Tunde awoke for the second time that night to soft chants carried on a warm breeze. His eyes opened to the robust moon overhead, the only light in a sea of black ink. Images swam before his eyes, and settled to reveal a truly mortifying scene. Several men were standing in a ring around a long table upon which a red bundle was squirming against tightly bound ropes. The men wore flowing black cloaks, with the exception of one in white, which Tunde could tell from his stature and posture was the Baale. Another man in a red cloak circled the struggling body in the centre. Tunde tried to rise to his feet, but a sharp pain in his shoulders had him return to his sitting position. He was tied to the trunk of a large tree, forced to watch the spectacle in front of him. The men continued to chant in hushed tones, slowly increasing the pace and volubility of the chant till they were almost shouting. A few of
them were swaying now; intoxicated by some presence only they could feel.
The man in red came to a halt at the head and table and pulled a hood from the body revealing a gagged Chioma, whose eyes were widened in horror. Her hair was a clump of greasy black strings, and sweat poured from her face, taking her make up along with it. She was turning her head side to side frantically, as if searching for help that wasn’t forthcoming. Tunde struggled against his own ropes and tried to scream, but the cloth wrapped tightly around his mouth muffled the sound. The redman drew out an ivory knife, sharpened to a wicked point. As he lifted the knife high above Chioma, the chants became a unified deafening trill. Tunde shut his eyes and heard a sickening squelch and a muffled scream. He opened his eyes against his will and saw Redman with his hands in her chest, fishing for something. Tunde was shivering now, he had realised that the same fate awaited him and he was helpless to stop it. The man finally brought out her heart, bloody and dripping, and held it high above his head like some despicable trophy.
The other men were silent, as the Baale stepped forward. Tunde saw that the front of his robes was covered with blood. His chin was also bloodied, and with the murderous look in his eyes, he had become some nocturnal beast in Tunde’s eyes. Redman offered him the heart and he took it, raising it to his lips and sinking his teeth into it. He struggled with it, bloodying his chin even more, but finally got a chunk of it. He then passed it to the next man who also bit into it, and handed it over the man beside him. So they did till it was almost gone. They all chewed violently, like a herd of ruminating sheep. Suddenly one of the men coughed; a dry hacking cough that sounded nothing like a common cough. The other men turned towards him, as he coughed again and again, doubling over and clutching his throat. A few of them rushed to his side, and Redman appeared genuinely perplexed, not at the man choking to the death before him, but at the interruption of his ceremony.
A tap on his shoulder jostled Tunde and he tried to turn to see who had touched him but couldn’t see past the tree trunk. He did feel some disturbance, like someone sawing at his ropes. The men were still trying to revive the choking man, and one of them was attempting what looked like an illiterate’s Heimlich manoeuvre, but the man seemed beyond help. Tunde’s wrists came free and he stood and spun to face the surveyor, who put a finger to his lips and beckoned Tunde to follow him, before breaking in a run towards the trees behind them. The men, who had been lost in the fray, hadn’t noticed their absence, but they hadn’t entered the woods before Tunde heard a loud cry and knew that they had been seen. The surveyor sped up, and Tunde did the same. A quick glance backward and Tunde’s fear was confirmed, a trio of axe wielding muscular guards was tailing them. They finally broke through the woods, still being dogged by the guards.
Hanging tree branches came flying towards them and they were forced to duck to avoid getting scratched. They jumped over huge roots to avoid tripping over them. They ran for what felt like hours, but heavy footfalls told them that their pursuers had still not let up. They were slowing, and Tunde knew they wouldn’t be able to keep up much longer. The trees were thinning and becoming further apart. Tunde was beginning to push himself with each step, and the surveyor didn’t seem too agile either. Suddenly, the surveyor’s chest burst forward with showers of red, and metal protruded from his chest. He stopped and gasped, looking down at his chest, before falling forward. Tunde knelt beside him, clueless. The surveyor pointed and looked up at him pleadingly.
“Road… Go” he said with much effort.
Tunde was still kneeling, rooted to the spot with terror. The surveyor pushed him feebly and pointed, before his hand fell, lifeless. Tunde got up and kept running in the direction the surveyor had pointed. It all made sense, how the surveyor had tried to turn them away, angering the second-in-command. How they had been welcomed so cheerfully with the large, drugged feast. They had been fattening the lambs for slaughter. A part of his mind, a part that wasn’t running for its life in a forest in the middle of nowhere, reminded him of the time he had jokingly remarked on how studying Geology in Nigeria was so stressful, it could end up killing him. That betraying part of his mind laughed at him now. He was past weary, and was hobbling forward, when he came to a cleared path. He pushed himself forward with sheer force of will only and finally stumbled onto a thin road, and into the glare of bright headlights. He waved blindly, and heard a loud screeching. He was standing in front of a truck, which had almost rammed him, but now would save him. Tears were brimming at the corner of his eyes, and he let them fall, taking the last of his resolve and energy with them, as he walked to the driver’s door. Never had he felt relief this strong before, as he saw himself leaving with his life and a story like no other.
What he didn’t see however, were the eyes staring at him intently from the bushes on the side of the road, and the glint of an upraised axe.
2012 9JEducation.org work study