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Marks of Devotion
Kande clung to the back
of her war elephant Ivory Hammer
as they rode through the demons' underworld.
Close at hand she kept the horrible white mask
that would allow her to impersonate a demon,
but she would wear it only at need,
for every touch would gnaw at her soul.
She would need allies
to free her brother Atsú from the demons.
There would be other slaves here,
or perhaps even some
who had escaped from slavery.
They followed an underworld river,
its water grey-green and greasy-looking.
Strange creatures came to drink from it:
fat hares with fangs and red eyes,
warthogs whose tushes dripped green venom,
frogs and lizards that glowed faintly.
Then Ivory Hammer lunged forward
and snatched up something.
Kande saw him lift a young man,
trunk curled carefully around the slim waist.
The man yelled and pried at the trunk,
but Ivory Hammer was too strong for him.
"Be silent!" Kande hissed.
"Do you want the demons to come?"
He stopped yelling and shook his head.
"I am Kande," she told him.
"I am going to rescue my brother Atsú
from the demons who captured him.
Who are you, and what are you doing here?"
"I am Folusho," said the young man.
"The slavers caught me once,
but I escaped from them.
Now I am catching fish to feed my sister."
"I am sorry that the slavers caught you,"
Kande said to Folusho.
"I am not sorry," he said,
"for that is how I found my sister.
Put me down and let me find the fish."
So Ivory Hammer set Folusho
gently upon the ground,
where he searched the brush
until he found the fish.
It had four eyes and feet.
Kande made a face.
Folusho just grinned and held it up.
"This is a fine fish!" he said.
"Perhaps this time my sister will not bite me."
Indeed, his hands were covered
with tooth marks old and new.
Kande stared at the brown scars
pocking his black skin.
"Is your sister a crocodile?"
she asked him.
"Not exactly," said Folusho,
"but I admit to some resemblance."
Folusho led them to the hidden camp
that he shared with his sister.
Ivory Hammer moved through
the underworld bush very quietly
for so large a creature.
Then Kande saw what awaited them.
It crouched near the coals of a smokeless fire,
all stick-thin limbs and dusty black skin
stretched taut over an enormous belly.
It had huge dark eyes, and when it yawned,
crocodile teeth showed in the gaping mouth.
Kande grabbed Folusho to hold him back.
"Be careful! That is a baby-demon," she said.
"That is my sister," he replied.
Folusho held out the fish.
The baby-demon toddled over to him.
Then she sank her teeth into his hand.
"Banjoko! Let go of me,"
Folushu scolded her.
"You are a bad girl to bite me
when I have brought food."
He held his hand high,
dangling her in the air
until she gave up and dropped off.
"You are food," she said sullenly.
"Eat your fish, Banjoko," he said,
and so she did.
Folusho sat down by the fire
to keep an eye on her.
"Why do you call that thing your sister?"
Kande asked Folusho.
"She is the only one I have,"
he said sadly. "After my birth,
she came to our mother nine times,
born and dead within days at first,
then lingering longer each time.
She was just over two years old
the last time she died, and that
broke our mother's heart
so that she died too."
"No wonder you call her Banjoko,"
Kande said then.
The name meant stay with me,
a traditional choice for a child born
after stillbirths or early deaths,
a mother's plea that this one
would live and not die again.
Folusho wound a cloth
around his bitten hand
to stop the blood from dripping.
"Yes," he said, "that is why."
"If Banjoko died,
how did you find her?"
Kande asked him.
"After the slavers brought me here,
I saw Banjoko among the other demons,"
he explained. "I escaped so that
I could be with her again.
I do not care that she is a baby-demon.
She is my sister and I love her.
I loved her from the first moment
that my mother laid her in my arms."
Kande looked again at his scars,
round dimples from the crocodile teeth
and a crescent the size of a toddler's mouth
where she must have bitten him in her last life.
A few spots of red soaked through the pale cloth.
Banjoko finished the last of her fish,
her bottomless hunger
stilled at least for a little while.
She curled up beside Folusho,
laying her head upon his knee.
Kande closed her fingers over Folusho's hand,
softly stroking the marks of devotion there.
"I think that Banjoko is very lucky
to have such a brother as you,"
Kande said. "I only hope that
I am so good a sister to my brother Atsú."
Folusho turned his hand in her grasp
and clasped his fingers around hers.
"You have followed him
to the demons' underworld,"
he said to Kande.
"No doubt Atsú will be proud
to have such a sister as you."
* * *
Atsú (Akan: second born of twins) -- a little boy captured by demons, younger brother of Kande, younger twin of Panyin
Banjoko (Yoruban: stay with me) -- a baby-demon
Folusho (Yoruban: God's protection) -- a young man who was enslaved by the demons, and helps Kande to arrange an escape.
Kande (Akan: first born daughter) -- a young warrior, older sister of Panyin and Atsú