When the war broke out, it broke us into pieces like ceramic plates smashed against a rocky surface. But Rani proved to be more than a saviour. Before we met him, we had found ourselves in a neighbouring land, after Agama people invaded our village. Lives were lost, homes shattered, houses burnt and our belongings all taken away. Our women were also captured and taken away by the fiendish intruders. We were left desolate and sorrowful. It was a day death and sorrow raged and reigned unchallenged, a day we would always remember to forget.
We were looking for safety when we ran away from our invaded land to a neighbouring village, but we met danger instead. The Agama aggressors had connived with people from the neighbouring land to ensure that we had no hiding place when we were attacked. We had left our village at night, when the attack happened, to seek refuge in the neighbouring village. On waking up in the morning, we were shocked to see a group of people with dane guns and machetes surrounding us. With faces contorted like the twisted bark of a tree, their mien could scare even a monster. Their words matched their hostile looks.
“Get them all killed!” one of them shouted.
“Who are you and what are you doing in our land?” another, whose audaciousness made us suspect he was the leader, followed suit.
“My…my… fam…ily…”, father stuttered with quivering lips. He was too afraid to articulate his words properly.
“Get up right now and move!” the leader thundered, pointing at a narrow dirt road that continued behind a towering gmelina tree.
We were paralysed with fear, unable to either move in obedience to their command or run. Running would be more dangerous; unlike them, we were completely unarmed. We had no option than to obey.
We became more terrified as we moved to their command. Our lives were literally in their hands and we could only pray silently for the best. When we got to a part of the dirt road that intersected with a much wider road, our captors conferred with one another in hushed whispers. Eventually, we knew what they had decided. One of them, Rani, had been chosen to guide us to our death spot. We were to be killed by Rani. Rani had a dane gun and a fetishistic red object tied around his neck. But he was determined not to kill us and he told us so. He would tell his people that he had wasted us as they commanded, but he would spare us. He helped us to find temporary shelter in an area so secluded that it would take a very courageous hunter to discover and venture into. We felt at peace in this nature’s fortress Rani graciously camped us in. Rani had literally become ours, our friend and brother. He told us that he decided to go against the grain because he knew that we were not the aggressors. He had a conscious, he said.
Rani would often bring fruit and food of different types to us, including tiger nuts, udara and African salad. He risked his own life and made huge sacrifices to see to our welfare. Deeply impressed and grateful for Rani’s uncommon kindness, father decided to have a chat with him. He wanted to know where Rani hailed from. It turned out that Rani was from Igbere clan. The Igbere people were not originally from the neighbouring village we were sheltering in. Some of them had come to live in our neighbouring village when a war broke out between Igbere and Ngani, a village located to the north of Igbere, some years ago. It was a brutal war that cost hundreds of lives. The refugees from that war who came to live in our neighbouring village had become fully integrated into their new home that it was nearly impossible for anyone who was not told to know that they were originally from Igbere.
Rani narrated to my father how a man from my village had saved his family from being killed by Ngani warriors. He was simply returning that act of kindness by helping us escape death. Father understood and thanked him for remembering the past. Rani also told father about his family, his wife and children. They had more hearty chats before Rani bid us the day’s farewell and returned to his house. After Rani left, father called all of us together and told us about his discussion with Rani. He, however, warned us against being too relaxed around Rani because human beings were unpredictable. Obviously, father still harboured premonitions of danger.
The next day, Rani took me to hunt with him. He first taught me how to effectively use the bow and arrows to kill game. After he felt I had learnt enough, we started hunting. Not long after, I saw a grass-cutter hiding behind a shrub not far from where I stood. It had apparently heard the sound of our footsteps and decided to discern properly how to make a run for dear life. I saw it nervously crouching behind the shrub, its spotted ash-coloured skin contrasting with the deep green leaves of the shrub. I quickly aimed my arrow at it carefully, released the arrow with the venom and precision of a hungry lion, and pinned the grass-cutter to the dank earth just beside the shrub it was ensconcing on. It flicked its sturdy paws in a desperate attempt to cling to life. But it was too late. I had killed my first game. I was happy, even exhilarated, especially because the cane rat meat pepper soup was my father’s best delicacy. My father would surely be overjoyed with my hunting exploit. But an uncanny sense of foreboding seemed to hang in the air.
I had decided to wrap the grass-cutter I killed with fronds Rani helped me to cut from a palm tree along our route back home. After he cut enough palm fronds for me, Rani decided to leave me alone to wrap the game and bring home since the spot was not far away from home. I was still with my bow and arrows in case of any threat. I had finished wrapping my game when I suddenly sighted a squirrel some meters away from where I stood. The rodent was nibbling at some palm fruits that had fallen from a palm tree some distance away. I quickly got my bow and arrow ready for a shot, aimed at the squirrel and hit one of its hind paws. Blood from the wound trailed the path of the game as it fled. I followed the trail with the firm belief that I would discover the dead body of the squirrel. I kept going inside the thick bush until I became too tired. I decided to turn back.
But close to an hour had gone. I had delayed returning home and father had begun to suspect foul play. He looked at Rani’s blood-stained machete placed close to his gun on the ground, to the right side of Rani, and drew a deep breath. He immediately told Rani, who was almost dozing off where he lay, to leave for his house since his wife and children might be expecting him. As Rani roused himself to leave, father immediately dashed towards where Rani placed his gun and machete, grabbed the machete and gave Rani a deep cut on his back, just above his waist. He was about to give Rani a second cut when he suddenly saw me approaching proudly with the game I had killed. Tears flooded his eyes as his trembling hands let go of his weapon. Rani lay in the pool of his own blood.
DAVID NWAFOR, a graduate of Linguistics from Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State, Nigeria, is a short story writer, novelist, and poet. A third prize winner of the AE-FUNAI Poetry Prize for creative writers with his poem titled I LONG FOR A DAY. He is also the author of the novel Wiped Tears, which was published by Omega Press in 2014. He has two published short stories Mmesoma made AE-FUNAI anthology and the other Unbreakable Bond made Voices That Sing Behind The Veil Anthology published by Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) While his poems have been published in anthologies and online publications such as Poemify Magazine, Merge Literary Magazine, Poet Duet Publication, Blue birds publication, Margins Magazine, as well as the Poetry Planet International Book Anthology. Others are forthcoming.