He staggered on his way to the well and was so focused on getting there that, he didn’t notice when people hastily walked past him while chattering and occasionally grazing his shoulders. Some had their hands placed on their heads while others solicited for gist from others who were already returning from the well.

Wunnam stared steadily at the ghastly figure lying at the edge of the well. The man’s eyes were open but still. As Wunnam watched him, it was as though the man was staring back at him. The same fear he felt on the day Teeya died, gripped him again and the drum beat began. It played the same tune as the last time. Wunnam wavered. He swirled hysterically searching for the person playing it, with his eyes.

Everyone present was deeply in a conversation with another as they glanced at the body from time to time. Wunnam imagined they were all creating scenarios of how he died.  The thought of what they would do to him, if they ever had a hint that he was connected to those deaths, shook him. At that moment, he was convinced that something was definitely wrong. He clutched his fist and turned his face away from the body.  He made his final decision. He was going back to the city.

Since his first attempt to leave the village, his bag had been left untouched. There was no way he was going to allow anyone stop him. Not even his father. He made his way out of the house without saying a word to anyone. He was surprised at the fact that his mother didn’t try to stop him and though he didn’t exchange eye contact with her, he could feel her piercing glare behind him.

The morning sun flexed its full brightness and Wunnam squinted as he walked. He felt he could go blind if the sun continued to shine with such intensity. The bustle and uproar at the bus station ignited a smile on his face. The fear and isolation he felt suddenly disappeared and he found warmth in the midst of strangers who went about their business and knew little of his existence.

He approached a bored-looking man with a silly mustache and crooked glasses , sitting behind a table and chewing a pen.

“ The bus has left”, he snapped even before Wunnam could greet him.

“ Whic bus?”

“ Ah, aren’t you going to the city?” he asked Wunnam while stretching his palm. Wunnam nodded.

“ That’s the bus I’m talking about. Come back tomorrow”, he added while waving Wunnam away. Wunnam stared at him unblinking, as though he didn’t hear what he said. 

“ Please, will it return?” Wunnam asked with a pang of hope.

“Return? Didn’t you hear me say come back tomorrow? Are you from this village at all?” the man quizzed. Yes, Wunnam heard him say he should come back tomorrow. And yes, he was definitely from the village and that’s why he didn’t want to accept the fact that, the only bus that travelled to the city had already left. He walked back home with hesitation. He knew his mother would be happy and wasn’t ready to hear her silly remarks. He wanted to pass through Bangda’s house but thought he might have left for work.

Wunnam promised himself to wake up much earlier and get to the bus station before anyone did the next day. He reached the gate of his house, opened it and peeped.  When he was sure nobody was in the compound, he scurried inside and noticed Mma Nasara sitting near her door. She sat in her usual position, unblinking and stiff. Someone who hadn’t met her before could pass her for a statue. Wunnam also realised he hadn’t seen her for the past few days. Still, he decided not to greet her and went straight to his room. He placed his bag down and turned only to meet the glare of his mother, which got him startled. He wasn’t aware she was around. He could swear no one was in the room when he came in and he didn’t hear her footsteps either.

“ I told you Wunnam, you leaving this village would be over my dead body. Just accept it and stay. You are not leaving until I say so”, Mma Kande said and left the room. Wunnam was still frozen. He felt chills passing through his spine. Something about his mother’s utterance scared him and he felt the urge to leave much sooner.

It was 5:00 am when Wunnam reached the bus station. There were a few people around and the bus hadn’t arrived, neither were the tickets sold. Wunnam couldn’t understand why the village had only one bus which travelled to the city and never returned till the next day. He felt his stomach rumble and he scanned around to see if anyone sold food. He asked a man sitting next to him , if he knew of any place he could get food and the man directed him to a porridge vendor outside the  station.

“ What time will the bus arrive please?”

“ At 6:00” the man replied while cleaning his teeth with a chewing stick. Wunnam left his bag in his care and hurried to the porridge vendor. He returned after forty minutes due to the long queue he met and from afar, he could see the bus moving. He shouted and waved at the bus to stop while running with the porridge, dangling in his hand. Fortunately, the bus stopped but when he tried to climb inside, the conductor held him back.

“ It’s full”, he snorted. Wunnam peeped inside and was surprised to see how crowded the bus was. The seats were fully occupied. Some passengers sat on the laps of others while some even stood. Where did those people come from? When did they get to the bus station? Wunnam thought as the bus slowly moved away. He couldn’t imagine himself staying in the village for one more day. The mistake he made today was definitely not going to be repeated tomorrow, he thought as he sulked home.

The next day, Wunnam sat on the bench in the bus station at dawn. He shivered as the gentle harmattan wind, embraced him with cold. He made sure he went nowhere and when the bus arrived, he was the first to buy the ticket. Wunnam couldn’t stop smiling at the tiny paper which had the inscription “seat number 2” on it. He climbed into the bus and took a seat close to the window.

He pressed his nose against the glass and wiped off the dew that had settled on it, to get a better view. He watched as people got in and took their seats and just when it was almost full, Wunnam got the urge to attend to nature’s call. He left his bag in the care of the passenger sitting next to him and hurriedly got down from the bus. He made sure not to take long but by the time he returned, he saw his bag sitting on the ground and the bus was nowhere in sight. It had left him again. The subsequent days told the same story, no matter how early he went, he ended up missing the bus.

There was an instance where he got to the station so early that he dozed off while waiting for the bus. He woke up abruptly and realised his clothes were soaked with water and people surrounded him, while murmuring.

“We thought you were dead”, an old man said before he could even ask.

“ Has the bus left?” Wunnam asked and jerked from his seat while scanning the station, but he caught no glimpse of it.

“ We tried to wake you up” the old man continued unperturbed and shrugged his shoulders.

Wunnam decided to use a different means of transport. He knew a mechanic in the village who had a motorbike. Wunnam made an urgent plea and told him a false story about why he wanted to leave. The mechanic readily accepted to take him. Just when they got to the middle of the journey, the motor stopped. The mechanic started it again but it wouldn’t move. He tried all he could as a mechanic but the motor wouldn’t start.

“ It has developed a problem. I can swear it was perfectly fine before we started the journey”, the mechanic tried to explain in confusion. They stood in the middle of the dusty road which had long and thick bushes on its sides. Wunnam looked around uncomfortably and hoped a vehicle would pass by. Unfortunately for them, all the vehicles were heading back to the village. He had hoped to get one heading to the city. He noticed how angrily the mechanic glared at him.

“ Let’s board the next vehicle that passes. I’m tired”, he snapped

“ Okay” Wunnam mumbled and reluctantly followed him, when a pickup car, heading to the village  halted.

The mechanic promised to take him the next day after the motor was repaired. But when Wunnam went to his house, he learnt from the Mechanic’s wife that he was seriously ill. It had started immediately after their failed trip. Wunnam couldn’t remember anything that happened afterwards. He didn’t even know how he got home. He had a vague memory of someone offering him a lift, but he couldn’t remember if he had accepted it or not. He was in his compound before he knew it. His mother welcomed him and asked if he was hungry, in the sarcastic tone Wunnam noticed each time he returned from a failed trip.

“ No”, Wunnam mumbled and walked past her without meeting her eyes. He could feel her eyes piercing through his back as he hunched and went into the small hut.

Three more deaths occurred after the demise of the coconut seller. As usual, Wunnam saw each and every one of them in his dream .These were people he either knew or was acquainted with and they all died a day after his encounter with them. . And he heard the same drum beat each time he went to see a body.

Life became unbearable for him, he hardly ate nor spoke. He could even leave the house without wearing slippers or even stay days without bathing.

“ You resemble a bush animal”, Pagnaa once told him. He could see the concern in her eyes though she didn’t admit it. He hadn’t said a word to her for a week and barely spoke to anyone else. The death that shook him most was that of the mechanic. He died from his unknown illness. The doctors at the clinic couldn’t tell what was wrong with him. Even with that, Wunnam saw a vivid picture of how it happened. He saw how his body shook uncontrollably while dampened with sweat. His eyes flattered and rolled upwards. He finally gave up the ghost while trying to mention Wunnam’s name.

When Wunnam woke up, he vowed it was the final straw. He would get to the city whether by road, sea or air, even though he had drowned once and had no idea where in the country an airport was located. This time, he took no bag. He wore a crumpled shirt and left his hair bushy. He scurried on barefoot till he reached the outskirts of the village. If any other means of transport failed him, his legs certainly wouldn’t.

Deep into the journey, his head began to feel light. His vision became blurry and the trees and grasses whirled in his eyes. His legs became numb and he fell to his knees. He hadn’t gone far but he already felt exhausted. The tiredness was severe, as though he had been walking for days. He fell on his back and couldn’t move even though he tried. His body felt heavy and his eyes slowly closed as if driven by an unknown force. He watched a fleet of birds fly in the symbol of a “W”, across the sky. His eyes finally shut and his mind went blank.

To be continued…



Copyright© Nasreen Zankawah,2020

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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