In the loud wake of the night’s early entrance, the escaping sun gives way to the proud emergence of the full moon. The remnant ray of the parting sun mixed with the somewhat bright shine of the night’s heavenly body seemed to rest in focus of the two beautiful maidens who swiftly trailed the lonely path of the Akaziza forest that led to the main village of Umuchue, alone, and with large, obviously heavy clay-pots of water resting uncomfortably on their shaky heads at that ungodly hour of the day – the hour when the unspeakable could happen.
“He is back!”
The notoriety of the situation, and the realization of its gravity, caused both friends to stop for a moment and look at each other with that piercing stare; they started off almost immediately, faster than they’d been going all along.
“Nkoli wait for me!” Adaku – the shorter in height of the two maidens – shouted from behind; moments like these made her hate and detest her failed height more than ever.
“Keep up Adaku… Did you not just tell me that Nebuchadnezzar has returned?” Nkoli announced, with clear fear held in her voice as she hurriedly spoke.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for them to walk faster and balance the heavy pots on their heads, but they still managed to find an equillibrum of comfort; they needed the water as much as they needed to get back to the village safely. They raced as much as their legs could carry them, with Adaku putting in the greater portion of work. The legend of the menace that was Nebuchadnezzar said to have been released from the white-man’s prison earlier today, would make any right-thinking person in their present location very afraid.
A male obscured figure suddenly emerged ahead of them. He came out from the back of the Iroko tree that stood tall there, looking disoriented, and oblivious to their presence. The increasing dark of the evening made it extremely frustrating for them to make a face off the person, who was still yet to register their presence.
“Don’t make a sound,” Nkoli signaled her friend; she put a hand behind to stop Adaku on her track.
“Is that him?” Adaku asked in fear.
“Shhh!” Nkoli cautioned. “Our safety depends on us remaining quiet,” she said, and stared intently at the figure.
Adaku panicked, and missed a step; she staggered momentarily with the clay-pot, pouring water on her self and hard-stepping on fallen tree branches that alerted the figure to their presence with loud cracking noise. The figure turned to the maidens and started throwing heavy stones at them, and soon started walking briskly toward them.
“Run… Nkoli run…!” Adaku shouted at her friend, and pushed for a way to make her move.
Nkoli regained her senses, and beckoned her friend to join her in running as though their lives depended on it. One of their assailant’s stone hit Adaku’s clay-pot; it broke, and sent its content pouring all over her, which caused her to fall and tumble repeatedly.
“Help…! Help…! Help ooo…! Biko…!” Nkoli kept shouting on top of her voice as she ran. She refused to stop when she heard Adaku fall for fear of being captured as well. She threw away her pot to fasten her race for survival. She came out a path and saw some male youths of the village passing, making merry as they went; they were seven in number. She jumped on the first person her arms could grab, appreciating the warmth and security his body provided, more than anything in the world at present.
“Ogini?” Obele – the most presumptuous of the lot – asked her. “What is it?” He reiterated.
“It is… iszz…” She stuttered. Her shaky hands continued to point the path through which she surfaced, even as her voice continuously failed her in speaking.
“Spare our time nwata nka!” Obele’s impatience almost got the better of him; he nearly got violent, save for Nnanna and the others who held him back.
“Nebuchadnezzar is inside there,” she finally said. “And, Adaku is there with him,” she found the little strength to add.
“You say?” Obele asked. “You left someone behind… You left Adaku behind!” Obele became more ferocious. He beckoned four others to join him. They quickly dashed into the forest through the same way Nkoli had surfaced; leaving her and two others behind.
“Adaku! Adaku!” Obele led the charge, and repeatedly called out her name. His worry could be seen claearly, through his squint-eyes; little was left to the thoughts of the others on what was going through his mind.
They arrived what should be the scene of the encounter, and met pieces of a broken pot, an abandoned tear of a wrapper, and fresh footprints.
“This must be the place they saw him,” Nnanna validated eveyone’s suspicion with spoken words. He began circling the entire area for more evidence of kidnap.
“This is her wrapper,” Obele called out in slight despondency. He seemed to just be understanding the reality of the situation before them, and the heartfelt reason Nkoli appeared as distraught as they saw her.
“We should go to the Igwe’s palace!” Chukwudi announced. Everyone chorused ‘Yes!’ in agreement.
Nnanna was still separated from the others, following the conflicting footprints that led away through another path; he suspected it to be the way through which Nebuchadnezzar took his victim. He followed till the footsteps suddenly stopped; ended, with no plausible explanation.
“Chimo!” He suddenly screamed; calling out to his god.
“Where did that sound come from?” Obele energetically asked from the distance he was with the others, paradventure the shout for help was Adaku’s
“That was Nnanna,” Chuwkudi quickly dashed his hopes, and ran with the others towards the sound of Nnanna’s voice. Obele sluggishly followed behind; his pains had made his legs and heart heavy.