The farm was a three plot piece of land which smelt like an unholy union between dust, honey and bird-ravaged pawpaw fruits, all sprouted upon a fertilized soil as neat and dressed as a baby’s bum, and as rich as a colony of ants. The sky was lit by the flames of the sun, with the wind moving in soft graceful motions, friendly enough to make a man sleep upon a bare floor outside his settlement. And other than their individual sweats and inability to bathe before leaving home that morning, all three of the boys were thrilled to be out on their adventure.
That was what Chilaka called it. Azi thought it as nothing but fun and a means to escape morning chores back home. Ọnyà on the other leg chose to call it what his little mind knew it to be. A bush-meat hunt.
“Shouldn’t we be going towards that bush instead?” Ọnyà’s skepticism seethed comfortably within every fibre of his being as he observed the other two’s apparent glare at where they should not be glaring at in the first place.
There, at the spot which marked the boundary of their farmland, and the beginning of another man’s, lay two routes. Both led directly into and outside the farms of their neighbour, and that, into two different locations. One was popular, further away from their farm, but owned by an elderly man who now was deceased. There they could hunt, pluck fruits and even cut firewood for cooking back home. The late man’s son didn’t mind. He wasn’t even in the village to begin with, and it had been over a year since his travel to an unknown destination.
The second bush path led to another farm. Also owned by the same deceased man, but not ventured into. To Ọnyà, little was known about this place. Their father and mother had cautioned that they never venture into it. In fact, it was unlawful to venture into any farm not your own or your family’s. He also was sure both Azi and Chilaka knew little of that route.
Chilaka turned to Azi, curiosity just in his eyes. “And why is that?”
“Because that is what we told father, that we would go to hunt bush meats.” Ọnyà’s eyelids dropped into a squint.
Chilaka and Azi stared themselves in the eyes and burst into a frenzy of laughter, one so loud and with the mockery within its pitch so obvious that even Ọnyà’s face furrowed into a lour. He knew he must have said something considered by Azi and his brother to be silly, yet he could not quite nail what exact it was.
Chilaka fastened his grip around his carved spear, a big grin up on his face. He had felt excited all morning. He had dreamt about today, and had planned its events all out from day one. Today was one day just he, Azi, his best friend, and Ọnyà, were allowed to go to the farm alone to hunt. He was sixteen now and officially initiated into the age of growing men. He was now considered fit to hunt and do many other things. And he was eager to prove to their father that his initiation and newly ascribed responsibility was rightfully earned. He looked up to his father, the very brave and powerful. And like his father, he knew everyone expected he turn out the same way.
Now, he wanted to prove it. His plan? He was going to spend the whole day hunting. He was going to capture the largest grasscutter, or maybe an okakù. That, he had heard some of the boys talk about it, and how it roamed the deeper parts of the forests way farther from the reaches of their village and a few recently around the farms. He had seen Ozo’s catch three days ago, and that was the right nudge needed to motivate him.
“We are going in there.” He pointed at the bush by his right, a thrilled smug on his face. The bush path was thicker than that on their left, due to the fact that it was rarely gone into.
“Father said we should not go in there. Plus, the grasscutters are over there.” Onyà pointed at their left, certainty seated firmly in his words.
“I told you we shouldn’t have brought him with us,” Azi scowled at Chilaka. His eyes flashed at Ọnyà in annoyance. He had not spoken since they stopped at the boundary, but the childish debate from Onyà was getting upsetting, particularly because they had stood for over ten wasted minutes responding to a boy who was going to do nothing but squat and watch over their tools as Chilaka and he did the real work.
Chilaka sighed, upset that for once he had to admit Azi was right. “Eh, you were right.”
“Sorry.” Ọnyà mumbled, avoiding Chilaka’s eyes. He didn’t mean to make his query seem as they viewed it.
Chilaka flexed his muscles, eyes at the very sin they were not to commit. “That’s enough. Let’s go.”
He led the two into the bush. It was as thick as they had heard it was. What Chilaka had hidden from Onyà was that he had gone into this farm twice for scout, for curiosity. and though he hadn’t gone that far in, he ventured in well enough to know that he had seen really large and untouched bush animals roaming freely without care or the pains of the world weighing upon their shoulders. Like he had practiced and learned, he held his spear tight, had his little brother walk behind him, and Azi next to him.
Azi had his eyes darting around as they forced a path open for themselves. They pushed leaves and thorns away from their face as they moved. He slapped against his arm and neck a few times mosquitoes took satisfactory bites at him. They had said it was no mosquito. They called them sunflies. They were smaller, quieter, and more subtle. People had cried that the mosquitoes sang way too noisily, yet performed the worst of music. And so the gods in response brought the sunflies; everything a mosquito was and everything it wasn’t.
The farm was large and green. Cassava stems and leafs spread across the whole acre. There were cocoyams sprouted at many corners too, yam stems crawling up tall stakes. Azi found himself awed at what he saw. All years of his very small, near miserable life, he had never known this farm was as it was. Of course, it was like every other farm land he had ever seen and been in. But with so much ripe mango fruits, the plump pears sprouting around their tree trunks, the sight of the pawpaw tree with three ripe children hanging on it —to which one had been disvirgined by birds – he sighed. This was what happened when you left your farm unattended to for two years: it got bushy. At the same time it however became a forbidden mini-paradise full of the dreams of any boy with his blood hot red, and his hormones fully functional. And when he turned to face his equally miserably looking ignorant weakling of a best friend to see if he saw what he did, he saw it to be same. Now, he was tempted to climb a tree.
He exhaled. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Chilaka nodded, a big involuntary glower of fulfillment on his lips. “I very much am.”
“But father said no climbing trees, especially one not our own!” Ọnyà had to point it out. He couldn’t help but wonder why the two had the proclivity to misbehave whenever adults were absent from sight.
The two boys halted and turned, each with a displeased demeanour hung on their faces, towards Ọnyà. He held his mouth, recalling they both had the capacity to bind him with any available piece of rope and hurl him through the air, back to the house.
They walk further inward, scouting the farm from left to right. Before noon they had caught six large Ewis. This was satisfactory, but Chilaka was not done. And even regardless of the protest from both Azi and Ọnyà, he insisted to walk into the next farm. They didn’t get it. They didn’t get why today, finding that okakù and killing it was important to him.
“Chilaka, don’t move.” Azi said suddenly through gritted teeth, like he was trying to avoid making a noise.
Ọnyà gasped, taking a halt like those before him. His eyes widened, unwavered by the rush of wind skittering through his face and the pump of glee surging across his body. He could not believe his eyes. Their very first okakù in sight since morning. Its colour was the usual black, legs short and a tail as long as its length. It backed them, its bare butt flaunting in a carefree taunt as it chewed at the plant before it.
It fled of course. They pursued, and rather than run into a hole, it ran through thick bushes and wood-locked angles. Moments turned into longer ones, and with Ọnyà as a decoy it was cornered into a spot. Chilaka threw his spear for a kill. They all leaped in joy as the weapon split through the animal. Chilaka felt his heart sink in gladness. His pants became worth it as he watched the meat lie dead, with his friend and brother. He was going to give this to his father. He thought through what best he would say and how.
Azi exhaled, impressed. Watching how the spear had hit the okakù through the skull, he scoffed. He wouldn’t have hit that spot were it to be him. Chilaka was the better shooter, and he barely missed a target. He on the other hand was the better fighter. He had the physique to prove it, plus he looked older and his parents would say he was hitting maturity faster than his peers, which meant he would turn out stronger and smarter, as was the case. He was happy for Chilaka. He had caught his desire. Azi on the other hand came out to hunt only because he’d have a definite share of that meat once roasted by Chilaka’s mom. Plus, he had caught five bush meats of his own, which was more than enough for him. At least now, finally, they could go back home as the cloud was darkening.
Excited, Ọnyà giggled, clapped and leaped in happiness at his brother’s achievement. This meant so much. With this kill, he got to be certified to carry his own weapons and even practice with them without supervision. With it, he could officially get into the hunt competition which was just two days away.
Ọnyà looked up to the sky as a flash of lightning blazed through it and a crack of thunder right behind it. Indeed, it wasn’t evening as he earlier thought. It was an impending rain.
“Ọnyà, you will carry the smaller ones. Azi and I will carry the okakù and the heavier grasscutters.” Chilaka instructed, headed for his final kill and picked it off the floor. It indeed was as heavy as he had expected.
“So,” Ọnyà began as they tried finding their way back to their farm. He just realised that they had gone way too far into the late old man’s farm, probably beyond it. “Mother is going to cook pepper soup with this? I love pepper soup!” He gleamed.
“Father would sit in his obi and eat the head, and the kidneys, and the liver! He will be pleased!” Chilaka grinned, raising his shoulder and flexing his muscles as he walked. Azi began to laugh at the amusement in it.
“Mother and I would have the soft and inside parts. It can last three days full.” Ọnyà exclaimed, thrilled.
Azi frowned. “Wait a minute. If this rascal gets the body, your mother gets the tail and all the sweet stuff, and your father gets the head, which one do I get?”
Chilaka made to speak when a familiar call rang somewhere in the forest. Trees branches broke and something seemed to fall. Its familiarity nothing anyone of sound mind would at any point in time love to hear. It was a groan. One emitted from a lung full of pain. The three stared at themselves, confused.
“I knew we should not have come here.” Ọnyà sighed, feeling a sense of worry crawl unto his body.
The crunching of twigs and breaking of branches had ceased, but the faint groan and mutter of a masculine voice rose from not more than twenty meters away. Azi shook his head in disapproval as Chilaka tiptoed forward, taking his movements one at a time, his hand gripped tightly against his spear.
“Hello? Who is there?” He called out.
“No, Chi! Are you raving mad? You can’t—” He hissed infuriatedly and glared down at Ọnyà. “Aren’t you going to tell your brother he is being stupid walking towards an unforeseen trouble when our exit is that way?”
Ọnyà felt the need to call Chilaka back, yet if he was moving, the only thing that could bring him back was dried pepper up his bottom. The best he could do was hope it was safe where Chilaka was headed. And while he hoped, he had to leave them both and flee. He turned, suspired in disappointment as he realised he didn’t know much of the route to take.
“You don’t happen to know how we got to this place, do you?” He said.
Chilaka felt his heart thump in fear. Yet it was foolish to say curiosity only killed the cat. He could hear the heavy breathes emanating from behind the plants sprouted before him on which an Udara tree sat behind. He jerked aside the weeds and twigs with his spear and almost immediately, a strong scent hit his nostrils. It smelt so much like blood. And just behind the Udara tree sat a body he could not see anything of other than a leg of. Lying next to the body is a large dark animal, over four feet tall if it ever stood, looking like nothing he ever had seen ever. His eyes widened, his muscles froze still. Neither the man nor animal was moving.