It drifted into the room again. Silent at first, but slithering now like the heartbeat of a phantom. That tantrum of unspoken words. That stillness spoke louder than the voice of frivolity, drilling its ugly head into the faint of heart.
She had heard it once, long ago, before she became a wife and now a mother.
It had even smudged her courage, making her wonder if this was the end for her.
No, it was not her end. It was their end. An end without a beginning. If tomorrow starts without her, she would gladly have these lovely faces with her. It was their end. The end of a life that was never lived.
Njideka flinched but held tight the wrapped cloth as she hid behind the bamboo bed. It was a poor choice. Her heart raced as her eyes pierced the dark, towards the entrance. No one was in the room of course. They were outside. The brood of vipers that sought the head of her children were outside. Waiting, perhaps for the right moment.
She knew the voice that had spoken. Ichie Chima. The eldest among the King's men, and the only one allowed to address such matters in the absence of the king.
"Who dances with the wind and does not get their head spinning?" His voice echoed again, "how long will the canopies of heaven hold the majestic strength of a forming cloud. Can a child play with fire and not get burned? Who plays with filthy things and not expect the gossiping lips of flies?"
Njideka licked her lips. Tucking the loose end of the cloth bearing her two children, she turned towards the window and squeezed herself, trying to fit into the space with her babies.
The Blue Moon bathed them with its glow by the time her feet finally touched the cold sand. But for the fading voice of Ichie Chima, silence spoke. It was a loud voice but not loud enough to stop her.
She tightened her grip on the wrapped cloth again, making sure she was alone.
The moon kept the shadows looming, but blessed the path with their grace, revealing the emptiness that stretched in all directions.
Pebbles grave themselves into her barefoot, but she ignored them as she started hurriedly towards the forest. She was just some paces away from the forest when the crushing of dried leaves ahead made her stop dead in her tracks.
"And where do you think you are going?"
It was her husband, Kachi. He must have predicted her moves for he was standing aghast in the shadow, just under the palm tree that stood away from the bush.
"Please," Njideka fell on her knees, tears rolling before she could even think of forming them, "Anything but the children. Please."
"Children. You call those abomination children?"
Njideka nodded and tried to obey. But her eyes were heating and she couldn't help the tears that mixed with the sweat and phlegm. Too many thoughts ran through her mind. None of it made sense. All she wanted was a child. All she wanted was to be called a mother.
"Those children are evil. They are demonic" Kachi said.
"But I can…no let me go!" Njideka struggled with the two men that had grabbed her from behind. She had not seen them but could feel the strength in their grip. It was more powerful than hers but that didn't stop her from trying.
Ichie Chima had also appeared from the front house, followed by some other men who were ready to keep the land from abominations like this.
"As a sacrifice unto the gods," Kachi said and drew his sword.
"No!!!" Njideka shrieked in horror. She struggled again and this time was able to break free from the men.
But she was too late. Uche's sword was already glinting with the moon, drooling with the blood of the two infants.
"Chimoo,ewooo" Njideka cried as she picked up the wrapped cloth. It was soiled with blood.
The blood of her children.
The blood of a life that was never lived.
The blood of a silent heartbeat.
Come on now. We are almost there. Ejima steadied her arms, with a sling and stone ready to fly. Her breath was calm as she waited from her hiding place for the animal to move closer enough. It was an antelope with brown fur and few white spots. There was no horn yet. But the rich dark eyes suggested that it was matured enough. It was nothing close to the one she had killed two moons ago. However, the size would generate an income that would serve for two or three market days before she comes back for a proper hunt. Songs of praise echoed from the mouth of the forest, merging with the weak afternoon heat and animating the leaves which carpeted the floor. The birds also joined the cacophony, as if warning the animal of the impending danger. It didn't listen, nor showed any sign to obey. One swing was all it took Ejima to let the stone fly. The motion was swift and before she could retrace her hands, the antelope slump to the side, dead. Her stone had found its mark on the animal's h
Call it luck. Whatever be the definition, but the way Fanyi's chest rose and fell in a constant rhyme made Uche wonder how the man had survived the first tribal war. They had raged into combat together and had battled death itself. However, fatigue was something their enemy had preyed upon. It was the same reason why some of the men had lost their lives, leaving memories and emptiness as a testimony. But how had the man survived? Ducking to the left, Uche jumped back, missing the wooden sword which swung freely above his face. "Same old tricks? Impressive." Fanyi said and took a different stance. It was the 'ice on water' stance. A technique that only a good swordsman can muster. Uche clenched his weapon. He had been on the defensive as always, waiting for the right moment. But knowing who his friend was, Fanyi would never leave a weak spot. The lanky man was too smart for that. "I will beat you on this one." "Not in your dreams," Fanyi said. The morning sun was on his dark skin
It’s been three moons since the episode in the forest, yet Ejima could not shake off those ecstatic faces. Their smiles still glossed her brave heart and mended it with a warmth that had kept her in disarray. Those bright eyes. They had glittered with the sun, chiseling on her soul, and driving her consciousness into that valley of hysteria. Her sleep had been inoculated with lurid sights which at a time made her wonder if she had offended the gods in touching the babies. She had even screamed herself up from sleep one night when she had seen a silhouette of some twin figures chasing her with a horsewhip. “Are you okay?” Ejima blinked and shifted her weight, hoping to find comfort on the wooden chair. She was terrible. The hollowness in her soul was anything but fine. This was the first sign she normally gets when she takes in. But her denial was something she was beginning to believe as truth. Yes, she was living a lie. A lie which she had perfected so well. "Don't worry, it will
The leaves had lost the morning dew and bashed her skin as she traced her way into the forest. The previously cleared paths were beginning to lose their visibility as the grasses tried to sprout their heads from them. It was becoming difficult to see the white sands, and even more difficult to keep the familiarity away. The moist decaying smell, the constant whistles of the birds, the shimmering sunlight which filtered from the canopies of the tall trees, creating a warmth that made her remember her evenings with her husband. She was trading this path again. Not because she was out to hunt. No, this was different. She was different. Those abandoned children were making her different. Gathering her sling on her waist, she rounded the last bend. Dried bones and leaves crushed under her weight. Decayed flesh of men and women alike. Fleshes of people who were rejected by the village. Men that had been buried alive. Lost in history. Forgotten. Ejima knew she was breaking the King's
The spark came from his fingers or was it his body? No, perhaps his soft lips were the force that was electrifying her, gulping her strength and leaving her moaning like a helpless child. He was a beast in the face of battle. She had seen him fight one or two times. But in bed, the story was different. His touch was as tender as the fur of a day-old chick and even though she had tried to master them, she always fell victim to this perpetual ecstasy that words can hardly express. “I wish I had you all along,” Nneamaka breathed in deeply as he caged her in his strong but tender grip. “Hmm, so romantic. Boredom would have killed us right before your late husband did. Besides, I have always been here. You were just too blind to notice me.” There he goes again, always with the habit of ruining the flawless moments. Nneamaka frowned and peeled away from him. It was a reluctant effort and even as she created a slight distance between them, she could hear the silent words that were yelling
Ejima wiped away the sweat that walked down the bridge of her flat nose, but sneezed twice when she accidentally sniffed the dust in her hands. She wiped the tears that followed and tried to return to work but leaned away when a sharp pain strode through her waist. She hissed out the frustration from her teeth and tightened her grips on the wooden hoe. All the light-headedness and the weakness she had been feeling for the last four months, had turned out to be pregnancy. A pregnancy she never wanted. It was a curse to her. A punishment from the gods themselves. Tightening her grip on the farming hoe, she bent carefully but without ease, and was glad when her hands touched the heap of earth and grass. With the hoe, she dug around the brown tendril and tried to pull with her free hand. The yam obliged at the first trial but snapped in two when she tried forcing them the second time. She murmured and continued with the digging, hoping to bring out the rest of the yam that was still under
The lights of the sun were hiding on the other side of the world and the birds were retiring to their nest by the time Ejima decided that it was time to go home, having fed enough on the bread of affliction. She tried to swallow but the fluid in her mouth was all gone. Her lungs were like the face of two stones rubbing over each other and her stomach hadn’t rumbled in protest either. She wasn’t hungry; the sorrow had made sure of that. What kept flooding her mind was all the time she had spent with Uche. He was her first love. They had met on the eve of the new yam festival after she had danced with some of the virgins that were not betrothed. It was love at first sight. He too had performed that day. He had wrestled with Dinta—who turned out to be Nneamaka’s husband—and had lost. The villagers had been angry with Uche, for losing the crucial wrestling match. Most people called him a coward. But Ejima had seen his failure with one eye closed. Even though Uche had denied it, Ejima coul
“I don’t think she can make it” Someone was saying. The words were gibberish and echoed in Ejima’s ears like the voice of some market women, arguing over the price of a goat. Her legs and thigh were on fire and her body ached. Lifting a limb was almost impossible. She tried to raise her head, but the sudden weight of ten thousand people will not let her. Where am I? She tried to recall. Her memory flashed back and a new pain sparked through her spine. She saw her husband and her best friend in her mind's eyes, smiling together, and laughing at their jokes. Nonsense thought She sniffed just as the image of her fall also flashed in her vision. My baby. She panicked but her hands would not move when she tried. The only thing that was moving at the moment was her eyes, which provided her with multiple images. “Drink this,” A voice seemed to say. The multiple images appeared over her head and poured something into her mouth. “But she is still breathing” Came another strange voice.