The monotony of that cold morning was suddenly broken by the grand appearance of the milky-white sun which had all the chickens that inhabited Okukoland momentarily blinded with its rays. .The ground smelt fresh and new, promising warmth while some of the cocks, perched on resplendent, prehistoric trees who had, hours earlier begun practicing the prologue to their wake up calls, were, one at a time, making their way down to join the rest of the birds.
The ripe nuts which had, during the night, made their one and only downward journey toward mother earth, were already being done justice to by insects and their sharp smell drew some of the birds to the trees which housed these delicacies. The trickling sound of the little stream by the side, which had almost dried up due to the harmattan season, captured the interest of the rest. A little part which had rebelliously separated itself from the main flow and had formed a little stagnant pool was home to millions of abandoned tadpoles which were busy wriggling their way to maturity. The birds were at one with nature and they all basked in all it had to offer.
But the tranquil state of this haven was suddenly shattered by the sound of running feet and all the birds cried out in protest at the unwelcome intrusion. They all glanced around, with the full intention of letting this mischief-maker have a piece of their minds but on setting eyes on the source of this disturbance, their protests dissolved and all but a few returned to their interrupted activities. It was Shekele, the most beautiful female Fowl in all of okukoland. The rest of the birds were already used to her being chased around by suitors and the present happening held the interest of a few. She as usual, would, after teasing her current interest to no end, outrightly reject him or give him an impossible task to perform.
Shekele was renowned for her beauty which could make the head of any cock spin but her arrogance and reputation as a tease also made her even more infamous. But this sprightly cock, Ugo who had fallen head over claws with her, had no intentions of letting go. It was either her or no one else. Tired of being chased around, she finally laid it out to him. She wanted him to cross the boundary which separated the two lands and get her a precious gem. Shekele had been known for concocting outlandish ideas in the name of the demands of courtship but this was shockingly different. The boundary, from time immemorial had always separated the two worlds, Okukoland and Mmaduland. No creature had ever crossed it and so it had remained for centuries. Even the eldest of chickens could not recall if anyone had ever crossed it or what exactly lay in store for anyone who did. But no one ever bothered to find out.
It was just one of those unquestionable and unexplainable laws which the universe seemed to be suffused with. It was simply not done. By this time, her outrageous utterance had already caught the interest of a sizeable number but the rest carried on, sure Ugo would dejectedly walk away, but little did they know their morning was about to get very exciting. Ugo looked into the eyes of Shekele and something which he, only saw, erased any trace of hesitance in his proud mind and flapping his wings and crowing loudly, he walked towards the road, his head held high. The eyes of every bird were now on Ugo, daring him to carry on, a few even cackled mockingly but Ugo strutted on. Disbelief was instantaneously substituted with terror, hot white terror as one of Ugo’s claws suddenly touched the road and in an instant he had made it across.
Then, not far from Ugo, something which seemed like an apparition immediately came bounding towards Ugo. It stood on two legs like Ugo but had featherless wings which seemed more like sticks. On one of these wings was tightly clutched a shiny object which reflected the sun. The monster which was the very definition of filthiness, suddenly froze, firmly rooted to the ground on which it stood as it watched Ugo warily darting its head from side to side as it made little clucking sounds. Behind him Ugo had urgent cackles, clucks and crows for him to return but encouraged by the stationary posture of the monster he decided to carry on with his perilous task. Probably thinking the hunter had lost interest in the hunt, the hunted then concerned himself with bits and pieces strewn on the forest floor, attacking them hurriedly with his beak and claws in a bid to come across one precious jewel.
From the monster’s stooped stance, it was clear to see that it was about to make a break for the bird. Its forehead was furrowed, nostrils were flared and eyes bulged with intensity as it glared at the bird. One of its feet slowly moved forward and the next second it moved like the wind, succeeding in catching only air and loose feathers as it scrambled after the poor bird. Probably discerning that the beast had come too close for comfort , the bird decided to employ the services of his rarely used wings to outrun its pursuer and end the chase. With his characteristic deafening cackle and laborious flap of his wings, he got lifted off the ground but the monster deftly grabbed hold of him in mid-air and and Ugo felt the cold, clammy claws of death encircle his poor neck. The beast held fast to him while Ugo cackled and fought for freedom, loosing a few feathers in the process. The monster paused for a moment, savouring its heroic act. Ugo was now quiet.
He had probably resigned himself to the inescapable end which he seemed to have foreseen. The beast bent down and pinned the legs of the doomed bird to the ground with its right foot, pulled out a few neck feathers and then reached for the shiny object, paused for a few seconds, obviously relishing the moment, then went for the kill, driving the object in an up and down motion as blood pumped out from the ill-fated bird’s neck in spurts and starts. Then it suddenly let him go, and everyone witnessed one of the weirdest death dances ever as the poor bird struggled to get up, rolled over and flapped his wings, his nearly severed head with his distinctive pink-coloured comb dangling about while dark-red blood slowly soaked his white feathered neck.
Shekele and the other birds looked on in sheer horror, too stunned to utter a sound. The barbaric act they had all witnessed, they knew, would, like a shadow, forever stick to their memories. Shekele, turned and looked into the eyes of the other birds and what she saw in their eyes instantly told her that life, for her, would never be the same again. She pondered if the wise step to take wouldn’t be to cross the boundary like Ugo and dine in the same table of doom with him.