Kerosene

Fiction by Kadi Yao Tay

Huff, huff, huff.

Itoh panted as she squatted to catch her breath. This was the last shop in her area to check for precious fuel.

She mentally crossed her fingers and prayed this provision shop had what she was looking for.

It didn’t.

The tears welled up inside her eyes. Itoh was strong. Strong people did not cry. That’s what her mother taught her.

Her mother lied.

The shop attendant had no way of knowing why the pretty girl with the charming, innocent eyes, suddenly broke down after hearing that they didn’t have any kerosene for sale and had in fact, not sold it in years.

The shop attendant didn’t have time for cry-babies. She had momentarily forgotten about the pretty girl. She was busy applying Instagram filters to her recent selfie.

The pretty girl asked if perhaps, she could have just a little of the kerosene not for sale, the one they used at home to light their coal pots.

   Such impudence the shop attendant thought. Who the hell was she to act all high and mighty? Just because she and her family live in the kiosk that doubles as a shop, didn’t give the pretty girl any right
to think they are poor.

The shop attendant bit down on her lip. She had admired the girl’s beauty before. She admired her innocent eyes. But now she knew better. Lies, masks … all of it. This

girl was not nice.

The shop attendant hated seeing people cry but this was a ruse by the girl. She just knew it. Even if she did have any kerosene, she would definitely keep it away from her, looking so innocent and crying
for no reason.

Itoh was devastated. She had entered all the shops she had come across. But none sold kerosene. A memory came to her. A memory of TV ads singing the praises of LPG over coal. The ads that had demonized the continued use of charcoal and coal pots. The ads that had consequently rendered kerosene an irrelevant commodity.

She shook her head at the memory.

But she didn’t blame the shops. She had never used nor needed to use kerosene her whole life until two weeks ago. And none of these people needed to know about it, if she could only find some kerosene.

It will be hell for everyone if they failed.

There was nowhere left to go. Itoh just hoped Temi, Sitso, and Rya had better luck than her. If they did – –

–they didn’t.

All four of them met at the railway crossing, panic plastered across their faces.

“No luck” they all chanted. They were

fucked.

***

A long time ago, an evil doctor with a full grey beard, twisted into dreadlocks that were beaded with gold rings and cowries for decoration and a shiny potbelly, sacrificed children, men, and women for his magic ritual. He once cut out the throat of a young woman to turn a politician’s daughter into a singing sensation. He also killed a man to bring back a boy from the grave. Some claim it was the Archbishop’s nephew.

Another time, to mock a church in his neighbourhood, he erected a cross in front of his home with a bloody goat for a head.
He grew powerful by the day. As his antics grew more bizarre, so did his acclaim.

There were stories about him everywhere. A woman claimed on TV that he transformed her tongue into a penis because he refused to sleep with him. To make it go away, she let him rape her. A controversial pastor also accused him of casting a spell on the men in his church to lose sexual interest in women, and even men and instead, be attracted to animals.

At first, the stories were dismissed as “awam” – make-believe, since they were first reported in the imaginatively bizarre and quickly disregarded newspaper, P&P.

It didn’t take long before the evil doctor’s exploits crossed over from fanciful, unserious reportage into serious news. Dr. Gbekley’s stories stirred a national storm of fear, panic and an all-time religious frenzy.

The doctor should have seen his end coming. Instead, he reveled in the newfound attention. Finally, he was being recognized. He was being discreetly visited by “big men and enormous boss ladies”.. He was a saviour to a lot of people.

In exchange for his help, his VIP clients helped to divert attention from his destructive deeds. He got cocky. Brazen attacks on the streets, raiding, kidnapping, more sacrificing of people…the streets belonged to him.

Everyone feared him.

Until, they didn’t anymore.

The people; mothers, fathers, brothers, best friends, lovers, neighbours and concerned citizens who had lost people, or were afraid of losing more saw the need to end it immediately. And it is with this desire that they found the tiniest flames of courage to put an end to it.

They gathered all their weak sparks, about 500 bits and pieces to create a raging inferno neither Dr. Gbekley nor his cohorts saw coming. The evil doctor was flushed out of his home onto the streets and forced to lie in a puddle of mud in a neighbourhood where the goats, chickens, and cows shat, spat and peed wherever they wanted.

The great Dr. Gbekley was reduced to nothing. With their courage restored, and with sticks, kerosene, tires, and matches, the mob attacked. Worn out chale wotes, Timberland boots, old, trembling feet – all kinds of feet made lasting connections with the doctor’s body. The sticks came down heavy, painful, and merciless.

The doctor felt powerless. There was nothing he could do. The mob drenched him in all the kerosene they could find. He ate the kerosene drenched dirt and swallowed, unwillingly, a lot of the smelly fuel. That’s when he felt something, a cold chill on his neck at first, then what seemed like fire ants crawling across his back and biting, and with each sharp pain from the bite, he felt his power slowly returning back to his body.

Though faint, it was useful. But he was too weak to fight the mob. Instead, he channeled his ebbing strength with the faint power he could feel into the kerosene-drenched dirt he lay on.

He began casting his spell, a soft song and a strange spell that floated on the cool evening breeze.

Some men forced two old truck tires over his body. Gbekley thought it was poetic justice, for it was a similar act that had led him on his path to power. His little brother was lynched – Ghana-man style when he was caught stealing a loaf of bread. That bread was meant to feed Gbekley, his brother and little sister. They hadn’t tasted food in nearly three weeks. He remembered his little sisters’ gaunt body right before she died, ribs sticking out like a skeleton. She didn’t look very different from the stray dogs that hung around them.

Gbekley then swore on his siblings to become the most powerful man alive, so they would never go hungry again. Poetic justice indeed.

The mob let a little boy through. He held a match stick. Gbekley recognized the boy. Twins were a precious ingredient for powerful potions and he had taken his twin brother from him for just that. He had planned to come for him later. Gbekley looked into the little boy’s eyes and saw nothing but anger and hatred.

Good. That would come in handy.

The boy lit the match. It burned, it burned hot. Gbekley could feel his body crumbling away but paid it no mind. He cast his spell in cyclonic fervor. He stretched out his hand to the boy. The boy backed away terrified. Someone in the crowd kicked his hand with a fierce kick. He was weak but he needed to complete this. He didn’t even need to touch his hand, all he needed to do was neglect the pain, drown out the noise and concentrate on the boy’s hate-filled face. With all the strength he could muster, he focused his gaze on the boy’s face.

He melded the boy’s hatred with his own. His hatred burned hot and consumed the boys’ mind. The boy grabbed at his own neck and hysterically dug his fingers into his skin. That was the last thing Gbekley saw before his body gave up.

***

Or at least that’s what they all saw and thought.

Itoh didn’t know how but she was the first to sense it 2 weeks ago. She sensed the doctor’s evil in her bones.

She had stepped out of her house. The clouds had stopped playing hide and seek with the sun and just let the big yellow ball glow. The weather was clear. Except it wasn’t.

It was raining. But unlike anything Itoh had ever seen. It was raining from the ground. The water rose then evaporated as it hit the sky. Itoh usually loved the smell of rain, but she loathed this rain. It smelled like kerosene.

A flaming hole had suddenly opened up in front of her and from it, a creature with the face of a pig, the fangs of a dog, the ears of a bat, the horns of a goat, the torso of a bodybuilder and the legs of a horse emerged.

The creature slammed its gorilla fists on the ground and the ground quivered. Itoh could swear she was dreaming. But the people on the street had looked equally terrified. Terrible earthquakes and massacres will be reported in the news later that week.

Out of nowhere, a naked, creepy woman slowly rose from the ground. Her hair looked like a brewing storm and her legs…there were no legs. Just a fishtail.

Itoh let out an audible gasp. The fishtail woman looked at her alarmed.

You can see me?

Itoh nodded hesitantly.

A look of confusion burned across the woman’s face, followed by disbelief.

You. You can ‘elp me stop ‘im.

Without warning, the woman grabbed Itoh’s hand and together, they disappeared.

Itoh ended up in the woman’s library under the sea. Itoh had read about mermaids and other merfolk. It was only a fairy tale to her until now, she was in the mami wata’s abode. Her name was Adze.

Gbekley did this. ‘e took away my beauty for ‘imself.

‘e cast the evilest spell the day ‘e died. I’ve been battling the demons ‘e created from ‘is burning 
for 15 years and I’m tired. I’m old and I can’t do this anymore.

The demons always returned and I never understood why. But I do now, Itoh. You
being ‘ere makes it all clear.

Burning them or decapitating them is not enough. It never ‘as been. These demons were born
of fire, fire borne from dirt, kerosene, ripe hatred, and Gbekley’s magic.

I’ve battled the demons with all the necessary counters save for one, the catalyst, kerosene.

Itoh, I need you to bring me kerosene, any amount of it so we can destroy the demons, for good.

Go with your friends, the ones like you who’ve also seen the demons.

I fear our failure will bring ‘im back from the grave. ‘E wants

that. I don’t and I promise you, no one needs it.

Itoh and her friends set off on their mission.

But they had failed.

Itoh cursed her luck for being in Accra. Anywhere else and she would have found kerosene easily, no questions asked. She could hop on a bus outside Accra for kerosene but there was no time.

The demons were going to attack in a few hours and there was nothing they could do.

Stupid, stupid modernization was all that run through Itoh’s mind. “What the fuck

happened to all the kerosene?” Rya suddenly yelled. Rya did not swear. Ever.

Rya had on his favorite t-shirt. A light blue fabric that had the infamous quote, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime!” printed elaborately on it.

All four friends sat on the rails, anxious for the dark days to come.

A little girl walked up to Itoh, a defeated look on her face. She looked like she had walked on the sun and back. Twice.

You could smell her sweat and poverty even in an orchard of lavender trees. Rya, ever the generous giver was too angry to even acknowledge the innocent little girl in rags, begging for money.

From the way she moved, it was obvious sales had not gone well, terrible even.

She had a hollow pan on her head. Whatever she was selling, today wasn’t her lucky day.

Itoh had just enough money for the kerosene. But they hadn’t had any luck yet so she didn’t see the point in holding on to the money.

She decided to give her ¢20 to the girl. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was better than nothing.

Itoh heard Rya mumbling gibberish angrily to himself. He did that whenever he was upset.

Itoh looked up at him and paused. She read the words on his shirt. Now wasn’t really the time but the words spoke to her at that moment.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

“What are you selling?” Itoh queried, absentmindedly.

“Ke-kerosene” she stammered.

Bio
Kadi Yao Tay is a writer who also happens to be an improving social inept constantly navigating the maze of human interactions in a bid to figure out his place in the world. He does this by writing creatively for himself and promoting and supporting the work of visual creatives.

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About Tampered Press

Tampered press started out as a conversation on creating more platform and visibility for writers and visual artists in Ghana and Africa. While blackness has become more noticeable now than in the past, and more space is gradually being created at the table 

black as an identity is heavily nuanced and has to be dissected and carefully documented. African artists in particular have fewer platforms. Our experiences, mannerisms and culture often have similarities, but our style, design, creation and content are different.