PS: My apologies for posting this installment a day late 🙂
Edited by: Darlene Jones
Dubem straightened up with a machete in his hand. He ran his eyes over the remaining weedy portion of land that was his to clear and with the back of his other hand, wiped away the sweat that had misted over his forehead. It usually took a brief moment for his arm muscles to regain the much needed vigour for work, but now, before that dynamism kicked in, a woman’s image flashed through his mind. A warm inviting smile. Arms held open to him. A body scantily clad in a wrapper.
Just thinking of her enkindled a strong feeling in him.
A desire to hold and cherish.
“No!” Dubem whipped his head widely from side to side.
The woman who’d given him this strangely sweet feeling was Okuoba.
Don’t beat yourself up over it. Your subconscious is getting things all mixed up. He blamed fate for causing this problem, for putting her in his path this afternoon—just as it had done on several occasions lately. By the gods, he had to admit that he didn’t only admire her. Something else had evolved. It feathered beneath his skin and made his heart flutter whenever she was around. Until now, he hadn’t looked upon her as someone he was attracted to, for he was just a teen plagued by the fresh memories of his family’s brutal killing. He was a young boy seeking survival as a servant in her father’s house.
Willing his body under control and doing his best to erase the thought of Okuoba from his mind, Dubem bent down to resume work. When he was about to raise the machete again, he thought he heard a shout from the east. A cry?
Okay, concentrate; there isn’t much to account for in the way of finished work.
There, he heard the sound again. Definitely a distressful female cry. Shooting up, he dropped the machete, and strode quickly towards the servants working in close proximity to him.
“Did you hear that?” he asked, pointing a finger in the direction of the perturbing cries.
The two females paused. Pegged their ears to the air. No sound.
Confused, they looked at each other before lifting their eyes to Dubem. “Nothing—what is it that you heard?”
“A cry…” he repeatedly stabbed his finger in the direction the sound had come from. “I think someone is in danger! We ha—”
The cry charged through the air once again.
Dubem’s first instinct was to run toward it and his legs responded without hesitation. Concern, the other fuel, combined with the blood that coursed through his veins. The earth awoke to the urgency, the rustling and crunch of dry grasses and leaves protesting underneath his feet.
“We’ll alert the others!” The women shouted.
Okuoba couldn’t believe it. Yet, it was happening to her.
She’d been lifted off the ground and held strongly against her will on the shoulder of a friend whom she ought to have feared more than an enemy. While she did her best to resist Ibeabuchi, her legs thrashing helplessly in the air and the sides of her fists driving hard into his back, he seemed to enjoy it all, laughing wickedly and taunting her to do more.
“Let me go! Let me go!” Okuoba cried. But her plea for release fell on deaf ears.
Balancing her body on his shoulder, Ibeabuchi left the footpath and veered into the bush. Okuoba stretched out her hands, trying to grasp the drooping tree branches along the way. She knew that if she held on to something strong or deeply rooted, this would at least impede Ibeabuchi’s movement. But he seemed to keep away from the trees.
She drew in air and shouted again, the loudest she could muster.
But there was no one in sight. Not even any one of her father’s servants.
“Please, Ibeabuchi … please, you have to let me go.” She could feel her voice wavering, tapering off to an indistinct mutter.
Plead; it was all she could do now. Horrific thoughts of being forced to submit or watching life seep out slowly from her brought tears to her eyes.
“Please, I beg you.”
“Shush! I want to take good care of you.”
“Just let me go.”
“Shut up!” Ibeabuchi snapped, throwing her down on the ground.
Rather than concern herself with the sharp bite of pain she felt raking her back, her mind raced through what Ibeabuchi could do next. Why Ibeabuchi decided to throw her down remained unsolved until she craned her neck to see Dubem running toward them.
“Let her go!” Dubem shouted.
Okuoba glanced at Ibeabuchi—he was visibly fuming, his face contorted out of shape as he narrowed his vision on the one arriving. Seizing the opportunity for an escape, she scampered on all fours away from him. She was too afraid to get up and run.
“Fly away, you half man!” Ibeabuchi gestured toward the sky in a fit of rage.
Dubem accessed the distance between his master’s daughter and her assailant. She was at least three feet away from danger in the flesh, the demon of a friend. “Let her go,” Dubem said in a calm, yet assertive manner.
Ibeabuchi reached behind his loincloth and pulled out a knife. Unsheathing it, he twisted it in his hand and stepped closer to Dubem. The afternoon sun stealing through the trees kissed its blade causing a halo over its sharp point.
“Let’s see how the earth will welcome your blood.” Saying this, he launched himself toward Dubem, who deflected the arm holding the knife. Both men fell to the grass-carpeted ground, rolled, and got up.
Poised for a fight, they both bent slightly at the waist, evaluating each other’s prowess, circling for an opening to attack. The circle got smaller when the other servants showed up.
“You know you have the chance to leave now.” Dubem said, with an intent to offer Ibeabuchi a way out.
Ibeabuchi swung the blade mid-air, but Dubem bent low and gripped the vengeful hand, elbowing him in the throat. The impact sent Ibeabuchi crashing to the ground. He squealed and reeled in pain, spitting out dirt and phlegm.
Cheers of joy and relief came from the servants. They rallied around Dubem, taking the knife into their custody. And just when Dubem wanted to turn to Okuoba, she ran into his arms and squeezed him tight.
Ibeabuchi recovered, rose to his feet, and wiped the dirt and spittle around his mouth with his back hand. He pointed to Dubem. “I’ll make you pay for this.”
He wanted to reach for Okuoba but a group of mean-faced servants stopped him. Leaving, he said to her, “They are your enemy. Not me. Not me, asa m.”
Part Ten||Part Eleven
Asa m — My beautiful one