ASOR STOPPED. SHE wanted to run out after her but felt it would be a bad idea. She’d wait for some minutes and let someone go for her. Perhaps her nephew Adjei. She remembered hitting Nuna and felt like a heel. Nothing could justify what had happened. A thought occurred to her. How would Nukunu feel knowing that she’d beaten up their firstborn? The little baby they hadn’t known she was carrying until she had had a sudden urge to urinate and after feeling some pains, gave birth to a baby. A welcome surprise to their new family. She shook her head sadly. What had she done?
Adjei looked around. Nuna was nowhere to be found. He looked up the main road but no one was there except for an old woman crossing the road holding a black pail. He suspected what the contents of the pail were but that wasn’t where his mind was right now.
He looked down the road, still nothing. He ran to the side of the house and still no sign of her. Where was she? He ran his hand on his hair. What now?
Asor felt tears well up but didn’t allow them to fall. If she gave in to them, she would be unable to do anything else. She saw Dela standing quietly staring at her and smiled but her youngest child turned away.
Dela was tired. She just wanted to sleep. She was scared her mother would beat her too but the lure of sleep was too high to worry about that. She opened the door and went to lie down by Fiko. She hoped Nuna was okay. That was her last thought before sleep stole her away.
Asor sat back down and faced Papa Adjei but his attention was elsewhere.
Adjei entered the compound at a run and told his father, “da, Nuna has run away.” His voice cracked at the end but he didn’t care. His future wife needed to be found.
Everyone bounded up onto their feet.
A mouse scurried on the leaves beneath a tree. It was unaware that a bat was timing it, ready to swoop in for the kill. The bat spread its wings and flew down like a bullet, its claws out but a sudden sound made it miss its prey as the mouse scampered off. The bat hovered in the air for a split second and flew off.
Nuna was just running, without conscious thought, without a destination in mind. The only thing she knew was that she had to run. Away from everything. A flash-thought of her mother hitting her made her nearly stumble. She righted herself and still ran. She could hear her feet on the hard land. She refocused and realized that she had run into the nearby forest. She was on the footpath that cuts through it to the nearby town. She knew that someone will chase after her. Maybe, Adjei and so she veered off the road, past an old baobab, and ran through the bushes.
Asor ran out and looked around. She had a thought and went to peep through her window. It was quite dark inside but the sofa was empty. Her eyes adjusted to the dark and she could see the silhouette of Fiko and Dela. For a minute, she’d thought Nuna had sneaked into the room through the window. She sighed and turned. What now?
Papa Adjei put his hand on Adjei’s shoulder. He was shocked to feel his son shivering underneath his palm. The boy seemed to be fighting tears.
“It’s all right son. We’ll find her.”
Adjei moved away to sit down on the bench as the adults discussed ways of finding Nuna. He was so worried about her but was getting tired of the whole thing. He hadn’t eaten since the afternoon too. He wondered if his dad had prepared something. He moved to the enapa coal pot and opened the pot on it. Just a little Jollof was left in it. Kanzo proper. He tested its hotness with two fingers but it was as cold as the underside of a frog. He put the pot on his lap without a care for its darkened undersides and started eating.
Asor came back into the compound, one determined step in front of the other. Nuna had to be found.
“Any luck?” Woedem asked.
“No, but she can’t have gone far. The problem is that if we go in one direction, we could end up missing her. Brother Adjei,” she turned towards him but didn’t see him wince at the name she called him. He didn’t want to be her brother. “Please, can you help me organize a search team? Please?”
“No problem…sis,” he nearly choked on the name. He called out to his brothers. “Woedem and Kwei, check the houses uphill. I’m sure she’s gone to that area but I’m not so sure, which is why I want Odartey and and Nii Moi to check down the road and all the houses around. Narteh and myself will check the bush and forest around.”
Asor turned towards him with horror on her face? “The forest at this time? Nuna will never go there!”
“Your daughter is hurting now. She can do anything at this point, just to compensate for how she’s feeling.”
She gave a sound of distress. “I can’t lose my husband and daughter in one night!”
Papa Adjei put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her close. Asor had never liked physical contact from any man apart from her Nukunu and so pulled away. If she’d stayed under his arm, the others would have looked at them askance. Papa Adjei shook his head angry at himself for holding her. What was he thinking? This was not the time to show his preference for her in front of his family.
Amerley had been standing by the porch all this while staring at proceedings. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have joined them at the bench but she’d felt like an outsider.
Narteh had always told her not to involve herself in his family business. She was supposed to sweep the compound and scrub the bathhouse whenever it got to her turn. If his mother who had traveled needed help with something in the kitchen, including fetching of water, she was supposed to do so but wasn’t to get near his siblings.
“I don’t want anyone to know my business,” he’d told her.
It had made his siblings think that she was anti-social but she wasn’t that at all. Their brother had made her so. There were times like these that she wished she was closer to them. That she could easily go to Asor to assure her that everything will be fine but she knew her husband will hate it.
Or would he? If only she could find Nuna and bring her, everyone will see her as the shero. Her husband will then talk to her and his siblings will hail her. She went back to the room. It was time to put her plan into motion.
Adjei finished eating and went to wash his hand. He was so tired yet so worried about Nuna. Where was his woman? Was she safe wherever she was? He sat down on the porch and leaned his head against the wall. He hoped she was fine. That was his final thought before he fell into a deep sleep right there.
Nuna was still running. She felt a branch hit her neck. She brushed at the wound left and stumbled. She couldn’t stop herself as she fell flat on her stomach. It was so painful that her loud cry awakened some birds and made them chirp angrily. She curled up into a ball and burst into tears.
Asor was trying not to think about which part of the day’s events was her fault but it wasn’t working. The ‘what ifs’ were preventing her from thinking about anything else.
What if she hadn’t gone to the hospital?
What if she’d stayed till her husband had come home before leaving?
What if she hadn’t beaten Nuna up?
She was getting a migraine. One that wouldn’t go away anytime soon. At least until she was sure her daughter was okay. She reached the outside door and stopped. She had other kids.
Papa Adjei saw his son fast asleep on the porch and stood still for a moment. He didn’t know what had made him run from the room after the cursed child had come to call him but he was glad he had. He had helped the girl a bit. He walked towards him.
“Adjei. Adjei.” It took several calls and pats to wake him up.
“Go inside and sleep.”
“Yes da.” Adjei drowsily got up and opened the door. He turned to stare into the eyes of his dad and entered the room. He spared a thought for his future wife and hoped she was okay. He was just going to sleep for a little bit and join in the search. He wanted to see…his brain shut down even before his head hit his pallet.
On the pallets close to his were the sleeping bodies of his brothers, oblivious to what had happened over the past couple of hours.
Asor opened the sieved door and for a second wished she would see the silhouette of her husband as he lay fast asleep on the bed. Anytime she took a late bath, she would enter to find him with the TV off and lay down on the bed, waiting for her. They would sleep in each other’s arms and wait to hear the even breaths of their kids before they would pull a cloth over themselves and get into the business of bedmatics.
She sighed sadly and walked into the room. She looked down at Fiko and Dela. She couldn’t see them clearly but knew one thing that if she didn’t find their sister, they would be doubly traumatized. She sighed again and left the room.
In a dream, Dela saw herself standing underneath a tree staring at Nuna. Her sister was crying. Dela wanted to walk to her but she felt rooted to the spot. She couldn’t move her feet. She looked down at them and was horrified. Both were club feet! She cried, “Nuna!” but her sister didn’t hear her.
Still fast asleep, Dela tossed and hit Fiko on the head. He only turned his head, still deeply asleep.
Narteh was standing quietly staring at Woedem. He’d noticed how Papa Adjei had kept looking in his direction. He had never been close with his half-brothers since his dad had married their mother without telling his mum. Coming home from the farm one day to meet two noisy kids hadn’t been his idea of a “great surprise” like his dad had put it. His brothers had tried to be friends with him and the others. His older brothers had taken to them but he hadn’t. He had been last baby until they arrived.
“Woedem,” he called out. His brother turned to stare at him from under his brows. “Is everything okay?”
“It is not,” Woedem said on a sigh.
He rubbed a palm across his forehead and dropped it. He turned to look in the direction of Papa Adjei. It was time to go on the Nuna search. He turned to Narteh, nodded, and left.
Nuna stopped mid-sob. What was that? She looked around her but could only see dark shadows and nothing else. There was so much noise around her. Sounds louder than crickets. Shrill cries from birds and the muted sounds of other animals she couldn’t distinguish. The little light available had completely vanished. She looked up and stared at what looked like rain clouds. Great. Just great. What she needed…rain. She snorted.
She stood up and hit her head on a low branch.
“Ajeee,” she said involuntarily.
A startled animal quickly scuttled into a nearby bush making her jump in her skin. What was that? A rat?
She thought, what if it was a snake? A poisonous one? She remembered her uncle Woedem telling her that there were no poisonous snakes in the bushes except for the green ones which didn’t bite. She remembered a movie she watched where the spirits turned into snakes and shivered. What if a spirit in this forest turned into a snake and bit her? She was growing scared by the minute. She wanted to go home. She looked around but couldn’t see the path. She turned in the direction she ran from. She took a few steps forward and stopped. All she could see in the dark were trees. Some so close that she didn’t know if she’d ran from between them or others.
She couldn’t stop the cry of distress that escaped from her lips. She was lost in the forest on a dark night with no light and anyone around. She wanted to scream out loud but was scared spirits will come after her. She walked backward till her back hit a tree and sat down. She was in trouble.
TO BE CONTINUED…