|Igbo Medicine Man|
The relationship between Ekwefi and Ezinma is uncommonly close because Ezinma is an only child. Ekwefi values her because she has borne children ten times and nine of the children died in infancy or early childhood. After her second child’s death, the medicine man diagnosed Ekwefi as bearing ogbanje children – changeling children that keep dying and re-entering their mother’s wombs to be born again. One way of deterring such unnatural children from coming back was mutilating the dead bodies of the infants in hopes of scaring them away from reentering their mother’s womb. So Ekwefi’s third child was mutilated after death.
Ekwefi became sad and bitter because of her misfortune, but her next child born was Ezinma, who was sickly but surprisingly hardy. Though Ezinma survived past her early years, she was always periodically sick. The town believes that Ezinma is an ogbanje, but they hope that she has decided to stay and give up the evil cycle of birth and death. Ekwefi lives in constant fear that her beloved daughter will not choose to stay with her. A year ago, Ezinma underwent the process of breaking her ties with the ogbanje world – finding and digging up her iyi-uwa, a special kind of stone that connects an ogbanje child to the spirit world and allows her to be reborn repeatedly.
We enter into a flashback to the time when Ezinma’s iyi-uwa was found. In order to find the location of the girl’s iyi-uwa, a wise old medicine man named Okagbue questions Ezinma about where she buried the stone. He insists that she knows the location. Ezinma takes Okagbue, followed by her parents and many villagers, on a bit of a wild goose chase. She confidently walks away from home and goes through brush and branches only to bring everyone straight back to her father’s hut. She was probably having a bit of fun with this, especially since Okagbue wouldn’t let Okonkwo threaten or beat the girl for her antics. Back at her father’s hut, Ezinma stops at an orange tree and indicates it is the spot.
Okagbue and Okonkwo dig for a long time before finding something wrapped in a dirty rag. When he unwraps it, a shiny pebble falls out and there is much rejoicing. Okagbue asks Ezinma if this is her iyi-uwa and she answers yes. The flashback ends and the legitimacy of the ritual is called into question now, a year later, when Ezinma’s life appears threatened by an intense fever. Okonkwo returns gathering herbs to heal his little daughter. He then boils the medicinal roots, barks, and leaves, warning Ekwefi to watch the pot carefully so it doesn’t boil over. He is snappy and anxious. Once the medicinal concoction has boiled long enough, Okonkwo wakes Ezinma and forces her to sit over the steaming pot of medicine covered by a blanket. Essentially, she’s stuck in an aromatherapy steam room. Though Ezinma complains and cries and struggles to be let loose from the choking steam, she is held down. When Okonkwo finally releases her, the girl is drenched with sweat and falls asleep.
At this point, the narrator leaves us hanging. We don’t get to find out whether Ezinma lives or dies. (If you’re the kind of person who really can handle suspense, you might want to jump to Chapter Eleven.)