…once the covenant is broken it cannot be re-invoked
Nkeiru woke up. The sound she heard was no strange one. All she wanted to do was to find where the light was without making her position known; this would enable her see it, if possible, before it sees her.
As soon as she struck the match, something moved. When she had lit the lamp, the rays made more visible its figure. She followed the tail, all through the long slender body and right to its puffed head. She wondered on how to wake her two remaining siblings without making them startle the descendant of that which she was taught, in the new religion, deceived the first woman.
The once teeming village now boasts of half that number; and that, just in three months. The bustling life is obviously dead; for everywhere is dreaded.
This time it was a cobra. It stood a little below Nkiru’s height, about five feet above the ground; the remaining stretched towards the window—that same window through which the others had come. The hole in the window had been patched several times, but what kept removing the patch still remained uncanny. Nkiru would have thought that some neighbour was after them, if not that for these so recent times the village has been ravaged by snakes. From where they came, no one seemed to know. Worse still, is the fact that the breed differs; so that one cannot attribute it to a favourable condition for the growth of a specie. Worst still, is that they are found everywhere; and doing their deadly job.
──────────── ★★★ ────────────
As she touched the other sibling to wake up, the cobra sprang: missing her by few inches by the mere fact of her adrenaline-aided watchful eye. The familiar noise quickly woke the remaining sleeping sibling; and by a combined strength of tact and luck, another snake was killed.
How long would this continue she pondered as her siblings lay cuddled beside her, after they did away with the cobra and attempted to stuff that notorious hole. Memories of the past flooded through her and tears welled up. The effort to repress them gave them force. As the first dropped, it dropped upon Okey the youngest. An effort to find the source of the liquid led him to behold his weeping sister. Not long after, Nwakego, the younger, joined the duo, completing the trio as they wept from bitter fear.
It appears a curse lay on the land and its people sold out to death. Everyone counts his days, it looks like!
The once teeming village now boasts of half that number; and that, just in three months. The bustling life is obviously dead; for everywhere is dreaded. The well fed people now seem to die of starvation; not so much out of laziness or drought, but none dared go to the farms where, apparently, the dreaded dwell. The peaceful community has lost its quietude, as fear and suspicion rage. The once envy of its neighbours now seems a pariah amongst dwelling places. Most sympathetically still, the once optimistic people now dwell in acute despondency.
In times past, the sight of a boa constrictor meant meat for so many people; but this time, all around takes to his or her heels on sighting one. For no hunter seems to retain his courage, lest he becomes a victim. It appears a curse lay on the land and its people sold out to death. Everyone counts his days, it looks like!
──────────── ★★★ ────────────
Nkiru could remember vividly that fateful morning when the remains of her father was being dragged out of the carcass of the python that swallowed him (in the bush where he went hunting); after some energetic youths killed it. She could hardly recognize him, but for his clothes; for he was badly strangled and was covered in what looks like slime. And were it not for his feet, everyone was sure that he would have been taken for missing.
Ike’s, her eldest brother’s story, was more pathetic; for he was on his preparation to board the lorry that was to take him to the town where he was to get the whiteman’s education. He was among the very first to get this rare privilege in the village, that this necessitated a party to be held on the eve of his departure. It happened that as he emerged from that which they used as a bathroom, the very morning of his departure, a viper dashed out from the covers of the dark morning and stung him. He let out a cry which brought family members and neighbours running. Some went after the snake whose name for the specie in the local tongue is echi eteka; while others rushed Ike to the village herbal doctor. Ike died on arrival there.
Initially, she doubted the authenticity of the dream, but nevertheless she decided to give it a trial. After she restrained herself from attacking a mamba…she noticed that…the village was soon picking up.
Nkiru, with effort, restrained herself from thinking about how her mother and other elder brother died from the same army. Not long after, she fell asleep. She had a dream in which a woman with a snake curled round her waist, and who had hair which appeared as a legion of snakes, spoke to her. The strange woman claimed responsibility for the pestilence and told her she wanted someone she would make a covenant with in order to avert more disasters. The thought of any covenant with such a strange being frightened Nkiru; but when she remembered the past, the present, and the most probable future, she succumbed to the proposal.
It was agreed that on behalf of her village, she would neither kill nor take part in the killing of any snake; and that once the covenant is broken it cannot be re-invoked. The simplicity of the covenant led her to quickly pledge her acceptance to the terms; and just as suddenly as she slept, she suddenly woke up. At first, she was gripped with fear; but after looking around and seeing Okey and Nwakego peacefully asleep, she slept back.
──────────── ★★★ ────────────
Initially, she doubted the authenticity of the dream, but nevertheless she decided to give it a trial. After she restrained herself from attacking a mamba that slipped into the kitchen, she noticed that after two weeks, in a village where at least two people die everyday from snakes, no one had died. No other person knew what happened, but it was as though the gods were quietened and the village was soon picking up.
It was not long to be; for three months after, Nkiru danced with her mates in the silvern view of the full moon at the village square. As they danced, something long made effort to climb a wall. It did not escape the eyes of one of the playing children; and soon, the snake was writhing from the blows of the stick and stones of everyone present at the village square. The snake died!
© Aik, ‘Lord ElNik’ Eluigwe
Images: unbiasedtalk.com, cbc.ca, slitheringpredator.weebly.com
Presenting a diverse and dazzling collection from all over the continent, from Morocco to Zimbabwe, Uganda to Kenya. Helon Habila focuses on younger, newer writers – contrasted with some of their older, more established peers – to give a fascinating picture of a new and more liberated Africa.
These writers are characterized by their engagement with the wider world and the opportunities offered by the end of apartheid, the end of civil wars and dictatorships, and the possibilities of free movement. Their work is inspired by travel and exile. They are liberated, global and expansive. As Dambudzo Marechera wrote: ‘If you’re a writer for a specific nation or specific race, then f*** you.” These are the stories of a new Africa, punchy, self-confident and defiant.
Includes stories by: Fatou Diome; Aminatta Forna; Manuel Rui; Patrice Nganang; Leila Aboulela; Zoë Wicomb; Alaa Al Aswany; Doreen Baingana; E.C. Osondu.
Other short stories collections you will like