At first, it did not seem like a big deal to Bisi. She just turned around and returned to where she lay beside Akin. But then it hit her again and she turned around again and saw the small boy standing behind her. She looked at where he had been lying before the darkness fell; he was not there. Was she dreaming? Could this really be the boy who had been sleeping and waking up at intervals for the past forty-eight hours? She turned around and the small boy was still standing at the same spot, looking at her. This was getting scary. It was pitch dark and everywhere was still. There were sounds of witchcraft birds crying in the dark. In the distance, something was howling. Or was it a roar?
She rummaged the bags on the ground for a torch. She found one in the bag beside AK and flashed it to the boy’s face.
There was no mistaking that face; it was the small boy. He was alive. He was standing tall and he was not showing any sign of weakness at all.
“Are you…awake?” Bisi asked. It was a foolish question and she knew it but then, this was horrific. She was alone with four sleeping bodies and a boy who was not supposed to be awake. He was supposed to be sleeping, to be dying.
“Yes,” he said, hardly opening his mouth.
Or is it his ghost? Ah, Jesu, what kind of wahala is this one bayii?
Bisi knew ghosts were real. She had once had an experience with one. It happened when her grandmother died. The old woman died in their hometown in Ogbomoso and Bisi was with her when she breathed her last. Only for Bisi’s dad, who was in Kebbi state then, to call Bisi and tell her that he just finished talking to her grandmother on phone and that she said he should buy her bread when coming home. Bisi could not believe. At first, she thought her father was joking but when he said he wasn’t and even told her to call the old woman and ask how she was doing, Bisi broke down in tears. She knew it. It was not grandma that called her father; it was her ghost. But why did she have to call her father? Why?
Now, she looked at the small boy walking and she was sure it was his ghost and not him. A million thoughts were going on in her mind but she did not know which to attend to. Before she could make that decision, the boy spoke.
“Sorry, I don’t know you. Were you with us when we started climbing?” he asked, his face stiff, lips moving robotically as though they would fall off anytime.
“No…no, I am with Akin,” Bisi stuttered.
“No, Akin. He was the one who brought me here,” she said, still shaking with fear.
“Oh,” he said with a sigh as though he now understood even though Bisi was sure he did not. There was no way he could have. “Where are we?” he asked, still standing still.
“I…we are…we are on the mountain…on the other side of the mountain.”
The small boy did not answer. Instead, he nodded and then took a step forward. Bisi took a step backward. The boy did not seem to notice. His face was down as he took a second step forward. Bisi took another step backward. She was sure now that he was a ghost. There was no way he could have woken up with so much energy to sleepwalk and to talk the way he was doing, audibly with his almost severed lips.
His face remained down and he looked from Tara to AK to Kazeem and finally to Akin. And then he looked up.
“Are we lost?” he asked.
Bisi nodded. She was still flashing him in the eyes with the torch but he did not seem to care. His eyes did not blink neither did they show any sign of discomfort.
“Where is Bukunmi?” he asked and for the first time, there was emotion in his eyes. She could see it. The way his eyes blinked when he asked the question and the way his nose twitched. It was fear and anxiety with a blend of grief. “Where is Bukunmi, Bisi?”
Bisi swallowed. He just called her by name. “I don’t…I don’t know who Bukunmi is.”
He sighed. The small boy sighed. Ghosts don’t sigh, do they?
“How about the other guy, the Igbo guy?” he asked.
“I don’t know -who you are talking about but if you are talking about the other two students, they have gone up the mountain to find their way back home.”
There was silence for a while and Bisi could hear nothing but the distance howls. The boy stood still, arms folded, his eyes to the sky. Bisi stood some feet away from him, heart racing fast.
“There is no way they will ever get back to school in one piece,” the boy said.
“What do you mean?”
“This mountain…this is not the mountain we climbed in school. We are somewhere else entirely,” the boy said.
“What do you mean?” she asked again.
“Come, let me show you something,” he said and turned around.
This was it. This was how it happened in the movies. She knew what she was supposed to do now. She knew she was supposed to wake up one of the students so they could go together to wherever the small boy was taking her but even before she could make that decision, the small boy had disappeared behind the trees. She followed immediately.
They did not go far. He took her to one of the trees that stood alone in the field and pointed.
“There, look at what is written there,” he said, pointing to the bark of the tree. For the first time since she had found the torch, she directed the light away from the small boy and flashed the tree. There was a wooden placard nailed to the tree and written on it in a scrawl with what seemed like blood were the words, Today, 16-10-17, we give Yewande to the gods. The mountain does not give back what it takes.
“Wh–what does that mean?”
Bisi was shaking terribly now and she did not know when the torch slipped from her hands. The small boy bent down and picked up the torch. He gave it to her and then held her by the hand and led her to another tree. Just like the first one, there was a placard nailed to the tree and scrawled with blood were the words, Today, 10-02-15, we give Tunbi to the gods. The mountain does not give back what it takes.
He took her to another tree where Segun had been given to the gods and to another where Fadekemi, Ashabi, Bamikale, Funsho, Tade, Akande and many other people had been given to the gods. And all the writings were followed by the same assertion: the mountain does not give back what it takes.
Without a single word, the small boy led her back to where they were sleeping. He sat down beside Akin and she joined him on the grass.
“How did…how did you know that there were placards on the trees?”
“I didn’t know. I just woke up and decided to take a walk. You see, I find it difficult to sleep at night.”
“Me too,” Bisi said faintly.
The boy looked at her but did not say a word.
“It was my uncle,” she began.
The boy listens attentively as she tells the story. He focuses his eyes on the canvas and watches as she paints with tears and blood. She talks and he sees. The room forms before him. He can see the girl on the bed, sleeping. Fragile little thing, her mouth opened slightly. She is not completely clad. Her legs and belly are bare and only the sacred parts of her body are covered. She sleeps soundly without any worry in the world. The small boy stands in a corner in the room and watches carefully as the door creaks open. A man creeps in like a rat. Is he the father? No, he does not have the decency of one who has sired. He has to be the uncle. He is the uncle. The boy watches as he creeps into the room and goes to the window. Gently, he pulled the wooden thing to himself and closes them. Oh, such a caring man. He has come to make sure she is not cold. The boy is about to applaud when he notices the bulge on the uncle’s trousers. The uncle looks around as though trying to make sure of something. Satisfied, he pulls his trousers down and climbs the bed.
The boy does not look. He cannot behold iniquity but he can hear it. He hears the uncle climb the bed. He hears him throw off the cover cloth and rip the pant in two. He hears as he holds her still at the mouth with his left hand and rummages her body with his right hand. The boy crouches in the corner of the room and covers his ears with his hands but he still hears the uncle find his way in into her and ignoring her resisting legs, spills his seed into her. He ploughs a harder and harder, his eyes to the ceiling, as though as an affront to God. What will you do?
He is done in five. He relaxes his muscles and pulls out his slimy knife. Our sister is bleeding tears. She is crying blood from all the openings in her. The monster is done. The small boy hears the uncle wear his trousers and, as quietly as he entered, slip out of the room into the cover of the night.
The small boy stands up and runs to the girl. She is lying on the bed covered in sweat and blood and tears. Her eyes are watching God, asking, What will you do?
Chisom woke up first. He yawned and looked at his side. Bukunmi had rolled some few inches away from him. He sat up and looked at the sky.
“Sleeping beauty!” he called as he removed his dirty socks and put them back into his backpack. He got up, staggered and stretched before he balanced. He looked around but did not seem to recognize where they were on the mountain. Was this where they were yesterday before they slept? He was not sure. He could not remember.
He tapped Bukunmi and she jerked to life.
“Good morning,” she murmured as she sat up and stretched herself.
“Yeah, let’s go on,” Chisom said and without further ado, their climb continued. He prayed Bukunmi would not notice that they were lost. As he walked on in front, he tried to see if he could retrace his steps and get them back on track but he could not. What was the problem with this mountain anyway? He thought in annoyance.
“Chisom?” Bukunmi called from behind.
“What?” he answered without looking back.
“Are we on track? Chisom, this place doesn’t look familiar,” she said, looking around.
“We are on track, just keep up,” he said, still not looking back.
“Chisom, listen!” Bukunmi said in anger and walked up to stand in front of him. Still, Chisom did not stop.
“I said we are not lost,” he said and kept on walking.
“We are, Chisom,” Bukunmi said, walking backwards, not seeing where she was going. “I can see it in your face,” she said., pointing her finger into his face. She had just put her hand down when her feet stepped on something soft. She turned around and made to step back but it was too late. In a twinkle of an eye, the ground caved into a large hole which had been covered with grasses. Chisom watched helplessly with gaped mouth as Bukunmi dropped into the hole screaming, crying for help from no one.
Bisi slept peacefully that night. She did not know why but it must have been because she opened up to the small boy about her past. It was the first time she would be sleeping since what happened so she slept for long and when she finally woke up, it was to horror.
She knew the moment she opened her eyes that something was wrong.
“What is it?” she shouted as she sat up and as though she already knew what it was, she ran to where they, Akin and the students, all gathered on their knees. What she saw sank her heart. Cold tears began to flow down her face and her lips were trembling. Her whole body was trembling.
There, in the center of the kneeling students, was the small boy. He lay still like a dead rat, his big eyes were wide open but unseeing. They glistened in the morning light like sacred orbs. His nose remained twitched and he had what looked like a grimace on his lifeless face. He was dead, and even in death, the small boy’s hand was still clenched. Bisi saw this, opened her mouth wide and burst into tears. It was over now.