Ọnyà shuddered as lightning cracked through the grey and rapidly darkening clouds. Azi’s eyes darted around the forest. It was vast, thick with fauna and the tweets of birds, and it was vaguely familiar. Ọnyà was right, they had roamed too far.
Chilaka gulped and walked over through the other side to the man after having ascertained the large creature was dead. He was confused and his heart thumped like a savage that was back from a deer pursuit. The man was injured, and his clothing was odd. It was more like a robe made of thick, brown fibre, dirty, torn and bloodied. His face was crinkled with age, his breath was fast yet faint, and with steep effort, he kept muttering gibberish, and repetitively.
Chilaka leaned closer on impulse, unsure why or what to do, but he brought his ears close to the man’s rattling mumble, to hear what was being said. It was a repetitive mutter of words he could make no sense of. He looked up as, through the angle he had followed, Azi walked forward, his eyes wide in surprise.
Azi felt the urgency to leave the forest. This one had nothing to do with proving anything not there to prove. Helping strangers was a fair thing to do as had been taught, but not strange strangers covered in a pool of blood, an expensive-looking robe torn by what looked like knife cuts, wearing cowries beads with a strange, black scar-looking marking drawn through his skin.
He turned to Chilaka. “We are leaving here right now.”
“But we cannot leave him here like this.” Chilaka protested, his voice suppressed into whispers as though trying not to interrupt the muttering middle-aged man.
Azi looked him to the face, his brow raised in query, “And why would you think we can’t?”
“He is old for one, and injured for another. There could be more of that thing out there.” He pointed at the dead creature not too far off from them.
“And it never occurred to your sympathetic mind that, that is more reason why we should leave?”
That was a sensible deduction, Chilaka thought. He pondered hard upon it. They had to leave. They should not have been here to begin with. His father was going to be irate. In all his plans, this had been one part he couldn’t have foreseen, neither had he been around such situation ever. This made his thoughts spiral. It made him anxious as it seemed a weight of true responsibility had fallen on him. Helping or not helping each has consequences. The latter in his estimation was justifiable and reasonable for self preservation. However, his mind was going to be soaked in unrest.
The former, however, could save the man, but reveal their presence in the farm. His parents were going to punish him and Ọnyà for it. It could also lead them into troubles they knew nothing of. This man was a stranger, one mortally wounded by people or things he could not tell. Staying further around could put them in trouble. Worst of all, even if he stayed back, what could he do to save the man? What was the likelihood that the man would survive anyway?
He sighed in defeat, tired of trying to think a way out of the conundrum. He looked up over his shoulder at Azi, and Ọnyà. “We cannot leave him here.”
“What?” Azi screamed, both in disbelief and infuriation. He could not believe his ears.
Chilaka turned back to the man, eyes on his injuries, indifferently listening to the subconscious mutter he kept repeating. “Leave if you want to, but he’s an elderly man, he is injured, and he is alone, far from help. Ọnyà and I are staying back.”
“What?” Ọnyà gasped at the mention of his name to such dreadful decision.
Azi grumbled as though he was one battled into defeat. He was going to leave, but Chilaka had marked sentiment of goodness against him on the matter. Nothing was hated by him as much as this was. He moved forward and took a squat too, watching the injured man.
“Maybe I can carry him. You’re too skinny and frail in body, mind and brains to do otherwise. We can’t help him here. We need to get back into the village and call for help.” He said.
Chilaka chose to
agree, and he made to carry the man. However that proved difficult. He was
thick, and even heavier now he was palsy. Instead, he suggested going back and
calling for help. He was off as fast as he could, back into the forests,
searching for routes back to Chilaka’s father’s farm. In moments, even the
steps of his foot were gone from both their ears.
Ọnyà was nervous. Yes, he had Chilaka around. He was safe, but then again, that safety only was assured so long as the danger they faced wasn’t above Chikala’s strength —which most likely was not going to be the case— then his safety, like Chikala’s, was left for the gods to determine. He thought it wise not too long ago to follow Azi, but he could not get himself to leave Chikala all alone in the forest with an injured stranger.
“We are being stupid, aren’t we?” He sighed as he squatted next to his brother and watched his brooding face glare at the man as though he was a damaged piece of spear in need of a fix he could not quite place a hand on how to go about it.
Chikala nodded. “Very.”
“What could that be?”
Chikala followed his eyes and found them glaring wearingly at the creature lying lifeless just a few meters away from them. He had no idea what it was, and had even forgotten it was there. It was strange how death made mighty things look irrelevant. He could not help the thought. But he had no answers.
He watched it more intently. It was large. Its muscles stood firm and stretched, like those of two lions in one. Not as anything he had seen before. He had poked his spear at its dark, almost shiny, skin and found it to be thick and impenetrable. He’d then wondered how the old man had killed it.
“Does it even count as meat?” Ọnyá said.
“Does that look edible to you?”
Ọnyà looked at it, then sheepishly shook his head. “And even if it did, it’s abominable to eat dead animals.”
“He is losing a lot of blood.”
Through the blood soaked robe, Chikala had seen it too. Until now he had not thought up anything of substance to do about it. He turned to Ọnyá. “Go around, not too far, find any bitter leaf plants. Let’s stop the bleeding at least.”
Ọnyà forced a sense of undauntedness to appear across his face. He took from Chilaka his short knife and hurried away, eyes darting around in search of bitter leaves. He walked a few meters way and the stoutheartedness gradually began to fade. He found the plants he sought and began immediately, plucking and stuffing into his small sack, as fast as he could. He spun around, startled when sounds which came off as hasty stomps, the twitching of tree branches and the crunching of dried out leaves caught a grip of his ears. The noise was coming from one source, but where, he could not tell.
Chilaka reached for the man’s robe to rip off a neat part of it in other to hold against the bleeding skin. And when it became apparent that the robe was stronger than the validity of Chilaka’s age, he instead reached for his cloth and tore off a piece. When he pulled down the man’s robe, revealing his shoulders and half of his chest, Chilaka felt his eyes, against his own will, widen in surprise. Covered in blood, covered in its darkness and a tint of chest hair, sat a scar. No, scars.
Chilaka shook his head, dazed still. Those weren’t scars, not at all. They were smoothly drawn, neither carved nor rigid. So smooth that they looked nothing like any marks done with bare hands. The marks took the shapes of symbols he could neither understand nor fully see. Just as he raised his hand to have a touch of this dying body, racing steps ushered Ọnyá toward him. He was panting, tension littered on his face.
“There are people who are coming.” He panted, hands pointing right back the bushes where he had darted out from.
“What?” Chilaka gasped, nearly rising to his feet. His chest thumped, worry rapidly engulfing his mind.
“They are not too far away.”
Almost immediately, Chilaka could hear the stomps. They were hasty, and more than one. He could perceive a foul scent. Ọnyá ran behind him, scared to his marrows, his voice sinking into a tone represented better whilst crying.
The injured stranger inhaled in depth. His eyes flung open. And his mutterings became louder and fast. Chilaka moaned as the man’s hand gripped hold of his hand. He turned to the man and found his body glowing. His eyes burned blue and as bright as a clear sky. The marks on his chest glowed too. A trail of glitter lined across his arm, revealing the other places where the same marks had been without his knowledge.
“Ọchịchịrị bụ anyanwụ, amalóji bụ ọkụ ya. Ike bụ ifufe. Onye nke nchọta bụ nke ya, nchọta n’èzí a bu nke ya…”
Chilaka groaned as his hand felt as though a wood of fire had been placed on it, all around the man’s grip stung and boiled in his head. He could feel his veins filled, invaded, and his organs twist in the most unimaginable of ways. He screamed. A blinding flash of light swirled around all three of them, and all went black.