In our village, the news flashed in snippets with the usual identity of a truthful lie. It breezed through our nonchalant ears like a hasty wind. The story jumbled from one narrator to the other and soon, wore a regalia that matched the inner perspective of each narrator. It was a long tale of a ruthless animal. It had a thirsty urge for not leaving any carcass behind. It fed virtually on everything. Its bloodthirsty spree had no match. It is easier to say nothing satisfied it. It was difficult to tell the height of its ruthlessness because only the younger generation spoke of it. You would think their young imaginations presented clearer images of the horrors of this beast. The old folks in the village only sighed. The sigh usually left you puzzled as though a rhetorical question had shown you a mild countenance of this beast. You could see in their reluctance to talk, the very irritation that shaded their memories. It seemed like a lost cause telling of this impending doom. You could almost think they are scared of this beast. But truly, they only betrayed our naive and curious imaginations. It was such that you couldn’t see beyond the scrambled details your little box of memory carried. Only, the horror caused you to wonder.
The news soon faded into rumours. It hardly sounded more than whispers when spoken of. Some simply joked about it while others carried the distilled suspense about their daily lives. It came to pass when on a certain night, my bosom friend, Aklo, scared the ghost out of me. It was on a night mama sent me to get some malaria drugs from Banda. I walked briskly under a clutter of breezing mango trees. The heavy December winds made the trees restless. It was as though they were roaring. They simply were, as it was difficult for my terrified nerves to think otherwise. Rotten mango fruits also conspired against me. They kept dropping from all angles. It was then that the image of this terrific beast became more real than ever. It made me shiver at punctuated intervals. My eyes wouldn’t stop flickering around to catch any prey in the darkness. As though a divine eyes watched me ridiculed in my sympathetic state, the trees gradually calmed down momentarily. I could see the end of the trees open into the mild rays of the moonlight. My fears grew lighter as my legs became almost steady in their steps.
My boldness was itself consumed and short-lived. As I walked past the passage which formed a gate out of the dark trees, Aklo simply killed me. He dashed out of the bush like an unchained mad dog, idiot! I hardly had the chance to analyse the form of danger. It was all about saving the last piece of life left in me. Amazingly, my legs were steadier in their speed through the opposite direction. I ran through the dry grassy plains, finding the least passage to safety possible. Every part of my body sought to save my dying breath. While my panting breath parted my widening mouth, my voice called out to my aged mother back at home: “Mama Yo…Mama yo!”. My hands only responded to the orders of my legs. I had not run more than a distance of about a hundred metres before Baba Akandi called out to Aklo . “Aklo! Aklo!, you little rascal, where is the pack of cigarettes I sent you to buy?” It was then I stopped abruptly; paralysed in disappointment. Breathing heavily, I could not do more than stare at him on a bended back with my hands glued to my knees. I was mad to fury but had no strength to chase him. The mockery from his laughter forced me to laugh too as I forced my weight on our corrugated metal door. “Why are you panting like a dog?” mama queried but I had no strength to answer. I simply passed her the drugs I got for Tamen, my youngest brother. “Dr. Kyobok said he has not received new deliveries of malaria drugs, all he had was paracetamol… he said this would calm her temperature for the night”.
It wasn’t long after I finished eating that I began to feel the weight of my adventure with Aklo come hard on me. Every part of my body was weak. My eyes blurred and threatened to sleep on their own. I bade mama goodnight as she lay beside Tamen’s feverish body.
“Don’t let the cock wake you up, there’s a lot to do on the farm tomorrow.” “But mama, Aklo and I have agreed to work on their farm tomorrow and then in turn, work on ours on Wednesday.” I opposed, springing my head half way up, leaving my chest glued to the mat.
“You only play when you are with that friend of yours, I need you on our farm tomorrow, and you know the cows will soon start grazing on that path soon.” “Yes ma’. I couldn’t argue more.
I tried to dim my senses to sleep and almost felt like I was dreaming for a while. Only, the growing roar felt too real for a dream in a sleep so short. And so I opened my eyes, for the terror in my mind became too dark for me to sleep in. My late father taught me to wake up from whatever nightmare I saw in my sleep. His words were clear: “you always have at your discretion, the liberty to suffer a terrifying nightmare for the pleasure sleeping brings, or awake from it and hope to find sleep again. And so I escaped the creeping nightmare by forcing my eyes wide open.
But the terrifying sounds from wailing people in the village grew louder. Each second that ticked by, forced a higher pitch on their voices. It was as though all their mouths were collected in a trumpet aimed at our house. Mama wrapped her arms around us in our single bedroom. Beyond our living room, the warmth of her embrace was our final bunker and fortress. Under her panting breath we all prayed in shivering voices. The trembling whispers from everyone came clashing at each other. God would have to be God to understand what we prayed for.
Like a steady ship on a turbulent water, mama only sobbed with her arms wrapped firmly around us. With her face gazing up to heaven, her tears cascaded downwards. They were too heavy to travel the distance, so that, they only lined down her cheeks helplessly. I felt their warmth as they trickled on my neck consistently.
Trapped in the cloak of our consuming fear, we waited more for the worst, than for any answers to the prayers we had said. It isn’t the nature of man to seek genuinely for God’s benevolence in times of adversity; he only fears more for the pain and misery, than he glorifies the power of God to save. Suddenly, Mama’s arms griped tightly as if to suffocate us in love. The loud bang on our neighbour’s door pricked her into a shock. I saw for the first time that she is human after all; just the lioness that never wails. The loud wailing in the village was now reduced into our neighbour’s house. Like a ravaging tornado, it had swept everything in its path.
There was nothing left for even the dogs to bark with. The mother screamed first and mysteriously vanished. The same fashion followed of her three sons, until the crying of a baby became the only human voice in the village. Even that too, found no soft tissue of sympathy in the heart of this beast.
Back in our home, the roof above still covered nonchalantly. The ground beneath our feet was firm, in fact, the earth watched it all in silence; the earth simply watched us die. I imagined what they say about how night does not cover the earth in a single moment. I saw in the blurriness of my teary eyes, the possibility that other people around the world basked under the rays of a rising sun, while we languished in a horrifying night. It was easy to see that the sun forsook the part of the earth where we inhabited. The darkness was too long to remember whether or not, any rays of light parted one night from the other. While other children around the world simply woke up on each day to live, ours was one long night, punctuated by servitude, savagery, betrayal and wickedness. For it was difficult for my young mind to understand, how man killed more people than God’s appointed time ever guaranteed. Yes, in the hands of cruel men was the timing of innocent men, women and children; with it they gruesomely decided who lived and died. They threw their lots upon us whether we watched or not.
Our house, the bed and every property in it were calm except for us. Life and humanity fell before my very eyes. It was such that I could easily negotiate for the role of a non-living thing, for even my breath; the only symbol of life I had left, became such a burden of pain and terror to bear.
ALPHA E. Y. ©2020
(In memory of all those who died untimely, for the simple crime of being Nigerians)