Black History Month, Descriptive, Emotion, Fiction, PenPractice, writing

A Good Death – Part 2

I never understood how deep the forest was until I began marching through it with my brothers and some of the other children from the tribe. We had left the morning after my father’s retelling. 

If only I knew that was the last time things were going to be normal. I would never have left. The prize was not worth the effort or the process it took to attain it. The Raga are monsters. 

In front of us, leading the fifty children of Ogun, was the Elder’s second wife. She was the acting shaman of our tribe, the priestess by which we prayed to our god, Ogun. She, along with her husband, told us what our god required from us each year and we would do our best to meet it. 

It was a surprise when she began the journey as our leader but soon enough, the surprise waned. Tearful goodbyes and last hugs with our parents were the only things in our minds as we navigated deeper into the forest. Soon enough, all we saw were trees and visions of trees. 

Over us, the sun went down and a full moon replaced it in the sky. The forest was bathed in the blue light of the moon and the shaman, Okoye, lit torches for the eldest of the children to carry. 

On my belt, I wore the knife my father had given me for my seventh name-day. It wasn’t the best-looking knife but the handle was covered with the fur of a bear father had killed and the blade had been carved from a black rock that fell from the sky, according to his account. 

The wooden handle was cut from the mahogany tree at the center of the village, an act that was only permitted by the shaman and no one else. 

“The tree is the gods and the gods keep it,” mother had explained. 

The knife was in my hand now as we walked deeper into the forest. All around me, my brothers and friends had their weapons in hand. Some were carrying bows and short knives, while others had machetes and warrior blades. Those were our elders. They were the ones who weren’t quite warriors yet but had begun their training. And Sogo was one of them. 

He locked eyes with me, his dark brown eyes catching the light of the torch in his hand and he smiled at me assuringly like he always did. He sheathed the blade back on his belt and ruffled my curled hair with his free hand. 

“Don’t worry, Jide. I will keep you all safe from whatever comes our way,” he whispered to me before gently pushing me on. 

His words settled my restlessness and I nodded and pushed forward with the rest of the children. We had no idea where we were going, except that we were to keep walking until the shaman determined that we had walked far enough. 

Still, we kept walking. Around us in the dark, animal noises filled the air and increased the tension in the group but the shaman didn’t stop. If I remember correctly, she even sped up as if trying to get to the destination in time. 

At a point, our slow creep through the forest had turned into a run and by the time she told us to slow down, we were panting for air and begging for water. We didn’t get any, save from the already emptying waterskins the eldest children carried. And yet, the shaman didn’t stop. And along the way, we lost ten from our group to exhaustion and thirst. 

We were lucky in this regard, my brothers and I because father had taken it upon himself to train us to go on for hours without rest or water. I still don’t believe it was because he expected this to happen but I was glad that the training kept us alive. Largely. 

Sometimes, Elder Okoye would allow us to rest, but only for a few hours before the journey started again. 

Day turned to night, which turned to day. And then the cycle continued. Hunger gnawed at us and thirst clawed at our throats but the shaman didn’t stop. She just kept moving like she was unaffected by what we were feeling. Perhaps she was. That is something I will never find out.

Regardless, Deji, my five-year-old brother, didn’t make it past the fourth day before he collapsed on the floor for good. 

It was on the seventh day that we finally got the chance to stop. 

By this time, blisters had formed underneath our feet and it was increasingly difficult to focus on moving. The shaman didn’t stop but she slowed down a bit and we took some rest from it. The sun had risen for the day and it bathed us with its warmth which felt oppressive in our thirsty state. 

And yet, there was something about it. Something strange. As thirsty, tired, and hungry as I was, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with the day. I wasn’t sure if it was the sun, or the way I felt, or how far the shaman appeared to be from the group. 

I mentioned it to Sogo and he frowned before hobbling forward faster to catch up to her and as if on cue, the shaman began to run. The rest of us tried to catch up with her, struggling as we increased our speed but by the time we went through the group of trees that she passed, we had lost her. 

And gained something different. 

As we passed through the trees, we burst out of the forest into a large clearing that seemed to stretch from end to end with no more trees in sight. The ground was different, hardened and yet, smooth and cool to the touch. Cautiously, we all exited the forest and stepped on the strange ground. 

Ahead of us, was a structure, unlike anything we had seen before. It stood taller than most of the trees we had walked past in the forest but the more I stared at it, the more it reminded me of the mahogany tree back home. 

Looking at it filled me with an intense sense of dread that increased with each second. The entrance to the place was open but even in the light of the sun, it just looked like a black cloth had been placed across it. Like a shadow veil that we will have to cross. I blinked as I noticed a ripple in the shadow veil. 

Like someone else was present in our vicinity. I took a step forward without meaning to and tried to be sure that I saw someone beyond the door. 

A shout of celebration broke my gaze with the veil and I looked down to see a river bank separating the strange, smooth road from the building. 

At once, all the children rushed forward and I found myself running along, my mind suddenly filled with the thought of water on my lips and down my throat. Kunle and Seun had jumped in already and were swimming in it. Sogo was just behind me, along with a few other children as we raced towards the water. 

I was a step away from the water, already filled with playing children when I froze and looked up once more. 

Across the river, standing at the other side, was the shaman. We all stopped, even those in the water. The shaman looked down at them and shook her head in disappointment. Before we could do anything, all the children in the river disappeared under and they didn’t resurface. 

Slowly, to our horror and immediate understanding, the river changed from the bright blue it was, to a deepening red. In that instant, I had lost both of my brothers.

Black History Month, Descriptive, Emotion, Fiction, PenPractice, writing

A Good Death – Part 1

When I was young, still wet behind the ears as I ran around the mahogany tree that grew in the middle of the village, my father used to tell me stories about his days as a warrior of our tribe. Back then, it made little sense to me, the stories. His eyes would water and his mind would wander about his glory days and how he wished he died a good death. 

He was still a warrior during these retellings, though the grey in his hair contrasted against his ebony skin. It was a sign that he was growing in age. 

Each retelling of his ‘glory days’ began with his return from the hunt. Every week, my father and a few of the other tribesmen would come together and go out into the forest to hunt for the tribe. Sometimes, the hunt would take days and the whole tribe would worry, waiting with bated breath.

And yet, the mornings of their returns always coincided with the rising sun and they would enter the village, bathed in the golden light of the sun god, their skin rippling as if dripping with Sango’s blessing. I used to believe that spirits walked with them whenever they returned but such is the mind of a youngling. 

Still, the hunters would drop their kill at the center of the village, underneath the mahogany tree and our tribe’s shaman would come to separate it, with a portion reserved as a sacrifice for our gods. The elder would rest a hand on the hunters, whispering a prayer on them before dispersing them to their wives and loved ones. 

On those days, my father would rush back to my mother first, carrying her off the floor and showering her with kisses before taking her inside to discuss. To discuss. That was what my mother called it. I know better now. 

One day, after their ‘discussion’ was finished, my father sauntered out, sweat still dripping down his skin, and gathered us together. I was the third son of five children. All boys. We were the pride of my father and I could see that, even then when I knew of little. 

My father took a seat on a small stool, just outside our hut, and my brothers and I sat around him, eager to hear what new stories he had to tell us. My mother came then, as she always did, to hand him a bowl of some ripened fruit punch and he emptied the bowl into his mouth before speaking. 

“Have I ever told you this one story…” he began and we drew nearer almost subconsciously. 

“Have I ever told you this one story about the time I first faced the Raga Tribe? I have told you about the skirmishes of Ogun and how all these smaller tribes sought to fight us and encroach on our lands. Those fights were easy. Not challenging in any way. 

“So much so that even Ogun did not interfere or assist us. He let us fight on our own merits because he knew there was nothing the smaller tribes could do to hurt us. And he was right.”

My father’s hands went to the wooden beads linked around his neck and he fingered it gingerly. The beads were in different colors, ranging from red to dark blue that mirrored the endless sea. 

The manner in which he began, made it seem like our fight with the Raga was completed but I knew different. Even now, in the comfort of our new home, stories of fights with the Raga were common. Still, as children, we were never told about who the Raga tribe were and what they wanted. 

Now and then, a few warriors of the tribe would head out to assist another tribe in resisting the Raga’s invasion. We rarely saw the warriors return. 

They were our enemies and eventually, we would have to fight them when we became men. 

“But the Raga Tribe… There was something different about them,” he said solemnly. 

Worry lines deepened on his face and for an instant, I stopped seeing my father, the warrior. Instead, I saw my father, the man. His face hardened as he stared into the distance, the scar on his right cheek catching the sun’s glint. He flared his nostrils as if taking in a lasting breath before taking time to look at each of us in turn. 

I remember frowning then, unsure of why my father was acting unlike himself. In his retellings, there was usually a smile plastered on his face as he told his stories. Sometimes, he would get on his feet and show us the attack he used to win a fight, or how he positioned himself to catch his enemy by surprise but this time, he just sighed and continued. 

“It was before you were born…” he said, nodding at my younger brother before pointing at me, “…and it was just after your first year.”

“We got word that some of our former enemies, the Fishing tribe to the south, had met an untimely end. Word of a stronger tribe moving along the coast in search of a new home. The Elder called a council and assembled the warriors together to tell us what we must do.” 

He dropped the bowl to the floor, close to his feet and I glanced down to see my mother, sitting next to him, refilling his bowl. She flashed me a sad smile and I frowned. 

“The elder said we must be ready to defend our tribe if the time comes. Which went without saying. But there was a tremble to his voice. Something was bothering him. Still, we answered that we will do what we must and he dismissed us.

“A week after that meeting, the eastern tribe… our Enemies, the Hanaya, were destroyed by this mysterious invader and it was then we understood that our time to fight was fast approaching. I was a warrior captain now so I made my men practice even as I laid traps in the village in preparation for the mysterious invaders.”

He paused and drank from the newly filled bowl before handing it back to my mother and gracing her with a smile. She smiled back at him in appreciation, the little indent in her cheek deepening. 

“It was in the middle of my trap-laying that the elder called me and told me that we must attack the Hanaya village after sunset. I questioned the decision, finding no reason for why we had to be the aggressors until the elder told me what his scouts had seen.”

“What had they seen, Papa?” my eldest brother asked. 

My father looked at him and leaned forward a little even as his voice went quieter. 

“Monsters,” he replied. 

We all flinched and he chuckled as if expecting our reaction. Still, he leaned in further as he began to describe them. 

“The scouts saw monsters who stood on two feet as we did, but their skin had no color,” he explained. 

“No color?!” my younger brother exclaimed.

“Not a drop. The monsters had pale skin, like goat’s milk. Their eyes shone with blue gems and the hair on their head was yellow, like a lasting sickness refusing to leave. The scouts said that they carried an unknown weapon in their hands, one that spat fire and hot metal.”

“A weapon that spits fire and metal? How did you beat them, Papa?” My elder brother asked. 

My father looked at him and then at the rest of us. His face became grim as he took the bowl from his mother and emptied it into his mouth. 

“We didn’t. Not in a straight fight. Like the elder suggested, I gathered a group of warriors and set out to do what must be done to stop their spread. At night, under the cover of the shadows, we made our way down to the Raga. We thought as they will be sleeping, we will just take them before they wake up. We were mistaken,” he explained. 

“From the top of the hill, we could see the lights in the village, glowing like numerous fireflies in the distance. I should have turned back then. I knew in my heart that it was the right decision but I took it to be fear. So, we went down.”

My brothers and I drew in closer, our minds completely captured by the story. I glanced at my mother to see her grab my father by the leg and he looked at her, a flash of sadness crossing his features. 

“You see, in the short time they stayed at the Hanaya tribe, they had built tall slim houses that stood as tall as trees in the forest. We were unaware the Raga had seen us before we even saw them,” he said, leaning closer to us and dropping his voice a little. 

“We had lost before we even knew it. I lost the warriors with me that day. The men that I called ‘brothers’. I watched as their lives all got snuffed out like fire torches.” 

The silence at that moment was oppressive. On normal days, when my father would retell his war stories, my brothers and I would be joking with him by now, laughing as he played out how he won against his enemies. We didn’t do that this time. 

My father sat back straight and took another bowl of fruit punch from my mother and emptied it, before whispering a word of thanks to her. She smiled at him before refilling it, though she didn’t hand it over to him yet. 

“None of you have asked me why they are called the Raga tribe,” he said in a solemn voice. 

No one spoke for a moment. Then, I asked the question. 

“Why are they called the Raga tribe?”

My father fixed his gaze on me intently as if he was looking into me. 

“They are called Raga because when we faced them that day, we walked into a line of the monsters awaiting us with their metal weapons. And as soon as they saw us, there was a loud sound from their weapons. Their name is how I remembered the weapon sound.”

He stood up from the stool and crossed his arms as he regarded the five of us. For a moment, I saw a glint in his eyes that looked like tears but I thought I was seeing things. He extended his hand towards my mother without looking at her and she handed the bowl to him.

My father took a sip from the bowl this time around before handing it to my eldest brother, an act he had never done before. 

“Drink. Today, you all become men,” he said. 

My eldest brother, Sogo, looked at my father for a moment before drinking from the bowl, after which he passed it to Kunle and then to me. I drank it, feeling the heat in my throat as the taste of the fruit punch mixed with my senses. I could see why my father loved it. I could also see how much I didn’t. 

After my youngest brother had drunk his share, my mother took the bowl from him even as my father commanded us to rise to our feet. He kept his gaze on us throughout and it’s only now that I think I understand what might have been going through his mind. 

Perhaps he was trying to sear our faces in his mind so that he wouldn’t forget. Perhaps. 

Anxiety, Emotion, Fiction, Love, Pain, PenPractice, Poem, thoughts

Lie To Me

“He loves us…
Can’t you see it?

Him professing his every love for us
Without even trying to make us official
Because we’re already official,
Can’t you see it?

All the midnight trysts,
Hotel visits,
And subtle holidays,
The nicknames, fake names and
Fake appointments.

Why else would he try so much,
If we don’t mean so much to his enjoyment?

He called us his ever after,
Always after,
Everything else in his life
So that he can spend time with us.

If that’s not love,
Then what is?”

“It’s alright…

We’re alright.

I mean, we’re not happy
But we’re not sad,
We’re just ‘there’ dealing with issues,
Not so different from anyone else, right?

It’s not a big deal,
Not even a deal at all,
Just human with human emotions
And dark thoughts filling the ether

Other than which,
We are pretty standard
So no use talking about it
With someone else
Or even yourself in the mirror.

It’s alright…”

“So what?
She broke up with us,
So what?

She doesn’t deserve us,
If anything, she’s lost us.
Lost access to the magnificence that is us,
The sheer brilliance that we offer.

I mean, sure, we might not ‘love’ again
But what is love anyway?
What good did it do us?

Its a useless emotion.
A weak feeling professed by idiots
And we’re better off without it.

I mean, sure,
some Hearts might be broken along the way
But as long as we get our fun
What business is it to us?

We don’t need her.
We have us.

We are alright… right?”

Descriptive, Fiction, IG Prompts, Love, PenPractice, Shorts, writing

IG Prompt: A Man and His Dog

“I remember when I spoke about Kevin to my work colleagues for 30 minutes straight before they understood I was talking about my dog.

And yes. My current companion is Kevin, and he’s an adorable german shepherd. A” good boy”, if you will.

And Kevin is wonderfully intelligent. I mean, He’s far more intelligent than I give him credit for. It could explain why I sometimes talk to him like he can talk to me back. On some days, I wish he can. But dreams are dreams for a reason.”

I recline back on the lawn chair and watch him run back and forth in the backyard, chasing a harmless butterfly. He keeps yelping and leaping rather enthusiastically, I’m inclined to believe he’s putting on a show for me. It’s almost ethereal.

It makes me laugh.

I call out to him and he comes trotting towards me, almost matter-of-factly, like I had just interrupted his day’s work but the manner in which his tail wagged told me he was happy. I was happy too. I had spent enough time not being happy so this…this is nice.

“This is essential. Without Kevin, I would probably have made a bad choice down the line. Sarah’s death took a lot out of me. More than I even knew I had. The days got shorter, the nights got longer. I remember the vivid hours I spent just drinking and crying and then drinking some more before dragging myself to work.

Heck, I think I drank enough to ruin my liver, but I don’t think I’m going to the doctor’s just yet. No reason to chase bad news. If I have, I will find out eventually if it becomes a thing.

At the moment though, I’m okay with Kevin.

I did say he was intelligent, didn’t I? There was this one time, right… I was rushing out of the house, still fresh from Sarah’s death, but feeling much better. Kevin had only been around the house then, like… say… 5 months. Not enough time to be able to get what I mean, you know.

See I got moments, when I’m so comfortable with him, I sometimes call out Sarah’s name before I remember that it’s just me and him.

Anyway, so I’m rushing out of the house now, searching for my house and car keys, and it’s doing my head in, you see. I was already running late, so I was getting kind of desperate. On instinct, I call out to “Sarah” to help me find my keys. I hear his paws as they padded its way up the stairs but I don’t register it.

A few moments later, as I sat on the couch, I hear a woof and I see him, wagging his tail, my keys at his feet. He woofs again, bending to carry the keys in his mouth as he moved to drop it in my open palm. It was then I knew, that He was much more than I give him credit for.

I think it’s the quiet way he just seems to understand what I’m thinking or what I need.”

He nuzzles my open hand and I move to rub his head. He was a good boy.

“Sir… This is what we mean when we say it would be best, if you came to the Home with us. For moments like this. There’s no Kevin in the garden”, I hear the attendant in the white dress next to me.

I can hear the pen as it scribbles on the pad she’s carrying. Probably a stooge from the council to get me to sell my house and move into a home. I laugh quietly. Kevin woofs by my side.

“Of course, there’s no Kevin in the garden. Had to take him to the vet last year…” I clear my throat before continuing…

“…So yeah… I know he’s not in the garden. And yet, he’s next to me wondering why you’re bothering me.”

The attendant remains a straight face and I can’t resist the wide smile that forms on my lips. They will keep sending these guys till I bite a proposal. But I’m in no rush.

Kevin is here. I am content.