Blind (1)

by Dexter Joseph

Udeji sat by the edge of the cliff which stretched farther from his settlement. There he made a sitting for himself and embraced the thoughts which clouded and troubled his mind, one he was almost with certainty no one had conceived, or even if so, had not let worry them as it did him now. He was perturbed, he knew why, but the burden that morning was one he had not experienced before.

The weather stood cold. Thirteen months of the continent, they were in the last month of the last season of the year, a period when the cold blistering wind from the Northern lands came down and froze sanity off the minds and limbs of everyone. He felt cold. It was morning after all and his skin was near-white and dry as the bare floor exposed to dust and weeks of harmattan. His quivering limbs and stiffened fingers didn’t deter him however. He stood there, looking down from a place that high at the lands of Ukani. The fog was thick, and even if not, he definitely was going to see no one out there by that time. They would have to be out of their minds to step out in this cold, or their wives insensitive enough to let them. In his case, he was out of his mind.

He heard footsteps headed towards him. Leering over his shoulder he found it to be Kali, stuffed in clothes and arms wrapped around her body. For the first time Udeji shuddered, now being aware and stung by the cold himself.

“I believe you have a death wish being out here under this cursed weather, because if it doesn’t kill you, Ala would nag you to death for it,” she said. Her breath was visible, her teeth clattered as she spoke. Had she not seen a figure standing here from way down the cliff, and guessing it was her older brother, she would not have cared coming up.

“I cannot sleep, Kali,” Udeji sighed. Weary marked his tone, much that even Kali sensed it.

“Is the cold meant to bring that desire to fruition?”

“I had a dream,” he said. “It was… different.”

“Amongst our people you are one of the only Perceivers we have. Surely this isn’t the first time you are perceiving a dream.”

“This is different,” Udeji muttered, shuddering to the cold again. His face became stern as though he aimed to recall what he had seen. “In it, Ala bore a female. She had sight. Actual sight.”

Kali turned to him, her face furrowed. This was something she had not heard of in a long while. Very few were alleged to be born with sight in all the lands, and no one of these few had such sight after a day, at most two, hence why it remained nothing but a myth. They knew tales of the Darkening era, a time when a certain war was lost and all ability of sight along with it. It was believed by many that all children born were born with sight but lost it to the unseen. This was nonsense however because in as much as very few amongst them saw what were called dreams where everything is everything but a steep blank or white space, it didn’t mean anything significant.

Udeji knew what his beliefs were. Until his very first dream, he never believed Perceivers were a thing of significance. Until a few years ago, he never understood what seeing could actually feel like if real. Of recent however, the concept of the unseen had begun rising to that stack of beliefs he held as sacred.

“Nomo is a Perceiver, his child was born with sight,” he said, turned to meet his sister’s face masked by unhindered scepticism he could not see but could sense would be there.

She sighed, “Speculation. Until now, I have never known you to be a believer of the superstitious.” The rise in the rushing wind made her quiver. “But since you learned you were a Perceiver like the others, your thoughts have become part of the absurd.”

“Like everyone else all you see is an abyss of nothingness. Like everyone else your sight is dead to light. Like everyone else you have no idea what I mean by white or black except what I reveal to you it is. I do not expect you to understand why the dreams changed me, because like everyone else I am like you and know how both you feel and how I do. It gives me a tip of what sight feels like. It is magnificent.” Udeji replied with a frown.

Kali understood this fact perfectly well. They really had no use for actual sight. Their ancestors had made sure of that. Their senses were perfect replacements for what they never had before. Then she also understood why something new as these would make anyone curious as her older brother was. For all five Perceivers in the tribe, each had experienced the same sentiments, but none ever held the position Udeji seemed to nurture within him now: that the myth was actually no myth at all.

“The unknown isn’t real,” he continued. “The night hounds are not real. Stealing the sight of babies isn’t real either. All these are modified aspects of our traditional tales, like many others, aimed to explain things we do not understand, in this case sight.”

“There once was a time man had sight. Do not sound like such a thing never existed.”

“It did. Not anymore. Now let’s go in.”

It didn’t matter what was said, Kali never understood; Udeji felt sure of that. Ala was almost due for delivery. He could not help but feel his convictions were right if she bore him a girl, she cries only because she is beaten to do so, and she sleeps for hours once breastfed. This was what he perceived. This was his dream, but there was more. When he moved his hand to touch her face, her little eyes followed his hand. She had sight.

Until the morning.

Five nights went by like dry and withered leaves of the chill weather carried by the aimless wind. Ala is the wife of Udeji, head of his kindred, warrior and follower of the tribe’s patriarch. That noon time had been long awaited and as usual, the wind bit against the skin like fangs scraping against bones. Udeji sat in his chambers, a drink in his hand and his relatives with him as the screams of his wife came continuously from the delivery room. Her screams soon turned to pants which almost immediately turned to a drawn-out sprawl of silence.

The midwife walked out, a faint smile on his face, wrinkles marked across her experienced face. She was aging as was expected of those in their seventies, yet strong and fit like an unmovable bull made of stone and carved into the ground. Udeji, like everyone else could not see the look on her face without having to turn and follow the lines of each wrinkle and twists of its muscles to tell if she was sad or happy, disappointed or glad. But none of this was necessary at times like this, the sound of her voice could do.

“Udeji,” she said to him. He, like everyone else, followed the voice, got immersed in its texture, its pace, its tone, its pitch. It was marked with relief. She exhaled. “Congratulations, son. You have been given a child.”

Happiness rose around in the room, congratulations tossed back and forth from the others to Udeji even as he dismissively rose to his feet, his staff in his hand. An unhinged feeling seeped off his face as he turned and asked the question which lurked in his mind: “What child?”

“A girl,” she said, unable to tell what the anxious tone in his voice meant. Did he want a specific sex? Was it a boy or girl? She turned and walked past the cloth covering the room, back to meet those within the birthing room.

Udeju’s heart thumped. It was a girl. He walked into the room too. It was quiet, too quiet for a place a new child had been born, too quiet safe for the subtle chatters of the women in the room moving back and forth the room, cleaning the room, the child or the mother up.

“My love,” Ala called out to him. A smile sat underneath the weak tone of her voice. He made way to her, touching the bed for space, finding one and sitting by her side.

“You have done well,” he smiled, finding her head and kissing it.

She with an arm moved his face down to hers and kissed his lips, unable to comfortably clasp her arm around him as she desired to. “Thank you for giving me this child. She feels beautiful. Just like her father.”

“Why isn’t she crying?”

“Do not worry about that, not all babies do so. They already know the suffering in this world and are storing their tears for their adult life.” The midwife got everyone chuckling. She moved close to them, reached out for the baby held by his mother and hit her. It squirmed and burst into a loud shrill cry which flooded the room in moments.

Udeji’s heart sank. It felt as though he was being taunted by the past five days of pondering and worry. He could not explain it, he was unsure if it meant anything other than a random coincidence which implies nothing even when clogged together. He raised his hand over her face and was certain that had he any sight himself, he would see the eyes move. But to be more certain, he reached for her eyes by virtue of an idea, one uncommon as it was unimportant. He closed it shut, then felt the movement under his hand.

He laughed, gladdened for reasons he could not explain. Unsure if it was because his child had sight, or because his dream was indeed real, or that it meant something he yet was to neither understand nor explain. But he laughed nonetheless, pleased. “She has sight.”

No one understood him or why he would believe like a few others that such a thing as sight was possible. Kali was disturbed by it as was Ala. Even if such a thing were possible, in a world of the blind, sight was a curse to whoever bore it. But as the scorch of the sun slowly became drowsy, marking an approaching evening, Udeji’s sense of gladness diminished, replaced with fret.

“I cannot let you take our child to the steam valley. That is an Nnukwute-ehi’s graveyard for Ala’s sake!” Ala disagreed with the proposition her husband had tabled to her. Kali also was there and she was taking her in-laws side as well. “What has gotten into you?”

He maintained his stance on taking her with him for the day’s worth of journey.”I just feel this should be done. It’s dangerous but that is the only place that can protect us against anything as dangerous as whatever has the power to do what I suspect. And I swear on my life that no harm shall come to her.”

She hated the idea, yet strangely she knew something deep and serious sat underneath all of these, something her husband needed to sort out. Something he needed to do in other to be himself again. Since he came to be a Perceiver, gifted with vague dreams majority of mankind could not grasp, relate to or conceive even if they tried, she knew how such would change his view of the world, of life itself. She knew this because for her friends, her kin and people who also had this strange gift, all had taken the same part.

Yet, none has quite gone this deep as Udeji. Deep enough to believe the unknown was real, and blindness of man was not always natural, a belief capable to expose his own child to death of the cold and dangers of the Nnukwute-ehi’s graveyard. “Don’t swear to me with your life because then I will lose both of you. I hate you don’t listen to anything I say.”

“And I hate he doesn’t listen to anyone at all,” Kali said. She reached for her staff and made to her feet. “If it is heard that you wish to go anywhere close to that valley, anywhere even slightly close, the entire tribe would have you tied and the evil spirit speaking through you, trounced out of you.”

Udeji exhaled. He was getting frustrated. They were right. Without good explanation or reason, it was indeed absurd to take himself and their child into their own death. The Nnukwute-ehi was a place no one really ventured into. Not for the boiling steams or the burning stench of carcass and bones of thousands of dead Nnukwute-ehis which marked the majority of the valley, but rather the breed of Agụikeọnwụ which roamed and lived around that place, hunting those mightily tusked creatures into extinction, alongside any other wildlife which fell into their monstrous sights.

Ala could not put her child at risk. More so, she could not put her husband and her father at risk. This was one favour she could not do for him. But something about him, something she sensed in his words, in his movements, in his expressed thoughts made it obvious that after tonight, they will all be safe here in the tribe, but something in him would crack; something she could not explain and knew he too couldn’t. Whatever this was would steal a part of her husband, whether he was right or not. So she rose to her feet, nettled visibly.

“You are running mad, but if you must kill yourself and your child, then I must be there to collect both your corpses,” she said. Kali huffed in amazement. That was the stupidest yet painfully sweet thing she had ever heard. Udeji turned to meet her eyes, then Ala’s. She was definitely crazy. Her arms clasped around her chest, eyes locked to his. “And better as hell kill me off then too.”

“That’s it, you two are raving mad. I can never understand married people.” Kali rose and made for the door.

Once noon time came, the sun scorched the lands and its light burned bright. The wind came with dust which though let little children both train and play, exposed them to easy injuries from roughness and dryness. Udeji put his wife on a horse, packed loaves of bread, jars of water, his knife kit, thick leather clothes, all into another. Kali dressed in her usual battle-readied wear, a belt strapped across her shoulder for her quiver, then another around her waist for her double edged knives which she was more than skilled to use and with perfect efficiency. She wanted some adventure in her life, and although very rarely anyone went to the Nnukwute-ehi’s graveyard or anywhere near the valleys, they had fought off countless times, creatures which came out of that place for food now there were no Nnukwute-ehis to feast on.

When asked, they lied they made to the tribe’s oracle to make supplications and cast favour upon their child. But had anyone the sight to see, they would know nothing in Ala’s face and demeanour agreed with such foul lie. Inside, she desperately wished the oracle would turn up immediately and prove their claims false. She held her child close to her chest, wrapped in soft clothing, bathed with oil and covered against the harsh weather. Twice she muttered to the baby that she hoped her father knew what he was doing, and once Udeji had heard it, chose not to repeat it again that he had absolutely little idea what he in fact was doing.

The horses rode down in haste to the valley, a place no one from any tribes or clans whatsoever ventured into, a place that even if your cattle, your brother or child did step anywhere close to it, you considered them dead, meat to those creatures. It was to that place that their horses gently rode into.

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