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Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa

I

Runs

Two bodies lie twined in afterglow. Sunlight falls across sweaty skin. The man is young and generously furred, his belly a little soft. The woman is strikingly beautiful. Her nonchalant draping of herself across the white sheets in oblivious sleep looks like something that should be filmed. This is Ngozi, fifth wife of Chief Pupo Ireke and girlfriend of Tobi, a software developer.

Tobi and Ngozi believe they are in love and sometimes talk about eloping once either one of them blow up and become stars.

Ngozi was talking to her photographer Sogo Quadri on the phone that rests in her hands just before she dozed off. Tobi runs his thumb in a lazy circle across her lower back. She can’t feel it. He bites her thigh, playful.

Ngozi sits up sharply, still asleep. “I have to leave,” she says. Her voice, a drone. She opens her eyes and rubs them awake. She kisses Tobi on the lips and his eyes follow her as she slides into her dress and swings out of the apartment.

Evening-time traffic in Lagos is a nightmare.

Summons

Ngozi bakes inside her car, stuck on the main road just outside Tobi’s estate. She has had to turn the air-conditioning off to preserve the life of her car battery. Worse than sitting in these sweltering leather interiors with a 40’ Brazilian against her back is having the car die on her in the middle of Lekki. She can already see the thugs gathering, like hyenas around a kill, ready to extort and steal from her while being rapey.

She slips down her seat, slippery with sweat and curses herself for painting the car black and not leaving Tobi’s apartment earlier, but then she remembers the photo-shoot that had started the day with Sogo Quadri. Her portfolio was growing and soon, she would be able to get herself represented by an agency. The thought of becoming a jet-setting supermodel makes her stomach jump a bit. She instinctively pulls down the rearview mirror to look at her face.

She dabs gently at her skin, which is smooth as purified loam and highlighted by plenty bronzer. She looks into her eyes, co-signed as perfect by Tobi and Sogo, and sees fatigue staring back. She is uneasy, has been uneasy since she first entered Lagos in self-exile six years ago. Mama’s face fills her mind and she instinctively shuts her eyes.

Something bright and gold flashes into her eyes from somewhere down in the go-slow, reflecting off the mirror.

The car seems to become hotter and the bottom of her throat begins to itch. She collects the luxurious, false length of hair from where it is soaking at her back and pulls it to the side. Her windows are half open and no whiff of air comes through, only the grumble and beep of overheated engines and the smell of ofe-nsala. Ngozi has not smelled the aroma of her favorite soup so richly in over six years. All the six years since she left Mama in that village with her archaic traditions. Ngozi closes her eyes to drown out memories of her mother that cause her stomach to knot.

The object that had flashed gold swims past her. It is a mirror. A perfectly gilded pool of oval glass. The person who carries it bends under its weight. Usually, hawkers will carry more than one item of the goods they sell in elaborate strings and belts all around their bodies, but this one is carrying just this one object. The most perfect mirror Ngozi had ever set eyes on.

Psssst!

The mirror stops instantly, soon as the air rushes out through her teeth. It turns around to reveal the oldest woman Ngozi has ever seen, bearing it on her back with a dizzy smile full of black teeth and naked gums. Ngozi swallows nervously as she approaches.

The woman’s blouse and wrapper and scarf are made from different cuts of faded ankara that look older than Ngozi herself. Her skin is all melted caramel and streaked earth. It looks like it would come loose if touched.

After a couple of epochs spent creaking towards the car, she finally reaches the driver’s window. She is now looking into Ngozi’s car, taking in the plush seats, the iPhone charging, the colorful new clothes draped across the headrest of the passenger seat. Her eyes are milky with cataracts.

“Mama, how much?”

The old woman turns her head towards Ngozi, like she had just realized that the car was occupied. The smile never leaves her face and Ngozi can see that she is shivering.

“So you can’t even greet?’ She speaks igbo. It slides into Ngozi’s ears sharp as a whip. Ngozi narrows her eyes and turns to look into the oblivion of the woman’s eyes.

“How much is the mirror?” she repeats.

The woman stops shivering, and in the next moment, stops slouching. She rises to her full four-feet-and-a-bit height, moving the mirror to her front. Ngozi can now see it better. The gold that edges it is bursting with minute detail, a cornucopia of flowers and fish and heads.

“Ten taasan,” the old woman says.

“Haba, Mamaaa! Na mirror we dey talk o, no be diamond ring. Gi me for two five.”

“I am sure you’re aware that even the cheapest diamond rings are priced more than all you’ve accumulated in your short life, Ngozi.” This time, the English tears out of the old woman’s mouth in bursts of acid. Her voice is low and grating and her eyes are honed in on Ngozi’s face like they are firing out beams. “Even the men you sleep around with won’t get you a real diamond ring, because they’ve already bought the only diamond they will ever buy, for their wives.” Ngozi leans back in shock.

“Ah! Is it because of small mirror that you’re now talking to me like this? I worked hard for everything I own, regardless of the means through which I did said work. How dare you?!”

Tiny drops of spittle fly from Ngozi’s mouth. Her head jerks so much that her hair slides to cover half her face. The old woman smiles deeper than before, her eyes wide with glee.

“Like mother, like daughter. Just bring any money you have like that. I need to get out of this sun before I melt and you Lagos people come and eat me for money ritual.”

The old woman attempts to slide the mirror through the half-open car window but it is too narrow. Ngozi opens her purse, confused at her outburst, discomforted by the presence of the old woman. She turns around and expects the woman to be gone, but she’s still standing there holding the mirror in one hand. Her right palm is stuck out, wrinkled and darkened with dyes unknown. Money enters into it. It snaps shut. Ngozi opens the car door and collects the mirror, which is much heavier than it looks.

When she shuts the door and looks up, the woman is gone. Ngozi realizes with a shiver that she knew her name.

Entrance

Near midnight; after five hours in traffic, Ngozi finally arrives in her estate with its large pastel houses and sleeping flame-of-the-forest trees.

The small house seems to be gazing down on her, judging her as usual. She had been overjoyed when Chief Ireke had told her she could stay in one of his many real-estate assets, as long as only the two of them knew the secret, but within one week of living in the house, she started having a strong sense that the house did not want her. Her mantra concerning living in the house was ‘ ’til agency.’ All she needed to do was send her new Sogo Quadri embossed portfolio to the Agency and have Chief Ireke pull some strings and soon she’d be off, gliding down the biggest runways in the world and rising above where she came from.

She slots all her new clothes onto racks deep inside her walk-in closet, which is bigger than the room she had shared with Mama in Enugu. She leans against the door and sends Sogo and Tobi brief messages to let them know she is home safe. She goes back to the car and retrieves the mirror. Ngozi enters the house and sits on her bed with the mirror. Its gilded edges are a bit dusty and the mirror itself is not as clean as it had been when she had first seen it. She finds a small blue towel and some cleansing fluid and starts wiping. The frame of the mirror seems to be richer with detail now—there are four women at the corners and between them float thin leaves, lush flowers, excited goats, sleeping dogs, fish schools and a sun and a moon. The women are depicted as busts, dressed impeccably in traditional scarves and heavy necklaces. Their eyes are judging sapphire dots, the only jewels in the entire frame.

Ngozi continues to wipe the mirror till it is clean but she is not satisfied. It still looks a bit clouded. She goes over it again and again until she has a rhythm. In the fluorescent light, she sees her perfection reflected. Her jawline and slim neck, those cheekbones and that powerful nose, the forehead fit for a diadem and eyes like some unfound jewel.

She wipes and wipes until her bicep begins to flutter in pain, but she cannot stop staring at the mirror, her reflection, the detail in the frame. At this point, she is so sure there is a river of molten gold flowing through the whole frame if she squints right.

She continues to wipe the mirror in circles.

Ngozi jolts out of sleep.

She has no memory of having slept. No idea of when she put the mirror down. She looks around and sees it hanging on the wall behind the bed. The old square mirror that loved to show her all her imperfections is gone. The room is different, cold. The white lights have been dimmed to a low blue, just how she likes it, and a rippling wind seems to be blowing through the entire house making a low moaning sound.

“This A/C has started again,” she whispers to herself as she rolls onto her knees to stare into the mirror again. It is set at the perfect height. From where she kneels, she can see her face. If she had been mesmerized before, now she is fully in awe.

This is the perfect light. In it her physical beauty has become something else entirely. If anyone sees her face, bathed tenderly in this cold blue, it would be a bullet, a trigger to a rush of blood that would cause spontaneous combustion. She moves closer to the looking glass. Her face becomes bigger and more perfect. All those pores around the nose and the one pimple that makes her stay indoors on some days; they are completely gone.

The eyes in the heads of the four women twinkle. Ngozi’s eyes twinkle. The feeling comes over her suddenly, as she stands nearly nose to nose with herself in the mirror, thighs quivering from the exertion—a full body blush of infatuation.

She does the next thing that comes to mind without thinking; kissing her reflection, glass cold against her lips, till the lights go out.

II

Pure Ada

It is silent. Unbearably so. The silence is so heavy that it wakes Ngozi from her second sleep. She opens her eyes and sees that she is not in her room. She sits up sharply and looks around.

Ngozi is in a void. Mirrors of various shapes and sizes, framed in intricately crafted gold hang from invisible threads around her, humming faintly in the air. The space around her looks boundless. The floor beneath her is so black she is sure she will fall into it when she stands up. A sound echoes through the space, of cheering human voices, magnified in the void.

Ngozi stands up and dusts off her chemise. She is barefooted as she walks through the mirrors towards the human voices. Her feet land on the void beneath her like it is made of frail glass. Most of the mirrors drift in aimless orbit above her, but some are exactly at her eye level.

She passes by one, a perfect square framed in neat gold bricks. A child smiles back at her from the glass, hair styled in clean knots. The child looks unbearably familiar and returns her gesture of cleaning her eyes. The cheers get louder and she turns away, walking faster towards the place in the distance where she can see a cluster of colored bodies moving.

Ngozi is very sure she is in a dream but she can’t remember how she got here. There is a way everything feels distant yet unbearably near. She approaches the mob who all have their backs turned to her, clothed in brightly-colored robes and scarves. They all have long luxurious hair. This close to the source of the cheering sound, she can feel just how high, how endless this void is. She is about to tap the nearest person on the shoulder, to ask where she is or what is happening, when the person turns around.

Ngozi is standing face to face with a replica of herself.

She sucks in a deep breath, eyes wide, chest tight with shock. The replica looks at her and does the same. The cheering stops. The bodies all turn around to look at Ngozi. They are all replicas of Ngozi, though varying in height and weight and skin tone. It is undeniable that she is the blueprint and base material from which they are created. After staring at her with empty eyes for not more than sixty seconds, they turn back to continue cheering at what they were before. Ngozi feels goosebumps rise under her skin till it feels like ants are crawling through her.

Ngozi moves closer and looks to what lies inside the circle, what the replicas are shouting at. Her hand moves to her mouth in a silent gasp:

She and Sogo Quadri stand, side profiles washed in the deep red light of a darkroom. Ngozi sees herself snap her fingers and watches a gasp of fire erupt out of her palm. Sogo Quadri shivers and steps backwards. The crowd cheers. They don’t murmur or speak any words, just a loud chorus, yeeeeeeeeeaa!

The Ngozi in the circle, bathed in red light is saying something very quietly, but her body language is all threat. She wears a long skintight black dress that tapers at the ankles. Her hair is a slippery flow of braids instead of fine Brazilian silk.

Ngozi watching, who believes that she is the original Ngozi, has never made fire with her fingers before. She watches as Sogo hands over a thick brown envelope to her replica. Somehow, she knows she’s looking through a living window into the real world. Sogo is handing over the portraits from their last shoot, including negatives. She can see her name written on it with black ink in his handwriting. Ngozi N. As the envelope touches Ngozi in the circle’s hand, she puts her palm to Sogo’s chest. He spasms as if electrocuted and sinks to the floor, his long dada spread out.

Ngozi in the Circle turns and looks straight at Ngozi Watching. She crosses out of the darkroom into the void and heads straight towards her, heels clicking and echoing through the emptiness. All the Ngozis part for her to pass.

She stops in from of Ngozi Watching. “Burn your idols,” she hears herself say softly.

The envelope in Ngozi in the Circle’s hand catches fire and disintegrates slowly, so Ngozi can see the film rolls and the large pictures of her face turn to ash.

“It’s a dream. It’s a dream. This is a dream!” She squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her head from left to right.

The other Ngozis begin to float. Their bodies turn soft as silk, billowing and folding and twisting in the air as they are pulled back into the orbiting mirrors by some unseen force. Only the two Ngozis are left.

Ngozi that Burned smiles at Ngozi who thinks she is dreaming. A diamond glints in her nose. She puts a hand on Ngozi Dreaming’s shoulder. They both rise, folding and billowing into the oval mirror.

The four mothers who circle its frame are smiling.

Shatter

The two Ngozis pour out of the mirror to stand in the master bedroom in Chief Ireke’s white house. The Ngozi with the Braids who Burned the Pictures whispers in singsong, looking into her eyes. “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream . . . mmm . . . mmm . . . mmm . . . mmm . . . life is but a dream.”

At the end of the song, she breaks into powdered glass. The glittering mass of her body flows back, dissolving into the pure plane of the mirror. Ngozi sits on the bed. Her head feels a hundred times bigger and her body is wound tight as a doll’s.

She sits there till morning comes.

Nkiru

When the sun breaks her out of her fixation, she picks up the phone and calls Nkiru. She can’t call Tobi. He is always busy building new software, to make enough money to get her away from Chief Ireke. If she told him what was happening, he’d say she was doing ‘the dreaming awake thing’ again and would tell her to go do research on the internet or read a book.

She and Nkiru became friends the day she came to see Chief Ireke for the first time. Nkiru had been the last on a line of prospective new brides until Ngozi arrived. The moment they exchanged greetings and a few words, it felt like they had known each other forever. They had both been chosen to move to the next stage, where they both got to see the Chief face to face. Ngozi had been chosen by Ireke. Nkiru had been chosen too, as a gift for Ireke’s best friend, Okoro.

“Hello,” Ngozi croaks into the phone.

“Ngo-ngo! My friend. See how you just forgot us. How are you now? Hope the Chief is treating you right?”

“Nkiru, I think I’m in trouble.”

“Ehn! What happened? Did you and Chief fight?” Ngozi can hear the rustle of cloth as Nkiru shifts her body.

“I bought a mirror in traffic.”

Nkiru knocks in threes on the gate many times before Ngozi stands up from her bed. There was no gateman, for safety purposes. It only made the house seem more like a tomb. Ngozi pulls open the heavy black metal and Nkiru is standing holding her belly. Short gold curls rest around her head. She is wearing a long floral dress, white and streaked with green leaves and thorns. Nkiru is at least six months pregnant.

“Baby’m!” she exclaims as soon as she is inside the compound and Ngozi has locked the gate behind her. She pulls Ngozi into a hug. Ngozi feels like she hasn’t blinked her eyes in twenty-four hours, but in the warmth of Nkiru’s embrace, her eyelids shut and the bliss of closing her eyes, of having someone around who cares for her, makes tears fall. Nkiru pulls back to look into her face.

“You look like you’ve seen a . . . no . . . several ghosts. Let’s go inside.”

They walk straight to the bedroom. Ngozi’s feet feel heavy. The room is bright. Sunlight flows over the overgrown garden behind the house and through the wall window. It reveals the smoothness of the unused bed and the dent where Ngozi sat all night, mind whirling at the brink of breaking. The mirror sparkles brightest. It catches the sun and seems to pulse with a life of its own. Nkiru stops moving the moment she sees it.

“Blood of Jesus. Blood. Of. Jesus! Ngozi, you cannot tell me that you saw this thing and brought it into this house with your own two hands?”

“I didn’t know. It was just so out-of-this-world, so beautiful.” Ngozi is on the verge of tears. “Please just help me get rid of it.” Nkiru, though the third wife of a Chief, is a devout Christian, complete with holy water and anointing oil. She also happens to believe in at least one hundred and one superstitions from various parts of Nigeria. She holds her stomach and sighs. “This will be very stressful for Eze. He’s practically pulling on my placenta to get me to run out of here.”

Nkiru sits on the sofa opposite the bed, beneath a yellow and blue painting of a Lagos that seems to be melting into its own heat. “Go and bath first. Pray while you are at it too ’cause that’s what I’ll be doing here.”

Ngozi turns and walks into the bathroom. A full-length mirror stands just inside. Her skin is dry and her eyes seem to now be permanently wide in shock. Her weave remains lustrous. She walks into the bathroom just as Nkiru’s prayers begin to fill the house, sacred whispers.

Ngozi has forgotten how to pray.

When she returns, head and body wrapped in soft white towels, Nkiru is standing at the edge of the bed, looking into the mirror.

“This is no ordinary mirror o.” She rubs her stomach again. “It’s a gate, a window to somewhere else. There is . . . it might even be more than that. There are presences held within it, banished things.”

Ngozi moisturizes while Nkiru wonders aloud.

“Now, I would say we should involve a pastor or at least someone with basic spiritual knowledge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to harm us and steal it. This thing,” she points at the mirror as Ngozi slides into a knee-length black dress, “is pulsing so wildly that I want to steal it too. God, I look more beautiful than I have ever looked and somehow the more I look, the finer I get and the closer I want to move towards it. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” Ngozi pulls the flow of her hair into a ponytail and winds it around the rubberband till it becomes a bun. Her voice is devoid of life.

“You can’t destroy or drown these things, they only come back stronger. We must bury it deep, as far away from here as we can. Bring that towel.” Ngozi hands over a wet white towel.

Nkiru climbs the bed and walks on her knees to the mirror. She begins to pray hard under her breath as she throws the wet towel over the mirror and lifts it off the wall. She hands it to Ngozi, whose eyes go even wider as she collects it, like it’s a hissing snake.

“Let’s go.”

They drive to Sango, Ota in the neighboring state. On their way there, Ngozi calls Sogo Quadri and gets a friend sounding somber on the phone. Sogo is in a coma and not likely to come out anytime soon. Doctors suspect some ill-mixed chemicals from his work in the darkroom. Ngozi closes her eyes, she sees the Ngozi from the Void touch Sogo Quadri. Sees him fall. She switches off her phone.

In Sango, they drive onto one of those stretches of wild land at the side of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway that no one owns. The cars rush deeper into the West behind them, trying to be one with the wind.

Nkiru and Ngozi carry the mirror between them, down a path, until they find a patch where fresh grass grows beneath some trees. The earth is soft as butter and Ngozi’s heels sink in and cause her to stumble and fall. She lies on the ground helpless and limp. Nkiru tries to help her up, her swollen belly making it an impossible task. Ngozi slips off her heels and stands up. She throws them into the deeper bush with a long rough scream that she seems to have been holding in since she returned to her room from the void. Nkiru jumps and holds her unborn.

They use thick branches to burrow into the sticky clay, getting stains on their dresses. They set the mirror, still wrapped in the towel into the shallow grave and with their bare hands they push large clods of soil onto the glass and gold, stomping the mound flat with their feet in a near-dance.

Ngozi drives them back to Lagos. Her eyes stare into nothing as she speeds down the Expressway too fast.

III

Boys Named Tobi Have Delicious Hearts

Ngozi walks barefooted and mud-stained into the house, alone. She can still hear Nkiru’s car driving off. It is night. The compound is completely dark and she can barely see her way over to the front door. She enters the house and shuts the door behind her, turning on her phone torch. A ray of blue-white light falls before her. She stumbles to her room and falls on the bed. Every joint and muscle in her body sighs. She means to stand up, to walk out back to the switch that turns on the generator. It would have taken less than thirty seconds, but she is too tired to move a muscle. Instead, she falls into a dreamless sleep.

She wakes up cold again. The electricity hasn’t come back on and the air-conditioning is off, but the room is bathed in a familiar deep blue light and a chill blows over Ngozi in waves. She sits up from the bed.

The mirror is back. It hangs up in the air at the foot of her bed like a faithful pet, waiting to be stroked. Ngozi still dizzy from her sleep doesn’t register its presence at first. She shifts forward till her legs are hanging off the edge of the bed. She rubs her forearms, wipes her face, and hangs her head low. She looks up. The gold frame gleams like silver in the strange blue light. Ngozi stands up and her face fills the glass of the mirror.

Dread runs through her as she beholds the perfection of her face again. She knows she is not looking at herself but something that has taken her form. Something whose home is within the void of the mirror. The thing that has turned her perfect in its image beckons. Her stomach is one big knot but she doesn’t grimace, that would ruin the beauty. She turns her face left and right, trying to get the best angle, posing in the dim light that turns her dark skin into sapphire dust.

Her nose hits the glass. She can’t remember moving towards it. She looks into her eyes in the mirror. They are twin pools of nothing. She kisses herself again. Her tongues slide over one another like cold tentacles.

Ngozi is flat on her back in the void. The mirrors hang static as stars. The gang of Ngozis remain on the near-horizon. This time, there is no out-of-rhythm cheering. She stands and walks across the fragile nothing again, her black dress fluttering in the stillness. The selves stand in a neat circle, silent as air, watching the center.

Her mirror is hanging in the center of the circle. She watches herself emerge, like a newborn, from the mirror hanging in her room, clad in breathtaking red satin cut to the middle of her thigh. Her hair is short and in neat waves. Large rubies drip from her ears. She walks out of the house, moving through doors and walls. She is not incorporeal, the air just seems to part for her.

She walks through the car and onto the street. On the street, she stands still and the earth carries her in a blur to a house in Lekki Phase One, past a flurry of streetlights and car headlights. Ngozi shudders. She knows who the replica is going to look for. She enters the gate and walks up the stairs to Tobi’s door.

Tobi opens the door and smiles with mischief when he looks her up and down. She doesn’t smile back. Instead, she rubs her hand down his rough stubbly cheek. He moves to kiss her. She turns her cheek, then walks deeper into the apartment to sit on the couch.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, voice raspy and face soft.

“Nothing,” she says. “Come lay in my lap.”

He comes around and does as she says. She begins to rub his chest and belly, sliding her hand further down with every breath. He falls into the sensations. She stops rubbing and places a hand on his chest, then she begins to push down, building pressure until Tobi jerks awake and puts a hand up to her wrist.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“A late dinner,” she responds. Her fingers sink into his body. Blood spreads across his singlet and his eyes widen, then fill with tears as she grasps his beating heart and pulls it out, ending his life in a gasp.

Ngozi in Red stands up and Tobi falls heavy to the rug. She turns and looks straight at where Ngozi is standing in the circle of the void watching, her face wet with tears. Ngozi watching feels completely numb.

Ngozi in Red walks out of the apartment, the heart in her fist like a heathen ruby. In one breath, Ngozi in Red crosses out of Lagos into the void.

She walks up to Ngozi and takes a bite of the heart. She offers the second bite to Ngozi. Ngozi clamps her teeth shut and begins to shake her head vigorously, as if to dispel the nightmare she stands in. Tears flow down her face.

“You must consume your beloved’s heart, or your emergence will be incomplete,” Ngozi in Red tells Ngozi Crying.

The Ngozis in the Circle turn soft and light as silk again. They begin to flow and billow into their respective mirrors till only the two Ngozis are left. Ngozi looks up, like there is a god in the sky of the void. She sees nothing but mirrors glinting. She falls to her knees, body vibrating with a sudden rush of hunger. She roars and begins to sob raggedly. Ngozi in Red takes another bite of the heart and looks bored.

“You must hurry. The sun rises and the portal will close with you hanging in this middle place.”

Ngozi Crying looks up at Ngozi in Red. She can’t seem to understand or accept this fate. She rises to her feet. Something is coming, walking slowly out of the darkness behind Ngozi in Red. A giantess with eyes of blue light.

“They must not meet us here. Eat!” Ngozi in Red is suddenly frantic. Ngozi Crying pulls the fist of the replica to her lips and takes a slimy bite.

It is delicious.

Following

Ngozi wakes up when the sun is high in the sky and the mirror is back on the wall behind the bed. She calls Tobi and the phone rings and rings till she collapses back into bed. She doesn’t bother to tell Nkiru any of the new developments. The aftertaste of Tobi’s heart burns her tongue. Chief Ireke had also told her to never call him when he is out of the country. The only person left to call is Mama. She throws the phone at the glass wall that leads to the garden and a long crack smiles back.

She walks out of the house without bathing. Her long hair slithers behind her. Ngozi drives back to where she bought the mirror. She parks her car in the middle of the road and stands, barefooted, waiting. The sun causes her to sweat but she does not move. The old woman with the melted skin does not return.

She enters her car and drives back home, back to the mirror.

When she gets home, it is evening and she is tired. She walks into the bathroom and showers. When she exits, her mother is standing in the center of the room, at the foot of her bed, looking into the mirror. “Mama!” Ngozi shouts, hand on a heart ready to jump out of her throat.

Her mother vanishes. Ngozi sinks to the floor.

Nkiru comes by before it is night. She is not surprised to see the mirror has returned. She is cold and sober in a way Ngozi has never seen her. Ngozi tells her about seeing Mama in the room but not about eating Tobi’s heart. Nkiru says it is time for her to return to the village and ask for her mother’s forgiveness.

IV

Sever

Ngozi wakes up for the last time. The room is cold and blue. The mirror is hanging in front of her face when she sits up. Her face stares back hard as a jewel. The tumbling of her gut that started when she first slipped into the void is gone, replaced by shards of ice. She kisses her looking glass and is pulled into the void.

Ngozi who burnt her idols and Ngozi who ate Tobi’s heart are waiting for her, flanking the mirror. There is a fire burning in a floating calabash in the center of the circle. All the other Ngozis watch, their long hair turning their faces into shadow. Ngozi stands up.

“I want to see Mama,” she says to no one in particular.

The Ngozis flanking her; one with braids and one with rubies in her ears walk up to the fire in the calabash and bring it to her, both of them holding it at chest level with poise. They speak to her with her voice doubled.

“We thought you’d never ask. We might have eaten your friend’s baby next to get you to know that Anwulika desired to see you.”

Anwulika is her mother’s name.

“Hold the fire” They say. Ngozi who bought the mirror places a hand under the calabash. The other two leave it for her. It is hotter than a furnace but she cannot take her hand away from it. It seems to be eating her fingers raw. She shudders in pain as her other hand rises up to stick beneath the calabash holding the fire. She feels a strong force inside the mirror pull her into its mouth, dragging her legs across the empty floor of the void, even as she begins to cry, “Mama, please. I can’t do this! Please!”

Her body is bent over in agony. She doesn’t want to belong to her mother. The fire in the calabash that is eating her hands is moving, dragging her forward without any care for her legs.

Nne

Back in the void, the Sisterhood departs. They are now themselves, no longer reflections and replicas of Ngozi. Some of them are men. They are all beautiful enough to crack glass. They hang her mirror on high, adding it to the constellation of Ugegbe Nwa.

Anwulika

Ngozi falls out of a mirror, empty-handed. Her palm is covered in burns. Sobbing, she holds her hand to her chest and kneels up. It is morning wherever they are. Mama’s eyes are shut and she sits on a large rock in the center of a cold, round room. Ngozi stands up and looks around. A mirror of the mirror she bought hangs right at Mama’s eye level. Inside it she sees a black void.

She turns to her mother who is dressed in all her finery like she is going for a great party. Her neck gleams with gold and sapphires.

“Mama?” Her voice sounds too loud in her ears after she has spoken. There is a heavy silence in the hut. Her mother doesn’t respond. She remains still and her eyes remain shut.

Ngozi looks around. From the corner of the room, someone stares back—the woman who sold her the mirror, smiling with dripping black teeth.

About the Author

Dare Segun Falowo is a writer of occasionally macabre speculative fiction (inspired by old Nollywood and various traditional cosmologies). He has been published in F&SF, The Dark, Brittle Paper, and more. He haunts Ibadan and tweets @dragonsinlagos.