He slowly opened his eyes and they got stuck on the familiar ceiling. He turned to his side and saw the familiar door. He stood up abruptly when he realised he was in mother’s hut. He glanced around the room as though to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. How did he get here? Who brought him back? The last thing he could remember was the route to the city. He headed for the door and met Pagnaa who was also coming in.

“ Oh, you are finally awake. Mma said you should come out. It’s time for lunch”, she said.

“ How did I get back?” he asked in a whisper. Pagnaa’s eyebrows furrowed and she eyed him from head to toe.

“ Get back from where?” she asked in a muddled tone.

“ From my journey. I left this house for the city this morning. In fact I had completely left the village”, he admitted while staring into her eyes pleadingly, searching for a confirmation that he had indeed left the village.

“ What has come over you Wunnam? Have you gone mad? Just take a good look at yourself. You have completely changed; you no longer resemble the brother I knew. If there is anything wrong, you should tell Mba, Mma or even me. Otherwise, just snap out of it!” Pagnaa sighed heavily after she was done speaking. Wunnam sensed both anger and concern in her tone and her eyes were watery.

“ And for your information, you went nowhere. So stop all this nonsense and come out. The food is getting cold.” She snorted and left the room. Wunnam’s eyes flickered and he shook his head. It couldn’t be possible. He had really left the village. It wasn’t a dream. It felt so real. The tall bushes, the blue sky, the birds, they were all real. He looked down at his feet and realised they were swollen and covered with dust. His legs also ached. It was evident that he wasn’t hallucinating.

Outside, his mother and sister had already began eating. They didn’t turn to look at him when he joined them. His mother in particular, shifted in her stool and turned her back slightly to him. Wunnam noticed it but ignored her. It was the least she had done to him. He had no strength to confront her. The three of them ate the yam in silence until Mma Kande began coughing. She was choked and Pagnaa quickly gave her a cup of water.

After she sipped the water, she said in a choky voice, “Thank you my daughter, I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t given birth to you”, Wunnam continued eating without a flinch. For all he knew, his mother feigned getting choked, only to get the opportunity to say those words. The food tasted bland. But he continued eating to avoid additional silly remarks from his mother.

Mma Kasi’s son walked up to them with a pouted mouth, while saying something under his breath and flailing his arms. “Mbe Wunnam, Mba said he left his hoe behind, so you should bring it to his farm immediately”, the boy said and walked away, barely completing his statement. Wunnam stood up and washed his hands, as though he had been waiting for the boy to deliver the message. He was grateful to his father for rescuing him.

“ See that rotten child. Just see, he has zero home training, yet his mother is oblivious to this fact and keeps carrying her body around the compound as if we owe her”, Mma Kande said between mouthfuls. Pagnaa furtively shook her head when Wunnam threw a glance at her. They both sniggered and to their relief, Mma Kande didn’t notice.

Wunnam hung the hoe on his shoulder and walked briskly. He raised his neck inanely high and pursed his lips. He hoped not to meet someone he knew, someone who would want to stop for a chat. His posture and feigned seriousness worked somehow. From the corner of his eye, he saw someone approaching him. But the person suddenly stopped and turned back, which ignited a smile on Wunnam’s  face.

He had almost reached his father’s farm when he heard his name. The voice was familiar. He increased his pace and when he felt the person was following him, he began trotting. He knew his father’s best friend wouldn’t stop until he spoke to him. Wunnam heard him clink the bell of his bicycle but he ignored him and began running. He wasn’t bothered by the amused faces he passed by. He caught a glimpse of some of them sniggering. He was sure they found the scene hilarious and silly.

“ Heerh Wunnam are you mad?” Mba Nindoo snapped when he finally caught up with him.

“ No, no, uncle. It’s just that I’m in a hurry, Mba asked me to bring this hoe to his farm” Wunnam said as he gestured to the hoe on his shoulder.

“ Nonsense! I’m equally your father. Or you have soon forgotten how you used to run to my house, seeking for protection anytime your father was bent on beating you?” Wunnam sensed the irritation in his voice and didn’t know what to say to abate his anger. Looking at him closely, Wunnam could see old age catching up with him. He even looked older than his father. His hair was now completely covered in grey and his skin was beginning to sag.

Wunnam drew his attention back to him and caught him saying, “ You have been in this village close to a month now, and you haven’t even attempted visiting me. Not even once, Wunnam. Is that how disrespectful you have become?”

“ No uncle, honestly, I had wanted to come to your house, but lately my father and I have been busy in the farm. But I promise to still come and see you”, he lied and bit his tongue. He hoped Mba Nindoo wouldn’t ask his father. He never believed words too easily until they were confirmed. It was a trait Mba Nindoo and his father had in common.

“It’s okay”,, Mba Nindoo said with a shrug. “ I didn’t know I would meet you, nonetheless, take these yams home. I know how much you like yam, so I would just harvest some later,” he added while gesturing to the four tubers of yam tied to his bicycle carrier.

“ No, uncle. I’m sorry, but I can’t take it”, he hesitated vehemently and Mba Nindoo was taken aback. He raised his eyebrows and eyed him.

“ I said I would harvest some later, or don’t you like yam anymore?”

“ No, I mean yes, I don’t like yams anymore,” Wunnam replied with a pang of guilt and the yam he ate, churned in his stomach. He watched as Mba Nindoo’s eyebrows furrowed, with suspicion written all over his face. He opened his mouth to speak but Wunnam quickly chipped in, “ It’s my doctor. Yes, my doctor in the city, he advised me not to eat yam anymore due to some health complications” ,he lied.

He wished Mba Nindoo would release him. His heart beat harder and faster. His mind raced around the thought of Mba Nindoo also dying. If only he knew why he was avoiding him. If only he knew it was for his own sake.

“ Okay, if you say so. I will send my yams home,” he said in disappointment and Wunnam was relieved he had easily succumbed. He knew how persistent he could be. He sat on his bicycle and told Wunnam to extend his greetings to his father, as he rode away.

Wunnam was lost in his own thoughts on the way to his father’s farm that, he later realised he had passed the farm by two other farms and had to walk back. He didn’t know what was going to happen to Mba Nindoo. He wasn’t sure if he was going to die, just like the others did. He had to seek help, yes, he had to. Even if it meant exposing himself and being shunned or at worst, stoned to death. He decided to tell his father first and hoped he would believe him.

After he handed the hoe to his father, Wunnam stood for a while, staring at him without talking, as Mba Yiko hunched over and uprooted some weeds from the ground. He turned to walk away, but stopped again. His father sensed his uneasiness and asked him what was wrong. Wunnam hesitated for a while before speaking.

“ It’s about these nightmares I usually get,” he paused to make sure his father was listening before he continued, “ they are very scary, very scary Mba. Anytime I have an encounter with someone and I sleep that night, I see them in my dreams. And by the time I woke up, they…”

“ Mba Yiko, there is something you need to see right now. It’s urgent”, one of his labourers called out to him, interrupting Wunnam’s narration. Mba Yiko looked a bit irritated and reluctantly went to see what it was.“ Let’s talk when I get home this evening,” he said to Wunnam before leaving. Wunnam nodded and turned back home. Maybe the farm wasn’t even the best place to discuss such matters. Someone could have heard them. Not only walls had ears, trees also did. He comforted himself with those thoughts till he reached home.

That night was one of his worst. He tossed and turned on the cold floor, and eventually climbed the wooden bed. He hadn’t slept on it since he came to the village. It made his body ache and increased his restlessness. He had waited for his father the whole evening. When he eventually came home, some strangers from nowhere came to see him. After they left and his father was finally alone, Wunnam attempted to continue his narration but Mba Yiko  yawned and told him to wait till the next day because he was beat. As Wunnam laid down, his mind travelled to what Mba Nindoo might be doing. Where was he at the moment? Was he dead already? The last thought made him shudder. He forced his mind shut and hopelessly mumbled a “ rest in peace Mba Nindoo”, before drifting off to sleep.

“ Wunnam, why are husking the groundnuts like your fingers are hurting? If you are not ready to help me, just stop” Mma Kande complained as she crushed a mouthful of groundnuts.

“ Mma, I’m doing my best”, Wunnam said in a nasal tone, slightly pouting.

“ Haaa! Then your best is identical to your worst”, she snorted. As usual, Wunnam ignored her. He kept thinking of Mba Nindoo. He didn’t have any nightmare the previous night. He had almost gone to his house that morning but held himself back because it would have looked suspicious.

“ Gaafara. Excuse me. Is anyone home?” Wunnam raised his head to the familiar voice. He shook his head to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Of course he wasn’t, Mba Nindoo was standing at their gate with his bicycle. He moved it under the shade of the mango tree and released its stand. All along, Wunnam watched him in a haze, with his mouth gaping. It was as though he had seen something worse than a ghost.

“ Hey, close your mouth!” Mba Nindoo said as he got closer and Wunnam woke from his trance. Mba Nindoo exchanged pleasantries with Mma Kande and asked of Mba Yiko.

As he was about to turn towards Mba Yiko’s room, he eyed Wunnam and said, “ This morning, I ate the yam you refused”. Though Wunnam didn’t look at his mother, he could see her staring intensely at him, from the corner of his eye. She looked puzzled and anxious for Mba Nindoo to turn away, so she could ask him what Mba Nindoo meant.

Wunnam became more confused. He couldn’t understand why Mba Nindoo was still alive. He thought very hard about the whole issue till he struck a conclusion. None of his family members died after interacting with him. And all the people who died after his encounter with them either gave him something or offered him help. That was it! Mba Nindoo was still alive because he hadn’t taken anything from him. Wunnam felt a sense of elation. He had finally solved the mystery. He vowed never to take any gift from anyone till he left for the city.

He felt a sudden freedom and peace. No one was going to die because of him anymore. He instantly dismissed the idea of seeking for help. He didn’t care what the root cause was, so long as he had a solution, he was good to go. He whistled loudly but had to tone down after Mma Kande shouted and called him a mad person. He was suddenly in the mood to speak to someone aside the people in his household.

“ Mma, I’m going to see Bangda”

“ But we haven’t finished”

“ Yes, don’t worry. I will be back soon”, he said and quickly went into the hut to search for his sandals. He searched every corner of the room but couldn’t find it. He knelt near the bed and pressed his ear to the floor while his hand roamed aimlessly under the bed, searching for them. He touched something hard. It didn’t feel like a sandal, but he took it out anyway. He chortled at the sight of the tiny drum. It was the size of his thumb and he wondered what it was doing under the bed. Maybe, it was for one of his little step-brothers. His mother might have seized it from them, for coming to play at her doorstep, he thought. He placed it down and continued his search. He touched something for the second time. It wasn’t his sandals again. He was about pulling it out when his mother shouted his name from the compound.

“ Bangda is here to see you”, she added. Wunnam let go of the “thing” and quickly stood on his feet. He didn’t need his sandals anymore. And as for the “ thing”, he will find out what it was later.

To be continued…

 

 

Copyright© Nasreen Zankawah,2020

 

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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