he’d be chosen during the dance. He felt it in his bones.
Kportufe came next to stand by Godwin and Fianu. He had been hit by a calm he’d never felt in his life. His body felt tense, as if he was expecting to enter a battle at any moment. He understood the situation. He’d fought many small battles with the boys from the next villages. What was missing was the apprehension. He felt none of that. Just the confidence that whoever would stand in front of him would be slain.
Ati almost fell when the contents of the calabash hit his lips. He had a little seizure and was only stopped from falling by Gakpo’s strong, vulcanizer arms. Agbeve lay him on the floor, crouched next to him and whispered something into his ear. The seizures stopped almost immediately.
Agbeve looked up at Efo from his position on the floor, “This one is not ready,” he said. Efo nodded in agreement.
“Carry him into the backroom.”
Gakpo watched anxiously as his friend was lifted off the ground with ease by Agbeve, who looked like he was one mosquito bite away from the grave. Ati weighed about one sack of rice, and Gakpo knew this because he’d fought with Ati on several occasions. But Agbeve carried him almost as if he was carrying a tray of Efo’s food from the kitchens; like it was nothing. He shook off his anxiety and dipped the calabash into the pot. He drunk the contents slowly, and not as fast as Ati did. If this conction was poisonous, he didn’t want to consume a lot before the effects kicked in.
But nothing happened. He rinsed his hands in the water and stood next to Godwin and the other boys. He felt normal. There was no effect whatsoever on him. It troubled his mind. To his side were other boys who had drunk the concoction and were behaving as if they had smoked bad hemp. And then there was Ati. Gakpo had expected to on at least one side of the spectrum. Not in the stagnant, unaffected middle.
Adadevor smacked his lips and made a face and went ai, ai, ai! causing the boys to laugh. He was the most melodramatic of the gang, and the reaction was not out of place. Even Efo cracked a smile. Efo repeated the incantations to Adadevor and there was a complete stillness in the room before he gave a loud scream, and jumped back at least two feet from Efo. He collapsed into a heap on the floor. Efo eyed him warily before attending to Raymond. Nobody else seemed to care. They were used to Adadevor’s antics. When he was tired he’d join the rest of the boys standing.
Raymond and Atsu were the last to go through the small ritual. They both did not do anything out of the ordinary, and joined Gakpo in silently contemplating if the ritual had worked on them. But Efo did not allow them to chew over it fully. He clapped his hands firmly.
“We are almost ready to go outside. You will see family members and friends outside. But remember, you’re no longer one of them. They are people from your past lives. You are new beings. And you live to serve the whims of the vodun. Do you understand?”