PodCastle 776: A Girl is Blood, Spirit, and Fire
A Girl Is Blood, Spirit, and Fire
by Somto Ihezue
Scattering through the bushes, blades of elephant grass swaying high above her, Njika could see the Sanctuary etched into the mountainside — she only had to reach it. Across the shifting streams and the trees once men, she made it to the mountain’s foot, sweat glistening down her neck. Njika had ascended Nyirigango’s jagged terrain a dozen times, but nothing ever prepared her for the cold. It seeped into her bones, and the bison skin draped over her body could sparsely keep it out. Her breath forming plumes of white steam, up and up she went towards the Sanctuary walls as hornets of crystal ice stung her face. Stealing in through a window, she latched it shut else the cold whirled in behind her and put out the torches lining the aisles. The sensation in her toes returned, and Njika ran. Past the great pillars ensnarled by blooming vines that crept to the ceiling, down a flight of stairs, and into the archway of songs, its balconies overrun by hibiscus tendrils. Despite the cold outside, the Sanctuary of Nné Riliùgwū, They Who Drowned Seas, was as something alive, like September’s rains had poured right in.
Getting to the Hall of Faith, Njika skidded to a stop. She stifled a sneeze. The daisies sprouting on the marble sculptures always did that to her. At the hall’s centre, her spirit-sisters skirted a fire. She was late, again. An elder priestess waded around the girls — her hair locs of smoke reaching for the stone floor.
“To receive is to — ” Né Olude, the priestess, paused, as Njika inched towards the other girls. “Where have you been?” she asked, her tone suggesting irritation but not surprise.
“Milking the goats, Né.” Squeezing between Dubem and Amina, Njika sat and crossed her legs in meditation. “The stores ran dry this morning.”
Né Olude’s gaze stayed on her, and Njika shifted where she sat. She straightened her hair, composed herself, tiny white flakes showering down her face. Mountain frost. To all the spirits, Njika prayed the elder woman’s eyesight was as bad as they said. Initiates were forbidden from leaving the Sanctuary without a priestess. Orphaned like the other girls, if she got expelled, she’d have nowhere to go. She probably should have thought of that before traipsing down the mountain to go splash in the warm springs with the village children.
“ … to receive is to give.” Né Olude peeled her eyes off Njika, resuming her lecture.
“Né, what must we give?” Dubem asked, keen as ever.
“Everything, sweet child.” (Continue Reading…)