• Ifeanyi Esimai

Harvest of Blood: How a story idea was borne

Sometimes, ideas for a story come from the least expected places.

Excerpt from the Authors Notes from Harvest of Blood.

While contemplating ideas for my next novel, I had occasion to visit Enugu, also known as the coal city, and the capital of Enugu State. The name of the city, Enugu, came from a combination of two Igbo words, Enu and Ugwu, meaning hilltop, which describes the city's topography. It had been a colony of the British Empire, then known as the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria, and is now home to several institutions of higher learning, including my alma mater, the University of Nigeria College of Medicine.

I was retracing my steps, going down memory lane, and visited an eating place called Car Wash, a restaurant situated right in a mechanic’s workshop. I’d frequented it often as a student.

It originally was an open-air restaurant. They served what New Yorkers would call “street food” and catered to mechanics and their apprentices. Known for serving delicious steaming plates of white rice, spicy tomato stew with fist-sized lumps of goat meat, and sides of fried plantains or boiled beans, it had grown and attracted people from all walks of life.

I sat and started to enjoy my meal. A man sitting next to me was speaking into his mobile phone in Yoruba. When that call was over, he shoveled a few spoonfuls of rice and beans into his mouth before his phone went off again. This time he surprised me by speaking Igbo like a native. I waited for him to finish his call, and out of curiosity asked him whether he was Yoruba or Igbo.

“Oh, I’m Yoruba from Lagos State. But my mother is Igbo. I grew up with my grandmother on my father’s side in Abeokuta.”

He told me he was a contractor and was chasing a contract with the state government.

“What do you do?” asked the man. “You never know. You might even be the man with my file sitting on his desk right now waiting for his signature.”

“I’m a writer,” I said. However, I shot myself in the foot later by saying I’d attended school here in the coal city.

“Which school?” the man asked.

I ended up divulging the fact that I’d trained at the medical school.

“Ah, you’re a doctor.” He paused. “Doc, you agree, modern medicine does a lot of good?” His eyes bore into mine. His gaze was intense.

I nodded and waited for the next shoe to drop.

“But there are some things I see my Babalawo for,” said the man. “Like intervening on my behalf with the gods to smoothen out the outcome of my contract.” He bit off a chunk of goat meat.

I did a stealth eye roll, but unfortunately, he caught it.

The man snapped his finger. “I knew it. You’re one of those people who think medicine is a cure-all. Do you believe in jazz?”

I shook my head. Jazz is slang for magic or juju. I owned up to him that even though I did not believe, I would not tempt fate, nor disrespect a juju believer or practitioner.

“What are you working on?” asked the man as he picked his tooth with a toothpick.

I’d joined the Harry Potter bandwagon really late and was toying with the idea of writing something in the fantasy or science fiction genre. I pointed out to him that I didn’t have any story I was working on yet, just pieces of ideas here and there.

“You can always write something medical. You already know a lot of that stuff.”

I nodded and wracked my brain for ways to get away. Usually, at this point in a conversation, the person would offer to tell me a story which I should write, suggesting we should share the profits.

The man pointed his toothpick at me with a single strand of meat dangling from it. “I have a story for you.”

I made an effort not to roll my eyes this time.

“When I lived with my grandmother as a boy, I heard many stories about magic and the Orishas that would rival any magical story you’ve ever read. They happened hundreds of years ago, maybe thousands of years ago.”

The man looked at his watch. “I have a few hours to kill before I return to the ministry to check the progress of my file. I can share the stories with you to pass the time. It’s yours to do anything you want with it.” The man smiled. “But, if you know someone at the ministry…” His voice trailed off.

I hesitated. “And it’s a story about magic?”

“Yes, and it happened very close to Lagos.”

I ordered some hot pepper soup for both of us. We introduced ourselves. His name was Temidayo Ademola.

“Call me Dayo.”

“Please, what’s your story?”

“Dayo smiled. “It begins with a young girl and a village in the kingdom of Ode. I believe the year was…I don’t know.” Dayo chuckled. “My grandmother would say, a long long time ago when such things as magic and gifts from the gods were recognized by men. Not like today when the only magic we know is in our smart phones.”

I leaned closer.

Dayo cleared his throat. “Then, most communities celebrated harvest after crops had been reaped from the ground. But in the Kingdom of Ode, they celebrated before the seeds were planted, sowed with the blood of the innocent, through a ceremony called the Harvest of Blood...”

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