| Olivette sat and listened to her mother tell the stories.
The bondo devils would come and they would celebrate, Folami would say. They would come, with their long robes adorned with strips of many colored-fabrics, and the black-wood masks atop their heads, increasing their height by at least a foot. They would dance in the dirt roads, the bondo devils, shrieking and wailing their song, as the villagers pranced behind them, joyous and exuberant.
Her mother would tell her the stories and she would smile, but it was a bleak slash that crossed her face and rendered it dark. As Folami spoke, she gestured and pointed with her hands. “When the devils come, there will be revelry in the streets. The men will want you, and your sisters will be jealous. We will eat for many days, and our bellies will be full.” Sometimes her mother would weave her tales in front of the big black pot while she cooked the stew, the steam floating in front of her face. It drifted before her like a smoky screen, obscuring her mother’s eyes and making them impossible to read. Olivette imagined that her mother’s eyes were filled with the same trepidation that the stories aroused in her.
Her mother shared the stories with a tone that was alternatively grim yet hopeful, but Olivette feared her tales. As her mother recounted the traditions, Olivette’s stomach clenched in fear. She would nod as appropriate when Folami spoke, but inside, her heart pounded dread in her chest, much like the old drums that would beat in time of war. Late at night, in the quiet of the hut, when everyone was asleep, Olivette would lie awake, watching the final embers of the dying fire cast shadows on the walls.
Her mother had said the bondo devils would dance in the streets, but Olivette saw their spirits lurking in the shadows, their long, ominous forms beckoning to her.
“Olivette…” They would chant in the crackle and hiss of the fire, and no matter what her mother had said about joy and elation, she knew that these spirits of the bondo were evil.
Her days were spent in preparation. Her mother and her aunts went to the woods to prepare the ceremonial hut. They gathered the necessary herbs and prepared them accordingly. They taught Olivette the differences between the herbs, and the purpose of each.
And they sang. They sang the songs that would call the devils, and they were merry.
But Olivette did not share their happiness; rather, she held a solemn fear. She remembered Aminata, her older sister, who had bled when the devils came for her.
Aminata had screamed and screamed. For days she had been covered in a sheath of her own sweat and tears, but despite the heat, she shivered with cold. In those few moments when she did not scream, she muttered her words and shook both with pain and fear.
One day, she extended a weak and shaky hand to Olivette. “The devils...will come…for you, too, Olivette. Then you…will know,” Aminata told her sister in a hoarse whisper. The light in her eyes was diminishing, and her skin held no color other than the pallid green of sickness.
Her mother, her aunts, and her grandmother had said the prayers, and the bondo devils had come. “This will pass, and we will rejoice.”
But it did not pass. The bleeding did not stop, and eventually Aminata spoke no more.
Folami cried, but Olivette’s aunts comforted their sister. Sometimes the devils took their daughters, they told her mother. Sometimes the sin was too great. When the bondo came again, they took Aminata’s body; because her spirit was unsettled, her body could not stay in the compound. They buried her in the brush, far beyond the walls of the compound enclosure.
At night, in the quiet of the hut, Olivette was sure she saw her dead sister. She lurked in the shadows with the devils, and she called to Olivette. “Olivette, it is time…”
In her bed of straw and brush, Olivette trembled under her goat skin covering. Her sister knew of Olivette’s sin, and wanted Olivette to join her. But the dark world her sister inhabited with the devils frightened her. “Join us, Olivette…”
Olivette clapped her hands over her ears, shut her eyes, and wished the spirits to leave.
Folami went to the market and with great care, gathered the ingredients for the feast. There would be dried fish, goat, ground nut, and kola nut. Her mother and her aunts began the cook, and for two days the air carried the aroma of ground nut stew and palm oil. Folami and her sisters argued over how best to prepare the fish; the fish would be offered to the devils.
Olivette stole a kola, split it open and pulled the nuts from the shell. She would leave the nuts for the bondo so that perhaps they would stay away. But when night fell, the plate of nuts that she laid by the fire remained untouched. In the long shadows cast upon the walls, the haphazard shape of Aminata flittered about, the dark silhouette of her head thrown back in laughter. The devils danced with her, their darkened shapes bobbing up and down. “Olivette, it is not the nuts he wants…” Olivette trembled in fear.
Her mother and sisters and grandmother argued over what instrument to use. One of her mother’s sisters had a piece of onyx with a shiny black tip, the same that was used on Aminata. But Folami was superstitious and refused. To use the same instrument on one daughter that was used on the other, the first, would bring anger to the devils. Instead, Folami found an old, rusted blade. She went to the river and washed the blade; near her, two men urinated into the water.
Olivette no longer slept at night. Her mother had said the devils would come during the day, to bring jubilation, but instead, Olivette was plagued by their suggestion. Their spirits hid in the shadows, Aminata among them, and they whispered to her incessantly about the nature of her sin. At night, the silhouettes reached for Olivette, and she would scream, but her mother would tell her to quiet her sleep.
When at last the day came and the preparations were done, the handmaidens of the devils appeared first. They wore white dresses, and their dark skin was made light with white chalk. Like ghosts, they escorted the devils. They came for Olivette.
She screamed and struggled and fought. But her mother and her aunts and her grandmother betrayed her; they helped the handmaidens take her to the hut. Inside, they laid her on the jute rug, and handmaidens sat on the floor on either side of her. They grabbed her legs and pulled them apart. Olivette jerked and twisted, but her mother and her aunts held her down by her midriff.
On an old rock was the blade and near that, a small fire burned. Her grandmother placed the blade in the fire, and then positioned herself between her granddaughter’s legs, where her vagina was exposed and spread to reveal the sin of her womanhood.
As her grandmother prepared to make the first cut, Olivette heard the song of the bondo devils outside the hut. They cried and wailed their song, and Olivette knew she heard her sister’s voice among them.
“He’s coming for you, Olivette…you’ll be with him soon …”
“Please!” Olivette screeched. “Please! I am sorry for my sin! I am sorry for it! I will be chaste! I will be good!”
But her pleas were drowned out by the chants, the songs, and the catcalls of the devils outside.
And after her grandmother was done, after she had cut and cut and cut and the sin of her organ was removed, she sewed the wound closed. Then the women celebrated.
Olivette was unconscious, passed out from the pain. She did not hear when her mother, her aunts and her grandmother declared her a woman. Now that she was pure, as was the tradition, they asked the devils to spare her.
But hours later, when Olivette came to in the darkened hut, she shuddered and shivered from fever, from shock, from loss of blood. In the weak glow of the fire, she saw the shadows waiting, felt the cold hand of death caress her cheek, and she knew the devils had come for her.