Onu stayed awake deep into the night because her worries wouldn’t let her fall asleep. Even though she knew Afam had been through more dangerous battles, she feared for his life no differently. He always promised her to return and she had come to believe that it was his will to keep that promise that had kept him alive for all these years. However, after some hours Onu’s eyes grew red and weak. Before she realised just how weak she was, sleep carried her with the fire still burning in the hut.
Afam ran through the bushes anticipating another attack. He kept looking over his shoulders, peering at treetops in the darkness, listening for snapping twigs even though he doubted ogbnmas would make a sound when attacking. When he emerged from the bush no one had attempted an attack on his life. There were streaks of brighter blue in the sky. The day was breaking, time was running out.
Afam made his way to the hut making a mental list of things to take with him. He was unarmed apart from the machete he had obtained from the man who had almost killed him. He didn’t have to bother with food and water. Aboh had rivers everywhere; Pontu, Okili, even Oshimili (the river with no end) ran past Aboh; there was always water. As for food, he would hunt bush rabbits, fowls, and whatever else he could get. The main reason for his return was to say goodbye to his mother. He also wanted to let her know that he had forgiven her, and that he was sorry for the anger he showed earlier.
When the hut was in sight, he quickened his pace. A feeling of leaving home seized him, a feeling of loss. This was possibly the last time he would ever lay eyes on this place. After this morning the bamboo-fenced hut would no longer be his home. The evening fire was still burning so Afam guessed his mother was awake. He wondered if she had slept at all through the night.
It came without warning and it took him by surprise. He felt something ram into his throat and when he tried to shout for help, nothing happened. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make a sound. Afam gasped desperately for air to fill his collapsing lungs. His eyes bulged and he feared suffocation. Before he could recover his voice he felt his vision blur. No, this couldn’t be happening. And then it hit him: this was it. He was going down. As he fell to the ground, his head throbbing in pain, he felt so hopeless he thought his lack of will to live would kill him before whatever just hit him did. The fall was fast and hard but it felt like an eternity to Afam. Before his face touched the earth, he swam in thoughts of so many things that troubled his mind. Was he going to die tonight and would Adaobi go on to get married to Dike? Could Onu somehow feel the pain he was going through? Wasn’t there supposed to be some form of mother and child bond that would tell her to run out of the hut to see him here? Even if it was for one last time? The final clear image Afam took with him was that of the hut with the dancing flames of the dying firelight.
The moment he hit the ground he felt someone ram a foot into his stomach. An intense pain shot through his entire body, forcing his eyes shut. As he tried to struggle for every bit of life and awareness he could grab onto, the torture only became worse. Clubs rained down so many times Afam lost count as he covered his head to protect his skull. He cursed himself for not seeing this coming. The moment he laid his eyes on the hut he got so excited he lost his concentration and let his guard down. He should have heard them approaching. Even better, he should have spotted them from a distance. This was his home. He knew every corner around here, open and hidden. Even in the darkness he could tell what was out of the ordinary. But today there was too much on his mind it blinded his eyes. And he was now paying dearly for this.
Afam soon realised that there was no miracle on the way to save him. The fire burned in the hut but his mother wasn’t coming out. She was asleep. It was when Afam came to realise this that he realistically weighed his chances of survival. He wasn’t even thinking about escape. He just wanted to live after this beating. The clubs had drained all the strength from his body and his muscles were so numb he couldn’t feel them at all. His entire body felt like one big lump of pain.
The question he asked himself now that he felt so close to the end was why they were taking so much time to kill him. For a second Afam thought it was the other ogbunmas taking revenge for their brother he had killed in the bush. But how were they supposed to have discovered the body and returned in time to set a trap like this for him? And even if they somehow managed to get around that, this was not in their pattern. Men who used clubs hoped not to kill but to steal. This was the thought that spelt out Afam’s destiny for him and he wished it wasn’t a club that pounded him, but a machete that could make his death quick and his life less painful. These men were not here to kill him. They were here to kidnap him. Onwa would not want to murder him in Aboh. It would take too much time to dispose of his body and conceal any evidence like blood trails. Kidnapping him was the easier option here. No one would ever find his body so they would never know what exactly happened to him. Afam remembered Adaobi telling him that with the help of locals the oyibo sometimes raided villages and stole people who would become orus. He tried to think of the great evil he had perpetuated to make him deserve a fate this atrocious. He had had a bad enough start in life, not in his wildest dreams did he believe that it could get any worse.
The thoughts of all the misfortune that had befell him from the day he was born crowded Afam’s mind. It bred so much anger and rage in him that he cursed the gods for bringing him into this world. If this was life, then he’d rather be dead. Afam didn’t feel the pain of the clubs and feet that didn’t relent from beating and stomping him. His anger and rage dulled his senses, but he didn’t have near enough strength to stand, much less fight. He gave up on fighting to stay awake and in his weakness he fainted, to feel nothing at all.
When Afam fell into unconsciousness it pained him to know that he would never know the men who did this to him. For the best part of the attack he shielded his face with his hands and he kept his eyes shut tight in agony. They certainly weren’t oyibo. Oyibo never did his dirty work himself. Instead he hired a native to do it. These were things Adaobi had taught him about them. At the time he refused to believe all of it. Now he did not need to have any faith in her words for he was experiencing the truth for himself.
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