Kumashe Yaakugh’s ‘While She Slept‘, a novella, is her first full-length work since her earlier shorter works Picture Perfect and Tana’s Fate.

It is a story of three fates. The descriptive title “While She Slept” is literally about a young adult woman Lily who lies comatose in the hospital, a sleeping beauty, as a result of her adopted brother Bishop’s devising, an adopted brother whose childhood conditioned him to grow into a kind of Frankenstein, under the watch of a crack-head mother who taught him how to mix chemicals to produce deadly potions, and the sexual abuse he suffered by the housemaid of his adoptive family.

Tarfa Tsar Agerzua is a ghost whisperer or necromancer, but he has no idea of his gift. All sons in the Agerzua family activate this gift when they turn twenty-five; an heirloom bestowed to their ancestor by a powerful diviner.


Kumashe Yaakugh sets up the city of her childhood Makurdi for where the strange takes place. Tarfa turns twenty-five at the same time he is temporarily transferred on a work assignment from Abuja to his childhood city, Makurdi.

He sees a lady sitting forlornly in the corner of a restaurant’s lounge and approaches her with pick-up lines, the endgame, surely, is to end in bed with her, as he has a reputation for being a nonstop ladies’ man.

But his planned adventure is anticlimactic. This lady he meets asks for his help instead: she had been drugged to death and it’s only her ghost, not her corporal being, talking to Tarfa. He must seek justice for her against her killer, if not she doesn’t let him be, appearing to him at intervals, even when he meets a new girl and is about to go third base with her at his apartment.


More encounters with the said ghost continue to unsettle him until he eventually does her bidding. When his father and grandfather visit him, he tells them of his experience with ghosts but they already know. This is when they tell him about the gift. But the three Agerzua descendants—Tarfa, his father, and grandfather—agree to find a way to exorcize the gift from him, which has rather become a curse, especially to the youngest descendant, Tarfa.

This is when the ghost of Lily, the sleeping beauty, comatose in the hospital, appears to him. For the first time since encountering ghosts, he feels he should genuinely help her, but Lily’s ghost, since she’s not a corpse, but caught in between a stasis of life and slow death, doesn’t recall all she needs for Tarfa to help her, but only her name.

To save her he needs to know she is in fact in a coma, her location, and the fact that she has been induced to be in her state by her adopted brother Bishop who pumps drugs into her in his hospital where she is admitted.

While She Slept is told in a straightforward approach and pretends not to be a story of extraordinarily preternatural situations. Though there is Yaakugh’s usage of the Western-termed “ghost whisperer” to describe Tarfa’s necromancy, the backstory that leads to this draws its cosmology from “tsav,” the practice of magic and spells by the Tiv people, more reputably known among the Tivs as powerful wizardry and the weaponization of diabolic charms.


But this is treated mostly at the surface level; Yaakugh doesn’t dissect deep into its practice or build an elaborate world of it. But writing from a place where such stories about her Tiv cosmology aren’t very popular in the mainstream, spurs conversations for it.

The desire to save Lily, questions about whether Tarfa should keep his ghost-whispering gift or not, and eventually falling in love with Lily’s ghost, drives the plot of the last half of While She Slept. There are no detours in the plot. Every dialogue and scene moves towards the climax and the final resolution of where the fates of Tarfa, Lily, and the evil genius Bishop meet.

There isn’t much time for the three persons either; it is neither the question of who makes haste, but rather, as Yaakugh contrives, whose side the Universe is on. Will Tarfa deliver the kiss to wake his sleeping, comatose beauty?

The healer and diviner who is to perform a ritual to exorcize Tarfa’s necromancy is an old woman called Azulufa; her apprentice is a man named Tsavmbu. “Tsavmbu” translates to “There is witchcraft.” “Agerzua” translates to “The meeting of strengths or powers.” And “Tarfa” means “The world knows.” See this: The world knows that there is witchcraft so there is a meeting of powers.


My interpretive mind plays a game here, but on a curious note, that last sentence encapsulates a larger part of what this novella is about, and it is the kind of realm the reader finds herself in. Between its intrigue and the fast-paced scenes especially in the last pages, While She Slept is a story about man’s constant battle with principalities that are in the air and how we fight to triumph over them.

Not to forget, this novella also is a story about love, and to young men to take caution: do not hit on the first girl you meet minutes after you’re in a new city, or you may find yourself conversing with ghosts.

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