Since the Orisha War that rained thousands of deities down on the streets of Lagos, David Mogo, demigod, scours Eko's dank underbelly for a living wage as a freelance Godhunter. Despite pulling his biggest feat yet by capturing a high god for a renowned Eko wizard, David knows his job's bad luck. He's proved right when the wizard conjures a legion of Taboos-feral godling-child hybrids-to seize Lagos for himself. To fix his mistake and keep Lagos standing, David teams up with his foster wizard, the high god's twin sister and a speech-impaired Muslim teenage girl to defeat the wizard.
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This is going to be a bad job.
I know it from the angular smile of the wizard-ruler seated before me. I know it because I'm meant to sense the icy heat of his godessence on my collarbone, but feel absolutely nothing, because he's blocking me somehow. I know because right outside this handcrafted palace, the rest of Lagos mainland is a dank, brooding, perilous hog pen; this foyer smells like orange air freshener, but you can only ignore the stink of your own shit for so long.
Let's start with how my new client remains the Baale of the long-abandoned Agbado community, retaining his palace right past the slum's railway crossing. From the outside looking in, you'd never picture such a sophisticated interior. I'm seated in a soft couch under ceiling lights. Ceiling lights oh, not hanging bulbs. D'you know when last anyone was able to get ordinary power in Lagos? Papa Udi and I haven't seen a blink of power in our house since The Falling over a decade ago. We run a 650VA Yamaha generator for three hours every day; just enough to charge our phones and watch the evening news.
But here, Lukmon Ajala has everything. There's a minibar and coffee-maker in the far end of the reception where I'm sitting. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows show halogen lamps piercing the night outside. But it's the silent thrum of a large 30KVA generator that really tells me this guy is mad wadded and true royalty.
The white babariga he wears is layered with exquisite gold embroidery. I almost burst into laughter when I first saw it. Anyone who lives in nowadays Lagos knows he can't step outside this compound in that shit; the streets out there are grimier than a mechanic's workshop. This babariga belongs in Upper Island. Little wonder he has this many aides and guards.
It's not just his clothes. His perfume is exquisite too, the kind that invites you to inhale rather than makes you sneeze. He has a good smattering of greying hair on his head, even though he's young — fiftyish — but the crop of gray hair is so stylish and shiny you know he wanted it there. His eyes are white and piercing. He watches me with them now, smooth hands folded over each other in astute calm.
"So, three million naira on delivery," he says. "If you think about it, that's one-point-five-mil per god."
Yes. Lukmon Ajala One, Baale of Agbado, wants me to go to the epicentre of The Falling and find Ibeji, the twin orishas — high gods. He wants me to capture them both and bring them to him.
"Why not just send your men?" I gesture about at his security detail, a 70/30 split between sergeants hired from the Nigerian Police Force and local hired hands. The policemen mostly run outdoor detail and convoy security, hoisting worn rifles; the meathead boys are mostly palace hands. The three in front of us now, one at each entrance, wear placid faces and carry no visible weapons; but peeking out under the sleeves of their bicep-hugging t-shirts, I see wards written on them, like henna tattoos.
He smiles. "This boy, you just want me to massage your ego." He sits forward. "We both know I'm hiring you because you're no ordinary man. You handle these things everyday, and I've been told you have quick turnaround. I also hear you're more skilled in hand-to-hand than all my men."
"And you, sir, are the most powerful practitioner this side of Lagos," I say. "It won't be difficult for you to prepare something and give them to do this job. Or even better, go yourself."
He laughs and fingers his babariga. "You think this atiku was made for tussling with gods at Eko?" I shrug.
He snorts. "The way you're behaving, somebody would think you don't need this money."
He obviously does his homework; I can't even start with what three mil will do for my current situation. What's worrisome is how Ajala knows it. It couldn't have been Papa Udi — he won't touch this man with a stick. This is the first thing wrong with this job.
Second thing: I just can't get over that twinkle in his eye when we talk about Ibeji.
A woman, likely one of Ajala's wives, comes and kneels beside him, setting a small bag by his feet. He pats her on the shoulder, and she bows, rises and scuttles off. Not for one second does she take her eyes off the floor.
"Look sir," I say, "my work is simple housekeeping: godlings lose their way and make home in people's garages or pawpaw trees, and I chase them out. I don't capture anything, not to talk of a high god."
"High gods. And that one is not a problem." He opens the bag, pulls out a squat, iridescent vial with a stopper and a small, carved ceremonial mask and lays them on the coffee table between us. He points to the flask. "This is a Spirit Bottle, made from Yasal crystals. A Santeria priest gifted it to me when I visited Brazil. All you need to do is ensure Ibeji don't stray too far from their centre and materialise. Then you trap them."
"How will I see them if they're dematerialised?"
"That's why you need this," he says, pointing to the mask. "This is emi boju."
A spirit mask. I don't speak Yoruba, but I understand it well enough.
"I need those gods, Mr Mogo," Ajala says.
I don't like his smile. I don't like it at all.
"What're you going to do with them?"
Now he frowns. Something flashes across his face, hard and pulsing, then he breaks it with an icewater chuckle. For a moment, I'm reminded this man is a wizard; he not only carries a good enough dose of godessence in him to cause some harm, but is also twice as knowledgeable about the practice as Papa Udi. He's not to be toyed with.
"I thought you had a don't ask policy with your customers?"
"Not if they're hiring me to kidnap gods."
"It's not kidnapping, Mr Mogo," he says. "Think of it as borrowing."
Borrowing gods. Makes no sense.
"Sir, you know what?" I rise and smooth down my t-shirt and jeans. "How about I think about it and get back to you tomorrow?"
"Ah." He rises with me. "To confer with your pa?"
I chuckle. Confer, indeed. Papa Udi can't even know I came here.
Ajala laughs. "Wizards. We never like each other. Remove our code of practice, and we'd have finished each other since." The way he says it, it sounds like I would've finished everyone off since. He has that glint in his eye again.
He picks up the bottle and mask, places them back in the bag, then hands the bag to me.
"I'll get them when I make my decision," I say.
"Of course," he says, not withdrawing the bag. "I'm confident you'll make the right choice."
I take the bag from him. When my hand brushes his, his fingers are cold, like a corpse's. The thoughtmakes me shiver, and when a demigod shivers, you know what that means.
Getting back home is war, as always. I drive a motorcycle — a proper Bajaj okada, not those powerbikes you see in Hollywood thrillers — and every bump rattles me on the route from Agbado rail crossing to our house on the fringes of Isale Eko. (It's the local name for Lagos Island, and loosely translates to under Lagos; there can't be a more apt description for Lagos Island — in fact, the whole of Lagos even — in recent years.)
The undulating dirt road out of Agbado is just as difficult to navigate as the potholes pockmarking Iju and Isheri, abandoned by the state government and all the governments before it. You would think that gods raining down on our heads would inspire the political elite to look kindly on the people, to band around them in their time of need. Obviously, they had other plans.
The whole idea to clean up Lagos was simply an exercise in gentrification — shove all the poor people here, move all the rich people there (and of course, only show the investors and media the fun parts). The Falling was the perfect excuse, especially because it happened in Isale Eko, which divides the mainland and the island proper. Once the deities took over Isale Eko and the exodus followed, it was easy too for the government. All who could afford Upper Island moved there, and the mainland became a dumping ground for all else.
Lagos used to be a small elite class, a sizeable working class, and a massive poverty class. Since The Falling, all of that working class who couldn't slide into island suburbia or move away — to Abuja, London, Houston, Mumbai, Berlin, Ontario or Sydney — disappeared into the mainland jungle. Now, it's a matter of picking one of the Lagoses: the good, the bad, or the ugly. Papa Udi and I are among the few people crazy enough to still live in the ugly, but our reasons differ from most. Usually, the decider is money: you either have it, or you don't. Every single cog in Nigeria is greased by hard currency.
I join the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Riding an okada also means I feel every chill of the early night, the dust in my eye. It's typical early November, so the harmattan is peeking around the corner, and since I never saved long enough to buy a jacket or sweater when they were cheap, I'll have to make do with the thin Peak Milk t-shirt I won at a roadside promo last year. I tie my nose with a handkie, because man, you don't want this harmattan dust in your lungs. I might be a demigod, but this shit can still kill me.
I gun down to the Third Mainland Bridge. My phone says it's almost 8pm, and that explains the empty streets. People have wisened up — anytime after 8pm, and you're fair game for the gods.
Most of these things have chosen to remain at Isale Eko, the epicentre of their Falling, where the connection to wherever they came from is strongest. It is fabled that there's still a gateway back to their pantheon there. Literally no one knows because who ever goes there?
Well, okay, I have. There's no gateway.
A lot of godlings have strayed from there in the last ten years though, more idle wandering than any sense of purpose. Some are interested in some sort of symbiosis, resigned to their fate with us, seeking acceptance in our world. Some have less noble intentions. It's those ones that make us replace our wooden doors with iron ones, reinforce the bars on our windows, and retire to our fortresses before 8pm. It is also those ones that keep me in a job. People stop fearing these things, and I'm done for.
Straying from their centre also forces the deities to materialise and take on more human forms; which makes them even more dangerous because you can no longer tell if that guy pissing by the roadside is the real deal or not.
The bridge is empty too. I burn rubber over the lagoon and turn off at Simpson, into the peripheries of Isale Eko. The population thins to nothing here. The colours follow suit, melding from the vibrant LED billboards advertising Coke and Samsung, and the flapping Eko Oni Baje! feather banners of the bridge, to Isale Eko's cold, atomic-fallout-gray. I slow my bike and ease in, keeping the silence as if in a graveyard. The towering ghosts of the abandoned UBA and Union Bank skyscrapers, silhouetted against a rising moon, always remind me of tombstones. There are cricket and frog sounds and no human ones. It's dark as fuck because no power; the last working street light was midway down third mainland.
Happily, our house on Ojo Close is the first turn off Simpson. It's literally the last house down the lane, and the only occupied one, which means I ride down a short stretch of abandoned buildings taken over by weeds on both sides of the close. We never get any visitors.
I park the bike next to a now-useless power pole.
The house is pitch dark, but I know Papa Udi is in there, waiting for me to come turn on the gen. He used to act like he was the strongest man in the world, but lately, he's all but given up on everything. Except this house, of course.
The real question here is why a one-thousand-year-old man (Payu never tells me his age) chooses to live on the edge of a dead zone; there's a history to Cardoso House that makes Payu stick to it with his life, and he never tells me that, either. You would think maybe there's something special about this house, but you would be wrong: there's nothing separating Cardoso House from the other pieces of fallen Afro-Brazilian architecture in Eko, save for the fact that it's still standing. Which is not going to happen for long if I don't get some money and fix up.
Cardoso House is a one-story duplex with swinging windows and a balcony decorated in old-style arches, patterned with mortar and highlighted in white. The walls are old, strong, and the bottom floor has been repainted by grime and soot, so only patches near the top tell us the walls were once a tepid blue-green. Its pillars follow the arty style of the window arches, giving the house clean edges, like a matchbox. We like to tell ourselves we have a roof, but the wind reminds us every night that we'd better do something about it.
Inside is pitch black. I feel my way under the stairs, stuff Ajala's bag and hide it there, then find the gen. I take it outside, plug it, and pull it once, twice, careful not to rip the cord or the whole engine out (this happens sometimes, when I forget what I am and do things like normal people). The thing comes to life. I switch over, and the house is bathed in yellow warmth, a far cry from the cold, silent onset of a harmattan night outside.
When I get in, Papa Udi is seated on the one ratty settee in our sparse living room, staring at nothing. A bottle of ogogoro, a local gin from South Nigeria with like 70% ethanol, rests on the sofa's arm.
"Wetin happen?" I ask him.
Papa Udi rises in creaks. He's a gangly old man with pockets of thinning gray hair, no beard. He's wearing his usual raffia-resist adire shirt and matching shorts. His tired old eyes are set deep in their sockets, retreating, as if they've seen too much.
"Why you dey siddon for inside darkness?" I ask.
"Ungh." He chews slowly, showing me his yellow teeth. As a child, I used to be scared of his bursts of irritation; that air of calm that glides over an impatience about him, like a dog kept in check by its tamer, capable of anything once the patting hand is removed. You never knew what he was going to do next, especially when he was wasted on this shit. I still never know.
He waves a hand, starts to move, then stops, forgetting why he got up in the first place. They don't call the drink push-me-I-push-you for nothing.
"Eh." I kick off my boots. I considered telling him about Ajala and his proposal, but that's obviously out the window now. "As you be like this, you go fit run ebo for me this night? I gats work tomorrow."
Before every hunt, Papa Udi douses my hunting weapons of choice — two handcrafted ceremonial daggers the Yorubas call obe isese, capable of penetrating spaces less than, er, human — in his famous ebo, an alchemical spiritual penetration potion that's so good he sells it to the Lagos State Paranormal Commission. Ebo puts anything short of a heavily-warded wizard or a mega-mega-deity at risk. Kind of like the green kryptonite to all godessence.
Papa Udi munches a bit and says, "Mmn." He gives up trying to remember what he was going to say and sits back down. I fling my t-shirt on the back of the couch, take the remote, turn on the TV and start flipping through channels.
"Wetin you chop?" I always ask about Payu's food; it is too easy for me to forget he must eat thrice a day because, as a demigod, I only eat thrice a week.
"Indomie and suya," he says. "Plenty pepper."
"And you dey drink on top?" I shake my head. "Na die you wan die be that."
"Mmn." He's definitely thinking about something.
"Payu, for real, any problem?"
He sighs heavily, suddenly remembering what he was going to tell me.
"Go up go see."
I toss the remote, go out to the now-lit stairs and take them in leaps. There's nothing of note at the landing, neither is there any at the corridor at the top. But then I open the door to my room.
I hear Papa Udi snicker downstairs.
My little room looks like the site of a hurricane. The whole roof has caved in on my bed in the middle. Zinc, splintered wood and termite dust dig into the mattress. A few nails have found my clothes lying around and left deep, long tears in them. One whole half of the room is wet with mildew or something. Early moonlight filters in through the new aperture, casts a bluish hue and a look of ruin over the room.
I lean over the railing and scream into the living room: "Wetin happen na?"
"Small wind oh," Papa Udi croaks back. "Small wind."
"Eish." I run my hand over my head. "When e take happen?"
"You call Suleiman?"
"Yesso. Over 200k to fix am. I juss say make him no bother."
I sigh. Now I see why he was drinking in the darkness.
"No worry, I go fix am," I say, to no one in particular. If Papa Udi hears it, he doesn't acknowledge.
Right. So we sleep on the couch tonight, then. Tomorrow, we go jobhunting.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "David Mogo, Godhunter"
Copyright © 2019 Suyi Davies Okungbowa.
Excerpted by permission of Abaddon Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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