BY ISRAEL USULOR

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Ikenna and Mimi jumped down from the lorry as soon as the driver applied the brake at Mile 2. The lorry was now half-empty because many had disembarked at the various places it had made a stopped-over. Ikenna hopped down from the lorry feeling pity for himself, but he quickly shrugged off the feeling.

‘There is no need for regrets or to start throwing a pity party for myself. The most important thing is that I’m home and alive,’ he thought. He led the way while Mimi followed silently. The short road that connected Mile 2 and Agu-Ukpaka was narrow and dusty such that their feet soon turned reddish. The adjoining bushes which used to form a wall on both ends of the road were either burnt or dried. The rainy season was gone and had given way for a scorching sun which had sucked up the earth. Ikenna felt like a stranger in his hometown. Everything seemed to have changed.

‘But I was gone for just a few weeks. I feel like I’m a visitor here,’ he told Mimi

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‘It’s a normal feeling,’ she responded, disinterestedly. The stress of the past forty-eight hours had started to tell on her. She was tired and weak. Ikenna noticed that the road was unusually empty. They had met no single soul since they disembarked from the lorry. This was strange because the village road was well traded. The quietness on the road got Ikenna worried.

‘Why is the road so empty? Where has everyone gone?’ He asked as they approached the Eku Bridge. The bridge was a shadow of itself. Two of its six pillars were uprooted by what Ikenna knew was not a mere accident since no cars plied the bridged. They managed to cross into Agu-Ukpaka, all the same.

The first sight that greeted their eyes increased Ikenna’s uneasiness and sent goose pimples across his body. Not only was the village deserted and silent, but the first compound in the village had also been razed to ashes. The compound belonged to Elder Nwankwo, the village town crier. Nwankwo was the man who had the highest number of wives in Agu-Ukpaka. He had ten wives in all. He was also a powerful dibia who was feared in the village and beyond. He married most of his wives through charms and was once rumoured to have sacrificed many of his children to arusi.

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‘Something is wrong somewhere,’ Ikenna said as he took Mimi’s hand and walked faster. He was apprehensive. He worried about his mother. “What could have become of her?” he asked himself. He increased his pace and practically dragged Mimi with him. They walked past Afuruchi’s place and there were no signs of life. She was a friend to Ikenna’s mother. Afuruchi had returned to her late father’s compound several years ago after she failed to bear children for her husband, Okeke. On account of her barrenness, Okeke treated her like something the cat dragged in. Ogbanta, for that, was her father’s name, had ordered her to return home and he had the bride prize returned. That was many years ago. Now, the compound lay in ruins. The two huts in it were reduced to rubbles. Ikenna and Mimi saw the decomposing body of Afuruchi’s pet dog named Dollar. Dollar was the woman’s closest companion. The dead dog raised a terrible stench such that it forced Mimi to spit severally.

As they approached his father’s compound, there were conspicuous signs of what to expect. The compound was in a valley, such that if one stood at the onuzo, one could see the three huts in the obi. His late father’s hut stood at the center of the compound and the other two stood paripasu. Ikenna’s hut which was built many years ago was built close to Onukwuba’s grave. It was his father’s last demand that whenever the boy came of age, a hut be built for him close to his resting place.

‘I want to watch over my only son,’ he had said just before he breathed his last the day he fell off a palm tree. The villagers believed the dead commune with the living. Certain powers were also ascribed to the spirit of a dead relative. The villagers even believed the spirit of the dead could strike one dead. This was the very reason why every last word uttered by the deceased relative was obeyed to the letter. But Ikenna had never seen his late father’s spirit and had never really wished to. Ikenna and Mimi stopped briefly at the hilly onuzu. He browsed his father’s compound with a sorrowful eye. The compound was as leveled as a football pitch. The three huts were gone, burnt, and knocked down to the foundation.

‘I said it! I said it! My mother! My mother!’ Ikenna shouted. He ran into the obi with the speed of lightning. Mimi wobbled after him, shocked but too weary to utter a word of condolence. Ikenna rushed to what used to be his mother’s hut and knelt sorrowfully before the sooty rubbles. Tears flooded his cheeks.

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‘I’m so sorry!’ He said.

‘I abandoned you. I wasn’t here when you needed my help, and I failed you,’ he cried out loud. Mimi knelt beside him, fingers clasped and eyes fixed on the rubbles. She remembered her own mother who had probably died in the war in Zaka City. She also remembered her father who was butchered by herders some years back. She perfectly understood what it meant to lose both parents so brutally.

‘I’m sorry Ikenna!’ She said, placing her left hand on Ikenna’s shoulder consolatory.

‘Take it easy on yourself. Okay! I know it’s hard to believe, but your mother might still be alive.

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Something in me feels she is still alive.’

‘You are right. But, how I wish your feelings are true. I wish my mother is still breathing. She is innocent, and didn’t deserve to die this way,’ Ikenna responded. He stood up from his kneeling position.

‘Let’s go,’ he said as he helped Mimi up.

‘Where are we going? She asked.

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‘To where we can find out what happened here,’ he answered.

‘Where?’ Mimi probed further, she was weak and thought it would be difficult for her to walk any further distance.

‘We are going to the neighbouring village. It’s a stone throw,’ Ikenna said, as he supported Mimi and walked her. They were headed for Okpokoto where Aunt Adaku lived. There, he hoped to find out what actually transpired in Agu-Ukpaka.

Read part 13 HERE

Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]



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