PART TWENTY-TWO (I)
Edited by: Darlene Jones
Standing by the entrance to the hut, Ekwutosilim clapped twice.
She bent slightly, pushed aside the antelope skin that served as the door, and found the hut semidark, the only light—the flickering rays of the pale evening sun—coming through the window. This admirer was her first, which by all means was a pleasant surprise, but when the messenger—entrusted with the gift of cowries and words of his affection for her—had told her to meet this man on the outskirts of Ngwo, she’d come close to saying no. She knew about this solitary palm leaf-roofed hut that looked uninhabited. She’d heard stories—some creepy—about this part of the village. This was only her third time being here and she dreaded spending even a moment more while battling with her indecisiveness. The last time she’d been here, she and her fellow servants had stopped by from the river to pick sweetfruits strewn around the udala trees in the area only to be pursued by a wild boar.
“Come inside. You just can’t stand over there.”
What was wrong with this man’s voice? He sounded like he had a cold or something worse.
An odd feeling shuddered through her as she entered the hut, allowing the hide of a door to hang freely behind her. Inside the hut was cool. Either the trees around provided enough protective covering or that the ceiling wasn’t as low as one would expect while looking at the hut from outside.
“Can I light a fire?” she asked.
“Not now,” he said in that same strange, husky tone.
“Okay.” Her guts warned her that something wasn’t quite right about this man, but then again she’d felt this way before. Ichie Azuuzu, the man who deprived her of her virginity, had lately acted in an unusual manner when in need of her. A buck was a buck, after all. “Ten cowries. That’s a generous gift for someone like me. I am … overwhelmed.”
“Good thing you also agreed to come.”
“It wasn’t that easy.”
“I think you should know this: you’re very special … a path to bliss.”
A path to bliss? What did he mean by that?
“Nee*, I’m only a servant girl. You must have mistaken me for some maiden about to participate in the upcoming Mputa Ezi ritual.”
He chuckled. She caught a glimpse of his frame as he began walking toward her. When he stepped behind her back, he said: “Take this and wear it around your neck. It now belongs to you.”
Ekwutosilim turned around. Though she had yet to make out his face, finding out what the piece was temporarily overrode her need to determine his identity. The weak rays of light lingered on his outstretched arm. She felt around it until her hand encountered a string of some sort. Taking it, she walked over to the window, held it up and saw it was a necklace of wooden beads. Crimson and beautiful.
As she fingered the necklace, she watched the shadow in the corner of the hut and knew he was staring at her.
She could feel his gaze raking over her, as if he was caressing her.
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(*) Nee = Look