I cannot recall where I was when the news reached me, but I vividly recall running off with great haste towards the house at the village outskirts, swiftly overtaking others who on account of age could not hope to match my speed.
Pursued by haste I stopped not to reflect on the moment. It was when I crested the little hill overlooking the shack, which gained more picturesque from the stream running adjacent and the hills beyond, that I began to have deeper appreciation for the sudden news.
By now, my breath came heavily and oily sweat crept down my fore head to sting my eyes and ran in greasy rivulets down my back. I have no idea what poise I might have struck but I do feel that it was a very absurd one, with my tawny hair plastered tight to my body.
For the first time in a long while I failed to appreciate the view from the hilltop, a view that used to hold me captive on more leisurely trips before, as my admiration was lost to the urgency that ruled that moment. Still though, I did not forget to salute the tall sentry trees that bestrode the road that ran across the valley towards lands that, to my young mind, were adventures in waiting.
Could it be true? Did he do it? Why did he do it?
Questions ran across my mind with the silent speed of an eyelids flutter, calling deeper thoughts into being from my inner recess. I felt then that answers could only come with the eye seeing the questioned face-to-face or eye-to-eye as one might have it.
I therefore took off with greater haste than I had employed earlier towards the source of a single shrill wail that had began to seep from the valley bottom a few seconds before.
A relative must have reached the scene and could not help breaking the taboo in such situations, I thought to myself. But, I doubted if anyone will remember convention in this instance. Perhaps not, not with the personality of the person involved.
I got there as they were cutting him loose. I thought they would have delayed the act until they can get strangers to do it, but as of yet, no stranger was present. I wondered if more traditions were being broken today.
Initially, nothing appeared out of the ordinary, though a sense of grief hung like a shroud upon the atmosphere, which I adjudged to be on account of the loud wailing from the direction of the out-house.
I would have followed them into the house had not a harsh voice inquired whose young keep was poking dirty noses where it was not wanted. I was miffed to say the least, not for being called a dirt-nosed brat or a busy body but because the tone made me out to be invisible or of no import.
Knowing the voice as well, if not a little better than, its trouble making old hag owner, I forced my legs to disobey my heart’s desire and shuffled towards the sorrowful din.
My curiosity paid off as I almost ran smack into a large gathering of clearly worried neighbors. They were clustered under the shadowy branches of the large Uda tree that ruled that part of the compound, around the wailing relative, whose face was effectively hidden from view by a combination of rheumatoid thighs and tall bitter leaf plants.
I tried to draw into myself as much as I can, with the sole hope of escaping notice long enough to catch the general gist. I was clearly wishing for wings. Soon some of the women began to wrinkle their noses at me, voices got lower and lower that I could only catch a whispered word or two, just barely.
Obviously my presence was construed a nuisance and I began to suspect that soon, I will be sent running homewards, with my nosy tail between my legs, so I slunk away from their presence and headed in the opposite direction.
Chance it was, I believe, that brought me face to face with the ill-fated young man. He was been carried bundle-wise by two stout men who clearly struggled with his six-foot tall dead weight.
The story told itself all too clearly, when they stopped to rest briefly on the food holds, I saw the length of tight leather thong on his neck, which was, resting on the wooden paddle that they used for pillow. Either by design or by stupid error, the men who cut him down from whatever high branch he had strung himself did not deem it necessary to remove the cord from his neck.
His eyes were open and appeared to stare straight at me. With his hands stretched on the top stairs, he seemed to be reaching out to me, asking for my understanding in this trying moment.
I knew then that I couldn’t judge him. Well, not before I found out his reason for taking this way out and for not confiding in me.
My head felt heavy as they took him in. I could not bear to continue looking so I turned away and headed back towards the hurdled women, who were at that moment narrating the presumed reasons he did what he did. It pleased my heart that like me, they tried to be fair to him and not judge him harshly, especially when his reasons are taken into account.
No one really knew why he did it. He seemed a bastion of physical and mental health. His ready smile everyday as he walked down the village street made others believe he had all he could ever need.
They took sad tales to him, expecting him to proffer solutions, and more times than not, he did. No one stopped for a moment to consider his own problems and their solutions, they just all assumed that all was well with him. Life, in its peculiar way, went on, until now that is.
Good thing no one judged him. Why judge a man who had battled to live when only death could bring relief, why judge a man who lived for others that he could not bear to share his pain, a man who lived as long as he could with a wasting disease,
It was hard, but soon home called and I forced my legs to carry me reluctantly, towards its warm welcome. My trot, I know, might be construed—wrongly—to convey happiness but my limp tail carried all the grief that my kind was allowed to show.
My path home was marked by dim shadows cast by the twin peaks of Enu Ejima, peaks I heard told ruled over this hills way before Ajali our ancestor crawled out from the giant egg that bore him earthwards from his celestial abode. It was said by the elder lions that it would be here long after the last of the Ajali pride was dust upon the Hills. Constant pessimists, my people, quick always to believe, that nothing animate lasts forever.
Attracted, I think, by an understanding of shared loneliness, I turned to give them a warm-hearted wave—to reassure them or comfort myself, I could exactly tell. I only know that at that moment, with the red sunset playing a colorful orchestra on the half-moon-shaped heart of the hills, which was by way of direction to the south of the peaks, my heart somehow caught hold of the needed spirits to soar. How high, I did not need to know.
Light headed, with an even lighter bounce to my step, I turned once again towards home, unmindful of the yelling that awaited me at my lame master’s lodge.
Another day in a cub’s life one might say.
Fredrick Chiagozie Nwonwu 2008