The family elders went to the Bedome shrine to consult with Togbe Adzima, chief and High Priest of the village. Adzima, who was an intermediary between the physical world and the spirit world, said yes, there was most certainly a way out of this predicament. The family needed to bring a female child to serve at the shrine. Efia, twelve at the time, was the perfect choice. She was handed over to Adzima to learn "moral ways." This would restore good fortune to the family. As a trokosi, though, she officially belonged to the gods and was to bear their children through Togbe Adzima. He had three other trokosi and nineteen children among them. The wives cooked for him, cleaned, made palm wine, and harvested crops. Every penny from the sale of foodstuffs went to him. And there lay the heart of the matter. Whatever the supposed reason for the women serving at the shrine, despite their being sometimes loftily called "wives of the gods," they were the source of all Togbe's plenty, and that made life very good for him. Whenever Efia looked back on the day her new life as a trokosi began, she flinched with the pain of the memory. She and the extended family had walked about sixteen kilometers from their home village to the shrine, bearing all kinds of gifts for Togbe. Efia didn't understand why she was being cleaved from her family. She cried and cried and could not stop.
The shrine itself was a low mud hut containing a large, brightly painted wood carving plastered with human and animal figures. The gods endowed this carved object with magical powers that the priest could summon whenever needed. That's why it was often called a "fetish object" and the priest a "fetish priest," even though many of the priests didn't like the word fetish used to describe them.
Efia remembered entering another hut close to the shrine while her family stayed outside. It was hotter than a northern desert in there, smelly and stifling. Efia knelt down in front of Togbe and two other priests. They poured libation with schnapps and drank up whatever was left in the bottle. Togbe, sweat dripping off his face and body, chanted magic words and waved an oxtail fly whisk over different shrine objects.
Every stitch of Efia's clothing was removed, and a female elder inspected her to make sure she was a virgin. As Efia bowed down in obeisance to the fetish objects, she felt as if she would be choked to death by the smoky heat and the alcohol breath of the men.
But she didn't die. She survived. Her family left her in Bedome and she began her life at the shrine. She never tried to run away. The gods would punish her for that, and anyway, where would she go? Once Efia had reached puberty, Togbe Adzima began to have sex with her. At the age of sixteen, she had her first child, Ama, who was now fourteen.
Efia had missed her period last month and she could tell she was pregnant again. She had suffered two miscarriages since Ama was born. Her second live child, a boy, had died of malaria before he reached the age of one.
Togbe Adzima would want to eat plantain fufu for lunch. Balancing an empty basket on her head without the aid of her hands, Efia walked through the thick bush of the forest toward the plantain grove. Her feet, broad and solid from years of walking, easily passed over the tricky terrain of low shrubs, dead leaves, fallen trees, and trailing vines. It had rained a little last night, and the moist earth was fragrant. Overhead in the trees, birds filled the crisp air with bright morning song.
As she came level with a palm tree, she caught a glimpse of an animal on the ground barely a second before she stepped on it. Snake. She jumped to the side with natural quickness. But when she looked now, she saw that it wasn't a snake. It was a human foot, toes pointing up.
Efia put down her basket and moved slowly around the palm tree. She saw a woman lying on her back partially obscured by the branches of a low shrub. She was fully clothed. Her legs were together, her arms by her sides. Sleeping?
Excerpted from Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey Copyright © 2009 by Kwei Quartey. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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