Wunnam watched as Bangda drank the water in two chugs. He wiped off the beads of water around his lips while stretching the calabash to Pagnaa with his other hand.

“ You must be parched. It seems you haven’t drank water in years”, Wunnam said in jest.

“ Years? My man, I haven’t drank water in centuries!” They both laughed incongruously. Bangda sat astride and a black bag rested in between his legs.

“ So how is the wedding preparation going?” Wunnam asked

“ It’s going on well. My fiancée is handling almost everything. She says she wants everything to be perfect and she doesn’t trust me to handle it.” Bangda said. Wunnam laughed and assured him it wasn’t really a problem.

“ You should be grateful she has taken the load off  your shoulders. Wedding preparations can be very stressful you know”, Wunnam added and Bangda nodded in agreement.

“ And you”, Bangda said, slightly pointing a finger at Wunnam, “ You look so different from the last time I saw you. Is anything the matter?” Bangda’s expression became serious and Wunnam knew he wouldn’t leave until he told him something.

“ Oh, it’s nothing. I haven’t been feeling well lately.  But I’m fine now” Wunnam lied, conjuring a smile. Bangda looked unconvinced and his eyebrows furrowed. Wunnam casted his eyes to the ground and watched a hen hover around the groundnuts his mother was husking. Bangda’s eyebrows straightened and Wunnam looked up at him when he cleared his throat.

“ Anyway, I have something for you”,  Bangda informed him while opening the bag that stood before him.

“ Really?” Wunnam’s face beamed with a smile, as he rubbed his palms against each other and anxiously waiting to see what it was. Bangda brought out a white T-shirt, beautifully folded in a transparent plastic bag which rustled as he handed it over to him. Wunnam quickly stretched his hand to grab it, but hesitated again. The smile on his face faded and he tucked his hands in his pocket.

“ What is the matter? Don’t you want it?”  Bangda asked, while eyeing him with a muddled expression.

“ It’s not that I don’t want it. It’s just that I have so many T-shirts”, Wunnam lied. How was he supposed to explain to Bangda that he could die if he accepts his gift? Wunnam had vowed never to take gifts from anyone and most especially, Bangda. He couldn’t let his friend die.

“Wunnam, I stole this extra T-shirt from the head teacher’s office. Every teacher including me, was given one but I thought of you and decided I had to let you have one. And now you are rejecting it?” Bangda asked accusingly, while shaking the T-shirt in his hand. He had removed it from the plastic bag and Wunnam liked it immediately he saw it’s beautiful design. But then again, he couldn’t accept it even though he only had six nice T-shirts left as the rest were tattered.

“ Bangda , I really appreciate your effort. But I just can’t. I have more than enough. You should give it to someone else .” Wunnam said, tapping his shoulder gently. Bangda’s gaze locked his for a while then he shrugged and stuffed the shirt back, into the plastic bag.

“Okay. If you say so . I will give it to someone then. Maybe, my fiancée. I should have even thought of her first.” Wunnam sensed his agitation and only smiled at his comment. He didn’t want to say anything that would upset Bangda even more.

“ Wunnam”, Mba Yiko called.

“ My man, I would be right back”, Wunnam informed Bangda. But he ignored him and closed the zip of his bag.

“ What was it you wanted to talk about yesterday?” Mba Yiko asked while chewing a stick. Wunnam stared at his father for a moment as if he had spoken in a strange language.

Then with a jolt he said, “ Oh it’s nothing Mba. It was a little problem I had. Fortunately, Bangda  helped me solve it”, Wunnam said while scratching his head like he did, anytime he lied about something. He had totally forgotten that he had nearly told his father what was happening to him.

“ Okay then. If that’s the case, you can go.” Mba Yiko said while waving him away. Before leaving, Wunnam glanced around his father’s room. He hadn’t entered there for a very long time. He stared at the small window which overlooked Mba Yiko’s small black and white T.V, he inherited from Wunnam’s grandfather. When Wunnam was younger, he would sneak into his father’s room whenever he wasn’t at home and turn on the television, despite his father’s warning against touching it.

Mba Yiko’s wooden bed was covered with a sheet, made from three different types of lappas, which Wunnam guessed his mother made.  In the left corner of the room, he spotted a big bag which contained Mba Yiko’s clothes.  Wunnam finally walked out and saw Bangda getting up from the stool while shrugging his bag over his shoulders.

“ Are you leaving already?” Wunnam asked as he approached him.

“ Yes, I am. I just remembered there is something I need to do. I will pass by again tomorrow” Bangda said, while he walked past him.  Wunnam made an effort to accompany him, but he brushed off the gesture and walked briskly. Wunnam stared at him in awe as he disappeared through the gate, paving way for the incandescent sun to suffuse his face. Bangda’s demeanour was strange. Wunnam looked around as though to spot what had ignited his reaction. His gaze fell on his mother who was still husking the groundnuts. Maybe she had said something that made him leave. But looking at her posture, Wunnam realised Mma Kande had barely acknowledged Bangda’s presence.

Wunnam could hear the croaking sound of frogs behind the hut. He lay on his belly with his eyes stuck on Lawrence Darmani’s “Grief Child”, while the lantern illuminated the page he was currently reading. His fingers grazed at each word as he read. He went over his favourite paragraph which read, “ It was midnight. The little village of Susa slept in darkness in the heart of the forest farms, among the tall trees. The mahoganies and sapeles stood tall in the dark sky, providing a canopy over the village and deepening the density of the pitch-dark night”. Wunnam decided to highlight it.

He was always intrigued by that particular paragraph as though it was his first time reading it, when it had actually been his tenth time. He would picture his high school literature teacher, slowing her reading pace and pronouncing the words eloquently in her squeaky voice and British accent. She was a volunteer whom Wunnam sometimes thought took her work too seriously. He reached for his bag to search for his pen when he saw the shirt he had declined from Bangda, lying atop . He caught his breath and his heart skipped a beat. How did the shirt get into his bag? He glanced over his shoulders and looked back at the shirt which was neatly folded in the transparent plastic bag. He stretched out his hand to touch it, but his hand wouldn’t stop quivering. He clenched his fist, squeezed his eyes and retreated. 

“ What are you doing there?” Pagnaa asked with a yawn.

“ H-how did this shirt get here?” Wunnam asked quietly while his quivering finger, pointed at the shirt. Pagnaa stretched her neck and squinted as though to get a proper glimpse of what Wunnam was talking about.

“ Oh, that. Bangda asked me to keep it there for you”, she said and Wunnam could no longer contain the weight of his heartbeat.

“ When? I was with him in the compound and he didn’t return after he left this morning. So what time exactly did he give this to you?” At that moment, Wunnam was on the verge of tears.

“ I think it was the time Mba called you to his room”, Pagnaa replied and went to lie on a mat in the corner of the room. Wunnam felt stranded. He froze for a couple of minutes, thinking of what to do. He couldn’t let Bangda die. He would rather die in his stead. He needed to do something quickly. He grabbed the shirt, yanked it under his armpit and left the room without saying a word to Pagnaa.

He knew it was late, maybe 10:00 pm. Not a single soul will linger outside their homes at that time.  Wunnam could imagine most of them snoring by now. But he didn’t care. He had to save his friend since he failed to save the others.

A slow breeze blew against his skin, making him shiver and awakening his fears. When he raised his head, the clinquant stars looked like tiny dots in the moonless sky. He doubled his pace. Maybe Bangda was already asleep. His gate might even be locked already. It didn’t matter to Wunnam. He was willing to bang on it till they opened it even if it woke their neighbours. Bangda would not die, he cannot die, Wunnam recited those words till he realised he was  standing in front of Bangda’s gate.

“ What are you doing here at this time?” Bangda’s younger brother, Alidu, asked while rubbing his eyes and holding onto the gate. Wunnam’s eyes darted past him and he spotted Bangda’s room. It was closed.

“ Is Bangda around? I need to speak to him urgently”, Wunnam’s voice was tensed and he noticed how Alidu’s eyebrows furrowed. Wunnam could almost hear what he was thinking, “couldn’t you wait till tomorrow?” Instead, what came out of his mouth was, “ Bangda is not here, he went back to the neighbouring town, he said there was something he needed to attend to”.

“ Will he come back tonight?” Wunnam asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“ No!” Alidu snapped. “ Just come back tomorrow. I’m sure he will be back in the morning” Alidu added while closing the gate.

“ Wait!” Wunnam blocked the gate with his foot, “ Please give this to him. Tell him I don’t want it. He should give it to someone else”. He handed the T-shirt to Alidu and what looked like a frown on his face, transformed into a smile. That “someone” was definitely him.

“ Okay, I will deliver your message. Goodnight Mbe Wunnam” he said cheerfully and finally closed the gate. Wunnam heard the lock click before he turned to leave. He still wasn’t at ease. He had wanted to hand over the shirt to Bangda himself. A small voice in his mind kept telling him so. Everyone in his compound was asleep by the time he returned. He hesitated entering the hut; so instead, he sat at the entrance and cupped his cheek in his hand. Traces of sleep had disappeared from his eyes. In fact, he didn’t even want to sleep at all. What if Bangda still dies? What if he sees it happen in his dream?  Probably, if he didn’t sleep at all, he wouldn’t dream and maybe Bangda wouldn’t even die , Wunnam thought.  He had to find ways to drive away the sleep.

Back in Junior high school, Wunnam’s science teacher had taught them a trick on how to stay awake overnight.

“ Just fetch a cold bucket of water and dip your legs in it. You can also decide to chew cola nuts alongside. They work better together. ” Wunnam pictured him saying in class one faithful afternoon. Though he never tried it he was willing to experiment, for all he knew, it would work.

As Wunnam’s legs were dipped in the cold water, he watched the sky and noticed the moon appearing. Maybe it was a good sign. He hoped that the trick will keep him awake, at least, until Bangda returned to the village.

To be continued…



Copyright© Nasreen Zankawah,2020

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah


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