The next Eke day, I was sent to buy provisions for the family. Dada gave me £2 for food and medicine. The money was enough to buy things that will last for a week. The Eke market sold once in two weeks, and many people, traders, artisans, and technicians came from far and near to buy and sell their wares. At the gate, I met Nene holding Ndien in a leash. Nene and Ndien, her mischievous dog, had always refused to accept my plea to stay in the compound. Nene always wanted to be an escort each time I had an errand.
“I told you severally, Nene; it’s not safe through the forest path. Besides, I must walk fast; you two will slow me down. Please stay back. I will get you some chewing gum when I return.” I tried to persuade her.
“What will you get for Nidan?” She asked, hands akimbo. I knew it was a no, so I tried to grab her. She was slim as a cassava stalk; she wriggled away from my grasp and ran towards the bamboo gate. Ndien followed his mistress, wagging his tail triumphantly. I returned to the hut to report to Dada, and when I came out, they were nowhere to be found.
Perhaps, they must have gone to the other compound to play or sit with Mama and other village women at the palm oil mill. I shrugged; good riddance.
The walk back from the market square was long. I recall seeing different birds bother my lonely thoughts. Sometimes a lizard raced across the bushy path, and rabbits peered from the cover of bushes. I laughed when I saw two beetles fight over caked cow dung. At a point, I noticed that insects, grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, lizards, rats, and other rodents were trying to escape from something. I looked up; there was no sign of fire nearby. So I decided to investigate. I was close to the bush path when suddenly, a black mamba shot out of the grass, and I jumped to let it pass. Ah, If I had jumped like this in the Village boys’ Jumping competition, I would have won gold.
Ijele, the soldier ants were marching, which explained the commotion. They consumed any living thing that stood on their path. Humans even dread Ijele ants. For men, they crawl up your genitals and then send one howling for air or water, or both. I also heard that during the war, prisoners from other villages were tied and fed to them. I strode back a few feet and traced the Ijele line as it led through the forest towards my village. Well, I hoped Dada and other men were around to see that these little rascals cause no harm to our livestock or community.
At the forest junction leading to my hamlet, I saw three men standing by the roadside. They spoke in low voices. They wore strange waist clothing and their bare chests smeared with white and red chalk. On their waist hung tiny queer painted beads and calabashes. I thought of the headhunters Dada told me about. Those who their job is to kill other people for rituals or revenge during wartime. I stopped on the tracks and tore a leaf from a nearby palm tree. I slowly mumbled, “the na image again, amam.” (What I don’t know, won’t know me). Then I proceeded, marching boldly towards them. One of them turned to stare at me and, seeing the palm leaf on my mouth, said something to his fellows, and they quietly left the pathway. I marched, and when I was a few feet away from them, I heard a sound…
…To be continued