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 heart, somehow passing through the lungs and preventing the animal from letting out any sound of misery.

Tucking back her sling, Ejima picked her stone-spear and hurried towards her kill. Blood oozed from the animal's heart, drooling on the mat of dried leaves and sand. Like always, her aim had been true and had kept the animal from suffering any pain by killing it swiftly. 

Bending over, she touched the neck, the mouth and then...she frowned when she noticed the stiff side. She had just killed a pregnant animal.

Worthless. She hissed and stood from the animal. Most hunters kill and feed on pregnant animals, but not her. For one begging the gods to bless her with the fruit of the womb, it was unwise to feed on nursing mothers or ones that were pregnant.

Turning away from the animal, Ejima was about to decide her next step when she heard a cry.

A wild cat?

Ejima hissed and rested her hands on her waist. Her eyes searched the green and brown world. She was a slinger, the best in the kingdom, at least her husband had made sure of that. She could sling with both the left or the right hand at a strand of hair and not miss.

She was a brave hunter. But she hated wild beasts and the least of her favorites was jungle cats.

The cry came again, this time, she caught the direction. Her bright eyes folded with a frown as she listened. The cry was distinct yet she still could not make out the creature that could make such. 

Dropping her stone-spear, she drew out her sling and followed the sound, which was emanating from the west wind of the forest. 

This part of the forest had an evening, cold feel. She has not wandered this far before, for fear of being snagged by the trap of the red spirits which had ended the lives of hunters that would not keep to the land of the living. 

But that sound…

Ejima swallowed as her stomach jutted. Curiosity propelled her feet forward and like a sacrificial lamb, she followed it tipsily.  

The evening cloak of the forest lifted as she burst into a clearing. Her eyes rummaged the area but stopped when they fell on a basket that was sitting some stone throw away from her. 

The cry came again and this time making her courage wax. It was so human and agonizing that Ejima struggled to keep her balance.

What animal…?

Her jaw dropped, and at that instant, a sudden chill forced the hair on her body to stand. The cold was weird and had nothing to do with the moist air. 

The cries from the basket were of babies. Two babies that were mirror images of each other. Their round angelic faces were pale, probably from dried sweat and tears.

“What are you guys doing here?” Ejima asked and as if they understood, the children's cry started afresh, more kindled than the first.

Ejima could not understand the feeling. But something snapped in her stomach, something that tasted sweet and drowned every sense of doubt. She has never been around babies before. The closest she had was the two miscarriages over the last ten years. The neighbors in the village will not even let her play with their children.

She lowered her first fingers and stroked the faces of the children. The warmth that traveled to her soul was all too compassionate to pass unnoticed. 

"Oh," Ejima laughed as one of the boys grabbed her hands and would not let go.

“Look who is hungry,” Ejima said as the boy started to lick her finger.

This was what she had prayed to the gods for. The charming faces of children. Why was it so hard for the gods to give her a child to call her own?

Have they not?

A voice mocked in her head. Ejima wiped her eyes and pulled her hands reluctantly, from the children. The tradition of the people had suddenly struck her. Children like this are taboo in the land and anyone who touches them is bound to be ritually unclean.

But I can’t just leave them here to die. Ejima looked over her shoulders. And I can’t take them home either.

Looking towards the sky she said. 

“What kind of a gift is this? I asked for children that would live, not one that the entire community would despise and kill. I need a baby, one at a time. Please give me a child.” 

She wiped the falling tears and picked up her sling, ready to let fate take its course.

But the cries of the children…

"Stop giving me that look. The gods were the ones that rejected you, not me."

Ejima hissed and walked back the way she had come. She was going to abandon them. Death was inevitable for the two infants. It was their fate after all. 

Just as she started away from the clearing, the cries of the children came again and would not stop.

Ejima closed her eyes, knowing the cries would torment her for the rest of her life unless she did something. And fast.

She walked back to the basket and picked it.

It was small but wrapped perfectly with cocoyam leaf.

Ejima covered the lid, just to shut the ear-piercing cries of the children. She followed the moist whiff, tracing her way to the river. She was going to drown the children. That way it would shut them up for good.

As expected, the dried carpeted floor of the forest paved way for the cold sand.

Ejima walked into the brown flowing waters but hesitated. Drowning the children would be inhuman. That will only make her a monster like the rest of the village.

I am not a monster.

Ejima breathed in. Many thoughts ran through her head. But in the end, she decided to let the basket flow freely on the water surface. The children would die eventually, but not by her hands. She was innocent. Their blood will not be on her head.

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