Opening the Cage for the Broken Wings
The lights sped by, and though I had the heat on high, I cracked the window because I knew the memories would come flooding. And it was in this moment that I realized that after months of apologizing to everyone for everything you had made me into, I had forgotten to thank you. Because with the heat pouring in simultaneously with the night flurries I remembered that though I never said that I loved you, that one night you kissed my forehead and told me you had a heart full of me. And as the winter night and the hot air pumping from the vents hit me all at once I thought what it must have been like for you to swear that that was all a lie. And in this moment I realized that you hadn’t made me into something. You had broken me so that when my wings healed they would beat harder. And in this moment I realized that I might always be healing and broken, but at least now I was free.
Danger was her name
passion was her game.
Her nights were like grand hotels
where the rooms
were always available
to the men she loved
and loved well.
Drips of passion awakening lust
moist mouths and pink tongues
fingers touching, bodies wet
entwined like twisted ropes
of lustful body parts and pieces
no beginning, no end, everlasting.
The greed, the thirst, the yearning
the price was never too much
gifts freely given for her beauty.
But the cost they would pay
unbeknownst to feckless men
was the loss of their lives
for when she was through
she smiled as she bit
with pearly white teeth
necks offered in fervor
carotid artery exposed.
Blood flowed on sheets
and once again
were always available.
a mother’s love
my dear children
the loves of my life
i do not have a lot to give this Christmas
for it has been the toughest year
but i will give you this
my warm arms
to make you feel safe and secure
my strong hands
to make you delicious food
and nurture your little belly's
my loving heart
that sees all of the good in you
my soft words
to reassure you that everything will be alright
i do not have a lot to give this Christmas
but i do give you
all of my
Flour Sack Flowers
The paper-thin slices of carrot cake did nothing to quell the hunger gnawing at every guest’s stomach. Nevertheless, the little white church, situated right in the middle of an Ohio corn field, was full of laughter and love. With their hands entwined and their families and friends around them, Elizabeth and James didn’t care that they did not have a single penny saved or even curtains on the windows of their tiny house. No, they had each other, and that was more than enough.
Months later, when the baby started growing inside her and James started working longer at the automotive factory for less and less pay, big-dreamer Elizabeth began to detest the bare walls of their modest home.
“I wish I had a palace for my family to live in,” she thought wistfully, picturing a storybook castle. “It would have rooms upon rooms of beautiful furniture and fancy decorations.”
But buying ritzy fabrics was just a dream when affording two bags of flour a week was living in luxury.
The fresh bride eyed the half-empty sack laying on the kitchen counter. The blue, flowered fabric wasn’t silk or brocade, but it would be more than enough.
Several months later, Elizabeth struggled to work the pedal of the Singer sewing machine while simultaneously feeding the coarse cotton through the presser foot. Her swollen belly proved a constant obstacle. But the persistent mama-to-be was tired of undecorated windows. Soon enough, she had blue flowered curtains proudly fluttering in the breeze.
James arrived late that night, eyes drooping and dirt smeared across his brow. His lips quirked into a smile as soon as he noticed the brand-new additions to his home.
“Well, you’ve been busy, haven’t you, darling?” he exclaimed, pressing a feather-light kiss to his wife’s temple. He gestured to the scraps of flour sack in a neat pile on the table. “You even have enough left to make yourself something special!”
Elizabeth spent the next day stitching together the leftover cotton into an apron. She tied it proudly around her waist, struggling to knot the ties herself, before scraping together carefully rationed butter and the garden’s first strawberries of the year into a simple pie. It was the first pie of hundreds she would bake in the trusty floral smock.
Joy watched Nana’s knobbly hands grip the wooden rolling pin and push the dough thinner and thinner against the counter. When she had rotated, rolled, rotated, rolled enough times to form a wide circle, she set down the pin with a clunk and brushed her hands on her apron, dotted with cornflower blue daisies.
“There,” she declared proudly, smiling at her granddaughter. “Pumpkin, can you get the pie plate for me?”
For eight-year-old Joy, climbing up the white metal step-stool to reach the cabinet and delicately balancing the ceramic dish was one of the biggest responsibilities she ever had. The little girl treated it as such, slowly gliding over the tile floor to her awaiting grandmother.
“Perfect.” Nana took the dish and carefully covered it with the pastry dough. The small girl gazed in awe as leftover bits of dough were expertly trimmed away from the rim, Nana’s skilled fingers quickly pressing ruffles into the top edges of crust.
Standing on tiptoe, Joy grabbed the rolling pin off the counter and held it reverently in her palms. “Why does it take so long to make pie, Nana? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just go to the supermarket and pick one up, like Mama does?”
The older woman let out a long, hearty chuckle, continuing the pattern of making ridges in the dough. “It would be easier, but not nearly as satisfying. A good pie is made with love, and that takes time. You can’t rush these things. If you don’t roll the dough enough, you won’t have enough to cover your pie pan.”
“And then you wouldn’t have enough crust for pie!” Joy gasped, horrified.
“But, if you roll the dough too much, it will be too fragile and will rip when you try to move it.” Nana finished fluting the crust and gathered the scraps together, pressing them between her palms to make a small ball.
“Come here,” she said, untying the apron from around her waist. She dropped the floral garment over the smaller girl’s head and looped the ties around her torso twice before tying it secure. “Let’s give it a try.”
Joy awkwardly pushed the pin against the dough, barely smashing the ball. She tried a few more times. Her handiwork looked nothing like Nana’s smooth crust.
“All you need is a little more pressure, that’s all.”’ Nana placed her hands on top of her granddaughter’s and pushed the pin back and forth, back and forth until the dough flattened into a small circle. “See? Not so hard after all.”
Nana ducked down and rummaged in a drawer, her gray curls spilling out of her bun. She straightened back up with a groan, a miniature pie pan in her hand. “We can make a second one, just for you,” she said with a grin. “Just don’t tell that Mama of yours I let you eat it all.”
Joy couldn’t fight the lump rising in her throat as she watched her peers, all clad in billowy white gowns, march triumphantly off the stage into the waiting arms of their beaming parents and grandparents. Mimi and Papaw, Dad’s parents, couldn’t afford the flight from Florida, Mama’s dad died in World War II when she was just a girl, and Nana… Well, Joy couldn’t think of Nana without a tear trickling down her cheek. She brushed it off with the back of her palm and adjusted the square cap poised atop her teased locks.
Her plastered-on smile lasted all the way through her graduation party. Once the last cousin had been rounded up and sent off with an exhausted Aunt Millie, Joy and her parents let out a collective sigh.
“I’m glad I only have to do that once,” the new graduate quipped, kicking off her towering pumps.
Mama delivered a towering slice of store-bought cake with a bone-crunching hug. “I’m so proud of you, hon. I have one last gift for you, up in your room.”
Mama winked mischievously. Joy dashed up the stairs and into her bedroom, discovering a foil-wrapped, square package sitting on her bed. She removed the paper gingerly, taking off the tape first like Nana always did. “Waste not, want not,” she had said.
Joy held her breath as she opened the cardboard box and pulled out a familiar floral smock. The tears that had been threatening to spill all day flowed down her cheeks and onto the apron as she held it tight to her chest.
“I wish you were here, Nana,” she whispered, squeezing the cotton like she wished she could squeeze her grandmother one more time. She always thought that there would be one more time, but the leukemia had other ideas. “If you were, we wouldn’t have had store-bought cake.”
As the community’s favorite budding baker, Joy didn’t leave the house to go to a social function without the well-loved apron. Whether it was a church potluck or a cookout with friends, she could count on being called on to whip up a batch of cookies or a pan of brownies.
That’s why she had it stored with her toiletries and pajamas in her duffel bag on her passenger side seat on the way to her best friend’s house for a sleepover… and why she was so devastated when she returned to her car after a quick stop for dinner to find her bag missing.
Missy dashed along the sidewalk in the shadowy evening, the hot pink bag slapping against her shoulder as her feet thumped against the pavement. She reached the shelter out-of-breath and tucked her find under her jacket so that the leering men in the lobby wouldn’t force her to turn over her spoils.
Back in the safety of the women’s quarters, Missy dumped the contents of the bag onto her cot. The clothes looked like they would fit well enough. She scoffed at the hairspray, the days when she would spend hours primping in front of her vanity a hazy memory. The bag didn’t hold any baby clothes, but the new mother knew that hope had been too optimistic anyway. She cast a glance at the cardboard box holding her slumbering son: the best crib the shelter could provide.
Taking a flowered apron from the tangle of clothes and cosmetics, she swaddled her child in the cotton fabric as best as she could. Only three months old, Henry just seemed so fragile. She was sure she was going to break him. She never did anything right. Mother and Father thought so, too: they told her as much, seconds before they slammed their front door in her face, leaving her in the cold Ohio winter, pregnant and alone.
As she gently placed the bundled babe back into the makeshift crib, her eye caught on a fluttering advertisement tacked on the “Jobs and Opportunities” board strategically placed to remind the women in the cramped room that the free roof over their heads was designed to be a temporary one. “Try your hand at culinary school,” the poster read, bearing a picture of a rotund, mustached man displaying a plate of spaghetti. “Free night classes offered weekly.”
Missy placed a chaste kiss on Henry’s forehead before climbing under the threadbare covers on her cot. She dreamed of homemade pasta and another life, one with no worries of where the next meal would come from or of letting others down. She dreamed of Paris and London and finding a love who would never leave her. She dreamed.
With Henry settled in at Brown University, on a full ride nonetheless, Missy finally allowed herself to travel the world. For eighteen years, she had done everything from bussing tables, scrubbing dishes, and managing dramatic, hormonal teenage drive-through workers to catering for upscale weddings-- all to give Henry a roof over his head and a chance to succeed. And succeed he had. It was time for Missy to live her own dreams.
She packed up her belongings and left everything but a single suitcase in a storage unit before boarding a one-way flight to Europe. Just one cardboard box remained in the apartment, forgotten in a dusty corner of a closet.
The new tenant, a twenty-two year old entrepreneur who was determined to be the Midwest’s next multi-billionaire, discovered the disintegrating box when he was hanging up his suits. He barely glanced at the cookbooks and dirty apron inside before tossing the contents into a plastic bag, to be delivered to the neighborhood Goodwill the next day.
The apron, flowers now a faded shadow of the original bright blue, hung on a wire hanger between a black smock emblazoned with the peeling words “Grill Master” and stained with barbecue and a frilly child’s pinafore for six months. Mrs. Moore didn’t look at it twice as she pulled it off the rack and tossed it into her cart.
When Mrs. Moore had volunteered to be Drama Mama for her daughter’s school play, she had expected that the other mothers on the costume committee would actually sew the dozens of aprons the middle-schoolers-turned-villagers needed. Instead, the dozen women sat around the lunch room and gossipped about gym memberships and who was having an affair with whom and which kid was going to get a scholarship to Harvard. Mrs. Moore had sewed all of six pinafores herself before calling it quits and heading to the thrift store.
The thirteen-year-old girls were ruthless as they fought over the handmade aprons. Susie even left a long scratch on Amy’s arm as she snatched a hot pink paisley smock out of the other girl’s hands.
“This matches with my complexion,” the blonde, ringletted girl snipped, clutching the bright fabric to her Aeropostale t-shirt defensively. “Plus, I don’t think it would fit you anyway.”
Susie and her possy snickered as they skipped backstage, brand-new aprons in their hands. The other girls grumbled as they sifted through the pile of second-hand costume pieces. Amy hung back, nursing the angry red mark on her arm as the words “You’re too fat. You’re unwanted. You’re worthless” screamed in her mind. She heard them every day at home and in the hallways, so it was only a matter of time until they crept into the theater, too.
Once the rest of the cast had disappeared into the changing room, Amy trudged to the basket and pulled out the remaining apron. She was surprised at how pretty it was: vintage floral print, a gentle blue that matched her eyes. It was soft, too, she noticed as she slipped it over her head and knotted the ties around her back: no need to worry that it wouldn’t zip, like all of the itty-bitty dresses in the costume closet.
“Well, aren’t you the prettiest villager our stage has ever seen!” Mrs. Moore quipped proudly, picking up candy wrappers and empty soda bottles the students had left strewn backstage.
Amy’s cheeks colored. “You’re just saying that because you’re the Drama Mama.”
The older woman placed her hands on the tween’s shoulders and squeezed, smiling down at her. “I’m saying that because I mean it. When that curtain opens, it’s your time to shine.”
On opening night, Susie let every other middle schooler in the cast know that she had both sets of grandparents attending in the front row and that no less than thirty-four adoring classmates had sent her flowers. Amy didn’t have a single person supporting her in the crowd and her hopefully-brought vase remained empty, but she confidently strode out on stage nevertheless. The limelight may have washed out the faded flowers on her costume, but it made her smile gleam all the brighter.
Lizzie slid her fingertips along the various dresses, suit jackets, and sweaters crammed into the small costume closet, the only space the school designated for the drama department. Letting out a sigh, she took several renaissance-style dresses off their hangers and tossed them into a blue plastic bin. The wrestling team apparently needed the room to store their practice mats, so all of the costumes and prop pieces needed to be transferred to storage boxes and stowed under the stage. If Lizzie had known that the previous director had quit because the administration “just didn’t have any appreciation for the arts anymore,” the new teacher wouldn’t have been quite so eager to take on the theatre program. Especially if she would have anticipated the hours spent condensing the decades-old collection of assorted stage paraphernalia.
The exhausted woman tucked a curl behind her ear as she tossed a few more garments into the bin. As she went to stuff a tulle 80’s prom dress on top, a piece of floral fabric caught her eye.
“What do we have here?” she whispered to herself, tugging on the cotton. She held the blue-and-white apron in her hands for a few moments, tracing the fraying edges and makeup-stained bib. It was practically falling apart, but it was more than enough.
“Well, you’ve seen a long life, but I know just what I want to do with you,” she told it gleefully before shoving it into her purse. Her stomach knotted, slightly guilty and yet thrilled at her small act of theft.
Lizzie disappeared to the basement craft room as soon as she got home, She googled detailed quilting instructions and worked well into the night hunched over her sewing machine. Four cups of coffee, three pricked fingers, and two troubleshooting Youtube videos later, Lizzie proudly possessed a patchwork pillow made from the apron’s fabric.
“I can’t wait to give this to Mama,” she thought to herself, hugging the repurposed flowers to her chest. “They match great-grandma’s curtains perfectly.”
Lizzie could picture her mom’s eyes twinkle, the words of thankfulness that would pour from her too-kind mouth when she received her handmade gift. And maybe, just maybe, she thought, Mama would make the family recipe strawberry pie in return.
Mayowa stood at the front porch of their one storey building caressing her protruding tummy. She smiled as the cool breeze blew her hair making her feel relaxed and strengthened. It was evening and everywhere was cool. The sky was grayish in colour. It looked like there would be a downpour. Mayowa thought it would be great if it rained since the weather had been very hot and sunny lately. A downpour would chill the whole of the town but there was a dark cloud rolling in from the east, Mayowa wondered why.
Mayowa watched the security man as he sat on a bench in front of his one room apartment built inside the compound by the side of the gate, listening to a radio. He placed the radio on his ear with one hand while he folded the other. As Mayowa watched, she recalled how she had cajoled her husband into employing Mallam Jauro, a Hausa man from northern Nigeria, to guard their house due to the recent armed robberies going on in town.
Mayowa walked slowly to the chairs that were arranged under the thatch roof with a round table at the middle. She sat on one of the chairs, still caressing her tummy. Finally she was having a baby. She had been married for two years without an issue. She had ran series of tests to find out if something was wrong somewhere, but all proved negative. In Nigeria, It was expected that newly wedded couples gave birth to a child during the first year of their marriage. This contributed to Mayowa's worries. Her husband had gone for checkup also but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with them. People had begun to gossip about them.
Mayowa had been so worried as she turned to God, praying and fasting most of the time. There was no programme in church she missed. She prayed that God should turn her misery to joy just like he did for Hannah, Sarah and Elizabeth in the Bible. God had finally heard her cries and had blessed her with a child. Come to think of it, she had also been blessed with a wonderful husband and family. Over the past two years, her husband, Tobiloba had been very supportive. He encouraged her when her faith was waning. Even her mother in-law had been so loving and kind despite the fact that Tobiloba was her only child. She never insulted or made life unbearable for Mayowa. Every moment she spent with the family, she had always encouraged Mayowa and prayed for her.
Mayowa was thankful for such mother in-law. She had often watched various movies of wicked mother in-laws who made life very miserable for their daughter in-laws. She had prayed she wouldn’t encounter such mother in-law and God had heard her prayers.
Mayowa looked down at her tummy and smiled again. It was nine months already and in any moment, her baby would be born. The doctor had given her an expected date which was next week. She couldn’t wait to deliver her baby.
Just then, she heard the honking of her husband’s car. She stood up gently as she watched him drive in. She walked to the car as he got out and wrapped his arms around her. He placed a kiss on her forehead and then bent to place a kiss on her tummy making her giggle.
“How is my lovely wife and child doing?” He smiled at her.
“Not so well without you.” She kissed him on the lips. “I missed you.”
“I missed you more. I couldn’t stop thinking about you in the office. I’m so glad to be home.” Tobiloba replied as he supported her into the house.
Mama Doyin had already prepared dinner. She was setting the table when they walked in.
“Ah mamii, you could have called me.” Mayowa rushed to her mother in-law. Mama Doyin had packed her bags into the house the moment she heard Mayowa was pregnant. She said she didn’t want Mayowa to stress herself.
“My daughter, go and sit down. Do you want to stress yourself and the baby? I’m still very strong even though I’m a sixty years old widow. I haven’t forgotten how to help around with chores. So don’t worry.”
“Mamii, good evening!” Tobiloba greeted.
“Ah! My sweet son. Welcome! Tell your wife about your strong mother. Tell her how I used to cut firewood from the forest and carry them on my head. Tell her how I used to fetch water from a long distance so she’d stop worrying.”
“Ah! Don’t try Mamii o! Mamii is still very strong.” Tobiloba exclaimed amusingly as they all laughed.
After Tobiloba had taken his bath, he joined his mother and wife in the dining where a sumptuous meal of Amala with efo riro was served. As they ate, Tobiloba began,
“I have something important to announce.”
Mayowa and Mama Doyin stared at themselves before staring back at him.
“We’re listening.” Mayowa informed.
Tobiloba shifted uncomfortably on his seat. “I’ve been selected with some other staffs to travel to Abuja for a business deal. I tried to reject the offer. I told them my wife would soon give birth to a child any moment from now. They promised it’s just for three days and I’ve got to go.”
“Is that why you were doing your face like cold fufu?” Mama Doyin asked. “I’m here. I’ll take care of your wife. Mr worry worry. Go about your business and stop worrying.”
Mayowa chuckled as Mama Doyin said that. “Honey, I’m fine. Stop worrying like Mamii said. What harm would three days do? Come on!”
“I don’t like leaving you alone especially in this condition.”
“Honey, you’re not leaving me alone. Mamii is here.”
“Help me remind him o.” Mama Doyin cut in.
Tobiloba rolled his eyes at his mother and everyone fell into fits of giggles.
“Over protective husband!” Mama Doyin pronounced.
The next morning, Mayowa and Mama Doyin drove Tobiloba to the airport where his colleagues were waiting. Mama Doyin had insisted on driving. She always wanted to show that she was still strong and bubbling like a youth and truly she was. The flight was scheduled for 8 am. They got to the airport some minutes earlier. Tobiloba’s colleagues were already there. When they were due to leave, Tobi pulled his mother and wife into a fierce embrace. He then planted a kiss on Mayowa’s lips then bent to offer one to the baby. Mayowa giggled when he did that.
“Mamii, take care of Mayowa and the baby.” He whispered to his mother.
“I’ve heard you. You’ve been repeating the same thing since yesterday, so don’t worry, I’ll do as you said.” Mama Doyin told him.
Mayowa and Mama Doyin watched as Tobi got into the aeroplane well painted in white with description of the company’s name at the rear end. They kept waving and waving till they lost sight of the aeroplane. Mama Doyin patted Mayowa at the back.
“It’s okay, my dear. He will soon be back.” She wiped the tears from Mayowa’s face.
They got into the car and drove back home. Mama Doyin prepared a meal of ogi and akara. She refused any help Mayowa offered instead she asked Mayowa to lie down and wait for the meal to be ready.
“Mamii, with the way you’re pampering me, I might just become another baby.” Mayowa had teased.
The day passed on with Mayowa and her mother in-law seeing a movie on digital television since there was nothing to do. That night, they chatted with Tobi on Skype and they all fell asleep with broad smiles on their faces.
Mama Doyin was awoken by the moans of Mayowa. Mama Doyin knew instantly that the baby was coming. She quickly tied her wrapper and rushed Mayowa to the hospital. Almost getting to the hospital, Mayowa’s water broke. Immediately they got to the hospital, the nurses carried Mayowa on a stretcher into the labour room.
Mama Doyin was asked to wait at the waiting room while Mayowa delivered. She picked up her phone and called all the relatives that lived near by. She also informed Mr and Mrs Olayemi, Mayowa’s parents. In an hour, the waiting room was filled with relatives.
“Have she delivered yet?” Mrs Olayemi asked the moment she came in with her husband. Dupe, Mayowa’s sister was around with her family. Also, Tubosun, Mayowa’s brother.
They waited in anxiety for the cry of a baby and they finally heard it. There were shouts of joy as everyone cheered. Just then, the doctor walked out of the labour room with a furrowed brow. The troop ran to him.
“How’s the baby doctor?”
“Is it a baby boy or baby girl doctor?”
“How’s is Mayowa doctor?”
Those questions were thrown at him. The doctor stared at them and sighed. “The baby is fine. Can I speak with the husband of the patient?”
“He’s not around. He’s on a business trip in Abuja. What is it?” Mama Doyin asked.
“You’re the father of the patient right? Follow me to my office!” He pointed to Mr Olayemi.
The rest stared at themselves in shock as they watched the doctor walk away with Mr Olayemi. The doctor’s office was well furnished. There was a huge mahogany desk in the office with two chairs apart from the doctor’s chair. There were many files on the desk, both old and new. There was a small cupboard by the side of the desk whose key holes were already spoilt. The doctor ushered Mr Olayemi to sit.
“Congratulations Sir! Your daughter had given birth to a bouncing baby girl.”
Mr Olayemi heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh! And you scared me doctor.” He smiled. “Thank you!”
The doctor nodded, “The nurses are cleaning the baby up.”
“That’s very nice. so what about Mayowa? How’s she?”
Doctor Yinka drew his spectacles down to rest on his nose. “I’m sorry to say but she didn’t make it. She had uterine rupture due to weak uterine muscles, as well as excessive pushing during labour. I’m so sorry but the baby is fine.”
Mr Olayemi stood up immediately, his hands on his head. He let out a little shriek and shook his head.
“Take it easy sir. You’re a man.”
“This can’t be true, doctor. Tell me it isn’t true!”
“I wish i could say so but...”
“Oh God. Oh my poor Mayowa. Oh my baby. Oh!” Mr Olayemi sat on the floor and bent his head. Tears dropped profusely from his eyes.
Just then, the door flung opened and Mama Doyin with Mayowa’s family flooded in. They all had a worried look on their faces.
“We were tired of waiting and thought we’d have a cardiac arrest if we kept waiting for you two, so we came in. What’s going on? Is anything wrong with the baby and Mayowa?” Mama Doyin questioned.
“You shouldn’t have...”
“Doctor, please answer the question and daddy, why are you sitting on the floor? What is it?” Tubosun cut in.
“Mayowa is dead!” Mr Olayemi pronounced.
“What!” They screamed and Mrs Olayemi fainted.
★ ★ ★
They all surrounded the baby who was sleeping peacefully in an infant bed. They had earlier gone to see Mayowa’s corpse. Her eyelids were closed and her lips pale. Mrs Olayemi had cried her eyes out as she refused to leave the corpse. Mama Doyin stood at a corner shedding tears as she watched Mayowa lay lifeless on the bed. They had all wept bitterly as the nurses covered Mayowa with a white cloth. They were then brought to see the baby.
The baby girl was light skinned just like Mayowa. She had the same face as Mayowa even the unique black birthmark that shaped like love by the side of Mayowa’s neck was on the baby’s fore head. The baby was a miniature of Mayowa. The troop gasped as they stared at the beautiful baby.
“Oh Mayowa. Look at your beautiful daughter. She looks just like you.” Mrs Olayemi whimpered.
The family then took the baby to Tobiloba and Mayowa’s house the next day. The baby would stay with Mama Doyin until Tobi returns. They concluded.
“Who would inform Tobi about this great loss?” Mr Olayemi asked.
“I will. It’s going to be hard but by the grace of God, I’ll tell him. I should be the one. He’s my son.” Mama Doyin replied.
“The baby girl is a gift given to us by Mayowa as a compensation and consolation for her death.” Dupe suddenly stated.
Everyone nodded in approval at that. “We see Mayowa in her baby. That means, Mayowa is still with us. She lives in her daughter. So take heart everyone. Console yourself with the gift Mayowa had given.” Dupe added.
They nodded once more as they stared at the baby who was safely guarded in the hands of Mrs Olayemi.
Mama Doyin then offered to prepare a meal for the family and when they had all gone, Mama Doyin wept inside her room. Just few days ago, Mayowa was lying with her on the bed, now she’s lying in a mortuary. Just few days ago, Mayowa was seeing a movie with her but now she’s no more on the earth. The pain was so deep and sharp to bear. Mama Doyin wept and wept till she fell asleep only to be woken up by the baby at the middle of the night.
Mama Doyin picked up the baby from the cot and gave her some milk with the feeding bottle then tried to rock the baby to sleep. After some hours, the baby fell back to sleep while Mama Doyin walked to the sitting room. She couldn’t sleep again. The death of Mayowa flashed back to her mind. She touched the sofa, Mayowa had sat here just few days ago. Tears began to fall again and soon Mama Doyin was weeping.
★ ★ ★
Tobiloba knocked slightly at the gate. He had waited for his wife and mother to pick him up from the airport for several hours. Have they forgotten he was to return today? He had called their phones severally. Mayowa’s phone was switched off while Mama Doyin wasn’t picking her calls. Tobi had no choice than to board a taxi back home. Had something happened? He wondered. He had tried speaking with them the other day on Skype to no avail. His heart quickened as he waited patiently for the security man to open the door.
“Ah Oga! Welcome sir!” Mallam Jauro greeted as he took the suitcase and luggage from Tobi’s hands.
“Thank you Jauro. Is madam and my mother in?”
“Kai! Na only mama I see. She de inside.” Mallam Jauro replied in pidgin English.
Tobi nodded his head as he walked quickly into the house. Mama Doyin was sleeping on the couch when he barged in. The sound woke Mama Doyin up. She rubbed her eyes sleepily as she stood up. Her heart skipped at every step Tobi took to her. She silently prayed for God’s grace. Mallam Jauro dropped the briefcase and luggage in the sitting room, then left.
“Mamii good morning. I’ve been calling you and Mayowa’s phone to inform you two I’m returning today. What happened? Why weren’t you picking your calls? Where is Mayowa?”
“Welcome Tobi. Sit down.” Mama Doyin pronounced. Tobi stared at her surprised. He opened his mouth to protest.
“Please sit down.” When he had finally sat, Mama Doyin cleared her throat, “Mayowa has been delivered of a baby!”
Tobi jumped up immediately in joy. “That’s great news mother. That’s very great news. Wow! Where is Mayowa and the baby?” He asked joyfully.
“Wait a minute!” Mama Doyin replied as she went to get the baby in the bedroom. The baby had fallen asleep immediately she had been fed with milk.
Tobi’s eyes lighted up with complete surprise and pure joy, the moment the baby was handed over to him. He brought the baby to his lips and peck her forehead.
“This is the gift Mayowa left behind for you, Tobi!” Mama Doyin began making Tobi stare back at her with confusion.
“Look at the baby, she is a perfect photocopy of her mother. Mayowa gave you her so you wouldn’t hurt too much when she’s gone. Mayowa died in labour.”
Tobi’s eyes narrowed. His hands began to shake violently. Mama Doyin quickly collected the baby from him.
“What did you say mamii?”
“I’m so sorry Tobi.” She whispered.
“No! This can’t be true. This is a dream.” Tobi screamed.
“I wish it wasn’t true. I wish I was telling a lie. I wish it was a dream but this is reality Son.”
Tobi gradually fell to the floor. He clasped his hands on his head. “No! No! No! Mayowa tell me this isn’t true!” He wept.
Mama Doyin carefully placed the sleeping child on the sofa. She sat next to Tobi on the floor and hugged him while Tobi cried bitterly on her chest.
“It’s okay my dear. Take heart!” Mama Doyin consoled. “But honestly speaking Tobi, this is the best gift from Mayowa to you.”
Note_ Amala, fufu, ogi, akara and efo riro: these are all native meals eaten in Nigeria by the Yorubas.
Oga: this is used to show respect to someone at a position of authority. It means Master or boss.
Mamii: this means mother.
Tobi: this is the short form of Tobiloba.
My Final Gift
In darkening silence, I followed her footsteps,
impressed in a blanket of snow.
I called out her name and she paused in her flight,
before turning, her dark eyes aglow.
I knew that the pain she now felt was my doing;
each streak down her cheek broke my heart,
yet fate was against us; our young budding romance
was over before it could start.
My family curse had appeared with the full moon;
such hunger could not be denied.
Controlling the beast deep inside was unheard of—
men stronger than I had oft tried.
The hatred for me I saw bloom on her face,
though it hurt, was still better than death;
with eyes full of tears, I then turned, and I whispered
“I love you” soft, under my breath.
She’d go on without me. Though maybe unhappy,
at least I was sure she would live.
Some day I hoped she would find love in her future,
no greater a gift could I give.
© 2018 - dustygrein
My mother had it first. In the stardust memories of five decades ago, a vision struck her in the darkness of a lilac-wallpapered bedroom. She heard the robotic heart palpitations and the artificial oxygen wheezings and felt the rubber tubes crawling inside her nostrils. A nurse, some angelic white being, looked down upon her. And then there was darkness. My mother had seen her own death as a child, a premonition she revisited when the sickness overwhelmed her 60-year-old body in the hospital bed at Holy Cross.
She’d passed it onto me. For I’d seen my end as well. It was a much more grisly death, a fate I’d hoped to evade by relocating to the benign banality of my current suburban home. If you must know the details of my demise, let this satiate your morbid thirst. It was dark, a starless summer night. My adrenaline was pumping in some fuel-injected rage. I--Excuse me, someone is at the door. Just a moment.
It’s the neighbor woman, beautiful and shy. She musters a query: Would I happen to have a spare pint of milk? It’s for a cake. I’m not sure, but I invite her inside to look. (I don’t invite anybody inside.) Turns out the carton is dry. “That’s okay,” she says. “I like that poster.” It is a poster of my favorite film, one I’ve seen many times. The dull, longing greyness of her eyes is one I’ve seen many times. But I can’t place it.
I should let her leave but I can’t. There’s something in those eyes that’s so familiar. I ask her if she’d like to have dinner and she asks when. “Now,” I say.
The Italian imposter chain restaurant is perfectly adequate; orders of tin-canned sauce and not-from-scratch noodles are placed while complimentary carbohydrates fill our bellies. The conversation is as blandly safe as the menu until the libations are uncorked. I ask her what kind of wine she wants. “Red,” she says. “Always red.”
Vino is flowing; her guts are spilling. Her father was abusive. Abusive with words, with fists, with belts, with more. She can still smell the whiskey fumes. As a result, she can no longer trust any sort of man or any brand of whiskey. She has hurt many. How she won’t say.
That fermented fiend is loosening my tongue as well. The words that stumble out of my mouth are slurred and foreboding and they’ve never fallen on the ears of another living soul. They go something like this:
“It’s dark. I’m walking down the street. Suddenly there’s a pair of eyes filled with some kind of lust. I can’t see their face; it’s a shadow that wrestles me into an alley. We’re grappling, panting. I catch the shimmer of a knife in the moonlight and it plunges into my chest. And then I wake up.”
She kisses me gently on the cheek, sips the last of the crimson in her glass. She tells me not to worry and then gives a look that makes me worry. Before the bill’s signature is dry she snatches my hand and leads me into the blue-black night.
Her eyes are filled with some kind of lust. She melds her face with mine, our tongues flailing with carnal saliva. She’s so close, I can’t see her face. Her shadow wrestles me into an alley. We’re grappling, panting. I catch the shimmer of a knife in the moonlight and she plunges it into my chest. I won’t wake up this time.
My Gift From Above
"Life is a gift. Many times, we don't look at it like that because we tend to focus on the downs instead of the ups but life is just that. Ups and downs. That's what makes it so special," Clara picked at her nails nervously as she glanced down at the few notecards she was holding.
Concern washed over me as I watched her. She nervously glanced over at me and I gave her a supportive smile.
She continued. "The average human lives seventy-eight years. It sounds like a long time, but in reality, it'll go by in the blink of an eye. Twenty-eight years of those seventy-eight years are spent sleeping, ten and a half years we spend working our jobs..." Clara's voice faded out as I focused on her face.
She'd been through a lot. Diagnosed with cancer just two months ago was hard. Especially when she found out on Christmas Eve. My fists clenched as I remembered answering her phone call.
"Can you come over?" she'd asked, her voice sounding off.
"Sure," I had answered, sensing something.
"Come through my window. Don't let my parents see or talk to you," her voice had cracked. I had quickly hurried over and held her in my arms as she sobbed uncontrollably.
We'd always been friends, and I wanted to believe we would always be friends but I knew that one day, cancer would win.
"Every day is composed if 86,400 seconds. Every day, you choose what you do with that time, that gift-- a masterpiece," she laughed and for a second it sounded bitter. "Take it from me. We take life for granted when we should appreciate every second-- good or bad-- of it. Life is short. It goes by in a blink of an eye, and you're left there, at the end of your life, wondering where it went and what you did."
She was no longer nervous. This was a topic she was passionate about. I smiled at her and she continued strongly.
"But, to help you understand how important life really is, let's just pretend you only had a year left to live," her eyes fogged over with tears and I looked down at my desk.
I wouldn't cry.
I couldn't cry.
I needed to be strong for Clara.
"A year to do everything you ever wanted to do," she said. "A year to grow old with that special person, a year to experience everything you were going to experience if you could live to seventy-eight."
Mr. Daniels wiped his eye quickly and looked down at his notebook. He knew about Clara's story and he knew it was all coming from her heart.
"A lot can happen in a year," she continued. "You could pass that big test, you could graduate, you could get engaged or married, you could start a family, you could get an awesome promotion, you could live. "See, the thing that makes life so special is that you don't need seventy-eight years to live. You don't even need one year. You just need one day, with that special person," she smiled as her eyes found mine. "There are so many things we take for granted. Let's not do that anymore."
She stepped away from the whiteboard and handed Mr. Daniels a copy of her speech just as the bell rang.
"Class dismissed," he declared, his voice shaky.
I followed Clara out of the classroom and fell into step next to her.
"You were great in there!" I complimented her.
She smiled, her beautiful eyes shining brightly. "Thanks!"
A comfortable silence settled over us as we wound our way through the crowded hallways to our lockers. As I twisted the dial on my lock back in forth, I glanced over at Clara.
Clara had been my lifelong friend. We grew up next to each other and we always had the others back.
She grabbed her books out and shut her locker, turning to me. "Hey, I need to tell you something."
Worry shot through me. Was the cancer worse? Was she gonna die? Did I do something wrong?
"What?" I asked, my nervousness showing.
"Thanks," she gave a weak smile. "You've always been for me. Even though this whole cancer mess. It means a lot to me to know that you care enough to stick with me through it."
"What did you think I would do?" I asked, leaning up against my locker. "Abandon you?"
"In all honesty, I don't know," she shrugged. "Most people just shirk me like I have the plague."
I nodded slowly. "Sticking by you was the only thing I could do. Watching you go through that-- this-- it was painful. I wanted to do something more to help you, to comfort you, to make you feel better."
I ran a hand through my hair as she looked me in the eye.
"What more could you have done?" she asked.
I looked down at her and something welled up inside me. I knew exactly what it was. Love. Clara was kinda my everything. I'd drop anything at a moment's notice to help her. I hated watching her cry. It felt like my heart was being stabbed every time I saw her body shake from each sob.
Just do it. Tell her already!
I can't. The other part of me argued. It'd ruin everything.
But it could also make it better. I pointed out.
I'm just gonna do it. My heart picked up as I leaned down, framed her face with my hands, and kissed her.
She froze, her eyes wide and for a moment I felt like I had ruined everything but then she kissed me back, her free hand pulling me closer to her. I felt her smile as I pulled away for a second but she instantly pulled me back.
"Don't you dare regret this, Joshy," she whispered, looking into my eyes.
"I wasn't planning on it," I answered, kissing her again.
It was wonderful. She dropped her book on the floor just to pull me closer, her arms winding around my neck, fingers wrapping into my hair. The bell rang and we pulled apart.
"You really are something," I said, smiling like a moron.
She smiled. "This is one of those moment's that make life really special."
"Clara was an amazing person," I said. I felt my throat grow tight as I continued. "And we all loved her but it was only matter of time until she would leave us."
My eyes flickered to the casket a few feet away from me. I didn't want to think about who was in it.
"She was a gift," I lost it and the tears flowed freely. "She was a wonderful friend, daughter, sister, person... she meant a lot to me."
I couldn't look at her family sitting in the front row. Clara had wanted me to give her eulogy, to say the final goodbye.
"And it's sad to let her go but I know she's better now. She's not feeling anything anymore. She's in heaven under the comforting wing of the Heavenly Father and I can say that with confidence. And as she looks down at us, I hope she smiles, knowing we will forever remember her."
I stepped down from the pulpit and walked over to the casket, a yellow rose in my hand. I rubbed the tip of my finger up the stem until I came to a thorn. I clamped my eyes shut for a second before looking at her face.
She looked so... empty. Her mouth was in an unusual line, not the familiar smile that I loved so much. Her eyes were closed, hiding her beautiful blue eyes, sparkling with mischief, fun, and love. I reached inside the casket and squeezed her hand.
"Clara Walden, you were a gift from God. You made life special, you gave it meaning. You taught me to be brave, to fight for what I thought was right, to stand up for myself and those I love, and most importantly... you taught me to love."
A sob came from the front row and dug my fingernails into my palm to keep from breaking down completely.
"Clara, I love you," I said. "And I will always remember the good times we had along with the bad ones. Life is a gift, and so were you."
I rubbed my thumb over the top of her hand and watched as everything flashed before me.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
"You were a gift from God," I repeated. "And I will forever be thankful to Him for you."
I stepped back as a line formed behind me. People walked past me, saying their goodbyes. It was all I could do to not push them out of the way and grab Clara by the shoulders and shake her, pleading for her to wake up. I knew it would be in vain.
Tears clouded my vision again and I made my way to the back door. I stepped outside and sunk down onto the ground in a daze, tears streaming down my face. I tucked my head between my knees and cried. I cried for Clara, my gift from above.
A hand burst out from the ground
It was right there he had been buried right in the mound~
But the others wondered where Sal could be-
his body had not yet been found...
He stretched his body, his bones cracked, snapped & popped back into place—
Sal was moving at a snail’s pace.
His wife, sat in shock with her older brother,
he brought out his spell book and told his sister not to worry.
He stared at the front door and smiled. His work here was done.
There was a knock at the door, Sal’s wife opened it & screamed in fright- the moment she had a terrifying sight of her dear, Sal.
What kind of sorcery was this?
Her brother comforted her. He leaned toward her and kissed her cheek.
‘This is my gift to you, Veronika!’
with that he bid his sister adieu and walked past Sal, leaving Veronika with her formerly dead, now somewhat alive, husband.
Right outside the Closed front door. Veronika’s brother waved his hand and then a cloud of smoke rose from the ground. It swept underneath the door and swirled around Sal.
Veronika looked in shock, as Sal’s decaying skin now turned back to living flesh. She gasped and her eyes grew wider the moment Sal now looked more alive, & healthier than he did not so long ago.
Sal smiled and gave his wife a tight squeeze, lifting her off the ground. She didn’t know if she needed to scream (again), but with joy this time...or to start crying from this crazy night..
Veronika was really certain about one thing. Her brother was the one behind Sal’s return. She sighed. This was a lot for her to think about. After her neighbor had managed to help her with getting rid of Sal in a snap.
While Veronika was reflecting back and thinking of what to do next, she wondered if her brother knew what she had done. If so, then this was his way of making sure she got what she deserved. By bringing Sal back, he was sure that she wouldn’t try to kill him again. Then again, if she tried to take his life, she would be in for a startling surprise.
Sal was back in the land of the living. Since he had been in the realm of the dead, and crossed back over, he was now nearly Immortal. Thanks to Veronika’s brother and his handiwork, Sal was almost indestructible.
The Golden City
A Lost Son
The young man staggered, inhaling wildly. Stumbling over an exposed root,— he fell,— catching himself on a low branch but dropped his spear. Blood flowed from a gaping wound,— laid open across the side of his abdomen to his backbone:— painting his lower extremities, and staining the heavy woven-wool garment belted to his waist.
Panicking, the man looked over his shoulder. The top, left side of his face was laid open from above the eye and across his hairline to below the ear. The skin hung,— torn free of the skull;— the bone standing out in stark contrast to the dirty flap of loose hide on the man’s cheek. His unfractured cranium almost glowed in the soft light filtering through the upper terraces of the forest. With each racing pulse of the man’s heart, his life’s fluid dribbled from his still attached scalp and streaked down the white expanse, mixing with sweat and grease, draining into his eyes. He dropped to his knees blindly feeling for his javelin,— hurriedly raking the soil with both hands until his right made contact with the smooth shaft. Clutching it to his chest he used the blunt end as a crutch and staggered to his feet.
A heavy thud hit the ground behind and the man turned presenting his spear in defense. Void of pursuit he scanned the trail. Madly he tried to wipe the excessive moisture from his blurred vision,— then froze. A massive form stepped from behind the large conifer, lifting a broad bladed war axe.
* * *
Tawque stepped in close behind Haiwi, wrapping his right arm around her small waist and placing his left on her hip, turning her body slightly. Nudging her ankle with his foot he whispered softly, “Spread your legs about shoulder width apart.”
She stepped out lightly with his touch and raised her left arm.— While firmly holding the center grip,— she extended it full as she drew the bowstring back with her right hand.
“Draw the arrow complete to the first painted ring, resting the knuckle of your thumb just under your eye.”
The wood creaked as its shapely contours bent under the strain of tension exerted on the sinew cable. The fletching brushed by Haiwi’s lashes as she positioned for sight.
“Look down the shaft, but do not focus on the tip. Rather, focus on one specific point on the target. With time you will know right where the arrow will strike.”
Haiwi’s field of vision tunneled down the feathered rod to a distant mound of piled dirt. Spent arrows riddled the area, half a dozen holding a nice pattern in the small hill.
“Your whole body is the instrument and you must repeat the exact same form each time you draw. If you must turn,— your whole upper body must pivot. No change to the extension in your arm, no difference to the point where you extend the bow.”
Haiwi felt his warm breath caressing her cheek,— the soft restraint of his hand and gentle touch.
“Focus,——allow nothing to distract you. Take a deep breath.——And as you exhale slowly;—when you feel the target,—— release.”
Like a feathered missile, the flint tipped point cut the air, striking the pile center of the grouping.
“Very good,” Tawque said as he stepped back from Haiwi.
She looked over her shoulder and smiled at her instructor.
“Gather the arrows that are close together in your quiver. The rest we bundle. Those that went right give to Bobby. Those that flew left give to the others.”
Haiwi almost skipped down to the hill grabbing the shafts holding the pattern and placed them in her quiver. Turning around she noticed Tawque had stopped short of following her and was examining the ground. “What is the matter? I don’t think one landed over there.”
Tawque was silent and kneeled, touching the earth.
Haiwi approached, leaving the excess arrows that were scattered about. “What is it?” she asked, more emphatically.
“It’s a blood trail.” Tawque stood, totally focused on the area before him.
“Perhaps an animal was hurt.”
Tawque shook his head, “This was left by a man and he’s cut up pretty bad.”
“There is no one here. Could one of our people been hurt?” Haiwi paused, spotting an elephant leaf, heavily covered in blood.
“The moccasin isn’t right.” His expression was one of deep concern as he met Haiwi’s eyes. “We have company.”
Haiwi fidgeted and pulling an arrow from her quiver she stood ready scanning the jungle, “We must leave now! All,— are enemies to us.” She notched the arrow to the sinew and flexed it slightly and eased off, reading the weapon in front of her. “Even my people are a danger to us.” Her eyes turned pleading, “Let’s warn the others and break camp. We can push west.”
Tawque whispered, placing one finger over his mouth for her to lower her voice, “One does not run blindly from an enemy. You might walk right into his camp.” He moved silently to a new point on the trail.
Haiwi stepped up beside him,— weapon ready, “What should we do?”
“We follow the trail.”
“Could we walk right into a trap? Would it not be better just to leave?”
“We need to know if there are more.” And placing his hand into a new print, he carefully examined the instep, “Where their camp is. If they pose a threat.” He made eye contact with Haiwi, “This track was made by a different man.”
“There’s more than one?”
Tawque spent a few minutes studying the trail and surrounding area while Haiwi nervously kept watch. After a thorough search, he came back, “There’s at least three. They’re injured and ran that way,” pointing.
“Well,— let’s go that way,” Haiwi motioned the opposite direction with her right thumb.
“Just because they went that way doesn’t mean they won’t circle back.” Tawque’s attention was suddenly focused a short distance away. He spotted an anomaly about thirty feet from the trail on the break of a small ridge and left the path.
“What is it?”
“Our men are being followed,” and ducking low he worked his way over to a couple skid marks. The displaced pine needles revealed a scar of bare earth. Something had stepped on the loose debris, lost its footing and slid down the short incline. Tawque moved quietly to the ravine below the scuffs with Haiwi at his heels. At the landing point he found in the damp soil of the wash several footprints. They looked human, but huge. By the trunk of a tree next to the ravine he found more. Wedged in the bark of a branch, he pulled free a tuft of hair: stiff and coarse, about 3 inches long and quite pungent.
“Is it cats?” Haiwi asked, putting a hand on Tawque’s back, trying to look around him.
“No, it’s something worse.”
Haiwi stepped around and saw the print. It looked human, but it was massive. She saw the dark fur in Tawque’s hand and shrunk back at the revelation. “Nephraceetan! We must go. Death is walking in this forest.”
“A few men we can handle,” Tawque replied with a grim smile, “even if they are big.”
“Not the Nephraceetan,—— no man has ever survived an encounter,— and no woman would want to survive if caught. They’re devils.— Children of the gods and they usually hunt in packs.”
“That would explain the blood on the trail, but we still need to follow. I don’t want to be wandering around this forest and not know where my enemy is. Following their trail gives us the advantage. Besides, if a whole tribe has moved in, we’re in trouble.”
“Please, I really want to leave.”
Tawque placed a hand gently on Haiwi’s cheek and spoke soothingly, “Trust me, I would never let anything happen to you, but we must do this.” His hand slipped down to her shoulder as he turned, looking up the ravine. “Better to face a few than a whole tribe,” and with a nod of the head started up the trail.
Haiwi followed cautiously ever alert. An arrow resting notched and ready. Her muscles tense.
Tawque picked up speed. How swift and silent he can move, she thought to herself as she slipped behind. She knew if she tried to keep up the enemy would hear them both approaching. Better for the Hand-of-the-Great-One to come upon them with surprise.
Within minutes Tawque disappeared in a denser mass of the tangled forest, leaving Haiwi in the shallow ravine far behind.
In a small clearing Tawque came upon two dead men,— one headless. Dressed in woven wool skirts and an array of arm bands and chokers,— jewelry of ivory and gold; their bodies were brutalized and bloody from numerous mortal wounds from battle. Tawque’s careful eye was scanning every detail to determine the weapons used, when a war-cry echoed over a narrow ridge ahead. The clashing of wood and grunts of battle carried through the woven maze of trees and brush.
Stealth and speed are the gifts granted the hunter. To the Blackfoot they were necessary attributes in life. Tawque was raised in a world fraught with danger. Tactics and warfare were taught from infancy. This day the gifts served him well. Within seconds he hit the top of the next ridge as silently as a shadow. From the cover of a large pine he watched the drama below.
Another man dressed in a woven wool skirt was battling with a massive figure. The hairy brute was accompanied by two other muscular foes. No taller than the man, but their hulk cast them as giants. The spectators, virtual colossi, seemed intent on just watching their comrade toy with his victim.
“Nephraceetan,” Tawque whispered as he thought of Haiwi’s words. Were these huge creatures of myth,— or men?
The engaged monster was hefting a double bladed war axe which the smaller man was fending off with only a spear. The weapon of the giant denoted intelligence, but the devilish ghoul looked more animal. Friend or foe to Tawque, the smaller man was going to die if the Blackfoot did nothing. According to Haiwi, the huge adversary was an enemy held in common. As swift as a·ah·rah,— lightning itself,— Tawque fitted a shaft and let it fly. The feathered missile struck deep, buried to the fletching, through the heart. The giant stiffened and turned when the smaller man drove his spear into the creature’s throat.
The man-beast backhanded the warrior, wrenching the lance from its neck as the gold and ivory clad soldier fell backwards, almost unconscious.
Tawque unleashed a second messenger of death as the flint punched through the base of the skull,— as the once spectators charged the Blackfoot’s position.
For the first time in Tawque’s life doubt and disbelief gripped him. He had pumped two arrows into one of the beasts and a war lance had severed part of the creature’s throat and still it turned with a fierce battle cry ready to attack. Two other demons were almost on him, but he stood his ground. With unflinching precision he buried another feathered shaft in the forehead of a new attacker. The wound slowed the beast but a moment. Then, from his right Tawque saw an arrow strike the other in the chest. He turned to see Haiwi fitting another in her bow. “Run!” he screamed, but Haiwi let a second flint point fly.
The creature turned on Haiwi as Tawque’s own assailant regained its footing. Without pause, Tawque, ignoring the danger to himself, unleashed a fletched missile at Haiwi’s antagonist, striking it in the groin.
The beast went down.
The arc of a double bladed war-axe grazed Tawque’s scalp as the warrior ducked the blow and turned, shifting his bow in his grip. With a mighty swing, Tawque severed the Nephraceetan’s leg just above the calf. Purple blood spewed forth as the creature fell, catching itself with its left hand; but the demon still tried to bury the axe in Tawque’s side.
The warrior pivoted, dodging the steel and spinning, took off the demon’s hand at the wrist. The big blade dropped to the forest floor as Tawque jumped and turned with a powerful swing. The ghoul’s head flopped forward, then rolled free as the body dropped, shaking uncontrollably, prone on the earth.
With a quick glance Tawque saw Haiwi, dancing around the injured devil, pummeling its body with arrows. The groin shot had apparently disabled the swifter movements of the thing, but the beast was still waving his axe in an attempt to kill its tormenter. Tawque approached, burying two more arrows into the creature’s back, through its heart. The Nephraceetan turned and Tawque took its head with a swing of his bow.
Looking down from the ridge, the man clad in gold and ivory was standing over the inert body of the last Nephraceetan. Haiwi saw the injured man and ran to Tawque, “We must go.”
“He’s hurt bad, he’s no threat. Do you know where he’s from?”
“He’s a free clansman of my city,— a hunter and trader. He mustn’t see me.” Haiwi tugged at Tawque’s arm. “Let us run from here, NOW!”
“If he’s from your city, isn’t he a friend?” Tawque watched the man collapse. Pulling his arm free he stared, distressed and disappointed at Haiwi, “In a dangerous place friends are hard to come by. This man will be a friend now.”
Haiwi bowed her head, “You are right,” she mumbled. Lifting her head, almost pleading, she looked deep into Tawque’s eyes, “But he poses great danger to us.”
* * *