He ran as fast as his chubby legs could carry him, with his machete raised in the air. Teeya ran faster and glanced over her shoulder to see if he was still chasing her. She wailed and begged him to spare her life, but his face grew fiercer like a wild animal ready to pounce on its prey. She realised her hands were empty; she might have thrown the basket of mangoes and cutlass in the bush.

She felt a bit relieved when she finally spotted the huge baobab tree at the village square. She was worn out and her white blouse and brown lappa, wrapped around her waist were damp as she was sweating profusely. She had never ran from her father’s farm to the village before and her legs were beginning to feel numb. She touched the baobab tree with one hand and her other hand rested on her knee as she panted heavily. She heard a shrill behind her.

He was too close. She tried to run but stumbled on the root of the tree and fell on her back. She lay on the floor, looking helpless and consistently begging him to spare her life. His eyebrows furrowed and his eyes were red-rimmed. He raised his machete in the air and lowered it slowly, aiming at her belly. He was at the verge of cutting her when they both heard a branch creak. They looked up and to Teeya’s dismay; the branch was falling towards her. She was too tired to get up and too frail to even move.

“Wunnam help me, please” she pleaded but instead, he glared at her with a sneer.

“Wunnam! Wunnam!” he heard his name being mentioned from afar. It sounded faint and it wasn’t Teeya’s voice.

“Wunnam!” the person shouted. He jerked from his sleep and hastily headed for the door.

“And where are you going?” his sister asked, looking amused and at the same time astonished. Wunnam felt his sweat slowly dripping down his body, making his caramel skin look shiny.

“And why are you sweating?” she asked again with a chortle and stared at him in a sardonic way.

“Nothing. What do you want?” he snapped

“ Mma asked me to wake you up. She says the sun is out”

“ Okay, I have heard you. You can go.” As though she didn’t hear him, she stood still, watching him and her stare irritated Wunnam.

“ Pagnaa! I said you can go”, he repeated and shoved her out of his way. He went back and lay on the cold floor of his mother’s hut. He felt a bit relieved.

“ I’m going to tell Mma”, Pagna snorted and noisily left the room. Wunnam cared less. She was probably going to tell their mother that he slapped her. He lay face up with a blank expression. He couldn’t remember what the dream was about but he knew it was frantic and he could feel his hands tremble. He stood up abruptly and slipped on a shirt he wore the day before.  He walked out of the room and stretched his arms as soon as he was in the compound. It had been three days since he came to the village but it already felt like a month. And with the nightmare he had, he was more anxious to go back to the city.

He scanned the compound and finally saw his mother, sitting beside the fire and Pagnaa sitting near her, pounding something in a mortar. She hissed and rolled her eyes when she saw him approaching. . His mother’s face was covered by the smoke and he only saw her clearly when he got closer . Even at her old age, she was still one of the most beautiful women in the village. He glanced outside and was surprised to see a long queue. People were already waiting to buy his mother’s gari and beans. It was barely 7:00 am and the food wasn’t even ready.

“Mma, Dasiba. Mother, good morning ”, he greeted, but her response was a yelp which startled him.

“ Ooi! Ooi! N-Duma Naawuni.  My enemies, my enemies o, they want to kill me but they shall never succeed. See the big ant they sent this time, I’m very sure it’s a female ant, they are more powerful.” she said while jutting out her palm. Wunnam squinted before he could even tell the colour of the ant. And his mother’s ability to differentiate a male ant from a female ant baffled him. He had almost forgotten how dramatic his mother was.

Everything bad that happened to her was always the work of her enemies. If a coin she wrapped in her lappa fell, her enemies wanted to steal her money. If she couldn’t find something she had hidden, her enemies had sent a dwarf to take it. If meat got stuck in-between her teeth and she found it difficult removing , her enemies wanted her teeth to rot so they could use them for rituals. Even Wunnam felt sorry for those enemies and wondered who exactly they were.

“would you like to eat some beans?” Mma Kande finally asked.

“ No , maybe  I will eat later”, Wunnam lied. The smell of the beans nauseated him and there was no way he was even going to taste it.

“ Mmhuum! Now that some people have tasted city life. They don’t resemble here anymore o, they  now even reject the same food they used to scramble for”, Mma Kande said while her chubby arms wobbled  as she  stirred the big pot of beans.  Wunnam’s father once told him that he was a reflection of his mother. That a boy to resemble his mother so much was illogical yet intriguing. He still wondered if what his father said was a compliment or an insult.

“ Mma, I’m going out for a while. I won’t be long.” Wunnam quickly said, to avoid Mma Kande’s usual blab about how some people who came back from the city now walked as though they were floating, how they now talked as though they had water in their mouths and how they will soon sleep with their shoes on if they ever happened to go abroad.

He reached the small gate but stopped and glanced towards the west wing of the compound. He saw his father’s second wife, Mma Nasara, sitting on a stool near her door as usual. She cupped her cheek in her hand and stared blankly at him. Wunnam greeted her but got no response. She continued to stare at him without blinking. Wunnam felt something eerie about her demeanour. It was the third time he had greeted her without getting a response. He only saw her in the mornings and didn’t set eyes on her again for the rest of the day, till the next morning.

She was the only one among his father’s three wives who didn’t have a child. Some part of him wanted to reach out to her, but he remembered his mother’s warning. She didn’t want him or his sister getting close to the woman. Everyone went about their duties and ignored her. It was as if she didn’t exist. A mango rolled under her stool and two of Wunnam’s nephews crept behind the stool and removed it without her permission. She didn’t even glance at them. Wunnam began to feel she was visible only to him.

His eyes darted pass her and rested on the door of his father’s third wife, Mma Kasi. She held a cane in her hand and gestured towards her youngest son who was seated on a branch of the mango tree. He stuck out his tongue and made silly faces at his mother which got her more irritated.

“ If you don’t get down from that tree by the time I open my eyes, I will come and meet you there myself”, she snapped. Wunnam couldn’t imagine her climbing the tree with her protruding stomach and small legs. He laughed at the thought of it and left without greeting her. She wouldn’t have heard him anyway.

He walked slowly since he had no destination in mind. Most of his friends had also left for the city and unlike him, they rarely visited the village. Wunnam met a couple of men and women who greeted him with lingering smiles. He gave stiff nods and faint smiles in response. A group of girls greeted him and giggled as they passed by. If not all, definitely one of them was dreaming of being his wife already. Wunnam shook his head and a silent laughter escaped his lips. Men from the city had more prestige and respect. One didn’t even need to roam or stay in the city. So long as he stepped foot in the city bus station, even if he returned to the village that same day, he was considered a city boy and all the village girls will try to get his attention.

As he drew closer to the village square, he saw a small crowd of people murmuring among themselves. People began trooping in from all angles to join the crowd. Wunnam got curious and decided to get closer and catch a proper glimpse of what was happening.

“ This has never happened in this village. Someone has definitely stepped foot in our pure land, with contaminated blood” ,Wunnam heard a man whisper to his friend. He stretched his neck to see what exactly the people were looking at, but he only caught a vague glimpse of the baobab tree. He patiently waited for those at the front to move behind before he finally saw what it was.

He stared at the huge baobab tree from the top and his eyes moved slowly to its roots. He leaped when he saw a body lying on the ground with a big branch on its face. Wunnam suddenly heard a drum beat. It was faint at first but later sounded loud. Wunnam scanned through the crowd to see who it was, but no one in the crowd was playing a drum. Everyone was focused on the body. He later realised he was the only one hearing it. Memories of his nightmare began to invade his mind. Every bit of it came back.

The memories were so lucid that it felt as though he was watching a movie. He looked down at the body again and recognized the white blouse and brown lappa. He still couldn’t believe he was awake. He wished he was still asleep. He wished all what he was seeing was still a dream. The drum beat sounded louder as though it was being played close to his ear. He turned to leave but caught a glimpse of the machete. It was the same one he had held in his dream. He began to panic.

“ Teeya! Tunteeya! She’s the one. It’s my daughter”, a woman who came out of nowhere shrieked and rolled on the ground while hitting her chest. Wunnam knew her. Everyone in the village knew her. She was the popular seamstress and Teeya was her only daughter.

He looked at everyone around him, they kept talking and gesturing. But he couldn’t hear a word they said. He suddenly became deaf. He watched as their mouths opened and closed. He wished he could hear what they were saying. Strangely, he could still hear the sound of the drum. He covered his ears tightly with his hands and hastily jostled through the crowd. Once he was out, he sped off and didn’t even look back when his best friend called his name.


To be continued…



Copyright© Nasreen Zankawah,2020

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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