Udi returned home feeling weary. Something about that morning made him uncomfortable. Something in the skies spoke to his subconscious about a deep trail of disquietude. And he could make no sense of it as the sun breathed nothing but warmth and the wind danced around cold. It was like a paradox. He had tried to figure it out as a drop or rise in humidity, but as he rode his horse back home, the smile on everyone else’s face seemed to swallow those ideas and shatter them into a billion pieces of irreconcilable possibilities. This meant it was just him. And nothing was more hated by him as having to feel uneasy about things he could not physically explain to those around him.
Umaoku was a village rich in a lot of things, and poor in many others: rich in corns, in lands as fertile as a young untouched virgin ignorant of the wiles of the world, and poor in crops as onions, cattle herds and poultry. Broken into multiple clans and families, the Umaoku was part of the Akabo people, an ethnic group rich with a distinct culture, beliefs and values which set them apart from other neighbouring ethnic groups around.Palm trees spread across the forests and farms of Umaoku, and they owned two markets where other villages and other traders from all across other ethnicities came to trade. And the pride of everyone from the Umaoku village was that if Akabo was proud of an achievement, it was in knowing that they were considered wealthy with palm oil from Umaoku village.
It was the fourth market day, and as expected, everyone was busy with trade, and many took walk to the markets to sell, trade or purchase. None in their eyes had a sense of urgency, worry nor the feeling of strangeness which weighed heavily on Udi. And if for nothing else, this made him even more worried.
He came down from the horse, called on his nephew cutting
firewood by the side to help him tie the horse to a tree. The house was quiet
as he walked in, and the absence of his sons was very evident. But the melodic
song of Ọla from the kitchen, alongside those from Inner, filled the house.
Ọla’s voice was soothing, and could send a grasscutter confessing in self-deception that indeed it is a lion. She had it effortlessly breathed out whenever her mouth was open to sing. She knew songs, old ones which his mother had taught and sang to him during her lifetime. Songs which appeased his mind and made him for moments forget how harsh the world was. Ọla had a song for every occasion. Her mood and emotions were poured into her wordings, and he could even from a mile tell what she felt just from hearing them. And for all beautiful reasons, Inene was taking after her too.
He walked to the kitchen. A pot was on fire, and the strong, tantalising aroma of boiling egusi soup soaked all four corners of the kitchen built with palm fronds and with multiple windows at its sides to enable heat from within escape easily. On very bright and good days, he would praise her for being the only woman aside his deceased mother, who knew the best way to his heart. On a good and fairly smooth day, he would walk up to the pot and make to take a piece of meat, and watch her complain about it as though she doesn’t enjoy him doing so.
She sat on a stool, and before her sat Inene, playing with hair beads, handing a few to Ọla as she plaited her hair.
“Papa!” Ọla exclaimed, leaping off her seat and running up to Udi, wrapping a tight hug around him. Ọla shouted at her to not ruin the hair while being playful.
He tapped Inene’s head gently, a soft smile on his face. She was eight, and had been with them since she was born. Outside, it was near difficult to tell if she was an offspring of either Udi or Ọla.
“Cooking with your mother?” He asked. The little girl nodded, letting go of him and running back to her exceptionally little stool. Ọla nudged her head with her finger, mumbling a caution not to move again.
“Where are Chilaka and Ọnyà?” Udi looked around, not finding them or the scent of their presence in sight.
“I am not sure. Maybe they are at their friends’ place. Their chores were all done when I returned,” she said.
Udi sighed, face brooded. Ọla noticed the troubled look on Udi’s face and figured something must be wrong with him. She knotted the braid on Inene and told her to go out and play. Once gone, she turned to Udi. “My husband, what is the matter?”
He shook his head in unresolved confusion. “I cannot say. I feel something off is happening,” he raised his shoulders and sighed, “Or is going to happen. I can’t explain it.”
She smiled. “You are thinking too much again.”
“That was what you said when I said I didn’t want our goat to take its young out of the house three weeks ago. What happened?”
She rolled her eyes. “It was found dead.”
“And two markets ago when I told you I felt it was unnecessary to go to the market and you said that, what happened?”
“It rained heavily.”
“And when I told you I didn’t like the feeling which came with the thought of Chilaka and Ọnyà going hunting yesterday, and you said I should let him be a man, what happened then?”
She frowned. “They both are acting strange ever since.”
“Exactly,” he said, and his hand flung onto his waist. “I feel something off in the air, and I can’t help the feeling. I need everyone in this family back home. Go call them back now.”
She walked out and got one of the children to go scout, find and inform her children to return home immediately. She returned not too long after the children ran off for the errand. He was seated, a cup in his hand, and in it was a brimmed palm wine.
“My mother has asked relentlessly of Inene. I plan to take her there when the sun goes a little down,” she said.
He shook his head and waved indifferently at her. “That will not happen today.”
She tried to see reason with him, but as understanding as he was, he was not interested in having her act against his gut feeling. Not when it was this strong. Half way through the drink he set down the cup, rose to his feet and headed outside.
“I feel sick in my stomach.” He turned to face her momentarily. “You stay here. I am going to find them myself.”
Watching him walk away but with cautious steps, she couldn’t help but notice a chill which strangely came with the wind, all regardless of the sun’s warmth. A strange thought blurred past her mind. What if her husband went out and never came back? What if something happens to her and her children?
These thoughts made her uneasy. She hated when her emotions stirred in her so negatively. And she blamed Udi for instilling such thoughts into her head through his weary feelings. She turned and yelled for Inene, warning her to stay inside and not move an inch or face her wrath when she returned. With that, she walked into the compound and out of it, following her husband and ignoring his last directives.
Azi screamed, toppled over.
Snarls of the creatures tore through the wind. One lunged for Chilaka, the other pouncing in all its savagery on Ọnyà.
Blood, crimson red, splattered into the precarious air.
Their fall seemed to quake the earth.
Ọnyà was on the ground, blood soaked the earth just underneath and around him, and one of the creatures above him, jerking, dragging, its muscles flexing with strength.
Cold fear struck Azi. Ọnyà had been killed.