The clouds had started to dissipate and the claps of thunder reduced. Two squirrels could be seen peeping from a hole and running back in, they needed to be sure the torrent of the rain wouldn’t wash them away. A monkey oblivious of the assemblage at the foot of the tree it was perching on, made a move to swing to another, then it noticed them, shrieked in fright, and swung the other way, attracting only a glance from one of the men below, as they all seemed to be occupied by something more cardinal.
“We have to take her to her grandmother. The poor girl is dying” Adesina looked straight at the Lieutenant, then grabbed a coat from a private and wrapped the Princess. She didn’t move or resist his touch so He feared she was close to death. “She go nowhere! Nowhere!” Rotham’s man moved as if to block the path, his hair standing on end, like a lion ready to prance. Then with a swift motion, he took out a small knife from his bodice and slashed his wrist, pouring the content on a string of cowries he had produced from another pocket.” I make her that way.” he laughed, and a loud chesty cough followed. He drew out the phlegm and spat it on an innocent ant trying to survey the cowries for food. “I weaken her spirit, so she fear me.” Adesina hissed at the man’s doltishness, then leaned closer to the Princess’ face to check her breathing. Even though her expression depicted fear and alarm, her face was still beautiful. She had large bulging eyes, which complimented her tiny mouth and a pointed nose that sat perfectly in between the two. Adesina wondered in his heart how many wars must have been fought because of her. “It’s no wonder your father kept you hidden.” he whispered to himself. He was suddenly brought back to reality by her breathing, which had become very slow and labored “You don’t have to kill her to make her do your bidding” He replied Rotham’s man and ordered a private to bring a gas mask from the Jeep.
The lieutenant stood at a spot, his left leg digging into the mud. Rain drops fell from his long wooly hair, to his khaki which was completely soaked with rain. He thought of grabbing a raincoat, but the damage had already been done. A second later He shifted his weight from his left leg to his right and back to his left leg immediately. Although he was righthanded, he favored his left leg, because his right leg had sustained a terrible injury on his last journey to Asia. Lightning struck and a branch dislodged from its tree and fell to the ground, causing the two girls to jump in fright. Soon the noise quieted down and everyone focused back on the girl lying on the floor. The lieutenant started to pace back and forth. He knew he had to decide whether to give in to Adesina’s plea or allow Rotham’s man continue his charade. He signaled Rotham’s man to come closer. “We need her alive and healthy. She’s better to us that way.” The Lieutenant looked directly into the African man’s eye in an effort to establish dominance. The man turned away from him and took five steps forward, making sure to imprint his bare feet on the wet mud with each step taken. He then knelt on the ground and threw his blood-stained cowries out. Each cowry landed, rebounded and then settled forming a pattern on the ground, as if designed by a supernatural being. Standing back up, he addressed nobody in particular. “You know a strong man by the weight of his feet. I have seen you walk. You men are weak! How you think you conquer Harlala, with heart of woman. Harlala like Lion, only men, real men can tame it” He stopped talking and looked around, his eyes piercing into the souls of every soldier, then he pointed directly at the Lieutenant, his yellow teeth grinning “You not real man.” The lieutenant, afraid that such comment would turn his soldiers against him, moved rapidly towards the African man and lifted him off the ground. “You have no right to talk to me that way!” Anger was setting in his tone and a vein in his neck had begun to throb. “Right?!!” the man thundered back, the echo from his voice travelling deep into the jungle. The Lieutenant dropped him in fright. “I tell you about right!” His expression turned into a scowl and his eyes shone like that of a cat. “You and your men have no right to walk on Harlala soil! You children of accursed women!” He spat on the Lieutenant and quickly ran into the darkness, his feet not making any sound and the bush seeming to part, as he approached them. The men were too frightened to follow, so they looked back at the lieutenant, each face pleading that they not be sent. The Lieutenant sensing their despair turned instead to Adesina. Adesina’s attention was completely on the Princess, whom he had wrapped in more warm clothes to keep her body from freezing over. “Let’s go to her grand…….” The lieutenant’s heart rate increased and his head felt light. To stop himself from falling, he leaned unto his right leg, screamed out in pain and then passed out. A young soldier rushed to him and caught him before he hit the ground. “He has been shot!” He raised his bloody fingers up to reveal a wound close to the Lieutenants heart and at the same spot Rotham’s man had spat on. Immediately the other soldiers went into action, creating a protective circle around the Lieutenant, Adesina and the girls. The forest went silent as the soldiers listened for any movement. A Male bird unaware of the commotion below, chose that time to flutter its wings calling for its mate several meters away. “Kapow!” A gun went off, scaring half the animals in the forest. “Idiot!” A warrant officer slapped the private who’s gun had gone off. The private said a quiet “I’m sorry.” and dropped his weapon. His hands were cold and sweaty and he was fidgeting all over. The final cloud cleared from the sky and the rain reduced to a drizzle. “Get those trucks out of the mud now!” Adesina ordered.
Amahle fluttered her eyes, trying to make sense of the new environment she was in. Had the rain subsided? She couldn’t tell, because the Apakayibo’s men had put her on a small black leather bed inside a metallic object that was galloping so fast. She looked up to see the concerned faces of her maids staring down at her. At the sight of her pale face, one of the maids started crying, so Amahle tried lifting her hand to wipe the girl’s face, but she couldn’t. The other maid noticing her distress, patted her hand and said “Rus goed (rest well) they are taking us to grandmother.
Grandmother, having not seen Amahle when the rain started, rushed out of the house, in the company of two male servants and headed in the direction they told her Amahle had gone. Soon the rain became very heavy and she couldn’t go forward anymore, so she perched under a carpenter’s shed. The shed was made with wood and rusted zinc which leaked at several places. The interior had a fragrance of dry wood, tar, and the sweat of the carpenter. The carpenter was a dark, tall and bony man, whose face looked far older, than the strength he portrayed while wielding his saw. He had marks on his face, neck and hand, each mark with a story of its own. His back appeared bent probably from bending over to work all the time. He wore a short cotton trouser and a wide dress-like garment which stopped at his waist. When they entered the shed, he was working on a wooden image of the goddess of fertility. At the sight of grandmother, he quickly threw the image into a pile of dirt at the far end of the shop, knocking of its head in the process. He was afraid she would scold him, since he had promised her that he was now a Christ follower. He breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t talk. “What’s the matter Ouma?” He asked her. Grandmother didn’t respond but instead, stared directly into the rain, her lips trembling and her hands shaking. She grabbed an end of her wrapper which had fallen loosely around her waist and tied it back into place. “Please sit down here Ouma.” The carpenter shooed a puppy sitting on a small stool and handed it over to grandmother. “No Dankie” Grandmother declined without shifting her gaze from the rain. From the corner of her eyes she sighted some naked children west of the shed, playing in the rain. “Get inside immediately.” She shouted to the children. The children deaf to her voice, because of the intensity of the rain, continued their play, each taking turns to jump into a large puddle that had been created by the rain, in front of their house. Grandmother was about to step out into the rain, when a large woman carrying a wailing baby at her back peeped through the door of the house. She shouted at the children, but they were so invested in their play, that they didn’t hear her too. So, she went back inside dropped the baby and came back out, a long stick visible in her hand. She approached the boys quietly and raised the stick up to strike the oldest boy who was closest to her. “Arrgh!!” The boy shouted as the stick kissed his buttocks, sending the other boys running in all directions. They finally made their way to the door but it was locked, with no other way in, they had to face their angry mother who was drenched completely by the rain. Each boy paid entrance into the house with strokes commemorate with their ages, the oldest boy paying a total of all their ages and his combined. Finally, the angry mother went inside, off to the kitchen to prepare a hot meal for the boys who were shaking all over. Grandmother smiled at the scene for a second, then her mind drifted back to Amahle who was stuck somewhere in the bush. “Dear Jesus. Please be with my granddaughter. Keep her safe in your arms”
Thirty minutes later, the rain reduced and grandmother stepped out, the men following closely behind. Further down the path and they were accosted by a merry band of singing men, who were demanding pay for a little repair work they were doing on a bridge which had been partly washed off by the strong currents of the river. Some of the men had also stationed themselves at parts of the river where the current was strong, to help travelers cross. At that time a little girl and her aged grandmother wanted to cross the river, they refused to pay the men the little charge they had demanded and instead opted to cross the river on their own. After crossing the first, second and third stones, elated that they didn’t have to pay a dime, the grandmother turned and stuck out her tongue at the men. As she turned to continue, her feet slipped and she landed in the river, the strong current pulling her. Her granddaughter afraid of losing her, held on to her and was pulled into the river too. “Please help them before they drown” grandmother pleaded with the men who were now laughing in amusement. Two men dressed in Identical clothes and who looked exactly alike, quickly dove in and swam quickly towards the woman and her granddaughter. Powerful swimmers, they got to them in time and carried them from the raging current back to the point they had started “Now she will pay double.” The younger twin said and the men started laughing again. The old woman hissed and quickly opened her bag, she counted her cowery shells, so she could be sure the men had not stolen any while saving her.
Grandmother offered the twins money to thank them for their bravery, but they declined. They assisted she and her men across the river and bid her farewell on her journey. “I saw Amahle and two girls earlier, they went that way” A short man wielding an axe, pointed them in the direction of the forest. Grandmother thanked all the men and continued in the direction the man had pointed her in. A minute later, they were frightened off the track by a deer which was running from the bush and towards them. They ran off the road and hid in the bushes waiting to see what was after the deer. A minute later, a strange metallic object zoomed past them, and headed towards the broken bridge, it was closely followed by another identical object which headed in the same direction. Grandmother came out of the bush and watched the two objects. On getting to the bridge the objects stopped and four strange men came out of it, followed by two native girls. Amahle’s maids! “Amahle! Amahle!” Grandmother screamed.
The Jeeps couldn’t go further because of a gully erosion that had eaten a large portion of the road and also a small pedestrian bridge. Adesina said a quick greeting to the men who had been previously working on the bridge and had now stopped to stare at them. The men were joined also by several women, most returning from the farm and having their basket of yam and Tomato still secured on their head “We will continue on foot.” He informed his men. His heart went out to them, as they stepped out of the truck, each face pale from the fear of impending doom and sagging from tiredness. “Amahle! Amahle!!” He heard a woman scream so, he turned in the direction, to see a short chubby old woman clad in a purple wrapper that was common to royalty in Harlala, running towards him at full speed. With each step she took Adesina prayed she wouldn’t land face first into the mud, as her short legs seemed too small to carry her. A rooster on her path quickly dove out of the way, afraid for its life. She reached them a second later, but was blocked by the soldiers, who had become paranoid of the locals. The two girls with the Princess screamed “Ouma Ouma!” “Let her pass.” Adesina ordered. Grandmother went straight to her granddaughter and held her close to her heart, trying to warm her cold body. “Amahle!” She sobbed. A minute later, she regained her composure and begged Adesina and his men to help them home. The troop quickly unloaded every necessary item from the truck, crossed the river and headed in the direction of the grandmother’s house. They were followed by a large number of villagers, some even leaving their goods at the side of the river, so it wouldn’t slow their progress “He is dead too?” Grandmother pointed at the Lieutenant’s body which lay still in a hammock.
Grandmothers house was big but simple, it was made of mud bricks and had a metal roof. The front elevation had a large door and two large windows on each side. She had a flower garden too which was neatly kept. A look around the compound and one could tell that Grandmother was obsessively neat, not a single piece of trash lay on the ground and the pattern made by the palm brooms still showed despite the rain. A servant girl was at the door apparently in deep conversation with her lover. They both didn’t notice the crowd approaching, since it was a silent progression, until a sleeping baby who had been tied securely to its mother’s back woke up and started screaming. They both jumped in fright, the girl taking off inside the house, while the boy ran to the east end of the compound scaled the fence and landed on a goat, eating cassava that had been spread out to dry. “Meeh!” The thieving goat bleated loudly.
The progression stopped in-front of the house, and grandmother, Adesina, the two servant girls and the soldiers carrying the hammocks proceeded inside while the other soldiers stayed outside and formed a barricade to stop the people from coming too close to the house. The interior of the house was more beautiful than the exterior. The walls were designed with purple, red, blue and yellow chalks, each wall having an image of either a bird, a flower or a deer. Soft clothes wrapped in a thick material were placed on wooden chairs to serve as cushions. Grandmother instructed one man to open the windows so as to let air and light in, and another to bring a mat where they laid Amahle and the Lieutenant side by side. She called out to the servant girl who had gone inside to hide. “Ouma?” The girl replied sleepily, yawning and stretching as she approached grandmother “You were sleeping?” Grandmother inquired “After doing all my chores, I felt a bit…..” “There’s something on your back” Grandmother cut her short signaling her to turn around. “kPaa!!!” The sound of the slap that landed on the girls back frightened a wall gecko, which had been secretly watching and listening to their conversation. It quickly ran up the wall and into the roof. “Go and set a pot of water on the fire for me.” Grandmother ordered the girl, not a hint of anger apparent in her tone. The girl quickly rushed to the kitchen to perform her task. Grandmother turned to the strangers “Water?” “No Dankie” Adesina answered for all of them “Name?” “Adesina.” Grandmother smiled.
Adesina stared at the old woman, she didn’t look at all like the traditional priestess he had known while growing up. For one, she didn’t have the strange markings, owl face and permanent scowl the priestess usually had, but rather her face shone and she always had a smile on her lips. Her speech was pleasant to the ear since she spoke with grace and never used abusive words on anyone. She looks more like an Angel, Adesina thought to himself. Could that be the reason Amahle had asked them to bring her here? Was it possible that her grandmother was an Angel? Adesina didn’t really know about Angels since he had only heard them mentioned whenever he went to church on Christmas. He had recently promised God that if He brought him back home safely, he would add Easter and New year to the list. His heart suddenly longed for his brother. “Ademola would know about angels” He thought out loud. He looked around expecting all eyes to be on him, but thankfully they were all rather fixated on grandmother who had placed her palm on both Amahle’s fore head and the Lieutenant’s and was whispering. Could she be a Christian? Adesina wondered.
Grandmother stood up and went to the kitchen. Thirty minutes later, she emerged with the servant girls carrying bowls of steaming Sukuma wiki and Ugali. The soldiers stared at her confused at her unorthodox and also nontraditional way of healing. The bowls of food was shared amongst the soldiers, first to the ones outside in the cold. The distraction allowed for the crowd to overrun the barricade and gather at all the windows trying to see what would happen next. When everyone had been served, grandmother brought two separate bowls of Ugali and Sukuma wiki and laid it beside Amahle and the Lieutenant. She also brought two separate washing bowls for them to wash their hands. Then she knelt beside Amahle and tapped her, the way a mother taps her sleeping child “Wake up baba(baby). Your food is ready” Amahle didn’t respond so she kept tapping her. At this point everyone in the room had stopped eating and looked intently at the drama that was being played before them. Even the soldiers standing outside joined the crowd in peeping through the window. The whole compound went dead silent. “Meeh!” a goat bleated in the corner and was rewarded with a heavy slap from a tall fat man, who carried a butcher’s knife in his bodice. The goat quickly ran away. “Amahle wake up” grandmother kept saying “Eat your food. It’s your best meal.” The girl didn’t move and grandmothers head sank in sorrow. She buried her head in the girl’s breast deep in prayer. When she raised her head up, two of the maids made a move to pick her up and comfort her, but she held out her hand to stop them. Her face though tearful didn’t look sad anymore, but rather joyful and expectant of a miracle she perceived would soon happen. Five minutes later and nothing had happened. Women among the crowd had started to whisper among themselves and the men shook their head in sorrow. Then a soft wind began to blow, visible only in the swaying of a piece of thread that had run loosely from one of the wrappers that served to cover the windows. Grandmother perceived the presence of the Spirit of God and bowed down in worship. “He is here” She whispered “Jesus is finally here.” Suddenly a loud scream was heard coming from about fifty meters from the compound. It was the sound of a wounded man.