Chilaka looked around him. It was all dark. He was seated within a large vegetation. The trees were as tall as palm trees, and there were many of those around too. Everywhere was green and fresh as rain-drenched water leaves newly cut from their stems. There was a pond just nearby, its water gleamed abnormally sky blue, glittering. And by it was a frog, or maybe a toad —he couldn’t make up his mind on which it was.
It had its eyes on him, and something about those large eyes seemed like they were piercing through his mind. He felt his chest tightening. Then, it croaked. He rose to his feet and turned to the sound of scrunching leaves behind him. His eyes were beyond ajar as he watched a gush of wind push towards him. He could see the wind’s colour and how it moved like a force spreading dozens of meters wide. It gleamed dark red and brown yellow, and moved so fast Chilaka took a step back in fright.
He covered his face with arms as the force hit and moved past him. It was gone, but everywhere felt hot. So hot it felt like he would suffocate. He panted, looking around. That was no gush of wind. That was a gush of heat. He reached for his chest and struggled to force in air and out same, as much as possible. He looked back to where the heat had come from, and a wave of flames now was spreading towards him. He began to hyperventilate. He turned back and from the other end, the same flare burned towards him. The trees were ablaze; the grasses turned black and then dust even before the flares got to them, and each way heading towards him. The closer they got, the more he felt his breath being sucked out of him. His head throbbed, his throat felt parched, and his sight seemed to blur to a spin. He heard the frog croak again. He looked at the pond and saw the frog turn and leap into it.
The flare was just meters away. Without thinking it through, he crawled on all fours in haste towards the pond. And before the withering plants got to him, he threw himself into the pond. He gurgled. His eyes seemed pained and unable to flip open. He felt as though he was drowning. He fought with forces he could not explain but felt it was the water pressure. With all efforts put in his mind, he mumbled a choked scream, forcing his eyes open.
His eyes darted around. He was seated in a plain garden. Like a village. Houses were erect, each building made of adobe bricks, reddish brown and small in sizes. They looked organised and fairly spaced. He had never seen a thing as this before. He looked around, people passed by, old and young, each wearing robes beautiful and varying in multiple colours. Children played around, young girls carried calabashes, gossiping and walking happily as they walked down a single path.
Kids played around, in mud and others with dogs. Men walked around, some with women, others with work tools. Armed people who looked a lot like warriors walked around. This was a strange place, too different and beautiful. But something was wrong. For everything he saw, no one seemed to pick notice of him, and those who walked his way even bypassed past him like he was not there. He felt himself pant again. Each of them looked unreal, like phantoms, a lump of air even, like they were memories from a dream, a happy memory. Chilaka rose to his feet and his eyes wandered about him. He was unsure where he was, what was going on and why no one could see him.
The air began to tighten; the once bluish sky began to redden. He looked up the sky and watched it spiral. He noticed everyone also was looking up, and each as perplexed. Then suddenly, just as he felt the air thin out, everyone began to fall – children, men, women – each holding unto their throats as they collapsed to the ground. Some struggled to breathe, others outright slumped. Some fell to their knees, eyes wide and wild as they gasped for air. In dozens, everyone around him begin to hit the ground, including animals.
Chilaka moved back, turned around to see the same scenario everywhere he looked. He watched a house, one seemingly beautiful and slightly bigger with a huge symbol marked on its top like some banners. From its outside, walked people in haste, each with a clothe over their noses. And as confused as he had been, they all dressed nearly alike. And then did it strike Chilaka: they dressed in the same type of robe the man from the forest wore, only with little variation in colours and woven symbols on them.
He watched them move around, perplexed, holding onto people around as they slumped, muttering amongst themselves. And then, one looked up, eyes fixed on him, flustered and broken. He felt as though those eyes engulfed every part of his being. He shuddered, and even so when he realised the man staring at him, the only man who seemed to see him standing there over seventy meters away, was the injured man from the farm.
He groaned. Voices flooded into his head. Familiar voices. But his muscles felt too numb he could not move. His eyes, too stiff he could not push them open.
“Has he not awoken yet?”
“No, my husband. And his body is burning up.”
“Well wake him up then!”
“I have tried, but he doesn’t move a muscle. He must be exhausted from all the hunting his friend talked about.”
“He looks lifeless to me, not exhausted.”
“Woman, keep quiet. The only reason I believe he is alive is because the foundations of my house can hear him snore!”
“Strike his face with a slap if he doesn’t wake!”
“In fact, wait…CHILAKA!!”
Chilaka screamed awake, nearly leaping to his feet, panting, eyes wide and disoriented, unsure where he was. He felt a strong arm hold him back to the mat. He looked around. This place was cold and familiar. These people were… the large, face creased, muscular man dressed with a wrapper around his waist and bare-chested, was his father. The woman seated next to him, worry in her eyes, and one mixed with irritation, skin as glittering like newly refined palm oil, lips as large and succulent as Ọnyà’s, was his mother. His environment caught a hold of him in moments faster than he knew. This was home.
“How can you be jerking a man like he is a loaf of bread you do not wish to break? You want to spoil these children for me?” Udu, his father said, referring to his mother.
She smiled. “Leave me alone. I carried him for nine months and eight days. I know—”
“I carried his potentials for half my existence.” He waved her words away and turned to Chilaka.
“Young man, you have been sleeping all afternoon, you and your brother. Whose palm tree did you climb, and whose palm wine did you drink at the farm?”
His mother laughed and moved his face from his father, to meet hers. “Don’t mind your father. You are burning up. Let me go get some herbs for you.”
Chilaka sat there quiet, unable to remember what had just happened. He had been dreaming. It had to be a dream, yet, it felt so real. He tried to recall as much detail as he could, but it seemed like one fading, slipping from his loose grasp.
“Boy,” his father called to him as his mother left. He looked up to meet his father’s face. And curiosity was seated on it. “Are you okay?”
He nodded, unsure how wise it was to imply otherwise. He recalled he had eaten from a forbidden tree, and that could get him in trouble. It was best he kept mute till he, in full, understood what had happened.
His father sighed, then made a faint smile towards him. “Saw the meats you returned with. You even killed an okaku. You are your father’s son indeed.”
Chilaka felt his heart flutter. Everything seemed to fade. This validation consumed half his confusion and spat them back out as bubbles easily burst out of their miseries. This made his inside leap. He felt relieved, even as he watched his father turn and leave the hut.
Ọnyá. His memories flashed to the thoughts of his brother. He recalled hearing him scream. He recalled muttering words. He recalled a surge of pain ripping through his chest like a million needles poked at his skin. He recalled the wounded man’s eyes, how it flashed a bright glow. He remembered how hot his wrist burned as the man’s hand clutched around it. He looked down at his hand, and there, right at those spots he could still feel some pain. His hand followed his memory and caressed his chest. His confusion was building up again.
“Chi,” Ọnyà called from the door of the hut.
He turned and found Ọnyà walk in,
a hand rubbing against his eyes, which were red with sleep.
“Are you okay?” He said, walked over to Ọnyà and touched his face, meeting his eyes.
Ọnyà nodded. He felt tired, and… “I had a strange dream.”
That wasn’t as shocking as what he found poorly hidden just beneath Ọnyà’s cloth. He reached for the cloth and pushed the sleeve down. His eyes widened. There was a black scar, just one, drawn on his chest. It was smooth, perfectly lined and with no errors in its curves. It looked like one of the markings he could remember was on the… His mouth was agape in surprise. That wasn’t a scar. Just like that on the man from the forest. It looked perfectly engraved.
“Chi,” Ọnyà heaved as something on Chilaka caught his attention. He reached for Chilaka’s poorly dressed shirt and pushed it open to reveal parts of his abdomen. Stunned, Chilaka took a step back and pushed the shirt further up. Ọnyà heard him gasp as one stung by a spirit of disbelief.
On his stomach, littered across, were the symbols too. But they weren’t blackened as the old man’s nor were Ọnyà’s. They were faint blue, as though glowing. And they were moving.