Nebuchadnezzar Has Returned (05)

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05

The blows to the door of the old hut came alarmingly hard, with each succession they came harder till Nebuchadnezzar was forced to quickly improvise his escape and open it. The men felt they had succeeded in bringing the most dreaded man in the entire village of Umuchue to a standstill.

“Nebuchadnezzar! You are summoned in the name of The Queen.” An unseen voice announced amongst the many men present at the doorstep.

Nebuchadnezzar scratched with vigour his mosquito infested face and stared down the two white-men who wanted to charge at his with a bind for his wrists.

“On what grounds?” He challenged, proving the time they, the white men had spent training him in their ways all the while in their custody wasn’t in vain.

“As the only suspect in the ongoing murder case,” Sir Thomas surfaced to interject. “Arrest this man!” He proclaimed.

Nebuchadnezzar quickly slammed the door, so hard that it battered the faces of the first two soldiers it greeted and muddled up their consciousness. He panicked a bit but soon held firm his shaky-ground. He stared at the door as it almost came open, and muttered incoherently.

The hut’s door finally forced opened but Nebuchadnezzar was nowhere; he was missing from a hut that had no obvious exit.

“Sorcery!” Yelled one of the Sirs present with the emerging force.

“There’s nothing like magic my friend. There certainly must be an explanation… Trash this place and find me that exit.” Sir Thomas fired.

***

The word about how Nebuchadnezzar mysteriously escaped The Queen’s forces soon spread round the village like wild fire, an atmosphere of mixed feelings circled the entire village with many people angry that a raging, unrepentant murderer had been allowed to run around the village unfettered while some others loved the idea that the white-man was afraid by the display of an act of one of their heritage, even though it was Nebuchadnezzar that got the unique opportunity to show it to them.

Akunuba – The wealthy villager that had always showed interest to marry Nnanna’s mother since the last ten years his father died – came around to keep the woman of his dreams company and tell her the latest happening around the village since she couldn’t move around much because of the arthritis that weakened her ankle’s movement, and since no one had seen her in days it became more paramount that he check on her and her ill son, Nnanna.

“Strange things are beginning to happen in this village,” Nnanna’s mother said in reply to the news of Nebuchadnezzar’s disappearance. She sat by the side of the raffia mat her son laid on, and held tightly in her right hand a cloth, and in her left a bowl of water; both she used to wipe Nnanna’s very sweaty body.

“How is he?” Akunuba asked.

“Still the same,” She replied. Her response was noticeably faster than the previous. “Okemmili the medicine man asked me to get fifty shillings before he would start treatment… Biko! Tell me where I want to get that kind of money from?” She asked him in response, almost rhetorically.

“You could marry me, and the money would be yours easily,” Akunuba joked.

“Not now…” She brushed the matter aside. She always wondered what an old man like him still saw in an old woman like her, after all these years.

“If not now, when my love?… Is ten years not enough to convince you that I truly love you?” Akunuba drew closer to her, and spoke from the heart.

“OK… It’s enough. I accept. Just help my son… Give me the money to treat him, and I’ll marry you as early as the next cock crow.” She spoke with tears in her eyes.

She turned to wipe them.

“Really? This is good news… Let me rush and get the money and also get Okemmili… You’ve made me a very happy man now, and I promise to make you happy for as long as I live.”

Akunuba dashed out, totally oblivious to the battle the woman of his dreams fought hard trying to keep her tears at bay.

‘Nnamani! Nnamani!” Nnanna kept yelling the strange name.

“Nwa mu o! I’m here,” His mother forced her legs to carry her weight aided by an improvised walking stick made from the branch of the mango tree at the back of their compound; she covered him in her embrace. “There’s no Nnamani here. It’s just me…” She said with more tears streaming down her cheek; this was her son, her flesh snd blood, she didn’t need to hide her fears and insecurities from him.

Nnanna’s eyes suddenly opened.

It took a few hours, but soon, Akunuba was back, with Okemmili at his side habouring his medicine bag under his armpit.

“Oriakum,” Akunuba called his wife-to-be from the entrance to the hut before they entered.

Once inside, he found out the reason why she didn’t respond to his call moments ago.

***

The continuous towing of bells blazed round the compound; they made so much noise that Nnanna’s late father would come out of his grave to complain about their disturbances to his travels in the land of the dead, if he could. On a stretcher made out of a combination of raffia and palm frond, the first body was brought out by youths of the village as directed by the whites’ directive – It was Nnanna’s mother. People struggled amongst themselves to catch a glimpse of the lifeless body of an Ijele of Umuchue; visibility was hindered by the white clothes the white-men scantily put up to obstruct direct views.

Akunuba sat quietly by the side of the hut and watched as the body of the wife of his late best friend, who he had loved unrequited for the last ten years, and had finally gotten the chance to live with her as man and wife was carried away as another case study for the white-men.

“Where is he?” Akunuba suddenly burst with rage; he threw the question openly to all the white men gathered there. “I want the killer! In fact, we all want the killer,” he shouted and stirred the crowd to join him in the chant for Nnanna’s head to be delivered to them to settle the matter the old way, using their own customs and tradition.

Sir Bradley took the stage to console the grieving man, he announced that Nnanna was missing, and that they were all on the lookout for the him. He also said that the search effort for Nebuchadnezzar was doubled now because of some similarities between the way Mazi Okolo’s son and Nnanna’s mother were killed.

Obele surfaced from the corner of Nnanna’s hut – the house he spent much time in, growing up. He tried hard to avoid the white men that littered the compound because it was barricaded following the gruesome murder that had taken place; the crowd had just started to be dissipated, and people leaving as the white men sent them off in the name of The Queen of England. Obele peeped through the living hut’s open window to catch a glimpse of the crime scene – he saw a pool of blood with footsteps scattered around the floor; most alarming of all was the strange symbol drawn up the wall in blood. He was in awe, but couldn’t dwell on what he just saw because voices were headed his way.

He quietly trailed the other way through the side of the hut and saw two men hurriedly filling a hole the size of a grave.

The worst of fears came to mind, then he inadvertently made a sound and had to run when they became drawn to his presence.

***

In the cover of the night, footsteps approached; with a lantern on the left, and a knife on the right-hand, the young maiden kept moving. Deeper and deeper, she moved into the lonely forest of Akaziza. She looked up to the almost full moon, and it gave her motivation to walk faster before the crescent was reached. She kept moving, until she arrived the point where the road separated into four shady paths, and got confused which to take.

“Hey! You!” A deep voice called from behind her.

She fell out of climaxed shock and injured her ankle while hurriedly trying to crawl her way to safety.

“Biko!” She pleaded and covered the back of her head with her hands. She started to scream into the dead of the night till she could take no more and passed out.

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