I heard the shrill cry of the newborn. The excitement in the voices of our women folk wasn’t hard to pick out. Yet, I looked on with afaint hope that we have lost our cruel captors. It was all I could do as I unconsciously gripped my spear. Blood had been spilled for our momentary freedom. How many more deaths, probably, all for the sake of freedom, made me sigh deeply. I knuckled my eyes and forced myself to stay focused. Lightening tore through the dark sky. The sound of thunder roaring in the distance was no sign of good news.
“Muna,” a familiar voice called out.
I turned. Light from the solitary candle in the cellar traced Onyinye’s round cheeks. She wore an inviting smile as she approached me.
“You should try to take some rest now,” she said. “What about the others?”
“They’re on the lookout, too.”
“Food is ready. You and the men should join us.”
I whistled: long, short, short, long. Moments after, my three friends who were at strategic points away from the cellar returned. They quickly settled down for their meal.
“Muna, you must come and eat, too.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Oh don’t be a hard nut. You haven’t eaten for almost two days now.”
I felt Onyinye’s hands under my arms, her breasts under animal skin pressing softly against my back. The instant warmth from her body sent a soothing sensation through my nerves.
She tried to pull me by the hand. “Come, come have some—”
I winced, gently placing a hand on my left rib.
Onyinye’s face lit with surprise. “Let me…let me see it.”
Shortly after: “You’re hurt.”
“No, you’re not. You’re bleeding.”
“See”—she raised a bloodstained palm—“you need immediate attention.”
She eased me unto a wooden platform around a corner in the room, collected a gourd of kwete from the other women who looked on with so much concern. Nne, the new mother in our midst, cuddled her baby close. I sensed her concern as she, too, had a divided focus—switching from her baby to me and back.
“Your wound cut deep. It’s dirty, too.” Onyinye quickly got down on her knees, helped me take off the goatskin that served as an upper garment.
“An arrow from one their archers…”
“You must’ve pulled its head off. Those evil men…” She frowned, soaked a small piece of cloth in a bowl half full with kwete.
I knew how much she hated our time in captivity. Those few moments we spent together talking about it, relishing the chance of freedom. Relishing the day it would come.
“Arrgh! That h—hurts!”
She smiled softly and dabbed the cloth on my wound again.
“We used a lot of kwete to clean the mother and her baby.” The undertone in Onyinye’s voice indicated that we’d soon be out of one of our very valued items.
“Then save the rest,” I replied. “We’ll have to find some medicinal leaves by sunrise.”
Onyinye disagreed. She poured the rest on my wound. I quivered in pain and cried out in between clenched teeth. Then she rubbed some oil on my face.
Moments later, she helped me rest my back against the wall.
“She has a beautiful baby.”
“Yes. It’s a girl. We think she should call her Irene.”
“Yes, after the great priestess, Irene.”
“That will be a significant thing to do. I feel for Nne. This is no favorable condition for a woman to give birth.”
“Yes. It was difficult and painful with the baby being her first. She’s really lost a lot of blood.”
I nodded, but could only imagine her situation.
Onyinye drew closer. She gently ran a finger down my chest. “You, my dear, have also lost some blood.”
The rain finally began. With it came hard, buffeting, and veering winds that gave the roof of the cellar a steady, wearing beating. Onyinye left my side, returned with raw plantain and palm oil. I took only a few bites. She laid her head on my laps thereafter. I played with her braided hair, and as she fell asleep, the corners of her mouth lifted in what was a gracious smile. In a few days from now, we would be joyful at last, knowing we made it to River Ota. This thought warmed my heart the most.
Munachi in Igbo means One with his God.