Bisi remained with his body for-ever. She would not leave, not even when Akin called her. She knelt by the lifeless pound of flesh and cried. They did not understand why. Tara and Akin looked at her as though she was insane. They did not know what had happened while they were sleeping. She did not know how to explain that to them. She was not even sure she wanted to explain to them. She did not want to do anything anymore. She just wanted to remain by his side and cry all her life.
AK and Kazeem were digging a grave for the boy somewhere in the field not far from where they had slept the night before. They had no implements so they made use of hard tree branches from the trees in the field. The ground was soft; it had just rained days before. But still it was a difficult process. At first, they thought they would never reach a reasonable depth and really, they did not when they stopped. What they dug was just a shallow rectangular hole in the ground.
“What do you think?” AK asked, looked at his partner.
“It’s okay like this, bro. I’m tired,” Kazeem said and dropped the branches.
“Let’s go,” AK said as they returned to where the others were
Tara was looking down at the boy. He lay still and rather comfortable in death. He had died a peaceful death. He did not twitch to death. He did not cry to death. He did not yell for help. Hell, he did not even roll down the mountain to death. Tara envied him in an inexplicable way. He made death simple. He made it look like it did not matter, like he was not so interested in life anyway. Tara had always prayed to God that if at all she would die, it should be a painless death. Like the small boy, she wanted just to sleep and not wake up. And if at all David would die…Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up.
“We should bury him,” Akin said after watching Bisi cry over the dead boy for more than one hour. It was day already and the sky was bright and clear. The sun would be out anytime soon.
“We should bury him now,” Akin said again.
“No!” Bisi said sharply, her eyes still down. She had the small boy’s head in her hands and her eyes were watching him.
“He is gone. There is no point staying beside him all day long,” Kazeem said. He joined her on his knees and tried to pull her up but she would not allow.
“Bisi, let us bury him and find our way home,” Akin said.
“No.” She was shaking her head in grief. Her heart was heavy. She could not bear this. Just hours ago, she had been with the small boy and she had told him the story of her life and how she ended up here. It was not possible that he was dead. He could not die…not just like that. She had felt something after talking to him. She had felt a peace…a certain peace…something she had not felt in a long time. She had felt it in him, in his presence and she had hoped she would have more of that with him. He could not just go. He was not allowed to do that. He could not open up old wounds and walk away while they bled.
“Bisi, let us –”
“No,” she cried still. And then, she turned away from the boy and looked into nothingness. “You know, I spoke with him in the night,” she said in a whisper that they all heard.
“What do you mean you spoke to him? The boy has been like this for the past three days. The only reason we know he just died is because he just stopped breathing,” Kazeem said and the others nodded.
Bisi was shaking her head. They did not get it. They were not getting it. “He was awake last night. He woke up and took me into the forest. He showed me the tree barks nailed to the trees like placards with names on them.”
“Is she alright?” Tara whispered to AK and the latter shook his head.
“Bisi, what are you saying? The boy has been unconscious for days –”
“I know! I know! But he was awake last night. He was awake last night, Akin,” she said, turning to him.
He was not convinced. “That’s it. We are burying the boy,” Akin said and tapped AK on the shoulder. “Come on, help me here,” he said. Together, they made to carry the boy. AK held his legs while Akin held his head and they heaved him up. Bisi cried out in agony. She would not let him go but Kazeem held her down. She watched as AK and Akin carried the boy to the grave they had dug. She got up and went after them.
“It’s not deep enough,” she said. “The vultures would seek him out.”
“It’s as deep as it can be and there are no vultures here,” AK said. Bisi could sense from his voice that he did not really care what happened to the small boy after now. He was dead to them. he was dead to them all.
They put the boy in his grave and covered him up with earth.
“Are we not supposed to…say a prayer or something?” Tara asked, gesturing towards the grave with her two hands.
Akin did not waste time. “Our dear Father, receive this soul that we send to you this morning. Forgive him all his trespasses and grant him eternal rest. Thank you for answering. We are done,” AK said, rubbed his hands together to clean them and turning around. “Now, let’s go home, people.”
Bisi was disappointed. Did they not understand? Did they know what this meant? This meant that the boy was dead. He was dead and he would never wake up again. He was gone from them forever and they did not feel remorseful, no strand of grief in them. Why was she the one feeling all the guilt? Was it because she was the one who saw him alive last before he kicked the bucket? Or was it because he had been dead to them all this while and they had been waiting for the day they would bury him? She swallowed her tears and looked on at them as they walked away.
Tara and AK turned away from the grave and followed him.
“What was his name?” Bisi asked.
“The small boy?” AK asked.
“Yes. What was his name?”
“Well…I can’t remember,” AK said, rubbing his head. He reached for his backpack and opened it. “Let me check the list and see-”
“His name is Folu, the small boy,” Tara said, looking down at AK in disappointment and shaking her head. They had all reduced the boy to nothing but a small boy, defined by his quietness and his stature.
Bisi lingered and made a cross with the branches AK and Kazeem had used to dig the grave. She placed it on the head of the grave. “Goodbye, Folu,” she said and turned away with Kazeem to meet the others at the spot where they slept the night before.
“Now, what do we do?” Tara asked. “We can’t remain here any longer.”
“I am hungry, guys. In case you haven’t noticed, we haven’t eaten for the past three days. I am not cool with that. I am hungry,” Kazeem said and suddenly, they all began to feel hungry.
Tara felt her insides shrink and her mouth dry. She ran her hands over her lips and realized that they were caked.
AK was hungry too. He had been feeling extremely hungry since he woke up but did not want to mention it to anyone. He did not want that to be part of their already numerous worries. But now that Kazeem had mentioned it, the hunger hit him with full force.
“Let us find our way home. If we do –” Akin began but Tara did not let him finish.
“Why are you talking as if we have been playing since we got here? There is no way home. And if there is, we are still looking for it! Bukunmi and Chisom left us yesterday morning. If they had found their way out of here, they should be in school by now and a search party should come in time. But they have certainly lost their way too,” she explained all in anger and haste and dropped to the ground. AK joined her.
“And not to mention David,” Kazeem said as he sat beside them.
Tara sighed. She had been trying to avoid that part of the story. “And there is David,” she said in acknowledgment.
“So, what do we do now?” Akin asked. He was relaxed now. He had lost all the useless morale that was burning in him minutes before.
“There is a path…”
“What?” they all said at once, turning to Bisi.
“There is a path in the field. I was with Folu –”
“Who is Folu?” Akin asked confused.
“Seriously?!” Tara looked at him with wide eyes,
“The small boy, his name is Folu. I was with him last night and we went into the field together. I saw a footpath there.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It was in the dark but I was flashing Folu all the time and I saw the footpath. If we can follow the path to wherever it leads, we can tell whoever we see who we are and see how they can help.”
“This doesn’t sound right,” Kazeem began but Tara shut him up.
“You have a better idea?”
“Then let’s go.”
Drained of all life and energy, they dragged themselves up and all turned towards the field. Bisi waited for them all to get up and when they were set, she began to lead them towards the trees.
Bukunmi landed on something hard and was covered in leaves and branches. It was as though she had just been buried alive. She felt pain all over her body as she tried to get up from beneath the leaves and branches. She raised her hand up and pushed herself up. She blinked twice and adjusted her eyes to her new reality. She could not describe where she was. It looked like a long cave made of earth and grass, like a large hole in the ground covered by grasses above. There was nothing behind her but earth, tree barks and roots of trees which were probably above her. It was the same on her sides too. but before her was a dark space whose end she could not see. She tried to peer into it but it was all darkness there and the little light penetrating from above could not get there. God, what am I going to do now?
She looked up and realized that it had been a long fall. The opening above was so distant she was not sure he would hear but still, she cried, “CHISOM!”
There was no response from above. Nothing, not even a sound to show that Chisom was still there. He could have gone anyway. She did not know him so much. “CHISOM!” she shouted again.
“He cannot hear you.”
Bukunmi froze. The voice came from inside the tunnel.
“We are faraway from the ground,” the voice said again and Bukunmi was about to scream when there were footsteps and someone walked out of the dark tunnel.
“It’s me, David.”
He did not look like David. His eyes were sunken into his sockets and his skin looked pale, caked and broken. Even his voice had become rougher. He walked towards her and sat beside her but she still could not believe her eyes.
“Is this real? Are you…are you really alive?” Bukunmi asked, feeling his face and holding his hands.
He forced a smile and revealed his teeth; they did not look good.
“What…how did you get here?” she asked. But then, she did not even wait for him to answer before she looked up and bellowed again, “CHISOM!” and then there was an answer.
“BUKUNMI! BUKUNMI! CAN YOU HEAR ME?”
“I CAN HEAR YOU. I CAN HEAR YOU, Chisom,” she cried with all her heart. Never in her life had she been so happy and relieved to hear someone’s voice.
She looked at what had now become of David and said, “He can hear us. He can hear us now.”
They had walked for almost one hour when Tara dropped to her knees and fell.
“Wait!” she shouted. “I can’t go anymore.”
Bisi and Akin were in front. AK turned back and bent down, trying to pull her up. “Tara, we are making progress. The footpath is becoming clearer. Sooner, we will find the people who walk this path and they can tell us where we are. But you have to keep moving. You have to keep –”
“Tara, I wish we can wait but we cannot –”
“Wait, what?” AK asked, looking at her. The others turned back.
“Look,” Tara said, her eyes to the ground, her face suddenly brightened with hope. “Look, footprints…footprints…oh, footprints…” she continued saying. Relief washed all over her.
Kazeem and the others too bent down and they saw that there were footprints on the path and they were not theirs.
“That means someone walked this path not long ago,” AK said.
“Yes, oh thank you Jesus,” Tara said. she had suddenly found her strength.
“Come on, guys, let’s go. Now we know there is light at the end of the tunnel, let us go,” Bisi shouted from the front.
Yes. Yes, Tara thought. There is light at the end of the tunnel. With that set in her heart, she gave her hand to AK, he dragged her up and together, they continued the journey home.
EPISODE 9 will be out next week Thursday.