Shroud In Raven Veil

I know I haven’t written something in a while; allow me to reintroduce myself with this experimental writing…..

Shroud In Raven Veil

by

Nduka Zuchie

In dangerous times, there is no sin greater than inaction

      —-An impression from the words of Dante Aligheri

I hear his thoughts as loudly as I hear his footsteps patter rhythmically on the cold hard floor. Hurry I must, for time is of the essence, I have no option but to bring my best friend back to me, and back to me must come.

I call to him, I realize this is useless for he can’t hear me, still I call out loudly. I know he is hurting, I know he wants me back, I know he thinks this is unfair, but this is my time and I’m content to let it be. I follow him on silent feet as we both put some distance between Okonkwo’s house and what transpired earlier- a story that would be told in Umuagu for years to come.

I recognize the path we tread-the road to Mbadiwe’s shrine!.

“Don’t do this!” I call out once more, but then again this is fruitless. I pull his arm, but he doesn’t even flinch. I have to stop him because what he is about to do would be of dire consequence to a lot of people.

On the other hand, I understand why he can’t let go…..

On the bank of River Ede, 4 pretty girls are washing their clothes. They alternate between playing, swimming, and chatting. Their laughter can be heard from miles away. A boy is hiding in the bushes watching them. Their laughter grates on his last nerve for he wishes he can join them, but all he feels about their camaraderie is a sense of envy. He finally musters the courage and walks up to them. The girls huddle together for they could see the mischief glinting in his eyes. He gathers the clothes they’ve already washed and throws it on the bank of the River. The girls look at him wide eyed; one begins to cry, another starts running to get their mother, yet another advances towards him as if to beat some sense into him, while the last of them begins to gather the clothes. A powerful voice takes all unawares,
“let him be!”
All movements stop. A lanky boy who appears to be older than all of them emerges from the bushes, walks to the bank, gathers the remaining clothes, puts them back in the bucket, rinses them out and hands it over to the oldest girl.
“Let this one go.” He further says, while giving the boy a menacing stare.
The girls nod and they go back to playing like nothing happened.

The little boy follows the lanky older boy into the bushes. The older boy stops in his tracks,
“why are you following me?” He asks.
“I need to know why you didn’t let my sisters tell on me.”
“Wait a minute, those were your sisters?”
“Yes”
“Then, why were you so mean to them.”
“They are always together, telling stories, laughing among themselves and whenever I come close they stop like I’m too small to understand what they have to say or something.”
The boy’s eyes well up as if he would start crying any minute. The lanky boy looks at him for a minute as though he understands what the little one is talking about. He stretches his hand and says,

“I’m Chiji, and may that be the last time you are cruel to your sisters.”
Taking the outstretched hand, the little boy smiles and replies, “I’m obi.”
This encounter birthed the beginning of a friendship so strong that it surprised the two boys. Chiji an only child is only too happy to play protector to Obi, an only son.

How were they to know that their bond would cost one his life and the other, his innocence.

Today, everything changed!

We are all sitting around telling stories and teasing each other as boys are only wont to do when we see Uba approaching. This can only end badly. I say to myself. Uba is bad news, he is that child parents warn their children about while pulling their ears for emphasis. I don’t like the look in his eyes as he draws nearer and I like what he says next even less.
“I want akwa eke tonight!” He bellows like one spoiling for a fight.
I pay him no heed hoping he would leave but he turns to obi and says,
“how about you go get it for me?”
I look at Obi who laughs and says, “you must be out of your mind, akwa eke does not exist.”
“It does!” Retorted Uba hotly. “I have seen it with my own eyes.”
“Then, why don’t you go get it yourself?” I say.
“What is wrong if he goes to get it or are you afraid, your little sister would get hurt?” He says.
I feel Obi go still beside me. “You dare call me a girl…” His voice barely above a whisper. “I will get you akwa eke but before I hand it over you must apologize publicly for this.”
Uba flashes a cunning smile, “deal” he says.
They both shake hands over it like real men. My heart sinks.

I have heard whispers of akwa eke, it supposedly preserves life making whomever is in possession of it to live past his expected time. I have also heard of the mysterious deaths surrounding it- a life for a life is the price one pays for tampering with it. There’s no way I’m letting Obi go after it alone.

This is the foolish quest that sees us arguing in front of Okonkwo’s house, the crux of the argument; who between us would get into Okonkwo’s satchel to retrieve akwa eke?
“If anything happens to you, Obi, your mother would never forgive me.” I try to reason, but he is having none of it.
“If it gets out that I wasn’t the one to retrieve it, Uba would never let me hear the last of it.”

“Who is going to tell, it is just the both of us out here. I have heard too many unpleasant whispers about this mysterious object. My brother, let me go in and if I’m successful, and I shall be, the Glory is yours to take.” I further reiterate.
He looks at me for a moment, his common sense at war with his ego and finally he gives a single nod. This is all the urging I need to tip toe into Okonkwo’s hut.
I look at Okonkwo’s frail body lying there on the bamboo bed and I almost find it hard to believe that one so frail looking can be so agile during the day. Could the tales be true?

My heart is pounding now, I’m afraid the sound would wake the old man from his slumber. I move past his sleeping form and true to Uba’s information, the satchel is hanging exactly where he said it would-over the fireplace. Careful not to make any sound, I open the satchel and the light emanating from within nearly blinds me, I’m afraid it might wake the old man. I snatch both the satchel and the content therein and make my way back to Obi.

We both can’t believe it. Obi is examining  akwa eke and remarking on how spectacular it’s oval shape and brilliant gold looks when the shot rings out. The look of excitement on my face gives way to disbelief, then pain. I clutch the right side of my stomach as I fall to the ground. Obi clamps a hand over his mouth to keep from crying out, he puts the akwa eke back in the satchel and retreats deeper into the bushes as Okonkwo comes closer with his dane gun. He searches my person for his lost possession and sees nothing. The cry he lets out is like the roar of a wounded lion, this awakens the entire clan. People rush out of their homes. I don’t wait to see what my poor mother would do when she sees her son lying there in a pool of his blood. I go after obi because if the tale continues to hold true, I know what he wants to do next.

Obi keeps stumbling as his tears blinds him but he is determined to make it to Mbadiwe’s shrine in time. He screeches to a stop at the entrance of the shrine unsure of what to do as he hears Mbadiwe chanting inside.
“Come inside!” Mbadiwe finally shouts.
We both go in. Mbadiwe looks straight at me like he could see me, then he shifts his attention to Obi.
“What happened out there, my boy?”
Obi narrates everything and when he gets to the point where Okonkwo shoots me, his voice cracks, he mans up and continues, “I hear akwa eke can bring one back to life, is this true, Ezenmuo?
“Yes, boy, but you ask too much from the gods, are you prepared for the consequence?”
“I do not care, whatever be the price, I am willing to pay.”

I try one last time to stop him, but then again my effort is still useless.
After a long pause, Mbadiwe says, “okay, my boy, let me have the akwa eke. Obi hands it over. “When you leave here,” he continues, go directly to the village square, your friend’s body would be surrounded by the villagers as is customary, take this omu and place it in his mouth, let’s pray the gods his life force isn’t entirely dissipated because if it is, even the akwa eke can do nothing.”

Obi thanks Mbadiwe profusely and takes off for the village square. As we get there, Obi does not stop to answer anyone’s question, he doesn’t even spare an angry Okonkwo a second glance. He just rushes to where my body lay and places the omu as directed. I don’t know how much time passed but all I remember is feeling something pull me back to my body, I try to resist but the pull is very strong. As I float atop my body, I look towards Obi hunched expectantly over my body and I glimpse a dark shadow surrounding him, then moments later my eyes fly open.

The crowd go into a frenzy. My mother is kissing and hugging me, Obi is jumping up and down, Okonkwo is standing to one side with a look of despair on his face for by now he knows what we have done with his precious akwa eke, Uba is looking in our general direction but says nothing, and strangely enough, I still see the shadow surrounding Obi. Have I brought back something dark with me? Am I the only who sees it?  Is this the consequence Mbadiwe tried to warn Obi of?

The traditional healer checks my wounds and tells me the bullet went through and my wound would heal in no time. The excitement has died down, everyone is leaving for their homes. We agree I cannot go all the way home with my mother, so, we all agree to retire at Obi’s. My mother, Obi’s mother and his sisters walk ahead of us while I and Obi take our time. When everyone is out of ear shot, I say to Obi,
“you shouldn’t have….”
He snaps immediately, “I shouldn’t have what!” This is strange as Obi is the most cool as a cucumber person I know, even under pressure, he doesn’t crack.
“You shouldn’t have brought me back to life, do you have any idea what you have done?”
“I don’t care.” He shouts. “I could not let you die.” Oh no! could the darkness be taking a grip of his soul?
“It was my time to die.” I whispered.
“And I changed that!” He retorted. “You should be thanking me.” We continue the rest of the journey in silence, his sullen, mine pensive.

As we get to the entrance of Obi’s house, we hear his sisters whispering among themselves. I do not want to hear what they are saying, after all what could be more news than the boy who came back to life, but obi had something else in mind. We move closer and their words are unmistakable now.
“I wonder what Obi had to do to bring him back.”
“It must have been something awful.”
“I agree. Did you see the look in his eyes just before we left, it’s like something else is inside him now.”
“What does he really see in Chiji that he couldn’t just let go of him.”

On hearing this last statement, Obi rushes into the room, grabs the knife his mother left on the table by the door when they all rushed to the village square, his eyes blazing and his hands flailing like one insane says,
“how dare you question my motives, how dare you!”
The girls huddle closer together, clearly afraid of their brother.
“I chose to bring him back, it was my choice and I made it!” He continues shouting.
By now, both our mothers have come to see what is going on. The shock on their faces as they witness the scene unfold before their eyes is as palpable as the fear on the girls faces.

“After today you would not ask that question again.” He rages as he advances towards them.

At the same time I rush at him. The look of shock and disbelief on his face as the knife plunges into my heart is one of the last things I see. The tears are streaming down his face uncontrollably now. I want to tell him not to worry, to find a way to forgive himself for in actuality, he did not kill me, I already died-it was my time. I watch the darkness go far away from him, my face breaks into a satisfied smile as life slowly ebbs out of me.

The End.

*akwa eke-egg of a python, oval shaped with a brilliant gold colour

*omu-strand of a palm frond

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