NSUSU, a short story by Farida Mijindadi at Spillwords.com



written by: Farida Mijindadi



It has been two years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days since I last shut my eyes peacefully. When I turned sixteen, I knew I was going to die before I clocked eighteen.
I am seated on the couch, with my legs folded and my knees gently touching my chin. My hands are firmly wrapped around my knees, as I sway back and forth. In the distance, I can hear a voice that seems to be my Mama’s.
“…eyes shut. Sorry… will not happen. Sleep.”
I don’t understand what she is saying, but I think it has something to do with me sleeping. I dare not. I dare not succumb to the words of my mother and shut these eyes. I know the moment I close my eyes, that woman will sit on my chest and try to snuff the life out of me.
Two years. She haunts me in my sleep; grabs my throat and tells me that my time is up. Her words are poison, and my ears grow tongues, tasting the venom of every syllable.
“How dare you come here when I am still breathing? That little juice of life, I shall drink it and leave you dry and empty.”

An iron-like grip gets a hold of my shoulders. They feel like her hands when she tries pulling me down, whenever I try to stand up from bed. Her grip is too strong for someone in her late fifties. I tell my friends but they say it is sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis? They cannot understand. Nobody understands.
On impulse, I struggle, but the grip tightens, and I am lifted from the couch and shoved into a car. Mama wrings her hands in worry as the car races as if with a thousand cheetahs. But I can feel a presence. Eyes watching me.
Hospital. The man in white says it’s sleep apnea and random episodes of insomnia. He says I’ll be fine, but I don’t think so. How can I be fine when he didn’t even mention my exact problem?

Nsusu. I can see her gray eyes narrowing and her lips forming a formidable twist. “I, Nsusu, shall never die. Your presence defies all the laws of Nzazi, and I shall not let that happen.”
I turn to Mama, who is nodding as the man in white speaks. I can see it in her eyes. She doesn’t believe him but she wants to hope that it is right. Just one shot of the injection and I’ll be fine.
A needle prick. My eyes feel heavy.

My eyes suddenly open, scanning my surroundings with unease. There is no one here, but I cannot shake the feeling of a looming presence. I can sense it. Sinister eyes fixated upon me, meticulously watching as I breathe in and out.
“You cannot run away.”
That cold steel voice which sends shivers down my spine. Nsusu is sitting on a chair, her arms lazily swinging. Her glare terrifies me, but there is a smile playing around her lips. It is mischievous.
“Happy eighteen, Nsusu,” she says. But my name is Afi.
She is standing beside me now. I open my mouth to scream but no sound leaves my mouth. Her bony fingers wrap around my neck, twisting and turning. I can feel my chest constricting and I wildly scout for air, my arms flailing as she mutters incomprehensibly.
I can hear Mama’s voice. Someone is screaming and they are shaking me. I open my eyes. Nsusu is not in the room. The man in white looks confused.
I am taken back home.

I cannot sleep, because Nsusu will always try to kill me. I don’t know her. She says I am not supposed to be here, and my life is hers. She says it with so much confidence, I believe her. I don’t want to die, so I don’t sleep. It’s been three years since I last shut my eyes peacefully. I am eighteen. Nsusu no longer appears exclusively when I’m asleep. She sits next to me occasionally, legs crossed, and watches me earnestly. She notices my fright. It induces her euphoria. She feeds on it.

Mama enters the room with a Keti man. He wears a long, flowing brown cotton robe and cowrie-adorned necklaces. Two long lines are on his cheeks. As our eyes meet, I see a distant look in his eyes, as if he has seen things that could drive a person mad.
He sits with me, and without saying a word, grabs my hand and opens my palm. He stares at it intensely and shakes his head. His nose twitches as he begins to speak.
“It is what I suspected. What do you see?” he asks me.
I try to speak but my tongue is tied. I want to tell him how I knew I wasn’t going to reach nineteen the moment I turned sixteen. I want to say how Nsusu appeared in my life and proceeded to try to kill me every night. How I would spend countless sleepless nights to avoid the constriction of her bony fingers around my throat, squeezing with overpowering force.

The Keti man sniffs the air and his nose twitches again.
“I can feel the presence of one who should have died a long time ago,” he says. He looks at me again.
“You need to speak, daughter. Your tongue wasn’t created to be tied. Loosen it and speak, so I can save you.”
I can only mutter one word. “Nsusu.”
His face turns ashy and his grip on my hand slackens. I can hear Mama’s voice, but her words come and go in my ears. “who… what have with her? she… who.”
The Keti man sighs and begins to speak.

I listen as the Keti man speaks.
“It is strange.” he twists one of the cowries around his neck.
“She is a reincarnation of Nsusu. Something went wrong in Nzazi; the border between the living and the dead, on the day Afi was born. Afi is the reincarnation of Nsusu— or was supposed to be. It is complicated. When a body dies and the spirit walks through Nzazi, it comes back to the earth in the body of a newly born. Something went wrong— something all the Keti people have been unable to unravel. The spirit of a living person came back inside the body of a newly born. Afi. Afi is the new Nsusu, but Nsusu is still alive. She was supposed to die on the day Afi was born, so her spirit would find its way into the inner part of Afi and live again.
Nsusu does not want to die and be reborn, but she has already been reborn. It defies all the laws of Nzazi. In order to make things balanced, one has to go; the former Nsusu or the new Nsusu.”
He turns to look at me.
“She is being haunted by her past self who is still alive, and is doing everything to make sure she never dies. It is strange. Strange strange.”

I have not shut my eyes since the Keti man left. He said he will be back tomorrow.
It is night again. I look around wildly. I get the sensation of evil eyes boring deep into my soul. My eyes mistakenly close for a second, and I see the full image of Nsusu standing. Waiting. Patiently waiting for me to doze off. She looks extra prepared.
I cannot sleep because my former self needs my life in order to remain alive. A silvery light envelopes the room as I sit with my legs folded and my knees slightly touching my jaw, waiting for the silvery light to transform into an orange streak of light. Waiting for the first crow. Waiting for the Keti man to knock on the door.

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