“I can’t just stand here and watch you die,” Nkechi said, her voice laced with deep emotions. “I must go and find help.”
There on the floor, in the small hut, was her dying mother, shivering. She had been like this some days now, but now it seemed to be getting worse. The lamp that sat at the center of the hut, lighted the room poorly, but was enough to make the beads of silvery sweat on her mother’s face shimmered.
“My daughter!” her mother called, her voice lowering into something like a whisper. “What kind of help do you mean?”
Ever since her father died mysteriously, she and her mother had lived like strangers in the village. People heard and believed a lot of lies about them. Some believed that her mother had used her witchcraft on her father, while some believed that the gods of their land had placed a curse on them.
There were recent cases of goat disappearances at the time and the Chief priest with the consent of the King had placed a curfew.
“Eh..Nne! I must go and find a help anyhow,” she said, her voice with an edge of hope. But who can she possibly go to for help? Her uncle – Mazi Obuefi? A very mean man, who cared less about Nkechi’s welfare and her mother’s. If not him, Nkechi’s mother wondered who else her daughter was counting on.
Nkechi pulled a knife from her father’s bag that hung on the mud wall, slipped it into a sheath tied to her waist and zoomed off into the dark night. The little light that dripped from the sky was enough to light her path. Although, this was a skill she acquired from her father. “Learn how to befriend your environment,” her father had told her when she had stumbled over a stone when they were both walking back home one night.
Her somewhat thin legs swung very fast as she walked briskly closer to her Uncle’s hut. What was she going to tell him? Was he going to listen to her story? Does she have to seek help elsewhere? But who would care to listen? She hung onto these questions until she knocked on Mazi Obiefi’s thatched door. There was no answer, even onto the third time she had knocked. “He couldn’t have possibly be outside his hut, Maybe he had gone asleep,” she reasoned.
She turned and left. Some meters away from her uncle’s hut, she paused to fix her gaze to the sky. “But I can’t go back and watch my mother – who has been the essence of my life, to die helplessly. I must do something and I must act fast. I’m sure that was a fever disturbing her. I must go into the forest, there has to be a solution in the forest.”
At this, she veered into a path that lead to a thick forest, still ruminating on her silly idea to walk into the forest. She had been told by her father that every leaf one could find in the forest was a potential medicine to a particular illness. She began to reminisce on the names of leaves and their medicinal usage, which she had learnt. She had walked into the heart of the forest, and she had not seen a single soul, not that she had expected to see anyone by this time of the night, let alone now that there was a curfew. What if she get caught? What if the spirit of the gods strikes her for disobeying the law of the land? She brushed the thoughts aside and advanced more into the forest.
As she was approaching a big tree – an Udara tree, grown by the river side, the one whose fruits were not edible for humans because according to the elders, it was an Udara fruit meant for the spirits of the river, she began to hear whispers. At first she thought it was from umu muo(Children of the spirit) but as the whisper grew into what she could hear very well because it was coming closer, she veered off the path, moved quickly into where there were intertwined meshes of grasses and at the back of a tree there, she ducked but continued to peep. She began to hear thuds of foot steps until three men met her sight, and they were dragging something, which she thought to be animals, as they hoofed. When she peered intently, they were goats. Something about one of the goats caught her attention. There was a notch at the neck of the white goat which she recognized as her neighbor’s style of marking his goats. Two men that trailed just behind the goats, whose voices she had heard from a distance, came into sight, and she was shocked when she recognized both.
When she moved a bit away from the tree to make sure she saw right, she felt a searing pain under her foot, she flinched. She must have stepped on something sharp. She held her throat to stop the wail and swallowed the pain. When she bent over to tender to her pain, it was a leaf that had punctured her foot. The leaf was covered with spines. “This leaf? Is this not mgbacheleke leaf? The one father told me that could cure one with fever? Yes. Exactly.” She smiled and pulled out her knife and began to cut the leaves and then hurried home as soon as she was done.
***TO BE CONTINUED***