Ukeme was a little boy who lived with his parents in Ikonneme, a village in Abey Kingdom which was very close to the other end of Calabar town.
He was a diligent boy. Every morning when he woke up from sleep, he would roll away his mat from the floor. He would sweep the floor of the hut and the entire compound; He helped with the washing of the plates used for dinner of the previous night. And while his mother prepared their breakfast, he would ensure that he released the fowls from their cage and the goats from their pen so that they can go about looking for what to eat. They had two dogs in the compound called Jack and Tiger which usually accompanied Ukeme’s father on hunting most nights. They were very brutal dogs which every child in the village was afraid of. But the dogs were friendly with Ukeme because they knew him very well. He also saw to the feeding of the two dogs.
Ukeme’s father was a hunter. His name was Akan. Often when he got a good kill from his hunting, he would bring it home and share the bush meats among all his neighbours. Then he would carry what was left to the market to sell.
Ukeme’s mother sold petty items like crayfish, ground pepper and salt in a shed in front of her hut.
Every school day when the other children were going to school, Ukeme would put on his shirt and follow them even though he was not a pupil of the village primary school. His parent could not afford the payment to enroll him. He would tell them funny stories on their way to school.
The school children liked Ukeme so much and always wanted him to come to school with them. But the headmaster often drove him back home because he was not registered.
Ukeme made friends with most of the school pupils so he could learn from them what they had learnt in school.
‘Father I would like to go to school like the other kids.’ He told his father one day.
‘My son, all fingers are not equal.’ His father replied.
‘Father, but I have learnt that I won’t be able to do too well without sound education. That is why I want, so much, to go to school.’
‘Ukeme, there are different kind of education. The white man’s education and our traditional education. I will teach you the latter if you cannot get the former.’
He held his son close. ‘How about me teaching you the ways of the jungle so that you can become a great hunter like me.’
‘I will appreciate that.’
‘Don’t you worry. You will get to learn there is so much out there in the jungle that is very relevant in our day to day life. You will become a great man.’
That was how Ukeme began to learn from his father the rudiments of hunting. The first being never telling anyone what he saw in the forest at night. Some nights he would go with him into the forest to hunt. This was not ideal and Nne, Ukeme’s mother tried to object. But his father was determined in giving his son the only training he could since he could not afford a formal education for him.
One night, as they set out to go hunting, Akan called his son while checking to ensure that his hunter lamp was well saddled on his head.
‘My son there is something I want to tell you.’
‘What is it father?’ Ukeme asked.
‘If you must be a very good hunter, firstly you must never say the things you see in the forest to anyone. Then you must be very wise, patient and meticulous.’
‘Father you have told me that again and again. But what is meticulous?’
‘It means paying attention to details; overlooking nothing.’
‘Hmm, and why should I not say the things I see in the forest to anyone?’
‘People will simply conclude that you are tetched.
‘Out there in the jungle everything counts. Every little detail, every little sound. The animals are very clever out there. You just have to be able to outsmart them or you won’t return home alive.
‘It sounds scary. I am scared.’
‘Don’t be scared. Remember I am with you.’
They went ahead into the forest that night with the two dogs leading the way. Ukeme was armed with a catapult and his father was carrying his gun. Agoat skin bag was hanging on his broad shoulder.
After many hours in the in the forest, with the cold piercing through their skins, and the darkness straining their eyes, they still had not hunted down any game. This was very unusual as Akan was a skillful hunter and his dogs and been well trained in hunting. The night was unusually calm with no animal in sight. This was so strange. They hadn’t even spotted any animal. On a normal hunting event, even if he had not gotten any kill of so many hours, his dog would have gotten down enough squirrels, grasscutter, marmot and other edible rodents. But that particular night they had not as much as chased after any such games.
At such unusually hunting expedition, Akan usually held on to patience. He had taught Ukeme that patience was the surest weapon of a hunter. He urged his son to follow quietly further into the forest.
They went on and on not knowing when they walked into the forest of the spirits. Just as they crossed their human boundary which was marked by a huge but inconspicuous iroko tree which ordinary eyes could not easily see, something strange happened.
The silence of the night suddenly changed into a piercing cacophony of every forest sound. The whistling of the cold breeze; the mixture of every animal cry; the rushing sound of a million waterfalls together with an eerie laughter of the spirits of the forest. The sounds echoed louder and louder and Ukeme and his father could not stand it. They covered their ears with their hands to save them from the tingling noise.
Their dogs scampered back out of sight. Ukeme was scared.
‘Father,’ he called out, ‘Let’s get out of here.’
From nowhere appeared many fairies led by a beautiful lady with long dark hair that reach down to her waist. She was more beautiful than any woman they have seen. She had the size of a human and not that of a fairy. So she looked bigger than the other fairies. All of the smaller fairies were dutifully attending to her because she was the fairy princess of the forest of the spirits. Some were making up her face, others were treating her hair. Even as she approached Ukeme and his father, they were attending to her pedicure and manicure. Ukeme was scared because the lady and her fairies were not walking like humans. They were floating as they moved towards them.