a story of a young boy abducted from his home in the village and the conflicts that arise in captivity.
The moon has punctured
A hole in the blank night sky.
She peeps out envious:
Love-struck frogs are croaking loud
Symphonies around the pond.
On the night it began, there were no stars in the sky. The Full Moon would be out in three days, so the night was bright. I could clearly see the barns and maize crops behind our compound, through the gap between my mother’s hut and the kitchen. The heat in the huts was unbearable, so we were all outside, lying on mats. Father, Mother and my six younger sisters were asleep. Except me. I was gazing at the moon and weaving a story I planned to tell my sisters the next night. I was a boy of twelve, who loved the night.
I imagined the Full Moon had come out in great splendour to marry the Sun but had found the sky devoid of her wedding guests, the stars. The stars were angry that she had gone to see the Sun at twilight, veiled as a New Moon. Her groom, the Sun, had also not come for the wedding. She was sad, and became angry when she heard some frogs on earth croaking at each other under the romantic charm of her light.
A bird flew into our compound and alighted a few paces from where I lay, interrupting my musings with its tweets. It hopped towards our well, still tweeting. I stole towards it and tried to catch it but it hopped forward, barely escaping my grasp. In the bright moonlight, I could see the bird was coloured red. It had a black triangular patch on its face, only broken within, by tiny eyes and a small red beak. I wanted to own this bird and make a fine cage for it from the dried guinea-corn stalks in the farm.
It flew and perched on an excellent position on our well wall. As I lurched forward to grab it, I tripped and fell into the well.
I screamed but no sound formed. There was something in my mouth. I was falling straight down at a terrible speed.
Moments from crashing into the water, two hands grabbed my head and swiftly pulled me into a side tunnel, with some other hands grabbing my legs, as soon as my body was fully in the tunnel. They sped ahead right away, with me in their arms. Everywhere was dark. The rapid thump of their feet moved in sync with that of my heart until we broke out into the open.
We were standing on the farm behind our compound. I could see my parents and my sisters through that same gap. They were still sleeping. Had they not heard the noise from my fall and scream? I recalled that there had been no scream. No noise from my fall.
I looked down and saw two short beings with big round eyes that gleamed. They had large ears too and were identical. I wanted to scream out and wake up the whole village but that thing was still in my mouth. My legs were trembling. I couldn’t run.
They took out a mat, rolled me in it, lifted me up and carried me on their heads. As we moved away, I knew I had been abducted by bush babies.
The bush babies carried me through the forest for what must have been four or five hours. We eventually entered a large tree hollowed out at its base, and walked into a cave with a stalactitic network of glowing tree roots, brightest at their tips. Deep inside the tree cave, they unwrapped me at the feet of a frail bush baby then removed an egg from my mouth and stood aside. I knew afterwards, that she was their mother, and that they were twins.
She got up from the glowing stump she sat on and walked to me. She stared into my eyes and looked at my feet. I named her Mu.
She called one of the twins and asked him in Idoma to guard me. Hearing her speak my language froze me. It had sounded like a little baby crying while being forced to drink pap by its mother. I couldn’t understand her speech well, but her excellent gesticulations made up for that.
The twin came to me and told me, in a voice that sounded like Mu’s, to follow him. Seeing I hesitated, he asked me to be calm, promising not to hurt me. Then he led me through a dimly-lit woody tunnel that stopped at a small brighter flat area. Leaving me there, he dashed away and soon came back with a pillow he had made from roots and leaves. As I lay down, he stood upright, stroking my head with his long bushy tail. I soon fell asleep. I saw him in my dream and named him Long Tail.
At twilight, I woke up and saw he was gone. I stood up and wandered a few strides down the tunnel, stopping to gaze through a crack above. Long Tail was on a branch plucking ichinkla, the small yellow fruit of the tree. Without warning, a hand yanked me back to where I had slept. I cried out but stopped when I spotted the fiery large eyes that questioned me. It was the other twin. He had a scar on his face. He was shaking his tail in a way I assumed to be a heightened show of anger. Just then, Long Tail dashed in. He gave his brother some tree gum and looked at me for some seconds. His brother’s tail stopped shaking as he ate the gum, obviously enjoying it. Long tail then gave me a ball of leaves he was holding and told me to remove the top leaves. I did so and found it was filled with ichinkla. I ate it slowly, with caution, relishing its sweetness. Later, Long Tail brought me bananas and mangoes, and some water in a broken coconut.
I remained there throughout that day with Long Tail, listening to him tell me stories.
He told me they were forty bush babies in their clan, that his mother was the oldest, and that she had given birth to eleven sets of twins. Six had left the clan. Three elder sets, along with their father, had been eaten at different times, by a dreaded snake they called Ebli-Aboinu. He told me his twin was always fighting with the other bush babies and that we were going to watch him fight tomorrow in the tree cave. When I asked him about his brother’s scar, he told me a sharp stone had wounded him as a child, on a day he fought with Mu over some grasshoppers she had refused him. I named his brother Stubborn Scar. When it got dark, I plucked up courage and asked why I was abducted. He told me I would bring them good luck. They would take me back home soon, he said. I was happy. I missed my family, even though I now liked the tree cave. And Long Tail.
That night, I dreamt that Stubborn Scar fought with the biggest bush baby in the clan and won him. He, Long Tail and I raced on the loftiest tree tops in the forest. My parents and sisters were with me in the tree cave, listening to Mu tell the clan a tale about the moon, the sun and frogs. I was taken by some evil bush babies from another clan, to a clearing in the forest. They buried me in mud and left me to die.
I woke up screaming and scanning the area at the same time. I was in a clearing, naked and half-buried in mud. The Full Moon was out, shining brightly in the night.
My breathing became rapid and my hands felt like I was holding ice. A cold current swam from my head and terminated at my waist and fingers. I couldn’t feel my legs. There were many bush babies high up in the surrounding trees, all crying. I wondered if these cries were of pity or mockery. I had been foolish to trust Long Tail. And the clan.
I didn’t know what was about to happen to me but I believed I was in terrible trouble.
Then it came. A snake so big and strange, it was inconceivable to believe a creature like that could exist. It could coil twice around fifty people standing together and still be able to move its head. Its body was pure white but its head was a deep blue, and very scaly. This could only be the dreaded Ebli-Aboinu, Long Tail mentioned.
My mouth was dry. I had since frozen. As the snake drew closer, I began to murmur, ‘Enem eh um ge ku eh … Enem eh um ge ku eh … .’
Ebli-Aboinu undulated around me twice, steering clear by an arm’s length. I was shuddering and humming my chant now, my eyebrows raised and drawn together above my wide-open eyes. The snake coiled again, drawing closer to me with each undulation until its cold smooth skin touched mine. Then it wrapped me up to my neck and positioned it’s head directly above mine.
With my neck bent backwards, straining to keep my eyes trained on its head, I rapidly screamed, ‘Papa! Mama! Owoicho eh! Um ge ku eh … Um ge ku eh … .’
Ebli-Aboinu lowered its head, terrifying my eyes with its very bright ones. It opened it’s mouth wide revealing six fangs shaped like screw drivers, and threw out its tongue at me, wetting my face with the thick blue fluid of its tongue.
The smell from its mouth was reminiscent of garlic. A nauseating kind. I vomited on its body. It kept wiping my face with its tongue triggering a more forceful vomit.
In a split second, it uncoiled itself from me, forcing out tired shrills from my mouth as it sped away to a tree many yards away. It started dancing there, swaying on one spot and shooting its head to within inches of my face at times.
The bush babies were still crying. I could see Long Tail now. He was standing on a tree stump close to where I was half-buried, his upper frame slouched. He was calm. He was not crying like the others.
Ebli-Aboinu drew closer and began to coil around me again, with a measured pace that made me shudder in frightened anticipation of my end. It began to raise its blue head but stopped all of a sudden in mid-air. It spat a loud hiss and swerved its head backwards. Long Tail was in the distance, a long narrow object in his hand. He had stabbed Ebli-Aboinu on its lower end.
It spat another hiss and hit Long Tail with its tail, hurling him at the tree he had just left. But Long Tail was fast. Moments away from the tree, he grabbed one of its branch, swung around and landed on the ground. But this time he was not alone. Stubborn Scar had joined him.
The bush babies above were jumping back and forth amongst the branches, screaming.
In a flash, Ebli-Aboinu darted towards Long Tail, its mouth wide-open. But Stubborn Scar was already in the air aiming for this dreaded snake’s head with a long spear-like branch. He stabbed it in its left eye before it could get to Long Tail. He was seconds late. The snake spat a green fluid directly into Long Tail’s eyes, before it fell to the side, hissing in pain.
Long Tail was screaming and jumping about. He couldn’t see and didn’t know when the snake darted at his right leg and yanked it off with its powerful jaws.
Horrified by what was happening to Long Tail, all the bush babies jumped down, each with a rough spear fashioned from the branches. They began to pierce Ebli-Aboinu’s body in different places. But it did not attack them, even as it groaned from the pain. It held on to Long Tail’s tail and left leg, concentrating all its attention on him, desperate to swallow him completely. It was blind now. Stubborn Scar had taken away its second eye and was pulling Long Tail by the hand. It was all so clear and frightening because the battle was raging within six paces from where I was buried.
All the bush babies kept piercing Ebli-Aboinu’s body with all their might. Some took up big stones and rammed them at its body. Stubborn Scar was now piercing the hollow where Ebli-Aboinu’s eyes once where, desperate to have the snake free his brother, now being dragged by two bush babies. Long Tail was letting out soft, tired cries now.
Soon, Ebli-Aboinu stopped moving. Long Tail too. The whole clan gathered around to open its mouth and draw out Long Tail. His tail was gone. Both legs too. He was barely alive. He whispered to be brought to where I was buried. Looking at me with his eyes almost shut, he slowly whispered, ‘Ah eh chonun … Ah eh chonun … ‘. He was sorry.
The next day, after Long Tail had been buried, Mu asked Stubborn Scar to bring me to the cave. The whole clan was there. Her large brown eyes seemed even wider now, her iris covering the most part of her eyes which were already grey with grief. She said only two things to me. She said Ebli-Aboinu was now dead and that I had brought them good luck. Then she told Stubborn Scar to take me home.
We didn’t say a word to each other on our way to the village. Emotions were mixed. We walked past the clearing, past the spot where Long Tail had died, and where I had been buried. We didn’t stop. We continued walking for hours until we got to the tall palm tree that bordered my village and the forest. I looked at Stubborn Scar for some seconds then bowed my head and muttered, ‘Ainya’.
I continued the walk into the village. Alone. The day was dawning. A few paces forward, I stopped and looked back. He was no longer there. I swallowed hard, my eyes squinting out some tears. I looked forward and continued walking into the village, tears of emotions I could not really explain, streaming down my eyes.
The events of those few days took place seventeen years ago. I decided never to tell a soul about that episode of my life, in memory of Long Tail. I narrate this tale now because, I believe, Stubborn Scar, Mu and the others must have since passed away.