The weather stood out cold and burned as ice. The skies had slowly but stoutly darkened and had engulfed half of the sun. It was evening and children of older ages were returning home from gatherings between their peers, to adopt a responsibility or two at their respective homes against the night. By the way, younger ones knew nothing called evening, and they would continue with their plays and ways, until returning home to be beaten and slapped by parents who had been roaming about hunting for them.
Azi walked as fast as his legs could carry him. By his side and walking also, was Ọnyá. When he had come to his house to tell him Chilaka wanted to see him urgently, he was aware a tortoise might have just found a way to leave its shell. He had pounded the yams as fast as he could, making sure there were no seeds and moles, just as his mother liked it. Generally, everyone liked it as such, and no sane person didn’t love the pounded yam smooth and without spot or wrinkle. Except, of course, those as lazy as he was.
He got to their house. It was a family compound, spreading large over two acres wide, and being the first son of his father, Chilaka’s father occupied the main adobe crafted house: two huts and a kitchen. The other houses, nearly as old, were owned by extended family members, as was common. Looking around, just three children played outside: sisters of Chilaka and Ọnyà, and children of their father’s immediate younger brother. He followed Ọnyà to the backyard, and there, on a small wooden stool, sat Chilaka. Everything about his sitting posture, the countenance over his appearance, the clutch of his fingers laced into one another, and the muse on his face, spelt nothing but worry.
Chilaka looked up as the two walked towards him. He stood, a frown to his face. “What took you so long?!”
Azi gestured him to calm down, pointing at Ọnyà. “He probably came to me late.”
“That’s a lie!” Ọnyà scowled, and the anxiety on his face morphed rather quickly into a glowering of annoyance.
Azi shrugged. He had hoped Ọnyà was sensible enough to help him out of that responsibility of taking up his failure of being on time.
“Let’s go into the farm.” Chilaka said, pointing to the small garden just thirty meters from them.
Their grandfather had lots of lands left by his own father even after having shared lands to three of his sons. The compound was large enough to contain all five houses built in it, and still left enough space just behind the main house and its kitchen, where his mother had turned to a small farm for things she had planted for daily consumption.
“No, thank you.” Chilaka shook his head. “I don’t want to have anything to do with farms until I understand what had happened to you, and you.”
Chilaka offered his seat and Ọnyà went in and returned with two extra. They sat, and Chilaka looked most worried. Ọnyà also was worried, but only because Chilaka was, and if any situation made his older brother worried, then the hen had grown teeth overnight.
“It took a while to get back home, but when I did and told some of the youths that we had found an injured elderly man in the forest, they led me here to inform your family. To be honest with you, I was willing to reveal you had talked us into going into that farm, if it meant not getting into trouble.”
“What?” Both brothers exclaimed, surprised.
“That was just a joke.” Azi rolled his eyes.
When he saw both their bodies relax, he continued. “Anyway, when we got here, your mother said you two were already inside and asleep.”
“What—that’s not possible.” Chilaka shook his head vehemently in disbelief.
“Exactly.” Ọnyà concurred.
“I thought so too, until I saw the meats we had caught right here in your backyard, and then you both snoring like you had been pulled off a cattle’s butt after hours of—”
“Stop it already!” Chilaka’s face furrowed in disgust.
“Did we –really snore?” Ọnyà could not help but ask. This had been in his mind since their father had mentioned it. Snoring was for the old, as he had grown to perceive. He didn’t like such behaviour when exhibited by their father, and nothing was as heartbreaking as the plausibility that maybe, just maybe, he was with the potential of being like their father at night. He would lose his mind.
“Should I tell you the truth, or what you want to hear?” Azi scoffed.
“What I want to hear.” Ọnyà mumbled, anxious. Weary.
“Well, yes you two were. And heavily.”
Ọnyà began to sulk. “But that’s not what I wanted to hear!”
“Life, my dear, is not fair.” Azi shrugged.
Chilaka heaved, displeased at how easy the important discuss had been dislodged for an irrelevant one. He could feel something very wrong with him. He could feel like his inside burned, yet also felt light. Way too light. Before now, when those markings were moving, he could feel their tingling movements. Ọnyà’s was just a single mark, and it never moved nor as much as glowed. It looked impotent. If such had been the case, he would have felt a sense of ease and relief. That meant that at least he was not the only one in whatever trouble it looked like they were in.
But while one would not notice the mark on Ọnyá save you push his shirt’s shoulder down, his torso was ridden with markings, ones which could move at their own volition. This made him feel alone, like he was with more burden and more problems to solve.
A glow of curiosity rose over Azi’s face as he stared at Chilaka’s shirt, grin of expectancy lined across his lips. “Let me see it.”
Chilaka pulled himself back from his initial prop onto his knees. He shook his head. “No.”
“I just want to see—”
“See mine.” Ọnyà reached for his shoulder and made to pull the shirt down, but Azi gestured at him to not bother.
“I’ve seen that one already. As numb-striking as that is, I want to see the bigger one.” He said, to Ọnyà’s sulking disappointment.
Chilaka looked around the backyard, and then the small farm just a few metres by their right hand. Taking sight of no one, he reluctantly raised his shirt up to reveal half his abdominal region. Azi’s eyes widened in awe, then his eyes squinted into a disappointing look Chilaka could not explain.
Azi turned to meet Ọnyà’s eyes. “You said it glows.”
“It does.” Ọnyà made to protest. He had not lied.
“Well, as I am seeing, they are nearly as dark as your brother. And that is not the same as blue.”
Chilaka pushed the shirt down and sighed. “It glowed when I woke up.”
Azi began to laugh. “Forgive my hypocrisy, but whichever arụsị that cursed you both, I would like to serve it and get my own glowy mark.”
Not long had gone, darkness fast covered everywhere and soon, the boys had to turn on the lamp to see. Azi got a wood-sheet and begun engraving each symbol on Chilaka’s body into it. Not much remained of the inscribing when Chilaka’s mother walked in on them, her lamp leading her way to the entrance of the backyard. Chilaka let his shirt drop. Ọnyà was too shocked to move the lamp away from him, so Azi heaved his arm at the lamp and it fell, its oil spilling over.
She stared sternly at the boys and moved towards them. “What are you—”
“Nothing.” All three chorused almost immediately.
towards them, unsure where they got the notion that she was ignorant from. She
barked at Ọnyà to pick the lamp up and go refill, beckoning on him to pray his
father never knew he just wasted oil out of carelessness. Then, with her own
lamp she scouted around them, finding nothing but a piece of woodsheet. She
picked it up and glared at it, lamp in sight.
Chilaka heaved in relief when his mother let a confused frown rise to her face. He was sure she wondered why they were being suspicious over something like that. But if her ignorance to the writings proved anything to him, it was that indeed, it wasn’t any sensible language she knew.
After being reprimanded for staying around late, Azi was told to get going home. Chilaka had suggested to escort him out, but the already dissatisfied mother was quick to shut him up and send him running into the house.
Dawn came rather fast. Chilaka woke up with a strange sensation within him. In the absence of prying eyes of both his father, mother and everyone else, he hid at a spot and checked his torso. While it was not glowing, the symbols had begun moving again. As the sun stretched its tentacles across the skies under which the village sat, Chilaka hurried to take a shower. Ọnyà complained about constant headaches, and had nearly made it noticeable enough to raise questions from their father.
“Shouldn’t we tell them?” Ọnyà had asked, a hand to his head as a sting of pain crawled around it.
“That what? We went into that farm and found an injured man? Or that we have something ridiculous marked all across our— are you even hearing the absurdity in your question?” Chilaka scowled at him as they rushed up their meal.
“They are the adults. Maybe they can help.”
“Or maybe they can punish us. I do not want father or mother getting angry. It will be on me, primarily.” He shook his head. “We will go to Azi’s house. He will escort us to that dee Neche.”
“Isn’t he an adult too?” Ọnyà thought out loud.
Chilaka heaved, discomfited. Ọnyà couldn’t help the worry, neither could he wade off the thoughts that whatever it was which was going on, was going to only grow bigger the further they three tried to keep it to themselves. He had taken time to look at the mark on him, and whatever he did, he couldn’t get the thought off that it could get as bad as Chilaka’s. He tried to recall what had happened the day before, at that farm. He had not touched the wounded man. He was just next to Chilaka. He could not recall much other than the sudden gush of exhilarating pain which boiled through his veins at the same moment Chilaka’s voice had flooded his head. He had not asked him about it, about how it felt. But he knew it must have been as frightening as his experience.
He lost his appetite halfway through the meal, and to believe he had pepper soup before him, cooked yam and palm oil sauce, laced with pepper and bitter veggies whose name kept escaping his mind. To believe he had no appetite to eat his favourite delicacy was abominable a thing to watch unfold before his eyes.
He mumbled. “Then, are we going to be alright?”
Chilaka dug his hands into the bowl of water and rinsed them, rubbing them on his shorts. “He is going to try a hand at the writing, maybe explain it, if at all it is a language or sensible as Azi suspects.”
They rose, hurried off to do their chores. Ọnyà washed off the plates, swept and cleaned the house. Chilaka took an axe back and cut to size firewood needed for the day. He checked the drums and as enough water to last another day —by his estimation— was enough, he took Ọnyà and snuck out for Azi’s home.
Azi and the two brothers headed for Neche’s home. He lived not too far from the village’s Square, which was a not up to a hundred and fifty meters from Azi’s house. He was a man known to have travelled wide, through various communities and was believed to be an epitome of knowledge. He was old and walked with a staff, yet his sight and hearing were as clear as the skies. As an elder, the youths usually came to him for counsel, and he owned reputation for his words.
When they came to, he was home, his wife and son away. He took them in and made them sit on the floor like children about to be told moonlight tales. “So tell me, what may I do for you three?” He said. “Something tells me you are not here to hear an old man speak of his experiences and how ignorant everyone else seems to be getting.”
The three looked at each other. Ọnyà already felt this was not entirely a good idea. Chilaka figured that maybe, just maybe, they might not have in full, thought any of this through. Questions asked could lead them into lies needing more lies to cover up, and eventually putting them in awkward situations. He knew certainly he was not going to like Neche knowing a thing about his current, yet to be identified, predicament.
Azi heaved. He reached for the sack they had come with and out of it brought out the wood-sheet, then handed it to Neche. The old man looked at it, confused. And he remained so in countenance for a minute. Azi turned to Chilaka, puzzled. Why was he not talking? And why did he have such look on his face as though he understood the writings and it spelt something horrific?
“Where did you get this? How did you get it?” He looked at them, seriousness on his face even as he rose to his feet. “Who wrote this?”
Fear gripped Ọnyà by the throat and squeezed. He felt his body quiver, laden with worry. He knew this was a bad idea. No one just listened to him, ever. His fingers began fondling one another as he noticed the same worry on Chilaka.
“I um — we err—” Chilaka stuttered, gulped. The look on the old man was steep and deeply rooted in his heart. Like conviction. He could feel it from where he sat.
“I dreamt about it last night.” Ọnyà cut it in almost immediately so much that only someone who didn’t know him would have not seen the anxiety.
That made sense, Azi thought. Ọnyà might have just saved them some time to get their acts together.
“That makes no sense.” The old man hissed. He walked to an old wooden box and began pulling out woodsheets, some bigger than others, some smaller than small. And just near the bottom, he picked out one, then another. The boys could see a smear of relief in his eyes, and even more, a haste and curiosity making way for his face. He walked up to his seat and sat, picking Azi’s woodsheet and pitting it against the bigger and older ones he had brought forth. They watched his eyes widen.
“Impossible.” He muttered.
“Um, father, would you perhaps mind sharing your knowledge with us?” Azi shrugged. Chilaka nudged him to best keep quiet.
“Which one of you had the said dream?” He said, eyes on Ọnyà who had suggested the ridiculous plausibility.
Almost immediately, Ọnyà was certain saying he was the one, would lead him into trouble. And without thought he pointed at Chilaka. Chilaka’s face furrowed in anger, then turned to meet the old man’s face.
The old man sighed. “Maybe I would get the truth out of you then,” His eyes locked with Chilaka, and could see the visible sweat trickling down his temple. “But before that, let me tell you a story my grandmother told me was told by her father. A tale prominent during their times.”
Chilaka, Ọnyà and Azi looked at one another, then at the man as he dropped both woodsheets before them. Looking at it, Neche’s sheet had five symbols written on it, and of the five, Chilaka could like Azi recognised two. One was similar to what is on Ọnyà’s shoulder, and the other, one of many on him.